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Report Highlights Failures in Texas Death Row System

A two-part report published on Monday by the Wren Collective, a group of former public defenders who do criminal justice research and policy, found that in most Harris County, Texas cases ending in a death sentence over the previous 20 years, defense lawyers failed to find and present compelling evidence that could have kept their clients off of death row, Jessica Schulberg reports for the Huffington Post.

The report authors reviewed 28 cases and found that trial attorneys missed important evidence that could have convinced a prosecutor to drop a death sentence or a juror to choose a life sentence, including evidence of mental illness, intellectual disability, physical abuse and sexual abuse. In many cases, attorneys failed to prepare key witnesses until the day they were scheduled to testify. The cause, according to the report, is Harris County’s indigent defense system for capital cases, which creates “an inherent conflict of interest,” where lawyers may feel pressure to rush a case or request insufficient resources to remain in a judge’s good graces. Because these private lawyers are paid hourly rather than on a salary, they have an incentive to maintain caseloads that far exceed recommended guidelines.

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