The Fatal Flaws of Texas Justice

texas death chamber death penalty

The death chamber in Huntsville, Texas. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Newsmakers)

Good News: Californians are currently debating the various dysfunctions that plague their capital punishment system, and could in fact bring that failed experiment to a merciful end on November 6.

Bad News: The political leadership of the state of Texas continues to myopically ignore (or deliberately conceal) the massive flaws in their own heavily used death penalty. And today, Halloween, the Lone Star State is set to kill its 250th prisoner under Governor Rick Perry.

As Amnesty International’s new report points out, Governor Perry, in his first state of the state address in January 2001 (he’s been Governor since December 2000), touted Texas executions, somewhat perversely, for “affirm[ing] the high value we place on innocent life.” But he then did at least say that the state’s justice system “can be better.”

Now, 249 executions later, it’s hard to believe he meant that.

Cameron Todd Willingham

Texas executed Cameron Todd Willingham after ignoring key evidence that may have proved his innocence.

In 2004, when presented with the case of Cameron Todd Willingham and the flawed arson investigation that convicted him, Governor Perry allowed the execution to proceed anyway, and in 2011 actively attempted to quash a re-investigation into the case. Needless to say, the value placed on Willingham’s almost certainly innocent life was not high, and the lack of interest in making Texas justice better is self-evident.

As early as his first year as Governor, Rick Perry was already showing his true colors, when he vetoed a bill that would have ended the execution of persons with “mental retardation.” This act allowed Texas to affirm the value of life by continuing to kill prisoners with IQs under 70. The next year the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed the practice nationally as cruel and unusual punishment, though Texas has found ways to circumvent that ruling.

From 2001-2002 Governor Perry oversaw the execution of 4 of the last 5 juvenile offenders killed in the U.S., before the Supreme Court banned that practice in 2005. He and his state continue to kill teenage offenders however (1 out of 6 of the 249 people executed under Perry so far have been 17, 18 or 19 at the time of the crime).

In 2004, Governor Perry willfully ignored a rare recommendation of clemency from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles in the case of Kelsey Patterson. Patterson was a paranoid schizophrenic who, according to a federal judge, believed “outside forces control him through implants in his brain and body.” Earlier this month, Perry allowed the execution of Jonathan Green, another severely mentally ill man who, according to another federal judge, “stuffed toilet paper in his ears to try to stop the voices in his head.”

There is little evidence that Governor Perry is seeking to make Texas justice better. In fact, as Amnesty’s report makes clear, killing of the young, the intellectually disabled, and the mentally ill persists in Texas with no sign that Governor Perry cares at all.

But unlike their political leadership, the people of Texas do seem to care, and are turning away from this creepy enthusiasm for state killing. Death sentences issued by Texas juries have dropped precipitously during the dozen years Rick Perry has been governor.

So as Californians vote, perhaps, to end their state’s death penalty, and Texans vote, as jurors, for sentences other than death, maybe it’s time for political leaders in the Lone Star State to catch up with the people and realize that the state’s justice system “can be better”, and will be better, without executions.

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13 thoughts on “The Fatal Flaws of Texas Justice

  1. With weapons reported targeting people in the head, heart and even genitals that are fired from a distance in so many countries, Texas has even more reason to stop executions. These weapons really can cause a sonic effect that is like 'voices', or a high frequency or low frequency sound that wreaks havoc with the nervous system, causes intense pain, heart problems, confusion, deyhdration and other debilitating symptoms. These weapons are in action in my town, Owen Sound, Ontario and targeting people of all ages, all levels of education, and all professions. I am a union rep who worked in crisis intervention, nursing, and teaching for the past twenty years- as soon as I got sick I was attacked- and this terrorist group has not stopped with attacks. Texas likely has a similar or related terrorist group targeting their citizens. They are white supremicists in Ontario- likely white supremicists in Texas also. It is heartbreaking to know that the Governor of Texas has participated in murder at the orders of such an extremist terrorist group. American forces will need to intervene and secure weapons in that area. We are having much trouble securing weapons in Canada also. Sad times until we stop the murderous rampage this group is on. Likely each terrorist cell is reporting to one another- they are using military style microwave communications. Both Canada and the US need to make arrests for these crimes. The supremacy group does not want or need that level of authority in the hands of the Texas governor. The entire state of Texas should be declared a disaster relief area and that man should be under arrest. I cannot imagine the level of confusion in the minds and hearts of Texans as this governor continues to issue kill orders against fellow Americans, and Canadians as well. He is not limiting his killing to execution of criminals! The American president needs to have him removed from office and facing criminal charges for encouraging men and women to attack their own people. My heart goes out to all of those affected by the choices this man has made. Wish I had seen this article before today, Amnesty USA. What types of action can average people like myself take today to help this situation?

    Since SCOTUS banned executing murderers who were 18 and under at time of crime, Texas has not done so but instituted LWOP for these capital offenses. Texas IS NOT executing the young because by the time a 19 year-old gets to be executed they are on average in their late 20s.

    The cases which claimed mental retardation were all discredited because they did not meet AAIDD adaptive functioning criteria. A low IQ only means one may not be book smart but by golly these murderers were all street savvy thugs, who were able to plan/create criminal enterprises, and take steps to hide the murdered victim/cover the crime and did not exhibit any adaptive functioning issues prior to age 18. If one undestands what selling drugs to minors means, one also understands that murder is permanent.

  3. I can't even conceive the idea that people are murdered by people and as consequence they get murdered too. A seventeen year old boy, white, upper class is a child being massacred by the government ( in strange case that he is considered guilty); if he is anything but white, he's a ferocious adult who endangers American society, American community . American dream? Or American Nightmare. People with with mental with disabilities are sentenced to death and thus murdered , adolescents are sentenced to death and thus murdered. By whom? By the American Constitution where Human Rights are consecrated: we all born equal ( although Thomas Jefferson had slaves). Obnoxious , hateful and unforgivable crimes continue to be allowed by law the in the U.S. A couple of centuries ago, some ships from Europe arrived America, in this case, U.S., escaping bigotry. So they killed their hosts and began their own lives. There are too many wrongs things happening there. Start acknowledging your own errors and learn the concepts of the words: tolerance, justice, equality , liberty
    ( The French taught you that, although they were victims of their own hatred too becoming dictators and murderers) . Learn to live without bigotry or racism and don't kill, protected by a idiotic law, no one: no mental disabled people, no children, no man or woman. You are not GOD. you keep saying "God Bless America" …how could a God bless such a country where the laws defend murder?

  4. They have prisoners on death row or should I say administrative segregation for over 12 years now. Dennis wayne Hope was elligable for parole in 2005 but because hes housed on death row oh excuse me ad. seg. he cant even see the board. 80 yrs for a couple of armed robberies and escapes wtf people in new york are doing 10 yrs for murder .Hello just caused theyre pissed he escaped theyre goona warehouse him. And trust me there are many more… 80 years I cant believe this

    • Just saw the case about Dennis Wayne Hope and even though I believe what he did was wrong I think it is crazy that he got over 80 years for robberies. He didnt kill anyone but is being punished as if he did.

  5. People who are convicted of Ass/robbery with a deadly weapon and deadly intent in Texas will serve at least if not more than 50% of their time. That's if they have good records and no incidences. THis is a big thing in Texas next to Murder.

  6. Inmates in the texas prison system 95% of the time do all their time. They do not let anyone slide. There are people on Death Row/Solitary for 30 years and they still have more to do. Most of the non violent offenders will sometimes do half – the rest do more or all. Most die in prison anyway. I have worked in the Correctional System for over 25 years. I have transfered from one prison to another. I have seen more die than be paroled. Health care is very bad. It's an issue that no one wants to be bothered with.

  7. I think Texas will probably be one of the last states to give up capital punishment. Their views are very different from our beliefs.

  8. What can be done for Mr. Dennis Wayne Hope??? He can not be executed….How can I help him….

  9. Texas means business when it comes to 'escapes'. If you think someone will get out any earlier than sentenced I would not hold my breath. The laws are firm in Texas. Other states are more reasonable when it comes to parole and probation. Texas could care less what other states do. I fact, Texas prides itself on harsh sentences. I have lived in Houston all my life and I will have to say It's always been that way and I am sure it will stay. If you are sentenced to 50 will do everyday of it.

    • He did get a second chance, and he screwed it up. He should be in jail. Just NOT for the long unusually cruel length they sentenced him to. People could have gotten killed or seriously hurt, he did do some pretty serious stuff. i think he should be paroled one more time and that's his final chance.

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