Death Penalty Declining in Indiana


Like most of its neighbors in the Midwest, Indiana is moving steadily away from capital punishment. Capital prosecutions are down, no jury has voted for a death sentence since 2013, and it has been almost a decade since the state executed anyone.

Huntington County Prosecutor Amy Richison, who chairs the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council’s capital litigation committee, told the Journal Gazette that some of the shift away from the death penalty started in 1993, when lawmakers made life imprisonment without parole an alternative sentence for capital murder. She said the high cost of death penalty cases and the length of the trial and appeal process have also contributed to the death penalty’s decline.

“The victims’ families are a big factor in why death penalty filings have dropped,” Indianapolis defense attorney Eric Koselke explained. “People are aware of how long this process takes and they want closure and don’t want to go through it.”

Eight people are under sentence of death in Indiana today. The Indiana Department of Correction has struggled to obtain the drugs required by the state’s lethal injection protocol. “Inadequate supply chain has been a problem for two years,” Attorney General Curtis Hill said. The correction department confirmed that the state currently doesn’t have the necessary drugs to conduct an execution.

The Death Penalty Information Center reports that, of 99 people sentenced to death in Indiana since 1973, 20 have been executed, two have been exonerated, and three have had their sentences commuted by governors. The remaining 65 people had their death sentences vacated following the reversal of their convictions or sentences, or died in custody.

Half of the Midwestern states have abolished the death penalty. Of the six states (Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, and South Dakota) with capital punishment still on the books, only Ohio has averaged more than one death sentence per year since 2014. The other five have imposed a combined total of nine death sentences since 2014, only three of which were the product of unanimous jury votes for death, DPIC reports. The three death sentences in Nebraska were imposed by three-judge panels; the two death sentences in Missouri were imposed under the state’s controversial hung-jury provision that requires the trial judge to determine the sentence if the jury does not unanimously agree on life or death; and William Clyde Gibson was sentenced to death by his trial judge in Indiana in August 2014 after he waived his right to a jury.

Indiana has not executed anyone since 2009, following the region-wide trend of declining executions across the Midwest.