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Theory Behind the Death Penalty Study

A Mock Death Penalty Jury

To investigate differences among supporters of executions, people in the Death Penalty Study were placed on a mock death penalty jury. Mock juries are like 'dress rehearsals' for real jury trials.


Mock juries are used in law schools to train future lawyers. Practicing attorneys also use mock juries to see how actual juries might respond to the lawyer's arguments and presentations.

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Jurors on the mock death penalty jury went from opinion-holders about the death penalty (an abstract idea) to actors in an execution. The jury convicted a serial killer whom they agreed had tortured and killed a small child. Jurors were asked to recommend a punishment. Not surprisingly, a majority of jurors (seated on the jury because of their favorable stance toward capital punishment) voted for the death penalty. The jurors were then invited to attend the murderer's execution.


Those who declined to attend the execution were classified as Soft Abstract Supporters of the death penalty. They were willing to vote for death on a jury but wanted nothing to do with the actual killing of the man they condemned.


Those who reported at least some willingness to attend the execution were asked if they would 'push the button' to execute (kill) the man they had sentenced to death.

Those willing to attend the execution but who refused to execute the man they condemned were classified as Hard Abstract Supporters. These people served on the jury, voted for the death penalty, and were willing to attend the execution. But they drew the line at actually killing another human being. They wanted somebody else to do it.

The final group was classified as Executioners. These people served on the jury, voted for the death penalty, and said they were likely to attend the execution. Further, they were willing to execute (kill) the person they had convicted.

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