Texas’ use of death penalty is never morally defendable

Noah M. Horwitz

Texas leads the pack when it comes to capital punishment. Since the start of this year, the Department of Criminal Justice has ended the lives of seven people, with yet an eighth execution scheduled for early next month. In comparison, the other 49 states combined have put to death 12 people in that time. Once again, as is assumed, the status quo of this horrifyingly beloved institution still looks to be popular. Recent polling consistently shows upwards of 60 percent support, including majorities on both sides of the aisle. However, controversy over the source of execution drugs has kept this issue in the limelight of the gubernatorial election.

Gov. Rick Perry, under whose watch almost 300 prisoners have been executed, openly brags about how much “justice” has been accomplished throughout his lengthy administration. However, both parties’ nominees to succeed him as governor, disappointingly, appear to share that sentiment.

“I support capital punishment and I believe that, as it has worked in this state, it’s been one that has provided due process in a way that I think we all would hope would occur,” said Wendy Davis, a state senator and the Democratic candidate for governor.

That belief has been echoed by Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican nominee for governor, who has repeatedly litigated in state courts on behalf of the death penalty mechanisms.

But recent conversation on the death penalty has focused on smaller disputes, such as the fight over the form of execution drugs used. Pentobarbital is a powerful anesthetic that the state of Texas uses in executions; it injects a lethal dose of it into condemned prisoners. Facing boycotts and professional sanctions, fewer and fewer reputable pharmacists are willing to sell the drug to the state. Accordingly, the state has taken matters into its own hands, purchasing from a confidential compounding pharmacy, a significantly less regulated counterpart. By keeping these matters seacret, prisoners will have no way of determining the safety of the drugs, thus ensuring an execution with minimal pain.

Abbott, for his part, refused requests by the state to make the drug sources secret just two years ago. Alas, now that is he is running for governor, all that has changed. But transparency in the process is just the tip of the iceberg. The criminal justice system is, of course, not perfect, so mistakes are inevitable. Whether it has been Cameron Willingham, Carlos DeLuna or Leonel Herrera, Texas has likely executed the wrong man on numerous occasions. Until one of the political parties grows the courage required to buck public opinion, however, little will be done on these issues. 

It is always immoral to kill someone who is not a danger to yourself or others. Simply put, an individual sentenced to life behind bars in a maximum security facility is not a danger to others. My belief that this is the case is predominantly guided by religious convictions  — “Thou shall not kill” always seemed pretty straightforward to me — as well as an expansive view of the Eighth Amendment to the constitution, which forbids cruel and unusual punishment.

I understand that these views put me in the minority, especially in Texas. Accordingly, when outlets such as the Associated Press cover election stories relating to the death penalty, it has little to do with talk of total abolition.

Horwitz is a government junior from Houston.