Starting tomorrow (Jan. 14), Texas will embark on a three-month spree of executions in which 14 men (one of them white) will be put to death. Later this year, perhaps as early as late April, Texas will probably carry out the 200th execution under Governor Rick Perry. This is an appalling number, particularly given what we have learned about the flawed nature of our criminal justice and capital punishment systems. Texas accounts for 9 of the 130 death row exonerees, the third highest total of any state, and another 5 men have been executed in Texas despite compelling evidence that they were innocent.
The 19 exonerations from DNA evidence in Dallas County don’t include anyone from death row, but it’s the highest total of any county in America, and is yet another piece of evidence that Texas justice doesn’t always get it right.
Of course, sadly, none of this is really big news, and it all fits in neatly with the violent, shoot-first-ask-questions-later stereotype that Texans often embrace – but it’s at odds with what’s going on in the real Texas. Real Texans are usually genuinely concerned about justice, and about avoiding uncorrectable, fatal mistakes. Governor Perry should take his cue from these real Texans, who in 2008 handed down the fewest death sentences (11) of any year since the death penalty was reinstated. Now is not the time for a shameful and reckless pursuit of executions; now is the time for Texas politicians to finally acknowledge what everybody else already knows: their death penalty has serious problems.