death penalty news—–TEXAS

Dec. 10


Texas Death Penalty Sentencing Declines

The number of new death sentences imposed in Texas this year was the
lowest since the 1976 reinstatement of the death penalty, according to a
report released Dec. 7 by the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death
Penalty. There has already been another death sentence issued since the
report was released, bringing the total handed out this year to 9; still,
that number falls well under the previous low of 11 death sentences
imposed in 2006. The decrease has taken hold across the state. Harris
County has not sent a single inmate to death row since 2007, a stunning
reduction for a county that's responsible for one-third of all defendants
waiting in Texas' death house.

Still, while the number of new inmates sentenced to death declines, the
state still leads the nation in the number of executions. Texas carried
out 24 executions in 2009, nearly 1/2 of the national total. (Alabama put
to death 6 people, making it the 2nd most active.) In total, Texas has
executed 447 people since 1982, when it resumed executions; 208 executions
have been carried out under the leadership of Gov. Rick Perry. And the
execution chamber still favors minorities: Of the 24 people put to death
this year, 14 were black and 7 were Hispanic. Just 3 were white.

Not surprisingly, questions about Texas' death system continued to rage
this year, notes the TCADP report, including in the case of Cameron Todd
Willingham, whose 2004 execution sparked a political storm this year and
left open the question of whether the state executed an innocent man based
on junk science. Indeed, the Rev. Carroll Pickett, who was the death row
chaplain for nearly 16 years and counseled a number of Texas' condemned
(including Charlie Brooks Jr. the 1st inmate put to death after
reinstatement), says he believes the state has wrongly executed other
inmates, such as Carlos De Luna, executed for the 1983 knife murder of
Wanda Lopez at a Corpus Christi convenience store. In that case, the
prosecutors and police allegedly ignored information that another man,
Carlos Hernandez who, notably, had a penchant for knife assaults was
actually responsible for Lopez's murder. Pickett says Hernandez actually
bragged about his guilt while in prison on an unrelated charge. Yet De
Luna was executed in 1989, even though none of the physical evidence
linked him to the crime.

In all, TCADP Executive Director Kristin Houl said at a Capitol press
conference, the death penalty is far more risky than it is effective, and
it's time to end its use in Texas. "Concerns about innocence,
arbitrariness, cost, and fairness generated unprecedented scrutiny of the
administration of justice" this year in Texas, she said. "It is time for
more elected officials to catch up with increasing public recognition that
the Texas death penalty system is fatally flawed." Indeed, that's exactly
what Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, told reporters at the Capitol on
Monday. He said when he first came to the Legislature in 1997, he wasn't
sure that the death penalty should be abolished but years of watching its
administration has changed his mind. "I believe the state of Texas should
abolish the death penalty because it cannot reconcile … that it is both
imperfect and irreversible."

(source: Austin Chronicle)