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The Next To Die

The Marshall Project


Looking back, we know quite a bit about who has been put to death in the United States. We know that the last person to be executed was Nathaniel Woods, who died one month and 12 days ago by lethal injection in Alabama. We have records that show he was the 1517th person to have been executed since 1976. In fact, since executions resumed that year following a four-year suspension imposed by the Supreme Court, we know many specifics including race, age, sex and other information about those who have paid the ultimate price in the criminal justice system.


The Next to Die aims to bring attention, and thus accountability, to these upcoming executions. As impartial news organizations, The Marshall Project and its journalistic partners do not take a stance on the morality of capital punishment, but we do see a need for better reporting on a punishment that so divides Americans. Whether you believe that execution is a fitting way for society to deplore the most heinous crimes, or that it is too expensive, racially biased and subject to lethal error, you should be prepared to look it in the face.


As with most criminal justice issues, capital punishment is primarily enforced at the state level. More than half of the states have statutes permitting and regulating the death penalty. (There is also a federal death penalty, which was last used in 2003).


Several states have litigation pending against the death penalty, which has put a halt to executions, at least temporarily. Pennsylvania, a state with one of the most populous death rows, signed 19 execution warrants in 2015 but has not actually executed anyone since 1999, and the governor has declared a moratorium. Similarly in California, the state with the most inmates condemned to die, executions have been on hold since a 2006 ruling. Nebraska’s legislature repealed the death penalty in 2015, but voters later restored it.


Then there are the states that are still actively executing inmates on death row. Many operate under the cover of secrecy laws and despite a nationwide shortage of lethal injection drugs. The de facto leader by count alone is Texas, a state that has executed 569 people since 1976. In all, there are 13 states that have executed people since 2013: Texas, Virginia, Oklahoma, Florida, Missouri, Georgia, Alabama, Ohio, Arizona, Arkansas, Tennesee, Nebraska and South Dakota. Nevada and the federal government intend also to resume executions.


But right now the coronavirus is causing states to put an hold on executions.