A years-long decline in the number of death sentences and executions continues to play out nationally and in Texas--which is still the most active death penalty state. According to a new report from the Death Penalty Information Center, an anti-death penalty organization, there were a total of 22 executions carried out nationwide in 2019. That's three fewer than 2018 and the second fewest in almost three decades. It marks the fifth consecutive year with fewer than 30 executions and fewer than 50 death sentences nationwide.
Texas also reflects that declining trend in capital punishment. "This year in Texas there were nine executions, in 2018 there were 13, and in 2017 there were seven," says Jeremy Desel, spokesman for the TDCJ. "The numbers of scheduled executions and executions conducted in Texas have been pretty stable for the last five, ten years."
As for what is behind the national decline, there are fewer states carrying out executions. This year alone, New Hampshire became the 21st state to abolish the death penalty, while California joined three other states in issuing a moratorium on executions. The decline in Texas executions traces back to a 2005 law that changed sentencing guidelines to allow the option of life in prison without parole for capital murder cases.
Courts have also been active in delaying or overturning death sentences, as happened several times this year. Desel points out that there were actually 20 executions scheduled in Texas this year, with less than half actually carried out. "We don't prosecute things," he says. "We just take the orders that we're given, and do what the protocols tell us to do."