For the first time in 20 years, the number of Texas executions will fall out of double digits this year, the Texas Tribune reports. The seven men put to death this year are the fewest since 1996, when executions halted amid legal challenges to a new state law intended to hasten the death penalty appeals process, says the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Only one more execution is scheduled for 2016. “There is clearly a change going on in Texas,” said Robert Dunham of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes the death penalty. Judges and appellate courts rescheduled or stopped executions 15 times for 11 people in 2016. At least two judges on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals have said better lawyering by defense attorneys — including bringing forward better arguments and challenging “junk science” convictions — has contributed to the recent stays
The state’s highest criminal court sent many cases back to trial courts this year to resolve claims relating to potentially faulty evidence, including that of Jeff Wood, who didn’t pull the trigger in a murder and claims his sentencing was tainted by misleading testimony from a highly criticized psychiatrist nicknamed Dr. Death. “Texas courts are now aware of the dangers associated with forensic sciences and are closely scrutinizing this evidence,” said Greg Gardner, a capital defense attorney who represents John Battaglia, the man scheduled for the last execution of the year for killing his two daughters. Two death penalty cases pending in the U.S. Supreme Court could also affect decisions on setting execution dates. Duane Buck and Bobby Moore are fighting their death sentences in the high court.