Texas Executes Record 40th

Death chamber, Huntsville, Texas
For the third night in a row, and a record-breaking 40th time this year, Texas Thursday executed a convicted killer in the death chamber in Huntsville.

With nearly a dozen convictions and in and out of prisons for more than 40 years, convicted murderer Claude Howard Jones was the last Texas inmate put to death in a record year for executions in the state.

Jones, 60, condemned for the 1989 shooting death of a liquor store owner near Point Blank, made no clemency request to Gov. George W. Bush, who had authority to grant him a one-time 30-day reprieve. Jones' appeals were rejected in October by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The execution was delayed by about 30 minutes because of difficulties finding a vein in either arm to insert the drugs. Authorities used a vein in his left leg instead.

Texas set a modern record for executions by a state on Tuesday night by executing child killer Garry Miller. On Wednesday, convicted cop killer David Hittle was put to death, setting a new mark.

Florida Executes Sixth Of 2000
A Florida inmate was executed by lethal injection Thursday, according to Gov. Jeb Bush's office.

Edward Castro, 50, was pronounced dead at 6:15 pm ET. Castro was condemned for the choking and stabbing death of 56-year-old Austin Carter Scott.

Castro is the 50th inmate to be executed in Florida since executions resumed in 1979 and the sixth to be executed this year. It's the most executions in Florida since 1984 when eight killers died in Florida's electric chair.

Source: Associated Press

According to records dating back to 1930, Texas held the previous record of 37 executions in 1997. The Lone Star State has put a nation-leading 239 people to death since the Supreme Court lifted a death penalty ban in 1976.

Michael Radelet, chairman of sociology at the University of Florida and the keeper of a database on U.S. executions, said the Texas total this year is the most carried out by a state in American history.

The Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center said Texas' 40 executions this year are the highest in a state since 1862 when 39 Native Americans were hanged on a single day in Minnesota. Those executions, however, were carried out by the military and not the state, the records indicat.

According to information provided by Amnesty International, Texas' total this year equals the combined total of executions by 15 states (Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, Washington and Wyoming) since the death penalty was reinstated by the Supreme Court.

The debate over capital punishment, which for years has enjoyed overwhelming popular support, began anew this year after the state of Illinois declared a moratorium on executions when 13 men of death row there were exonerated.

In subsequent months, a Columbia University study found that in the nearly 5,800 capital convictions from 1973 to 1995, there were serious errors in 68 percent.

Texas Executions This Year
For information on individual offenders' convictions, click here.

Claude Jones 12/07
David Hittle 12/06
Garry Miller 12/05
Tony Chambers (11/15)
Stacey Lawton (11/14)
Miguel Flores
Jeffery Dillingham
Ricky McGinn
Jeffery Caldwell
David Gibbs
Richard Jones
John Satterwhite
Oliver Cruz
Brian Roberson
Juan Soria
Joiner Orien
Jessy San Miguel
Graham Gary
Paul Nuncio
John Burks
Thomas Mason
Robert Carter
James Clayton
Richard Foster
James Richardson
Michael McBride
William Kitchens
Tommy Jackson
Timothy Gribble
Ponchai Wilkerson
Odell Barnes, Jr.
Betty Beets
Cornelius Goss
James Moreland
Glen McGinnis
Billy Hughes, Jr.
Larry Robison
David Hicks
Spencer Goodman
Earl Heiselbetz, Jr.
(Source: TDCJ)

Bush's presidential campaign drew some attention to that state's record of executions. The scrutiny increased when Bush granted a 30-day reprieve for convicted murderer Ricy McGinn to have DNA testing to confirm his guilt. The tests pointed to McGinn's culpability, and he was put to death.

International furor broke out over the case of Gary Graham, who was executed on June 22 for the 1981 robbery-slaying of Bobby Lambert in Houston. He was convicted largely on the word of a single eyewitness and supporters had pressured Bush to halt the execution.

In October, the Texas Defender Service, in an analysis of hundreds of death penalty cases, said that in many appeals, defense attorneys raised no new claims or failed to conduct investigations.

Bush has defended his state's system of justice. In June, he said of those put to death during his tenure "I believe they've had full access to the courts and full access to have a fair trial, not only in the state system, but in the federal system."

He has also pointed out that crime has dropped dramatically during his time in office, with the state reporting its lowest overall crime rate in 25 years, its lowest violent crime rate since 1985 and its lowest murder rate since the 1950s.

Jones was the 152nd execution during Bush's tenure. He was convicted of the Nov. 14, 1989 fatal shooting Allen Hilzendager, 37, at a rural liquor store.

Witnesses and evidence showed Jones walked into the store, asked for a bottle of whiskey and shot Hilzendager while the store owner's back was turned, then shot the man two more times, including once while the victim's hands were raised. Then he grabbed $900 from a cash register, unknowingly missing some $7,000 in cash bags nearby, and jumped into a pickup truck to join two companions.

Three days later, Jones held up a suburban Houston bank, getting more than $14,000 while his partners again waited outside.

Texas currently has seven executions scheduled for January through April of next year. It is also possible that the execution of Johnny Paul Penry, stayed last month by the U.S. Supreme Court, will be rescheduled. Condemned to die for a 1979 rape and murder, Penry's lawyers claim he is mentally retarded.