Los Angeles County sent more people to death row this year than any state, condemning 13 convicted murderers — the highest number in a decade, the Los Angeles Times reports. The number of death sentences issued across the U.S. will reach its lowest level since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976. California death sentences increased from 20 last year to 29 so far this year, more than a quarter of the nationwide total of 106, says the Death Penalty Information Center.
The center, which opposes the death penalty, attributed the national decline to concerns about the costs of capital punishment and the possibility of wrongful convictions. California’s increase occurred despite legal challenges that have left the state’s lethal injection chamber idle for four years. Any resumption of executions is still at least a year off. The 2009 capital sentences have helped push the state’s condemned population to 697, the nation’s largest by far. The increased California death-sentence total is causing concern among defense attorneys. Some believe jurors have become more cynical about evidence of a defendant’s abusive childhood. “There is less tolerance, less understanding from more and more jurors,” said Robert Schwartz, a veteran defense lawyer.