U.S. President Barack Obama takes part in a discussion on criminal justice reform at the White House in Washington Oct. 22, 2015.
Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Obama: Death penalty is ‘deeply troubling’


While a string of botched executions, exonerations of death row inmates and clear examples showing racial bias in the criminal justice system have given him “very significant reservations” about how capital punishment is carried out, President Barack Obama said on Friday that he still supports the death penalty.

In a one-on-one interview with The Marshall Project, Obama detailed his personal struggles in coming to terms with his position on capital punishment and his views on the chasms between the purpose of the death penalty in theory, and how it is carried out in reality.

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“This is something that I’ve struggled with for quite some time,” Obama said. “There are certain crimes that are so beyond the pale that I understand society’s need to express its outrage. So I have not traditionally been opposed to the death penalty in theory, but in practice, it’s deeply troubling.”

Obama’s own reckoning with capital punishment comes amid soul-searching nationwide after a high-profile execution in Oklahoma last year left a death row inmate bucking and writhing on his gurney – he died 45 minutes later. The president came forward to say what happened in Oklahoma was “deeply troubling.” But many of the same underlying issues with that execution – issues with lethal drug supplies and a failure to follow execution protocols – have only continued, leaving a number of states scrambling to find alternative methods. 

“We know that in the application of the death penalty we’ve had recent cases that by any standard it has not been swift and painless but rather gruesome and clumsy. And all of this has led me to express some very significant reservations,” Obama continued.