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Posted at 12:01 AM ET, 12/21/2010

Fewer U.S. executions in 2010

By Maria Glod

Virginia executed three people in 2010 -- including the first woman put to death in the state in nearly a century -- making it one of only seven states that carried out more than one execution during the year.

Despite the high-profile execution of a woman, the first in the United States since 2005, the number of death sentences carried out nationwide decreased in 2010 compared to the previous year, according to a new report by the District-based Death Penalty Information Center. There were 46 executions in 2010 compared to 52 in 2009.

The report also projects that 114 death sentences will be handed down by the end of the year, making it among the fewest since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

Richard Dieter, the center's executive director, said he thinks concerns about fairness in deciding which crimes deserve death and worries over the possiblity of executing an innocent person have led to a decline in capital punishment over the past decade.

"If you look back 10 years there is much less use of the death penalty today," Dieter said. "I think that reflects skepticism about the reliability. Will it be used to execute only the guilty? And even when used against the guilty,is is applied reliably, fairly and in a rational way?"

Since 1976, executions peaked at 98 in 1999. In the past decade, 2008 had the fewest executions with 37.

Maryland last executed a prisoner in 2005, and the state's highest court halted the use of the death penalty on a technicality in 2006. Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), who opposes capital punishment, has yet to implement regulations required for executions to resume.

The District of Columbia and 15 other states do not administer the death penalty.

In Virginia, 41-year-old Teresa Lewis in September became the first woman executed in the United States since 2005, when Frances Newton was killed by injection in Texas for the fatal shootings of her husband and two young children. Twelve women have been executed nationwide since 1976.

In a case that attracted international attention, Lewis was put to death for plotting with her young lover to kill her husband and stepson for insurance money. Her co-conspirators, the triggermen, received life sentences. But prosecutors argued for a death sentence for Lewis, saying she was the mastermind.

In March, Paul Powell, 31, was executed in Virginia's electric chair for the 1999 murder of a 16-year-old girl in Manassas, and the rape and slashing of her younger sister. And in May, Virginia executed Darick Walker, who was convicted in 1998 of fatally shooting two men in separate incidents.

By Maria Glod  | December 21, 2010; 12:01 AM ET
Categories:  Around the Nation, Death Penalty, Maria Glod, Virginia  
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