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The current state of the death penalty in the US

Though seven executions in five states are scheduled for this month, Texas is likely the only state that will actually carry them out.
Posted at 8:49 PM, Mar 09, 2023

The Lone Star State is alone in executions in March, and it's doubling down on its decision to execute two men in the month's second week alone.

"Texasis a nationwide leader in the use of the death penalty," said Burke Butler, executive director of the Texas Defender Service.

Gary Green was executed Tuesday for the murder of his estranged wife and her 6-year-old daughter nearly 14 years ago. And on Thursday, Arthur Brown was executed for the drug-related deaths of four people, including a pregnant woman, three decades ago.

But Brown's execution follows a slew of legal developments. His attorneys asked the Supreme Court to halt the execution because he's intellectually disabled. A judge Tuesday also rejected his attorneys' request to test DNA evidence they say proves his innocence.

"He has declared his innocence for 30 years, and the prosecutor had suppressed that evidence, never handed it over to his trial counsel," Butler said. "He's been fighting his innocence all this time. These cases show us that the death penalty is not targeting the worst of the worst in Texas; it's targeting people who have really deeply concerning issues in their legal cases."

Butler is among the growing group of people working to repeal the death penalty in America. She says nearly 200 people on death row in the U.S. have been exonerated of their crimes, including 16 in Texas.

"I think it does come down to politics, and we know that it doesn't come down to public safety," Butler said.

U.S. Map showing states with and without death penalty.

Why is the death penalty process taking longer?

The Death Penalty Information Center found more than half of the executions over the last decade took 25 years or more to finalize.


The number of executions and sentences in the U.S. have dropped dramatically in the last quarter century. Where there were once roughly 300 sentences and 100 executions annually, last year saw 20 sentences and 18 executions.

"You have 18 executions last year in the United States over 20,000 murders," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. "Eighteen executions are not even a drop in the bucket."

Many states have opted out of the death penalty, with 23 repealing it completely and four having a governor-imposed moratorium.

Plus, public approval continues to drop, from 80% in the mid-90s to 55% in 2022.

But it's not just the morality of the death penalty itself that's being questioned; it's the means, too. 

After rampant cases of botched executions, states like Tennessee and Alabama had reviews before reinstating, and those watching the issue closely don't trust them.

The botched executions are bringing up other issues: Pharmaceutical companies don't want to supply the drugs to perform them, so some states are providing cover.

"No one wants to be associated with this process publicly, and that's why you have these secrecy laws," Dieter said.

Other states — like Idaho, South Carolina and Alabama — are threatening to return to other, more gruesome methods like firing squads, the electric chair and even a gas chamber.

An execution chamber at Oklahoma State Penitentiary

Oklahoma To Resume Lethal Injections After 5-Year Break

Oklahoma's governor said it's the state's duty to carry out "this somber task."