A justice of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest criminal appellate court in the state, has made a powerful argument in favor of abolishing the death penalty, Newsradio 1200 WOAI reports.
Ruling in the minority in a 6-3 decision rejecting last minute appeals by Hill Country killer Scott Panetti, Justice Tom Price said 'societal values indicate that the death penalty should be abolished in its entirety.'
"When I first joined it, this Court received a great number of death penalty appeals and writs, as compared to the number of these cases that reach this court now," Price wrote in his dissent. "I believe this decline is because District Attorneys and juries now have the life without parole option and are less convinced of the absolute accuracy of the criminal justice system."
He continued by discussing alternatives to capital punishment.
"Before the life without parole option, juries had no choice but to sentence a defendant to death if they wanted to ensure that he would never re-enter society. After the enactment of the life without parole option, juries are not assured that the public at large is forever protected from a capital murder defendant who will never re-enter our society."
Price said there is also a serious concern about the number of cases of people being released from prison, and even from Death Row, due to new evidence. The most publicized case is that of Michael Morton, a suburban Austin grocery store manager who served 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife before being released after evidence indicated another man committed the crime.
"A 2012 study by the University of Michigan and Northwestern University law schools ranks Texas number three nationally in wr4ongful convictions over the last 24 years, behind Illinois and New York."
Price says the number of exonerations of innocent people is increasing, thanks to new technology, and Texas had the highest number nationally.
"In my time on the court, I have voted to grand numerous applications for writs of habeas corpus that have resulted in the release of dozens of people who were wrongfully convicted, and I conclude that it is wishful thinking to believe that this State will never execute an innocent person for capital murder."
Price, 69, is no radical liberal. He is a lifelong Republican and a graduate of Baylor University Law School. He is retiring from the bench in January.
Price is believed to be the first Texas Court of Criminal Appeals justice to openly call for eliminating the death penalty. Texas executes more people than every other state combined.
Despite Price's dissent, the court ruled 6-3 not to block the execution of Panetti, who murdered his in laws in Fredericksburg back in 2002.
Panetti is a diagnosed schizophrenic who dressed up like a Hollywood cowboy during his trial, sais his 'alter ego' named 'Sarge' committed the murders, and called Jesus and JFK as character witnesses.
Without comment, the court majority said Panetti fails to meet the legal definition of insanity, and ordered his execution, set for December 3, to continue as scheduled.