Death Penalty: Arizona may match all-time record for executions this year

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A German reporter views the gas chamber where inmates condemned to death are executed inside the “Death House” at the main prison complex in Florence, 80 miles southeast of Phoenix, Arizona in February 1999.

Arizona may execute more people this year than it has in any year since 1999, matching an annual record since establishing capital punishment 102 years ago and bucking a national trend away from the death penalty, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.

Two convicts have been executed so far this year in Arizona, the news agency said, adding that two more death warrants may be signed next week and three other cases are nearing the end of their appeals process, making for a possible total of seven executions this year.

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The last time Arizona executed so many was in 1999, which was the busiest year for the state’s executions since the first law permitting court-ordered killings was enacted in 1910, according to the AP.

The Tucson Citizen reported on March 8 that Arizona had executed two convicts within eight days: Robert Towery was killed by lethal injection Thursday for murder committed during a bungled 1991 robbery and Robert Moormann was put to death for killing and dismembering his mother 28 years ago.

"We're having a big year," Andrew Clemency, a public defender and law professor specializing in capital cases, was quoted as saying . "Arizona is becoming a major player in the death-penalty world, right up there with places like Texas or Georgia or Florida."

Texas, which annually executes more convicts than any other state, has seen a drop in executions, according to numbers cited by the AP. Judicial killings there were down by almost half last year from 2009: 24 were executed there in 2009, 17 in 2010 and 13 in 2011.

Executions in the US have likewise declined by about half since 1999, the busiest year on record, when 98 people were put to death. Executions have averaged 44 a year since 2007.

If Arizona executes seven this year, it will likewise become the number 2 executor among US states, only 13 of which carried out the death penalty last year.

"Arizona is kind of out of step with where the rest of the country is going on the death penalty," Shari Silberstein, executive director of the anti-death-penalty group Equal Justice USA, was quoted as saying. "It is concerning. It says that Arizona is not looking at the facts that everyone else is recognizing."

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According to the Tuscon Citizen, Towery, described as a “severe” methamphetamine addict, made final remarks, apologizing to his victims and calling out to a nephew who witnessed the execution.