Controversial Texas Case Settles with Plea Bargain

A Texas capital case that precipitated a rare judicial review of the constitutionality of the state’s death penalty recently ended on July 6 with an unexpected plea deal. At the end of six weeks of jury selection, the prosecution accepted defendant John Edward Green Jr.’s agreement to plead guilty to a lesser murder charge in exchange for 40 years in prison. The case was delayed in coming to trial when Judge Kevin Fine (pictured) agreed to conduct a hearing on whether Texas’s death penalty law posed too great a risk of executing the innocent. The hearing was begun in December 2010, although the prosecution refused to take an active part in the proceedings. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halted the hearing after 2 days of testimony, holding that the constitutional issue was not ripe for consideration and that the trial court was not the proper forum for deciding that issue. The family of the two victims who were robbed and shot (one of whom died) in 2008 supported the plea agreement. A statement issued by Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos’s office cited concern for the victims and families when accepting the plea deal: “The victim’s husband and sister (who is also a victim in this case) related that they wanted finality and certainty of sentence. They expressed grave concerns regarding the pretrial proceedings and previous rulings in this case.”

(C. George, “Murder trial unexpectedly ends in deal,” and B. Rogers, “Victims’ family OK with Green plea deal,” Houston Chronicle, July 7, 2011). See Arbitrariness and Victims. See also Texas judge rules death penalty unconstitutional.