For the first time, federal executions beat state executions

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The U.S. government carried out more executions in a year for the first time in history than any state that still carries out executions, according to an annual report released Wednesday on the death penalty.

This year, following a 17-year pause, President Donald Trump oversaw the resumption of federal executions, carrying out 10 executions even as support for the death penalty waned.

This is the highest yearly execution count under a presidency since the 1800s, according to the Death Penalty Information Center report.

Just seven executions were carried out in 2020 by the dwindling number of states with active death penalty systems until some suspended their execution programs to wait out the pandemic. States have carried out 22 executions in 2019.

“We’ve never seen this before. We never expected to see it. And it could be a long time before we ever see it again,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the center.

In the death penalty debate, the center does not take sides, Dunham said, but it has opposed the way states and the federal government carry out the death penalty, emphasizing, among other concerns, problems with racial profiling and secrecy.

Before the Jan. 20 inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, a Democrat and critic of the death penalty, the Trump administration scheduled three more executions.

Lisa Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row, is one of those due to be executed.

In 2004, she was accused of using a rope to strangle a 23-year-old pregnant woman, Bobbie Jo Stinnett, and then using a kitchen knife to remove the little girl from the womb of her mother, authorities said.

If Ms. Montgomery was executed as planned on January 12, in about six decades, she will be the first woman executed by the federal government.

The last federal execution is scheduled for Jan. 15, the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. and just five days prior to the inauguration of Mr. Biden.

According to the report, Texas accounts for three of the 7 state executions in 2020, and Alabama, Georgia, Missouri and Tennessee each account for one.

The newly released study cites a Gallup 2020 poll in which 43 percent of respondents said they were opposed to the death penalty – the highest level of opposition since 1966 to the death penalty reported by Gallup.

Mr. Dunham said that most Americans have “nuanced views” despite the 55% support for the death penalty in the 2020 poll, and that even those who claim they support the death penalty in principle oppose it in reality.

“It’s too early to tell if they don’t want the death penalty at all,” he said.

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