This is the third year in a row in which less than five death sentence verdicts were reached in Texas. Death sentences in the state have declined since a peak of 48 verdicts in 1999, according to a report by Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, an advocacy group based in Austin.
Despite the decline, Texas still has the third-largest death row population in the nation, only trailing behind California and Florida — even though the state’s current death row population (234 inmates) is the lowest it’s been seen since 1987, according to the report. The death penalty is legal in 31 states.
Texas also executed more prisoners than any other state in 2017: almost one third of all executions in the country (seven in total), took place in Texas, matching 2016 for the lowest number of executions in the state over the last 20 years. Arkansas had the second-highest number of executions in the country with four in 2017. Of the seven death row inmates executed in Texas in 2017, two were Hispanic, two were black, and three were white.
The report also found that 70 percent of people sentenced to death in Texas over the last five years have been people of color. While African-Americans make up only 12.6 percent of the population in Texas, they comprise 44 percent of death row inmates, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Hispanics make up 39.1 percent of Texas’ population, and 26.7 percent of the death row population, while white people make up 42.6 percent of the state population, and 27.2 percent of death row inmates.
In 2017 a total of nine scheduled executions were temporarily halted: seven were held up by courts, one was stopped because prosecutors believed the inmate might confess to another murder, and another was halted due to a clerical error.
Four death row inmates who collectively served more than 100 years on death row received reduced sentences in 2017, including Duane Buck, a black prisoner from Harris County. In his 1997 trial, a prison psychiatrist told the jury he would be more dangerous in the future because of his race — in 2017, after his appeal over the discriminatory testimony went to the Supreme Court, he reached a plea deal for life in prison instead.
Two death row inmates died of natural causes this year before they could be executed.
Since 1982, Texas has executed 545 people — 279 of which took place during Rick Perry’s time as governor from 2000-2014, making him the governor with the most executions during his administration in U.S. history.