As 2015 draws to a close Texas Moratorium Network looks back on the top Texas death penalty news stories of the year. Each day, I will post another Texas death penalty news story that broke in 2015. I will continue to post the list of ten top Texas death penalty news stories each day until I reach number one. The full list is here.
2) There were only three new death sentences in Texas in 2015. In 1999, there were 48 people sentenced to death in Texas ("Where is the Texas death row class of 1999 now?" by Eric Dexheimer , Austin American-Statesman, September 9, 2015). Texas went all the way into October before anyone was sentenced to death in 2015. It is remarkable that death sentences in Texas have gone from 48 in 1999 to only 3 in 2015. It shows that more and more Texans are rejecting the death penalty, not only in their private opinions but in their capacities as members of juries who vote against death sentences and as prosecutors who decide not to seek the death penalty in specific cases. If we can cut death sentences down from 48 to only 3, then we can eventually cut them down to zero. As the number of new death sentences continue to decline, the day is coming when the U.S. Supreme Court will step in and decide that the death penalty is unconstitutional because of the 8th Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
Death sentences have been steadily declining in the U.S. over the past 15 years. “The use of the death penalty is becoming increasingly rare and increasingly isolated in the United States. These are not just annual blips in statistics, but reflect a broad change in attitudes about capital punishment across the country,” said Robert Dunham, Death Penalty Information Center’s Executive Director.
While new death sentences declined in Texas to only three in 2015, the state continues to lead the nation in the number of annual executions with 13 in 2015. Yet, only six states in the entire nation conducted any executions in 2015. Eighty-six percent of executions this year were concentrated in just three states: Texas (13), Missouri (6), and Georgia (5). Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, Texas has executed 531 people (as of the end of 2015), more than the next six states combined — Oklahoma, Virginia, Florida, Missouri, Georgia and Alabama. Executions have become a predominately Southern punishment, which bolsters the argument for the Supreme Court to rule it unconstitutional.