Indiana Marks 10 Years Without an Execution

When Indiana executed Matthew Wrinkles on December 11, 2009, it was the twentieth execution carried out since the state reinstated the death penalty in May of 1973. It was also the last execution the state has carried out.

A decade later, Indiana has now joined the list of 32 states that no longer have the death penalty or have not executed anyone in at least 10 years. (Click here to enlarge map.) No Indiana jury has sentenced a defendant to die since 2013.

Although the United States has carried out more than 1,500 executions in the 42 years since executions resumed in the country in 1977, executions are rare or non-existent in most of the nation. 21 states and the District of Columbia have abolished capital punishment, and an additional 11 states, the federal government, and the U.S. military have not conducted any executions in at least 10 years. A DPIC review of U.S. execution data has found that 84% of U.S. counties have not had any executions in the past 50 years.

Indiana’s death-sentencing decline began in 1989, after nine years in which the state averaged more than six death sentences per year. Death sentences averaged 2.6 per year in the 1990s and 0.9 in the first decade of this century.

Huntington County Prosecutor Amy Richison, who chairs the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council’s capital litigation committee, told the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette in August 2019 that several practical considerations have contributed to the decline. First, she said, in 1993 the legislature made life without parole available as an alternative to the death penalty. The cost and the length of the trial and appeal process has also played a role, she said. In an interview with the Indianapolis Star, Indiana Chief Federal Defender Monica Foster said, “We’re just not putting new people on death row because juries are rejecting the death penalty when the government files it…. I don’t think that there’s a real appetite for the death penalty in Indiana,” she said.

State Attorney General Curtis Hill and state corrections personnel attribute the pause in executions to the unavailability of execution drugs. In a statement to the Star, the Department of Correction wrote: “This is the result of business decisions by pharmaceutical suppliers who now decline purchase requests from the Indiana Department of Correction.” Hill blamed that on “a concerted effort, for a number of years, by certain groups to place pressures on pharmaceutical companies.” But in an interview with the Star, Death Penalty Information Center Executive Director Robert Dunham said, “Pharmaceutical companies uniformly have said they don’t want their medicines used to execute prisoners. And that shouldn’t be surprising, because their corporate mission is to create medicines to save lives and improve lives and not to take lives.”

Wrinkles was executed for the murders of his wife and her brother and sister-in-law. He and his wife were in the middle of a divorce and custody dispute at the time. Wrinkles had been released from a psychiatric hospital two weeks before the murders and his mother unsuccessfully attempted to have him committed again after he was released. Wrinkles and the family members of the victims appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show shortly after his final appeals had been denied. At that time, his wife’s mother, Mary Winnecke, said, “I ask everybody to write the governor to stop the death penalty because we’re not here to judge. You deserve to be in jail, but we don’t want you to die.”

The states of Louisiana and Utah are expected to reach ten years without an execution in the first half of next year. Louisiana last carried out an execution on January 7, 2010 and Utah last put a prisoner to death on June 18, 2010.

The federal government unsuccessfully attempted to resume executions this month, setting five execution dates for December 9, 2019 through January 15, 2020. A federal district court has issued a preliminary injunction temporarily halting those executions and the U.S. Supreme Court on December 6, 2019 left that injunction in place.


Justin L. Mack, Matthew Eric Wrinkles: The sto­ry of the last inmate exe­cut­ed in Indiana, Indianapolis Star, December 11, 2019; Crystal Hill, A son waits for jus­tice. A killer waits to die. Indiana’s death penal­ty is at a cross­roads., Indianapolis Star, December 11, 2019; Niki Kelley, Executions wan­ing; 9 men on death row, Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, August 42019.