Houston Matters

What’s Right and Wrong About Executions in Texas, and Are Attitudes Toward the Death Penalty Changing in the Lone Star State?

Last week, the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the execution of Robert James Campbell within hours of his execution. The 41 year old was convicted in 1991 of the rape and murder of a Houston bank teller. The stay allows his lawyers to file a new petition alleging he’s developmentally disabled, according to testing results apparently […]

Last week, the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the execution of Robert James Campbell within hours of his execution. The 41 year old was convicted in 1991 of the rape and murder of a Houston bank teller. The stay allows his lawyers to file a new petition alleging he’s developmentally disabled, according to testing results apparently withheld during his trial – specifically, an  IQ test score in Campbell’s school records. Had that been presented as evidence of his intellectual disability at trial, he might not have been eligible for capital punishment. His attorney, Northwestern University Law Professor Rob Owen says “the concern that everyone should have is we have a man with intellectual disabilities that came within a couple hours of being executed.”

This case, coupled with concerns over the source and use of lethally injected drugs for executions nationwide – including one that did not go as planned in Oklahoma – has once again spurred conversations over various states’ death penalty statutes. This year’s Kinder Institute Houston Area Survey also suggests attitudes towards the death penalty, at least here in Houston, may be changing.

On this edition of Houston Matters, we consider those recent developments as we discuss the process by which prosecutors may seek the death penalty in Texas, as well as the appellate process for defense attorneys. We also discuss whether Houstonians are interested in if not an elimination of executions statewide a reconsideration of the procedures that lead up to executions in Texas.

We welcome your thoughts for Maria McAnulty, Chief of the Trial Bureau in the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, and David Dow, Cullen Professor at the University of Houston Law Center.

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