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In 2012, Executions Hold Steady, But Death Penalty Imposed Less

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DEATH PENALT 2012
The death chamber at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio. | AP

Convicted killer Michael Hooper's heart stopped beating in an Oklahoma death chamber from lethal injection on Aug. 14. The country's next executions happened more than five weeks later on Sept. 20 when Ohio killed Donald Palmer, who'd murdered two strangers, and when Robert Harris was executed in Texas for killing five people.

The long gap between executions made 2012 one of the quietest years on death row, since executions peaked in 1999, according to a study by the Death Penalty Information Center.

In all, 43 death row inmates have been executed in 2012, the same number as in 2011. That's down by 58 percent from 1999 when 98 condemned prisoners were executed.

"The public still wants it on the books, but they see life without parole as a real alternative," said Richard Dieter, the Death Penalty Information Center's executive director.

The public considers capital punishment too expensive and doesn't think of it as a deterrent to crime, he said. "Capital punishment is being clustered and isolated in a few states."

Though 33 states have the death penalty, only nine states used capital punishment in 2012. Texas, Mississippi, Arizona and Oklahoma accounted for more than 75 percent of this year's executions.

Meanwhile, Connecticut joined the growing number of states to abolish the death penalty. In April, the state became the fifth in five years to eliminate it. However, California voters in November rejected a repeal to ban the death penalty.

Only 78 people received death sentences this year, the second lowest total since the Supreme Court reinstated executions in 1976.

"People are beginning to realize that innocent people get condemned to death," said Alabama defense attorney Richard Jaffe, who opposes the death penalty. "The death penalty is arbitrary and capricious and it doesn't bring closure."

Still, more than 3,000 men and women sit condemned on death rows across the country.

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