Record executions in Texas

2008-10-23 07:37

Washignton - The state of Texas has scheduled ten executions in 30 days, a record in the southern state that is already the US leader in capital punishment, having put more than 400 people to death in 30 years.

Tuesday, Joseph Ray Ries, 29, became the first of the ten. He was administered a lethal injection as final punishment for the 1999 murder of a 64-year-old man.

"Even for Texas, this amount of execution in so short time is unusual," said Rick Halperin, president of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

It is not unusual for 16 executions to be on the calendar in Texas, as they currently are, through March 11. What is unusual is that ten of those will happen between October 20 and November 20.

Bobby Woods is scheduled to die on Thursday, Eric Nenno on October 28, Gregory Wright the 30th, Elkie Taylor on November 6, George Whitaker on November 12, Denard Manns on November 13, Eric Cathey on November 18, Rogelio Cannady on November 19, Robert Hudson on November 20.

Execution dates are set by the judges who presided over juries that pronounced a death sentence, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice explained.

"The frequency with which executions are scheduled is dependent on when the judges from courts across the state set those dates," Michelle Lyons said.

"Because they act independently of one another, there are some months when a number of executions are scheduled and other months when there are few or none scheduled," as is the case in December, she added.

Last words...

Final meal, last cigarette, last words... the ritual marches along with regularity in the Huntsville, Texas execution chamber, the busiest in the US.

The ten condemned men join 416 executed in Texas since the US Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

Texas alone has performed a third of all executions carried out in the US over the last three decades, including 12 so far this year.

By comparison, Virginia - the number two executioner in the US - has conducted 102 since 1976.

For anti-death penalty activists, "it is very frustrating," Halperin said.

"It is very difficult work, but this is where the work is needed, this is where the struggle is. This is the worst place of the free world for execution, this is not just the worst place for America," he said of Texas.

Halperin claimed that "judges are very happy to get rid of these people as quickly as possible". He described a sort of year-end catch-up following a moratorium on executions across the USs from September 2007 to May 2008, while the Supreme Court weighed and ultimately validated the constitutionality of lethal injection.

"The judges definitely want these executions to occur, they are very supportive of killing people here," he said. "This is a historical and sociological tradition of killing people in the name of the law."

Toxic cocktail

But the 375 inmates on Texas Death Row are above all a reflection of criminal law prior to 2001, he said.

Before the state revised such laws in 2001, a defendant could be represented by a divorce lawyer with no experience in criminal prosecutions, and judges were not required to instruct juries of alternative punishments such as life in prison without parole, he said.

Nine of the ten to die this month were sentenced prior to 2001.

Over the next month, Texas prison personnel will be conducting their task of injecting a toxic cocktail into the veins of condemned men every three days on average, prison spokesperson Jason Clark acknowledged.

"It can be difficult but this is something that is required of us," he said.