Texas' Reluctant Jurors

December 23, 2008

Today, Time wonders if Texas is “Changing its Mind About the Death Penalty.” There is ample evidence that something is happening.  According to the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (TCADP) year-end report, there were only 11 death sentences in the Lone Star state in 2008, and a grand total of Zero in Harris County (which by itself is responsible for over 100 executions in the last 26 years). 

To a certain extent, this apparent shift in attitude (at least in the jury room) mirrors broader national (and even international) trends, but the idea of Texans going along with national trends on the death penalty is itself noteworthy, if only because it conflicts with Texas’ relentlessly self-promoted stereotype that it is like “a whole ‘nother country”.

Texas, of course, is not a “‘nother country”, and Texans are quite reasonably experiencing the same misgivings about capital punishment as everyone else.   With 130 exonerations from death row nationally, the most recent one being Michael Blair in Texas, jurors are understandably reluctant to hand down such an irreversible punishment.  And with life without parole as an alternative, they don’t feel they have to.