After the second Texas mass shooting in a month, Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted Monday night that “we’re working on a legislative package right now” and that “expedited executions for mass murderers would be a nice addition.”
Details, however, were scarce. A spokesman for Abbott said Tuesday morning that he hadn’t spoken to the governor since the tweet was posted and had no more immediate information. The Legislature doesn’t convene again until 2021. Abbott would need to call a special session to pass legislation before then — a move he showed reluctance to make after a mass shooting in El Paso last month.
Abbott’s tweet linked to an article in The Blaze on the U.S. Department of Justice drafting legislation to speed up executions of people who commit mass murder; that article attributed the news to Bloomberg. In Texas, the average time spent on death row is almost 11 years, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The more than 200 people on death row have been there an average of nearly 16 years.
The Texas death penalty appellate process winds through both state and federal courts. Speeding up that process for mass shootings would lead to inconsistency and an uneven justice system, said Amanda Marzullo, the executive director of Texas Defender Service, which represents death-sentenced appellants and advocates for death penalty reform.
“Texas already has an appellate process that is much faster than the rest of the country,” she said. “Accelerating this process would only run the risk of further constitutional violations or that an innocent person is executed.”
Marzullo also said the death penalty has not been shown to be a deterrent to murder in any case, let alone in mass attacks where many killers say they expect to die.
Of Texas’ four high-profile mass shootings in the last two years, two of the shooters were killed in the immediate aftermath of their attacks. Abbott’s tweet came two days after a gunman killed seven people and wounded 22 others while driving through Odessa and Midland. The shooting ended when police shot and killed the gunman.
A gunman in Sutherland Springs killed himself in 2017 after leaving a church where he killed 26 people. The suspect in the El Paso shooting is in county jail, but he said in a racist manifesto published just before the massacre that he expected to be killed that day.
In the aftermath of the El Paso shooting, Abbott convened a commission of lawmakers, activists and law enforcement to discuss possible responses. The Texas Safety Commission had two meetings last month, and Abbott indicated that the group plans to issue a report with recommendations. Meanwhile, Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced Tuesday that they would each form select committees on mass violence prevention and community safety. Committee members and issues they'd be asked to study will be made public next week, the two Republican leaders said.
“The heinous tragedies like those that occurred in El Paso, Midland, and Odessa have become all too common in our state, and such a serious epidemic of violence should be met with meaningful solutions,” Bonnen said. “These committees have difficult, important work before them, and the solutions they come up with will provide a roadmap for the Legislature’s work over the interim and in the next session.”
But during last week’s closed-door meeting, Abbott told a survivor of the El Paso shooting, which left 22 dead and more than two dozen wounded, that he wasn’t calling lawmakers back for a special session to address gun violence. The survivor, Chris Grant, told The Texas Tribune that the governor told him during the meeting that a special session is “a long process.”
Abbott tweeted earlier Monday that the gunman in Saturday’s mass shooting in Midland and Odessa had previously failed a gun purchase background check and did not go through a background check to buy the gun used in Saturday’s incident.
Abbott’s tweet did not say why the shooter didn’t pass the background check or how he obtained the rifle he used to kill seven people and injure 22 others — including a state trooper and two police officers. The gunman died after a shootout with police outside a Midland movie theater. Abbott also cited the shooter’s criminal history.
“We must keep guns out of criminals’ hands,” he tweeted.
Emily Ramshaw contributed reporting.