Texas (United States) is to execute on April 21 its oldest death row inmate, Carl Buntion, convicted of killing a police officer more than thirty years ago but who, at 78, no longer represents any danger to society, say its supporters.

In June 1990, this man, raised by an alcoholic and violent father, had already been convicted 13 times and was on parole for a sexual assault on a child.

During an intervention for a common traffic violation in Houston, Carl Buntion shoots and kills policeman James Irby.

Sentenced to the death penalty, he saw this verdict overturned in 2009 by the highest Texas court, which considered that the defense had not been able to be properly heard by the jurors.

But in 2012, he was again sentenced to death.

Texas plans to execute 78-year-old Carl Buntion on April 21st.

He is the oldest person currently on death row in Texas after serving more than 31 years.

Carl does not pose any future danger as required under Texas law for a person to be eligible for the death penalty.


— Sister Helen Prejean (@helenprejean) April 11, 2022

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"Ethical issue"

In this case, Carl Buntion's defenders are not seeking to prove his innocence.

"Every day for the past 32 years, I have regretted what happened," said the latter during an interview with the KHOU 11 channel last week.

But in this large conservative southern state, the most executed in the United States, a person can only be sentenced to death if a jury finds that he represents a future danger to others.

However, Carl Buntion, who suffers in particular from osteoarthritis, dizziness, hepatitis and cirrhosis, "can no longer be dangerous", argue his lawyers in an appeal to the Texas Pardons and Parole Board, which decide two days before the date of execution.

Carl Buntion, who has only been convicted of three disciplinary offenses during his decades of incarceration, has been isolated in his cell 23 hours a day for 20 years.

“In Texas, people on death row are placed in a tiny cell with barely a small slit at the top for a window,” recalls Burke Butler, director of the Texas Defender Service association.

"They can't see the ones they love except by being separated by a window, talking on a phone," she adds.

Being in solitary confinement for 30, 40 or 50 years is “torture”, assures Burke Butler.

Last year, the US Supreme Court refused to overturn Carl Buntion's conviction, but progressive judge Stephen Breyer ruled that the length of his confinement "calls into question the constitutionality of the death penalty".

“It is a real ethical and human question about the obsession of the State of Texas to want to execute at all costs, whatever the conditions”, reacts for his part Raphaël Chenuil-Hazan, director of the Association Ensemble contre the death penalty.

Firing squad

In Texas, 192 men and six women are waiting on death row.

Three are over 70 years old, and five are there for crimes dating back over 40 years.

After that of Carl Buntion, the execution of Melissa Lucio, accused of having killed her 2-year-old daughter in 2007, is scheduled for April 27.

Sentenced after a controversial trial, she is supported by many elected Democrats and Republicans, as well as reality TV star Kim Kardashian, who helped publicize what her defenders call a miscarriage of justice.

Since the 2000s, Texas has seen a marked decrease in executions.

From 137 between 2000 and 2004, their number fell to 35 between 2017 and 2021. A total that remains much higher than those of other American states.

For Burke Butler, this decline is explained by the awareness, among prosecutors, "that the death penalty is an excessive and cruel punishment", but also by the fact that "people have better lawyers".

Because in the face of capital punishment, not everyone is equal.

"We end up on death row because we are poor and poorly defended", maintains Burke Butler.

In Texas, 45% of people awaiting execution are black, compared to just 13% of the population.

Inequalities and an ethical debate that go far beyond the borders of the State.

In South Carolina, Richard Moore, who is to be executed on April 29, was the first convict to have to choose between the electric chair… and the firing squad.

The inmate chose the second option.

Introduced there in May 2021, this method exists in three other American states, although it is very little used.


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