U.S. Executions Drop to Record Low

Support for the death penalty continues to decline dramatically across the United States, according to a new report released by the abolition-inclined Death Penalty Information Center.

The number of new death sentences imposed in 2015 was a third less than the number in 2014, while the number of actual executions dropped to the lowest annual level in 24 years. In public opinion polls, popular support for the death penalty also sunk to its lowest level since 1972. 

The DPIC report doesn't offer any single explanation for the country's waning enthusiasm for executions. But the fact that six more former death row inmates were exonerated of all charges last year may have something to do with it. 

Only eight states — Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia — have performed executions in the last two years. With thirteen, Texas accounted for almost half of the 28 executions carried out in 2015. But the annual total is a steep decline from the numbers generated in the late 1990s. 

Similarly, the 49 death sentences imposed in 2015 represent a significant drop from an already historic low level. The yearly average of such sentences over the past decade is lower than it's been for any decade going back to the 1960s.

In Colorado last year, juries failed to return a death penalty verdict in two high-profile, multiple-slaying cases, preferring to give life sentences to James Holmes and Dexter Lewis

Several states have moved to abolish the death penalty entirely. Colorado has one of the smallest death row populations — three — of any state that continues to maintain the option of death.

No one has actually been executed in the state since Gary Davis was strapped to the lethal injection gurney in 1997.

But the long odds against actually achieving an execution haven't stopped prosecutors from periodically seeking the death penalty — most recently in the case of Miguel Contreras-Perez, accused of murdering corrections officer Mary Ricard in 2012. Sixteenth Judicial District Attorney Jim Bullock has declared his intention of making it a capital case, even though members of Ricard's family have adamantly opposed such a move. 
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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast

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