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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…

Court overturns Indiana death sentence in 'stun belt' case

John Stephenson
(Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Friday threw out the death sentence for a man forced to wear a "stun belt" during the penalty phase of his trial for a 1996 triple murder in Indiana.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago said John Stephenson, 54, was prejudiced by his lawyer's failure to object to the belt, which lets an officer administer an electric charge to prevent a prisoner from misbehaving in the courtroom.

A box on the belt that contained electric wires had been hidden under Stephenson's shirt but visible as a bulge to jurors, four of whom had been aware of the belt.

Stephenson had also worn the belt during his eight-month trial, but never acted up.

Though the appeals court upheld Stephenson's conviction, Circuit Judge Richard Posner said the belt "contaminated" the penalty phase of his trial.

"The fault is certainly not Stephenson's; it's his lawyer's, for failing to object to his client's having to wear a stun belt, given the absence of any reason to think his client would go berserk in the courtroom," Posner wrote.

A spokesman for Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Stephenson's lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The appeals court said Indiana can ask a jury to reimpose the death penalty if Stephenson does not wear the stun belt, or ask a judge to impose a lesser penalty.

Stephenson was convicted of murdering three people inside a pickup truck at a rural intersection in March 1996.

The case is Stephenson v Neal, 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 16-1312.

Source: Reuters, Jonathan Stempel, August 4, 2017

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