Prosecutors in Travis County have announced their intent to seek the death penalty 15 times in the past decade. Two of those defendants pleaded guilty in exchange for life sentences, and juries gave life prison terms to six others. Six defendants received the death penalty. One case is pending, that of Milton Dwayne Gobert, accused of killing a North Austin woman and stabbing her 5-year-old son in 2003. Gobert is scheduled for trial in January.So in nearly 2/3 of cases in which Travis prosecutors sought the death penalty, they did not succeed in securing it. Perhaps relatedly, according to a press release this week from the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty:
One of those sentenced to death — Robert Springsteen IV — saw his conviction overturned on appeal and the case against him dismissed in October. Along with Springsteen, Michael Scott had been convicted of capital murder in the killing of one of four teenage girls found dead in 1991 in a North Austin yogurt shop. In dismissing the case, Lehmberg said that prosecutors could not prove the case against Springsteen and Scott, given recently discovered DNA evidence.
New death sentences in Texas remained at historic low levels in 2009, according to the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty's (TCADP) newly-released report, Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2009: The Year in Review. TCADP, an Austin-based statewide, grassroots organization, releases its annual report each December in conjunction with the anniversary of the resumption of executions in Texas in 1982.
As of December 4, Texas juries had condemned eight new individuals to death in 2009. If this number remains unchanged, it will represent the lowest number of new death sentences since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Texas' revised death penalty statute in 1976. The report notes, however, that this year Texas once again accounted for half of all executions that took place in the United States. The state has executed a total of 447 people since 1982, out of 1,186 executions nationwide since 1977. Two hundred eight of these executions have occurred during the administration of Texas Governor Rick Perry.
Among those executed, six inmates were convicted in Harris County, which alone accounts for more executions (112) than any state in the country besides Texas. Yet for the second consecutive year, Harris County did not condemn any new defendants to death (juries returned two inmates to death row). While Harris County still accounts for a third of all Texas inmates awaiting execution (106 of 332), it has sentenced just seven new individuals to death in the last four years. In the 1990s, it often sent 15 people a year to death row.