FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 27, 2000
AUSTIN, TX--Today state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, introduced Senate Bill 85 at a press conference in the Texas Capitol. This bill, which he recently pre-filed, adds life without parole as another sentencing option in capital cases in Texas.
"Thirty-three states in this nation, the federal government and our military justice system all have the death penalty and life without parole," said Sen. Lucio. "It is time for Texas to join these other jurisdictions and offer life without parole as a sentencing option in capital cases"
Senate Bill 85 would enable juries to sentence convicted capital felons to either death, life without parole, and life with parole (a convicted capital murderer can be released after serving 40 calendar years). Life without parole would be available in those cases where a jury determines that a death sentence should not be imposed. Currently, only about 10 percent of capital cases result in a death sentence.
Referring to the misconception of what a life sentence in Texas means, Sen. Lucio said, "When a jury decides not to impose a death penalty, they are left with a sentence that imposes what is mistakenly considered a lifetime sentence but in actuality is a life with parole sentence. If an 18-year-old broke into a house, stole property and murdered the occupants, under the current statute he could be released by the time he was 58."
Last session, Sen. Lucio sponsored Senate Bill 39, which requires that juries be instructed that a life sentence means that the defendant is parole eligible after 40 years. However, juries receive this instruction only upon the defense attorney's request. Therefore, jurors may still mistakenly believe that they are sentencing violent offenders to spend the rest of their lives in prison.
In addition to empowering jurors, life without parole could also save the state money. Unlike a defendant receiving a death sentence, an individual sentenced to life without parole sentence is not entitled to a state-paid attorney if he pursues an appeal. This would save the taxpayers a substantial amount of money as these appeals are lengthy and expensive to prosecute. Additional cost savings could be realized if a district attorney decides to accept a life without parole plea bargain in a capital case. Studies have indicated that it costs the state over $280,000 to try a capital case. Since there is no appeal from a plea bargain, this could be another potential savings to the taxpayer.
Senate Bill 85 also will help provide closure to the families of victims who will be assured that the murderer will never walk free. Currently, the families of victims have to wait and worry that the offender will be paroled after 40 years.
For the mentally retarded, life without parole also provides options. In cases involving people like John Paul Penry, a man with an I.Q. of 60 who was convicted for murder, jurors reluctant to execute such an individual would have another sentencing option besides death and 40 years.
"This bill is not a referendum," said Sen. Lucio, who remains a staunch supporter of the death penalty. He emphasized that he trusts the people of this state to do what they believe is just when sentencing capital offenders.
He added, "I think we should give them (jurors) as many options as possible and this bill does that!"
Note: Staff member assigned to this issue is Mr. Phillip T. Golden, General Counsel.