The Texas Democratic Party once again endorsed a moratorium on executions in Texas in the Party platform adopted at last weekend’s state convention. In addition to endorsing a moratorium on executions, the Resolutions Committee at the State Convention also passed a resolution in favor of abolishing the death penalty. The abolition resolution was not brought to the floor of the convention for a vote before the convention adjourned, so it will be referred to the State Democratic Executive Committee’s resolutions committee for further consideration. We will post more on the abolition resolution later.
The section in the party platform dealing with capital punishment was drafted by Scott Cobb, who was a member of the chair’s advisory committee on the platform.
When capital punishment is used, Texans must be assured that it is fairly administered. Texas Democrats extend our deepest sympathies to all victims of crime and especially to the families of murder victims, and we strongly support their rights. The Texas death penalty system has been severely criticized by religious leaders, appellate courts and major newspapers that have observed that the current system cannot ensure that innocent or undeserving defendants are not sentenced to death. Last year, the Dallas Morning News called for abolition of the death penalty in Texas.
In the modern era, Texas has executed over 400 people, far more than any other state in the nation. The frequency of executions and inadequacies in our criminal justice system increase the likelihoodthat an innocent person will be executed. The State of Texas may have already executed at least two innocent people, according to major newspaper investigations into the cases of Carlos DeLuna and Cameron Todd Willingham. Another inmate, Ernest Willis, was exonerated and released from exas Death Row in 2004 after 17 years of wrongful imprisonment. In order to promote public confidence in the fairness of the Texas criminal justice system, Texas Democrats support the establishment of a Texas Capital Punishment Commission to study the Texas death penalty system and a moratorium on executions pending action on the Commission’s findings.
Texas Democrats support the following specific reforms:
• establishing a statewide Office of Public Defenders for Capital Cases to ensure that every person accused of a capital crime has equal access to well-trained trial and appellate attorneys, regardless of income, race or the county of jurisdiction;
• allowing testing of any possibly exculpatory DNA evidence to ensure guilt or innocence before executions are carried out, and allowing testing of DNA evidence after an execution to determine if an innocent person has been executed;
• establishing procedures to determine before a trial takes place whether an accused has mental retardation, in order to be sure that Texas complies with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ban on executions of people with mental retardation;
• banning death sentences and executions for people with mental illness;
• requiring the Board of Pardons and Paroles to meet in person to discuss and vote on every case involving the death sentence; and
• restoring the power to the Governor to grant clemency in death penalty cases without a recommendation from the Board of Pardons and Paroles