Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty Report: Texas Leads Nation in Use of Death Penalty – Executed 8 People in 2023

Via Pix4free

By Rena Abdusalam 

AUSTIN, TX – Texas continues its outlier status for using the death penalty, compared to other states’ decades-long trend away from capital punishment, according to a report released by the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (TCADP), a statewide grassroots advocacy organization.

TCADP’s report, Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2023: The Year in Review, also highlights the state’s constant failures of the death penalty system.

“Texas remained an unfortunate outlier as just one of five states to carry out executions in 2023, leading the nation with eight people put to death this year. Thirteen execution dates were originally set for 2023, but three dates were withdrawn by the trial courts. Additionally, one man received a last-minute stay of execution, and one man died of a medical condition,” said TCADP.

According to the report, six of the eight men punished with the death penalty this year had significant intellectual or mental health impairments, such as intellectual disability, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, brain damage, suicidal ideation, clinical depression and other diagnoses of mental illness.

“In many cases, these impairments were exacerbated by years of neglect and abuse. Collectively, the eight men averaged more than 22 years on death row,” stated TCADP.

“The vast majority of individuals executed by Texas in 2023 had significant mental impairments. What is even more appalling is that most of their jurors never heard about these impairments, or the traumatic life stories of the men they sentenced to death,” said Kristin Houlé Cuellar, TCADP Executive Director.

Cuellar continued, “Now, after hearing compelling mitigating evidence about these impairments from appellate attorneys, jurors in several cases said they would have changed their verdict or at least supported a stay of execution for further review. It is obvious that many of these executed individuals never would have received a death sentence if they were tried today.”

The organization noted jurors from the trials of two of the eight men, Wesley Ruiz and John Balentine, had doubts about the punishment inflicted.

And, the report additionally stated that due to the state’s confusing jury instructions and her false belief of her single vote for life not making a difference, one juror mistakenly voted for capital punishment for another man, Brent Brewer.

The report points out the glaring arbitrariness of the state’s death penalty system.

“In the last five years, individuals on death row in Texas were more likely to have their sentences reduced or die in prison than they were to be executed by the State,” TCADP said in a statement, adding, “The sentences of 14 individuals have been reduced since 2019 due to evidence of intellectual disability alone.

“Texas’s death row population decreased by six people for reasons other than execution in 2023. This includes Syed Rabbani, who was resentenced to life in prison after spending 35 years under an unconstitutional death sentence,” continued TCADP.

“There are currently 180 people on Texas death row, including seven women. This is the smallest Texas death row population since 1985, when there were 188 people on death row,” noted the report.

According to the organization, the death penalty system stays geographically isolated within Texas, where more than half of the 13 scheduled execution dates come from only three counties: Dallas, with three dates, and Harris and Bowie, with two dates.

“Juries in just 11 Texas counties have imposed death sentences since 2019,” the organization said, adding, “Death sentences remained in the single digits for the ninth consecutive year, with juries sending three new people to death row; two of those individuals represented themselves at trial.”

Based on the report, jurors rejected capital punishment in two other trials after deciding there was ample mitigating evidence to warrant a sentence of life in prison without parole instead.

In addition, TCADP said that “since 2019, Texas jurors have rejected capital punishment in one-third of the capital murder cases that have proceeded to trial with death as a potential verdict.”

“Receiving a death sentence or being executed amounts to a ‘lethal lottery,’ one that does nothing to deter crime or promote public safety,” said Cuellar. “The randomness of capital punishment—coupled with the egregiously flawed cases of those who remain on death row—should compel Texans to abandon the death penalty altogether.”

TCADP’s report also mentions the death penalty is disproportionately imposed on people of color, which is shown as juries imposed two of the three new death sentences of people of color and five out of the eight people executed were Black, Hispanic, or Native American.

“Texas’s use of the death penalty continues to tarnish our state’s reputation as a stronghold for life, liberty and limited government,” said Nan Tolson, Director of Texas Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty.

“Texans deserve better than the broken, ineffective system of capital punishment. It’s time for the Lone Star State to invest in real solutions that will keep our communities safe and truly uphold our values,” added Tolson.

TCADP’s full report can be found here.

About The Author

Rena is a junior at Davis Senior High School and is currently exploring her interest in the criminal justice system. After high school, she plans to attend college and continue to pursue a career in law.

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