Update, 1/31/2019: Last night, the State of Texas carried out the nation’s first execution of the year, putting Robert Jennings to death for the 1988 murder of Houston Police Officer Elston Howard. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected his final appeals less than an hour before his execution. Read more from the Texas Tribune.
Original post, 1/30/2019: The State of Texas is scheduled to execute Robert Jennings tonight, January 30, 2019. If it proceeds, it will be the first execution in Texas – and the first nationwide – in 2019.
Jennings, who is now 61 years old, was sentenced to death for killing Houston Police Officer Elston Howard during a botched robbery at an adult bookstore more than 30 years ago. This is the second execution date he has faced in three years.
According to the Texas Tribune:
The lengthy stretch of time between Jennings’ 1989 sentencing and his scheduled execution shines a light on the complications that can arise during the appeals process in the face of constantly evolving death penalty law. In their current attempt to halt Jennings’ execution, his lawyers are zeroing in on changes in how death penalty juries weigh “mitigating evidence” — factors that can lessen the severity of the punishment that are largely based on the defendant’s background, like an abusive childhood or intellectual disability.
His lawyers argue that his traumatic childhood, mental impairment, and demonstrated remorse should spare him from execution. According to the AP/TIME Magazine, Jennings’ 1989 trial “took place just as the Supreme Court issued a ruling that faulted Texas’ capital sentencing statute for not allowing jurors to consider evidence supporting a sentence less than death.”
Jennings currently has an appeal pending with the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that he received ineffective assistance of counsel during his trial and the appeals process. Lower appeals courts have rejected his appeals and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles turned down his clemency application.
There currently are five other individuals with execution dates in Texas. Earlier this month, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stopped the first scheduled execution of the year, providing Blaine Milam with an opportunity to present evidence related to his claim of intellectual disability and faulty forensic science.
Harris County accounts for 129 executions since 1982, more than any state in the country besides Texas and twice as many as any other county.