Executions hit 1,000, but slowing

RALEIGH, NC – Early on Dec. 2, Kenneth Lee Boyd was executed in Raleigh by lethal injection for the 1988 murder of his estranged wife and her father, becoming the 1,000th person put to death in the United States since the death penalty was restored almost 30 years ago.

Later the same day, Shawn Humphries became number 1,001, executed in South Carolina for murdering a store clerk during a robbery on New Year’s Day 1994.

Next is line is Stanley Tookie Williams, the former Crips gang founder who was convicted of killing four people but later renounced his violent past. Although he has never admitting he committed the crimes for which he faces death, he has counseled young people not to join gangs.

Celebrities such as Tim Robbins, rapper Snoop Dogg and actor Jamie Foxx, who portrayed Williams in a TV movie, are campaigning on his behalf, and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has pledged to review the case before deciding whether to grant clemency before the scheduled Dec. 13 execution date.

A total of 3,400 people remain on death row, but their numbers are growing slowly as death sentences become fewer and executions less frequent. Courts sentenced 125 people to death last year, compared with an average of 290 per year in the 1990s. The number of inmates executed in 2004 was the lowest since 1996.

Popular support for the death penalty is also falling. About two-thirds of people in surveys support it today, compared to 80 percent a decade ago. A growing number say they would prefer murderers to be imprisoned for life with no chance of parole. Greater use of DNA evidence has persuaded many that some of those who have been executed were innocent.