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 Execution today : John Henry Ramirez EXECUTED 6.41PM


10.05.2022

UPDATE 10.06.2022

In the execution chamber, his spiritual adviser, Dana Moore, placed his right hand on the inmate’s chest, and held it there for the duration. With his back to witnesses, Moore offered a brief prayer.

“Look upon John with your grace,” he prayed. “Grant him peace. Grant all of us peace.” As Moore’s prayer ended, Ramirez responded: “Amen.”

After the prayer, Ramirez addressed five of Castro’s relatives — including four of his children — as they watched through a window a few feet from him. “I have regret and remorse,” he said.” This is such a heinous act. I hope this finds you comfort. If this helps you, then I am glad.

I hope in some shape or form this helps you find closure.”

Ramirez expressed love to his wife, son and friends, concluding with: “Just know that I fought a good fight, and I am ready to go.”

As the lethal dose of pentobarbital took effect, he took several short breaths then began snoring. Within a minute, all movement stopped. Ramirez was pronounced dead 14 minutes later, at 6:41 p.m. CDT.

John Henry Ramirez, 38, was sentenced to death over the 2004 fatal stabbing of 46-year-old convenience store clerk Pablo Castro during a drug-fueled string of robberies.

His execution date was delayed last year after Ramirez claimed his religious freedom was being violated because state prison rules prevented his pastor from touching him and praying aloud during the procedure.

Ramirez’s fight ended up clarifying the role of spiritual advisers in death chambers nationwide after the US Supreme Court sided with the convicted murderer in March.

The court ruled that states must accommodate the wishes of death row inmates who want to have their religious leaders

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles declined on Monday to commute Ramirez’s death sentence to a lesser penalty.

Ramirez has exhausted all possible appeals and there is no final request to the Supreme Court planned, his attorney Seth Kretzer said.

Ramirez was convicted of stabbing Castro 29 times in a robbery that cops said was the culmination of a three-day binge fueled by a mix of pot, pills, booze and cocaine — and yielded him just $1.25.

He fled to Mexico immediately after but was arrested 3 1/2 years later.

If Ramirez’s execution goes ahead as planned, he would be the third inmate put to death this year in Texas and the 11th in the country.

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 court stays execution on intellectual disability grounds


Ramiro Ibarra was sentenced to death for the 1987 sexual assault and murder of a 16-year-old girl. File Photo courtesy of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice
RAMIRO IBARRA

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has stayed the execution of a man who says he’s intellectually disabled and thus can’t constitutionally be put to death.

The court handed down the ruling Wednesday, ordering a lower court to review the merits of Ramiro Ibarra’s arguments.

Ibarra, 66, was sentenced to death in 1997 for the sexual assault and murder of 16-year-old Maria Zuniga a decade earlier in McLennan County. He was scheduled to be executed March 4.

Ibarra has challenged his death sentence a number of times on intellectual disability grounds, saying it violates the Eighth Amendment, which bars cruel and unusual punishment.

The court declined the stay on seven other claims presented by Ibarra’s lawyers, including that the state relied on “outdated and unreliable DNA tests” to secure his conviction, that the state presented false and misleading evidence, that the death sentence was based on false testimony, and that his execution would violate due process.

Ibarra is the third death-row inmate scheduled to be executed in Texas this year who has received a stay.

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.

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.

For first time in more than 30 years, no Harris County death row inmates executed


December 6, 2017

For the first time since 1985, no Harris County killers will be executed by the state of Texas this year, a landmark shift for a county once known as the “capital of capital punishment.”

Despite a slight uptick in executions nationwide, Harris County’s one execution this year was cancelled after a desperate death row plot led to a last-minute stay for serial killer Anthony Shore in October. Two U.S. Supreme Court rulings spared two other inmates.

“This has been an important year in terms of death penalty litigation,” said District Attorney Kim Ogg. “I view it as a positive thing. I don’t think that being the death penalty capital of America is a selling point for Harris County.”

Nationwide, executions reached a high water mark in 1999, and Texas executions topped out at 40 the next year. But it’s Harris County courts that have kept the death chamber busiest, with 126 executions since the state resumed capital punishment in 1982.

“Harris County has always symbolized America’s death penalty because it has executed more people than any other county and — apart from the rest of Texas — more than any other state,” said Robert Dunham of the Death Penalty Information Center. “It is both symbolic and emblematic of the change in capital punishment in the United States. For the first time in a generation, the nation’s largest executioner has executed no one.”

STUDY: Conservatives’ distaste for death penalty sends support to 45-year low

In part, that’s due to the long-range impact of the Lone Star State’s introduction of life without parole as a sentencing option starting in 2005. Before that, jurors on capital murder cases had to pick between death and the possibility of eventual release.

But it’s also due to the more immediate impacts of court actions this year. In October, death row inmate Duane Buck was given a life sentence after the Supreme Court granted him a new hearing in light of testimony from an expert who told the jury that Buck was more likely to be a future danger because he is black.

Then in November, Harris County prosecutors asked for a life sentence for Bobby Moore, months after the Supreme Court determined that Texas did not properly consider whether he was too intellectually disabled to face execution.

Falling murder rates and changing political tides have also contributed to the decline in capital punishment.

“Perhaps the most important change is that the public is substantially less supportive of the death penalty than it has been at any time since 1972,” Dunham said, citing a recent Gallup poll. The research group’s October findings showed that 55 percent of U.S. adults support capital punishment for convicted murderers, a low not seen since March 1972.

Outspoken death penalty supporter Dudley Sharp blamed the drop on the length of time between sentencing and execution.

“At this point it’s more than doubled since the 1980s, which would dramatically lower the execution rate,” Sharp said.

Even without Harris County, Texas regained its spot this year as the busiest death chamber in the nation with seven executions. Nationwide, 23 prisoners were put to death — three more than the year before — amid an otherwise downward trend.

MOORE: Prosecutors ask for life sentence for Texas death row inmate Bobby Moore

A generation ago, it was a different story.

A year before Karla Faye Tucker’s execution grabbed national headlines amid the tough-on-crime efforts of the 1990s, Harris County saw 11 killers in 1997 executed. Tucker, the first woman executed in Texas since the 1800s, was convicted of a brutal pickaxe slaying; she blamed the killing on drugs.

The next execution in Texas is Jan. 18, when “Tourniquet Killer” Anthony Shore is slated to die by lethal injection.

Shore’s execution on Oct. 18 was halted at the last minute after he told investigators of an abandoned confession plot with fellow death row inmate Larry Swearingen, a Montgomery County killer whose execution was also delayed.

A handful of other Harris County killers who are nearing the end of their appeals process could potentially net 2018 execution dates, including Carlos Ayestas, a Honduran man convicted in a 1995 slaying. The court heard oral arguments in the case in October and is expected to offer a decision next year.

No new death sentences, however, were imposed in Harris County this year — Ogg’s first to helm the district attorney’s office.

“I think it reflects both the new administration and the new skepticism about the death penalty and life without parole all combined with a dash of Harvey,” said local defense attorney Pat McCann. “And then of course there’s the simply bizarre continuing tale of Mr. Shore and Mr. Swearingen and the frankly inexplicable turn of events there.”

Next year could be different, however.

“When you have an historic low one year it’s not surprising to see the numbers rise slightly the following year,” Dunham said.

Death row exoneree Anthony Graves lauded local prosecutors for their role in the shifting tides.

“Kudos to the administration for being out front on criminal justice reform,” he said. “Because this is what it is, this is what it looks like.”