Kentucky’s first execution in 35 years was among 74 in the United States in 1997, a modern record.
Led by Texas, 17 states executed condemned murderers, according to a year-end report from the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C. No more are scheduled this year, it said.
The number of executions was the most since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976, and it brought the total since then to 432.
The highest previous total since reinstatement was 56 in 1995.
The 1997 total also was the highest in any year since 1955, when 76 people were executed. It was not uncommon to have more than 150 executions a year in the United States in the 1930s, but that number dropped off steadily in the decades leading to a short-lived ban on capital punishment in the 1970s.
Texas accounted for half of all the executions in the United States in 1997, with 37. Part of the reason was a backlog of scheduled executions that built up while prisoners unsuccessfully challenged a shortened appeals process instituted by the state.
Richard Dieter, head of the Death Penalty Information Center, said the number of executions in the United States could drop next year because Texas has worked though its backlog and probably won’t have as many in 1998.
However, the overall numbers in coming years could overtake this year’s record because of laws limiting appeal time and other factors, Dieter said.
“Unless things radically change over the next five years, we’ll be going gradually up,” Dieter said.
His organization argues that the application of the death penalty is flawed because of racism, poor resources and representation for the accused and other problems.