States ponder death penalty as executions hit 14-year low

Death penalty proponents and opponents agree on at least one thing.

Whether it proves to be a turning point or a footnote in the history of capital punishment in the United States, 2008 was a momentous year.

The U.S. Supreme Court in April for the first time gave its constitutional blessing to the lethal injection method employed by most states and the federal government.

But the year also brought renewed challenges and questions about capital punishment from across the country, and it ended with the lowest number of executions in 14 years.

And the rush of executions some expected to follow that Supreme Court decision turned instead into a trickle everywhere except Texas, which carried out 18 of the country's 37 executions.

The total was the lowest since 1994 and continued a decline since a 1999 peak, when executioners put 98 inmates to death.

"Spending money on the death penalty is like building a bridge to nowhere," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. "It takes millions of taxpayer dollars to arrive at a single execution 15 years after the trial."

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