This editorial was published on April 17, by the Dallas Morning News.
The Supreme Court decision yesterday allowing execution by lethal injection eventually will free the nation’s busiest death chamber – the one in Huntsville, Texas – to pick up where it left off.
It’s not a moment to celebrate for those distressed about the quality of justice meted out in the state’s courts.
The six-month hiatus from state-sponsored killing allowed the Supreme Court to review a challenge to a widely used injection method. A hiatus is just what this newspaper has been calling for, but for different reasons.
The disturbing spate of DNA exonerations of Texas inmates is the most powerful argument for freezing Texas’ machinery of death. Dallas County has the distinction of having more discredited cases than any county nationwide. Just this week, a 16th wrongful conviction was announced here. Thomas Clifford McGowan Jr. spent 23 years imprisoned by the state stemming from a rape in Richardson that he didn’t commit.
It appears that a flawed photo lineup technique was the root of the breakdown in justice. Other prosecution methods and junk forensic “science” have been implicated by the exonerations. None have involved a death sentence, but they indicate flaws in the system that could have dire consequences for the 360 men and nine women on Texas’ death row.
Gov. Rick Perry hailed the Supreme Court ruling yesterday, saying, “Texas is a law and order state, and I stand by the majority of Texans who support the death penalty as it is written in Texas law.”
The governor’s majority claim may be true, but support for the death penalty appears to be waning in Texas. Prosecutors are more wary of taking on marginal cases, and jurors want a higher standard of proof than the recollections of a purported eyewitness. Life sentences without parole are now an option for the courts.
Lethal injections may be cleared for use in the Texas death chamber again, but that doesn’t mean executions have to go forward. State lawmakers who have doubts about the system have a responsibility to restate their case.