Fewer People Sentenced to Death, U.S. Reports

From Times Wire Services

The number of people sentenced to die reached a 30-year low in 2003, when the death row population fell for the third straight year, the government reported.

Last year, 144 inmates in 25 states were given the death penalty, 24 fewer than in 2002 and less than half the average of 297 between 1994 and 2000, the Justice Department said.

Death penalty opponents say the report shows how wary the public is of executions, heightened by concerns about whether the punishment is administered fairly and publicity about those wrongly convicted.

Opponents point to other possible reasons, including continuing fallout from Supreme Court decisions requiring that juries be told that life in prison without parole is an alternative to death.