HOUSTON, Texas – When it comes to killing people legally, Houston stands alone.
“Houston by itself has executed more inmates than any other state in the nation,” said Professor Frank Baumgartner of UNC-Chapel Hill.
One hundred-twenty-five in the past 40 years, to be exact. That’s out of just more than 1400 death penalty cases nationwide where the sentence has been carried out.
That number wasn’t pulled out of a hat. It’s based on extensive research about capital punishment in the modern era and just one of several statistics laid out in a just released book called Deadly Justice.
Baumgartner co-wrote the book. The poly-sci professor said Houston’s stats are an aberration. He credits the district attorney. “They’re the ones that start the ball rolling. There’s no question about that.”
D.A.’s choose which cases should carry the death penalty and their opinions vary from county to county.
Another stat: nationwide, only 13% of death sentences have been carried out and more than 37% have been reversed on appeal. Basically, it’s more expensive to sentence someone to death than life without parole. That includes wrongful convictions.
“One day you may be getting news that you’re case is gonna get a hearing, then 10 days later they’ve taken it back and given you an execution date,” said Anthony Graves. He was sentenced to death and served 18½ years, 12½ in solitary, for a crime he didn’t commit.
“Just an emotional roller coaster every day. You know, you just have to fasten your seat belt.”
Exonerated seven years ago, Graves established a foundation to promote criminal justice reforms with an emphasis on rehabilitation, and he`s written a book about going from convict to activist.
“I mean, I’m the expert and I know what needs to be done because I put things in place that I wish would have been there for me.”
Two different books, one common message: The criminal justice system is imperfect. But for now, it’s what we’ve got.