Opinion Columns & Blogs - INACTIVE

It’s wrong for an imperfect system to impose an irreversible punishment.

The gurney in Huntsville, Texas, where Texas' condemned are strapped down to receive a lethal dose of drugs.
The gurney in Huntsville, Texas, where Texas' condemned are strapped down to receive a lethal dose of drugs. AP

In the remaining months of 2018, the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex is likely to reach a grim milestone. Of the four remaining scheduled executions in Texas, three defendants were convicted in Fort Worth or Dallas.

The next of those executions to proceed will be the 100th execution resulting from convictions in Tarrant and Dallas counties since our state resumed executions in 1982.

Four other individuals convicted in Tarrant or Dallas counties face execution in the remaining months of 2018.

Historically, Tarrant and Dallas county juries have returned a combined 181 death sentences in the modern death penalty era, more than any major metropolitan area in Texas except for Houston.

And while prosecutors across the nation are increasingly electing life without the possibility of parole over the huge expense of a death penalty trial, district attorney offices in Tarrant and Dallas continue to seek death sentences and advance executions, despite compelling evidence of waning public appetite for capital punishment.

Since 2015, prosecutors in North Texas have sought the death penalty four times but secured just one death verdict from a jury.

I was elected four times as district attorney for the 97th District of Texas. I can attest to the central role prosecutors play in the death penalty process.

As district attorney, I faced the decision whether to seek life or death 17 times. Three times I chose to seek a death sentence. I was also responsible for seeking an execution date that resulted in the execution of Clifford Boggess, who was convicted of a murder in Montague County, Texas, and sentenced to death in 1987.

As the death penalty decreases in popularity and use, district attorneys owe it to their constituents to consider the questions surrounding the death penalty before proceeding to seek a sentence that many believe has been administered unfairly in the past.

Many of the arguments supporting the death penalty no longer hold up in 2018. Public support for the death penalty is now at a historical low in the modern era.

I’ve heard all the arguments in favor of the death penalty. I have made those arguments myself. But after years of Texas’ aggressive use of capital punishment, we know that executions seldom deter violent crime in our communities.

And we are more aware than ever that our justice system is not perfect. Prosecutors, defense attorneys, juries and judges make mistakes.

When it comes to the death penalty, there is no acceptable margin of error because a mistake means that an innocent person may be executed. Since 1996, over 150 men have been released from death rows around the country after being exonerated by the results of DNA tests or other evidence. How many innocent people were executed that we did not discover before these advances in forensic science?

After years of confronting these decisions myself, I believe there is no longer an adequate justification for an irreversible punishment that does little to make our communities safer.

Our district attorneys should stop and consider this before seeking the next death sentence or setting the next execution date.

Tim Cole was elected to four terms as 97th district attorney (1993-2006) and has tried more than 150 jury trials. He also served as counsel to Gov. Clements in 1990 and general counsel for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association from 1988 to 1990.
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