"Texas’ grim death penalty milestone," is the Dallas Morning News editorial.
Owing to its size and inclinations, Texas registers prodigious statistics, but none so bleak as what comes from the state’s pre-Civil War red-brick prison in Huntsville that houses the nation’s busiest execution chamber.
There, on Wednesday, Texas’ 500th execution since national reinstatement is set to be carried out. The life scheduled for termination belongs to Kimberly McCarthy, whose grisly murder of elderly neighbor Dorothy Booth of Lancaster brings the state to this grim milestone.
It’s one that no other state may ever touch. Virginia, second in terms of executions, is barely a fifth of the way there, and the pace of capital punishment has slowed nationwide, even in Texas.
Part of that has to do with a collective shudder at the realities of a fallible criminal-justice system. Part of it has to do with a growing list of states — now at 18 — that have abolished the death penalty. Part of it has to do with a willingness to pause and take an unflinching look at the system and why it singles out some killers to die and others to live.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram editorial is, "It’s time to halt executions in Texas."
The figure 500 is sobering, particularly when it is applied to people and their deaths.
On Wednesday evening, barring intervention by a court or the governor, Texas will carry out its 500th death sentence since capital punishment was reinstated in 1974.
Between 1924 (when the state took charge of executions from its counties) and 1964, the start of a decade-long moratorium, the Lone Star State performed 361 killings by electrocution.
Texas has the bragging rights for its frequency of ultimate punishment, leading the nation even though other states have more inmates on Death Row.
These large numbers represent people, individuals with names who, although convicted of horrible crimes and deserving punishment, should not have their deaths determined by flawed human beings acting in the name of the state.
Abolishing capital punishment would neither demean the memory of victims nor deny any of them justice. Instead, it would make our society as a whole more just, more morally consistent and certainly more humane.
Texas retired “Old Sparky,” its electric chair, in 1977.
It is time to permanently close our infamous death chamber.
Sunday’s Fort Worth Star-Telegram editorial was the first in which the paper has called for abolition of the death penalty.
In past years, the Star-Telegram has called for a moratorium on executions and a number of other criminal justice reforms, especially related to capital punishment. It has also increasingly expressed serious concerns about a variety of Texas criminal justice practices.
It now joins the Austin American-Statesman, Dallas Morning News, and Houston Chronicle, which have previously endorsed abolition in editorials.
Bob Ray Sanders, an editorial board member, has long written of the evils and failings of capital punishment in his bylined column for the Star-Telegram. Sanders, perhaps more than any other Texas columnist, has given us a human-scale view of the Texas criminal justice system at work. It's just one reason why he is held in such high regard by his fellow journalists.
Earlier coverage from Texas begins at the link; more from AFP, in the next post.