Texas has a longstanding reputation for being tough on crime and leading the nation in the number of death row inmates who are executed ever year.
Although the Lone Star state’s uncompromising attitude has changed little in the past decade, there has been a noticeable decline in executions in recent years.
Writing in the Dallas Morning News, Steve Blow recently asked if Texans have lost their taste for capital punishment.
Although polls still show strong support for the ultimate punishment, the statistics tell a different story.
Blow cited the recent murder trial of Jacob Galen Everett, 22, who was convicted of entering a Red Wing shoe store in Arlington, directing clerk Randy Pacheco to the back room and shooting him dead for just $200.
“A few years ago, that would have been a certain death penalty case – a cold-blooded murder committed in the course of a robbery,” wrote Blow.
In this case prosecutors sought life without parole and jurors went with it
Blow wrote that while Texas still sees itself as a law-and-order state, “our hang-’em-high reputation may be in jeopardy.”
“There is no doubt about it. We’re seeing a reduction in the use of the death penalty in Texas,” said Kathryn Kase, executive director of Texas Defender Service, which assists in death penalty defenses, in the Dallas Morning News article.
Back in 1999, Texas courts sent 39 people to death row. Last year the figure was down to 11. No executions have taken place this year. Although Texas still executed more people than any other state, the number of executions in Texas last year was the lowest in almost two decades.
Last year was also notable in that Texas did not execute a significantly higher number of people than other states. It tied with Missouri on executions and Florida used the death penalty eight times
It’s a far cry from 2000 when Texas executed 40 people. However, the increased unwillingness to use the ultimate punishment is part of a wider national trend also seen in 31 other states that use the death penalty.
“On a most basic level, it’s simply cost,” wrote Blow. The cost of a death penalty case and its appeals can easily exceed $1 million.
The increased difficulty in obtaining lethal execution drugs has been another pertinent factor in the decline of the death penalty in some states. Recently the Food and Drug Administration told Nebraska its plan to import drugs from India was illegal.
Texas has also seen a number of cases in which DNA evidence has exonerated prisoners after their execution, eroding public confidence in capital punishment.
At the same time as more questions were being asked about the death penalty, the Texas Legislature gave prosecutors and jurors a new alternative punishment – the option of life without parole.
“For jurors and prosecutors, life without parole works very well. If we discover later that a mistake was made, we can go back and get them. You can’t dig them up after an execution,” Kase said in the article.
Although Texas is unlikely to abolish the death penalty any time soon, if existing trends continue, we may be seeing a lot less of the ultimate sanction.