Death Penalty
September 21, 2022
Will the number of death sentences continue to decline?

Despite the rise of violent crime in recent years, the incidence of death sentences and executions remains at record lows and public support for capital punishment is at its lowest since the 1970s. The federal government has not executed anyone since Jan. 16, 2021, shortly before Donald Trump left the White House. The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to the decline in death sentences by causing courts to postpone trials. The number of sentences is likely to rise as the pandemic recedes and the courts dig into their case backlogs, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. This year is on track to become the eighth in a row with fewer than 30 executions and 50 death sentences.

Photo of vigil for Oklahoma death row prisoner Julius Jones, in New York City, on November 18, 2021. Anti-death penalty activists in New York City hold a vigil for Oklahoma death row prisoner Julius Jones on Nov. 18, 2021, the day of his scheduled execution. Four hours before his execution time, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt commuted Jones’ death sentence to life imprisonment without possibility of parole. (Getty Images/Corbis/Andrew Lichtenstein)

The evening before his scheduled execution for the 1999 murder of Oklahoma City area businessman Paul Howell, 41-year-old Julius Jones ate what he thought was his last meal: two Kentucky Fried Chicken sandwiches, McDonald’s fries, a Pizza Hut Meat Lover’s Pizza and bottled water. Jones was then moved to a cell near the execution chamber in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, where he was to be injected with three drugs designed to sedate, then kill him.

Four hours before the 4 p.m. execution time on Nov. 18, 2021, however, Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt commuted Jones’ death sentence to life imprisonment without possibility of parole or future pardons. The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board had twice recommended commutation. 1

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