WASHINGTON – Just four states carried out more than three-fourths of the executions in the United States this year, while another 23 states have not put an inmate to death in 10 years, an anti-capital punishment group reports.
The Death Penalty Information Center says in its annual report that Texas led the nation, as it does every year, with 15 executions. Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma had 6 each. Together, the four states accounted for 33 of the 43 executions in the United States in 2012.
The report also says that a handful of states were responsible for nearly two-thirds of death sentences imposed in 2012.
Both executions and new death sentences are far below their peaks since executions resumed in 1977 following a halt imposed by the Supreme Court. Texas' 492 executions since 1977 are the most, by far. No more executions are scheduled before the end of the year, the group says.
"By every count, the death penalty is declining and becoming less relevant. It's not turned to even in states that have been strong proponents of the death penalty. I'd even include Texas, which is sentencing many fewer people to death," said Richard Dieter, the center's executive director and author of the report.
Dieter singled out Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, none of which carried out an execution this year. And among those states, the only new death sentences were two in Georgia and one in Louisiana.
The exoneration of people wrongly convicted, the availability of prison terms of life without parole and the cost of capital trials and the appeals process all are factors in the decline, Dieter said.
The 43 executions equal the total in 2011 and were roughly half as many as in 2000. Ninety-eight prisoners were put to death in 1998, the busiest year for U.S. death chambers since 1977.
Only nine states in all performed lethal-injection executions. Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Ohio and South Dakota were the others.
The steady, reduced pace of executions was similar to the persistent decline in new death sentences imposed in 2012.
Seventy-eight people convicted of murder have been sentenced to death so far, with another two such sentences possible, according to the report.
Again, just four states accounted for nearly two-thirds of death sentences nationwide. Florida added 21 inmates to death row, California had 15 death sentences, Texas had 9 and Alabama, 7.
California hasn't executed anyone in nearly seven years because of problems with its old death chamber, a shortage of one of the execution drugs and a broad challenge to executions. California's death row of more than 720 inmates is the largest in the nation. As of April, 3,170 people were on death rows across the United States, the report said.
Last month, California voters narrowly rejected an effort to abolish the death penalty.
In April, Connecticut became the fifth state in five years, and 17th overall, to abolish the death penalty for future crimes, although it did not change the status of 11 people who were previously sentenced to death.