Juries in Texas – the nation’s most-active death-penalty state – sentenced only eight killers to die this year, the lowest number since 1976 when the Supreme Court ended its ban on capital punishment, the Houston Chronicle reports. Seventeen killers were put to death in 2010, six fewer than last year for the lowest total since 2001. “It shows that Texas and the rest of the country are moving away from the death penalty [ ] It’s an astonishing development,” said Kristin Houlé of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
Houlé attributed the drop to Texas’ 2005 life without parole law and to the high cost to counties of seeking the death sentence. Also eroding support for capital punishment is DNA testing that has led to exoneration of some convicts. Said Richard Dieter of the anti-death penalty Death Penalty Information Center: “It’s not that (most) people are all or nothing about the death penalty,” Dieter said. “They just have this growing sense of uncertainty. It’s a slow wearing away of confidence [ ] a feeling that it is just too risky.” Death penalty supporters counter that fewer death sentences may reflect fewer killers and fewer killers who are eligible for execution. Dudley Sharp, a Houston death penalty advocate, argued that drops in rape, robbery, and murder have reduced the number of death-eligible criminals going to trial. There also is frustration over death sentences never carried out. “Twenty-five years later, mothers and sons and daughters of victims are still waiting,” said Scott Burns of the National District Attorneys Association. “It’s the old cliche about justice delayed is denied.” Nationally in the last 20 years, death sentences have ranged from a high of 328 in 1994, to a low last year of a little over 100.