Feb. 5 (UPI) -- Varying factors have led to a general decline in states carrying out death sentences nationally, but a few states are bucking the trend -- particularly Tennessee and Ohio.
State execution schedules show that Ohio, Tennessee and Texas have a combined 23 executions scheduled from Tuesday through the end of 2020.
Alabama is the only other state to have an execution scheduled over that same span -- with death row inmate Domineque Hakim Marcelle Ray set to be executed on Thursday -- according to the Death Penalty Information Center, an organization that tracks death sentences and executions throughout the United States.
Texas carried out the nation's first execution of 2019 on Wednesday, when Robert Jennings was put to death via lethal injection for killing a Houston police officer in 1988.
While these three states, particularly Tennessee and Ohio, have followed long lulls with a rapidly increased pace of executions in recent years, much of the rest of the country has seen a slowing of executions -- with some states taking steps to eliminate the practice altogether, on both moral and financial grounds.
A significant factor in the decline has been new difficulty obtaining drugs needed for lethal injections -- the most common execution method.
Tennessee and Ohio
While Texas has consistently executed more death row inmates than any other state -- putting to death no fewer than seven people in any year since 2000 -- Tennessee and Ohio have increased their executions since 2017.
On July 26, 2017, Ohio carried out its first execution after two years when it killed Ronald Phillips, who was convicted of raping and beating a toddler to death. Phillips' execution had been delayed about two years as the state faced dwindling availability of drugs -- and many compounding pharmacies, which had previously supplied them, were now refusing to sell them on ethical grounds.
Ohio is scheduled to execute six people -- Cleveland Jackson, Kareem Jackson, Gregory Lott, Warren Keith Hennes, Angelo Fears and James Hanna -- this year and six more next year.
Tennessee recently ended an even longer execution drought, when it carried out its first in 10 years last August. The resumption came after the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled death row inmates failed to show the state's three-drug lethal injection protocol was unconstitutional.
Tennessee responded to the ruling by executing three people in 2018, the second highest number of executions carried out nationally that year, behind only Texas.
This year, Tennessee is set to execute four people, including Donnie Edward Johnson, Stephen Michael West, Charles Walton Wright and Lee Hall Jr., followed by three more next year.
Ohio and Tennessee have faced legal challenges to their lethal injection method and lack of access to drugs to carry out those executions.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich was forced to delay multiple executions early in 2017 due to a preliminary injunction barring the state from using midazolam or any paralytic agent or potassium chloride.
Challenges to the three-drug protocol have largely centered on the use of midazolam, a sedative intended to prevent inmates from feeling pain during execution, which first came under inspection when Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett died of a heart attack after his veins had "blown" and kept the drugs from entering his system. The execution was declared botched by many critics and it raised a new set of ethical questions.
Midazolam was examined in Ohio after it took an extended amount of time for Dennis McGuire to die by a lethal injection cocktail of midazolam and hydromorphone in 2014. McGuire gasped and choked during an execution that took 25 minutes when it usually takes 10.
Ultimately, the appeals court lifted the injunction on Ohio's lethal injections in June 2017, paving the way for Phillips' execution.
In its ruling, the 6th Circuit agreed with lawyers for the inmates that the revised protocol presents "some risk of pain," but said such a risk was impossible to avoid in any form of capital punishment, and was thus legal under the Constitution.
Tennessee has also faced legal challenges to its three-drug lethal injection protocol, including a lawsuit filed by four death row inmates, including West and Sutton, who called for the state to add a firing squad to the state's execution options.
In addition to calling for alternatives to lethal injection, the lawsuit also suggested administering lethal drugs orally in sweet liquids such as fruit juice or altering the drug cocktail by removing vecuronium bromide in order to reduce the chance the inmate is tortured, or changing to a one-drug protocol using pentobarbital.
Some states, including Tennessee, have sought to circumvent these challenges to lethal injections by performing other forms of execution.
Tennessee used the electric chair for the first time since 2007 when it executed Edmund Zagorski in November and again for the execution of David Earl Miller. Both inmates requested the electric chair over lethal execution.
South Carolina's Senate voted 26-13 last week in favor of a revived proposal to bring back the electric chair and add firing squads to its execution options. The state has not carried out an execution since 2011, as drug companies won't provide it with the chemicals necessary for lethal injection.
Ultimately, the increasing number of executions in Ohio and Tennessee is at odds with national trends, which indicate the death penalty is becoming less popular.
The United States executed 25 people in 2018, according to the Death Penalty Information Center's year-end report. The total was a slight increase over the 23 executions carried out in 2017, but remained within five of the 26-year low of 20 executions in 2016.
The center also found the death penalty was largely geographically isolated to the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Nebraska, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas.
Support for capital punishment has also declined among the public. A Gallup poll last year found nearly half of Americans believe the penalty is "applied fairly," and 56 percent favored its use, down from a high of 80 percent in the mid-1990s.
Washington state's Supreme Court ruled to end the punishment last fall on grounds it's unconstitutional because it's applied inconsistently. This year, Republicans -- who have traditionally supported capital punishment -- have led efforts in both Kentucky and Wyoming to outlaw the practice. In Kentucky, a bill has been introduced to replace it with the less expensive punishment of life without parole.
Kentucky House Majority Whip Chad McCoy told The Hill capital punishment has "cost us an inordinate amount of money, and if we just went with life without parole, we would save the state millions and millions of dollars."
"When you talk about death penalty, a lot of people immediately want to have a criminal justice angle on it or a morality angle. And mine is purely economics."
Wyoming voted 36-21 in favor of a bill last week to repeal its death penalty. State Rep. Jared Olsen said "the system is broken" due to the high number of prisoners who are sentenced to death and later exonerated. He also said one of the punishment's main reasons for being -- deterrence -- doesn't functionally work.
"We have to decide what our system is to look like. If it's not a deterrent, we have to ask ourselves what is it," he said. "The only thing we can conclude is that it serves one purpose, and that's retribution. I personally don't believe that we want to enshrine in our laws a system of retribution."