Report: Death Sentences Plunge to Historic Lows

Experts say the drop could be due to a variety of factors including America’s “growing discomfort” to high-profile cases such as Troy Davis’s execution.

Posted: 12/15/2011 02:48 PM EST
Death Sentences Plunge

The number of death sentences and executions in the U.S. is at an historic low, an anti-capital punishment group said in its annual report Thursday.


The Death Penalty Information Center reported that 78 people were sentenced to death in 2011, down nearly 30% since 2010 and 65% since 2000. 


The drop represents the first time since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976 that the country has executed less than 100 death sentences in a year. It is also a 75 percent decline since 1996, when there were 315 death sentences.


The center credits the fall to a variety of factors including, “growing discomfort” among Americans sparked by high-profile cases such as Troy Davis, whose guilt was in question for many.


"I think [the Troy Davis case] shook the confidence that some people had about the death penalty, that it really does risk innocent lives — even though many are guilty. There's still the danger, and so juries are returning less death sentences, prosecutors are seeking it less," Richard Dieter, director of the information center, told MSNBC.


Only 13 states carried out executions in 2011, 74 percent of which were in the South. Texas led the country with 13 executions, but that number represents a 46 percent decrease from 2009.


The report was based on statistics and trends in capital punishment over 2011, as well as research material dating back to 1976.


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(Photo: Associated PressAP)

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