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Texas setting record pace for executions

Prison cemetery

June 17, 1997
Web posted at: 3:38 p.m. EDT (1938 GMT)

From Correspondent Charles Zewe

HUNTSVILLE, Texas (CNN) -- In Texas Monday night, a drug dealer was executed for killing a minister who was working part-time at a convenience store.

David Wayne Stoker was the first of three Texas death row inmates slated for execution this week as the state continues to put condemned inmates to death at a record pace. It's a distinction that seems to concern few Texans.

A small crowd of protesters gathered in Huntsville Monday night, outside the Texas prison known as "The Walls," to demonstrate against Stoker's pending death.

"It's just as though we had a factory over there manufacturing cars. We have a factory manufacturing death here."

-- cafe owner John Strickland

"Someday the name of Huntsville and all who had any part in this will live in infamy," death penalty opponent Marta Glass shouted into a bullhorn.

Inside, Stoker became the 22nd inmate put to death by lethal injection this year alone.

Glass called the killings a "barbaric blood bath."

Death penalty opponent and wife of a death row inmate, Carol Buntion, clutches a pole outside "The Walls"


icon AIFF or WAV(96K / 5 sec. audio)

Capital punishment capital

With 129 executions in 15 years, Texas accounts for more than one-third of all U.S. executions.

Texas has become the capital of capital punishment for three main reasons:

  • Older death row inmates have exhausted their appeals.

  • A new state law chops 2 1/2 years off the appeals process.

  • The courts have largely turned aside challenges to the state's death penalty law.

"The pace of executions across the country is almost bound to heat up not only in Texas but elsewhere," said Timothy Flanagan, director of the Sam Houston State University Criminal Justice Center.

Hardly noticed in the community

A new poll shows 79 percent of state residents support the death penalty. Seventy miles north of Houston in Huntsville, population 34,000, executions are so commonplace few townspeople pay any attention.

"It's just as though we had a factory over there manufacturing cars," says cafe owner John Strickland. "We have a factory manufacturing death here."

Most Texas news organizations only briefly report executions and seldom send reporters to the prison. But things were dramatically different in 1982, after the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for the resumption of executions.

News to someone else

Execution table

The new executions drew protesters and a barrage of news coverage, but Associated Press writer Michael Graczyk said he understands why carrying out death sentences would be less than newsworthy in some areas.

"I think it's noteworthy that the state is taking someone's life," said Graczyk, who has witnessed nearly 100 executions. "I think the story is going to get more attention in the area where the crime occurred."

For prison chaplain Jim Brazzil, who counsels the condemned, the pace of executions these days is draining.

"To watch him being strapped to the gurney and I touch his leg there and I'm with him at the moment of his death," Brazzil said. "It's a tremendous spiritual experience."

With nearly 450 inmates living on Texas death row, Graczyk and Brazzil are likely to see many more executions in Huntsville.


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