Since resuming executions 20 years ago, 298 Texas inmates have been executed, far more than in any other state. The 17 executions in Texas in 2001 represented a sharp drop for the state, which executed a record 40 people in 2000 and has executed an average of 22 inmates annually since 1992. "What we are finding is that the use of the death penalty is becoming more and more concentrated in Texas and a few other states in the South," said Richard Dieter, who heads the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center, an anti-death-penalty group that published the study. "And increasingly, Texas is finding itself standing alone in its increasing application of the death penalty," Dieter said.
Executions in 2002 declined sharply in Oklahoma, from 18 last year to seven this year. Missouri saw a slight decline, from seven in 2001 to six this year, as did North Carolina, which dropped from five to two.
In all, 13 of the 38 states with capital punishment sent inmates to the death chamber in 2002, the lowest number since 1993, according to the study. Two death penalty states had moratoriums on executions - Maryland since May and Illinois since 2000 - and the federal government executed no one.
Although the total number of executions in the United States increased from 66 last year to 71 this year, the number would have declined had Texas not sharply increased its share, Dieter said.
But Dudley Sharp, a spokesman for the Texas crime-victim advocacy group Justice For All, said executions slowed because the U.S. Supreme Court took up two landmark death-penalty cases, not because of waning public support.
The high court considered whether states could execute mentally retarded inmates and whether a judge or a jury should decide on the aggravating circumstances that might elevate murder to capital murder. "Those two cases, in effect, placed a moratorium on executions for any case that might have fallen into one of those categories," Sharp said in Saturday's editions of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "There is nothing to suggest that anything less than the overwhelming majority of American citizens support the death penalty." Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.