Former Prosecutor Says Texas "Can Live Without the Death Penalty"

Former Texas prosecutor, Tim Cole - described by the Dallas Morning News as "a no-holds-barred lawman" in 4 terms as District Attorney for Archer, Clay, and Montague counties - now says that "Texas should join the 19 U.S. states where the death penalty has been abolished." In an op-ed in The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Cole says Texas' dramatic decline in imposing the death penalty, from a record 49 death sentences in 1994 and 48 in 1999 to none in the first 7 months of 2015, is "proving as a state that we can live without the death penalty." A Dallas Morning News editorial based upon Coles' comments described this as "part of a trend of the death penalty falling out of favor not only with juries but also with prosecutors who seek it." Only three death penalty cases have been tried in Texas this year, and all three resulted in life sentences. Cole said, "I believe it is happening because the problems with how the death penalty is assessed have become evident to everyone, including jurors." He particularly emphasized the inaccuracy of the death penalty, saying, "If you can show me a perfect system, I’ll give you the death penalty. But you can’t. You can’t show me a system that’s so perfect that you could show me we’d never execute an innocent person."

Cole added that standards have changed in how prosecutors determine whether to seek the death penalty. "There are probably a lot of people who have already been executed where those cases would not be death penalty cases these days...It’s become more acceptable for a district attorney not to seek death."

(Editorial, "Living without the death penalty in Texas," The Dallas Morning News, July 29, 2015; T. Cole, "This year, Texans live without imposing new death sentences," The Star-Telegram, July 23, 2015.) See New Voices and Sentencing.