|12/22/2006 7:00:00 PM|
|Death sentences on decline with juries deciding|
Miner Staff Writer
The Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington-based group, used Bureau of Justice Statistics information to determine that the number of death sentences has dropped almost 60 percent since the 1990s.
There were 3,245 prisoners nationwide on death row at the end of 2005. That total was 66 less than at the end of 2004.
Mohave County currently has eight inmates on death row who are being held at the prison in Florence. There were eight inmates placed on death row in Arizona during 2005, none of whom were from Mohave County.
On average, six people have been sentenced to death per year since 2000.
Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith said the County Attorney's Office looks at three factors before deciding to pursue a death sentence in eligible cases: aggravating factors, reasonable expectations to obtain the death sentence and if a death sentence is justifiable.
"Our office basically looks at every case, case by case," Smith said.
The year 2005 also represented the fifth consecutive year the number of prisoners with a death sentence decreased. There were a total of 3,601 death row prisoners nationwide on Dec. 31, 2000.
Also in 2005, a total of 128 inmates were placed on death row in America. It was the lowest number of admissions since 1973, when 44 people were given death sentences.
Nationwide, the average inmate on death row last year was 42 years old. In Mohave County, the average inmate was 43 years old in 2005 and had been on death row for 10 years and nine months.
Executions have also sharply declined nationwide since 2000. The last death sentence carried out in Arizona was in 2000.
Sixteen states executed 60 prisoners in 2005 - all of which were by lethal injection. It was 38 less than 1999, when executions hit their peak since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.
Texas led the way with 19 executions in 2005, with the next highest states carrying out five executions.
By the end of November this year, 52 inmates had been executed, three less than last year at the same time. Nationwide, individuals who had been executed in 2005 on average had been on death row for 12 years and three months, which was 15 months longer than 2004.
The last execution, of Angel Diaz, 55, by lethal injection on Dec. 13 in Florida, has brought renewed scrutiny of the death penalty. The execution took 34 minutes, nearly twice as long it normally does.
A Gallup poll conducted earlier this year revealed the public is nearly split on the subject, with those in favor of life without parole slightly edging out supporters of the death sentence. According to a 2000 Gallup poll, less than 40 percent of the public was in favor of life without parole, while more than 50 percent favored the death penalty. Smith attributed the decline in death sentences in recent years to the decision requiring a jury to condemn an inmate to a death sentence.
Arizona was one of the few states in America where a judge determined if an inmate found guilty of a crime would receive the death penalty. But with a 7-2 vote in 2002, the Supreme Court ended the practice of having a judge decide sentencing in death penalty cases in Ring v. Arizona.
The decision required a jury to determine sentencing in all capital punishment cases.
In a 5-4 decision in 2004, the Supreme Court clarified that the decision in Ring v. Arizona was not retroactive. But they decided all pending capital punishment cases and capital punishment cases in their early appeals stage required a jury to determine sentencing.