Dallas County Is Now the Death Penalty Capital of Texas

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District Attorney Craig Watkins has aggressively pursued exonerations. He's also sent more people to death row since 2008 than any of his counterparts.
Even after a wave of exonerations confirmed the fallibility of the criminal justice system, even after the state's supply of lethal-injection drugs has been all but cut off by squeamish pharmaceutical companies, even as national support for capital punishment steadily declines, Texas remains enamored with the death penalty. In 2013, it executed 16 inmates, far fewer than at its turn-of-the-millennium peak but still more than twice as many as any other state, according to a report released Wednesday by the Death Penalty Information Center.

Historically, Harris County has given the fullest expression to Texas' lust for capital punishment, with a U.S.-leading 116 executions since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976. But in recent years Dallas has supplanted Houston as the death penalty capital of Texas.

A report released this week by the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty shows that Dallas County sent 11 people to death row between 2008 and 2013, dwarfing Harris County's six. In 2013 alone, Dallas handed down three death sentences compared to Harris County's one. While this appears to put us behind Los Angeles and Riverside counties in California, Dallas is near the top of the national list.

See also: Pharmacy Owner Having Second Thoughts About Being Texas' Only Supplier of Execution Drug

It's an interesting development given that Dallas' ascension has been presided over by District Attorney Craig Watkins, who has made his name getting people off of death row, an irony that's highlighted by the folks at TCADP.

See also: Texas, Fresh Out of Pentobarbital, Begins Experimenting With Execution Drugs

"While most of Texas is moving away from the death penalty, Dallas County has emerged as a major outlier in its pursuit of the ultimate punishment, particularly for defendants of color," the group's executive director Kristin Houlé said. "These troubling patterns directly counter Dallas's reputation as a leader in criminal justice reform."

To be fair to Watkins, if anyone deserves to be executed, it's the three people his office got sent to death row. Franklin Davis, who murdered a teenage girl to keep her from testifying against him in a rape case, Naim Muhammad, who drowned his sons after telling them to "play like y'all swimming" in a Dallas creek, and Matthew Johnson, who killed a Garland convenience store clerk by setting her on fire. In each case, the evidence was overwhelming.

Then there's the fact that Dallas County now leads the state in death row convictions isn't due to an increase here so much as a decrease everywhere else. In 1999, the state sent 48 people to death row. In 2013, the number was nine.

Still, being the death-penalty capital of the most execution-happy state in the most punitive country in the first world is a dubious distinction.

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.


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29 comments
ruddski
ruddski

People tell us the death penalty is not a deterrent. Given that it's the harshest possible punishment, can we assume lesser sentences are even less of a deterrent?

ruddski
ruddski

I could get on board with a moratorium with the eventual aim being a more fool-proof proof being standard, meaning at least positive DNA.

When they greatest possible care is taken to ensure no danger to innocents, then re-start the conveyer and give the lads a happy-shot ticket to paradise.

dingo
dingo

Dallas is enamored with and has a lust for the death penalty because 11 people were sentenced to death in the last 6 years. 

Which of the 11 does the Observer specifically have a problem with and why?


The story is painted in an entirely different light if each of the 11 crimes were detailed to the same extent that the juries were presented.


If there is a question or doubt about any of the cases then we should be hearing about those instead of this overall shame piece.

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

Well, it's a known fact that the death penalty is a deterrent. Thst's why it has so effectively eliminated the need for it....oops...

lebowski300
lebowski300

I think we could increase our lead if we rolled DPD Judge-Jury-Executioner into the stats. Go home or win big.


NotReallyThanks
NotReallyThanks

@ozonelarryb It certainly has a far lower recidivism rate. So yes, it is a deterrent from future crime from now dead assholes. 

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz I have a serious question about this. It is common among the Pro-choice crowd to paint the obvious contradiction in being pro-life and pro-death penalty.  Simple reasoning would lead one to see an equal contradiction in being pro-choice and anti-death penalty, would it not?  Personally, I think both camps are full of crap to a certain extent.  However, I am not immune to the contradiction myself, to an even greater extent.  My own personal values are against abortion, but I'm pro-choice (since I believe in weird things like individual sovereignty and personal responsibility) and I support the death penalty as an available option for sentencing.  I do think the bar for imposing the death penalty must be set much much higher than it is currently.  It's a tricky thing, this attempt to impose some sort of concrete link between abortion and death penalty, and it may be that the right to life side is carrying more than their share of hypocrisy on it.  I don't know.  I have my views on both issues, I'm able to separate them into the distinct, unrelated issues they are, and I'm not overly concerned with what either side of either issue thinks of my views.

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

So good of you to so fully miss the point that i won't waste effort proferring any rebuttal or rational argument.

NotReallyThanks
NotReallyThanks

@RTGolden1 @Myrna.Minkoff-Katz  "obvious contradiction in being pro-life and pro-death penalty"


Except the glaring difference in that an unborn child has committed no crime(aside from being conceived) whereas the latter involves someone who has forfeited their right to live by their own action. 

ruddski
ruddski

I think your views could use a couple of paragraph breaks.

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

The ephemeral deterrent effect IS the matra of the law and order crowd. It obviously doesn't work.

Your recidivism rate would be achieved more cheaply with life sentence.

Death penalty is vengeance alone. And given our record of prosecutorial misconduct, it is capricious, and not just.

NotReallyThanks
NotReallyThanks

@ozonelarryb No, I didn't miss your point at all. It's just a stupid point. Capital punishment does not need to have some ephemeral "deterrent" effect.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@monstruss @manpanties @holmantx  

Bennie Demps --condemned to the DP for the 1976 murder of Alfred Sturgis, a prison snitch. Originally, Demps was sent to death row for the murders of R.N. Brinkworth and Celia Puhlick, who were fatally shot in a Lake County citrus grove.

Phillip Jablonski -- Carol Spadoni married Jablonski on June 16, 1982, while he was serving a prison sentence for the 1979 murder of his third wife, Melinda Kimball. After she became his pen-pal correspondent in prison. Jablonski murdered his prison pen-pal wife and her mother. And the day before those murders he had murdered Fathyma Vann, 38, in Indio, about 25 miles from Palm Springs, Vann was found shot and sexually mutilated in the desert. Phillip Jablonski, now in prison after ALL those murders, placed an ad for a pen-pal -- "Jewish Death Row inmate, white, 51 years old, seeking understanding and open female or male for honest correspondence. Amateur poet, artist. Will answer all correspondence received. PHILLIP JABLONSKI, C-02477/SE95, San Quentin, CA 94974

Donald Dillbeck -- Florida. Killed policeman in 1979. Escaped from prison in 1990, kidnapped and killed female motorist after escape. Condemned 1991.

Edward Kennedy -- Florida. Killed motel clerk. Sentenced to Life. Escaped 1981. Killed policeman and male civilian after prison break. Executed 1992.

Dawud Mu'Min -- Virginia. Killed cab driver in holdup. Sentenced 1973. Escaped 1988. Raped/killed woman 1988. Condemned 1989. Executed 1997

Randy Greenawalt -- Escaped from Prison in 1978, while serving a life sentence for a 1974 murder. He then murdered a family of 4 people, shotgunning them to death, including a toddler.


I could go on but let's face it - it's all about hopw you two feeeel, not the carnage you created by letting these people loose to prey upon the innocent.

I hope you don't bolt awake some night with one of these people standing at the foot of your bed.


Now name one innocent executed.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@NotReallyThanks@RTGolden1@Myrna.Minkoff-KatzI know my comment was kind of rambling and incoherent.  I'm not making the case for the contradiction, just observing that those who point out that contradiction, fail to point out the equal contradiction in their own views of pro-abortion, anti-death penalty.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@ruddskiYes I realize, and there actually are some hard returns in there, not sure why they don't show.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

@ScottsMerkin  You should.  Your grammar skills mark you, whether you like it or not.  Don't burden your child with your sloppy English skills.  That's a strike against him from the start.

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