We have said before that the Houston Chronicle Editorial Board seems to be moving more and more towards the abolitionist position. They should stop dancing around the issue and make their position clear but they are not quite ready to do that. In September, they wrote an editorial saying

“There are several good reasons to give every death row inmate an indefinite reprieve. This week the U.S. Supreme Court found another.”

That sentence seems to imply that the lethal injection method is not the only reason to support a moratorium on executions.

“Particularly in Texas, the nation’s execution leader, the criminal justice system is prone to mistakes and abuse. The system is too unreliable in its assessment of guilt to justify exacting the ultimate, irrevocable penalty.”

Now, today they are again hinting that they are moving closer to taking an abolitionist stance, but are not quite ready to clearly say so. Here is what they are saying today:

Now that the Lone Star State’s punishment machine is temporarily halted, citizens should consider questions that go beyond whether lethal injection is excruciatingly painful to its recipients and violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment:

Why is the death penalty imposed so much more frequently in this state — and Harris County in particular — than in the rest of the country? Are Texans really proud that our state is one of the leading practitioners of government-sponsored executions on the planet?

Worldwide, 133 countries have abolished the death penalty in practice, and 93 have proscribed it by law. Amnesty International notes that only six countries accounted for nearly 90 percent of the executions last year: China, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Sudan and the United States. Is this the company we wish to keep when it comes to judicial standards?

Given the high volume of death sentences sought by Harris County prosecutors, instances of tainted evidence and the demonstrated lack of highly competent attorneys representing some defendants, is the risk of executing an innocent person unacceptably high? Chronicle reporting on the execution of a San Antonio man who was convicted of a killing as a teen strongly indicates another man committed the crime.

In next year’s Harris County judicial and district attorney contests, these are issues the candidates should discuss in detail and which voters should thoroughly consider.

Of course, their strongest editorial stance lately was when they said Sharon Keller should be removed from office: “since she will not face the voters until 2012, the miscarriage of justice perpetrated by Chief Justice Keller can only be remedied by a recommendation by the Judicial Conduct Commission to the Texas Supreme Court that she be removed from office.”

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