WASHINGTON - Texas and other states that lead the nation in executions are sentencing many fewer inmates to death, a trend that slowly is reducing the death-row population in the United States, a report from an anti-capital punishment group says.
There were 106 death sentences imposed in 2009, the Death Penalty Information Center estimated in its annual report released today. That number is the smallest since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976 and compares with an annual average of 295 death sentences during the 1990s.
Fifty-two people were put to death in 11 states this year, nearly half as many executions as 10 years ago.
Nine men who had been sentenced to death were exonerated and freed in 2009, the second-highest number of exonerations since the death penalty was reinstated, the report said.
Nationwide, the death-row population has shrunk nearly 10 percent in the last 10 years, but still tops 3,000.
The center, which opposes capital punishment, attributes the drop in both executions and new death sentences to fears of executing the innocent, concerns about the high cost of the death penalty, and laws that allow inmates to be sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Also mentioned are the historically low crime rate and the Supreme Court's decisions to keep juveniles and the mentally disabled from being executed.
In Texas, which continues to outpace other states in executions, the death-row population has declined by more than a quarter in 10 years, mainly because of the decrease in death sentences. Harris County - which includes Houston and all by itself has put more people to death than any state other than Texas - has had no new death sentences for the last two years.
Statewide, nine people were sentenced to death in Texas in 2009, compared with 48 in 1999 and an annual average of 34 in the 1990s.
Ohio and Virginia, among the annual leaders in executions, recorded just one new death sentence each.
Pennsylvania, another state with a large death-row population - 225 inmates - has not executed anyone in 10 years, the report said. The three inmates it has executed since 1976 had given up appeals that would have extended their lives by years or blocked their executions altogether.