No News is Good News

This year Harris County sent nobody to death row (Rick Casey, today’s Chronicle).

Previous years:

  • 2003 = 9
  • 2004 = 10
  • 2005-2007 = 7 total

all per Casey (the Death Penalty Information Center says 3 in 2005 and 3 in 2006; I couldn’t find a specific number for 2007).

These numbers reflect a turn away from the death penalty in Texas generally — in the entire state, 9 people were sentenced to death in 2008, down from 14 in 2007 and a high of 48 in 1999. The option of life without parole has to be counted as a factor, as Casey notes and as Chuck Rosenthal feared when he lobbied against it, but the excellent work of Houston criminal-defense lawyers like Danalynn Recer and the appointed capital defense bar (the vast majority of people can’t afford counsel on a death-penalty case) shouldn’t be discounted.

0 responses to “No News is Good News”

  1. Somebody on my blog posted the interesting statistic that Kelly Siegler (via Wharton County) single-handedly outpaced Harris County. Interesting statistic for what it’s worth.

  2. Mark,

    I am not surprised. Life without parole, restrictions on mental retardation and age, race disparity discussion, extensive and expensive appellate procedure, and more specialization and education on the part of the capital defense community have all contributed to the decision to seek death less. Certainly, the problems occurring in Dallas and across the country have all contributed to a general change in attitudes by the public.

    I don’t think that changes in leadership at the DA’s office have much impact on the decision. Capital punishment will still be used but on a much more conserative basis. Overall I think its a good thing. I can remember occasions in the past where fully 1/3rd of the office and courts were engaged in capital litigation. That obviously creates negect in other areas of need.

    When those attitudes extend to narcotics, prosecution will become far more efficient, effective and just.

  3. Murray,

    What a terrible thing to say. We don’t bash Kelly over here like they do on your blog. Oh, wait: over on your blog they think that government killing people is always a good thing. Never mind.


    When those attitudes extend to narcotics, I may have to start looking for a job.


  4. Curious: does anyone know how many people were charged with capital felonies in 2008, compared to previous years?

    Maybe would-be capital offenders finally got the memo and decided to play nice.

  5. Y,

    Um . . . no.

    I don’t know about 2008 stats, but cases tried in 2008 would most likely have been filed in 2007 or earlier.

    Cases filed by indictment in Harris County: Cap murder / murder
    2007 105/290
    2006 95/254
    2005 78/246
    2004 65/230
    2003 99/212

    So both capital filings and murder filings increased every year from 2004 to 2007. The state doesn’t seek death in every capital case; the State, as Jigmeister points out, is seeking death less.

    (Doublecheck my work and check earlier years here.)

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