In perverse way, Texas has reason to be proud: The state executed only seven people in 2016, its lowest number in two decades.
Since the resumption of executions in 1982, as many as 40 Texas Death Row inmates have been executed in a single year (that peak was in 2000). A downward trend has been noticeable for the past decade.
For the second year in a row, according to the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Texas jurors handed down death sentences to only three defendants.
This year, for the first time since 2002, Texas did not lead the nation in executions. Georgia was the leader, with nine people put to death by the state.
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Texas’ highest criminal court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, granted seven stays of execution in 2016.
In 2015 and 2016 combined, the court granted 15 stays of execution. The court had granted only three stays from 2012 through 2014.
And even more rare, the Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the conviction and death sentence of a Waco man, Albert Love, on direct appeal from his 2013 conviction in the shooting deaths of two men.
From 2009 through 2015, the Court of Criminal Appeals did not reverse a single death penalty conviction on direct appeal, according to the Texas Defender Service.
“The rising number of stays suggests that the Court of Criminal Appeals is registering the concerns about the fairness and accuracy of our state’s capital punishment system,” said Kathryn Kase, executive director of Texas Defender Service.
Since 2012, 18 Death Row inmates have been given reduced sentences, while one was exonerated.
The Harvard study showed death penalty cases concentrated in large urban counties. Only 16 of the nation’s 3,143 counties or equivalent jurisdictions accounted for five or more death sentences each between 2010 and 2015.
The list includes Dallas County and Harris County (Houston).
The death penalty may never be abolished in Texas. But it’s already fading away.