Man on Texas Death Row for over 30 Years May Be Tried for a Fourth Time

Ronald Curtis Chambers, who was originally sentenced to death for the 1975 murder of Mike McMahan, may be given a fourth trial following a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. Chambers was 20 at the time of his crime, and has been on death row longer than any other inmate in Texas. His second trial came 10 years after his first, following a Texas court ruling that Chambers should have been told that information from a psychiatric consultation could be used against him. Chambers received a third trial after courts found that the jury selection in his original trial had been racially biased. He was sentenced to death at all three trials.

Chambers was granted his most recent re-trial because the jury instructions during his 1992 trial did not allow the jurors to properly consider mitigating factors that might have made the death penalty inappropriate. These mitigating factors included his young age, his home life, and the poor economic conditions in west Dallas where he was raised. The standard jury instructions used at Chambers’ trial have since been changed, but some inmates who were sentenced by juries who were given these instructions remain on death row.

Jordan Steiker, a law professor at the University of Texas, questioned the wisdom of submitting Chambers to still another death penalty trial after all these years and all the mistakes made by the state: “The important thing to consider is Mr. Chambers' age, as well as the extraordinary expense of seeking another death verdict. It's hard to imagine that the Dallas taxpayers would want to spend millions more.”
(“Dallas man on death row gets fourth trial after review,” by Diane Jennings, The Dallas Morning News, January 2, 2008). See also Arbitrariness and Time on Death Row.