LIVINGSTON, Texas | A dozen condemned inmates in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s so-called “death watch” cells are being executed at a scheduled rate of two a week over six weeks.
Two were executed the week of Oct. 13. Two were scheduled for this week. And two more the week after that. Then six more in November, adding to Texas’ standing as the nation’s most-active death-penalty state.
“It’s just the way of Texas,” death row inmate Alvin Kelly said in the days before his Oct. 14 execution. Kelly, convicted of shooting a family of three, including a 22-month-old boy, was the first in the current string of inmates to be given a lethal injection.
The steady stream of executions is relieving a logjam created when the U.S. Supreme Court effectively halted lethal injections across the country while it decided whether the killing method is unconstitutionally inhumane. It ruled the method is constitutional, and executions resumed.
Despite the death chamber’s revolving door in October and November, this is hardly a record year for executions in Texas, with a total of 21 scheduled for 2008.
In the years George W. Bush was governor, Texas executed an average of 25 convicts a year, culminating in 40 executions in 2000. Since then, the state has averaged about two dozen a year.
“Will crime stop? Will my death stop what’s going on in everyday society?” asked Kevin Watts, who was executed two days after Kelly. “They’re just killing people.”
Watts was condemned for shooting three people in the back of the head during a robbery.
While the high court was considering the legality of lethal injection, the de facto moratorium didn’t stop capital murder appeals moving through the courts. For many of the inmates now with execution dates, their convictions and sentences were upheld either before or during the hiatus.
The Supreme Court’s 7-2 decision in April holding that injection is not unconstitutionally cruel allowed executions to resume, and nine have been carried out in Texas already this year, the most in the nation.
Kelly, unlike some of his fellow prisoners in the Polunsky Unit, said he looked forward to dying, although he insisted evidence was manipulated and he was innocent in the deaths of toddler Devin Morgan and his parents, Jerry and Brenda, in East Texas in 1984.
“I’m tired of being here,” said Kelly, 57, who had been on death row since 1991. “This is not life.”
Watts, 27, was convicted of the execution-style shootings of Hak Po Kim, Yuan Tzu Banks and Chae Sun Shook during a robbery at a San Antonio restaurant in 2002. The wife of one of the victims was abducted, tortured and raped, but survived to testify against Watts.
Other inmates already executed or set to die this month include:
• Joseph Ries, 29, was executed on Oct. 21. Ries was convicted of breaking into a rural home in Hopkins County in northeast Texas, fatally shooting the man who was sleeping there and driving off in his car. Ries was 19 at the time of the slaying of 64-year-old Robert Ratliff.
• Bobby Wayne Woods, 42, was scheduled to be executed Thursday, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed to have his claims of mental retardation reviewed. Woods was convicted of the 1997 murder of Sarah Patterson, the 11-year-old daughter of his ex-girlfriend.
• Eric Nenno, 47, is to be executed Oct. 28. He was convicted of the 1995 rape and strangling a 7-year-old neighbor girl, Nicole Benton, in Hockley, about 30 miles northwest of Houston.
• Gregory Wright, 42, is to be executed Oct. 30. Wright, who was homeless, was convicted of taking part in the 1997 fatal stabbing of Donna Duncan Vick at her home in DeSoto, about 15 miles south of Dallas.