Study finds death penalty use in decline

Thu Dec 15, 2011 6:28pm EST
 
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By Terry Baynes

(Reuters) - Use of the death penalty has fallen to its lowest level since capital punishment was reinstated in the United States in 1976, according to a report released on Thursday by a nonprofit that tracks death penalty data.

The Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center reported a 75 percent drop in death sentences since 1996.

Through mid-December, there were 78 new death sentences in 2011, compared to 112 a year earlier. It is the first time the number has dropped below 100 in a single year since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment, the group said.

The number of executions, at 43, was down 56 percent since 1999 when there were 98.

"This is a historic drop in death sentences. It's indicative of a mood around the country that the death penalty has risks, flaws and needs to be reexamined," said Richard Dieter, the executive director of the center and author of the report.

A growing number of states have abandoned capital punishment in recent years, including New York, New Jersey and New Mexico.

In January, Illinois' governor signed a law abolishing the penalty, bringing the total number of non-death penalty states up to 16. In November, Oregon's governor halted a pending execution and said no more executions would occur in his term, describing the capital punishment system as "compromised and inequitable."

In Ohio, the chief judge of the state's Supreme Court appointed a task force to address problems with the administration of the penalty.   Continued...

 
<p>The execution chamber at the Utah State Prison is seen after Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by a firing squad in Draper June 18, 2010. Four bullet holes are visible in the wood panel behind the chair. Gardner, 49, was pronounced dead at 12:20 a.m. Mountain Time (0620 GMT) after being shot in the chest by a five-man firing squad at the Utah State Prison in Draper, a suburb of Salt Lake City. Gardner was condemned to die for the 1985 courthouse shooting of attorney Michael Burdell during an escape attempt. Gardner had been in court to face a charge of murdering a bartender. REUTERS/Trent Nelson-Salt Lake Tribune/Pool</p>