When it comes to the ultimate punishment, Texas sets many unenviable benchmarks.
Last month the state made headlines by executing a woman when it put Lisa Coleman to death. The Washington Post reported on how she was the ninth person executed by Texas in 2014. The Lone Star State has executed more people than any other state in the nation, accounting for almost a third of the 30 people executed across the nation.
This most recent execution was unusual for the United States, because executions of female inmates “have almost never happened throughout the modern era of the death penalty,” the Washington Post report stated.
Executions of women in the United States remain extremely rare. Coleman was the 15th woman to be executed since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. It constitutes just 1 percent of the 1,389 executions over that time.
The 38-year-old was executed after being convicted of murdering Davontae Williams, her partner’s nine-year-old son, 10 years ago. The boy was emaciated, weighing just 35 pounds at the time of his death in 2004, and had numerous injuries on his body. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice stated Coleman and Marcella Williams, her longtime girlfriend, had restrained the child and deprived him of food.
Coleman was killed by lethal injection in Huntsville, last month. In her final remarks, she told her family and “the girls on the row” she loved them.
When a murder is committed during a kidnapping in Texas it is considered capital murder. Since 2011, killing a child younger than 10 has also constituted capital murder. However, in a petition filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, Coleman’s lawyer argued that while she abused Williams, she did not kidnap him, which would mean she did not commit capital murder.
Earlier this year Suzanne Basso became the 14th woman to be executed in the US in the modern era. The 59-year-old former seamstress was put to death by lethal injection at Huntsville in Texas in February.
Basso was the first woman inmate executed in the US since Kimberly McCarthy was put to death in Texas the previous June. Of five of the woman who have been executed nationwide since 2002 – four of them have been put to death in Texas.
Lawyers acting for Basso asked the Supreme Court to review Texas’s criteria for assessing the mental health of prisoners sentenced to death.
The death penalty in Texas is fraught with controversy. There is even evidence that the state executed the wrong man for a gas station killing, in 1989. The execution of women adds a further layer of controversy.