Executions and new death sentences dropped to their lowest numbers in decades in 2014, an anti-death penalty group said in a new report. The Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit organization that opposes executions and tracks the issue, said 35 inmates were executed this year and 71 have so far been given death sentences. The last time fewer inmates were put to death was in 1994, when there were 31 executions nationwide. The number of new sentences is the lowest in the 40 years that the center calls the modern death-penalty era. Since executions resumed in 1977 following a halt imposed by the Supreme Court, the number of executions peaked at 98 in 1999; that same year, 277 inmates were sentenced to death.
Problematic executions in Arizona, Ohio, and Oklahoma and questions about drugs used in lethal injection executions have contributed to public outcry and delays in carrying out death sentences, says Richard Dieter, the center's executive director. Exonerations of people who were wrongly convicted, the availability of prison terms of life without parole, and the cost of capital trials and the appeals process also are factors in the persistent decline, Dieter says. Just three states—Texas, Missouri, and Florida—accounted for 28 executions, or 80% of the total. The only other states that carried out executions in 2014 were Arizona, Georgia, Ohio, and Oklahoma. "When almost all of the executions are in so few of the states, you have to question the relevancy of the death penalty in the country as a whole. If we were seeking deterrence or retribution, a lot more states would be doing this," Dieter says. (Read more execution stories.)