Although the death penalty is under attack in many areas, support for capital punishment remains strong in Texas, where “a history of frontier justice, a law-and-order culture, and conservative politics keep the execution chamber busy,” reports the Associated Press. “It’s a tradition here and something we want to do, and we’re not going to back away from what’s going on elsewhere,” says James Marquart, co-author of a history of the death penalty in the state. Texas retired the electric chair in 1972, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that executions under state death-penalty laws were unconstitutionally cruel and unusual. Legislators quickly rewrote laws to use lethal injection.
Marquart, director of criminology and sociology programs at the University of Texas at Dallas, said, “They knew public opinion supported capital punishment and weren’t going to back from it.” Since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976, Texas has executed 405 inmates – more than any other state. Virginia is second with 98. Texas also leads in the number of prisoners set free after DNA evidence showed they were innocent, although none of those 30 cases involved death row inmates. Michael Radelet, a University of Colorado capital punishment expert, said high Texas execution figures may reflect differences in attorney compensation, lack of public defenders, and lack of attorneys to pursue appeals. Twenty-six of the 42 U.S. inmates executed last year were in Texas. Even in the electric-chair days, Texas was among the most active death-penalty states.