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Report: U.S. Death Penalty Use Declines

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Friday, December 23, 2011   

FRANKFORT, Ky. - Use of the death penalty in the United States continued to decline this year, according to a report by a nonprofit clearinghouse for information about capital punishment.

New death sentences nationwide dropped to the lowest number since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976, says Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. A drop in other measures, he says, also shows Americans are moving further 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In the past four years, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico and New York have repealed the death penalty. Kentucky is among 34 states which still have capital punishment. Earlier this month, a team of legal experts in Kentucky revealed results from a two-year review of the state's death-penalty system and concluded the Commonwealth should temporarily suspend executions until problems with fairness and accuracy are corrected.

Fixes to Kentucky's death-penalty system will come at a steep price, Dieter says. adding that policymakers would be wise to examine whether deep-sixing 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."

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

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

Other countries are abandoning the death penalty in great numbers, Dieter says. This week, 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 is online at deathpenaltyinfo.org.


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