- Associated Press - Friday, January 1, 2016

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Texas’ highest criminal court halted more executions in 2015 than in any of the last nine years, which some legal experts say is a sign of a legal shift in the nation’s most active death penalty state.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals gave stays to eight condemned inmates last year, its highest number since at least 2007, the Dallas Morning News reported (https://bit.ly/1JjyQ0O ). That belies its reputation as a tough, conservative court generally unsympathetic to death-row appeals.

Executions nationwide fell to 28, the lowest number in 24 years, according to the newspaper. Thirteen of those executions occurred in Texas.

Some experts point to the state’s Court of Criminal Appeals gaining three new members as the reason for the shift, but others say changing national attitudes toward the death penalty are making an impact in Texas.

“I strongly suspect that the (Court of Criminal Appeals) would still rank very close to the pole representing the least hospitable areas, although the spectrum itself may have shifted a little,” said Lee Kovarsky, a University of Maryland law professor. “I think the drift of the court is certainly toward a little bit more caution in allowing executions to go forward.”

Shannon Edmonds, staff attorney for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, which lobbies for prosecutors, says he thinks exonerations in Texas and nationwide have softened the ground for death-row appeals.

“For lack of a better term, (the judges) might not be as jaded as they might be in the future after they see these kinds of claims brought up time after time after time,” Edmonds said.

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Information from: The Dallas Morning News, https://www.dallasnews.com

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