Scroll down for fact sheets on the use of the death penalty in key counties as well as case studies. For more analysis, as well as illustrative charts and graphs, read TCADP’s report, Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2020: The Year in Review.
The State of Texas has executed 572 people since 1982. Of these, 279 occurred during the administration of Texas Governor Rick Perry (2001-2014), more than any other governor in U.S. history. Executions peaked in Texas in 2000, when 40 people were put to death.
Texas is one of only two states – along with the federal government – to put anyone to death during the global pandemic. It has carried out two executions to date in 2021.
Two of the last three people executed by the State of Texas were under the age of 21 at the time of the crime.
In 2020, the State of Texas executed three people, the fewest executions since 1996. Eight other execution dates were stayed or withdrawn due primarily to the public health crisis.
Three executions scheduled for earlier this year were stayed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals based on intellectual disability claims. There are seven executions scheduled through November 2021.
Harris County alone accounts for 129 executions, more than any state except Texas. Dallas County accounts for 62 executions and Bexar County accounts for 46.
New death sentences in Texas have decreased precipitously since peaking in 1999, when juries sentenced 48 people to death. Death sentences have remained in the single digits for the past six years.
Before disaster declarations were instituted in March 2020, juries in Texas sentenced two men to death. Other capital jury trials in Texas were suspended due to the pandemic but some were rescheduled for the second half of 2021.
On August 6, 2021, after deliberating for nearly eight hours, a Bexar County jury sentenced Otis McKane to death for killing San Antonio Police Detective Benjamin Marconi in 2016. It was the first new death sentence imposed by a jury in Texas since March 2020 and the first in Bexar County in more than five years. Jury trials are once again on hold in Bexar County due to the pandemic.
In 2019, Texas juries imposed four new death sentences. Four other cases in which prosecutors sought the death penalty in 2019 resulted in sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole after jury deliberations.
Death sentences by race and gender
The death penalty continues to be imposed disproportionately on people of color. Over the last five years, 70% of death sentences have been imposed on people of color in Texas.
While the Black population of Texas is less than 13% of residents, Black individuals constitute 44.7% of death row inmates, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). Hispanics comprise 25.6% and whites comprise 26.6% of the death row population.
Read “Enduring Injustice: the Persistence of Racial Discrimination in the U.S. Death Penalty,” a report by the Death Penalty Information Center.
According to TDCJ, there are currently 199 people on Texas’s death row, including 6 women. This is the smallest Texas death row population since 1985, when 188 people awaited execution, according to research by TCADP.
Death sentences by county
Just three counties (Harris, Tarrant, and Walker) have imposed more than one death sentence in the last five years.
Three counties account for more than half of the current death row population: Harris (74); Dallas (18); and Tarrant (14). No other county has more than seven individuals on death row at this time.
Less than 20% of the 254 counties in Texas account for the entire population of death row at this time. Texas has the third-largest death row population in the nation, after California* (711) and Florida (339).
*On March 13, 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a moratorium on executions in his state.
Wrongful Convictions and Executions
Since 1973, 185 individuals who spent time on death row have been exonerated. This includes 16 people convicted and sentenced to death in Texas, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
There also is strong evidence that the State of Texas has executed innocent people, including Carlos DeLuna, Ruben Cantu, Cameron Todd Willingham, Gary Graham (Shaka Sankofa), and most recently, Larry Swearingen, who was put to death in August 2019.
In Texas, the cost of an average death penalty case is nearly three times higher than imprisoning someone in maximum security for life, according to a study by the Dallas Morning News. See TCADP’s fact sheet on the cost of the death penalty for details.
“Experts discuss cost of the death penalty amid era of growing decline,” Community Impact Newspaper (Richardson edition), March 18, 2020
National and International Abolition
Eleven states – Colorado, Delaware, New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, Illinois, Connecticut, Washington, Maryland, New Hampshire, and, most recently, Virginia – have abandoned the death penalty in recent years through legislative or judicial action. A total of 23 states and the District of Columbia do not allow the death penalty.
Governors in three other states (Oregon, Pennsylvania, and California) have imposed a moratorium on executions, bringing the total number of states that have either ended the death penalty or have a moratorium to 26.
144 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. According to Amnesty International, five countries account for the vast majority of global executions: China; Iran; Egypt; Iraq; and Saudi Arabia.
Download these fact sheets (as of July 1, 2021):
Answering the Tough Questions Download PDF
Background information on the Texas death penalty is available here.