Future of the Death Penalty in Texas

Wednesday Pat Quinn, the Governor of Illinois, signed a law that makes the death penalty in his state a thing of the past. Although it’s unlikely Texas Governor Rick Perry would sign such a law anytime soon, anti-death penalty advocates see progress being made.

"I think that there is tremendous national momentum toward repealing the death penalty and that helps to lift up the efforts of all states, including our efforts here in Texas."

Kristin Houle is the director of the Texas coalition to abolish the death penalty. She says bills that would get rid of the death penalty have come before the state legislature the past two sessions, but were never passed. But she says attitudes are starting to change in Texas for several reasons.

"There are so many flaws and failures in our capital punishment system. One need look no further than the twelve people released from death row due in Texas due to their evidence of their wrongful conviction."

DNA technology is showing the criminal justice system to be less than perfect and It's becoming more common for convicts to be set free years later. On top of that, Houle says prosecutors are seeking the death penalty less often and juries aren’t handing out death sentences as much as before.

"New death sentences in Texas have dropped more than 70 percent since 2003. Last year, only 8 people were newly sent to death row in Texas with was the lowest number since reinstatement back in 1976."

The main reason for the change. A change in law. In 2005, Texas gave juries the option of handing out a life without possibility of parole sentence in capital murder cases.

"I think that the having the alternative punishment of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole has made a tremendous difference, because it is a punishment that is severe and it insures that the offender will never be released to society, will not be able to harm other victims and victims family members. But it also allow for the correction of mistakes, if they have been made in that individual’s case."

Texas leads the nation in putting murderers to death and many people who live here want things to stay that way. In fact, there at least two groups whose sole purpose is to make sure the death penalty remains a law. So it’s possible the law may not change, but the number of people actually sentenced to death row could continue to go down even further.
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