Texas Bill Would Abolish Death Penalty

A bill to abolish the death penalty in Texas will finally have a committee hearing in the State House. The bill's sponsor says this represents progress in a state where support for capital punishment remains strong.


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State representative and Houston Democrat Jessica Farrar has introduced the bill four times over the years, but this is the farthest it’s gotten in a legislative session.

“I think we need to continue to have the discussion. In previous years, this legislation has been filed by different people and never even got a hearing. And so now we’re at the point where we are getting a hearing at least. And I think it’s important.”

In a poll conducted last year by the Texas Tribune and the University of Texas, 73 percent of residents still support the death penalty, with only 21 percent opposed.

Farrar points out the use of the death penalty has dropped over the past decade.

She says Texas juries have embraced the alternative of life without parole, which became a sentencing option in 2005.

Brett Ligon is the district attorney for Montgomery County.

He calls himself a proponent of the death penalty, but not a champion.

“In the sense that if it’s on the books and it continues to be within the framework of sentencing guidelines, then it will be used in its appropriate form. If it is no longer on the books you won’t hear me or many other prosecutors jumping up and down, defending the integrity and honor and the pedigree of the death penalty in Texas.”

Since his election in 2009, Ligon has sought the death penalty only once.

That was for a woman accused of fatally shooting a mother and kidnapping her infant outside a pediatrician’s office in Spring.

That case has not yet gone to trial.

Ligon, who is a Republican, says Farrar’s bill has no chance of passing but he welcomes the legislative debate.

“When you’re talking about end-of-life decisions, in the medical field, criminal field, wherever they are – I certainly don’t have any problem with somebody raising it to a debate. Somebody contemplating it and saying ‘Hey, is this the right thing for us? Are we still looking at it?’”

There are other bills related to capital cases.

One that has gained momentum and already passed the Senate would require DNA testing of evidence in all death penalty cases.

Texas executed 15 people last year, about a third of the total executions in the United States.

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