U.S. News

FACTBOX: The death penalty in the United States

(Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a challenge to the lethal three-drug cocktail used in most U.S. executions during the past 30 years. This cleared the way for a resumption of executions halted since last September pending the court’s decision.

Following are some facts and figures about the death penalty in the United States since 1977, when executions resumed following the lifting of a ban on the practice by the U.S. Supreme Court the previous year.

- There have been 1,099 executions in the United States since 1977. The peak year was 1999, when 98 were carried out while no inmates were put to death in 1978 and 1980.

- 42 people were executed in the United States in 2007, the lowest number since 1994 when 31 were put to death.

- 2005, the last year for which data is available, saw 128 death sentences imposed, the lowest number over the past three decades. The peak year was 1996 when 317 were handed down.

- The death penalty is sanctioned by 37 of the 50 states and the U.S. government and the military. Lethal injection is the main method used by all of the death penalty states except for Nebraska which uses the electric chair.

- The standard method involves administering three separate chemicals: sodium pentothal, an anesthetic to make the inmate unconscious; pancuronium bromide, which paralyzes all muscles except the heart; and then potassium chloride, which stops the heart, causing death.

- Texas has been by far the most active death penalty state in the post-1976 era with 405 executions. Virginia is a distant second at 98.

- Amnesty International this week issued a report that ranked the United States fifth in the world in the number of executions in 2007, behind China (470), Iran (317), Saudi Arabia (143), Pakistan (135). These five countries accounted for 88 percent of all known executions.

(Sources: Death Penalty Information Center, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Amnesty International, Reuters)

Reporting by Ed Stoddard, editing by David Storey