Report: 11 executions in 2021 mark three-decade low

Dec 15, 2021, 7:43 AM | Updated: 9:49 pm
FILE - This March 22, 1995, photo, shows the interior of the execution chamber in the U.S. Penitent...

FILE - This March 22, 1995, photo, shows the interior of the execution chamber in the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind. States and the federal government carried out 11 executions in 2021. That's the fewest since 1988. Pandemic-related disruptions partly accounted for the low number of executions this year, but 2021 marked the seventh consecutive year when there were fewer than 30 executions and fewer than 50 new death sentences. (AP Photo/Chuck Robinson, File)

(AP Photo/Chuck Robinson, File)

CHICAGO (AP) — States and the federal government carried out 11 executions this year, the fewest since 1988, as support for the death penalty has continued to decline.

That’s according to an annual report on the death penalty released Thursday, which was also sharply critical of the Supreme Court and its role in green-lighting executions. Three of the death sentences were carried out in January during an unprecedented run of federal executions that ended days before President Donald Trump left office. Annual executions have steadily declined since peaking at 98 in 1999.

Pandemic-related disruptions partly accounted for the low number of executions this year — though 2021 marked the seventh consecutive year when there were fewer than 30 executions and fewer than 50 new death sentences, the report said.

The federal death penalty was put on hold in June by Attorney General Merrick Garland, well short of the permanent abolition activists hoped for when Joe Biden became the first sitting U.S. president to have openly opposed the death penalty. State executions continue despite growing numbers of Americans opposed to the death penalty.

The report from the Death Penalty Information Center said far from representing the “worst of the worst,” 10 of the 11 prisoners executed this year had “significant impairments,” including IQs in the intellectually disabled range.

Many cases were tainted by poor legal representation at trial and jurisdictions engaging in “shocking conduct” to thwart judicial review of credible constitutional claims, the report said.

“As death-penalty usage continues to erode, its flaws become even more evident,” the report from the Washington, D.C.-based center said.

The report also noted the three conservative appointments to the Supreme Court by Trump and said the justices demonstrated “deep hostility to stays of execution,” denying or lifting every stay of execution requested — other than a few on religious grounds that inmates should have fuller access to spiritual advisers.

The report also noted how some death-penalty states scrambled for alternative execution methods after pharmaceutical companies restricted access to drugs once widely used for lethal injections. It highlighted Arizona’s proposal this year to use the same cyanide hydrogen gas deployed by Nazis to kill Jews.

Support for the death penalty, meanwhile, has plummeted from a high of 80% in 1994 to 54% this year, according to a 2021 Gallup poll cited in the report. Since the mid-1990s, opposition has risen from under 20% to around 45% now.

States also continue to rescind death penalty laws. Virginia, once a prolific executioner, did so in March, bringing the number of states to have abolished the death penalty to 23. Three, including California, have moratoriums on executions.

Executions have been increasingly concentrated in a few Southern states. Texas executed three inmates and Oklahoma two in 2021. Alabama, Mississippi and Missouri each executed one. The Trump administration executed three. The last, Dustin Higgs, was executed five days before Joe Biden’s inauguration. The federal executions brought the year’s total to 11.

Trump’s Justice Department executed 10 federal prisoners in 2020, ending a 17-year hiatus as COVID raged through prisons. States suspended their death penalty programs during the height of the pandemic.

Among other report highlights:

— Seven states imposed 18 new death sentences in 2021 — tying a record low. Alabama and Oklahoma imposed four each. California and Texas both imposed three. Florida imposed two and Nebraska and Tennessee one each.

— Six of the 11 inmates executed in 2021 were Black. Black and Hispanic defendants made up more than 60% of the death sentences imposed this year.

— Some 2,500 prisoners remain on state death rows. Some 50 are left on federal death row at a Terre Haute, Indiana, prison after the Trump executions reduced their numbers by nearly a quarter.

The Justice Department’s June order halted federal executions while it reviewed Trump-era practices. The Biden administration also withdrew notices of intent to seek the death penalty in several cases. But the administration did still keep pressing for death sentences for white supremacist Dylann Roof, convicted in the 2015 slayings of nine members of a Black congregation in South Carolina, and for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Despite a campaign pledge to decisively end executions, Biden hasn’t addressed the issue publicly as president. The report noted he hasn’t backed legislation to strike the death penalty from U.S. statutes. Activists fear federal executions could restart if Trump were to run again for president and win a second term or if another capital punishment advocate becomes president.

The report spotlighted several individual executions.

It described Oklahoma’s execution of John Grant on Oct. 28 as “botched.” The 60-year-old, convicted in the 1998 slaying of a prison cafeteria worker, repeatedly convulsed and vomited after his lethal injection. Oklahoma’s Department of Corrections said the execution occurred “without complication.”

The report also pointed to the May 19 Texas execution of Quintin Jones, 41, convicted of killing his great aunt in 1999. It proceeded without media witnesses, the first time since Texas resumed capital punishment in 1982 that no journalist was present. Officials blamed a failure to bring in reporters waiting nearby on miscommunication.

Two death row inmates were exonerated in 2021, both in Mississippi. One, Eddie Lee Howard Jr., who is Black, was freed after spending 26 years on death row after debunked bite-mark testimony and DNA evidence cleared him in the 1992 rape and killing of an 84-year-old white woman.

Those exonerations bring the total number of exonerees out of more than 9,600 death sentences since the early 1970s to 186, the report said.

That figure, it added, “revealed that the American death-penalty system is even more frighteningly unreliable than was previously understood.”


Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Seattle Mariners including Jesse Winker, left; Ty France, third from right; Logan Gilbert, second f...
Tim Booth, Associated Press

Mariners end two decades of misery returning to postseason

Baseball is fun again in the Pacific Northwest in a way that it hasn’t been in more than two decades. The longest postseason drought in the four major professional sports ended Friday night when the Mariners earned a long-coveted spot in the Major League Baseball playoffs.
22 hours ago
The steeple lays on its side atop Southwest Baptist Church in Fort Myers, Fla., on Sunday, Oct. 2, ...
Associated Press

Hurricane Ian shakes SW Florida’s faith but can’t destroy it

FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — In darkness and despair, there were flickers of light and hope, even for Jane Compton who lost her home and possessions to Hurricane Ian’s wrath. As the storm approached last week, she and her husband found sanctuary at their Baptist church, huddling with fellow parishioners through wind, rain and worry. […]
22 hours ago
Alice Pujols goes through someone else's discarded items for clothes and shoes for her family Monda...
Associated Press

In Ian’s wake, Florida residents brave a slow wait for power

BONITA SPRINGS, Fla. (AP) — Nearly a week after Hurricane Ian smashed into Florida and carved a path of destruction that reached into the Carolinas, more than half a million statewide residents faced another day without electricity Tuesday as rescuers continued their search for those trapped inside homes inundated with lingering floodwaters. At least 78 […]
22 hours ago
FILE - Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., speaks during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, on...
Associated Press

Kelly, Hobbs face different prospects in crucial Ariz. races

PHOENIX (AP) — A year ago, Arizona’s Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs was all over cable news, building a national profile as a defender of democracy and raking in cash for her campaign for governor. Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, newly elected to finish the late John McCain’s last term and running for reelection, looked […]
22 hours ago
FILE - The U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, Monday, June 27, 2022. The satirical site The...
Associated Press

The Onion and the Supreme Court. Not a parody

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Onion has some serious things to say in defense of parody. The satirical site that manages to persuade people to believe the absurd has filed a Supreme Court brief in support of a man who was arrested and prosecuted for making fun of police on social media. “As the globe’s premier […]
22 hours ago
Associated Press

Today in History: October 4, Soviets launch Sputnik

Today in History Today is Tuesday, Oct. 4, the 277th day of 2022. There are 88 days left in the year. Today’s Highlight in History: On Oct. 4, 1957, the Space Age began as the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite, into orbit. On this date: In 1777, Gen. George Washington’s troops […]
22 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
Report: 11 executions in 2021 mark three-decade low