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.
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.
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.