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Republicans Shift Their Death Penalty Views, Now Wanting to 'Fix' Laws

Two years ago, a group of Republican lawmakers toured the death chamber in Oklahoma, which has been responsible for more executions per capita than any other state in the last half-century. They took in the gurney straps, the phone connected to the governor’s office and the microphone used for last words. “The hair rises on the back of your neck,” said state Rep. Kevin McDugle. “A few legislators couldn’t be in the room very long.”

Conservatives have been slowly turning away from the death penalty for years, as high-profile innocence cases have helped frame capital punishment as a problem of out-of-control big government, the Marshall Project and USA Today report.

They continued on to death row to see Richard Glossip, who has spent more than two decades in solitary confinement, facing execution for a 1997 murder. Glossip says he had nothing to do with the crime, and a growing number of conservative lawmakers believe him. As Oklahoma officials seek to resume putting prisoners to death later this year, McDugle has pursued bills in the state legislature to help those on death row prove their innocence, knowing Glossip could be among the first facing execution.

Glossip’s case is reaching the highest echelons of politics in a deep-red state at a time when Republicans across the country are increasingly split on the future of capital punishment. Support for the death penalty used to be popular in both parties, but over the last three decades, Democrats have turned away from the punishment, leaving Republican legislators, governors, prosecutors and judges to fight for its continued use. At the same time, a small conservative movement — including groups like Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty — has been openly questioning capital punishment. It’s now clear their efforts are paying off.