The State of Texas has executed 565 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.
In 2018, the State of Texas put 13 people to death, accounting for more than half of the 25 U.S. executions last year.
Texas is responsible for 7 of the 17 executions nationwide to date in 2019. Eight executions have been stayed (five by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and three by federal courts); two additional execution dates have been withdrawn. Four executions currently are scheduled to take place in Texas by the end of 2019.
Harris County alone accounts for 130 executions, more than any state except Texas. Dallas County accounts for 61 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. In 2018, Texas jurors sentenced seven individuals to death and rejected the death penalty in two other cases. New death sentences remained in the single digits for the ninth time in ten years.
Just four counties have imposed more than one death sentence in the last five years.
To date in 2019, Texas juries have imposed two new death sentences. A jury in Nueces County sentenced Gary David Green to death on June 26 for killing Upton County deputy Billy “Bubba” Kennedy in 2013. The case was moved from West Texas.
In October 2019, a Harris County jury sentenced Ronald Haskell to death for the murders of Katie and Stephen Stay in 2014; he also killed four of their children. Haskell is the first white defendant sentenced to death in Harris County since 2004.
Three other cases in which prosecutors sought the death penalty this year resulted in sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole after jury deliberations.
Prosecutors have taken the death penalty off the table in several other capital cases this year, as well.
Over the last five years, more than 70% of death sentences have been imposed on people of color in Texas.
While African-Americans comprise less than 13% of the Texas population, they comprise 44.2% of death row inmates, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). Hispanics comprise 26.6% and whites comprise 26.3% of the death row population.
According to TDCJ, there are currently 217 Texas death row inmates, which includes 6 women. This remains the smallest Texas death row population since the late 1980s, according to research by TCADP.
Just three counties account for more than half of the current death row population: Harris (78); Dallas (23); and Tarrant (15). No other county has more than eight individuals on death row at this time.
Less than 20% of the 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* (731) and Florida (340).
*On March 13, 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a moratorium on executions in his state.
Wrongful Convictions and Executions
Since 1973, 166 individuals – including 13 people 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.
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.
National and International Abolition
Nine states – Delaware, New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, Illinois, Connecticut, Washington, Maryland, and, most recently, New Hampshire – have abandoned the death penalty in recent years through legislative or judicial action. A total of 21 states and the District of Columbia do not allow the death penalty.
142 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. In 2017, the top five executing countries were China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Pakistan. This marks the second consecutive year, and the third time since 1991, that the United States is not among the world’s five biggest executioners.
Download these fact sheets (updated as of October 1, 2019):
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.
Mental Illness and Capital Punishment in Texas
The State of Texas ranks 47th nationally in terms of per capita spending on mental healthcare, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). It ranks 1st in executions (more than 400 since 1982).
Around 30 percent of those incarcerated in Texas prison or jails have been clients of the state’s public mental health system. (Texas Department of Criminal Justice)
Mental illness can impact a defendant’s ability to communicate effectively with his/her attorney, participate in legal proceedings, make rational decisions, or behave appropriately in a courtroom. It also can impact his/her ability to assist with appeals.
In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the death penalty is unconstitutional for people with mental retardation (Atkins v. Virginia). It has not excluded offenders with severe mental illness from the death penalty.
In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Ford v. Wainwright that it is unconstitutional to execute someone who does not understand the reason for, or the reality of, his or her punishment. The Ford decision left the determination of competency for execution up to each state, however, and it has not prevented the execution of scores of offenders diagnosed with severe and persistent mental illnesses.
The Texas Legislature did not establish a statute governing the process to determine competency to be executed until 1999.
The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which considers cases from Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, has never found a death row inmate incompetent for execution. In a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Panetti vs. Quarterman, the justices ruled that “the Fifth Circuit’s incompetency standard is too restrictive to afford a prisoner Eighth Amendment protections.” At issue is the distinction between the prisoner’s “awareness” versus “rational understanding” of why she/he is to be executed.
At least 25 individuals with documented diagnoses of paranoid schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other persistent and severe mental illnesses have been executed by the State of Texas. Many had sought treatment before the commission of their crimes, but were denied long-term care.
Approximately 15-20% of Texas death row inmates receive ongoing mental health services. (Houston Chronicle, March 18, 2007)
The “insanity defense” is rarely used and rarely successful. Less than one percent of all defendants raise the insanity defense; of these, even fewer defendants are found Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity. (Psychiatric Times, April, 2002)
The American Bar Association, The American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and the National Alliance on Mental illness have adopted a recommendation calling for a prohibition on the death penalty for those with severe mental disorders or disabilities. Numerous mental health organizations in Texas also have condemned the execution of offenders with severe mental illness.