Historic low number of death sentences in Texas
Texas juries have sent 9 people to death row this year, the fewest in the
state for 1 year since the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976 allowed capital
punishment to resume, according to a report Thursday from an anti-death
An annual review of capital case developments by the Austin-based Texas
Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty also called 2008 notable for
executions that didn't occur, saying 6 lethal injections were stopped by
last-minute reprieves because of questions about possible innocence, trial
fairness or issues related to mental retardation or mental illness.
At the same time, 18 condemned inmates went to the nation's busiest death
chamber this year, down from 26 a year ago. No executions were carried out
until June, however, because of a de facto nationwide moratorium on
capital punishment while the U.S. Supreme Court considered whether lethal
injection methods were unconstitutionally cruel.
2 other prisoners, whose death sentences were overturned, were returned to
death row by juries at new trials.
"2008 can only be characterized as yet another roller coaster year for the
death penalty in Texas," said Kristin Houle, the coalition's executive
director. "The state carried out a 'typical' number of executions in a
record amount of time averaging nearly 1 per week over a 5-month period.
"Yet officials' zeal for executions was not matched by public desire for
new death sentences, as evidenced by the continued steep decline in the
number of new inmates arriving on death row."
Juries in Harris County, long the state's top contributor to death row,
have condemned no one in 2008, a first in more than three decades. Most
notably, a man convicted of killing a police officer was given a life
sentence rather than death.
"A lot of it can be attributed to life without parole and people who
plead," Roe Wilson, a Harris County prosecutor who handles capital case
appeals, said Thursday.
Harris County accounts for 118 of the state's 354 condemned inmates.
Dallas County is second with 40.
According to the coalition report, Texas was one of nine states to carry
out executions this year but the only one to do more than 4. 7 Texas
inmates were removed from death row with sentences commuted to life.
Since the state resumed carrying out capital punishment in December 1982,
420 men and three women have been put to death.
The final execution of the year in Texas took place Nov. 20. At least 10
prisoners have execution dates already scheduled for next year, including
at least 6 in January.
(source: Associated Press)