Capital punishment in the U.S. has grown rare to the point of near extinction, reports NPR. The 28th and last execution scheduled for this year is set for tomorrow in Georgia. Polls show that 60 percent of the public supports the death penalty, and the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld it as constitutional, yet the number of executions this year is almost the same as the number of fatalities from lightning strikes: 27 executions versus 26 deaths by lightning. When the high court briefly banned the death penalty in 1972, it did so, in part, because, as Justice Potter Stewart put it, capital punishment was being imposed so randomly and “freakishly” that it was like being “struck by lightning.”
Four years later, the court would revive the death penalty, but with new limitations aimed at reserving it for the so-called worst of the worst. The number of executions soared in the 1990s, hitting a high of 98 in 1999 and ultimately totaling more than 1,400, but it tailed off dramatically after 2000. The death penalty remains the law in 31 states, but in many of the 31, capital punishment has largely fallen into disuse. In four of them, the governor has put a moratorium on the death penalty, and in 17 there’s an executive or judicial hold on executions because of botched procedures or problems in obtaining drugs that courts and legislatures have approved for lethal injection. In fact, in the past 11 months, only five states conducted executions” Texas, Georgia, Missouri, Florida and Virginia.