Even for the busiest death chamber in the United States, the past
few days have been particularly active.
Last week, four men on Texas' death row were sentenced to die.
Although two of them were spared - at least temporarily - by last-
minute appeals, the state tomorrow still plans to send Joseph Meanes
to the red brick bungalow in Huntsville known as the Death House.
Already this year, 18 men and one woman have been killed by
injection in Texas. Since 1976, Texas has executed 163 inmates -
almost three times more than Virginia, the state with the second-
Behind Texas' high execution rate lie changing perceptions about
the death penalty in the United States as well as peculiarities
unique to Texas. Together, they offer insights into America's views
- and differences - on capital punishment.
The reasons for the Lone Star State's frequent use of the death
penalty are many: from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals'
unwillingness to interfere to Texas' ties to the conservative South.
But Jim Mattox, a lawyer and former Texas attorney general, says the
high rate is a result of inadequate legal defense for accused
"I think you'd find our state government and county government are
more parsimonious with the money needed to provide defense counsel
for indigent prisoners," says Mr. Mattox, a death-penalty supporter
who oversaw three dozen executions during his eight years in office.
"Our death-row inmates overall have a very difficult time getting
adequate representation on their cases, particularly after the first
set of appeals."
Mattox's comments are echoed by death-penalty opponents as well.
"Texas doesn't have a statewide public-defender system," says
Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center,
Washington-based group that opposes the death penalty. "The
attorneys are appointed by the local judge who determines the amount
of pay.... So you may get a lawyer who doesn't have any
While defense lawyers are important, tough prosecutors may be a
bigger factor in the Texas equation. And Harris County District
Attorney John B. Holmes Jr. is, without a doubt, the state's
Nearly one-third of all the inmates on death row in Texas were
convicted in Harris County, home to the city of Houston. Dallas
County, the state's second-most populous county with 2 million
residents, currently has 37 inmates on death row. Harris County,
which has 1 million more residents than Dallas County, has 137
inmates on death row. …