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DECEMBER 23, 1998   9:15 AM
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Death Penalty Information Center
Richard Dieter, 202/293-6970
dpic@essential.org
 
The Death Penalty in 1998: New Voices In Dissent, Executions Decline. 500th Execution May Mark A Turning Point
 
WASHINGTON - December 23 - The Death Penalty Information Center is releasing its annual Year End Report indicating a slight decline in executions from the record number in 1997. As of December 18, there were 68 executions in the U.S., down from 74 people executed last year (no more are scheduled this year).

About half of the executions occurred in two states: Texas and Virginia. The total number of executions in the U.S. since 1976 reached 500. The number of people on death row again moved to a record high and now stands at 3,517, though the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported a 19% drop in new death sentences in 1997.

The year was marked by unusual events which prompted criticism of the death penalty from new sources. Among those former death penalty supporters who spoke critically about the way the death penalty is applied were Chief Justice Gerald Kogan of the Florida Supreme Court, Judge Rudolph Gerber of the Arizona Court of Appeals, Rev. Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network, former Virginia Attorney General William Broaddus, and former Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox. Even Secretary of State Madeleine Albright attempted to stop the planned execution of foreign nationals in Virginia and Texas.

The international human rights community was also strongly critical of the death penalty in the U.S. with statements coming from the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, the European Union, the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur, and the International Court of Justice. Religious leaders, both in the U.S. and around the world called for an end to executions.

Two events attracted particular attention from the American public.

The execution of Karla Faye Tucker in Texas, despite the radical changes in her life and pleas for clemency from around the world, shocked many people. In November, a national gathering of innocent people dramatically illustrated the human costs of capital punishment.

The year ended with the 500th execution since the reinstatement of the death penalty when Andy Smith was executed in South Carolina. His case, while ordinary in many ways, triggered renewed calls for a death penalty moratorium.

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