Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The 2015 Race for Death

The Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) has made the press with the release of statistics for death penalty sentences in 2015. Seems there were just two in Texas. A third, from Bexar County, has not resulted in sentencing because of a competency decision to be made in January, 2016.

The news value in this information is the decline in executions and death sentences in Texas. The two Texas death sentences in 2016 pale in comparison to the forty eight handed down by Texas juries in 1999.

A good blog post ought to have a little different take, and mine is a darker one.

DPIC statistics were used at length in Justice Breyer's now famous dissent in Glossip v. Gross arguing the death penalty is arbitrary, amongst other reasons, because it is used only by certain states, and only by certain counties within those states.

Well, 2015 was a banner year for those counties most likely to use the death penalty in Texas, which, in turn, is the state most smitten with its use.

My home, Brazos County, was one of the two counties in Texas sentencing it's own to death,. We condemned Gabriel Hall to death back in early October. I blogged about it here.

I took some ambivalent, dark satisfaction when I read the other Texas county to condemn it's own was Smith County. Their citizen, James Calvert, was sentenced to die a couple of weeks after Hall.

The mantle of Death Penalty Capital, USA has not been, at least from what I read, normed on a per capita basis. In the linked blog post I came to the conclusion that, excepting for a statistical anomaly caused by the city of Amarillo (it sits on the Potter/Randall County line), Brazos County executed more of her citizens, 6.2 persons per 100,000, than any other county in Texas.

Second place (depending on how you count) in the county rouge gallery list I posted? Well, Smith County. Thus my ambivalence that the "only" two Texas death sentences in 2015 came from those same counties.

So, for you death penalty fantasy league geeks, here are the current statistics:

 COUNTY/STATE (County Seat)            2014 POP      EXECUTED     DEATHS PER100K/POP

1. Potter County, Texas  (Amarillo)          126,000            10                             7.9
2. Brazos County, Texas  (Bryan)          211,000           13                             6.2
3. Smith County, Texas (Tyler)              222,393            13                            5.85
4. Jefferson County, Texas (Beaumont)   257,872            15                            5.81


1. Potter County, Texas (Amarillo)              0
2. Brazos County, Texas (Bryan)             5
3. Smith County, Texas (Tyler)                 7
4. Jefferson County, Texas (Beaumont)      1

The Brazos County condemned include Christian Olsen, who had his death sentence reversed on direct appeal and is scheduled for a retrial on punishment only - death or life without possibility of parole in 2016. Another, John Thuesen has a state post conviction writ currently in front of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals with trial court findings of ineffective assistance of counsel.

The race for death tightens. 2016 should be interesting.

1 comment:

  1. I'm afraid it's embarrassing to be among the top 3 Texas counties condemning people to death. It's such a waste of resources, not to mention the questionable morality of it all. Thanks for your research, Lane.