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Texas gears up for flood of executions

bed April 4, 1997
Web posted at: 4:20 a.m. EST

HUNTSVILLE, Texas (CNN) -- As anti-death penalty protesters chanted outside a Texas prison Thursday evening, a fatal dose of drugs flowed into the arm of convicted murder David Wayne Spence, marking the second time in 24 hours that Texas put an inmate to death.

Already the most active capital punishment state in the nation, the Texas death house is expected to get even busier in the next few weeks because of a new state law speeding up the appeals process in death penalty cases. Four more executions are set for April and four more for May.

Only three inmates were put to death in all of 1996, thanks to a court challenge to the new law. But a state appeals court has now rejected that challenge, which means the pace of executions is expected to increase.

"So many of these cases have gone on for years and years and years," says James Marquart of Sam Houston State University. "I think it's an attempt to bring closure to a lot of the cases that are currently pending."

Nationally, 12 executions are scheduled for April.

Quicker executions heighten debate


A quicker date with death for the 457 inmates on death row in Texas sits well with people such as Lex and Betty Baquer, whose ex-son-in-law, Bob Fratta, faces a death sentence for hiring two men to kill their daughter.

"We're not vindictive people," says Lex Baquer. "We just want justice done."

Even death penalty opponents concede that the sentiments expressed by the Baquers would find a lot of sympathy in Texas.

"There are people in this state that would ... take them all out and kill them within a year," says David Atwood of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

"These are going to be very dark days for this state and this country when it comes to executions," says Rick Halperin of Amnesty International. "We're going to see a flurry of them."


One of the protesters outside the prison Thursday night was ACLU activist Marta Glass, whose husband was put to death for murder in Louisiana.

"They're not going to feel better the morning after," she says. "Another mother is crying because there's another dead child."

Spence protests innocence to the end


Spence was convicted of the 1982 stabbing deaths of three teen-agers at a lakeside park near Waco. Two accomplices pleaded guilty and testified against him.

Spence insisted he was innocent. Speaking from the gurney in the death house Thursday, he turned toward members of the victims' families and said "I wish you could get the rage from your hearts and could see the truth and get rid of the hatred."

The brother of one of the victims was heard to mutter, "Just die, just die."

Correspondent Charles Zewe contributed to this report.


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