Scroll down for fact sheets on 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 570 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. Billy Joe Wardlow was executed on July 8, 2020 for a crime he committed in 1993 when he was 18 years old.
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 Eight other execution dates were stayed or withdrawn due primarily to the public health crisis. Six execution dates already have been set for 2021; half of these cases come from Tarrant County.
For details on how COVID-19 has impacted use of the death penalty and prison conditions in Texas, read our past newsletters.
Harris County alone accounts for 130 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: one in Collin County and one in Harris County. Other capital jury trials in Texas have been suspended 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. Prosecutors took the death penalty off the table in nearly a dozen other capital cases in 2019, as well.
Death sentences by race and gender
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 44.2% of death row inmates, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). Hispanics comprise 25.2% and whites comprise 27.7% of the death row population.
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 (77); Dallas (19); and Tarrant (16). 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, more than 170 individuals – including 13 people convicted in Texas – have been released from death rows nationwide due to evidence of their wrongful conviction.
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
Ten states – Delaware, New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, Illinois, Connecticut, Washington, Maryland, New Hampshire, and, most recently, Colorado – have abandoned the death penalty in recent years through legislative or judicial action. A total of 22 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 25.
142 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. In 2019, the top five executing countries were China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Egypt, according to Amnesty International.
Download these fact sheets (as of January 1, 2021):
The Cost of the Death Penalty Download PDF
Death Penalty Basics Download PDF
Anthony Graves Fact Sheet Download PDF
Carlos DeLuna Fact Sheet Download PDF Spanish PDF
Cameron Todd Willingham Fact Sheet Download PDF
Answering the Tough Questions Download PDF
Background information on the Texas death penalty is available here.