Texas leads the nation by far in the number of executions carried out each year, but support for the ultimate punishment may be on the wane, reports the Los Angeles Times. Over the last 10 years, the number of death sentences imposed in Texas has dropped 65 percent, from 40 in fiscal 1996 to 14 in 2006, says the Texas Office of Court Administration. Murders have remained about the same: 1,476 murders in 1996 and 1,405 in 2005. A growing number of wrongly convicted inmates across the country and the use of DNA evidence to exonerate the innocent have made jurors increasingly reluctant to impose the death penalty, said Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes the death penalty.
Because of the large percentage of death sentences originating in Houston’s Harris County, the drop in Texas could be due partly to a scandal at the Houston Police Department crime lab in which botched test results were used to bring suspects to trial. Also, a law enacted last year gave Texas juries the sentencing option of life without parole in death penalty cases. Lyn McClellan, a Harris county prosecutor, said the number of crimes that are eligible for the death penalty has dropped – not prosecutors’ commitment to get a death sentence when the case calls for it.