Click here if you don’t see subscription options
A sign is displayed during a 2017 rally protesting the death penalty and in favor of immigration reform. Catholics Against the Death Penalty-Southern California organized the event during a four-day Religious Education Congress in Anaheim. (CNS photo/Andrew Cullen, Reuters) 

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Use of the death penalty in the United States continues to decrease, according to a report released Dec. 17 by the Death Penalty Information Center.

The report said this year's 22 executions and 33 new death sentences were down from the previous year's 25 executions. This year also marks the fifth consecutive year when there were fewer than 30 executions and 50 death sentences. The report also noted that death sentences have declined by more than 85% and executions by more than 75% from their peaks in the 1990s.

"It is encouraging to see the continual decline in the use of the death penalty in the United States," said Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, executive director of Catholic Mobilizing Network, which works to end the death penalty and promote restorative justice.

"People in the pews and clergy at the highest levels of Catholic leadership are lifting up the church's unconditionally pro-life stance and working to build a criminal legal system that honors the sacredness of human life," she added in a Dec. 17 statement.

This past June, the U.S. bishops voted to revise the death penalty section of the U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults, reflecting an earlier change made by Pope Francis and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2018. The Catechism of the Catholic Church now states that the "death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person."

Source: Death Penalty Information Center

The report by the Death Penalty Information Center, based in Washington, highlighted state actions against the death penalty such as New Hampshire voting to abolish capital punishment, making it the 21st state to do so; California's decision to put all executions on hold; and Indiana's 10-year mark since its last execution.

The report said that all together, 32 states have now either abolished the death penalty or not carried out an execution in more than a decade, and it said this number directly contrasts with the federal government's announcement this year that it would resume executions after a 16-year hiatus.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center and the lead author of the organization's 2019 report, said the issue of innocence remained at the forefront of death penalty news this year, adding that the year came close to being one of "executing the innocent."

He said two prisoners were executed this year despite substantial doubts about their guilt, referring to Larry Swearingen in Texas and Domineque Ray in Alabama.

Swearingen had always claimed he was innocent of committing a 1998 murder and his lawyers said DNA evidence on the victim did not match his. Ray was sentenced to death in 1999 for a rape and murder but the jury at his original trial had been unable to reach a unanimous verdict since there was no physical evidence linking him to the murder.

Two other death-row inmates, Clifford Williams in Florida and Charles Ray Finch in North Carolina, were exonerated this year. Both men had been put on death row in 1976.

The report also mentions James Dailey in Florida and Rodney Reed in Texas, who both came close to execution despite compelling evidence of innocence.

"Our courts and public officials too frequently flat out ignore potentially deadly mistakes, and often take steps to obstruct the truth," said Dunham. "That is one of the reasons why public support for the death penalty continues to fall."

The report said seven states carried out executions this past year: Texas, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Dakota and Missouri. Of the 65 scheduled execution dates set in 2019, nearly two-third did not take place.

It also noted that as of Dec. 17, only eight states imposed more than one death sentence in 2019: Florida, Ohio, Texas, Alabama, California, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and South Carolina.

Georgia imposed a death sentence for the first time in five years, after the trial court permitted Tiffany Moss, a defendant with brain damage, to represent herself and she presented no defense at either the guilt or penalty phases of her trial.

The report also highlighted this year's Gallup poll results about the death penalty that showed most Americans support life imprisonment over the death penalty, revealing a shift in the majority opinion on this issue for the first time in 34 years.

We don’t have comments turned on everywhere anymore. We have recently relaunched the commenting experience at America and are aiming for a more focused commenting experience with better moderation by opening comments on a select number of articles each day.

But we still want your feedback. You can join the conversation about this article with us in social media on Twitter or Facebook, or in one of our Facebook discussion groups for various topics.

Or send us feedback on this article with one of the options below:

We welcome and read all letters to the editor but, due to the volume received, cannot guarantee a response.

In order to be considered for publication, letters should be brief (around 200 words or less) and include the author’s name and geographic location. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

We open comments only on select articles so that we can provide a focused and well-moderated discussion on interesting topics. If you think this article provides the opportunity for such a discussion, please let us know what you'd like to talk about, or what interesting question you think readers might want to respond to.

If we decide to open comments on this article, we will email you to let you know.

If you have a message for the author, we will do our best to pass it along. Note that if the article is from a wire service such as Catholic News Service, Religion News Service, or the Associated Press, we will not have direct contact information for the author. We cannot guarantee a response from any author.

We welcome any information that will help us improve the factual accuracy of this piece. Thank you.

Please consult our Contact Us page for other options to reach us.

City and state/province, or if outside Canada or the U.S., city and country. 
When you click submit, this article page will reload. You should see a message at the top of the reloaded page confirming that your feedback has been received.
Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.

The latest from america

Today’s text from the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith makes clear that henceforth, as a rule, the Holy See will not declare any alleged spiritual phenomenon, such as an apparition, as authentic‚ that is, “of divine origin.”
Gerard O’ConnellMay 17, 2024
Cardinal Robert McElroy, Bishop Robert Barron and Bishop Daniel Flores joined moderator Gloria Purvis for a roundtable discussion on the rise of polarization in the church.
Michael O’BrienMay 17, 2024
Whether carefully reflected upon or chosen at random, picking a confirmation name is a personal and spiritual journey for Catholics, reflecting a connection to the saints or a loved one and a commitment to embodying their virtues.
America StaffMay 17, 2024
In young people preparing for confirmation, I see a yearning for something more in their lives, beyond the noise and distractions of technology and social isolation.
Mitchell RozanskiMay 17, 2024