On June 29, 1972, the Supreme Court declared the death penalty "cruel and unusual punishment" based mostly on the "arbitrary and capricious" nature of how it was being applied by the states. That 5-4 ruling in effect ushered in a moratorium on capital punishment for a few years. I want to use the anniversary of that ruling to make two appeals: one to call for another moratorium on the death penalty, and the other to ask help for state prisoners who once again are suffering through a sweltering Texas summer. Prior to the 1972 decision, Texas executed 361 people by electrocution, with the last one occurring in 1964, according to records of the Department of Criminal Justice. In those days, rape was one of the crimes for which one could be put to the death, something that had changed by the time executions were reinstated effective Jan. 1, 1974. The state retired "Old Sparky" (the electric chair) and in 1977 adopted lethal injection as a means of execution. A Fort Worth resident, Charlie Brooks, became the first person in the country to die by lethal injection in 1982. Since then, 481 other men and women have been killed in the Texas death chamber, and eight more are scheduled to die this year. Through those years, it has been easy to see that the death penalty as administered in this country, especially in Texas, remains arbitrary and capricious. In recent years, the Supreme Court has ruled that the state cannot execute people who are mentally ill or those who were juveniles at the time of their crimes -- the decisions coming too late for several in those categories who had been put to death. While I'd like to see the death penalty outlawed outright, as some other states have done in the past few years, at the very least we should call for another moratorium so that we can have a rational discussion about the legality and morality of capital punishment.
Texas Moratorium Network (TMN) is a non-profit organization with the primary goal of mobilizing statewide support for a moratorium on executions in Texas. Significant death penalty reform in Texas, including a moratorium on executions, is a viable goal if the public is educated on the death penalty system and is encouraged to contact their elected representatives to urge passage of moratorium legislation.
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