The Austin Chronicle

Deadly Statistics

By Jordan Smith, December 17, 2013, 9:00am, Newsdesk

While Harris County retains its rank as the county that has sent the most defendants to Death Row since reinstatement in 1976, in recent years Dallas County has surged forward, earning it the top spot for new death penalty sentences since 2008, according to a report released this morning by the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Of the 55 inmates condemned to die since 2008, Dallas sent 20% (11 defendants) to Death Row during the last five years, according to the annual TCADP report. That distinction is unsettling, given that Dallas County also leads the state in the number of exonerations established through DNA evidence, with 24 men exonerated through mid-2012. "While most of Texas is moving away from the death penalty, Dallas County has emerged as a major outlier in its pursuit of the ultimate punishment, particularly for defendants of color," Kristin Houlé, TCADP executive director, said in a press release. "These troubling patterns directly counter Dallas' reputation as a leader in criminal justice reform."

Indeed, while the number of new death sentences handed out in Texas remained low in 2013 – just nine new sentences were delivered, the same as in 2012 (up by one over the eight delivered in 2010 and 2011) – geographically, the use of the death penalty remains isolated, and the imposition of the ultimate sentence on minority defendants remains high. In the last two years, just 12 of Texas' 254 counties have imposed death sentences and 18 people in all were sentenced to death; five of those were from Dallas County. Since 2008, Travis County has sentenced just three persons to death, and returned no new death sentences in 2013.

And since 2008, two-thirds – or more – of all new death sentences were imposed on minorities. In Dallas County, for example, of the 11 men sentenced to die since 2008, eight are black and two are Hispanic. In Harris County, 12 of the last 14 defendants sentenced to death were black and the other two were Hispanic. Harris County last sent a white man to Death Row in 2004, according to the report.

Texas also marked an execution milestone in 2013, with the 500th execution since reinstatement. At year end the total was up to 508 inmates put to death since 1982, when Texas resumed executions. In all, 16 inmates were executed this year, up from 15 in 2012. Texas accounted for 42% of all executions in 2013, putting to death more than two times as many persons as the second most active state, Florida, which executed seven inmates. (At press time, 38 inmates had been executed in 2013; one execution, in Oklahoma, is pending.)

TCADP will be hosting a Tweet Chat today (Tuesday, Dec. 17), from 3-4pm, at #2013TXDP, with yours truly – @chronic_jordan – serving as a moderator. We'll be ready to discuss the implications of Texas' use of the death penalty and eager to answer #deathpenalty related questions.

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