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Graphics: Executions, death sentences declining across the U.S.

Capital punishment fell to a 34-year low while death sentences nationwide near 49-year low.
The lethal injection chamber at a prison in Huntsville, Texas, on Nov. 14, 1991.
The lethal injection chamber at a prison in Huntsville, Texas, on Nov. 14, 1991. Texas put five people to death that year.Paul Harris / Getty Images file

Welcome to The Data Point, a series from the NBC News Data Graphics team that explains a slice of the latest news through charts and visuals.

Executions and death sentences continued to decline this year, the result of the pandemic and lessening support for capital punishment, according to a report released Thursday.

The Death Penalty Information Center’s year-end report found that executions, which peaked in 1999 with 98, have declined to 11 this year, the fewest since 1988.

The 11 deaths include three federal prisoners executed in the final weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency.

This year, Virginia became the first state in the South to abolish the death penalty. According to the report, a handful of other states, including Ohio, Oregon and Utah, introduced laws or passed rulings intended to restrict or abolish the death penalty. 

While about half the country still allows capital punishment, only seven states have conducted an execution since 2020, according to data from the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonpartisan organization that tracks capital punishment in the United States.

In October, Missouri executed Ernest Johnson, a case that received international attention. Johnson was put to death despite a request for mercy from Pope Francis. Bigler Stouffer II was the latest to be executed in the U.S., in Oklahoma on Dec. 9. 

Depending on the outcome of two murder trials, the handful of death sentences issued this year (18) could match the low set in 2020. If so, it would be the fewest death sentences issued in a year since the current era of the death penalty began in 1972.

According to the report, most of the 18 people sentenced to death so far this year were people of color. In 2020 the majority of those sentenced to death were white.