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Voters may get say on death penalty

By Shamane Mills, Wisconsin Public Radio

DE PERE -- Wisconsin voters may get to vote on a state death penalty. It all depends on the Assembly, which could take up the matter later this month.

If a statewide poll is any indication, voters would likely favor restoring a practice abolished in the mid 1800s.

The Wisconsin Public Radio/St. Norbert College survey of 400 people shows 61 percent favor the death penalty for crimes that are considered "vicious" and where a conviction is supported by DNA evidence.

It's the same wording the Senate approved in a party-line vote last month and what voters might see on the ballot if the Assembly agrees to an advisory referendum.

Death penalty opponents say the phrasing of the question and its timing may be account for the outcome. Arthur Thexton is with the Wisconsin Coalition Against the Death Penalty. He says during the period, the Zacharias Moussaoui trial been going on in northern Virginia and every night, the news presented with reports about what happened on 9-11.

There also have been new accusations made against Steven Avery, the man facing charges in the murder of freelance photographer Teresa Halbach.

If Wisconsin voters were to give legislators the go-ahead to reinstate the death penalty, it would not affect Avery's case, and the Republican legislator proposing the death penalty says it not intended as a crime deterrent. Alan Lasee of De Pere says to him, it's simply a matter of the punishment "fitting the crime."

The issue has made unprecedented headway this year in the Wisconsin legislature.

For seven decades, bills on a death penalty languished. So far, one house approved Lasee's measure, but that decision did not determine whether the state should execute criminals, only whether the public should have a say on the matter.