Texas Death Sentences Drop 65% in Past Ten Years

The annual number of death sentences in Texas has declined from 40 in fiscal year 1996 to 14 in 2006, a drop of 65%, according to the State Office of Court Administration.  Last year there were 15 new death sentences.  This decrease is in line with the national decline in death sentences, which dropped from about 300 per year in the 1990s to 125 in 2005.

The drop in Texas was particularly marked in Harris County (Houston), which produced the most death sentences of any county in Texas and the most cases leading to execution of any county in the country.  There were 16 death sentences from Harris County in fiscal 1996.  This fiscal year there were 3, the same number as in 2005.

In Hunt County, District Attorney Duncan Thomas said that 14 people have been indicted for capital murder since July 2003, but all resulted in life sentences.  In most of those cases, Thomas decided not to seek the death penalty at the request of the victims' families.

"There may have been some of those cases where we might have obtained the death penalty, but the families wanted the certainty of a life sentence where there's no appeal," Thomas says.
(Texas Lawyer, Nov. 20, 2006).  See Sentencing.