Nearly 400 prisoners in Texas serving life without parole

The Associated Press

HOUSTON — A review of Texas prison records shows juries around the state have sent 398 convicts to prison with no chance of parole in the six years since the life without parole law took effect.

Texas was the last state with capital punishment to adopt life without parole as a sentencing option in capital murder cases.

The Houston Chronicle reported Tuesday that 110 of the sentences of life without parole came in Harris County, more than a quarter of the state’s total. Harris County also has more offenders on death row than any other Texas county.

Since the law went into effect in September 2005, 11 convicted killers have wound up on death row from cases in the state’s most populous county.

“Harris County is a tough law and order county on the really bad actors,” Harris County First Assistant District Attorney James Leitner told the newspaper. “That hasn’t changed.”

To compare, Dallas County, No. 2 in population, has 51 convicts serving life without parole. Tarrant County has 26 and Bexar County 22.

About a third of all counties have at least one person serving life without parole.

Overall, the Chronicle analysis showed 66 convicts were sent to death row in the same six years.

Supporters of the life without parole option point to it being less expensive than following through a capital murder conviction with the death penalty. They also say the sentence offers the opportunity for being reversed if new evidence or other information leads to a finding of innocence for the convict.

The law was changed in 2009 to make juveniles ineligible for life without parole. In the four years ending September 2009, life without parole was given to 21 people under 18 who had been certified for trial as adults. Eight of them came from Harris County. Juveniles no longer are subject to the penalty.

The lifers also include 17 women, according to the newspaper.