Texas Death Penalty Ruled Unconstitutional; Appeal Likely

March 6, 2010

No one seems to think it will hold up on appeal, but yesterday a recently elected judge in Houston, Texas ruled that the Lone Star State’s death penalty is unconstitutional.  According to the Houston Chronicle, the Judge, Kevin Fine, stated that:

“Based on the moratorium (on the death penalty) in Illinois, the Innocence Project and more than 200 people being exonerated nationwide, it can only be concluded that innocent people have been executed. It’s safe to assume we execute innocent people.”


“Are you willing to have your brother, your father, your mother be the sacrificial lamb, to be the innocent person executed so that we can have a death penalty so that we can execute those who are deserving of the death penalty? I don’t think society’s mindset is that way now.”

The ruling came in response to a pre-trial motion filed by attorneys for John Edward Green, who is charged with a June 2008 murder.  Green has pleaded not guilty.

Reaction from the Texas pro-death penalty establishment was swift. Harris County District Attorney Patricia Lykos issued a statement proclaiming that: “Words are inadequate to describe the Office’s disappointment and dismay with this ruling.”

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott responded with familiar talking points.  He condemned the ruling as “judicial activism,” and he lamented that the judge’s decision “delays justice and closure for the victim’s family,” as if an execution were right around the corner rather than at least 10 years away (assuming, of course, that Green is convicted).

Like other elected officials in the state, elected judges in Texas have traditionally been enthusiastic and active promoters of executions. Perhaps judge Fine’s ruling will encourage his fellow judges to take a more critical and independent look at the death penalty in Texas.