The death penalty is withering, says The New Yorker. The change is especially striking in Houston, which has long reigned as the nation’s death-penalty capital. Last year, prosecutors in Harris County sent only two people to death row. Crime is down everywhere, and fewer murders means fewer potential death-penalty cases. Widely publicized exonerations of convicted prisoners, based on DNA evidence, may have given some jurors second thoughts about imposing the death penalty.
Another explanation for the decline in death sentences has been the increasing use of mitigation, a strategy that aims to tell the defendant's life story. The most prominent Texas mitigation strategist is Danalynn Recer of the Gulf Region Advocacy Center. Based in Houston, GRACE has represented defendants in death-penalty cases since 2002. In today’s criminal procedure, a system of “guided discretion” requires jurors to weigh “aggravating factors” and “mitigating factors.” Mitigating factors generally include a defendant's mental illness, or the absence of a prior criminal record. The work is closer to biography than criminal investigation, and it led to the creation of a new position in the legal world: mitigation specialist. The full article is available only to paid subscribers.