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Three Decades of Capital Punishment in Texas


The following is from the January 17, 2012, edition of The Texas Tribune. Rick Halperin, director of SMU's Human Rights Program, provided expertise for this story.

January 18, 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. . .

Polls indicate that Americans, and Texans in particular, continue to support the death penalty.

But Rick Halperin, director of Southern Methodist University's Embrey Human Rights Program, said in a news release that the drop in executions and death sentences shows that juries are less willing to impose capital punishment. High-profile exonerations and more public awareness of DNA science, he said, have made the public more willing to question the use of capital punishment.

“We’re in the beginning stages of ending the death penalty in this country,” Halperin said.

Read the full story.

Read more about the death penalty anniversary.


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