Texas still leads in executions, but the numbers are down

Texas has accounted for half of the executions in the United States so far this year, but the state gave lethal injections to far fewer inmates than last year, mirroring a national trend of fewer death sentences being carried out.

Eighteen inmates were executed in Texas this year compared with 26 last year, while 37 inmates were put to death nationally, with no more expected for the remainder of the year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

This year’s total is a 12 percent drop from the 42 executed nationally in 2007, and a 30 percent drop from 2006.

"Even in Texas, there has been a decline," said Richard C. Dieter, executive director of the center, a nonprofit group that opposes the death penalty. "It is still high when compared to others, but there could have been more."

Courts, legislators and the public are increasingly skeptical about the death penalty, whether those concerns are based on innocence, inadequate legal representation or a general feeling that the justice system isn’t fair, Dieter said.

The report also states that as the country struggles with a recession, the death penalty is being examined more closely because of its high costs.

De facto moratorium

The report indicates that all but two of the 37 executions this year took place in the South and Texas. Virginia executed four prisoners, and Georgia and South Carolina executed three each, with Florida, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Ohio sending two each to the death chamber. Kentucky executed one.

In some states, such as California, Maryland, Delaware and North Carolina, the lethal injection issue is still being debated, and no executions occurred, the center reported.

The executions all took place after April 16, following a U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld the lethal injection process in Baze v. Rees, a Kentucky case that challenged whether the chemical formula used for lethal injection inflicted pain amounting to unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment.

States halted executions while the case was pending before the court.

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