The number of executions and new death sentences continued to drop in the U.S. in 2014, even in Texas, which killed 10 prisoners this year, according to a new report from the Death Penalty Information Center.
That's the lowest number since 1996, when three men received lethal injections. (The 1996 figure comes with an asterisk. The state was in the midst of a legal battle regarding changes made to the capital case appeals process by the Legislature. As a result, there ended up being a de facto death penalty moratorium from March 1996 to January 1997. After the changes were upheld, the state killed 37 people during the remainder of 1997.)
The 10 executions still matched Missouri for the most in the country but represented a significant drop from 2013, when 16 convicted murderers were killed. Texas juries only handed out 11 death sentences this year -- the latest being given Eric Williams in Kaufman County on Wednesday. That's down from a 1998 high of 48.
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As of October 1, 276 people remained on Texas' death row in Livingston, representing almost 10 percent of all death row inmates in the country. Only California (745) and Florida (404) are home to more condemned prisoners. There are, as of December 18, 12 Texas prisoners scheduled to be killed in 2015.
Eighteen states and the District of Columbia do not have an enforceable death penalty statute. Maryland was the most recent state to dump the death penalty in 2013, but its abolition was not retroactive, executions ordered for crimes committed before the 2013 law went into effect can still be carried out. There is no movement afoot to do anything similar in Texas, but Judge Tom Price of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued a scathing rebuke of continued executions earlier this year. In a dissent to the court's decision to allow the execution of Scott Louis Panetti, a mentally ill man, Price, a Republican, argued for the full abolition of the death penalty in Texas.
"I now conclude that the death penalty as a form of punishment should be abolished because the execution of individuals does not appear to measurably advance the retribution and deterrence purposes served by the death penalty; the life without parole option adequately protects society at large in the same way as the death penalty punishment option; and the risk of executing an innocent person for a capital murder is unreasonably high, particularly in light of procedural-default laws and the prevalence of ineffective trial and initial habeas counsel," Price said.