Last week, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stopped an execution on a 5-4 vote. It was the sixth consecutive time since May that the judges halted an execution, reports the Houston Chronicle. Texas lawyers active in capital appeals this week hailed the vote as evidence that the top criminal court has grown more sensitive to possible death penalty flaws. If true, they argue, the court would be in step with a national pulling away from capital punishment – a movement that could lead to the penalty’s abolition.
“What connects these recent stays of execution,” said Jim Marcus, co-director of the University of Texas’ Capital Punishment Center, “are serious flaws that undermine the integrity of the prior proceedings, including junk science, inadequate counsel and unconstitutional jury instructions. These problems are not new. What appears to have changed is that a more careful scrutiny of Texas’ defective death penalty process has resulted in greater intolerance.” Dudley Sharp, a Houston pro-death penalty advocate, said death penalty foes and appellate lawyers have misread the significance of the stays. Since Texas introduced lethal injection in 1982, 537 killers have been put to death. The annual total, though, sharply has declined from a high of 40 in 2000 to six this year. If three remaining planned executions take place – and no new cases are added – the 2016 execution tally will be the lowest since 1996. Nationally, 2016 executions may fall to a 25-year low. Houston Chronicle