The History of Capital Punishment in Texas

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The History of Capital Punishment in Texas

The Republic of Texas used capital punishment prior to it becoming part of the United States. In 1819, the first recorded execution was carried out in Texas. George Brown was a white male and was hanged for piracy. This was the act of stealing from a ship at sea. A black man named Henry Forbes was executed in Texas in 1840, after he was found guilty of jail-breaking. Texas obtained statehood with the United States in 1845, but prior to that time, Texas conducted eight executions. All of them were carried out by hanging.

Statehood
After becoming a state, Texas would almost exclusively use hanging as its method of execution. The only other method utilized was death by firing squad. Three Confederate deserters were put to death using this method during the Civil War. It was common for the hanging to be performed in the Texas county where the trial of the convicted was held. Nathan Lee was the last man to be hanged in Texas. He was accused of murder and in 1923, Lee was hanged in the Texas county Brazoria.

Electric Chair
The execution laws in Texas changed in 1923. The new law required all executions to be conducted using the electric chair. It also directed all electric chair executions be done at the Texas State Penitentiary located in Huntsville. During one day in 1924, the state of Texas held five executions using the electric chair. This was the highest number of executions performed in one day by any state. After this time, the state of Texas would execute multiple individuals in one day on numerous occasions. The last time this happened was in 1951. Over 360 people were put to death using the electric chair in Texas. In 1964, Joseph Johnson was the last person executed in Texas using the electric chair.

Moratorium
In 1964, a moratorium was placed on executions in the United States. In 1972, the United States Supreme Court ruled that death penalty laws in all 50 states were unconstitutional. It’s ruling was based on the belief that executions were being unfairly assigned. At that time, Texas had 52 men who had been convicted and given a sentence of death. Because of these new rulings, the governor commuted each man’s death sentence to life in prison. By 1973, the death row of Texas was eliminated as the state passed a new statute. This law established a standard for assessing death sentences. Juries were now able to give a sentence of death and death row in Texas was once again being used in 1974.

Lethal Injection
This method of execution was developed by Jay Chapman, who was a medical examiner, and Stanley Deutsch, who was an anesthesiologist. The method involved a three-drug protocol. It was adopted by Texas in 1977 and the first execution in Texas using lethal injection was done in 1982. That was the only execution in Texas that year, and no executions were carried out in 1983. Executions in Texas averaged only five a year for the following eight years.

Mitigating Evidence
In 1989, the United States Supreme Court ruled that juries must be permitted to be made aware of any mitigating evidence that could impact their decision on a capital case. This mitigating evidence included such things as a defendant’s history of child abuse, mental retardation, and more. It also resulted in some death sentence convictions being vacated in Texas. In 1991, the state legislature of Texas modified the instructions to be provided to juries during capital cases. This created a three-question format that is currently still being used in death sentence cases.

Appeals Filed Concurrently
The Texas legislature believed prisoners were spending too much time on death row during the appeals process. In 1995, the legislature enacted a law that made it mandatory for all death row appeals to be filed concurrently. This initially caused executions in Texas to end while all the appeals were given a ruling by their perspective courts. During the next ten months, only one person was executed. The law was able to withstand all legal challenges. Once this happened, executions were able to occur quickly. During the next three years, approximately 93 executions were carried out in Texas

DNA Testing
Starting in 2000, DNA testing was determined to be very reliable when it came to providing evidence for or against a person accused of a crime. During June of 2001, the Texas state legislature enacted a law-making DNA testing available to any person convicted of a capital crime, if their innocence could be proven by the results.

Mental Retardation
Several states by the 2000’s had passed laws against the execution of individuals who were determined to be mentally retarded. In 2001, the Texas legislature passed a similar law that was vetoed by the governor. In 2001, the United States Supreme Court ruled that execution of retarded individuals was unconstitutional for all states.

Executions in the state of Texas have changed over time. They have developed as the perception of capital punishment in Texas and the United States has evolved to meet the changes in society.

March 20th, 2017|Categories: Questions About Law|Comments Off on The History of Capital Punishment in Texas

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