“The first half of 2021 spotlighted two continuing death-penalty trends in the United States. On one hand, the continuing erosion of capital punishment in law and practice across the country; on the other hand, the extreme and often lawless conduct of the few jurisdictions that have attempted to carry out executions this year,” the Death Penalty Information Center reported last week in its 2021 Mid-Year Review.
The stark difference between the two trends is hard to rationalize. As the report notes, 2021 began with the last three of the 13 executions the Trump administration conducted from July through January, and the attempts by states to revive “gruesome, disused execution methods,” as well as never-before-tried methods; while during the same time, Virginia became the first Southern state to abolish the death penalty, and the number of executions and new death sentences was “historically low.”
DPIC says five people were executed in the first six months of this year, three by the federal government and two by Texas. And only four new death sentences were imposed, one each in Alabama, Florida, Nebraska, and California (which has a moratorium in place). “It was the seventh consecutive year of fewer than 30 executions and fewer than 50 new death sentences in the U.S.”
Arizona and South Carolina both announced plans to execute by “methods that have been abandoned in most of the country due to their brutality,” with Arizona planning to execute prisoners with the same gas used by the Nazis to murder millions during the Holocaust, and South Carolina allowing the state to use a firing squad or the electric chair, according to the report.
And DPIC notes the “remarkable incompetence” of states like South Carolina (setting four execution dates it couldn’t legally carry out); Nevada (obtaining drugs it cannot use for executions); and Texas (forgetting to bring reporters to the prison to witness an execution).