Texas senators want sentencing changes

March 4, 2005 at 2:32 PM
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AUSTIN, Texas, March 4 (UPI) -- Two Texas senators Friday urged swift action on legislation to change the state's sentencing laws in light of the new ban on executing juvenile killers.

Sens. Rodney Ellis and Eddie Lucio, both Democrats, asked Republican Gov. Rick Perry to designate emergency status for two bills because of this week's U.S. Supreme Court decision.

One bill would write the ban into Texas law and the second would give juries the option of sentencing offenders to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Only straight life sentences are possible now, with parole possible after 40 years.

"Until this week, America stood alone in executing juveniles and Texas was at the front of the line," said Ellis. "As the state most affected by the Supreme Court's ruling, I believe Texas cannot be passive in its reaction."

Texas has carried out 13 of the 22 executions of juvenile offenders in the United States since the death penalty was restored in 1976. There are currently 28 inmates on Texas death row who were under 18 when they committed murder.

Lucio said the ruling also brings to light a major defect in the state's sentencing laws: the lack of a life without parole option. Without that alternative, he said juveniles convicted of "terrible crimes" could be paroled someday.

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