Monday, October 01, 2007

Nueces D.A. won't seek death penalty while Supreme Court has yet to rule

Caller Times
By Mary Ann Cavazos (Contact)
Monday, October 1, 2007

— The Nueces County District Attorney’s Office put a hold on seeking the death penalty in capital murder cases on Monday in light of the Supreme Court’s decision last week to hear a case that questions whether lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment.

Under Texas law, capital murder carries only two possible sentences: death or life in prison without parole.

“Until we can get some direction from the Supreme Court, we will waive the death penalty and seek life in prison, which is the only other punishment allowed,” District Attorney Carlos Valdez said.

The case, which will be heard by the high court early next year, was filed by two inmates on death row in Kentucky who claim that lethal injection is inhumane and violates the Eighth Amendment.

The local self-imposed moratorium, which took effect Monday, will not affect any of the county’s pending capital murder cases because the office already had decided not to seek the death penalty.

Assistant District Attorney Mark Skurka said it also won’t affect the cases of four Nueces County men on death row for capital murder but is more of a precautionary measure.

Most states that allow the death penalty use lethal injection to put inmates to death. But at least six states have halted executions because of issues surrounding the method, which uses a combination of anesthetic, muscle paralyzer and a substance to stop the heart.

So far this year, 42 people have been executed in the country. Texas, which has put 26 inmates to death by lethal injection, leads with the most executions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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