Executions drop in 2008, group says

Jan. 1, 2009 at 2:41 PM

WASHINGTON, Jan. 1 (UPI) -- U.S. executions in 2008 tumbled to a 14-year low and new death sentences fell to their lowest number since 1976, a research group reports.

The non-profit Death Penalty Information Center, an anti-death-penalty organization, said nine states executed 37 people last year, a 62 percent drop from the 98 executions carried out in 1999, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The center said 111 new death sentences were handed down, a decline of four from 2007 and the lowest since executions resumed in 1976, said the center, a storehouse of reports and research run largely by opponents of capital punishment.

State and local governments looking for ways to save cash may have helped lower the execution rates, Richard Dieter, a Catholic University law professor and Washington center director, told the Times.

"I don't know that it will change public opinion, but the practical effects of the economy are just that -- if you're a politician and you have to cut something, do you want fewer police officers on the streets ... or do you cut one death penalty and save a few million dollars?" Dieter said.

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