Press Release
From the Office of State Senator Rodney Ellis

For Immediate Release
March 4, 2005
Contact: Brandon Dudley, (512) 463-0113

Ellis and Lucio Call for Emergency Status on Legislation to Ban Execution of Juveniles and Life Without Parole
Status would mean rapid passage of SB 226 and SB 60

(Austin)// -- Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) and Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr (D-Brownsville) today called on Governor Rick Perry to designate emergency status to the two bills, SB 226, banning the execution of juvenile offenders, and SB 60 creating a "life without parole" option for Texas juries in Capitol cases. An emergency designation would allow the Texas Legislature to consider these bills on a fast track basis.

"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. We should take a positive, proactive step and pass legislation codifying the ruling into Texas law. The immediate passage of this legislation will display that Texas intends to uphold the rule of law. It is the law of the United States and simply the right thing to do."

This week, the Court held in Roper vs. Simmons that sentencing juvenile offenders to death is cruel and unusual punishment and violates the Eighth Amendment. SB 226 would bring Texas into compliance with the Court's ruling by prohibiting the imposition of the death penalty on any defendant less than 18-years of age at the time of the offense. Senator Ellis has long advocated this criminal justice reform, filing legislation, SB 218, in 2003.

"The Court's ruling also brings to light one of the major defects in our punishment system: the lack of a life without parole option in Texas," said Lucio. "Essentially, Texas juries will now only have one option when sentencing a juvenile in capital crimes cases: life with the possibility of parole. With the law as it is right now, this means that young persons who commit these terrible crimes are guaranteed to someday walk the streets again."

"SB 60 does not diminish my support for the death penalty, but as this ruling proves neither the death penalty nor life with the possibility of parole provide certainty to the families of victims - only life without parole guarantees that an these offenders will stay behind bars. Forty six other states give juries this option and so should Texans. I have complete faith in Texas juries and I believe we should give them the full range of options when deciding the severest of punishments," Lucio added.

Texas has been the leading state when it comes to handing out -- and carrying out -- death sentences for juvenile offenders. Since the death penalty was reinstituted in 1976, Texas has carried out 13 of the 22 executions of juvenile offenders, nearly 60 percent of all such executions in America. There are currently 29 inmates on Texas Death Row who were juveniles when sentenced. According to Amnesty International, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United States are the only nations believed to have carried out death sentences for juveniles since 1990, yet each of those nations has either abolished capital punishment for juveniles or has publicly disavowed the practice.

"I support the death penalty, but I believe we should implement it a little more fairly and a little less indiscriminately," said Ellis. "For those who disagree, no one is talking about not holding juvenile offenders responsible for their actions. For the worst offenders, we are saying we should lock them up and throw away the key, but reserve the ultimate penalty is reserved for adults. It is more humane, more consistent and now it is the law of the land."

Regarding SB 60 and the Court's ruling, Lucio noted, "It is now time, more than ever, to pass this important piece of legislation. Now, more than ever, the safety of the citizens of this state demands this. We have one choice left to make. Are we going to allow persons who Texas juries would previously sentence to death to be eligible for parole one day or are we going to lock those people up and keep them away from our community forever?"