'This Week': Crime and Punishment

ABC News' Pierre Thomas and the powerhouse roundtable on the debate over the death penalty.
10:10 | 05/04/14

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Transcript for 'This Week': Crime and Punishment
What happened in Oklahoma is deeply troubling. I think we do have to, as a society, ask ourselves some difficult and profound questions. Around these issues. President Obama on Friday ordering a federal review of the death penalty after an execution in Oklahoma this week that went horribly wrong. The lethal injection was botched before the convict suffered a heart attack. That is spurring a debate. Here's Pierre Thomas. Reporter: Torture. That's how Clayton Lockett's attorneys class fie the attempts to execute him Tuesday night. Witnesses of the execution which involved a use of a new three-drug combination said it was gruesome. He was on the gurney still writhing, grimacing, making noises. Clayton Lockett was tortured to death. Reporter: Critics believe the execution will erode the country's support for capital punishment. The country is skittish because over 140 death row inmates have been exonerated since 1973. 18 states abolished the practice. Six since 2007. While support for the death penalty has fallen from 82% in 2003 to 60%, a significant majority of American believe in it. How else do we deal with the cop killers, baby killers, mass murders and serial killers. Reporter: Mark Klaas's daughter was raped and murdered years ago. He has little sympathy. This is not about Clayton Lockett. This is not about his victimization. This is about a heinous and unforgiving criminal act that he committed against an innocent young woman. Reporter: Oklahoma turned to a new lethal cocktail after european pharmaceutical companies refused to provide previously used drugs. We received neither any testing data nor any assurances that the drugs to be used had been tested. Reporter: Matters of life and death. Crime and punishment. Never easy. For "This week." Pierre Thomas, ABC news, Washington. Let's bring this back to the "Roundtable" now. Let me begin with you. Still 60% support. We have seen a series of botched executions. Some moratoriums in some states. And many doctors who won't do them. Who will not do them. That's the problem with the injections. Are the days numbered? I don't think so. I'm sorry about that. I'm one of the catholics. I think the death penalty implicates us all in the state sponsorship of death. But I think that, the American people still clearly we see 60% still supporting it, despite the fact that innocent people are on death row and innocent people who are not on death row, but who have life sentences are not paid any attention to. It's only the people on death row who get some lawyers who try to pay attention and get them off. It can be quite expensive as well. I think in 2013, about 3,000 people on death row. Only, I think, 2% of those are -- were executed. A small number. 39 people. I'm troubled by the fact that people have been exonerated through DNA. That's horrific. We have to do something about that. The idea that it's cruel and unusual, the court handled it in 1977. That won't change. I think these images will have some perhaps political impact in the anti-death penaltily crowd. Of which, the president is not, by the way. My heart is with the victims of abortion and of the death penalty. Cokie is right. A culture of life must be respected, across the board. Do you also think this turns into something that is cruel and unusual? Perhaps. I want to bring this to David Plouffe. You saw the are the announce this revie this week. As laura pointed out, he's been a supporter of the death penalty. Some wondering now, given all the questions, will we see an evolution? I would be surprised. He's focused on issues of terrorism and crimes against children, he believes it is appropriate. I think it will change a bit. I think you see younger people opposing this more strongly than people that are older. The countries part of death penalty club, Iran, North Korea, China. So I do think attitudes are going the change. It's remarkable. In 1993, 80% support. Bill Clinton went back to Arkansas, Ricky ray rector. The politics are changing. Not as quickly as gay marriage. But that's a pretty big swing in a generation. I think you'll see it swing further. How do you address the problems for supporters? First off, I'm someone who has struggled with that issue for a long time. And believe that we have to have very narrow application for the death penalty. We need to maybe focus more. As halfway point between eliminating it. I do believe for extreme cases, David mentioned a couple of them, that we have to have that ability to take someone who is a danger to society out of society. And, I think that's -- if -- I think if we could have a debate of maybe narrowing down the cases. Some of the reasons for the death penalties, I remember passing them in the early '90s, for drug kingpins. Those are things I think we should probably back away. Stop adding on. I think we have stopped adding on. The question is maybe we should back -- That was of course because the federal government has very little to do with this. The president said have a review. That is saying something. And the congress was doing that about the country was worried about drugs. Congress was saying, we're going to do something about drugs. They did the drug kingpins. But, the truth is the other aspect of this, and I know you want to get in. On this subject. Is that it's racist. I mean, we really do see a real racial division among those who get capital punishment. I was going to mention that in some states, people for the same crime, three times more likely to sentence an african-american to death. I think that is very, very troubling. The other thing is as other countries back way from this. As the medical profession backs away, you're seeing, this guy was basically a lab experiment. There was no -- nobody had a clear idea what the cocktail was. Now you have a situation where you have innocence, is a big issue. That people are concerned about. Race. Now you're just rolling the dice and making up the cocktail to kill people. That, I think, gives the department of jus sis a reason to take a big step back. I think we do have a problem in our culture, our broader culture, of being a culture of death to some extent. We saw that with a case. Late-term abortions. The heinous things happening in the womb to children. You don't want to think it but innocence. There could be innocent people on death row. A lot of innocent life. Forget the early term abortion, late-term abortion. Young people are changing their mind. About the issue of abortion. They are. It's true. One other issue. Race front and center this week with the Donald sterling controversy. The clippers. I talked to Kareem abdul-jabbar at the start. Let me bring you this, van Jones. We saw the action by Adam silver. At the beginning of the week. Now they might be hamstrung if sterling is going to fight. What does the NBA do? You have to give him a lot of credit for stepping forward. Players said they would go on strike if something weren't done. You have to give silver real credit for stepping forward. There's a deeper issue here nobody is talking about. There are about 100 teams, basketball, baseball, football, only -- as best as I can tell, only two nonwhite principal owners in the entirety of American spots. So, look at this one guy. Look at this one guy. Hold on a second. You have a whole bunch of people out color there sweating on the field and a whole bunch of white folks who own it. That looks more like 1814, not 2014. And that's the real -- And his remarks, in some ways the most offensive was not even the horrible stuff he was saying about, you know, I don't want blacks coming to the game. It was I feed them, I -- Very -- 1814 stuff. And so, yeah, I will say one thing about this. I was very, very proud to see how big the response was throughout American society. Newt Gingrich came out, my co-host on "Crossfire" and said let's stop this billionaire's club on ownership. Let the community buy in, like the Green Bay packers. Maybe folks in Los Angeles should buy in. It was remarkable in the way the country seemed T that.cc1: I think it was great. I think the reaction was uniform. Where was the reaction from the NBA years ago when they knew this man has these points of view and did nothing? Only when it became an issue of money and branding that they responded. I think the NBA has to do some soul searching about how they handled that and other issues. I think -- Adam silver, you pointed out, he handled it perfectly. Kind of an a-plus in terms of crisis management. It does raise a lot of issues that have been talked about today. It was interesting. The reaction was uniform. It was across ideological lines. It was great. There is a lesson here. Not so much about basketball. But, again, John Kerry had a moment. Nothing's off the record anymore. No sense of privacy anymore. The lesson has to be relearned. The one thing is the girlfriend/personal assistant with Barbara. She revealed, at some point, I began to be paid off the books. Meaning he now has tax fraud issues. Thank you all very much.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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