Life Without Parole on Life Support . . . Again
Leave it to Harris County DA Chuck Rosenthal to screw up the new life without parole bill. As I've discussed here before, Texas currently does not have a sentence of life without parole. For a capital case, the only two options are death or life with parole. Many people believe that juries are more likely to sentence someone to death if they fear they could one day be released on parole. And that's exactly why death-loving DAs like Rosenthal and his predecessor Johnny Holmes (Harris County sends the most people to death row in the state) have opposed it for years. This legislative session, it looked like common sense was finally going to prevail when the Senate passed a LWOP bill. The original bill which would have given juries three sentencing options--death, life without parole, or life with parole--was held up in the Senate, even though a majority there supported it. So, a compromise was worked out which would replace life with parole in capital cases with life without parole. That bill passed the Senate. Now, despite the fact that the bill likely has enough votes to pass in the House, someone has put a hold on it. And who is most likely to blame for the hold? Chuck Rosenthal, of course! Rosenthal claims he opposes life without parole because it makes it harder to control people in prison when they have no hope of making parole. Of course, this is just his opinion, based on no actual studies or research that show that in the 48 states that have life without parole, this is a problem. And I haven't heard the prison guards lobbying against this bill, and you'd think they would if they really thought it would cause problems for them with inmates. Rosenthal also argues that fewer people charged with capital murder will take a plea bargain for a life sentence if they have no hope of parole. That is probably true, but the solution to that is to reduce the charge to non-capital murder and give them life with parole. Granted, the person will be eligible for parole in 30 years (the amount of time you must serve on a life sentence before being parole eligible) instead of 40 years (the amount of time you must serve on a life sentence in a capital case life sentence before eligibility), but if you're really concerned about giving them the hope of parole, I don't think there's a huge difference between 30 and 40. The truth is that Chuck Rosenthal doesn't give a damn about controlling people in prison, and he knows the plea bargain issue is not even a real issue. He just doesn't want jurors to have the option of life with parole because it makes them less willing to sentence to death. Plain and simple. A super-majority of Texans support giving juries the option of life without parole in capital cases. It's time the state legislature and the governor (who could still veto the bill, even if it passes the House) stopped letting one bully DA make all the decisions when it comes to the death penalty in this state.