At a time when many states are backing away from capital punishment, the federal government is winning more death sentences, including in jurisdictions that traditionally oppose them, says the Wall Street Journal. There are 47 people on federal death row — more than double the number six years ago — and Ronell Wilson of New York City last week became the seventh sentenced in a state without its own death statute since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988. The total may grow in the months ahead, with capital cases on tap in places traditionally opposed to the death penalty.
The last federal execution was in 2003, when Louis Jones Jr. died by lethal injection at an Indiana facility where all federal executions now take place. Justice Department spokesman Erik Ablin says the government is making an effort to pursue capital punishment uniformly across the country. “We have in place a clearly defined review process to ensure the death penalty is applied in a consistent and fair manner nationwide,” he said. The rising federal death row count comes as many states reconsider the death penalty or issue moratoriums for a variety of reasons, including sloppy executions and exonerations of condemned inmates because of DNA evidence. “There’s all this talk about how death row is declining, but that’s not true for the federal system,” said Ruth Friedman of the Federal Capital Habeas Project, a federally funded program that assists lawyers in the post-conviction stage of capital cases. The number of people on state death rows fell to 3,344 last year from 3,593 in 2000.