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Why Texas’ ‘death penalty capital of the world’ stopped executing people

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Since the Supreme Court legalized capital punishment in 1976, Harris County, Texas, has executed 126 people. That's more executions than every individual state in the union, barring Texas itself.
Harris County's executions account for 23 percent of the 545 people Texas has executed. On the national level, the state alone is responsible for more than a third of the 1,465 people put to death in the United States since 1976.
In 2017, however, the county known as the "death penalty capital of the world" and the "buckle of the American death belt" executed and sentenced to death a remarkable number of people: zero.
This is the first time since 1985 that Harris County did not execute any of its death row inmates, and the third year in a row it did not sentence anyone to capital punishment either.
The remarkable statistic reflects a shift the nation is seeing as a whole.
“The practices that the Harris County District Attorney’s Office is following are also signifi…

Florida: Judge denies Tommy Ziegler's DNA request

A judge on Monday denied a new request by Tommy Zeigler to analyze bloodstains on his crime scene clothing, the longtime death row inmate's latest attempt to exonerate himself in the 1975 Christmas Eve killings of his wife, in-laws and customer at his Winter Garden furniture store.

In the 30-page ruling, Orange-Osceola Circuit Judge Reginald Whitehead held that Zeigler's petition for DNA testing was too similar to others that he's made previously and that the potential discoveries would not be great enough to rule him out as the perpetrator.

"Having carefully listened to the testimony presented at the evidentiary hearing and argument from the parties, the Court finds the authenticity of the DNA is questionable because it may be contaminated based on a lack of protective equipment when it was handled and/or improper storage," the judge wrote.

Eunice Zeigler, her parents Perry and Virginia Edwards and store customer Charles Mays were killed in the Christmas Eve attack. Zeigler was also shot in the stomach and maintains they were held up in a store robbery by Mays and others. Prosecutors have argued that Zeigler concocted the plan, luring Mays to the scene as a scapegoat, to pocket a life insurance policy on his wife.

In a March hearing, attorneys for Zeigler argued that more sensitive and technologically advanced DNA tests could show he did not shoot, beat and bludgeon the victims to death.

The technique, called "Touch DNA" testing, would settle it because it could detect if Zeigler's DNA transferred onto the victims from contact during a physical struggle.

Prosecutors with the Orange-Osceola State Attorney's Office opposed the petition, citing two previous opinions from the Florida Supreme Court, which found such evidence wouldn't be enough to exonerate Zeigler. The last round of DNA testing was done in 2001. It proved that Perry Edward's blood was not present on Zeigler's shirt and pants, as prosecutors argued in the original trial, but was found on May's clothing.

A judge in 2003 ruled that evidence was not compelling enough to prove Zeigler's innocence because there were multiple sources of blood at the crime scene.

In denying the most recent request, Whitehead questioned why Zeigler did not test all the blood stains he wanted to during the 2001 probe.

Attorneys for Zeigler asserted that the desired technology to do so was not available then. They also said they would privately finance the testing.

"We're obviously disappointed that [the judge] didn't see the merit and the application," said one of Zeigler's attorneys, John Houston Pope of New York. "We'll read what he has to say carefully, and see what the next steps are."

Source: Orlando Sentinel, July 20, 2016


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