Knight Ridder News Service, Dec. 16, 2002
BY SHANNON McCAFFREY, KNIGHT RIDDER NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON — The number of people sentenced to death in the United States plummeted by almost a third last year to 155, its lowest level since 1973, according to a report released Sunday by the Justice Department.
The third straight annual drop in death row admissions, from 229 in 2000, comes as capital punishment faces renewed scrutiny because so many death row inmates — 44 since 1994 — have been exonerated.
Executions were also down for the second straight year, from 85 in 2000 to 66 in 2001. The number of blacks put to death fell sharply from 35 in 2000 to 17 last year. Groups opposed to the death penalty allege that racial bias plays a role in death penalty decisions.
Blacks make up about 12 percent of the population, but the report found they made up 43 percent of the death row population at the end of 2001.
Because of the declining number of death sentences, the death row population fell for the first time since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, from 3,601 in 2000 to 3,581 in 2001.
In Utah, no one was executed and no one joined the state’s death row in 2001.
Convicted killer Elroy Tillman came close before he won a stay of his scheduled Oct. 12, 2001, lethal injection. The last man put to death in Utah was Joseph Mitchell Parsons, who was executed by lethal injection in 1999 for murdering Richard Lynn Ernest, a 30-year-old concrete laborer from Loma Linda, Calif., who had given Parsons a ride.
Parsons was the sixth death row inmate to be executed in Utah since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty during the 1970s.
Eleven men are currently on death row at the Utah State Prison. The last to be sentenced to die was Taberon Dave Honie, convicted in 1999 of sexually assaulting and slashing the throat of his ex-girlfriend’s mother in Cedar City.
At 67, Tillman is the oldest death row inmate in Utah. Honie is the youngest at 27, said Jack Ford, spokesman for the Department of Corrections. Seven of the inmates are white, Ford said, two are black, one is Latino, one is half-Latino and one is American Indian.
The capital punishment study, produced annually by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, covered a period during which anti-death penalty sentiment peaked.
Illinois Gov. Jim Ryan focused attention on the issue when in January 2000 he declared a moratorium on executions to investigate why more death sentences had been overturned than carried out since the state reinstated capital punishment in 1977. Maryland has also put a moratorium in place.