updated 12/4/2008 6:45:41 PM ET 2008-12-04T23:45:41

Texas juries this year sentenced the fewest number of inmates to death row since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed capital punishment to resume in 1976, according to a report Thursday from an anti-death penalty group.

Nine people convicted by the state's juries in 2008 were sentenced to die, according to an annual review of capital punishment cases by the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

It also found that six executions this year were stopped by last-minute reprieves and seven Texas inmates were removed from death row with sentences commuted to life.

Executions down from 2007
Executions in the nation's busiest death chamber were down to 18 from 26 a year ago, but no executions were carried out until June because of a de facto nationwide moratorium on capital punishment while the Supreme Court considered whether lethal injection methods were unconstitutionally cruel.

Juries appeared to have tempered their condemnations. In Harris County, which is the state's top contributor to death row, no one was sentenced to death in 2008. It was a first in more than three decades.

"A lot of it can be attributed to life without parole and people who plead," Roe Wilson, a Harris County prosecutor who handles capital case appeals, said Thursday.

Harris County accounts for 118 of the state's 354 condemned inmates.

Kristin Houle, the Austin-based coalition's executive director, called 2008 a "roller coaster year for the death penalty in Texas."

Six scheduled to die in January
She noted that "officials' zeal for executions was not matched by public desire for new death sentences, as evidenced by the continued steep decline in the number of new inmates arriving on death row."

The final execution of 2008 in the state took place Nov. 20. At least 10 prisoners have execution dates scheduled for next year, including at least six in January.

Since Texas resumed capital punishment in December 1982, 420 men and three women have been executed.

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