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House Committee Examines Texas' Death Penalty

Ryan Poppe | Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio

House lawmakers at the state Capitol are examining what action, if any, the legislature should take during the 2019 legislative session regarding the mental and intellectual standards of individuals facing the death penalty.

In 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the method Texas used to evaluate a potential death row inmate’s mental and intellectual capabilities was outdated and flawed.   


State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, who is the chair of the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence, is examining what legislative fixes might be required ahead of the next session.


“The responsibility to fix these things rest with the legislature, but we haven’t done those things in over a decade, especially when comes to the issue related to intellectual developmental disability,” Moody said.

Elsa Alcla, a Republican judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, told the committee there are no current guidelines that create uniformity among district courts about the death penalty.


“What’s a death penalty case in San Antonio may not be a death penalty case in Harris County. It is the subjective decision of the elected DA of that particular county,” Alcla said.


Kristin Houle, the executive director for the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said Texas executions have dropped almost 85 percent over the past 20 years, probably because opinion has shifted. Texas juries and DAs more often prefer a sentence of life without parole rather than the death penalty.


“Prosecutors are not simply seeking the death penalty as often as they used to,” Houle said.


There were seven executions in 2017, and seven executions in 2016, which were the lowest numbers of executions in Texas history.

Ryan Poppe can be reached at rpoppe@tpr.org or on Twitter @RyanPoppe1

Ryan started his radio career in 2002 working for Austin’s News Radio KLBJ-AM as a show producer for the station's organic gardening shows. This slowly evolved into a role as the morning show producer and later as the group’s executive producer.