Today, the Texas Tribune published an op-ed I wrote about the death penalty. My views on capital punishment have evolved in my eight years making statewide criminal justice policy on the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee and my years as both a prosecutor and defense attorney outside of that. After a long time weighing the costs-financial and moral-of putting a person to death, considering the times our state has gotten it wrong, and reviewing the procedural deficiencies that still plague us (especially when it comes to offenders suffering from serious mental illness or intellectual and developmental disability), I’ve come to believe that Texas is better than the death penalty. It’s time for change.
I encourage you to read the article in its entirety here , but you’ll find some excerpts below.
State Representative | District 78
“Texas has long had the dubious distinction of being a leader in capital punishment, which has also made it a leader in litigation which has exposed many constitutional and practical problems in our system. It’s a shameful fact that we’ve occasionally executed the innocent and frequently applied the death penalty unevenly to the guilty, including to people suffering from serious mental illnesses and significant intellectual and developmental disabilities, an explicit focus of our recent hearing.”
“We apply the death penalty too broadly and very inconsistently. Procedures vary wildly between the state’s 254 different counties, and many people face death who constitutionally shouldn’t – like those who were seriously mentally ill at the time of their offenses and those who had only minor roles in a crime. We’ve even let what we’ve later found to be junk science sway juries into handing down death sentences and then provided few ways to challenge those verdicts afterwards.”
“From any moral standpoint, we all know that mercy is a show of strength, not weakness. Executions by the state put us on a short list with the likes of North Korea, Iran, and China, far out of step with the bastions of democracy and freedom we call allies. Texas is better than capital punishment.”
“Most of all, though, I regret the cost that can’t be measured in money. We lose a piece of ourselves with every unnecessary killing; we lower ourselves morally. Something that resonated at our hearing was the testimony of Shane Claiborne, pastor and author of the fantastic book Executing Grace. ‘The death penalty isn’t about whether a person deserves to die,’ he said, ‘but whether we deserve to kill.'”
“We must set aside anger and fear and embrace grace. I encourage Texans to keep open minds and open hearts, give some serious thought to this issue, and join me in the growing bipartisan effort to end capital punishment in this state.”
Watch the episode of Death Row Stories about Sabrina Butler. Sabrina was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death. She is listed as number 59 on the The Innocence List maintained by the Death Penalty Information Center. She was instrumental in convincing a Texas State Senator to file a bill to abolish the death penalty, when she and exoneree Ron Keine, both of Witness to Innocence came to Texas for our Lobby Day in 2015 to share their stories at a press conference and by visiting and talking to a bunch of legislators and their aides, including the Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr, who filed the abolition bill a couple of weeks after she and Ron asked him to file it.
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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