AUSTIN (KXAN) – Government databases hold a trove of information, and with the advances of technology, much of it has become more readily available. But what sort of information is open to the public?
A noteworthy discovery in the online database for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice shows a list of executed death row inmates, and available on the list are the last statements given by the inmates, which are available for anyone to read.
Texas adopted lethal injection as means of execution in 1977 and executed the first inmate by lethal injection on Dec. 7, 1982. The inmate was 40-year-old Charlie Brooks, Jr., and he was the first person to leave a final statement to be recorded in the TDCJ online archive.
According to the TDCJ database, Brooks was placed on death row after a mechanic was shot and killed in 1976 in Tarrant County.
I, at this very moment, have absolutely no fear of what may happen to this body. My fear is for Allah, God only, who has at this moment the only power to determine if I should live or die… As a devout Muslim, I am taught and believe that this material life is only for the express purpose of preparing oneself for the real life that is to come… Since becoming Muslim, I have tried to live as Allah wanted me to live.Charlie Brooks, Jr.’s last statement
On the list, many of the last statements were expressions of faith, love for family and/or sympathy and apology for people affected by the crime. There were also occurrences where people declined to make a statement.
John Balentine, 54, was executed on Feb. 9. Ballentine was found guilty of capital murder after shooting and killing three teenagers in Amarillo in 1998. In his statement, Balentine apologized for the crime.
I want to thank y’all. I love y’all for supporting me. I want to apologize for the wrong I did to y’all. Forgive me, I’m ready ma’am.John Balentine’s last statement
According to the TDCJ, the average time on death row prior to execution is 11.22 years. The shortest time on death row in Texas was 252 days, and the longest was 11,575 days. In the state, the youngest person at the time of execution was 24 years old, while the oldest was 78 years old.
According to the TDCJ, the following crimes constitute Capital Murder in Texas:
- murder of a peace officer or fireman who is acting in the lawful discharge of an official duty and who the person knows is a peace officer or fireman;
- murder during the commission or attempted commission of kidnapping, burglary, robbery, aggravated sexual assault, arson, obstruction or retaliation, or terroristic threat;
- murder for remuneration or promise of remuneration or employing another to commit murder for remuneration or promise of remuneration;
- murder during escape or attempted escape from a penal institution;
- murder, while incarcerated in a penal institution, of a correctional employee or with the intent to establish, maintain, or participate in a combination or in the profits of a combination;
- murder while incarcerated in a penal institution for a conviction of murder or capital murder;
- murder while incarcerated in a penal institution serving a life sentence or a 99-year sentence for a conviction of aggravated kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault, or aggravated robbery;
- murder of more than one person during the same criminal transaction or during different criminal transactions but the murders are committed pursuant to the same scheme or course of conduct;
- murder of an individual under 10 years of age, or older than 10 years of age but younger than 15 years of age; or
- murder in retaliation for or on account of the service or status of the other person as a judge or justice of the supreme court, the court of criminal appeals, a court of appeals, a district court, a criminal district court, a constitutional county court, a statutory county court, a justice court, or a municipal court.
History of Death Row executions in Texas
Since 1819, the State of Texas has executed 1,334 people. According to the TDCJ, the most recent execution was Feb. 9, 2023.
Hanging was used as a means of execution from 1819 to 1923, until the use of the electric chair was authorized in the state, according to the TDCJ. Between 1819 and 1923, 390 people were executed by hanging.
Starting in 1923, all executions were ordered to be carried out in Huntsville, Texas. Prior to the order, Texas counties were responsible for their own executions, according to the TDCJ.
The electric chair remained the main execution method until 1964.
“A total of 361 inmates were electrocuted in the State of Texas,” the TDCJ said.
In June 1972, capital punishment was declared “cruel and unusual punishment” by the U.S. Supreme Court. According to the TDCJ, in 1973, a revision to the Texas Penal Code allowed for executions to resume starting Jan. 1, 1974.
On Jan. 12, 1996, the state started allowing close relatives and friends of the deceased victim to witness executions.
The TDCJ said Texas leads the nation in the number of executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Texas also ranks third in having one of the largest death row populations. Tther states included California, Florida and Alabama.
Data from the TDCJ showed executions in Texas peaked in 2000, when 40 people were put to death.