Firm Stand In Texas On Executions

Texas continues to lead the nation in executions.

The Lone Star state, famous for its sprawling ranches and longhorn cattle, has gained a reputation as well for its attitude toward capital punishment.

According to National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense and Educational Fund statistics, of the 50 states, Texas has had the most executions since 1976, when the Supreme Court allowed states to resume capital punishment.

From then through 1998, the last year for which figures were available, 500 prisoners were executed in 29 states. Texas executed 164 of them.

The pace of executions in Texas far outstrips that of other states. The two states that come closest are Virginia, which has had 59 executions in the 22 years since 1976, and Florida, which executed 43 prisoners in that same period.

A total of 68 people were executed in 29 states in 1998, which is down from 74 people in 1997.

Critics have long complained about the way Texas handles death row cases, saying the system is stacked against the prisoner.

Members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles must make recommendations for clemency to Gov. George W. Bush, a law-and-order Republican facing re-election this year.

Board members don't meet the inmate, don't call witnesses and don't meet as a group to vote. Last year, in more than one-third of the cases, some board members didn't even bother to vote.

Supporters of Texas' hard line on the death penalty often point to the gruesome crimes of the prisoners and the suffering of the victims and their families.