January 19, 2012
by Brandi Grissom and Ryan Murphy
Thirty-five years ago today, the state of Utah executed Gary Gilmore by firing squad and restarted the death penalty in the United States. Texas followed suit, reinstating capital punishment in 1982 and quickly becoming home to the nation's busiest execution chamber.
A 1972 U.S. Supreme Court opinion that the states' use of the death penalty was arbitrary and capricious led to a de facto moratorium on the penalty across the nation. States began changing their death penalty laws, and the pause on executions ended with a subsequent high court decision in 1976.
The first post-moratorium execution in Texas was in 1982. Charles Brooks Jr. was executed for the 1976 shooting death of a mechanic. Since 1982, Texas has executed 477 men and women, more than any other state. And there are more than 300 men and women in Texas awaiting execution now.
Executions in Texas — and nationwide — eventually peaked and then evened out in the 1990s. In 1994, there were 328 death sentences issued nationwide, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Starting in 1999, though, use of the death penalty began to drop off dramatically, and by 2009 there were 109 death sentences.
Last year, Texas executed 13 prisoners, the lowest number in more than a decade. And juries assigned eight new death sentences in 2010 as well as in 2011, compared with 48 in 1999, according to the Texas Defender Service.
Below, we've compiled some fascinating data from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice about the last three decades of the death penalty in Texas....