Bob Ray Sanders has renewed his call for a moratorium on executions in Texas. A moratorium is the best strategy in Texas for ending the death penalty in Texas soonest. States that conduct a lot of executions, such as Texas, need to go through a period when no executions are conducted before they are likely to reach the conclusion that they can do without the death penalty. A moratorium would also be the best way to ensure that Texas does not execute an innocent person like it did in 2004 when Todd Willingham was executed.
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.