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Fewer Execution, Death Sentences in Texas

Photo by Caleb Bryant Miller/KUT News
Hank Skinner was one of five Texas death row inmates to have their death sentence stayed in 2011. A new report shows executions in Texas this year dropped to their lowest level in 15 years.

The state of Texas executed 13 people in 2011. A report issued by the Austin-based Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty this morning says that’s the fewest since 1996 and well below the record of 40 executions set in 2000.

Kristin Houlé is the coalition’s executive director. She says one reason for the decreased number of executions is that five death row inmates received stays of execution this year.

“These includes two cases where there remains doubt,” Houlé told KUT News. She noted the case of Hank Skinner, who had a November execution date stayed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals while that panel determines whether changes in DNA testing laws would affect his case.

Houlé also says the report shows a 70 percent decrease in the number of death sentences handed out by Texas juries since 2003. Only eight death sentences were issued this year, the same number as last year. She thinks the Skinner case and the case of Cameron Todd Willingham has played a role in the decrease in death penalty sentences.

“I think growing public awareness of the risk of wrongful conviction has led juries to be more careful and more exacting when meting out the ultimate punishment,” she said.

A jury in Travis County sentenced Areli Escobar to death in May for the stabbing death of 17-year-old Bianca Maldonado in 2009. Dallas County, the report notes, issued no death sentences in 2011, the first time that’s happened in five years.