Why the Death Penalty May Be Dying, Even in Texas

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The crimes were heinous, but Dallas County jurors couldn’t sentence the killers to death. A college student killed three people at a drug house in a premeditated robbery. A former special education teacher and U.S. Army veteran killed his girlfriend, her teenage daughter, his estranged wife, her adult daughter and severely wounded four children in a two-city rampage. Texas juries have declined death sentences in nearly half of the cases presented to them in the past two years, the Dallas Morning News reports.

So, what does it take to win a death penalty sentence? “You gotta be perfect probably these days,” said Edwin King, a prosecutor in one of the Dallas County cases. The two recent capital murder trials were the first Dallas County cases in which the state sought the death penalty since 2014. The decision to seek the death penalty is based on the severity of the crime, criminal background and what the victim’s family wants, said District Attorney Faith Johnson. “Our office only seeks the death penalty in the most heinous and serious of crimes,” she said. Jason Redick of the Texas Coalition Against the Death Penalty said that, “Even in Texas, the death penalty is dying.” In the 15 death penalty cases tried in Texas since 2015, jurors have sent only eight men to death row. Death sentences peaked in the 1990s. Between 2007 and 2013, Dallas County led the state in defendants sent to death row. During that time, the county sentenced 12 people to death. Executions in Texas are also declining because of legal reforms that give prisoners more chances to have their sentences reviewed.

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