The folks at the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington D.C. sent us their informative year-end report in the aftermath of our recent piece on 93-year-old Viva Leroy Nash, the senior member of death row here in Arizona and nationwide. It shows that U.S. executions are down more than 60 pecent compared to nine years ago.
(At left is a photo of murderer Robert Comer, who died by lethal injection in Florence on May 22, 2007, the only legal execution in Arizona since November 2000. We wrote extensively about Comer's case, in which he successfully fought to be executed.)
The non-profit DPIC -- no fan of capital punishment -- concluded, "As executions resumed in 2008 after a temporary moratorium, chronic problems with the death penalty also returned. Many executions had to be stayed, some defendants were granted clemency and others were freed altogether as new evidence emerged, even at late stages of appeal. It has become increasingly clear that the death penalty is being viewed more skeptically by the American public.
"Death sentences and executions have declined in the current decade. Supreme Court justices, law enforcement officers, and victims' representatives have voiced deep concerns about the way the death penalty has been applied and whether it deserves fixing."
The stats surprised us: Ninety-eight people were executed in 1999, compared with just 37 in this waning year of 2008. In 1999, 284 people were sentenced to death, contrasted with 111 through December 10 of this year.
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We pointed out in our story on ancient Mr. Nash that, even though he's been on Arizona's death row for about 26 years, seven younger killers have been there longer, and the odds of any of them dying at the hands of the government anytime soon don't seem particularly great.
"As the economic crisis affected most of the country, the criminal justice system was not spared," the DPIC year-end report noted. "Death penalty cases stood out because they require enormous expenditures on a single defendant, with little expectation that the actual sentence will ever be carried out."-- Paul Rubin