Police were seeking Erbie Bowser in 2013 in connection with the murders of his girlfriend, his girlfriend’s daughter, his estranged wife, and his estranged wife’s daughter. The 44-year-old didn’t seem to realize what had happened or where he was, Slate reports. Almost four years later, Faith Johnson, the new district attorney of Dallas County, has decided to push forward with a capital trial against Bowser. Given that just 30 people were sentenced to death in the U.S. last year, the push to send a mentally ill veteran to death row seems out of touch. Under a new and untested DA, Dallas might be one of the few jurisdictions to slide backward into the death penalty morass.
The number of new death sentences in the U.S. has gone a peak a peak of 315 in 1996 to 30 in 2016, an all-time low since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. There are a few reasons for the decrease, among them the lack of available execution drugs, increased awareness about the role of mental illness, and more understanding about the biological and psychological effects of childhood abuse and trauma. The most decisive factor has been the reluctance of prosecutors to seek death. Beth McCann, the newly elected DA in Denver,doesn’t think the death penalty is appropriate. Even in Louisiana’s Caddo Parish, the county responsible for the most death sentences per capita between 2010 and 2014, new district attorney James Stewart, promised to re-examine capital cases. In Texas, Houston’s Harris County has had the highest number of death sentences in the past four decades, 294. Dallas County comes in second, with 107 people sentenced to death since 1976. Neither county has issued a death sentence since 2014.