State of Texas plays prominent role in history of executions.
By Wally Perez
Capital punishment can very easily become political and religious in the should-we-or-shouldn’t-we debate, Rev. Johnny Silva said Tuesday at the Methodist Student Center before the semester’s first Hot Potato lecture.
A crowd of about 20 students listened to criminal justice Professor Marshall Lloyd talk about the evolution of the death penalty in Texas over the last 90 years.
Lloyd reviewed various executions around the world including hangings, gas chambers, firing squads, stoning, beheadings and crucifixions.
In Texas, the electric chair was first used Feb. 8, 1924, and began Texas’ modern reputation for frequent executions; it was used four times that day, Lloyd said.
“It was nicknamed ‘Old Sparky’ like other states had named theirs,” Lloyd said. “Three hundred and sixty-one inmates were executed by the electric chair up until 1964.”
The manner in which executions were conducted and the mandates involved in executions were argued in Furman v. Georgia in 1972.
William Henry Furman argued the accidental murder, which he committed, didn’t warrant the death penalty and that the death penalty lacked a clear definition in other states.
All death penalty sentences were then halted by a Supreme Court decision that the unitary trial in Georgia was cruel and unusual punishment and violated the Eighth Amendment.
The death penalty was reinstated after revisions to the laws made the definition clearer in 1973, he said.
After the electric chair, the state switched to lethal injection.
Texas and Oklahoma were two of the first states to pass lethal injection legislation, and Texas was the first to use it.
In the lethal injection system, two employees behind a one-way mirror await a signal to start the process.
“Vials would come down containing the chemicals; one contained the lethal cocktail and the other was a saline solution,” Lloyd said.
The lethal concoction contained three different drugs.
A lethal dose of sodium thiopental, an anesthetic agent that renders the prisoner unconscious, pancuronium bromide, a muscle relaxant, and potassium chloride, which stops the heart.
Once an inmate is executed, the family can retrieve the body. If they do not claim the body, then it may be donated to health science centers or buried in Captain Joe Byrd Cemetery in Huntsville.
Lloyd also mentioned inmates’ last meal requests, which varied from ice cream to filet mignon.
“Some guys had unique choices like a bowl of jalapeños or Whataburger,” Lloyd said. “They eventually stopped catering to the inmates when one of them refused to eat what he asked for.”
Lloyd spoke about the cost of the overall procedure and how expensive one execution is.
“It’s actually cheaper to keep the inmate in prison than it is to execute him,” Lloyd said. “It costs about $2.3 million for an average execution, whereas it costs about $675,000 to keep them in prison.”
In some cases, smaller counties don’t have the budget, so they have to ask the state for appropriations to appeal the process, he said.
Lloyd ended the lecture on a lighter note, saying he was glad, “two years ago, this city moved to a no-kill shelter; animals here don’t get euthanized.”
The next Hot Potato lecture will be March 1 in the center.
For more information, call 210-733-1441.