Everything You Need to Know About the Texas Death Penalty

The Texas Death Penalty history is extensive. Here is everything you need to know about capital punishment in the state of Texas. In the United States, there are 29 states that have legalized capital punishment. Texas is one of the 29 states in the United States that legalized capital punishment.

Back in 1982, the state of Texas was the first state in the entire globe that would use lethal injection for execution. The state of Texas executed Charles Brooks Jr by the lethal injection. This was the first execution in the state of Texas since 1964.

Texas is the second-most populous state within the Union. Since 1976, the state of Texas has executed 561 offenders with capital punishment up until April 2019. The last inmate that was executed was John William King on April 24, 2019. The entire death row inmate roster in the state of Texas was over a third of the national total.

Does Texas Have the Death Penalty?

In the United States, there are 29 states that have legalized capital punishment. Texas is one of the 29 states in the United States that legalized capital punishment.

Texas Death Penalty History

It was not until 1819 when the state of Texas completed its first execution. The first execution in the state of Texas was a white male with the name of George Brown. Brown was executed because of piracy.

It was not until 1840 when the next execution happened. This time the state of Texas executed Henry Forbes, a black male. Forbes was executed because of jailbreaking.

However, prior to 1846, all the executions within the state of Texas, which was only 8 executions were all done by hanging.

Upon Texas becoming a part of the United States, they used the hanging method for nearly all the executions all the way up to 1924. Each of the executions that were done by hangings under the supervision of that individual county where the trial was taking place.

The last hanging to be done in the state of Texas was for Nathan Lee. Lee was a convicted murderer. Lee was executed in Angleton, Texas, which is in Brazoria County on August 31, 1923. During this time, the only other execution method that was commonly used as the firing squad, which was used on three Confederate deserters in the American Civil War.

Then in 1923, the state of Texas changed its execution laws. The state of Texas execution laws started to require the use of the electric chair for any and all executions moving forward. Not to mention, that all executions going forward will be required to take place in the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville or what is also commonly known as the Huntsville Unit.

Then from 1928 to 1965, the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville was also the home for the state of Texas’s male death row inmates.

When the state of Texas used the electric chair for the first time it was on February 8, 1924. The state of Texas was executing Charles Reynolds, Melvin Johnson, Ewell Morris, Haden Cochran, and Harris Washington. These five executions were all done on the same day within Texas. Texas would also perform multiple executions on the same day a few more times throughout the years. The last time the state of Texas carried out a multiple execution day was on August 9, 2000. Since that day, the state of Texas has not executed more than one person on one day, even though there is no law from abolishing it. In the state of Texas, there were nearly 251 executions by the electric chair with the last execution being with Joseph Johnson on July 30, 1964.

It all boiled down to the United States Supreme Court decision in the Furman v. Georgia case, which stated that Georgia’s “unitary trial” procedure was unconstitutional on the fact that it is an unusual and cruel punishment that violates the Eighth Amendment in the United States Constitution, which abolished all death penalties within the United States.

As a result of the Furman case decision, the 52 inmates on death row in the state of Texas sentences were reduced to life in prison. Among the death row inmates was Kenneth McDuff, who was convicted of murdering three teens back in 1966. McDuff was paroled in 1989 and then executed back in 1998 for yet another murder he was convicted of when he was on parole. McDuff was also believed to be responsible for a variety of other murders as well.

In 1973, the Furman case then leads to many revisions of the laws. The primary one being the introduction to the bifurcated trial process and limited the legal definition when it comes down to capital murder.

When these new laws took place in the state of Texas the first person who was sentenced to death was John Devries. Devries was sentenced on February 15, 1974, however, he hung himself inside his jail cell on July 1, 1974.

Then in 1976, the Supreme Court decided in Gregg v. Georgia where it allowed the death penalty to be an option again. It was not until December 7, 1982, when the first execution in Texas was Charles Brooks Jr. Brooks would be the first person in the globe to be executed by lethal injection. Brooks was also the first African American to be executed within the United States since 1967.

After the Gregg v Georgia case, the state of Texas executed over 560 death row inmates. There are a few cultural legal explanations when it comes to Texas executes more inmates than any other states.

The state of Texas has executed only 9 women in its entire history. The last women the state of Texas executed was Lia Ann Coleman back on September 17, 2014.

Capital Crimes Worth of the Death Penalty

In the Texas statutes, there are only 9 reasons/cases that an inmate can receive the death penalty. These reasons and cases are the following:

  1. Murdering a public safety officer
  2. Intentionally murders a during a burglary, kidnapping, arson, aggravated sexual assault, retaliation, terroristic threat, and robbery.
  3. Murder for hire
  4. Murder when escaping a jail or prison facility
  5. Murders a correctional officer or another jail and prison staff member
  6. Murders while serving time for a murder
  7. Murders more than one person at the same time
  8. Murders a child under the age of 15
  9. Murders a person in retaliation

Keep in mind that the Texas statute will still provide the death penalty for those convicted of aggravated sexual assault on a victim of 14 years or younger.

Also, under the Texas law, juveniles under the age of 17 will never get the death penalty due to the ruling from Roper v. Simmons.

Texas Death Penalty for Abortions

Currently, all bills that have gone through the process for abortions have failed to pass. In Texas, there is no death penalty for abortions. However, that may change soon as many other states are passing laws and statutes for abortions.

Legal Procedures

However, the state of Texas prosecution may choose to not seek the death penalty in these cases. This can be due to a few reasons including that the prosecution may not have enough evidence to convict the defendant or the victim family does want to seek the death penalty.


If the prosecution seeks the death penalty, ultimately the sentence will end up being decided and confirmed by the jury. The death penalty will need to be unanimous. However, a life sentence will only need 10 votes.

In the event of a hung jury in a death penalty case, the defendant will get a life sentence instead. There will not be any retrial.


Imposing the death sentence in the state of Texas will result in the automate direct appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is Texas’s highest criminal tribunal. Criminal appeals involving the death penalty are heard by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.


In addition to the appeals, a defendant can also appeal all the way up to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles is another agency in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

They can decide after hearing testimony whether they would recommend commutation to the Texas Governor. If the Pardons and Parole Board recommends commutation, then it is up to the Texas Governor to either reject or accept this recommendation.

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