Use of death penalty remains low in U.S. although Nebraska and two other states resumed executions

Use of death penalty remains low in U.S. although Nebraska and two other states resumed executions
The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services' execution room in Lincoln, as seen from the viewing room. (World-Herald News Service)

WASHINGTON — Three states resumed executions of death row inmates in 2018 after long breaks, but nationwide, executions remained near historic lows this year, according to an annual report on the death penalty released Friday.

The report by the District of Columbia-based Death Penalty Information Center says 25 executions were carried out in 2018, the fourth consecutive year in which there have been fewer than 30 executions nationwide.

Since the death penalty was reinstated in the United States in 1976, the number of executions peaked in 1999 with 98. They were at their lowest in 2016 with 20, according to center statistics. Americans’ support for the death penalty similarly peaked in the 1990s and has declined since, according to public opinion polls by Gallup. A 2018 Gallup poll showed 56 percent of Americans supported the death penalty for a person convicted of murder.


Executions in 2018 were clustered in eight states: Nebraska, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas.

About half of all the executions in 2018 took place in Texas, which carried out 13 death sentences. Tennessee was second with three. Alabama, Florida and Georgia each had two while Nebraska, Ohio and South Dakota each carried out one.

Nebraska, Tennessee and South Dakota were the three states that resumed executions this year. Nebraska’s execution of Carey Dean Moore was the state’s first execution in more than 20 years. It was also the first time any state has used the drug fentanyl in an execution.

This year marked the first time in nearly nine years that Tennessee carried out an execution. South Dakota ended a six-year stretch without executions.

Tennessee’s executions came at the end of a systematic challenge to lethal injection there while executions in Nebraska and South Dakota involved inmates who gave up challenges to their execution, said Death Penalty Information Center executive director Robert Dunham. The nonprofit center doesn’t take a side in the debate over the death penalty, Dunham said, but has criticized the way states carry out the death penalty, singling out problems with bias and secrecy.

All the inmates executed in 2018 were men, and all but two of the executions were carried out by lethal injection, according to a center database. Two Tennessee inmates chose to die by electric chair because of concerns about pain associated with the state’s lethal injection procedure.

The report says that 41 new death sentences have been imposed so far this year, the fourth straight year with fewer than 50 new death sentences.

And while three states resumed executions this year, Washington became the 20th state to abolish the death penalty in October, when its Supreme Court said capital punishment in the state was “imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner.”

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