There have been 53 executions this year, and no more scheduled, compared to 60 last year. The Death Penalty Information Center is in full spin cycle, making much ado about not much. Henry Weinstein has this story in the LA Times. Particularly annoying is DPIC's repeated trumpeting of the fact that this-or-that statistic is down from its all-time high. Pick any dozen statistics at random, and you will probably find at least eleven of them are down from their all-time highs and up from their all-time lows: the price of gold, the price of gas, the NASDAQ 100, the percentage of teens smoking weed, etc., etc., etc. "Down from the all-time high" is a practically meaningless fact, and why this gets treated as newsworthy is something of a mystery.
The fact that the execution number is only down seven despite all the lethal injection litigation is the surprise here. Halfway down the story, Josh Marquis is quoted noting that the murder rate is down. Also, he says, prosecutors and juries are "becoming appropriately more discriminating about when to respectively seek and impose a death sentence."
The drop in new admissions to death row is more interesting. Half of this drop over the last decade is attributable quite simply to the drop in the murder rate, a fact I have never seen in a DPIC release. What accounts for the other half? I have heard anecdotally from prosecutors that the number of especially heinous crimes warranting the death penalty is down even further than the murder rate generally, but I have no way to quantify that. Josh's "appropriately more discriminating" hypothesis is quite plausibly a factor. The fact that in most states a death penalty is not likely to be carried out for a decade or two might discourage prosecutors from seeking it in cases close to the borderline.
I would be interested in comments from those "in the field" on this.