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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

New Jersey Abolishes Death Penalty, Inspires Campaign for de facto Abolition in Travis County

There is a developing campaign in Austin to use the upcoming election of a new Travis County District Attorney to elect a district attorney who will pledge never to seek the death penalty and to use life without parole as an alternative. The current DA, Ronnie Earle, has just announced his retirement after 30 years in office.

Read more from Scott Cobb on Burnt Orange Report: "Next Travis County DA Should Take the Death Penalty Off the Table":

The next DA in Travis County should reflect how the Travis County community's feelings on the death penalty have evolved since 1976 and pledge that the death penalty is off the table within Travis County.

Last October when Paul Burka first reported that Earle may be retiring, Burka wrote that "a DA is supposed to be the conscience of the community", which brings up the issue of to what extent the conscience of the community in Travis County has changed since 1976.

I expect it has changed enough that any person who seeks the Democratic nomination for Travis County District Attorney in 2008 is going to have to seek the support of voters within a community whose conscience does not include support for the Texas death penalty. Of course, there are voters here who support the death penalty in theory, but there are many more whose theoretical support is trumped by their disgust with how the death penalty operates in Texas. And in Travis County, there is also a substantial bloc of voters who reject the death penalty both in theory and as it is practiced.


New Jersey Abolishes Death Penalty, Sparks Talks Of Change In Texas
KXAN, Dec. 18, 2007

Link

Austin - New Jersey became the first state in four decades to abolish the death penalty on Monday. Governor Jon Corzine signed the measure Monday, replacing executions with life in prison without parole.

"Now make no mistake," Corzine said. "By this action, society is not forgiving these heinous crimes or acts that have caused immeasurable pain to these families and brought fear to society. The perpetrators of these actions deserve absolutely no sympathy and the criminals deserve the strictest punishment that can be imposed, without imposing death."

Among the eight men on death row whose lives were spared by Monday's action is the man whose murder of a 7-year-old girl inspired "Megan's Law," which helps people keep track of sex offenders living in their towns.

At least five other states are considering abolishing the death sentence. Texas is not among them.

Death penalty opponents in Austin believe Monday's decision to abolish the death sentence in New Jersey is another indication that the tide is turning.

An announcement out of the Criminal Justice Complex last week seems to be rallying death penalty opponents in Travis County.

For the first time in three decades, a new district attorney will be prosecuting cases here.

"The death penalty system is broken in Texas, and we as voters in Travis County have an opportunity to say, 'Because it's broken, we're not going to use it,'" said Scott Cobb, president of the Texas Moratorium Network.

Cobb said the announcement that District Attorney Ronnie Earle will not seek re-election was tantamount to a rallying cry for death penalty opponents in Travis County, who are now determined to hit the campaign trail.

"We think the people of Travis County are ready to abolish the death penalty in Travis County and that's our challenge to whoever runs for District Attorney," Cobb said.

Death penalty proponents, such as the group Justice For All, believe abolishing the death penalty would lead to higher murder rates in Texas.

There are 371 people on death row in Texas.

Seven inmates scheduled to be executed this year received last-minute stays due to concerns about their possible innocence, the fairness of their trials or issues related to the Supreme Court's review of lethal injection.

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