U.S. executions declined this year to their lowest level in a decade this year, says the Los Angeles Times, quoting a study from the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment. Fifty-three people have been executed this year, with no more scheduled until 2007. That is down from 60 last year and a drop from the peak of 98 executions in 1999. Two-thirds of Americans still support capital punishment, but for the first time in two decades, the Gallup Poll found that more Americans prefer that the penalty for murder be life without parole rather than death, by 48 percent to 47 percent. Last year, Gallup reported that 56 percent of Americans preferred the death penalty compared with 39 percent who supported life without parole.
Challenges to the lethal-injection process have led to execution stays in several states, including California, for most of the year. Richard Dieter of Death Penalty Information Center estimated that the number of capital sentences imposed this year would total 114. That compares with 125 death sentences last year and is a steep decline from the 276 imposed in 1999. “The American public has turned an important corner in this debate,” Dieter said. Joshua Marquis, vice president of the National District Attorneys Association, strongly disagreed, attributing the drop in death sentences to a nationwide reduction in violent crime generally “and murder specifically,” as well as to jurors and prosecutors who were “becoming appropriately more discriminating about when to respectively seek and impose a death sentence.”