The Austin Chronicle

Report Calls for Texas Death Penalty Reform

By Jordan Smith, January 26, 2007, News

Earlier this month the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty handed state lawmakers its assessment of the state's application of the death penalty, plus a string of suggestions – including the creation of a statewide public defender's office – to reform Texas' brand of capital punishment. Indeed, "errors" in the system have led to wrongful convictions and executions, reads the report, making it "necessary to take action" to reform the criminal-justice system and, "eventually to abolish capital punishment in the state of Texas." The odds of that ever happening, of course, are slim to none. But the report makes clear that human error has dire consequences. Lawmakers should take action to ensure that the system is as free as possible from devastating "mortal mistakes" – including unreliable eyewitness testimony (as in the cases of executed inmates Gary Graham and Carlos DeLuna), reliance on junk science (as in the arson-murder case of executed inmate Cameron Willingham), and flawed psychological evidence offered by dubious experts (like Dr. James Grigson, aka Dr. Death, who was twice reprimanded by the American Psychiatric Association before being expelled from its membership in 1995).

TCADP recommends that the state ensure DNA testing in all capital-murder cases and offer all current death row inmates access to DNA testing; institute a statewide public defender office – or, at a minimum, ensure adequate funding for attorneys and experts working on behalf of indigent defendants; and create an independent capital punishment committee, to be tasked with reviewing claims of official misconduct – in both the investigative and trial phases – made in any death-penalty case. (The full report is available online at

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