Alabama ranked third nationally in executions conducted in 2010, while the nation overall continued to see fewer executions and death sentences, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Alabama's five executions in 2010 trailed only Texas, which had 17, and Ohio, which had eight. Alabama ranks fifth nationally in the number of executions since 2000, with 30, according to the Death Penalty Information Center's annual report.
The state ranks 23rd in population, but Alabama remains among the top death penalty practitioners because it holds a unique place among the 35 states and two federal jurisdictions that allow it, said Richard Dieter, the center's executive director.
Alabama allows less-than-unanimous death recommendations by juries, and it gives judges the power to override recommendations of life without parole and sentence a capital inmate to death, even when a majority of jurors voted for the lesser sentence.
"The door is open in two ways," Dieter said. "That makes Alabama slower to respond to the growing public concern about the death penalty that we have been seeing as a national trend."
Nationally in 2010, 46 condemned killers were put to death, mostly by lethal injection, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment and is a national clearinghouse on death penalty statistics.
The 2010 rate is 12 percent lower than in 2009 and a drop of more than 50 percent from 1999, the peak year for modern executions, according to the Washington-based center.
The 114 death sentences handed down in 2010 nationally were three more than in 2009, and the second-lowest number of capital sentences imposed in any year since modern death penalty laws were passed after 1972. It also was well below the national peak of death sentencings in the mid-1990s, when more than 320 murderers per year on average were condemned.
"Whether it's concerns about the high costs of the death penalty at a time when budgets are being slashed, the risks of executing the innocent, unfairness or other reasons, the nation continued to move away from the death penalty in 2010," Dieter said.
Three states have dropped the death penalty in the past three years, and abolition is set to be seriously debated in two other states in 2011, Dieter said.
The modern era for capital punishment began in 1976. That year, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the first state death penalty laws passed after the court struck down all capital statutes in effect nationwide in 1972.
Alabama's 49 executions since 1976 ranks the state seventh nationally, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The state's Death Row population of 204 ranks fifth in the nation.
Texas perennially leads the nation in executions, often putting more of its killers to death in a year than all other states combined. Texas has put to death 464 killers since 1976, which is 38 percent of the 1,234 conducted nationally in that period.
"But even Texas is having fewer executions and death sentences," Dieter said. "It's a reflection of that national trend, although Texas has been slower to respond."
Alabama's executions in 2010 were:
Thomas Whisenhant, executed May 27 for the 1977 murder of Cheryl Lynn Payton in Theodore. Whisenhant also admitted killing Venora Hyatt and Patricia Hitt. Whisenhant was 63 when he was executed, after spending nearly 33 years on Death Row.
John Parker, executed June 10 for the 1988 stabbing death of Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett during a contract killing in Colbert County. He was 42 when he was executed, 21 years after he was sentenced to death.
Michael Land, executed Aug. 12 for the 1992 kidnapping and shooting death of Candace Brown in Jefferson County. Land was 41 when he was executed and had been on Death Row for 16 years.
Holly Wood, executed Sept. 9 for the 1993 shooting death of a former girlfriend, Ruby Lois Gosha. He was 50 when he was executed, nearly 16 years after the man with an IQ below 70 was sentenced to death in Pike County.
Phillip Hallford, executed Nov. 4 for the 1986 murder of Eddie Shannon, the 16-year-old boyfriend of Hallford's 15-year-old daughter in Dale County. Hallford, 63, had been under a death sentence for 23 years.
Alabama judges sentenced nine killers to death in 2010, including two for capital murders in Jefferson County and one in Shelby County.
Of the 27 capital defendants whose cases were resolved in Jefferson County in 2010, four got capital convictions and sentences of either life without parole or death by lethal injection. The rest of the cases ended with convictions on lesser charges, acquittals or a dropped charge.
The state's Death Row population is now 50 percent white and 49 percent black, with 1 percent listed as "other."
Most condemned males are held at Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, while the rest are at Donaldson Correctional Facility in Bessemer. The four condemned women are held at Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka.