The nation’s 1,000th execution since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976 took place this morning when Kenneth Boyd was put to death in North Carolina for murdering his wife and her father. The Washington Post says it comes at a time of growing misgivings over the death penalty, as reflected in jury verdicts, opinion polls, and actions of courts and state legislatures. Death sentences are at their lowest level in three decades, with juries sentencing 125 people to death last year, compared with an average of 290 per year in the 1990s. The number of inmates executed last year was the lowest since 1996; the Supreme Court has twice in three years limited who can be punished with death.
Public opinion polls show that nearly two-thirds of Americans support the death penalty, but that is a significant drop from the peak, in 1994, when 80 percent of respondents told Gallup they were in favor of capital punishment. When asked if they would endorse executions if the alternative sentence of life without parole were available, support fell to 50 percent. In Illinois, outgoing Gov. George Ryan (R) commuted the sentences of the state’s 167 death row inmates in 2003. Paul Logli, a prosecutor in Rockford, Il., believes Ryan’s clemency move was a mistake: “In one broad brush, he swept death row, even of those people who had never asserted their innocence. I believe the better choice is that governors should do it on a case-by-case basis.”