Posted by R. Neal

Governors around the U.S. are scrambling to avoid the dubious distinction of having their state host the 1000th execution since the Supreme Court lifted the death penalty ban in 1976.

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner commuted the sentence of a death row inmate to life in prison earlier this week. Robin Lovitt would have been the 1000th person to be executed in the U.S. since the Supreme Court lifted the ban.

In California, the state Supreme Court denied a motion to reopen the case of Crips gang founder Tookie Williams, clearing the way for his execution. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is scheduled to meet next week with lawyers from both sides in the case to discuss clemency.

Now the ball is in North Carolina's court. Kenneth Lee Boyd is scheduled for execution Friday morning at 2:00 AM for the killing of his wife and father-in-law, making him number 1000. Opponents of the death penalty are descending on Raleigh to protest the execution. The article notes that Gov. Mike Easley's support of the death penalty conflicts with his Roman Catholic beliefs.

The death penalty is a uniquely Southern tradition. More than 80% of all executions since 1976 have occurred in the South, with nearly half in Texas alone. Oklahoma tops the list of executions per state capita, but ten Southern states are among the top twenty, including Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, South Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, and Mississippi, in that order.

In sheer numbers, Texas tops the list with 355, followed by Virginia with 94. Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, and Louisiana are included in the top ten.

The South accounts for over 80% of the executions, but has the highest murder rates. The Northeast accounts for only 1% of executions, and has the lowest murder rates. Police chiefs rank reducing drug abuse and better economic conditions as the top two ways to reduce violent crime. The death penalty is ranked dead last. Here are some other interesting facts about the death penalty (PDF format).