Saturday, December 21, 2002

The NYTimes (res. req.) notes there are fewer potential diners....


For First Time Since 1976, Drop in Inmates on Death Row

WASHINGTON, Dec. 15 (AP) — The number of death row prisoners dropped last year for the first time since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976, the Justice Department reported today.

The death row population fell to 3,581 in 2001 from 3,601 in 2000, the first year-to-year decrease in 25 years. The 155 defendants sentenced to die last year were the the fewest since 1973.

In 1998, 303 people were sentenced to death, while in 1996 it was 319, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Sixty-six people were executed last year, compared with 85 the year before. Through Dec. 11 of this year, 68 people were executed.

Death penalty experts say juries and prosecutors appear to be exercising greater care in using the death penalty, especially after recent cases in which DNA evidence proved that people had been wrongly convicted. More prosecutors also appear to be accepting plea bargains in which a defendant accepts a sentence of life without parole.

"There is more selective use of the death penalty going on," said Richard C. Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a group critical of capital punishment. "The key issue, which is disturbing to people, is that they've seen inmates who may have been close to execution walk off from death row."

The government figures show that 63 men and 3 women were put to death last year, all by lethal injection. Forty-eight were white, 17 were black and one was American Indian.

A death row inmate is most likely to have previous felony convictions and have no more than a high school education, the statistics show. Only 10 percent have attended college.

Oklahoma executed the most people in 2001, with 18, followed by 17 in Texas and 7 in Missouri. In all, executions were carried out last year by 15 of the 38 states that have a death penalty. The federal government executed two men, Timothy J. McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, and Juan Raul Garza, a murderer.

Preliminary statistics for this year show that Texas has conducted 33 of the 68 executions nationwide.