As Texas prepared for its 13th execution of the year on Wednesday, the Guardian explores the sudden paucity of death sentences in the Houston area. No one has been sentenced to death this year in Harris County, traditionally an enthusiastic venue for capital punishment. Some 124 offenders have been executed after convictions in Harris County. Across Texas, there have only been three death sentences in 2015. The previous low in a calendar year was eight.
“We now have more cases this year where jurors rejected the death penalty than where they imposed it,” said Kristin Houlé of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. Other experts suggest that the rising number of DNA-based exonerations has made jurors more cautious and skeptical, leading some juries to opt for sentences of life without parole. On Wednesday evening, Raphael Holiday is scheduled to become the 531st Texas inmate executed since 1976, for starting a house fire that killed three young girls, including his one-year-old daughter.