In spite of the admonishment to keep church and state separate, the legal system of the United States is deeply rooted in the British common law system, which in turn was influenced by the Judeo Christian traditions of the bible (the current California common law system consecutively was conceived as an alternative for nineteenth century Spanish civil law, which undoubtedly felt the sway of the Catholic church, and have kept certain features as have other southwestern states that were originally part of Mexico). So is it that the influence of the scriptures casts a shadow over the way we are governed, even though pains have been taken to keep our laws secular.
This perhaps, can explain the schizophrenia that exists around the issue of capital punishment, the pros and cons of which have been argued at least since the first officers of this nations court were appointed. Like everything else, the penalties for homicide and other violent crimes are predicated on the political atmosphere of a given time span. During the Depression of the 1930s, executions were regularly conducted but tapered off during World War II. The late 60s and early 70s witnessed a virtual halt in state sanctioned killings, perhaps reflective of the anti-establishment-counter cultural trend sweeping the nation. More recently, over 100 people have been wrongfully executed (later vindicated by evidence presented after their deaths) in the U.S. since 1976, according to a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
A quick glance at the current condemned inmate list on the Department of Corrections website (http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/index.html) shows a total of 669 people slated to receive the ultimate penalty. Of these, 239 are black; while over a quarter (196) come from L.A. County. California easily out distances the other 49 states by far, with Florida being a distant second with 397 inmates awaiting execution.