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Texas on pace for more executions in 2009

As more states debate whether to stop executing criminals, Texas — long the nationwide leader in executions — has geared up and is on pace to execute perhaps more than twice as many Death Row inmates this year as in 2008.

On Wednesday, Texas marked its 12th execution of the year, the second in as many days. Eighteen inmates were put to death in all of 2008 — the lower-than-average number stemmed from a months-long freeze in executions as the U.S. Supreme Court studied whether lethal injection was unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment.

"Texas is far and away the most frequent user of the death penalty," said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University. "We are on a tear here in 2009.

"If it's an eye for an eye, we take far more eyes than every other state," he said. "The rest of the country looks at us and wonders what we are doing."

Since 1976, 432 executions have taken place in Texas, far more than in Virginia, which had the second-highest number of executions with 103, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Some states are clamoring to abolish the practice. Even in Texas, bills have been filed to do away with the death penalty because life without parole is now an option.

But death-penalty opponents hold out little hope for success in the legislative session that ends June 1. State Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, who is co-sponsoring bills to stop executions, said there's not enough support in the Legislature now to stop what critics have long called the "conveyor belt of death" in Texas.

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