The number of death sentences imposed in the United States - and the number of executions carried out - have declined by almost 40 percent over the past five years, according to a report to be released today by the Death Penalty Information Center, a group that opposes capital punishment.
In 1999 there were 98 executions, the most in the modern era of the death penalty. By 2003 that figure fell to 65; this year there have been 59 - with no other executions scheduled.
"By every measure, the death penalty in the U.S. has been in decline since 1999," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Washington-based center.
Five death row inmates have been exonerated this year - two in Louisiana and one each in Illinois, North Carolina and Texas - for a total of 117 people set free since 1976, when the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment.
Robin M. Maher, director of the American Bar Association's death penalty representation project, said statistics reflect the public's growing doubt about the reliability of the death penalty and decreased confidence in fairness of the system.
"Juries are more reluctant to impose the death sentence for a variety of reasons, prime among them a parade of wrongfully convicted people leaving death row," she said.
But Charles Hobson, an attorney with the Sacramento-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation - which favors capital punishment - said there are fewer death sentences because the violent crime rate has gone down and people feel safer.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.