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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 Child Killer John Battaglia Found Competent for Execution

John Battaglia
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed John Battaglia's claims of incompetence late Wednesday, clearing the way for the state of Texas to put the Dallas child killer to death more than 16 years after his crimes. 

Over the past year, Battaglia's defense team and lawyers for the state have argued over whether Battaglia knows why he is to die and that his execution is imminent — Texas' two requirements for death row inmates to receive lethal injection.

In 2001, Battaglia shot his two daughters eight times in his Deep Ellum loft shortly after his divorce from his wife, Mary Jean Pearle. Pearle, in the midst of an attempt to get Battaglia's probation for assault revoked because her husband was harassing her on the phone, was on the phone with Battaglia as he shot their daughters, according to court testimony.

After killing the girls, Liberty and Mary Faith, as detailed in a 2002 Dallas Observer feature, Battaglia drove to an East Dallas tattoo parlor and got two rose tattoos to represent the daughters he'd just murdered. He then left an answering message for his ex-wife: "Goodnight, my little babies. I hope you are resting in a different place. I love you," he said.

At a lower court hearing in November, three psychologists who've examined Battaglia testified that he has from delusions that make him believe he did not kill Mary Faith and Liberty. 

A fourth psychologist, testifying for the state, said that he believed Battaglia was faking or exaggerating his symptoms. 

State District Judge Robert Burns agreed with the fourth psychologist, ruling Nov. 18 that Battaglia's execution could go forward.

Battaglia's first scheduled execution date was March 30, 2016. He received a reprieve from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals seven hours before he was scheduled to die when the 5th Circuit agreed with Battaglia that he deserved a court-appointed attorney to investigate whether he was fit to be executed. 

Now that Texas' highest criminal court has ruled Battaglia fit for lethal injection, it is up to Burns to set an execution date.

Source: Dallas Observer, Stephen Young, Sept. 21, 2017. Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.


Battaglia ruled competent for execution


The Walls, Huntsville Unit, Texas
Case sent back to lower court to schedule new date for lethal injection

An appeals court has found John Battaglia is mentally fit to be executed for killing his daughters, a punishment the Dallas man has twice tried to postpone.

Battaglia made national headlines in 2001 when he shot his daughters, 9-year-old Faith and 6-year-old Liberty, at his Deep Ellum loft while their mother listened on the phone.

"No, Daddy! Don't do it!" Faith pleaded, seconds before her father pulled the trigger in an act of revenge against his ex-wife.

He was first scheduled for execution in March 2016 but was granted a stay after he sought new legal counsel to help appeal his sentence.

His execution was rescheduled for December 2016 after a state district judge found Battaglia mentally fit to be put to death. But the Court of Criminal Appeals granted him a stay to evaluate his competency.

The appeals court said Wednesday that Battaglia is mentally fit and the Dallas County trial court can set a new execution date.

Court records show Battaglia is "convinced that his trial and conviction were a sham" and that his death sentence is part of a conspiracy involving "the KKK, child molesters and homosexual lawyers."

Mental health experts testified during a competency hearing in November that Battaglia was likely faking or exaggerating his delusions in order to save his life.

The appeals court affirmed that assessment and supported the trial court's ruling of competence.

"There is support in the record that Battaglia is malingering," Justice Bert Richardson wrote in the appeals court finding.

Justice Elsa Alcala was the lone dissenting voice. She wrote in her dissent that the case should be snet back to the trial court for further clarity.

A defendant should not be executed when he "lacks a rational understanding of the reason for his execution due to delusions stemming from a severe mental illness," Alcala wrote.

Source: Dallas Morning News, September 23, 2017


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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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