Texas still accounts for more than half of all executions in the U.S., but Texas prosecutors are less willing to seek, and juries are less willing to grant, capital punishment for aggravated murder, Newsweek reports. In 2006, only 15 Texas convicts were sentenced to death, down from 34 a decade earlier. Texas mirrors a national trend: death-penalty sentences in the 38 states that allow capital punishment dropped from 317 in 1996 to 128 in 2005.
Polls show popular support for capital punishment stays relatively high, at about 65 percent. When it comes to carrying out death sentences, the people involved–judges and juries, prosecutors, and prison officials–are starting to pull back. “The death penalty may go out with a whimper, not a great moral revolution,” says Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment. Jurors and prosecutors are steering away from the death penalty because they are more apprehensive about killing the innocent and less fearful of crime. Over the past decade, the use of DNA testing on wrongly convicted criminals has overturned prison sentences for at least 200 inmates nationwide (about 15 of them sentenced to death). As crime rates fell in the ’90s and the first few years of the new century, jurors became more lenient in capital cases.