This week, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals once again refused to stay the execution of Scott Panetti, a diagnosed schizophrenic man who is scheduled to be executed on December 3. In his dissent to the court’s decision, Dallas Republican Judge Tom Price voiced his opposition to the death penalty, becoming the first judge to do so on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. He is also the first Republican judge who has publicly opposed the death penalty.
Price wrote in his dissent that, “given a substantial amount of consideration to the propriety of the death penalty as a form of punishment for those who commit capital murder, and I now believe that it should be abolished.” He continued:
“Based on my specialized knowledge of this process. I now conclude that the death penalty as a form of punishment should be abolished because the execution of individuals does not appear to measurably advance the retribution and deterrence purpose served by the death penalty; the life without parole option adequately protects society at large in the same way as the death penalty option; and the risk of executing an innocent person for a capital murder is unreasonably high, particularly in light of procedural-default laws and the prevalence of ineffective trial and initial habeas counsel.”
Not only did Price cite Panetti’s case–that of a severely mentally ill man who will be put to death–as reason for his opposition, he brought up the inaccuracies that often arise in the administration of the death penalty that could put an innocent person on death row. Said Price:
“In my time on this court I have voted to grant numerous applications for writs of habeas corpus that have resulted in the release of dozens of people who were wrongfully convicted. I conclude that it is wishful thinking to believe that this state will never execute an innocent person for capital murder. … I am convinced that, because the criminal justice system is run by humans, it is naturally subject to human error. There is no rational basis to believe that this same type of human error will not infect capital murder trials.”
Price also said that the option for a life sentence without parole made the death penalty unnecessary.
Anti-death penalty advocates have lauded Price’s statements, praising him for adding to the growing chorus of voices who are pointing out the many problems with the death penalty. Price did not seek re-election in 2014, and will be replaced by Bert Richardson, who is the judge currently presiding over the case against Rick Perry. Nonetheless, his stand against the death penalty this week ensures that his legacy will be one of standing up for justice on the court.