“Let’s do it.” With those last words, convicted killer Gary Gilmore ushered in the modern era of capital punishment in the United States, which will likely see its 1,000th execution in the coming days, reports the Associated Press. After a 10-year moratorium, Gilmore in 1977 became the first person to be executed following a 1976 U.S. Supreme Court decision that validated state laws to reform the capital punishment system. Since then, 997 prisoners have been executed, and next week, the 998th, 999th and 1,000th are scheduled to die. Robin Lovitt, 41, who fatally stabbed a man in a Virginia pool hall robbery in 1998, will likely be the one to earn that macabre distinction on Nov. 30.
In the last 28 years, the U.S. has executed on average one person every 10 days. The focus of the debate on capital punishment was once the question of whether it served as a deterrent to crime. Today, the argument is more on whether the government can be trusted not to execute an innocent person. Race is also is a key question in the debate. Since 1976, 58 percent of those executed in the U.S. were white while 34 percent were black, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. But non-Latino whites make up 75 percent of the U.S. population, while non-Latino blacks comprise just over 12 percent.