Texas

EXECUTION CARRIED OUT 2022 – TEXAS – CARL WAYNE BUNTION – APRIL 21, 2022


Huntsville, Texas — Texas’ oldest death row inmate was executed Thursday for killing a Houston police officer during a traffic stop nearly 32 years ago.

Carl Wayne Buntion, 78, was put to death at the state penitentiary in Huntsville. He was condemned for the June 1990 fatal shooting of Houston police officer James Irby, a nearly 20-year member of the force.

The U.S. Supreme Court had declined a request by Buntion’s attorneys to stop his execution.

“I wanted the Irby family to know one thing: I do have remorse for what I did,” Buntion said while strapped to the Texas death chamber gurney. “I pray to God that they get the closure for me killing their father and Ms. Irby’s husband.

“I hope to see you in heaven some day and when you show up I will give you a big hug.”

Buntion, joined by his spiritual adviser, began praying Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd…” as the lethal dose of the powerful sedative pentobarbital began. He took a deep breath, coughed once, then took three less pronounced breaths before all movement stopped.

He was pronounced dead at 6:39 p.m., 13 minutes later.

Several dozen motorcyclists, showing support for the slain motorcycle officer, loudly revved their engines as the execution took place, the roar clearly audible in the death chamber.

Buntion had been on parole for just six weeks when he shot the 37-year-old Irby. Buntion, who had an extensive criminal record, was a passenger in the car that Irby pulled over. In 2009, an appeals court vacated Buntion’s sentence, but another jury resentenced him to death three years later.

“I feel joy,” the officer’s widow, Maura Irby, said after watching Buntion’s execution. “I’m sorry someone died. But I didn’t think of him as a person. I just thought of him as a thing, as a cancer on the face of my family.”

Before his slaying, James Irby had talked of retirement and spending more time with his two children, who at the time were 1 and 3 years old, Maura Irby, 60, said earlier.

“He was ready to fill out the paperwork and stay home and open a feed store,” she said. “He wanted to be the dad that was there to go to all the ballgames and the father daughter dances. He was a super guy, the love of my life.”

Leading up to his execution, various state and federal courts had also turned down appeals by Buntion’s lawyers to stop his death sentence. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles on Tuesday had rejected his clemency request.

Buntion’s attorneys said he was responsible for Irby’s death and “deserved to be punished severely for that crime.”

But they argued his execution was unconstitutional because the jury’s finding he would be a future danger to society – one of the reasons he was given a death sentence- has proven incorrect, and also his execution would serve no legitimate purpose because so much time has passed since his conviction. His attorneys described Buntion as a geriatric inmate who posed no threat as he suffered from arthritis, vertigo and needed a wheelchair.

“This delay of three decades undermines the rationale for the death penalty. … Whatever deterrent effect there is diminished by delay,” his attorneys David Dow and Jeffrey Newberry, wrote in court documents.

With his execution, Buntion became the oldest person Texas has put to death since the Supreme Court lifted its ban on capital punishment in 1976. The oldest inmate executed in the U.S. in modern times was Walter Moody Jr., who was 83 years old when he was put to death in Alabama in 2018.

Buntion was also the first inmate executed in Texas in 2022. Although Texas has been the nation’s busiest capital punishment state, it had been nearly seven months since it carried out an execution. There have been only three executions in each of the last two years, due in part to the coronavirus pandemic and delays over legal questions about Texas’ refusal to allow spiritual advisers to touch inmates and pray aloud in the death chamber.

In March, the U.S. Supreme Court said states must accommodate requests to have faith leaders pray and touch inmates during executions.

As Texas prepared to execute Buntion, officials in Tennessee canceled the execution of an inmate Thursday in what would have been the state’s first execution since the start of the pandemic. Oscar Smith, 72, was scheduled to die for the 1989 killings of his estranged wife and her teenage sons. Republican Gov. Bill Lee didn’t elaborate on what issue forced the surprise 11th-hour stop to the planned execution.

Texas prison officials agreed to Buntion’s request to allow his spiritual adviser to pray aloud and touch him while he was put to death.

The adviser, Barry Brown, placed his right hand on Buntion’s right ankle in the moments before the drugs began flowing and prayed for about five minutes. He said Buntion no longer was a “hard-headed young man” but had been “humbled by the walls and cold steel of prison.”

While the execution stirred up painful memories for her, Irby said it also reminded her of her advocacy work in public safety after her husband’s death, including helping put together legislation that allowed victim impact statements at trials.

“I still miss him, 32 years later,” she said Thursday night.

Texas claims it’s ‘too late’ for DNA testing which could get inmate off death row


October 10, 2022

Featured Image Credit: AP/Shutterstock/Paul Weber

The state of Texas is fighting to dismiss a civil rights suit arguing for DNA testing which could prove the innocence of a death row inmate.

Rodney Reed was sentenced to death in 1998 for the 1996 murder of Stacey Stites in Bastrop, Texas, and remains on death row as he continues to maintain his innocence.

Stites was just 19 at the the time of her death, and was found dead along a country road. She had been engaged to a man named Jimmy Fennell, a police officer in the neighbouring town, and had allegedly introduced Reed to her co-worker, Suzen Hugan, as a friend.

Hugan told The Intercept Stites was ‘flirty’ with Reed, saying “it seemed like more than a friendship,” however Texas claims Reed was actually a stranger to Stites. 

After Stites was killed, sperm evidence recovered from her body was matched to Reed. An investigation by law enforcement uncovered no evidence that the pair knew each other, though Reed claims he and Stites were having an affair and that the DNA was from a consensual encounter.

Meanwhile, Fennell has been accused by some as having known about the alleged affair. He has denied the claims.

Over his years on death row, Reed has argued for the testing of crime scene evidence, including the alleged murder weapon, however reluctance on post-conviction DNA testing in the state has made things tough for the inmate.

In 2019, Reed took the case to federal court with the argument that Texas violated his due process rights by denying his bid for forensic testing, but the state is trying to get the suit dismissed with the argument that Reed waited too long to file his federal claim.

Texas is using the statute of limitations to argue its side, claiming Reed had a two-year window to file his federal claim after he was first denied DNA testing in 2014.

However, Reed has argued that filing earlier would have meant filing before the Court of Criminal Appeals had considered his case, meaning he would not have a final decision in the matter on which to base his suit.

It wasn’t until 2017 that the CCA issued its final ruling, and Reed’s suit was filed less than two years later.

Texas, meanwhile, argues Reed should have brought the case in the two years after 2014 because there is ‘no provision of Texas law’ that required him to appeal to the CCA.

As the battle continues, the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the state, meaning the Supreme Court is now set to hear the case on 11 October.

Texas: Woman convicted of killing 21-year-old mother-to-be and cutting baby from her womb


Texas, 10.04.2022

Prosecutors told the court that Reagan Michelle Simmons-Hancock was beaten in the head at least five times with such force that the blows compressed her skull.

Taylor Rene Parker 

A woman is facing the death penalty after being found guilty of killing a 21-year-old and cutting her unborn baby from her womb.

Taylor Rene Parker has been convicted of the October 2020 murder of Reagan Michelle SimmonsHancock in Texas and the kidnapping of her daughter, who later died.

The 29-year-old was found to have beaten the young expectant mother in the head at least five times, before “cutting her abdomen, hip to hip” to remove her baby.

The guilty verdict came after three weeks of testimony at Bowie County in northeast Texas, where Parker’s attorneys moved to dismiss the kidnapping charge in a bid to have a capital murder charge lowered to murder.

They argued that the baby was never alive and therefore could not be abducted, but prosecutors said several medical professionals testified that she had a heartbeat when she was born.

“We have methodically laid out what she (Parker) did, why she did it, all the moving parts, and all the collateral damage,” said prosecutor Kelley Crisp.

The court heard how Parker faked being pregnant in the lead up to the killing, with the assistant district attorney Lauren Richards describing her as a “liar” and a “manipulator”.

It was no quick death’

In gruesome detail, Ms Richards recounted Parker’s attack on Ms Simmons-Hancock, saying the young woman was still alive after having her baby cut from her womb.

“She can’t leave her alive. It was no quick death. She just kept cutting her. I guess Reagan would not die fast enough for Taylor to get out of there and get on with her plans,” she said.

Parker’s sentencing, known in the US as the punishment phase, is set to begin on 12 October.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, but jurors may opt for a sentence of life imprisonment without parole.

Texas’ highest criminal court tosses death sentence of Raymond Riles, state’s longest-serving death row inmate


Riles has been deemed mentally incompetent for execution repeatedly in his decades on death row.

April 14, 2021

Raymond Riles has been on Texas’ death row longer than anyone else, first sent there in 1976. Despite several execution dates being set, he has repeatedly been deemed mentally incompetent to be put to death, instead lingering on the row and the prison’s psychiatric units for more than 45 years. At one point, he set himself on fire and was hospitalized for months.

Raymond Riles

On Wednesday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals tossed his death sentence.

The state court sent his case back to Harris County to again determine his punishment because the jury wasn’t instructed to weigh his mental illness when deciding between a punishment of life in prison or death. The Harris County District Attorney’s Office, which supported tossing the sentence, did not immediately respond to questions Wednesday as to whether the office would again seek the death penalty. His conviction of capital murder is not changed.

TEXAS EXECUTION UPDATE Ramiro Felix Gonzales execution rescheduled


April 12, 2021

Ramiro Felix Gonzales was scheduled to be executed at 6 pm local time, on Tuesday, April 20, 2021, at the Walls Unit of the Huntsville State Penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas. His execution has been rescheduled to November 17, 2021.  Thirty-eight-year-old Ramiro is convicted of the murder of 19-year-old Bridget Townsend on January 15, 2001, in Bandera, Texas.  Ramiro has spent the last 14 years on Texas’ death row.

While pregnant with him, Ramiro’s mother allegedly used drugs and then abandoned him after his birth. Ramiro was primarily raised by his grandmother and was allegedly sexually abused by a male relative. He dropped out of school after the seventh grade and was using drugs and alcohol regularly by the age of 12. Prior to his arrest, he worked as a welder and a fence builder.

In 2003, Ramiro Gonzales was in Bandera County jail awaiting transport to a prison, after being convicted of abducting and raping a woman. While waiting, Gonzales asked to speak with Sheriff James MacMillian. Gonzales told the Sheriff that he had information about Bridget Townsend, a teenager who had disappeared two years earlier. Initially, the Sheriff did not believe Gonzales, but when Gonzales offered to take the Sheriff to the location of Bridget’s body, the Sheriff became interested.

Sitting in the passenger seat, Gonzales directed the Sheriff to a ranch where Gonzales lived with his family, but they did not stop at the ranch. They continued driving over jeep trails to a remote cedar-covered hillside. Gonzales, the Sheriff, and a jail administrator exited the vehicle. During the 100 yard walk to Bridgett’s remains, Gonzales described the jewelry she had been wearing, wear she had been standing when he shot her, and where he had put the body. A human skull, along with other bones, were found close to the location where Gonzales claimed to have shot her. The bones had been slightly scattered by wildlife.

During the drive back to the jail, Gonzales gave conflicting stories about the night when Bridget was shot. Initially, Gonzales blamed the Mexican Mafia and Bridget’s boyfriend, Joe Leal, saying they hired him. Then he claimed that he and Joe had agreed to kill Bridget. The conflicting stories continued once they returned to the jail. Finally, Gonzales confessed that all his previous stories were lies and that he was solely responsible for Bridget’s death. This version, for which he gave a signed confession, matched the evidence that was discovered during the investigation.

Joe Leal had been Gonzales’ drug dealer. On January 14, 2001, Gonzales had phoned Joe’s house to obtain more drugs. Bridget answered the phone, saying Joe was at work. Gonzales, knowing Bridget was at the house, decided to drive over and steal some cocaine. Gonzales pushed his way past Bridget after she answered the door. He continued to ignore Bridget while her stole between $150 and $500 in cash.

When Bridget began calling Joe, Gonzales dragged her into a bedroom and tied her up. He asked if Joe had any drugs in the house. When she responded negatively, he took her out to this truck, pausing to turn out the lights so that they would not be spotted. Gonzales drove back to the ranch, stopping to pick up his grandfather’s .243 caliber deer rifle.

Gonzales confessed that he had planned to shoot Bridget so that no one would know he had robbed Joe, nor that he had kidnapped Bridget. Gonzales drove Bridget to the spot where her remains were later found. Gonzales forced Bridget to walk towards the brush as he began loading the rifle. Bridget promised money, drugs, or sex if Gonzales would spare her life. Gonzales unloaded the weapon, and took her back to the truck to assault her; after which, he, again, took her into the brush and shot her.

Gonzales then returned home and interacted with his family as though nothing was wrong. He had returned to the weapon to where he retrieved it and flung the empty shell casing away from the house. Gonzales also denied, multiple times, seeing Bridget that night or visiting Joe’s house.

During Gonzales’ trial, a women who he had kidnapped and raped, testified that she believed she would have been killed if she had not managed to escape.

This is not Ramiro Gonzales’ first scheduled execution date. He has had at least two previous executions dates that were stayed for unknown reasons.  According to the online execution calendar provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Ramiro’s execution date has been rescheduled.  No reason has been provided for the date change.

Please pray for peace and healing for the family of Bridget. Please pray for strength for the family of Ramiro. Pleas pray that if Ramiro is innocent, lacks the competency to be executed, or should not be executed for any other reason that evidence will be presented prior to his execution. Please pray that Ramiro will come to find peace through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, if he has not already found one.

Questions Linger for Anthony Shore, Larry Swearingen


Update 2019.

Larry Swearingen, 48, was executed by lethal injection Wednesday evening for the December 1998 killing of Melissa Trotter. The 19-year-old was last seen leaving her community college in Conroe, and her body was found nearly a month later in a forest near Huntsville, about 70 miles north of Houston.

Swearingen was pronounced dead at 6:47 p.m. His last words were: “Lord forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.”

Larry Swearingen, en 2009

January, 18 2018

Houston serial killer Anthony Shore faces another death date, this one Jan. 18. Shore was originally set for execution in October, but that got halted by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office amid rumors he was planning to confess to another murder: the 1998 killing of Melissa Trotter. Except Larry Swearingen had been convicted of kidnapping, raping, and strangling Trotter in 2000, and by then was preparing for his own execution in November.

Assistant District Attorney Tom Berg said his office revoked Shore’s execution warrant at the request of Montgomery County D.A. Brett Ligon, who believed Shore was colluding with Swearingen. (He says a folder was found in Shore’s cell with information relating to Trotter’s death.) Berg said the Texas Rangers have since interviewed Shore, who admitted he had “nothing to do” with Trotter’s murder. Shore alleged he and Swearingen once contemplated conspiring, but had since “parted ways.” Berg, who says his office and Ligon’s have reviewed the interview, said Shore decided not to “take the fall” for his fellow inmate. Shore has exhausted his appeals; Berg said he’s unaware of any new attempts to stay Shore’s execution, and concluded that his case will see its “inevitable end” next Thursday.

Shore’s execution is just the beginning of a busy month.

Swearingen, however, had his November execution stayed due to a filing error, and has since been granted additional DNA testing. Unlike Shore, who confessed to killing four girls between 1986 and 1995, Swearingen has maintained his innocence. His supporters, including his lawyer James Rytting, say he was in a county jail for outstanding traffic warrants at the time of Trotter’s murder. The 19-year-old was last seen on Dec. 8, 1998, with Swearingen (who wasn’t arrested until three days later), but her body wasn’t discovered until Jan. 2. Rytting said forensic evidence suggests her body could not have been dumped in the woods until “a week or 10 days” after Swearingen was arrested.

Included in the evidence sent out for testing is Trotter’s rape kit, which was never tested and could exonerate Swearingen should analysts uncover another DNA profile. Samples of hair particles found on Trot­ter’s undergarments and the alleged murder weapon (a torn pair of pantyhose) will also be tested. The evidence was shipped out in December and testing will likely take four weeks.

Rytting was alarmed that the state had reissued an execution date for Shore. “They shouldn’t be putting the guy into the ground with these questions still around,” he said. He says two witnesses, with no connection to Swearingen, told the D.A.’s Office that Shore suggested to them that he was connected to Trotter’s murder. The information, Rytting said, would “sure as hell” make Shore a suspect had it been provided prior to Swearingen’s conviction. “It’s a type of incriminating statement the prosecution seizes on all the time,” he said. “You don’t get to wiggle out of it with an ‘Aw shucks, I was kidding.'”

Shore will likely mark the first state-sanctioned killing of 2018, and his is just the beginning. William Rayford is scheduled for Jan. 30, and John Battaglia for Feb. 1.

EXECUTED – ‘Tourniquet Killer’ set to be executed in Texas – Anthony Shore 6:28 p.m


 

JAN. 18, 2018

In his final statement, Shore, 55, was apologetic and his voice cracked with emotion.

“No amount of words or apology could ever undo what I’ve done,” Shore said. “I wish I could undo the past, but it is what it is.”

He was pronounced dead at 6:28 p.m. CST.

Texas’ “Tourniquet Killer” is set for execution Thursday. It would be the first execution under Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, a Democrat who oversaw the first year without an execution in the county for more than 30 years.

Death row inmate Anthony Shore.

 

The first execution of 2018 in Texas and the nation is expected to take place Thursday evening for Houston’s “Tourniquet Killer.”

Anthony Shore, 55, is a confessed serial rapist and strangler whose murders went unsolved in the 1980s and 1990s for more than a decade. With no pending appeals, his execution is expected to be the first under Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, a Democrat who took office last January and has said she doesn’t see the death penalty as a deterrent to crime.

Still, she has said the punishment is appropriate for Shore, deeming him “the worst of the worst.”

“Anytime a person is subject to government’s greatest sanction, it merits thoughtful review,” Ogg said through a spokesman Wednesday. “We have proceeded as the law directs and satisfied all doubts.”

Shore wasn’t arrested in the murders until 2003, when his DNA was matched to the 1992 murder of 21-year-old Maria Del Carmen Estrada, according to court documents. His DNA had been on file since 1998, when he pleaded no-contest to charges of sexually molesting his two daughters. After his arrest, he confessed to the murders of four young women and girls, including Estrada.

Between 1986 and 1995, Shore sexually assaulted and killed 14-year-old Laurie Tremblay, Estrada, 9-year-old Diana Rebollar and 16-year-old Dana Sanchez, the court documents said. He also admitted to the rape of another 14-year-old girl, but she managed to escape after he began choking her. The murder victims’ bodies were all found in various states of undress behind buildings or in a field with rope or cord tied around their necks like tourniquets.

Though he doesn’t argue that his client is innocent or undeserving of punishment, Shore’s lawyer, Knox Nunnally, said Wednesday that he was surprised Ogg continued to pursue the death penalty for Shore based on her previous statements on capital punishment. Ogg’s first year in office also coincided with the first year Harris County didn’t carry out an execution in more than 30 years.

“Many people in the death penalty community were expecting other things from her,” Nunnally said.

Though she has said the death penalty is “pure retribution,” Ogg told the Texas Observer last year that she still believes in it. But in two major death penalty cases that made their way to the U.S. Supreme Court, Ogg opted for reduced punishments.

After the high court ruled death row inmate Duane Buck should receive a new trial because an expert witness claimed he was more likely to be a future danger to society because he was black, Ogg offered a plea agreement in October to a sentence of life in prison rather than holding a new death penalty trial. The next month, Ogg asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to reduce the death sentence of Bobby Moore, whose case had earlier prompted the Supreme Court to invalidate Texas’ outdated method of determining intellectual disability in death-sentenced inmates.

But for a “true serial killer” such as Shore, Ogg said in a July statement that he was “a person deserving of the ultimate punishment.”

Shore’s execution was originally set for October, but Ogg postponed it after Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon requested a delay from her and Gov. Greg Abbott. Ligon was concerned that Shore might falsely confess to the Montgomery County murder of Melissa Trotter, potentially disrupting the existing death sentence for the man already convicted in Trotter’s murder.

“We knew that was not true, but, that said, we knew that if we didn’t investigate it, it would look like we ignored potential evidence,” Ligon said.

Ligon said that after Shore talked to Texas Rangers and his office, investigators were convinced that Shore was not responsible for Trotter’s death or any other open murder cases. Nunnally said Shore never confessed to Trotter’s murder.

Now, Nunnally says he thinks he’s done everything he can for Shore. He had hoped to ask for a delay if the U.S. Supreme Court elected to hear a case out of Arizona that questions the constitutionality of the death penalty as a whole, but the justices have yet to make a decision and don’t meet again until Friday — the day after his scheduled execution.

Shore’s execution will the be the first in 2018, following a years-long trend of fewer executions in Texas and across the country. Four other executions are scheduled in Texas through March.

Officials urging mercy for death row inmate convicted under ‘law of parties’ now include prosecutor


December 14.2017

There is no dispute over whether Jeffery Lee Wood ever killed anyone.

He did not. He didn’t pull a trigger, didn’t wield a knife, didn’t take any direct action that caused another person’s death.

But twice now, Wood, 44, has come within only a few days of being executed by the state of Texas. He was convicted under Texas’ felony murder statute, informally called the “law of parties,” after he waited outside in a truck while an accomplice robbed a Kerrville convenience store in 1996 — and ended up killing a clerk named Kriss Keeran.

A growing bipartisan chorus agrees that, while Wood was complicit in a crime, he does not belong on death row.

One of those voices belongs to the prosecutor who put him there. Last week, The Texas Tribune reported that Kerr County District Attorney Lucy Wilkehas joined a long list of Texas officials who want to see Wood’s death sentence reduced to life in prison.

In a letter co-signed by the Kerrville police chief and the district judge overseeing Wood’s appeal, Wilke — a young, relatively inexperienced prosecutor at the time of Wood’s 1998 trial — says life imprisonment is the appropriate punishment in this case.

Wilke’s change of heart is not based solely on misgivings over the law of parties used in Texas murder trials. She has also expressed concern over testimony supplied by forensic psychiatrist James Grigson — “Dr. Death” — whose methods and credentials were later called into question.

But her letter urging the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to recommend that Gov. Greg Abbott reduce Wood’s sentence to life in prison specifies that “the offender was not actually the person who shot the victim” as a factor in her request.Wilke’s letter reflects a fair and candid evolution of thought about appropriate use of the death penalty in Texas, an evolution she shares with many others.

Honest disagreement remains over capital punishment in this state. This editorial board has urged its discontinuance; many others believe just as strongly that it should be preserved.

But all thoughtful people can agree that the death penalty, if used, should be applied carefully, sparingly, and reserved for the “worst of the worst” offenders — a standard that Wood, while culpable, does not meet.

“At the time of the jury trial in this case, I was a newly licensed attorney with 13 months of experience … the decision to seek the death penalty was mine,” Wilke wrote. “Again, I now respectfully request that this offender’s death sentence be commuted to a capital murder life sentence.”

Unfortunately, in spite of strong bipartisan efforts, state lawmakers passedon an opportunity to reform the Texas statute regarding the law of parties’ use in capital cases during their most recent session. It’s an issue that must be revisited.

In the meantime, a growing number of voices that bridge the political spectrum is calling on Abbott to intervene in this case.

Abbott, sensitive to protecting his red-state bona fides, has not reduced a capital sentence to life since he took office in 2015. But the case of Jeff Wood would be a sensible and honorable place to start.

Texas leads the nation in executions, but its death row population is dropping


December 14, 2017

The number of inmates on Texas’ death row dropped again this year, continuing a decades-long trend.

The decline is caused largely by fewer new death sentences and more reduced punishments in recent years, according to end-of-year reports released Thursday by groups critical of the death penalty in Texas and across the country. But Texas still held more executions than any other state.

“Prosecutors, juries, judges, and the public are subjecting our state’s death penalty practices to unprecedented scrutiny,” said Kristin Houlé, executive director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, in the release of the group’s annual report. “In an increasing number of cases, they are accepting alternatives to this flawed and irreversible punishment.”

Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which has supported death penalty practices in legal cases throughout the country, said he agrees that the decline is partially due to shifting attitudes among jurors and prosecutors, but added that death sentences are also down because there has been a drop in the murder rate nationwide.

“The support for the death penalty for the worst crimes remains strong,” he said.

There are currently 234 inmates living with death sentences in Texas, according to the state’s prison system. That number has been dropping since 2003. The death row population peaked at 460 in 1999, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Here’s how the death row population has changed over the last year:

Seven men were executed.

The same number of men were put to death this year as in 2016, which had the fewest executions in two decades. But even with its relatively low number, Texas was still the state with the most executions in the country. This isn’t unusual given that the state has put to death nearly five times more individuals than any other state since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Texas accounted for 30 percent of the nation’s 23 executions in 2017. Arkansas was second in the country with four. Last year, Georgia put more people to death than Texas — the first time Texas hasn’t been responsible for the most executions since 2001.

Four more men got cells on death row.

One more person was sentenced to death this year than in 2015 and 2016, when only three men were handed the death penalty in each of those years.

The number of new sentences, which ranged in the 20s and 30s each year in the early 2000s, dropped in 2005 after jurors were given the option to sentence convicts to life without the possibility of parole as an alternative to the death penalty. Before then, if a capital murder convict wasn’t sentenced to death, he or she would be eligible for parole after 40 years. About 10 people in Texas were sentenced each year after that until the additional decrease in 2015.

Two men died while awaiting execution.

Joseph Lave and Raymond Martinez both died this year before they were taken to the death chamber, even though they had had extended stays in prison. Lave passed away more than 22 years after his murder conviction, and Martinez had lived more than 30 years with a death sentence.

Four men had their sentences changed from death to life in prison.

Two U.S. Supreme Court decisions this year have so far resulted in the reduction of three death sentences to life in prison. The high court ruled against Texas in the death penalty cases of Duane Buck and Bobby Moore.

Buck reached a plea agreement with Harris County prosecutors to change his death sentence to life in October after a February ruling by the court said his case was prejudiced by an expert trial witness who claimed Buck was more likely to be a future danger because he is black.

In Moore’s case, the justices invalidated Texas’ method for determining if a death-sentenced inmate was intellectually disabled and therefore ineligible for execution. Though Moore’s case has yet to be resolved (Harris County has asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to reduce his sentence to life), two other men on death row with intellectual disability claims received life sentences after the ruling.

Another man this April received a new punishment hearing in a 1991 murder and pled guilty, landing four consecutive life sentences over the death penalty, according to the Texas death penalty report.

Nine men narrowly escaped execution — for now.

Executions were scheduled — then canceled — for nine men this year. Six were stopped by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in light of pending appeals, and one was stopped by a federal court, the report said.

One man, Larry Swearingen, evaded execution in November because of a clerical error, and convicted serial killer Anthony Shore’s death was postponed because prosecutors were concerned he would confess to the murder for which Swearingen was convicted.

 

Salvadoran Man on Texas Death Row Loses Supreme Court Appeal


December 11, 2017

The U.S. Supreme has refused to review an appeal from a 48-year-old Salvadoran man on Texas death row for the slayings of two Houston store clerks during an attempted robbery more than 17 years ago.

The U.S. Supreme has refused to review an appeal from a 48-year-old Salvadoran man on Texas death row for the slayings of two Houston store clerks during an attempted robbery more than 17 years ago.

The high court had no comment in its decision Monday in the case of Gilmar Guevara.

Attorneys for Guevara asked the justices to reverse lower courts’ rulings rejecting arguments that he’s mentally impaired and ineligible for the death penalty.

Guevara was convicted and sentenced to death for the fatal shootings of 48-year-old Tae Youk and 21-year-old Gerardo Yaxon. Youk was from South Korea and Yaxon from Guatemala.

Guevara, identified as the shooter, and two accomplices fled the scene in southwest Houston in June 2000 without any money.

He does not yet have an execution date.