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Keeping the Death Penalty Alive: It’s a Texas Thing

People like to say that the death penalty is for the “worst of the worst” offenders.

But they are wrong.

The death penalty depends on where people live. Particularly for the people who live in Texas.

Just look at the numbers: there have been 1146 executions in the South, compared to just four executions in the North.

Lean in a bit more closely, and you’ll see an even greater disparity: 638 of those 1146 executions came from Texas and Oklahoma alone. Add in Virginia and you have over 65 percent of executions occurring in just three states.

In case you are wondering, murder rates are not higher in Texas, Oklahoma or Virginia than in the rest of the country.

There’s an arbitrariness to this whole death penalty thing that doesn’t sit well with me — and one that is fundamentally inconsistent with justice: the death penalty is not about the crime committed — it’s about where the crime is committed.

Just take a look around the country the last couple of months and you’ll see what I mean.

In May, Nebraska officially repealed the death penalty, with an overwhelming legislative vote that overrode the Governor’s veto of the abolition bill. It became the 19th state to get rid of capital punishment.

In Delaware, the governor has stated his support for repeal of death penalty.

But, on June 3, in Texas, Lester Bower was executed after thirty years on death row. Brown was killed despite strong evidence of his innocence, and despite the call by three U.S Supreme Court justices to vacate his death sentence due to glaring errors in the sentencing process.

That’s the 8th execution in Texas this year — half the national total in 2015 to date.

To emphasize the randomness of it all, one week after Lester Bower’s execution, Alfred Dewayne Brown was released from Texas’ death row after serving ten long years for crimes he did not commit. Brown had been convicted of the 2005 murders of a police officer and a store clerk during a robbery. Turns out they got it wrong.

It astonishes me that since the beginning of this year alone, four innocent people have been exonerated from death row. Indeed, since 1973 (the year the death penalty was reinstated), 154 people have been exonerated from death row — 13 of them from Texas.

With an error rate that high, you’d think that someone would finally pull the plug on the whole death penalty thing (no pun, awful or otherwise, intended). Particularly because, according to experts, there are known instances — at least two from Texas — where innocent men were executed at the hands of the state.

I know I’ve said this before. But there is something fundamentally wrong with a system that kills people not because they committed a crime, but because they committed — or were convicted of committing — a crime in one of the very few state that 1) authorizes the death penalty; and 2) actually uses it.

Like Texas. The Lone Star state.

Which stands alone in its insistent and too often erroneous use of the death penalty.

Correction: This post mistakenly referred to Lester Bower as Lester Brown.

Published in the Huffington Post 06/11/2015.

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