Study: 7 of top 10 counties with most executions are in Texas

Posted Thursday, Oct. 03, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, Texas has had the distinction of being what some call “the capital of capital punishment.”

With more than 500 executions, the Lone Star State is far out in front of all others when it comes to putting people to death.

But a new study released Wednesday by the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C., notes even more revealing factors — indeed disparities —about this state’s application of the death penalty. It examines executions, death row populations and capital sentences by county.

The report, “The 2% Death Penalty: How a Minority of Counties Produce Most Death Cases at Enormous Costs to All,” says that just 2 percent of U.S. counties have been responsible for the majority of executions, most of the population on death row and a majority of recent death sentences.

Of the top 10 counties within that 2 percent that have produced the most executions in the country, seven are in Texas, with Harris and Dallas counties ranked Nos. 1 and 2, Tarrant No. 4 and Bexar No. 5. Those four counties, while among the most populous, account for almost half of the executions in a state with 254 counties.

“Death sentences depend more on the location of the county line than on the severity of the crime,” the report said, while also noting that “Texas alone has accounted for 38 percent of the nation’s executions.”

With 85 percent of counties in the U.S. having had no one executed in more than 45 years, the report points out that the “disparate and highly clustered use of the death penalty raises serious questions of unequal and arbitrary application of the law.”

In addition, enormous costs of death penalty cases, borne by the counties in the initial trial stage, are often incurred by the state and federal governments as the lengthy appeals process continues for years.

Although the number of death sentences has been declining since 2000 with the adoption of life-without-parole laws and several states abolishing capital punishment, the ultimate sentence is still very much a part of the Texas criminal justice system, especially in a few counties.

Regardless of one’s stance on the death penalty, this new report should compel us to continue to wrestle with the issue, searching for ways to perfect its application if we refuse to ban it outright.

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