Death Chamber Has Revolving Door in Texas, With Rapidly Scheduled Executions

The crowd on death row is thinning out.

A dozen condemned inmates in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's so-called "death watch" cells are being executed at a scheduled rate of two a week over six weeks.

Two were executed the week of Oct. 13. Two were scheduled for this week. And two more the week after that. Then six more in November, adding to Texas' standing as the nation's most active death penalty state.

"It's just the way of Texas," death row inmate Alvin Kelly said in the days before his Oct. 14 execution. Kelly, convicted of shooting a family of three, including a 22-month-old boy, was the first in the current string of inmates to be given a lethal injection.

The steady stream of executions is relieving a logjam created when the U.S. Supreme Court effectively halted lethal injections around the country while it decided whether the killing method was unconstitutionally inhumane. It ruled the method was constitutional and executions resumed.

Despite the death chamber's revolving door in October and November, this is hardly a record year for executions in Texas, with a total of 21 scheduled for 2008.

In the years George W. Bush was governor, Texas executed an average of 25 convicts a year, culminating in 40 executions in 2000. Since then, the state has averaged about two dozen a year.

"Will crime stop? Will my death stop what's going on in everyday society?" asked Kevin Watts, who was executed two days after Kelly. "They're just killing people." Watts was condemned for shooting three people in the back of the head during a robbery.

Bobby Wayne Woods, 42, was scheduled to be executed Thursday, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed to have his claims of mental retardation reviewed. Woods was convicted of the 1997 murder of Sarah Patterson, the 11-year-old daughter of his ex-girlfriend. The child and her 9-year-old brother were abducted from their home in Granbury, about 25 miles southwest of Fort Worth. She died after her throat was slashed. Her brother, Cody, was choked into unconsciousness but survived.

Eric Nenno, 47, is to be executed Oct. 28. He was convicted of the 1995 rape and strangling a 7-year-old neighbor girl, Nicole Benton, in Hockley, about 30 miles northwest of Houston. Two days after she disappeared, the girl's body was found in the attic of Nenno's home.

Gregory Wright, 42, is to be executed Oct. 30. Wright, who was homeless, was convicted of taking part in the 1997 fatal stabbing of Donna Duncan Vick at her home in DeSoto, about 15 miles south of Dallas. Duncan, a 52-year-old widow, regularly ministered to the homeless and had given Wright food, shelter and money.

Besides the six more set to die in the first three weeks of November, at least six other inmates already have execution dates for early in 2009.