The use of the death penalty in the U.S. declined by virtually every measure in 2015. The 28 executions this year marked the lowest number since 1991, according to a report released today by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). As of December 15, fourteen states and the federal government have imposed 49 new death sentences this year, a 33% decline over last year’s total and the lowest number since the early 1970s when the death penalty was halted by the U.S. Supreme Court.
While the number of persons under sentences of death dropped below 3,000, the report also points out the fact that six persons in six states under that sentence were exonerated:
Even as the use of the death penalty declined, its most dangerous flaw remained apparent. Six death row prisoners were exonerated of all charges this year, one each in Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas. Since 1973, a total of 156 inmates have been exonerated and freed from death row.
In its press release the Center notes that two- thirds of the 28 persons executed this year appeared not to be the “worst of the worst” killers for whom supporters claim the punishment is merited and that courts are not keeping intellectually disabled or mentally ill defendants from facing execution.
In addition, there is an ongoing risk that judicial review is inadequate to protect capital defendants with serious intellectual disabilities or crippling mental illness. DPIC’s report states: “The death penalty is supposed to be reserved for the worst of the worst crimes and the worst of the worst offenders. However, … [t]wo-thirds of the 28 people executed in 2015 exhibited symptoms of severe mental illness, intellectual disability, the debilitating effects of extreme trauma and abuse, or some combination of the three.”
Here in Kentucky there are still no executions since 2008 because of a court-imposed moratorium. Only one or two death sentences have been imposed by juries or judges since 2010. And unexpected voices are being raised to call for an end to executions. Here is a link to a summary of what State Representative David Floyd recently wrote in the Courier-Journal. Rep. Floyd plans to introduce a repeal bill in the 2016 session of the General Assembly.
Links in the introduction to his article take the reader to others whose voices call for abolition: former executioner and dean, Allen Ault; murder victim family member and secretary of the KCADP board, Ben Griffith; and former NRA staffer and current national coordinator for Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, Marc Hyden.
On December 10, Senator Gerald Neal filed a bill that will repeal the death penalty. So we will have both Democrat and Republican sponsors for this legislation. And bills in both chambers. Supporters of repeal are reminded that personal contact with your state legislators urging support for this legislation is really important. Visit them in their districts, attend meetings they host and get to know them personally. You can also call 1.800.372.7181 and leave effective messages for your state senator and your state representative. And don’t ignore those who already support the legislation. Thank them and ask them to be visible, strong advocates for hearings in committee and votes on the floor.