Juvenile offenders were rarely on Texas’ death row until the 1990s, when escalating juvenile violence and a new breed of young killer prompted a severe reaction from the justice system, says the Houston Chronicle. Only four Texas juvenile offenders were executed for crimes committed in the 1970s. Ditto for the 1980s, though one inmate from that decade remains on death row. Most juvenile offenders currently on Texas’ death row –25 of 28 – committed their crimes in the 1990s, have of them between 1994 and 1999.
Experts think the impact of publicity about juvenile crime made its way to the courthouse. Not only were there more cases to consider, but people had been shocked by news reports of gang violence, crack wars, drive-bys, school shootings, and youths everywhere with guns. “You had local news pounding on the issue, so presumably the jury came in sort of primed to accept the message that the juvenile crime rate is a problem,” said Victor Streib, a law professor at Ohio Northern University. “The arguments in court were no different than they ever were, but the public awareness of juvenile violence was.” Robert Blecker, a New York Law School professor, believes the juveniles on daeth row were a frightening aberration that had never been seen in society or the criminal justice system. Blecker spent more than 2,000 hours interviewing young offenders in a prison that served Washington, D.C. “It was an incomparably vicious generation, so it doesn’t surprise me there were these death penalties,” said Blecker. “There was a depraved indifference to human life that I think has peaked. There reached a point where it got so out of control that even the older street criminals recognized themselves that they wanted something better for their younger brothers. The older kids were now reining in the younger kids.”