Twenty-five years ago today, Charlie Brooks Jr., 40, lay on the gurney in the Texas death chamber and became the first person in the U.S. to die by lethal injection, says the Houston Chronicle. He was the sixth person executed in the U.S. after the Supreme Court temporarily halted capital punishment by forcing the states to rewrite their laws to limit executions to heinous crimes. Since then, 404 Texas inmates were executed before the Supreme Court created a de facto moratorium in September by agreeing to consider Kentucky cases on whether the chemicals used in lethal injection amount to cruel and unusual punishment.
When Brooks was executed, the Texas murder rate was 16 per 100,000 residents, dropping to about 6 per 100,000 in 2005. Causes could include improvements in the economy and the fact that the number of Texas inmates almost tripled in the 1990s, growing to more than 146,000. The number of capital crimes in Texas has grown. In the year Brooks was executed, there were 252 capital murder indictments returned in Texas. There were 489 last year. Of 5,025 capital murder indictments in the past decade, only 274 resulted in death sentences. Columbia University law professor Jeffrey Fagan, who studied capital murder in Houston’s Harris County from 1976-2003, said the capital punishment does little to halt murder. “We find no evidence of any marginal deterrent effect over and above whatever deterrent effect the criminal system may be creating by incarceration,” Fagan said. “We don’t see capital punishment adding anything to that effect.”