Use of the death penalty has steadily declined in Texas, the state with the busiest execution chamber, says the Waco Tribune-Herald. Thirty-six new inmates were sent to death row in Texas in 2002. Nine years later, that number was eight. The concern that the most vicious killers eventually might be released back into society if not sentenced to death has eased. Under current law, life without parole is automatic for those convicted of capital murder when the death penalty is off the table. Before 2005, capital killers with life terms could be paroled in 40 years.
Longtime local prosecutor Crawford Long says “there is a lot more skepticism now than there used to be” about death penalty cases. Other factors contributing to the decline in death penalty cases, experts say, is the rising cost of trying them in sagging economic times in which most counties are struggling to make do without major tax increases. There also is a rising frustration about the amount of time between conviction and execution, which increases the price tag and adds to a feeling of helplessness among victims' families longing for justice. Kristin Houle of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty believes exonerations of 46 Texas inmates and 300 nationwide and the finality of executions have changed public perception of the death penalty. “What might have been considered a slam-dunk capital case 10 or 15 years ago might not be now,” she said.