Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty Releases Report on
Death Penalty Developments in 2008

“Average” Number of Executions Carried Out in Record Time as New Death
Sentences Reach Lowest Level in Texas in 30 Years

(Austin, Texas) — Today the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
(TCADP) released its annual report on death penalty developments statewide, in
advance of the December 7 anniversary of the resumption of executions in Texas
in 1982. According to the report, Texas juries newly condemned nine
individuals (eight men and one woman) to death in 2008, the lowest number of
new death sentences since official reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976.
Juries also resentenced two people to death.

A de facto moratorium on executions nationwide existed from September 26, 2007
until April 16, 2008 while the U.S. Supreme Court considered the
constitutionality of the lethal injection protocol used by the majority of
death penalty states. On April 16, the Court ruled in Baze v. Rees that the
current protocol used by Kentucky (and other states, including Texas) does not
constitute cruel and unusual punishment. The decision lifted all stays in
effect at the time and paved the way for the resumption of executions. Texas’
first execution of the year took place on June 11, 2008, when Karl Chamberlain
was put to death. The State went on to execute 17 more people in the latter
half of 2008, accounting for 50% of all executions in the United States this
year. Seven of those executed had been convicted in Dallas County.

“2008 can only be characterized as yet another rollercoaster year for the
death penalty in Texas,” said TCADP Executive Director Kristin Houlé. “The
state carried out a ‘typical’ number of executions in a record amount of time
– averaging nearly one per week over a five-month period. Yet officials’ zeal
for executions was not matched by public desire for new death sentences, as
evidenced by the continued steep decline in the number of new inmates arriving
on death row.”

This past year also was notable for the executions that did not occur. Six
inmates with execution dates in 2008 received last-minute stays, due to
concerns about possible innocence, the fairness of their trial, or issues
related to mental retardation or mental illness. The case of Charles Hood, in
particular, challenged the integrity of the Texas judicial system, after solid
evidence confirmed that the judge who presided over his original trial was
romantically linked to the prosecutor who sought his death sentence. Hood
received a stay from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on September 9 on an
issue unrelated to the improper relationship; his attorneys continue to seek a
new trial.

Other highlights of TCADP’s report, Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2008,
include the following:

* In 2008, the State of Texas carried out 18 executions in 5 months.
Only eight other states carried out executions this year; none executed more
than four people. Texas has executed 423 people since 1982. Currently there
are 354 inmates on death row in Texas – 344 men and 10 women.

* Michael Blair became the 9th inmate exonerated from death row in Texas
after DNA testing failed to connect him to the crime for which he was
convicted and sentenced to death.

* Seven other inmates were removed permanently from death row in 2008;
their sentences were commuted to life in prison. This includes Thomas
Miller-El, Johnny Paul Penry, and LaRoyce Smith, whose convictions and/or
death sentences had been overturned at various junctures by the U.S. Supreme

* Jurors rejected the death penalty in at least four capital murder
trials in 2008, opting instead for the punishment of life in prison without
the possibility of parole.

* Harris County, which accounts for more executions than any state in
the country (besides Texas), did not send a single person to death row in

* Texas defied federal officials and the International Court of Justice
when it executed Mexican national Jose Medellin on August 5, 2008, despite the
fact that he had been denied the right to contact his consular office upon his
arrest in 1993 as afforded by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

* The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kennedy v. Louisiana on June 25,
2008 invalidated the death penalty provision of “Jessica’s Law,” which the
Texas Legislature passed in 2007. The Justices ruled 5-4 that the death
penalty is unconstitutional as a punishment for the crime of raping a child
and they effectively barred its imposition for any crime that does not take
the life of the victim.

Texas already has scheduled 11 executions for the first 3 months of 2009.
“Despite continued concerns about the flaws and failures of the Texas death
penalty system – and growing public awareness of its fallibility – the
‘conveyor belt to death’ continues to operate on high gear,” said Houlé.
“TCADP urges all elected officials to take a hard look at this costly, broken
government system – a system that produces wrongful convictions and most
likely wrongful executions – and to support alternatives that protect society
and punish the truly guilty.”

TCADP is a statewide, grassroots organization based in Austin, Texas. Texas
Death Penalty Developments in 2008: The Year in Review is available online at