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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…

Death behind bars: Buried in Alabama's prison cemeteries, life sentences last beyond death

Lowered into an eternal tomb just a few hundred feet from their mortal cage, for some Alabama prisoners, a life sentence does not end upon death.

For those who perish behind bars in Alabama without a penny to their name or family to handle their affairs, one of the state's three aging prison cemeteries often serves as a final resting place.

Inmates and correctional officers can see the gravestones when they walk the prison grounds. Inmates at Limestone Correctional Facility say they avoid stepping on a large patch of grass near the prison cemetery there because of rumors that an unknown number of unmarked bodies lie below.

Some prisoners mow the grass when it grows too tall between the rows of cement slabs that mark the dead. Others are tasked with digging their fellow inmates' graves, and another crew stamps names, identification numbers and dates of birth and death into the slabs.

Over the years, legal advocacy groups, federal authorities and journalists have examined almost every aspect of the lives of Alabama inmates. But little outside attention has been paid to how the state Department of Corrections handles mundane deaths and the bodies left behind.

'Professionalism and dignity'


An old oak tree towers over some of the older, moss-covered grave markers on the far edge of the prison cemetery just past the razor-wire fence that rings Limestone, a maximum-security facility in rural Northeast Alabama.

Every year, somewhere around 100 inmates - in fiscal year 2010, the toll was 77, in fiscal 2015 it was 124, according to the DOC - die inside Alabama's state prisons, and every year some of them are buried in the cemeteries at the Draper, Fountain and Limestone correctional facilities. The green expanses memorialize the lives of hundreds of Alabamians who drew their final breaths while incarcerated.

Born in 1887, Will Jones was a veteran of World War I. Varrell Weeks was just 43 years and two days old when he died in 1995. Carrie B. Arrington made it to 72.

Billy Joe Bailey left behind a family that had a simple gray headstone made for him with an image of praying hands and the words "Loving Brother" engraved below his name. Reginald Bowers was just buried in July.

Their stories all began in different ways, but each of them ended up buried under several feet of dirt in one of the three state prison cemeteries currently in use in Alabama.

Bob Horton, a spokesman for the DOC, says there is no record of exactly how many bodies the department has buried since it was established in 1839. Christopher Gordy, the current Limestone warden, said at least 283 prisoners are buried in the facility's prison cemetery, which has room for between 600 and 700 burial plots.

"Some graves in the three cemeteries maintained today are marked, and some are not," Horton said via email. "Regardless of the inmate's crime, the ADOC handles all deaths and burials with professionalism and dignity."

Horton said theDOC also does not know how many prison cemeteries were operated in the correctional system's early days.

➤  Click here to read the full article

Source: AL.com, Connor Sheets, August 7, 2017

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