The Texas Task Force for Indigent Defense voted Wednesday in Austin to approve a modest expansion of the statewide public defender’s office for capital murder cases, reports the Associated Press. The panel approved a one-year, $2.2 million grant that will expand the program by 55 counties, but it put off broader, $28 million plan because of budget concerns. The central office in Lubbock opened 2 1/2 years ago and provides assistance in 85 West Texas counties. The expansion includes counties in far West Texas and south Texas. One hundred counties will be phased in over the next three years.
The program is designed to help counties with modest populations, whose budgets can be decimated by fees paid to court-appointed attorneys in capital cases. If fully implemented, the statewide system would have 88 staffers in 10 offices. Three offices are now operating. Texas, which conducts more executions than any other state, has been criticized for not providing adequate defense for those facing lethal injection, including an instance in the 1980s when an attorney fell asleep during crucial stages of testimony.