Tribpedia: Death Penalty

Tribpedia

The death penalty is the ultimate punishment for capital murder convictions in Texas, which leads the nation in the number of executions since the practice resumed in 1976.

The state has adopted various methods to administer the death penalty over the years, including hanging (1819-1923), electrocution (1924-1964) and lethal injection (1977-today), according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's ...

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TribWeek: Top Texas News for the Week of 9/16/13

M. Smith drops in on state textbook hearings, E. Smith interviews Tom Pauken, Satija on water rationing along the Colorado River, Root probes Dan Patrick’s unexpected investment, KUT’s Philpott sorts out clinic closings, Murphy maps the latest census data, MacLaggan on a welcome turn in poverty, Malewitz finds a race for energy efficiency, Hamilton reports on better grades for Sul Ross, Grissom on bad grades for the death penalty, Batheja on Debra Medina’s dilemma, Aguilar on the glum forecast for immigration reform and Aaronson looks at the latest hurdle for Obamacare: The best of our best for the week of Sept. 16-20, 2013.

New Law Gives New Hope to Death Row Inmate

Convicted of stomping a 19-month-old baby to death, Robert Avila faces execution in January. Under a law passed this year that allows for new trials in cases where forensic science has advanced, Avila hopes to bring to court new scientific evidence that his lawyers say shows that the child's death could have been a tragic accident. 

From the Tea Party, a Softer Line in Criminal Justice

Texas Weekly

Legislators approved at least seven bills meant to prevent future wrongful convictions. Michael Morton’s ubiquitous presence and lobbying efforts helped. But both reform advocates and prosecutors agree that the increased presence of Tea Party Republicans also changed the Legislature’s attitude toward law and order.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, c, discusses SB 1292 on pre-trial DNA testing March 19, 2013 with Sen. Robert Duncan, l, and Attorney Gen. Greg Abbott.
Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, c, discusses SB 1292 on pre-trial DNA testing March 19, 2013 with Sen. Robert Duncan, l, and Attorney Gen. Greg Abbott.

DNA Testing Mandate Gets Early House Approval

The Texas House gave early approval on Tuesday to a requirement that the Department of Public Safety perform DNA testing on all biological evidence prior to the start of cases that involve the death penalty.

Robert Pruett, 33, was sentenced to death in 2002 for the murder of correctional officer Daniel Nagle. Pruett says he was framed by corrupt guards and inmates while the prison employee union says chronic understaffing led to Nagle's murder.
Robert Pruett, 33, was sentenced to death in 2002 for the murder of correctional officer Daniel Nagle. Pruett says he was framed by corrupt guards and inmates while the prison employee union says chronic understaffing led to Nagle's murder.

Execution for Prison Guard Murder Delayed for DNA Tests

Death row inmate Robert Pruett will get a 60-day reprieve from his May 21 execution date after his lawyers filed a request for DNA testing Thursday, arguing that it could prove Pruett did not murder a prison guard in 2002. State prosecutors agreed to allow the requested testing.

Robert Pruett, 33, was sentenced to death in 2002 for the murder of correctional officer Daniel Nagle. Pruett says he was framed by corrupt guards and inmates while the prison employee union says chronic understaffing led to Nagle's murder.
Robert Pruett, 33, was sentenced to death in 2002 for the murder of correctional officer Daniel Nagle. Pruett says he was framed by corrupt guards and inmates while the prison employee union says chronic understaffing led to Nagle's murder.

Pending Execution Revives Prison Staffing Debate

Officials of a prison workers' union say that understaffing had a role in the 1999 murder of a correctional officer, who was fatally stabbed by an inmate. They say such issues continue to exist and put officers in danger today. The inmate convicted of the officer's murder says he was framed.

Death row inmate Duane Buck, Texas Department of Criminal Justice photo
Death row inmate Duane Buck, Texas Department of Criminal Justice photo

Panel Debates Death Penalty Cases, Race Considerations

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Lawmakers debated a bill that would allow death row inmates to appeal if they believe that race played a role in their convictions. Advocates pointed to the case of death row inmate Duane Buck as a prime example of what they say is a widespread problem, while some house members worried about unintended consequences if the bill is too broad. 

Death row inmate Duane Buck, Texas Department of Criminal Justice photo
Death row inmate Duane Buck, Texas Department of Criminal Justice photo

Lawmakers Urge New Hearing in Death Penalty Case

Over a hundred elected officials, religious officials, and lawyers, including Former Governer Mark White, sent a letter to the Harris County District Attorney's Office urging a new hearing in the death penalty case of Duane Buck, who they say was unfairly sentenced to death because he is black.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, c, discusses SB 1292 on pre-trial DNA testing March 19, 2013 with Sen. Robert Duncan, l, and Attorney Gen. Greg Abbott.
Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, c, discusses SB 1292 on pre-trial DNA testing March 19, 2013 with Sen. Robert Duncan, l, and Attorney Gen. Greg Abbott.

Senate Committee Passes DNA Testing Bill

Attorney General Greg Abbott is supporting a bill by state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, that would require DNA testing of "all biological evidence" in cases where prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Bill Would Limit Execution of Intellectually Disabled

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and other advocates want a new law to ensure that Texas doesn't execute offenders who are intellectually disabled. Prosecutors say the existing law already does that and that Ellis' proposal would make it too easy for defendants to argue they should be exempt from execution.

Andre Thomas: Struggling to Maintain Sanity In Prison

Andre Thomas is among thousands of mentally ill inmates in a sprawling state prison system that is struggling to keep pace with the increasing need for mental health care. Medical staff say they need more state funding, and some lawmakers want the prison system to adopt policies that may help alleviate some inmates’ mental health problems.

Andre Thomas: Gaps in a 30-Year-Old Mental Health Code

Twice in the two weeks before he committed a horrifying triple murder, medical staff sought to have Andre Thomas detained, worried his psychosis made him dangerous. But hospitals don't have authority to detain people who voluntarily enter their facilities. Reform advocates say that's one of many holes in the state’s nearly 30-year-old mental health code.

TribWeek: Top Texas News for the Week of 2/18/13

Grissom begins a gripping series on mental health and criminal justice, Hamilton and White on the Senate’s defense of UT-Austin, Murphy’s interactive look at public school test scores, Ramshaw finds the governor digging in on the Medicaid expansion, Rocha and Dehn visit a weapons maker with Ted Cruz, M. Smith explores another angle on unpopular standardized testing, Batheja on a car that drives right past state laws, Aguilar reports on the other immigration problem, Aaronson on a break in the race for a cancer cure: The best of our best for the week of February 18-22, 2012.

Andre Thomas with his son, Andre Thomas Jr.
Andre Thomas with his son, Andre Thomas Jr.

Andre Thomas: Services Scarce for Troubled Youths

During his troubled adolescence, lawyers for death row inmate Andre Thomas say he never received the mental health care that might have prevented the triple murder he later committed. There are few tools in place in Texas to help diagnose and treat youths who suffer from mental illness, particularly in rural communities like the one where Thomas grew up.

Death row inmate Duane Buck, Texas Department of Criminal Justice photo
Death row inmate Duane Buck, Texas Department of Criminal Justice photo

Call for a New Execution Date Revives Race Debate

Harris County prosecutors will seek a new execution date on Monday for death row inmate Duane Buck. His defenders say that race-based testimony from a psychologist played a role in Buck's death sentence. Prosecutors say courts have "thoroughly reviewed" and rejected those claims.

TribWeek: Top Texas News for the Week of 1/7/13

Batheja on growing calls for infrastructure spending, Dehn and Rocha report on voters’ legislative wishes, Murphy counts noses in the new Legislature, KUT’s Philpott sniffs out a push for tax relief, M. Smith tracks House Speaker Joe Straus after his re-election, Kalifa’s lovely time-lapse look at the Legislature’s first day, Aaronson on the Medicaid expansion, Aguilar on hopes for immigration reform, Grissom on the tribulations of Kerry Max Cook, Hamilton looks into a college curriculum battle, and E. Smith’s TribLive interview with Michael Williams: The best of our best for the week of Jan. 7, 2013.

In 1981, Max Soffar was sentenced to death for the murder of three people at a Houston bowling alley. Soffar, who has spent three decades on death row, says his confessions were coerced. Prosecutors say that the case against him is solid, and police officers deny accusations of coercion.
In 1981, Max Soffar was sentenced to death for the murder of three people at a Houston bowling alley. Soffar, who has spent three decades on death row, says his confessions were coerced. Prosecutors say that the case against him is solid, and police officers deny accusations of coercion.

Inmate's Case Adds to Debate on Recorded Interrogations

In 1981, Max Soffar was sentenced to death for murdering three young people. Prosecutors point to a recorded confession as proof of his guilt, while Soffar says the confession was coerced. In the meantime, Texas lawmakers are renewing a push to require police officers to record interviews in cases of violent crime.

This gurney is used to perform executions at Terre Haute by lethal injection.
This gurney is used to perform executions at Terre Haute by lethal injection.

Death Row Population at Its Lowest Since 1989

Mirroring a national trend, death sentences in Texas have declined over the last decade. Death sentences have fallen 75 percent since, according to a new report. And the Texas death row population is the lowest in more than 20 years. 

Bill Would Require Police to Record Interrogations

Advocates for a bill requiring police to record interrogations argue it could prevent innocent people from confessing to crimes. But some police and prosecutors worry the requirement would make it harder to try cases. State Sen. Rodney Ellis is hoping enough compromise between both sides will allow the bill to finally pass this year.