Texas History 101

The Death Penalty.

THE DEATH PENALTY IN TEXAS began in 1835 with a piece of five-strand manila hemp rope. Under the administration of Stephen F. Austin, a man by the name of Joseph Clayton was hanged for the murder of Abner Kuykendall. Executions were a public affair at this time, so crowds of people would gather to witness the noose deliver “the hangman’s fracture,” said to cause instantaneous death by forcefully snapping the jaw and rupturing the spinal cord. It was not until 88 years later that capital punishment laws were seriously revised. State Senator J.W. Thomas passed a bill in 1923 that changed the means of capital punishment from hanging to electrocution, outlawed public executions, and required the state, rather than the county, to be responsible for carrying them out. One year later in 1924, Charles Reynolds from Red River County was the first person to be put to death by electrocution.

Over the next few decades, electrocution became the mandated method of execution throughout most of the country. It was deemed more humane and ultimately considered a more civilized means of putting a criminal to death. Electrocution was far from perfect however, and suffered its share of aspersions. Eventually gruesome stories about burning flesh and eyeballs popping out of their sockets began to circulate, and electrocution was seriously questioned. The last offender to be executed by electrocution in Texas took place on July 30, 1964. Between the years of 1924 and 1964, a total of 361 inmates were electrocuted in Texas.

Capital punishment was at an all time low throughout the late 1960’s. Numerous cases made it to the Supreme Court arguing that the death penalty inflicted cruel and unusual punishment and was therefore in violation of the 8 th amendment of the Constitution. In 1972 the debate culminated in the Supreme Court case of Furman vs. Georgia, in which the Supreme Court ruled the death penalty, in its current state, to be cruel and unusual punishment. This landmark case resulted in

More Texas Monthly

Loading, please wait...