Texas Lawmakers Approve Life Without Parole Option

A bill that would give jurors in the No. 1 death penalty state the option of sentencing murderers to life in prison without parole is headed to the governor's desk.

The state Senate on Saturday approved the measure on a 25-6 vote. Republican Gov. Rick Perry (search) has said the issue was ripe for debate among lawmakers but has not indicated whether he would sign the measure into law or veto it.

Death penalty (search) opponents hope the proposal reduces the number of executions in Texas. They have argued that prosecutors use the prospect that a killer will someday be back out on the streets to scare juries into issuing more death sentences.

Currently, Texas juries can sentence people convicted of capital murder (search) to either death or life in prison with the possibility of parole after 40 years. Of the 38 states with the death penalty, only Texas and New Mexico do not give jurors the life-without-parole option.

"I think it will certainly help jurors and prosecutors in our state bring justice in capital murder cases," said Democratic Sen. Eddie Lucio, who sponsored the bill.

Opponents of the change, though, have argued that the current life-with-parole option gives convicts a reason to behave in prison because they know good behavior will help them get out.

Texas leads the nation in executions, with 344 inmates put to death since the state resumed the practice in 1982. Eight inmates have died by lethal injection this year; 23 were executed in 2004.