Texas, the state that has executed the most people by far since the death penalty was reinstated in the U.S. 40 years ago, had the nation’s second-busiest death chamber this year for the first time since 2001, the Texas Tribune reports. Georgia’s nine executions in 2016 surpassed the Lone Star State’s record-low seven. The shift came in a year that saw several high-profile U.S. Supreme Court death penalty cases, fights over lethal injection drugs, and a 25-year low in nationwide executions. Texas has seen decreasing numbers of new death sentences and executions in recent years.
“The death penalty landscape in Texas continues to change dramatically,” said Kristin Houlé of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. “Prosecutors, juries, judges, and the public are subjecting our state’s death penalty practices to unprecedented scrutiny and, in many cases, accepting alternatives to the ultimate punishment.” Only three death sentences were handed down by Texas juries in 2016, all to black men. At its peak in 1999, the state had 48 new death sentences. The number dropped significantly after 2005, when life without parole became the alternative for jurors in death penalty trials. “Could it simply mean there are a lot less murders in Texas these last 15 years, so naturally the number of death-eligible defendants is way down as well?” said Robert Kepple of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, in an earlier email. “That, coupled with life without parole option, means less death penalties.”