The editors of the Houston Chronicle began the new year with a call to end the death penalty in Texas. In an editorial that appeared on January 1, 2011, “It’s time for capital punishment to become Texas history,” the Chronicle cites awareness of the risk of wrongful conviction and the fact that jurors and prosecutors are imposing it less often as evidence that Texans are moving away from the death penalty. The editors also cite the cases of Cameron Todd Willingham and Claude Jones, which have raised significant questions about the reliability and fairness of the system. Here’s an excerpt:
The accumulating evidence indicates that the current application of the death penalty in Texas involves an unacceptably high risk of killing innocent people. Yet even as the evidence of false convictions and wrongful executions piles up, only the participants at the base of the Texas criminal justice system, jury members, seem to be waking up to the reality of this evil.
Some opponents have called for a moratorium on executions in Texas until new, unspecified safeguards are in place to protect the innocent. Yet it’s difficult to imagine a fail-safe route to execution.
Besides, we already have the ultimate safeguard on the books: the sentence of life without parole. Spending the rest of one’s days in prison is as terrifying a deterrent to most people as quick execution. By ending state-sanctioned killing, in the future when a jury makes a mistake, resurrection won’t be required to remedy it.
The Houston Chronicle joins the Dallas Morning News and the Austin American Statesman in endorsing abolition of the death penalty.