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Death Penalty Cases Decrease In U.S.

Last updated on Thursday, January 5, 2012

(UNDATED) - A nonprofit clearinghouse for information about capital punishment finds that the use of the death penalty in the U.S. continued to decline in 2011.

Richard Dieter with the Death Penalty Information Center says the number of new death sentences nationwide dropped to the lowest number since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976. He says it's part of a decade-long trend.

The last execution in the state of Indiana took place in 2009. 49-year-old Matthew Wrinkles, an Evansville resident, was found guilty of the July 21, 1994, shooting deaths of his estranged wife, Debra Jean Wrinkles, 31; her brother, Mark "Tony" Fulkerson, 28; and Fulkerson's wife, Natalie Fulkerson, 26.

The slayings occurred nine days after a doctor ended Wrinkles' three-day stay in the Southwestern Indiana Mental Health Center despite his mother's reports of his erratic behavior. The doctor said Wrinkles was not "gravely disabled."

According to police, Wrinkles was high on methamphetamine and dressed in camouflage and face paint when he cut the phone lines at the Fulkerson home, where his estranged wife was staying, at 2 a.m. that summer night.

Wielding a knife and a .357 Magnum revolver, Wrinkles kicked in the door.
First he shot Tony Fulkerson. Next he ignored his daughter's pleas and shot his wife. Then he shot Natalie Fulkerson.

In the last four years, four states have repealed the death penalty.

Dieter says fiscal concerns are the leading reason why states are scrutinizing death penalty laws. A 2010 fiscal impact report prepared by the non-partisan Legislative Services Committee for the Indiana General Assembly, shows death penalty cases and direct appeals cost Hoosier taxpayers $450,000 on average, compared to more than $42,000 for a life without the possibility of parole case.

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