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Press Release
April 19, 2001
Contact: Doris Sanchez
(512) 463-0127
Landmark bill adding Life Without Parole as sentencing option in capital cases passes in Senate Committee on Criminal Justice

AUSTIN, TX--Today the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice approved Senate Bill 85 by state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, that gives Texas juries a third sentencing option of life without parole in capital murder cases.

"Texas jurors currently have two sentencing options, the death penalty and life with eligibility for parole in 40 years," said Sen. Lucio. "There are many instances when jurors do not want to sentence someone to death, yet they have only the option of life with the possibility of parole. SB 85 will allow our courts and juries to lock up a criminal for the rest of his life, giving closure to the families of the victims and safety to Texas neighborhoods."

In Texas, a death penalty case costs taxpayers an average of $2.3 million, about three times the cost of imprisoning someone in a single cell at the highest security level for 40 years. Rural counties cannot always afford to try a death penalty case. The James Byrd trial cost Jasper County $992,554. The overall cost does not include overtime for the sheriff's department or for the cost of the appellate process, which is still underway.

The appellate process in a death penalty case is long and expensive. It may take an average of 7.5 years before all appeals are exhausted. A death penalty sentence is automatically appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals, and following that, there are about nine other possible avenues of appeal.

"What we have now with the death penalty sentence is the right to 'super due process' by the US Supreme Court," explained Sen. Lucio. "This form of due process allows for more appeals than are normally granted due to the irreversible nature of the death penalty. Consequently, these cases are given a higher priority than others and take up a majority of the courts' time."

Sen. Lucio also noted that the money saved from the option of life without parole could be used for more law enforcement personnel, additional penitentiary space, rehabilitation/treatment programs and education. These changes would almost certainly affect the crime rate.

Life inmates could continue to pay for their crime through restitution to the victims' families in the form of money, labor, writing letters, counseling, etc. This form of punishment would force inmates to always remember their victims. It would also allow psychologists and criminologists to better study and understand the personality, background and mental state of the criminal.

Life without parole would reserve the death penalty for the most serious and heinous crimes. For those defendants who show no remorse for their actions and have no chance at rehabilitation, the death penalty is the best option. For those defendants who can show a history of abuse, an altered mental state at the time of the offense or a chance to live a productive life behind bars, life without parole would be an available option.

"We have heard strong testimony on the benefits of this additional sentencing option to the state," added Sen. Lucio. "Additionally, 45 states currently have life without parole statutes, and 35 states, as well as the federal government, have life without parole in addition to the death penalty.

"SB 85 in no way seeks to eliminate the death penalty. It will indeed give victims' families the same peace of mind in knowing that the criminal will never walk the streets again."

Note: Staff member assigned to legislation is Ms. Cristina Nelson, legislative aide.