HOUSTON -- An unusual hearing on the constitutionality of the death penalty in Texas has started in a Houston courtroom.
Lawyers for John Edward Green Jr. say they will try to show how death penalty cases are handled in Texas creates a risk that innocent people will be executed. Green faces a possible death sentence if convicted of fatally shooting a Houston woman during a June 2008 robbery.
The hearing began on Monday after prosecutors said they wouldn’t take part. Prosecutors say the issues being debated are settled case law or have no relevance to Green’s case.
The hearing was called by Harris County Judge Kevin Fine, who in the spring granted a defense motion and declared the state’s death penalty statute unconstitutional. Fine later rescinded the ruling and ordered the hearing.
During the hearing, anti-death penalty heavy-hitters like Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project will try and convince the judge that Texas has executed at least two innocent men.
"The only way to get to the bottom of whether or not innocent people are in prison and real assailants are on the street that can be identified and apprehended is to expeditiously find the evidence," said Scheck in a previous interview on the topic.
Green’s attorneys will attempt to show flaws in confessions, eyewitness identification and forensic evidence that have led to previous wrongful convictions.
Green’s attorneys say the hearing is not about whether or not Texas should have a death penalty. Their claim is that the way it is done in Texas is simply unconstitutional.
Most Texans consider the death penalty a fitting punishment for the worst kind of crimes, and Harris County has sent more inmates to the lethal-injection gurney than any other in Texas.
Harris County has sentenced 286 people to death since Texas resumed executions in 1982, and 115 of those have been executed.
Dudley Sharp, a death penalty expert from Houston who has worked with crime victims’ groups, described Fine as irresponsible and predicted that if he rules the death penalty is unconstitutional, the decision would likely be overturned on appeal.
"This is settled case law already," he said. "It’s just going to be a worldwide kangaroo court for the anti-death penalty folks."