Death Penalty Opponents Are Winning “¦ Almost Everywhere

Two states accounted for more than half of all U.S. executions in 2013, a year in which capital punishment decreased across the country.

A view of the death chamber from the witness room at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio. 
National Journal
Dustin Volz
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Dustin Volz
Dec. 19, 2013, 5:23 a.m.

Ex­e­cu­tions are on the de­cline across the United States — un­less you live in Texas or Flor­ida.

The U.S. put to death 39 people in 2013, just the second time in the past two dec­ades that num­ber has fallen be­low 40, ac­cord­ing to data com­piled by the Death Pen­alty In­form­a­tion Cen­ter. Ad­di­tion­ally, the num­ber of new death sen­tences is­sued in 2013 was near its low­est level since cap­it­al pun­ish­ment was re­in­stated in the 1970s.

Total ex­e­cu­tions fell by four over­all from last year, but the two states that car­ried out the most — Texas (16) and Flor­ida (7) — both in­creased their pace from 2012. To­geth­er, the two ac­coun­ted for 59 per­cent of all U.S. ex­e­cu­tions in 2013, al­though Texas car­ried out few­er than 10 death sen­tences for the sixth con­sec­ut­ive year — a stark con­trast to the 48 re­cor­ded in 1999.

The end-year re­port cites an on­go­ing short­age of leth­al-in­jec­tion drugs in sev­er­al states for 2013’s drop in ex­e­cu­tions. Cali­for­nia, North Car­o­lina, Arkan­sas, and Mary­land have not re­quired a death sen­tence in more than sev­en years “be­cause of their in­ab­il­ity to settle on a leth­al-in­jec­tion pro­tocol.” The re­port con­tin­ues:

In or­der to con­tin­ue ex­e­cu­tions, states such as Texas, Geor­gia, Mis­souri, and Ohio have turned to a con­tro­ver­sial source of ex­e­cu­tion drugs: com­pound­ing phar­ma­cies.”¦ To shield the sources of con­tro­ver­sial drugs from pub­lic scru­tiny, many states have re­sor­ted to secrecy, even de­clar­ing the com­pound­ing phar­ma­cies to be part of their an­onym­ous “ex­e­cu­tion team.” Such cen­sor­ship has at­trac­ted in­creas­ing ju­di­cial skep­ti­cism, with ex­e­cu­tions in Geor­gia and Flor­ida be­ing put on hold for ex­am­in­a­tion of the laws shield­ing makers of leth­al drugs.

The dif­fi­culty in pro­cur­ing ne­ces­sary drugs has also eli­cited vo­cal out­cry from law-en­force­ment of­fi­cials in some states where the death pen­alty is still on the books.

“Our sys­tem is com­pletely broken, and I don’t know how to say it more bluntly than that,” Arkan­sas At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Dustin McDaniel told Na­tion­al Journ­al in Oc­to­ber. “It’s a com­plete im­possib­il­ity. I can no more flap my arms and fly across the state than I can carry out an ex­e­cu­tion.”

Mary­land be­came the sixth state in six years to re­peal the death pen­alty, join­ing New Jer­sey, New York, New Mex­ico, Illinois, and Con­necti­c­ut. The re­port also high­lights find­ings that only 2 per­cent of U.S. counties have ac­coun­ted for more than half of all cases that lead to an ex­e­cu­tion since 1976.

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