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Capital Punishment in the United States Explained

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In our Explainer series, Fair Punishment Project lawyers help unpackage some of the most complicated issues in the criminal justice system. We break down the problems behind the headlines - like bail, civil asset forfeiture, or the Brady doctrine - so that everyone can understand them. Wherever possible, we try to utilize the stories of those affected by the criminal justice system to show how these laws and principles should work, and how they often fail. We will update our Explainers monthly to keep them current. Read our updated explainer here.
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Death Row in Livingston, Texas

Polunsky Unit TX Death Row
1-Row, A-Section, A-Pod, otherwise known as DeathWatch. This is the last home
for the men here living in Texas’ DR, as the final months of their lives wind down.
60 Minutes cameras go inside the busiest death row in America where Bill Whitaker talks to condemned men who have been given execution dates

Texas executes more prisoners than any other state. At a rate of more than one a month, Texas kills almost as many inmates as all the other states combined.

All the condemned men in Texas, about 250 of them, are held in one place -- death row in Livingston. At some point almost all of them will be told the exact day -- the exact hour -- of their demise. And that has an impact on their view of life and death, and where they find themselves.

Once inmates get to death row, they are rarely seen again. But the prison let us inside to speak with several condemned killers, just weeks before their executions. What they're thinking in their final days may surprise you. Most surprising to us was Daniel Lopez, who told us he welcomes his execution.

Daniel Lopez: I just turned in my 14-day notice for my, my death papers.

Bill Whitaker: You know that in 14 days you are going to die.

Daniel Lopez: Yes.

Bill Whitaker: What was it like to sign those papers?

Daniel Lopez: I felt really relieved to finally get this over with.

Daniel Lopez, unlike almost all the other inmates here on death row, did not fight his sentence. Instead he asked to be executed as soon as possible.

Daniel Lopez: I got no dignity, you know what I'm saying? There's-there-there--it doesn't matter to me. You know, dignity does not matter to me. It's just, you know, I'm worried about myself, my family and the victim's family. And I want everybody to move on, that's it.

Bill Whitaker: Is embracing the death penalty for you, is that the easy way out?

Daniel Lopez: That, I see it as a yes and no. You know, yes to finally get this over with. No, 'cause I don't want to die. Nobody wants to die.

Lopez, was a crack dealer, when he killed Police Lieutenant Stuart Alexander during a high-speed chase seven years ago. It began as a traffic stop, when another officer pulled him over for driving through a stop sign. After a scuffle, Lopez drove off. Police put spike strips down on the road to puncture his tires. When Lopez veered to the right to get around the spikes he hit Lieutenant Alexander. Lopez said he didn't see the officer in time to avoid him.

[A]nother Livingston death row inmate, Perry Williams, said he wants to keep on living. Williams killed a medical student, shot him in the head, after taking his wallet which only contained 40 dollars. Williams was just weeks away from his execution date when he got a temporary stay. He told us the countdown had been terrifying.

Perry Williams: It's one thing to know exactly the hour and the time that you're going to die. It does a lot to you. Shakes. It's like waking up in cold sweats -- having dreams about being executed.

Bill Whitaker: You actually had shakes and cold sweats.

Perry Williams: Yes sir.

Bill Whitaker: Why do you think you were reacting that way?

Perry Williams: Fear, fear of the unknown, fear of the death.

Bill Whitaker: Should Texas have the death penalty?

Perry Williams: I don't think they should. Because I don't think nobody should have the power to take another person's life.

Bill Whitaker: But yet you did.

Perry Williams: Yes, I understand that. And I'm sorry for the pain I caused.

Bill Whitaker: Who do you blame for your being on death row?

Perry Williams: Can't blame nobody else. I blame myself.


Source: CBS News, Bill Whitaker, March 6, 2016

Related content:
  • Click here to view 50 recent annotated pictures of the "living' conditions" on Texas Death Row (Polunksy Unit, Livingston, Texas). These photos were provided by the State of Texas in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by attorney Yolanda Torres. They were then posted on Thomas Whitaker's blog, Minutes Before Six. Thomas Whitaker is currently on Death Row in the state of Texas.
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