Texas Death Penalty Facts

For more analysis, as well as illustrative charts and graphs, read TCADP’s report, Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2021: The Year in Review and check out our fact sheet on the death penalty in Texas, Facts about the Texas Death Penalty.

Executions

The State of Texas has executed 573 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.

Texas was one of just five states to carry out executions in 2021, putting three people to death and matching 2020 for the fewest executions since 1996.

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.

In the past 5 years, Texas has set 80 execution dates. Of these 80 execution dates, 32 were stayed by federal courts or the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, 12 dates were withdrawn, 1 resulted in clemency, and 35 resulted in executions.

Executions in Texas peaked in 2000, when 40 people were put to death, and have steadily decreased since.

Death Sentences

New death sentences in Texas have decreased since peaking in 1999, when juries sentenced 48 people to death. Death sentences have remained in the single digits for the past six years.

There were no jury rejections of the death penalty in the small number of capital murder trials that took place in 2021. There were several notable cases in which prosecutors decided not to seek the death penalty, however; in at least two instances, this entailed reversing a decision by their predecessor.

After grinding to a halt in 2020 because of the pandemic, capital jury trials involving the death penalty resumed in the second half of 2021. Juries in Texas condemned three individuals to death this year. Two of the defendants were brought to trial five years after being indicted.

  • 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.
  • A Smith County jury imposed the second death sentence of 2021, condemning William Davis to death on October 27 for killing four patients in the ICU unit where he worked in Tyler. Smith County is one of only three counties in Texas where juries have imposed more than one death sentence in the last five years (the other two are Harris and Walker counties).  
  • A Hunt County jury imposed the third death sentence of the year in November, condemning Tyrone Williams to death for killing Vicki Ann Gonzales. Hunt County has imposed just one other death sentence in the last ten years.

Texas has the third-largest death row population in the nation, after California* (697) and Florida (324). *On March 13, 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a moratorium on executions in his state.

Death Sentences by Race and Gender

According to TDCJ, Black individuals compromise 45.2%, Hispanic individuals compromise 25.6%, and white individuals compromise 26.1% of the death row population.

Race

As death sentences in Texas decline, they continue to be applied disproportionately to people of color.  Over the last five years, two-thirds of death sentences have been imposed on people of color; 40% were imposed on Black defendants. In 2021, two of the defendants sentenced to death are Black and one is white.

To learn more…

Watch “What does race have to do with the death penalty in Texas?”

Read “Race and ‘future dangerousness’ in the Texas death penalty”

Read “Enduring Injustice: the Persistence of Racial Discrimination in the U.S. Death Penalty”

Gender

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

As displayed in the interactive map, just three counties (Harris, Smith, and Walker) have imposed more than one death sentence in the last five years (2017-2021). More than one-third of all death sentences imposed by juries in the last five years came from those three counties. 

Three counties account for more than half of the current death row population: Harris (73); Dallas (18); and Tarrant (14). No other county has more than eight 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.

Learn more about the death penalty at the county level here.

Wrongful Convictions and Executions

Since 1973, 186 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.

Learn more about wrongful executions in Texas at TCADP’s Wrongful Execution page and DPIC Special Report: The Innocence Epidemic.

Cost of the Death Penalty

See TCADP’s fact sheet on the cost of the death penalty for details. For additional information, read “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.