The study found that the death penalty seems to be slowing in many states across the country, with only nine states carrying out executions this year. That is the smallest number of states to do so in 20 years, according to the report. The number of new death sentences in 2012 was the second lowest since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, with 78 new death sentences handed down.
“Capital punishment is becoming marginalized and meaningless in most of the country,” said Richard Dieter, DPIC’s Executive Director and the author of the report.
However, it seems the Sunshine State is bucking the national trend. Four states, Florida, California, Texas and Alabama, were responsible for two thirds of the nation’s death sentences, with Florida leading the nation in new death sentences. In 2012, Florida handed out 21 new death sentences, which is more than twice Texas’ figure for the same period, or more than a fourth of the 78 new death sentences nationwide.
“It is both tragic and ironic that the state that has sent the highest number of wrongfully convicted people to death row is now the one sending the most people there,” said Mark Elliott of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, “Jeff Ashton, state attorney-elect for Orange and Osceola counties, said that he wasn’t surprised that Florida was among the leaders in new death sentencings. The state’s citizens have been clear that they support the death penalty ‘in extreme cases,’ he said.”
Many of those new death sentences came from a particular corner of the state, centered around Jacksonville. Out of those 21 new death sentences, a fourth of them came from the Jacksonville/Duval County area. Out of the 406 inmates currently waiting on Florida’s death row, 60 of them, or almost 15 percent, were convicted in Duval County.
According to Elliott, in the past four years, Duval County has accounted for a third of all new Florida death sentences. “Yet Duval County has only 5 percent of Florida’s population and 8 percent of its murders,” he said.
I asked Mr. Elliott why he thought Florida is responsible for so many death sentences nationwide, in an email last month. In his reply, he said “one huge incentive is that the enormous expense of death penalty trials (can run into millions) are not paid from the local state attorney’s budget. The extreme costs are borne by all state taxpayers. There is almost no accountability or oversight of these funds.”
Here are a few more stats from the report:
*29 states either have no death penalty or have not carried out an execution in five years
*43 executions were carried out in 2012. This was equal to last year’s total
*North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, previously high use states, had no death sentences and no executions in 2012.
*No executions were carried out in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana or Missouri.
*Four states, Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Arizona, were responsible for more than three-quarters of executions nationwide.
*All executions in 2012 were by lethal injection, and all used a relatively new drug, pentobarbital, either alone or in combination with other drugs
* Only nine states executed a prisoner this year, with Florida putting three to death. Texas, with 15, executed the most inmates.