Tribpedia: Death Penalty

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 ...

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.

Preston Hughes interview two months before Hughes' first scheduled execution date, TDCJ Polunsky Unit, Livingston, Texas. September 19, 2012.
Preston Hughes interview two months before Hughes' first scheduled execution date, TDCJ Polunsky Unit, Livingston, Texas. September 19, 2012.

Preston Hughes Executed for 1988 Murder

Preston Hughes was executed Thursday night for the fatal 1988 stabbing of two youths in Houston. Hughes was the second Texas inmate executed in two days.

Preston Hughes interview two months before Hughes' first scheduled execution date, TDCJ Polunsky Unit, Livingston, Texas. September 19, 2012.
Preston Hughes interview two months before Hughes' first scheduled execution date, TDCJ Polunsky Unit, Livingston, Texas. September 19, 2012.

A Death Row Struggle Between Advocates and Lawyers

Preston Hughes III, who faces a Nov. 15 execution date but says he's innocent, trusts several advocates without legal training more than his court-appointed attorney, whom he has tried to replace. The conflict between advocates and attorneys is not unusual in death penalty cases.

From Left, Patricia Willingham Cox, Cameron Todd Willingham's cousin, Eugenia Willingham, his stepmother, and Judy Cavnar, his cousin, are seeking to clear Willingham's name from a 1991 arson case for which he was executed in 2004. They spoke at a press conference at the Capitol on Wednesday, October 24th, 2012.
From Left, Patricia Willingham Cox, Cameron Todd Willingham's cousin, Eugenia Willingham, his stepmother, and Judy Cavnar, his cousin, are seeking to clear Willingham's name from a 1991 arson case for which he was executed in 2004. They spoke at a press conference at the Capitol on Wednesday, October 24th, 2012.

Willingham's Family Seeks "Posthumous Pardon"

The surviving relatives of Cameron Todd Willingham have sent an application for pardon, hoping to clear his name eight years after his execution for a 1991 fire that killed his three young children.

A.P. Merillat has spent more than 20 years as an investigator of prison crimes and been a go-to expert for prosecutors seeking the death penalty. In June, the courts reversed a second death penalty conviction based on his inaccurate testimony.
A.P. Merillat has spent more than 20 years as an investigator of prison crimes and been a go-to expert for prosecutors seeking the death penalty. In June, the courts reversed a second death penalty conviction based on his inaccurate testimony.

Death Penalty Witness Condemned by Courts

A.P. Merillat has spent decades investigating crimes in Texas prisons, and his testimony about the violence behind bars has helped send at least 15 murderers to death row. Now, the credibility of the go-to expert for prosecutors seeking the death penalty has been jeopardized by Texas' highest criminal court.  

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals presiding Judge Sharon Keller and Democratic challenger, lawyer Keith Hampton
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals presiding Judge Sharon Keller and Democratic challenger, lawyer Keith Hampton

Democratic Judge Candidate Seeks Republican Votes

Texas Weekly

Democrat Keith Hampton is focusing his campaign to lead the state’s top criminal court on winning over Republicans. That is the key, he says, to defeating controversial Judge Sharon Keller and becoming the first Democrat to win a statewide election since 1994. At least one judicial election watcher says Hampton's got a steep hill to conquer.

Death Row Unlikely to Be Source for Organ Donations

Like every other death penalty state, Texas doesn't allow the condemned to donate organs. Although many say that recovering organs from willing convicted murderers may seem like a reasonable method to reduce the organ waiting list, they also agree that the proposal raises ethical and medical challenges that make it unlikely to ever be an option. 

Death row inmate Larry Swearingen during an interview at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas. He was sentenced to death for the murder of Melissa Trotter. He says he is innocent and that she was killed while he was already in jail for other offenses.
Death row inmate Larry Swearingen during an interview at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas. He was sentenced to death for the murder of Melissa Trotter. He says he is innocent and that she was killed while he was already in jail for other offenses.

Judge Signals Intent to Rule Against Condemned Inmate

A judge in Montgomery County plans to recommend that the state move forward with the execution of Larry Swearingen, a death row inmate who argues that science proves he is innocent of the 1998 murder of Melissa Trotter for which he was condemned to die.

The death row file for Marvin Wilson, who was executed in 2012 for the 1992 murder of Jerry Robert Williams of Beaumont. Wilson's lawyers argued that he was mentally retarded and unfit for execution.
The death row file for Marvin Wilson, who was executed in 2012 for the 1992 murder of Jerry Robert Williams of Beaumont. Wilson's lawyers argued that he was mentally retarded and unfit for execution.

Supreme Court Denies Execution Stay for Marvin Wilson

The U.S. Supreme Court declined a request to stay the execution of Marvin Wilson scheduled for this evening. Wilson's lawyers argue that he is mentally disabled and should be exempt from the death penalty. They called the court's decision not to halt the execution disappointing.

Williamson County Sheriffs Office patch
Williamson County Sheriffs Office patch

Williamson County Makes Arrest in 1980 Murder

Williamson County officials have arrested a 53-year-old former Garland resident in the 1980 murder of Mildred McKinney. The Williamson County Sheriff's Office says it identified the DNA and a fingerprint of Steven Alan Thomas at the crime scene.

Texas Will Change Its Lethal Injection Protocol

For Yokamon Hearn's scheduled execution on July 18, officials plan to administer a lethal dose of pentobarbital instead of the three-drug cocktail that has been used since Texas reinstated the death penalty in 1982. Pentobarbital is a barbiturate that is often used in animal euthanasia, but states began using it more widely in executions last year.

Prosecutor Errors Haunt Long Exoneration Fight

Thirteen years after his release from prison, Kerry Max Cook is battling with Smith County prosecutors to officially clear his name of a 1978 murder conviction. Cook says that his mission is doomed if he must continue to fight in Smith County, where the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that prosecutorial and police misconduct “tainted this entire matter from the outset.”

Manuel Velez was convicted of killing his girlfriend’s infant son in 2005.
Manuel Velez was convicted of killing his girlfriend’s infant son in 2005.

Death Sentence Thrown Out in 2005 Murder Case

A death sentence was reversed for Manuel Velez, who is convicted of first-degree murder for the death of his girlfriend's son. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the sentence because of inaccurate expert testimony given during Velez's sentencing.