[Deathpenalty]death penalty news --- TEXAS
j_sommer at gmx.net
Sat Nov 13 12:18:02 CST 2004
death penalty news
November 13, 2004
Support for the death penalty remains high - But more Texans think the
state has executed innocent people
Texas residents overwhelmingly favor the continued use of capital
punishment, but a growing number think the criminal justice system has
flaws and the state has executed innocent people, according to a new
Three-fourths of the Texans polled support the death penalty, compared with
19 percent who oppose its continued use, according to the Texas Poll of
1,000 residents in October.
Support for the death penalty has waned slowly in Texas from its peak of 86
percent in 1994, but it remains significantly higher than in the nation at
large. Nationally, about 66 percent of survey respondents express support
for capital punishment.
Public sentiment about the death penalty is complex, making it difficult to
gauge based on simple poll questions, said Dennis Longmire, a professor of
criminal justice at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville and director
of the school's survey research.
"Saying 'I support the death penalty' is an expression of personal values
rather than a public policy recommendation," Longmire said. "It's an
expression of the belief that the criminal justice system is broken and is
unable to adequately protect the citizenry from serious violent crime."
Executing the innocent
The number of Texans who believe the state has executed innocent people
reached 70 percent this year, compared with 65 percent in 2001. Meanwhile,
those who say the state has never wrongly executed someone fell to 15
percent this year, from 21 percent in 2001, according to the poll.
The growing belief in wrongful executions, however, has not affected public
support for a moratorium on the death penalty, which some states, including
Illinois and Maryland, have imposed to review the fairness of the system.
Fifty-two percent of Texans oppose such a temporary halt to executions
while 44 percent support the idea. Those figures are similar to results of
a poll in 2002, when 50 percent opposed a moratorium and 41 percent favored
it, the Texas Poll said.
Several public officials from Harris County have urged a moratorium on
death sentences here because of problems at the Houston Police Department
The lab's DNA division was shut down in December 2002 after an independent
audit revealed shoddy scientific technique, poorly trained analysts and
possible contamination of evidence. Also, police this year discovered 240
mislabeled boxes of evidence affecting some 8,000 investigations.
The poll numbers were disheartening to many who oppose the death penalty.
"I think it is immoral that people would say they believe we're executing
innocent people, but don't want to do anything about it," said David
Atwood, director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
But death penalty supporter Dudley Sharp said the finding that 70 percent
believe Texas has executed innocent people is largely the result of a
"tremendous disinformation campaign" by death penalty opponents.
Sharp, a former policy analyst with the Houston-based victims' rights group
Justice For All, also criticized the poll for not asking: "Do you think the
death penalty saves innocent lives, either by deterrence or preventing
murderers from harming again?"
Longmire said that, among those who said the state has executed an innocent
person, many may think such mistakes are very infrequent and others may
think such executions took place many years ago and many problems have been
addressed since then.
Texas leads nation
The Texas Poll, based on a telephone survey of 1,000 residents, was
conducted by the Scripps Research Center in Abilene. The margin for error
is plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Texas, partly because of its size, consistently leads the nation in the
number of death sentences imposed and carried out each year. The state has
executed 333 inmates since resuming capital punishment in 1982, and death
row currently has 446 inmates.
Support for the state law that permits execution for murders committed at
age 17 has dropped to 51 percent from the 60 percent reflected in a poll
Texas is one of only seven states that have carried out executions for
crimes committed at 17.
A choice of life or death
The poll also showed a growing number of Texans support giving jurors the
option of sentencing a capital murderer to life without parole. Current law
asks juries to choose between death and a life sentence that allows for
possible parole after 40 years.
About 78 percent of those polled support adding a life-without-parole
option, up from 71 percent in 2001.
Texas lawmakers will consider such a law next year. Previous efforts to add
the option failed.
Many prosecutors, including Harris County District Attorney Chuck
Rosenthal, say such a change would create a population of hopeless inmates
who would become violent without the incentive of possible release.
Supporters, including many defense attorneys, say a life-without-parole
option would reduce the number of death sentences because jurors would feel
more comfortable with that alternative, knowing the killer would never be
(source: Houston Chronicle)
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