Facing costly, time-consuming retrials of death row inmates, prosecutors in Houston have spared the lives of three defendants in the past several years by accepting plea deals for life sentences, reports the city’s Chronicle. Officials says it is a pragmatic approach after more than a dozen death row cases from 20 years ago have been overturned in recent years for flawed jury instructions. Three other men whose capital murder cases were reversed have gone through a second grueling trial and are back on death row.
The death penalty cases tied to flawed jury instructions continue to come back to Harris County as they exhaust their other appeals. Last week, Roger Wayne McGowen’s case was sent back for a retrial. The 48-year-old, on death row for 25 years, was convicted of killing a 67-year-old woman during a bar robbery in 1986. McGowen’s case is typical of what the District Attorney’s Office has to review before deciding whether to again seek the death penalty. The office has to balance the time and energy of redoing an old case against finite resources, which may mean a death row inmate can get a deal by pleading guilty to stacked life sentences.