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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…

Victims’ families in Ohio need resources, not executions

closure
In 1997, my brother, James Nero, was brutally gunned down in a road-rage incident in Canton. After a minor accident, James insisted that the other driver provide his insurance information. Instead, the driver returned from his car with a gun and shot my brother in the face. Then he shot James again, point-blank as he lay on the pavement.

James was just 20, and a proud father to an 18-month-old son. He was engaged to be married to his son’s mother. Like every 20-year old, he had many plans and dreams. I thank God that I saw James on the last day of his life, because during our last time together, he hugged me and told me that he loved me. At least I have that to remember him by.

When the court case about his murder was over, James was still dead. My family had never experienced the intense trauma of losing a loved one to murder, and we had no idea how to deal with the pain. No state or city agency ever provided our family with any information about resources available to help us deal with the situation. We had only ourselves and our church community. We were on our own, as far as the state of Ohio was concerned.

Most cases in which the death penalty could be imposed do not end in a death sentence or an execution. There have been thousands of murders in Ohio since our capital punishment law was enacted in 1981, but only 53 executions. How can it be true that executions are for victims’ families when we use them so infrequently? What do politicians say to the vast majority of us, for whom the so-called “justice” of an execution is never even possible? The silence is deafening.

In any case, I know that an execution wouldn’t have helped my family heal. Among other issues, Ohio does a disservice to families when the killer is sentenced to death, because the family has to put its healing process on hold for decades through the capital punishment appeals process. We have 27 prisoners currently scheduled for execution. Eight of them will have been on death row longer than 30 years by the time of their scheduled execution. Twelve will have been there longer than 20 years. All those years are years the family is holding its breath and suffering through court date after court date, newspaper article after newspaper article.

"We don’t want the state using our pain to justify another family losing a loved one"


Without a death sentence in our case, we began our healing process as soon as the trial was over. If there had been a death sentence, we would probably still be waiting.

Terry Freeman put two bullets in my brother’s head. But killing Terry Freeman won’t bring my brother James back. We don’t want the state using our pain to justify another family losing a loved one — even if he is guilty. There is no such thing as “closure” because there will always be that empty seat at the table when family members of a murder victim gather.

With Ohio about to embark on executions again after three and a half years without them, I will no longer sit by quietly while elected officials tell us that we must have executions so that murder victims’ families can have “closure” in their case. We must reject the myth that executions always help victims’ families.

Instead of wasting resources trying to execute a handful of killers, Ohio can do better for all victims’ families. My family could have used counseling and other kinds of support instead, which I believe would have helped our recovery and grief. Ohio does provide some support to victims’ families, but it varies greatly among Ohio’s 88 counties. Fix that. Trained, certified, qualified mental health professionals must be available to any family experiencing homicide. They should be available to all, without disparity of access based on race, economics, geography, or prior unrelated encounters with law enforcement. Fix that too.

Gov. John Kasich has an opportunity to be merciful here — to all families affected by homicide in Ohio. Stop wasting resources on executions, and do better for all murder victims’ families.

Source: Toledo Blade, LaShawn Ajamu, July 22, 2017. LaShawn Ajamu co-chairs the Murder Victims Families Support Project of Ohioans to Stop Executions. She lives in Richfield, Ohio.

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