Friday, 21 November 2008

10 Executions in 30 Days: Is there no halt to the 'Texas Killing Machine?'

Texas is set to thin out its death row before the week is over. Since mid-October Texas has executed eight inmates, with another two scheduled for execution by the end of this week. That's a total of ten executions in a little over thirty days, a new record even for the country's most active death penalty state.

The high rates of Texas executions seen in October and November are a result of the logjam created when the U.S. Supreme Court effectively halted lethal injections around the country while it decided whether the killing method was unconstitutionally inhumane earlier this year. The Supreme Court's 7-2 decision last April held that injection was not unconstitutionally cruel and allowed executions to resume. Since then 17 executions have been carried out in Texas alone this year, the most in the nation.

Texas leads the nation by far in number of executions overall. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, since the U.S Supreme Court ruling in 1976 that allowed executions to resume after a four-year period during which they were considered unconstitutional, there have been 1132 executions in the United States, one of the highest numbers anywhere in the world. Texas has performed 422 of those executions, almost 40 percent of the national total. By comparison, Virginia, the second largest executioner, has conducted 102 since 1976.

A Southern phenomenon

There have been 33 executions so far this year, and except for the two executions that took place in Oklahoma, and the one that took place today in Ohio, all of the executions have been in the South (including 17 in Texas, 4 in Virginia, 3 in Georgia, 2 in Florida, 2 in South Carolina, and 2 in Mississippi). At least 12 cases have been granted stays of executions in the past two months, including Troy Davis, whose execution in Georgia was halted by the U.S. Supreme Court. The South, plus Oklahoma, has performed 80 percent of all executions since 1977, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Texas and Virginia alone account for 45 percent of all executions.

Executions are a Southern phenomenon and they definitely have a racialized component. Sixty-six percent of all people on Texas's Death Row are non-white. Out of all the executions in Texas since 1982, no white person has ever been executed solely for the murder of an African-American.

Despite the high numbers of executions this year (which will total out at about 19), 2008 overall is not a record year for executions in Texas. When George W. Bush was governor, Texas executed an average of 25 convicts a year, culminating in 40 executions in 2000, reports the Associated Press. Since then, the state has averaged about two dozen a year.

Amnesty International has called the spate of executions during this historic election month a 'chilling reminder' of human rights failings of how much the country has to do to improve its human rights record. On top of the three executions that have already taken place in Texas this November, just this week a judge declined to grant an injunction that would have stopped Kentucky's first execution in nearly 10 years. That execution is scheduled for this Friday.

Executions by Region
South: 933
Midwest: 128
West: 67
Northeast: 4
Texas & Virginia: 524
(Source: Death Penalty Information Center)

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