Death Penalty

Executions down 10 percent since last year, 60 percent from 1999, report says

Executions are down by 10 percent this year from last year, and by 60 percent from 1999, a new report says.

There have been 39 executions this year in nine states, four fewer than in 2012, according to the Death Penalty Information Center’s annual year-end report (PDF), released Thursday. Texas had the most, with 16; Florida was second, with seven.

It was only the second time since 1994 that the total number of executions dropped below 40, the report says. In 2008, there were 37 executions.

The number of new death sentences imposed so far this year has risen slightly this year from last year, the report says, from 77 to 80. However, death sentences are down nearly 75 percent from 1996, when 315 new death sentences were handed down.

Public support for the death penalty, as measured in the annual Gallup poll, has also fallen to 60 percent this year, its lowest level in 40 years, according to the report. And, a Boston Globe poll of city residents found that only 33 percent of respondents supported a death sentence for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing earlier this year, if he is convicted.

Richard Dieter, the center’s executive director, says in a prepared statement accompanying the release of the report that a societal shift is underway. “Twenty years ago, use of the death penalty was increasing. Now it is declining by almost every measure.”

Dieter says recurrent problems with the death penalty have made its application rare, isolated and often delayed. And he says more death penalty states will likely reconsider the wisdom of retaining “this expensive and ineffectual practice” in the future.

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