New Texas Death Penalties This Year May Be Lowest In Decades


Texas is on track to see fewer death sentences handed down in 2015 than in any other year since the state's death penalty was reinstated in 1976, reports the Texas Tribune. In the past two weeks, two new inmates arrived on death row, the state's first two death sentences of 2015. A jury sentenced a man to death in a third case, but he is awaiting a competency trial, so that sentence is unofficial. Kathryn Kase of Texas Defender Services, a nonprofit organization of death penalty attorneys, said that there is one new death penalty trial underway and another case “threatening to go” for a death penalty. “That's a very low number [of cases] for Texas,” she said. “We see fewer cases overall going to the death penalty across the country, and that's no different in Texas.”

In 2011, eight people were sentenced to death in Texas, currently the lowest number for any full calendar year. Kase said that there had been three other death penalty cases this year, all ending in sentences of life without parole. Experts point to the 2005 introduction of a penalty of life without parole in the state as a reason for the decline in death sentences in recent years. In 2015, there has been a drastic drop from even last year, when there were 11 death sentences handed out. There are many theories on the cause of this year's drop, including 2013 legislation on criminal discovery reform and prosecutors pursuing the death penalty less often, Kase said. Robert Kepple of the Texas District & County Attorneys Association, points to a simpler reason for the decrease: a lower crime and murder rate. “We shouldn't be surprised that death penalty cases are going down when there have been less murders,” Kepple said. “That's a success story.”

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