EDITORIAL: Deadly decision: Texas should take another look at execution rationale

Few people would confuse America’s two most populous states.

California might be our nation’s bluest state and Texas the reddest.

Better proof might be the fact that no one on California’s death row has been executed since January 2006, while Texas usually kills the most inmates every year — sometimes more than all other states combined. Our state has executed two people so far this year, most recently Feb. 28, although another execution scheduled Jan. 15 was stayed. The next one planned in Texas is March 28.

No executions are planned in California for the foreseeable future, after the state’s new Gov. Gavin Newsom suspended them for as long as he is in office.

We hope Newsom’s moratorium inspires other policy makers, including those in Texas, to review the wealth of information they should have compiled on the hundreds of executions they have carried out over the years, and determine if they are work the expense and risk of error, or if an aversion to executions should become state — or even national — policy.

In announcing the suspension, Newsome noted that since 1973, 164 condemned inmates have been exonerated by new evidence or admissions of guilt by other people. And the rate of exonerations is increasing as advancements in DNA screening and other forensic sciences better enables investigators to determine the real culprit or exonerate someone who’s been wrongly accused.

The irreversibility of executions is the strongest argument against them. An inmate exculpated by new evidence can be released, but a wrongly executed person is a bad mark on our entire society.

This is why appeals are automatic and elaborate, involving all levels of our judicial system all the way up to our Supreme Court. The process takes years and countless millions of taxpayer dollars; analysts say this makes the cost of each death penalty case more expensive than sentencing a person to life without parole — up to three times as costly, according to some reports.

Many death penalty supporters say it deters crime, but that hasn’t been proven.

The National Research Council of the National Academies in 2012 released a report evaluating more than three decades of research on the subject and found it inconclusive. A 2009 study by University of Colorado researchers found that 88 percent of the nation’s top criminologists do not believe executions deter crime.

Texas was one of just a handful of states that didn’t offer the option of life without parole when Gov. Rick Perry signed legislation to make it an option in 2005. Since then, juries have recommended life sentences rather than death in roughly 75 percent of capital cases.

It’s also hard to argue against those who say the practice is discriminatory. It’s obvious that good legal representation affects the outcome of capital cases, and our death row population has great over-representations of people of low income, ethnic minorities and people of low education, low IQ and developmental problems. The hundreds of executions that have been carried out in Texas should provide plenty of information for a thorough, objective evaluation of the practice. It’s time to make that evaluation.