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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…

Texas: Austin Scrambles with Fallout of Closed DNA Lab

More than a month after the Austin Police Department was forced to abruptly shut down its DNA testing lab, it remains unclear whether any criminal convictions will be thrown out because of improper testing. In the meantime, the city has arranged interim lab arrangements and is trying to cut down on a backlog of pending cases, according to officials.

In June, the Texas Forensic Science Commission told the department its audit had found that untrained staff and improper testing procedures raised concerns about the scientific validity of the lab's DNA test results. In an audit report released earlier this month, the commission did not comment on the possibility that the errors might have led to wrongful convictions.

The Travis County District Attorney's Office and Lynn Garcia, the commission's general counsel, declined to say if a systematic review of cases is being undertaken.

While the city seeks a new lab director and retrains staff, the state Department of Public Safety's lab has temporarily taken over some cases. Other work may be sent to private labs, officials said. The police department, DPS and the district attorney's office declined to answer specific questions about the closure. With the lab expected to remain closed for up to a year, experts say trials could be slowed down for some defendants waiting in jail, especially those who cannot afford lawyers.

“It’s also worrisome and devastating for cases where the primary evidence was DNA testing,” said Chris Perri, an Austin-based criminal defense attorney. “So there might be probably some wrongful convictions out there, but it’s like finding a needle in a haystack. They have a lot of work to go through, review every record and see which cases were the ones where DNA was the primary evidence.”

Last year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation alerted crime labs across the country that they were using obsolete methods to examine DNA samples containing genetic materials from multiple people. Some laboratories in Texas switched to a more conservative analytical approach, but the Austin crime lab struggled to adopt updated protocols, according to the audit.

Click here to read the full article

Source: Texas Tribune, Khorri Atkinson, July 30, 2016

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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

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