The Waco Tribune reports, "Pursuit of death penalty slows in McLennan County, Texas." It's written by Tommy Witherspoon.
Ricky Donnell Cummings, accused with three others of riddling a car and its four passengers with at least 30 bullets, is the first defendant in almost nine years for whom McLennan County prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in a full-blown capital murder trial.
Cummings, 23, is set to stand trial Monday in Waco’s 19th State District Court in the shooting deaths of Tyus Sneed, 17, and Keenan Hubert, 20, in March 2011 at the Lakewood Villas apartment complex.
Since 2005, the frequency with which prosecutors seek the death penalty has steadily declined in Texas, the state with the busiest execution chamber. That year a new law took effect providing for life without parole in capital murder cases.
Thirty-six new inmates were sent to death row in Texas in 2002. Nine years later, that number was eight.
The concern that the most vicious killers eventually might be released back into society if not sentenced to death has eased. Under the statute, life without parole is automatic for those convicted of capital murder when the death penalty is off the table.
Before 2005, capital killers with life terms could be paroled in 40 years.
Carroll Joe Parr was the last defendant to be tried for capital murder in a complete trial in McLennan County in which the state sought a death sentence. He has been on death row since 2004 in the shooting death of Joel Dominguez during a drug deal.
In the past 12 years, 24 capital murder cases have been disposed of in McLennan County but the death penalty was sought by prosecutors only against Coble and Parr. Since the law changed in 2005, seven capital murder cases here ended in sentences of life with no possibility of parole.
In addition to the impact of the life without parole statute, officials note the shocking number of DNA exonerations of prisoners, particularly in Dallas County. That has produced increased skepticism among potential jurors, who also watch TV shows like “CSI” and sometimes expect a mountain of scientific evidence.
The Tribune also publishes a sidebar, "Men sentenced to death for McLennan County crimes."