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Report: U.S. Death Penalty Use Declines

January 3, 2012

LAS VEGAS - A non-profit clearinghouse for information about capital punishment finds that the use of the death penalty in the U.S. continued to decline this past year.

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, says the number of new death sentences nationwide dropped to the lowest number since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976.

He says a drop in other measures also shows that Americans are moving further away from capital punishment, reflecting a decade-long trend.

"Executions dropped. Public support for the death penalty in the Gallup Poll dropped this year, and the number of states with the death penalty declined this year."

In the last four years, four states have repealed the death penalty; New York, New Jersey, New Mexico and Illinois. Nevada is among the 34 states that still have capital punishment, and it has executed 11 people since 1976.

Dieter says fixes to Nevada's death penalty system will come at a steep price. And, policymakers, he says, would be wise to examine whether abolishing the practice is a better use of taxpayer money.

"A good, careful death penalty is an expensive death penalty. There's just no way of getting around it. You can't do it on the cheap and still abide by the Constitution and our basic principles of life."

Dieter says the September execution of Troy Davis in Georgia, whose guilt was doubted by many, illustrated the risk of exacting a death sentence. He adds that the expense of inmates seeking appeals, coupled with inmates sitting on Death Row for decades, lends room for pause.

"Most states have no executions in a given year, and if you're not using it and it's costing you a lot, that's one more reason to reconsider the death penalty. And, I think we'll see some states doing exactly that in 2012."

Dieter says that globally countries are abandoning the death penalty in great numbers. Recently, the European Commission announced a block on the export of certain key lethal-injection drugs that are widely used in U.S. executions.

The report can be found at www.deathpenaltyinfo.org

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NV