Texas Senate Refuses to Give Jurors the Sentencing Option of Life Without Parole

Legislation that would allow those convicted of capital murder to be sentenced to life in prison without parole recently failed to win a key procedural vote in the Texas Senate, largely because of opposition from prosecutors and pro-death penalty organizations who said it would result in fewer death sentences. Although supported by a strong majority of the senators and the people of Texas, the bill needed a 2/3 majority in order to be debated.  The Senate's failure to pass the bill means that Texas and New Mexico remain the only two death penalty states in the nation to not offer life without parole as an alternative sentencing option.  Sen. Eddie Lucio, lead sponsor of the life without parole measure, noted that 78% of Texans support his proposal and commented, "The sentence of life without parole is not a novel, untested idea. It's the norm in our criminal justice system."

Supporters say Lucio's bill would be a tougher sentence for convicted murderers who are excluded from the death penalty, and it would offer another option to rural district attorneys who can't afford to hold a death penalty trial. Those opposed to the proposal, such as the Texas-based "Justice for All" group and Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal, say jurors would have been less likely to hand down a death sentence if they had the option of life in prison without parole. Lucio said he has not given up on the measure, but it is unlikely to pass this year. (Dallas Morning News and San Antonio Express-News, April 6, 2005).  See Life Without Parole.