Since 1976, Harris County, Texas has executed more criminals than any other U.S. county, according to a study from the
Death Penalty Information Center(DPIC). The county includes Houston, Texas’ largest city.
The results show that more than half of America’s executions since 1976 come from only 2% of its counties. And Harris County tops the list. Los Angeles leads the U.S. in putting people on death row — but it hasn’t killed as many criminals as Harris County.
Within the top 1%, 15 counties comprise 30% of nationwide executions. Harris County killed more inmates than any other county in that group. It has executed 115 people since 1976. The next-highest, Dallas County, executed just 50 people in that period.
Harris County has been sharply criticised for the way it handles death penalty cases.
A 2011 study about race and the death penalty from the Houston Chronicle found that of the last 13 men sentenced to die in Harris County, 12 were black. The lone, white male requested a death sentence after strangling and torturing four women and girls and raping three of them.
Texas executes the most criminals of any state. More than one-third of Texas’ 305 death row inmates — and half of the 121 black death row inmates — came from Harris County, according to the same study.
A more recent analysis from Raymond Paternoster, a criminologist at the University of Maryland, found the district attorney in Harris County more than three times as likely to pursue the death penalty for black criminals.
Duane Buck, accused of a double murder in 1997, is often cited as an example of bias against black defendants in Texas. The court allowed a psychologist to classify Buck as more dangerous and more likely to re-offend simply because of his race, according to the Texas Observer.
Brent Newton, a professor at the University of Houston Law Center, wrote a frequently cited article in the 90s that tried to explain why Texas executes so many people, according to Frontline. For one thing, Texas appeals court judges are elected, and they have to appear tough on crime for successful re-election. And up until about 2001 Texas didn’t have a public defender system for poor defendants and instead relied on outsourced lawyers who weren’t necessarily familiar with capital cases.
Mistakes have definitely been made in Texas’ death penalty cases. The top 2% of counties for executions also constitute 52% of the death penalty reversals since 1976, according to DPIC.
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