February 23, 2015

A Look At Capital Punishment In Texas

The history of death row in Texas includes some interesting data,
since this state has executed more inmates than any other place in the country.

Click HERE to view.

Click on the click below to read...
Provided By: Death Penalty Information Center

June 21, 2013

Texas Nears 500th Execution, Ex-Warden Reflects On Prison System

    Next week, Texas is scheduled to execute its 500th prisoner since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

    Barring stays or reprieves, the 500th execution is due to occur Wednesday - and the inmate is a woman.

    Kimberly McCarthy, 52, a former occupational therapist, was convicted and sentenced to death in 1998 in connection with the beating and stabbing death of her 71-year-old neighbor during a robbery. She was originally scheduled to be put to death Jan. 29, but received a stay until April, and then saw her execution postponed again. Her attorneys recently appealed again to halt the execution, but there has been no decision yet.

    McCarthy would be the 13th woman executed in the U.S. and the 4th in Texas since the Supreme Court allowed capital punishment to resume in 1976. During that time, more than 1,300 men have been executed nationwide.

    Texas has enforced the death penalty more regularly than any other state, executing more people than the next 6 states combined (Virginia, Oklahoma, Florida, Missouri, Alabama and Georgia).

    But that wasn't always the case. Texas executed fewer than 10 people a year until 1992, when executions spiked under then-Gov. Ann Richards, a Democrat.

    The current governor, Republican Rick Perry, has presided over more than 200 executions, more than any other governor in modern history.

    To learn more about the history of executions in Texas, which are carried out at the Walls Unit at Huntsville Prison, about 70 miles north of Houston, we talked to the director at the local Texas Prison Museum, Jim Willett, a former warden.

    Did you know Huntsville is expected to have its 500th execution later this month? Is the museum doing anything related to that?

    No, I didn't know when it was. And I don't want to seem like we're celebrating.

    What can you tell us about the history of executions in Huntsville?

    Most people don't know a lot about the executions. We've got a fairly good set-up here at the museum about the executions and the fact that prior to 1924, before they came to Huntsville, there were hangings in counties across the state. And there is, of course, the electric chair here - 361 men died in the chair. And we have a panel that explains the current way of doing executions: lethal injection.

    When did you work at the prison? Was that an interesting time to be there?

    I worked there for 30 years starting in 1971, retiring in 2001. When I got there, the inmates were still segregated in where they lived and the dining room and I got to see that change. And the prison system was still using the building tender system before it was done away with by the courts.

    What was that?

    It was a system where you had some inmates who were over other inmates. They had authority over the other inmates. They stopped that around '82. When I went to work there, an inmate could only have visits from 5 people and they couldn't write but to those people. Their mail was very limited. There were about 15 units [prisons] when I went to work there - now there's over a hundred scattered all over the state. They had that tender system because they didn't have that many employees. There's over 30,000 employees there now.

    Were you involved with executions? If so, how?

    I was warden 3 years. We just so happened to have the 3 busiest years for the execution chamber the state has ever had. The one that sticks out the most in my mind as far as attracting protesters and media was Gary Graham. He was a fellow out of Houston, just an awful character who had done a bunch of crimes. He had walked up to a man in a grocery store parking lot and shot him dead. Some of the more well-known people got behind him and even showed up as witnesses at his execution - Jesse Jackson was there and Bianca Jagger and Al Sharpton.

    Can you remember any women who were executed, for instance, Karla Faye Tucker, the 1st woman Texas executed after the death penalty was reinstated?

    Betty Beats - I was the warden then and oversaw her execution. And another lady after her. Neither of those ladies got the exposure Karla Faye Tucker got. It had to do with a couple things - Karla Faye Tucker was a born-again Christian and she was a very likable person.

    I noted a trivia item posted on the museum's Facebook page and wondered about the answer: Which warden from the Huntsville Unit resigned after saying, "A man can't be a warden and a killer"?

    The warden that was at the prison at the time the state decided to change over and take over the executions, I believe his name was R. F. Coleman. He resigned in 1924 before the executions started in February.

    What do you think of what he said?

    I don't agree with him. I'm not a proponent of executions and I'm not against them. I don't really care. Personally, I'm a Christian and I think that goes right along with being a Christian. But, you know, there's really no reason to keep doing them in the prison system - the counties could do it on their own.

    Why did you go to work at the prison museum?

    I'd been retired a few months and the prison museum was located in a building on the downtown square and it wasn't doing much business and I got a call seeing if I wanted to come work there. I kind of needed that - to be around people. Then we moved out to the interstate and I started working full time.

    How many museum employees used to work at the prison? How many years of prison experience do you have total?

    We figured it up one time - we had probably 100 years or more.

    What's one of the oddest facts you know about Texas prison history?

    There was a warden here in 1913, his name was R.M. Warden - so he was Warden Warden. He left saying that the prison system was too corrupt for him.

    What are the most interesting items at the museum?

    We have 3 pistols here in a display on escape attempts. These three pistols, most of the public comes through and pays no attention to them. To me they're the most interesting thing we have here because they're made out of wood. They're fake. When I tell people that, they take a 2nd look because they look so real. It's a 2-fold thing: How do you get so good you can make them look real and how do you do it when you don't have the real thing to look at?

    Did the inmates who made them escape?

    No, the fake pistols were found before they got a chance to use them. But they're painted and they look like real guns - you can even see the bullets in the chamber. I guarantee if I pull one on you, you'll put your hands up.

    What can people learn from the history of Huntsville, known as "Prison City?"

    They can see how the prison system has evolved over the years and made progress - I hope it's progress. The general public, most people don't know what it's like inside the prison walls. Here they can get a glimpse - we even have a replica cell they can go in.

    How many visitors do you see?

    Last year we had 30,400 people. And we're running ahead of that a little bit this year. Most of our visitors come from out of Huntsville and you would be surprised how many come from out of state and out of the United States. We get a lot of foreign visitors. I was out front today and saw a couple from England.

    Do you see many locals?

    If we didn't have the prison system here, you might not even have a red light in this town. There's a great number of people here -- either they work for the prison system, their family or friends do.

    Huntsville people will come visit us when they have company, but they're around it all the time. And a lot of people in Huntsville try to keep this out of their lives. A lot of them don't know when the executions are.

    (source: Los Angeles Times)

    Lethal Injection the Latest Chapter in America's History of Botched Executions

    The American correctional system has repeatedly sought to deploy our native ingenuity to devise the ultimate corrective: an engine of death that will dispose of our villains in a civilized manner. The quest, which goes on to this day as states refine the technique of lethal injections, has been fraught with disappointments.

    Hanging was the traditional means of execution from the founding of the Republic, but it had the disadvantage that it often failed to break the neck.

    Sometimes, a charitable executioner would scramble underneath the gallows and pull down on the condemned person's feet until he heard the satisfying snap of breaking bone, but this measure to hasten death was never written into law, perhaps out of due respect for the sensitivity of executioners.

    The 1880s were signature years for death, when two giants of the burgeoning electrical industry, Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, independently conceived the idea of killing with electricity. Edison hired an inventor, Harold Brown, and his physician sidekick, Fred Peterson, to design an electric chair that ended up in New York's Auburn State Prison, where the 1st electrocution was carried out in 1890. The electric chair - or, less elegantly, the hot squat - supplanted hanging across most of the nation (Bellis M., "Death, Money and the History of the Electric Chair," but it, too, had its downside. As late as 1984, when one might have had every reason to expect that the wrinkles had been ironed out, a witness to a Georgia electrocution ("Post-Furman Botched Executions") recorded that inmate Alpha Otis Stephens spent 8 minutes struggling to breathe until a second jolt of electricity put him out of his misery. The way the warden explained away this bungled execution was to posit, "Stephens was just not a conductor." On the other hand, Florida inmate Jesse Joseph Tafero, class of 1990, must have been a superb conductor of electricity because his head burst into flames ("Post-Furman," Denno to Wilbur), a not infrequent conflagration.

    With the gas chamber, adopted by a few states, you needn't worry about incinerating the prisoner, but a witness to the proceedings might get restless waiting for the cyanide-laden fumes to end the prisoner's cellular metabolism. Suffocation is not the most comfortable way to go, and some inmates like Jimmy Lee Gray (Mississippi, 1983) try to speed things along - in his case by smashing his head against an iron bar in the gas chamber. ("Post-Furman.")

    Except for a few Western states that used the firing squad (or, in the case of Utah, which offered condemned inmates their choice of shooting or hanging), America dispatched its murderers and rapists with gas or electricity until 1982. In that year, a technician and a couple of guards executed Charles Brooks Jr. in Texas with a lethal injection conceived 5 years earlier by Oklahoma medical examiner A. Jay Carson MD. It must have seemed foolproof to its disciples, for it consists of an anesthetic (thiopental); a drug to paralyze the muscles, most pertinently those of breathing (pancuronium bromide); and another drug to stop the heart (potassium chloride). In fact, as Richard Dieter JD, executive director Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), explained to Truthout, there are plenty of ways to botch a lethal-injection execution.

    Dieter said that, in most states, executions are carried out by guards, who have received varying degrees of training in finding a vein and preparing solutions of the deadly chemicals. Intelligence coming into the DPIC concludes that finding a vein presents the greatest challenge to executioners ("Post-Furman Botched Executions," DPIC) - and to health professionals as well. Major medical centers have specialized technicians on their staffs, called hemophylists, who do nothing but draw blood and start intravenous solutions, which present uniquely difficult obstacles when the patient - or inmate - has wrecked his veins by shooting drugs. Now, imagine what can go wrong when this complex medical responsibility is delegated to a guard, who spends most of his days pacing the corridors twirling a truncheon. Compilations of botched executions ("Post-Furman Botched Executions," DPIC) are replete with cases of executioners sticking and stabbing for half an hour, an hour, two hours; they might even do a venous cutdown (remember, the prisoner is still awake), which means exactly what it says. In the infamous Romell Broom case (Ohio, 2007), the inmate lay sobbing on the death gurney while the guards worked fruitlessly over him until, finally, they allowed Broom to try to find a vein himself, without success. (Broom is not the only prisoner to assist in his own execution). The execution was, after 2 1/2 hours, postponed for a week and at that time the killers were "successful."

    Truthout also spoke with Deborah W. Denno JD, PhD, Arthur A. McGivney professor of law at Fordham University, who has been studying capital punishment for years as part of her ongoing interest in the constitutionality of execution methods. One of her studies concurs with Dieter that most executioners are just prison guards. Her research also suggests that the major problem with lethal injections comes about because the prisoner does not receive an adequate dose of thiopental.

    The thiopental is followed by an injection of pancuronium bromide, which renders the prisoner a flaccid, speechless lump. Finally, comes the coup de grace - the injection of potassium chloride. This simple chemical causes excruciating pain as it flows through the circulatory system and spreads to the tissues, but with vocal cords paralyzed, the prisoner cannot cry out, so there is usually no indication that the prisoner is dying an agonizing death, though in some cases witnesses have reported seeing the prisoner's eyes open throughout the execution, or observing a grimace when the potassium chloride is injected. But, in general, we don't know how many executions are botched from inadequate anesthesia because few states perform an autopsy to measure the level of the chemicals in the tissues, or keep execution logs that might furnish a clue whether the prisoner was awake during his extermination (Denno to Wilbur).

    According to Dieter, some executioners simply ensure deep anesthesia by administering 4 or 5 times the usual dose of thiopental; as he pointed out, an execution is not a situation where anybody would worry about an overdose.

    There have been several compilations of botched executions based on newspaper accounts and other reports of witnesses to executions, and these data support Dieter's impression that digging for a vein is the main cause of the condemned prisoner's suffering ("Post-Furman Botched Executions," DPIC). It's obvious, however, that botched executions due to inadequate thiopental would probably go undetected, so these compilations have limited value. What is more, Denno averred, they grossly underestimate the actual number of botched executions. She told of a study in California in which chemical analysis at autopsy found that in six out of eleven executed inmates, the level of thiopental in the body was inadequate to induce anesthesia. California's execution procedures were so execrable that a federal judge issued an injunction forbidding the state from carrying out any further executions until it cleans up its act. Though Judge Fogel's injunction was thrown out on appeal, California seems to have lost its stomach for executions, conceivably because it wants to avert further costly court challenges at a time when it is making deep cuts in social services.

    These considerations imply that executions are more transparent than they actually are. Denno cautioned against making generalizations because, in most states, executions are shrouded in secrecy. Even literally so: the executioners do the work of strapping down the prisoner and inserting the needles - or trying to - behind a drape that separates them from the witnesses; when the drape is parted, the audience sees only the supine prisoner with long tubes running from his arm, or wherever the killers could find a vein, to a hole in the wall. The executioners are never seen and, in some states, there is no one to see them: there are no witnesses.

    What does the man - or woman - in the street think about botched executions? A friend passed on some very interesting correspondence from a British newspaper, MailOnline.(1) Bigger Vern in London writes:

    "What goes around, comes around. They deserve all the pain they get."

    Trish, from Hemel Hempstead, writes:


    In a softer vein, Sue from Suffolk speculates:

    "If a vet can put a large dog to sleep gently and easily with 'Thio' then I think those in charge of administering the injection may be at fault with their technique. With animals a second injection isn't required - the animal just falls asleep and death occurs in seconds."

    Sue from Suffolk raises the fundamental question: what constitutes an accomplished execution? To get an answer, Truthout spoke with Jerry Givens, former executioner of Virginia, the state which has a body count second only to Texas. According to Denno, Givens is so gifted in his former profession that, if she had to be executed, she would want him to do it. And with good reason:

    Givens plied his trade from 1982 to 1999, during which time he executed 37 men by electrocution and 25 men by lethal injection (Givens told me he might have had reservations about executing a woman). Oddly, Givens would not reveal the size of his team, but it certainly sounded like an efficient operation. Asked whether he had ever screwed up an execution: "Never," he said firmly. Asked why he was so successful in his work, "Good training and professionalism," he shot back without a flicker of hesitation.

    Givens responded to the question of how he got into performing executions:

    "One of the guys asked me if I wanted to help out," he explained. It turned out that Given's daytime job had been that of a prison guard on death row. He apparently demonstrated a facility for "helping out," because the warden sent him down to Texas for training in electrocutions, and when Virginia adopted lethal injections, he went back to school. (I was particularly curious to know whether his professor was a medical professional, but Givens purported not to know the person's credentials.)

    Pressed to tell why he thinks there are so many reports of bungled lethal injections; was it the veins or the drugs? Givens, again, purported not to know, insisting that he only "worked the chemicals." He mixed the drugs according to the instructions in the manual that spells out Virginia's execution protocol and filled three big syringes that hung from the wall in a room adjacent to the execution chamber. The syringes converged on 2 long tubes which led through the hole in the wall to the prisoner; one tube would deliver the chemicals, the other was intended for backup in case the first got plugged up or developed a kink. When a colleague told Givens that the tubes were in place, he would, upon a signal from the warden, begin to depress the plungers on the syringes, one by one. Thiopental. Pancuronium bromide. Potassium chloride. When the third syringe was empty, a doctor "pronounced" the deceased, and his family, if he had any, got to keep the body. Givens denied that the physician played any role in the execution, other than to pronounce the prisoner dead.

    Givens told Truthout that he had to prep his brain before he carried out an execution; as he expressed it, "you have to transform yourself." As if he were still in the business, he said, "I'm not myself when I'm getting ready for an execution." But whoever he was, he insisted that he "didn't have hatred in my heart, but hatred for the crime."

    Givens' career as an avenging angel came to an end when he was convicted of perjury and money laundering in a scam with an old friend - a drug dealer. He served 58 weeks in prison and, these days, drives a truck for a living.

    Givens is now a vehement opponent of capital punishment and an ardent spokesman for rehabilitation over incarceration. He is politically liberal and Professor Denno told Truthout that he is deeply religious, but keeps his religious faith to himself.

    There are enough data - which Denno and Dieter regard as only the tip of the iceberg- to warrant the conclusion that there are plenty of executioners out there who lack good training or professionalism. Now, many states are exacerbating the misery of condemned men and women by using drugs of dubious quality. The situation began in 2009 when the sole American manufacturer of thiopental, Hospira, a small, generic drug company outside of Chicago, announced that it was running out of a chemical precursor of thiopental and that it could not obtain more. First, the states turned to England and, specifically, a tiny company in London called Dream Pharma, which operates out of a driving school.

    Their thiopental was used to execute two men in Georgia in 2010 and both are thought to have died in agony because the anesthetic failed to knock them out, either because the drug was so old that it had lost its potency or that it was manufactured under substandard conditions in the first place, but whatever the reason, the Supreme Court by a vote of 5-4 would not halt its use to execute Jeffrey T. Landrigan in Arizona, ruling that "there is no evidence in the record to suggest that the drug obtained from a foreign source is unsafe." Never mind that the issue is effectiveness, not safety: Landrigan was duly put to death, and at least 4 states are believed to have acquired thiopental from Dream Pharma before Great Britain and the member countries of the European Union forbade drug companies from selling drugs to American prisons for purposes of execution. Not to be deterred, enterprising states have procured thiopental from India, Mumbai, and possibly other countries that are not noted for the caliber of their pharmaceutical industries. In general, the courts have been indifferent to the source of drugs for purposes of execution.

    As far back as the 1890s, defense lawyers have been trying to persuade the courts that capital punishment constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment, and 1 argument that they have used is that executions are often botched. In 2008, they tried yet again, challenging the 3-drug protocol.

    The Supreme Court rejected their argument by a dismaying 7-2. Addressing the issue of botched executions, Roberts wrote that "just because an execution method may result in pain, either by accident or as an inescapable consequence of death, does not establish the sort of 'objectively intolerable risk of harm' that qualifies as cruel and unusual.'" Recently, lawyers pitched a different argument to the Supreme Court, claiming that states which import drugs from abroad are breaking the law by using substances that have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In the unlikely event that the court buys this argument, the FDA could find itself in the bizarre position of deciding whether a foreign-made drug is safe and effective for killing people. Unfortunately, the states have an easy way out: switching to phenobarbital, a drug that's already on the American market - and phenobarbital, which is available for intravenous injection and has several medical applications - can be used for any purpose, even state-sanctioned murder.

    The attorneys Truthout interviewed are not holding their breath for the Supreme Court to overturn capital punishment any time soon. Litigation is important, however, because it keeps the issue timely and sometimes even saves lives. In recent years, several lower court judges have frozen executions because their respective jurisdictions have a record for botching them, as in California, and the issue of botched executions gives activists useful leverage in lobbying state legislators to support abolition. Some states are displaying an interest in replacing capital punishment with life without parole, and in the past couple of years, New Jersey, Illinois and Connecticut have abolished the death penalty while five more states are considering it. It would be difficult to imagine a means of execution that would offend the sensibilities of the chief justice and his conservative colleagues. But executions are getting expensive, owing to multiple levels of appeal and court requirements for sophisticated execution chambers, so maybe Justices Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas and Kennedy will take a tip from a listener to ABC News(2) and to hell with botched executions: "I think we should go back to hanging. It does not cost much for that, just a good rope."

    1. Rose D., "Prisoners' agony in botched executions with British drug," MailOnline. Several dates on cover sheet, try 20 February 2011 or 22 January 2012.
    2. De Vogue A., "States depend on unapproved foreign drugs for executions," ABC News, February 8, 2011.

    (source: Robert Wilbur, Truthout)


    Inmates received on Texas Death Row per year:

    2012 (through Sept.): 6
    2011: 8
    2010: 9
    2009: 11
    2008: 9
    2007: 15
    2006: 11
    2005: 15
    2004: 25
    2003: 29
    2002: 36

    [source: Texas Department of Criminal Justice]

    Texas Counties Used To Handle Prisoner Executions:

    Texas executed its prisoners by hanging until 1924
    when the electric chair was introduced.

    By 1964 lethal injection became the most humane form of capital punishment.

    Also, during the Civil War Texas used a firing squad 4 times.

    The world watched via electronic media and in print as
    Lawrence Russell Brewer paid with his life last month
    for the brutal 1998 dragging death of James Byrd.

    His criminal case is one for the history books,
    if only because of the Texas and national hate
    crime legislation that bears Byrd's name.

    But most Southeast Texas killers who paid the ultimate price
    for their crimes have been all but forgotten,
    their cases summed up as desperate men whose
    violent lives finally led them down that last,
    long walk to the scaffold,
    electric chair or gurney.

    Jack Bunch was, apparently,
    the 1st man to be sentenced
    to death in Jefferson County.

    Details are sketchy in Enterprise archive accounts,
    but Beaumont old-timers said Bunch was hanged in
    the courthouse square in 1855 before a large crowd
    that had gathered to witness the execution.

    One of those witnesses was pioneering
    Beaumont resident Martin Hebert,
    whose father took him to the public
    hanging, along with his brother,
    as a punishment to the boys for
    having quarreled.

    "He wanted us to see what happened to 'bad boys,'"
    Hebert would later say.

    Sheriff James Engels
    (or possibly Ingalls - different spellings
    are given in separate stories)
    had set up a scaffold with a heavy pole
    between 2 black gum trees.

    A long ladder and a rope were the only other implements needed.

    Bunch was hanged for the murder of a man whose
    body he then threw into the Sabine River.

    No further details were given in 2 brief mentions
    of the event found in Enterprise archives.

    The last public hanging in Jefferson County came to pass 48 years later.

    "Spectators came by the thousands from far and wide
    to witness Jefferson County's last public hanging staged
    in the old jail yard at the corner of Pearl and Franklin
    in 1903," according to a 1955 Enterprise archive story.

    "Willie Green was the ill-fated 'star' of the occasion,
    and the trap was sprung by Sheriff Ras Landry."

    The brief article doesn't mention Green's crime.

    Hanging continued to be the state's method of execution until 1923,
    but whether Jefferson County didn't- or did - hang anyone, or didn't
    do it publicly during those two decades, wasn't mentioned either.

    The state took over the final penalty in capital crimes in 1923.

    The latest technology, the electric chair (dubbed "Old Sparky") was used for
    many years until it was finally decided that lethal injection was more humane.

    "Back 'in the good old days' Texas did away with highly undesirable persons
    with dispatch and without all the fuss, furor, hoopla delays and protests,"
    according to a 1984 Enterprise archive article headlined "No one clamored
    to see death."

    "It was usually only a matter of a few months
    between the time the guilty
    stood before the judge and heard the
    death sentence and the time "Old Sparky"
    snuffed out his life up in Huntsville,"
    the delicately worded article went on to say.

    4 of the first 5 Texans to end
    their lives in Old Sparky's
    embrace were Southeast Texans,
    according to the Texas Department
    of Criminal Justice death row website.

    Mack Matthews, 39, of Tyler County; George Washington, 39,
    of Newton County; and Melvin Johnson, 20, and Ewell Morris, 23,
    both of Liberty County; along with Red River County resident
    Charles Reynolds, all were executed February 8, 1924, in the
    electric chair's debut.

    Newt DeSliva was the 1st Jefferson County resident
    sent to Texas's death row, but his sentence was commuted
    to life in prison March 8, 1925.

    The 1st Jefferson County resident to die in the electric chair
    was 38-year-old Raney Williams on Aug. 8, 1930.

    The last Jefferson County resident to meet that fate was
    Morton Abbey, 32, whose appointment with Old Sparky came
    on Dec. 8, 1951.

    On June 29, 1972, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared capital
    punishment to be "cruel and unusual," Texas Death Row housed 45 men,
    whose sentences were commuted to life in prison, clearing death row
    by March 1973.

    By the end of that year, a revised Texas Penal Code once again
    permitted the death penalty, allowing executions to resume
    effective Jan. 1, 1974.

    The 1st man sentenced to death committed suicide by hanging and
    it wasn't until Dec. 7, 1982, that offender Charlie Brooks of
    Tarrant County was executed.

    He was also the 1st to die by lethal injection,
    a method adopted by Texas in 1977.

    Jefferson County resident James Autry, 29,
    followed him March 14, 1984.

    Autry was sentenced to die after shooting a convenience store clerk
    to death after an argument about the price of a 6-pack of beer on April 20,
    1980. He then shot 2 witnesses, a former Catholic priest and a Greek sailor.

    The priest died and the sailor was severely injured, according to
    the Texas death row website.

    (source: Beaumont Entrprise)


    Hanging was means of execution in Texas between 1819 and 1923.

    In the 19th Century "death by hanging" usually meant within the same hour the verdict was read.

    The tree had been employed as a hanging tree before the Cart War, but this was the name that stuck.

    Under this tree in 1857, trials were held and men were hanged for the murder of Mexican freighters or cartmen.

    No exact number is immediately available but it was more than a few.

    Considering the brief six-month period, the number might be regarded as large.

    [Hanging Tree - Goliad, Texas]


    Death row was located in the East Building of the Huntsville Unit from 1928 to 1952.

    From 1952 until 1965, the electric chair was located in a building by the East Wall of the Huntsville Unit.

    The men on death row were moved from the Huntsville Unit to the Ellis Unit in 1965.

    All executions are still held at the Huntsville Unit.
    AKA - 'The Walls Unit'.

    Death row remained at the Ellis Unit until 1999.

    In 1999, the TDCJ moved death row to the Polunsky Unit.

    The Polunsky Unit houses death row offenders separately in single-person
    cells measuring 60 square feet, with each cell having a window.

    Death row offenders are also recreated individually.

    Offenders on death row receive a regular diet,
    have access to reading, writing, and legal materials.

    Depending upon their custody level,
    some death row offenders are allowed to have a radio.

    The women on death row are housed at the Mountain View Unit.

    Offenders on death row do not have regular TDCJ-ID numbers,
    but have special death row numbers.
    The numbers usually start with 999 and end with 3 numbers.

    Old Sparky, infamous Texas Exit Chair for 361 Death Row Inmates.


    The State of Texas authorized the use of the electric chair in 1923,
    and ordered all executions to be carried out by the State in Huntsville.

    Prior to 1923, Texas counties were responsible for their own executions.

    The State of Texas executed the first offender by electrocution on 2/8/1924.

    Charles Reynolds from Red River County was executed.

    On that same date, four additional offenders,
    Ewell Morris, George Washington, Mack Matthews,
    and Melvin Johnson were executed.

    State of Texas executed brothers on six occasions:

    * Frank & Lorenzo Noel electrocuted 7/3/1925;
    * S.A. & Forest Robins electrocuted 4/6/1926;
    * Oscar & Mack Brown electrocuted 7/1/1936;
    * Roscoe & Henderson Brown electrocuted 5/6/1938;
    * Curtis 7/1/1993 & Danny 7/30/1993 Harris (both by lethal injection);
    * Jessie 9/16/1994 & Jose 11/18/1999 Gutierrez (both by lethal injection).

    One of the most notorious offenders to be executed was Raymond Hamilton,
    member of the "Bonnie and Clyde" gang.

    He was sentenced from Walker County and executed on May 10, 1935, for murder.

    Hamilton and another man had escaped from death row,
    only to be captured and return to death row.

    The State of Texas executed the last offender by electrocution on 7/30/1964.
    Joseph Johnson from Harris County was executed.

    A total of 361 inmates were electrocuted in the State of Texas.


    When capital punishment was declared "cruel and unusual punishment" by the U.S.

    Supreme Court on June 29, 1972,
    there were 45 men on death row in Texas and
    7 in county jails with a death sentence.

    All of the sentences were commuted to life sentences by the Governor of Texas,
    and death row was clear by March 1973.

    In 1973, revision to the Texas Penal Code once again
    allowed assessment of the death penalty and allowed for
    executions to resume effective 1/1/1974.

    Under the new statute, the first man (#507 John Devries)
    was placed on death row on 2/15/1974.
    Devries committed suicide 7/1/1974 by hanging himself with bed sheets.


    The State of Texas adopted lethal injection
    as means of execution in 1977.

    The State of Texas executed the first offender by
    lethal injection on 12/7/1982.

    Charlie Brooks of Tarrant County was executed for
    the kidnap/murder of a Fort Worth auto mechanic.

    Effective January 12, 1996, close relatives and friends of
    the deceased victim were allowed to witness executions.


    The following crimes are Capital Murder in Texas:

    * Murder of a public safety officer or firefighter;
    * Murder during the commission of kidnapping,
    burglary, robbery, aggravated sexual assault,
    arson, or obstruction or retaliation;
    * Murder for remuneration;
    * Murder during prison escape;
    * Murder of a correctional employee;
    * Murder by a state prison inmate who is serving
    a life sentence for any of five offenses
    (murder, capital murder, aggravated kidnapping,
    aggravated sexual assault, or aggravated robbery);
    * Multiple murders;
    * Murder of an individual under six years of age.

    United States Capital Punishment:

    As of December 31,1999, the death penalty was authorized
    by 38 states and the Federal Government.

    Texas leads nation in the number of executions since
    death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

    Texas, California, and Florida have the largest death row populations.

    3,254 offenders were under sentence of death in the
    United States as of December 31, 2005.

    There are five methods of execution in the United States:
    lethal injection,
    lethal gas,
    and firing squad.

    Jurisdictions without death penalty statutes:
    District of Columbia,
    North Dakota,
    Rhode Island,
    West Virginia,

    Lethal Injection Consists Of:

    * Sodium Thiopental (lethal dose - sedates person)
    * Pancuronium Bromide (muscle relaxant-collapses diaphragm and lungs)
    * Potassium Chloride (stops heart beat)
    * The offender is usually pronounced dead approximately
    7 minutes after the lethal injection begins.


    Cost per execution for drugs used:

    Average Time on Death Row prior to Execution:
    10.26 years

    Shortest Time on Death Row prior to Execution:
    248 days

    Longest Time on Death Row prior to Execution:
    24 years

    Average Age of Executed Offenders:

    Youngest at Time of Execution:

    Oldest at Time of Execution:

    [Source: TDCJ Death Row Facts]

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