Note: This story was last updated on Sept. 21, 2011
Troy Davis, the Georgia death row inmate set to die Wednesday night, had maintained his innocence since the beginning in a case that relied almost entirely on witness testimony. Several witnesses have recanted their testimonies fingering Davis as the man who pulled the trigger in the 1989 murder of Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail.
Still, prosecutors and the victim's son remained convinced Davis is guilty. It is difficult to determine how many prisoners have been put to death in the U.S. based solely on witness testimony, but the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) wrote in its most recent report (PDF) that there have been 1,267 government-sanctioned executions since 1976, so odds are Davis' conviction and sentence is not unique.
Davis, if executed, would become the 35th person this year whose capital punishment sentence was carried through, according to DPIC. The state of Georgia has executed 3 others so far this year, and 51 total since 1976. That is the 7th most of any state since 1976.
Currently, 34 states have the death penalty, as well as the U.S. government and the military. Texas is by far the state with the most executions annually, as well as historically, according to DPIC statistics. The Lone Star state has executed 10 prisoners so far this year, and 474 since 1976. The next on the list is Virginia, with 109 executions since the 70s, but only 1 so far this year.
California and Florida have the largest numbers of death row inmates, with 721 and 398 respectively, according to the DPIC. New Hampshire and Wyoming have one death row inmate each. Wyoming's Dale Wayne Eaton has been on death row since 2004 after his conviction of first-degree premeditated murder, three counts of felony murder, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated robbery, and first degree sexual assault in the 1988 killing of 18-year-old Lisa Marie Kimmell, The Billings Gazette reports.
The DPIC reports: "There were 62 women on death row as of April 1, 2010. This constitutes 1.9 percent of the total death row population. 12 women have been executed since 1976."
Of those executed since 1976, the DPIC reports that 56 percent were white, 35 percent were Black, 7 percent were Hispanic, and 2 percent were listed as "other." The Census Bureau estimates that the U.S. population overall in 2010 was 72 percent white, almost 13 percent black and 16 percent Hispanic.
Since 1976, 1093 death row inmates have died by lethal injection, 157 by electrocution, 11 in a gas chamber, 3 by hanging and 3 by firing squad, the DPIC reports. In general, holding a prisoner on death row and executing them is believed to be much more expensive than holding a prisoner in maximum security for several decades.
The DPIC reports that, in Texas, "a death penalty case costs an average of $2.3 million, about three times the cost of imprisoning someone in a single cell at the highest security level for 40 years."
Internationally, 23 countries carried out executions and 67 imposed death sentences in 2010, Amnesty International reports. An estimated 139 countries have completely abolished the death penalty.
China has by far the most number of executions annually with estimates running in the thousands, although the exact number is hard to pinpoint because of the country's self-reporting mechanisms, Amnesty reports. Number two on that list is Iran, which executed more than 380 prisoners in 2009. The U.S. comes in fifth on that list, behind Iraq and Saudi Arabia.