US

Top Texas court is unlikely source of execution reprieves

  • FILE - In this Sept. 21, 2011 file photo, a corrections officer keeps watch outside the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Huntsville Unit in Huntsville, Texas. Texas highest criminal court has become an unlikely source for a lull in executions this year in the nation's most active death penalty state. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

    FILE - In this Sept. 21, 2011 file photo, a corrections officer keeps watch outside the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Huntsville Unit in Huntsville, Texas. Texas highest criminal court has become an unlikely source for a lull in executions this year in the nation's most active death penalty state. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)  (The Associated Press)

  • In this May 27, 2008 file photo, the gurney in Huntsville, Texas, where Texas' condemned are strapped down to receive a lethal dose of drugs is shown. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, viewed historically as little more than a speedbump on condemned inmates' road to the death chamber, in recent weeks has halted the lethal injection of four inmates with execution dates approaching. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan, File)

    In this May 27, 2008 file photo, the gurney in Huntsville, Texas, where Texas' condemned are strapped down to receive a lethal dose of drugs is shown. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, viewed historically as little more than a speedbump on condemned inmates' road to the death chamber, in recent weeks has halted the lethal injection of four inmates with execution dates approaching. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan, File)  (The Associated Press)

Texas' highest criminal court has become an unlikely source for a lull in executions this year in the nation's most active death penalty state.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals historically has been seen as little more than a speedbump on a condemned inmate's road to the death chamber. Yet in recent weeks it's postponed punishments of four inmates whose execution dates neared.

Combined with two similar actions by the court earlier this summer, the six reprieves have led to a more than five-month hiatus in carrying out the death penalty in Texas. It's the longest pause in lethal injections in Texas in almost nine years.

While the Texas court's most recent postponements have come in quick succession, no common thread appears to suggest an ideological shift by the bench.