The death penalty seems to be waning in many parts of the U.S., but what about Texas, a capital punishment stronghold? “It has taken a little longer for the transformation to be felt here,” Rob Owen of the Capital Punishment Clinic at the University of Texas at Austin told the Dallas Morning News. “I think we are seeing the leading edge of that national transformation.”
Prosecutors doubt that, saying the numbers simply reflect the cyclical nature of criminal justice. “A real sea change? I think it’s too early to tell,” said Michael Casillas, chief prosecutor of the appellate division of the Dallas County district attorney’s office. Neither side thinks the death penalty will disappear any time soon. Even in Dallas County, where District Attorney Craig Watkins has indicated his discomfort with capital punishment, prosecutors are going to start seeking execution dates again soon. Houston’s Harris County, which has led the state in death sentences for years, had no death sentences imposed last year. Perhaps more telling, said David Dow, litigation director for the Texas Defender Service, was the fact that a Harris County jury refused to impose a death sentence in the case of an illegal immigrant who killed a police officer. Harris County has a new district attorney, former judge Pat Lykos; observers aren’t sure how strong her appetite is for capital punishment.