Our New Report on Extreme Racial Disparities in Harris County’s Use of the Death Penalty

Dear Supporters,

My name is Estelle Hebron-Jones, and I am the Director of Special Projects at Texas Defender Service, a role that I stepped into in December of last year after five years as an attorney at TDS. 

On behalf of TDS, I am thrilled to share with you our latest report, titled Arbitrary and Capricious: Examining Racial Disparities in Harris County’s Pursuit of Death Sentences.

This report is the culmination of months of hard work and research from our team and aims to shed light on deeply concerning issues entrenched within Harris County’s criminal legal system.

The release of Arbitrary and Capricious coincides with the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2017 decision in the Texas death penalty case Buck v. DavisIn Duane Buck’s trial, a Harris County District Attorney elicited testimony from an expert that Mr. Buck’s race—Black—made him more deserving of the death penalty. The Supreme Court ruled that Duane Buck’s 1997 trial in Harris County was tainted by this racist testimony and required reversal.

Despite this ruling, the truth is that racial disparities persist within the confines of Harris County’s courtrooms. Shockingly, 20 out of the last 21 individuals sentenced to death in Harris County have been people of color. Of these 21 cases, appellate or post-conviction briefs have been filed in 19 of them; 17 of these briefs have allegations that race influenced the trial or sentence in some way.

Our report not only highlights the historical patterns of racially motivated prosecution but also underscores the contradiction between racism and justice. We invite you to read the report and share it with your network or lift it up on X.

While the injustices we document may be specific to Harris County, they resonate with broader systemic challenges present throughout our country’s legal system. No matter where you live, by sharing our report with your network, you can play a vital role in raising awareness and mobilizing support for meaningful change.

With genuine thanks,

Estelle Hebron-Jones
Director of Special Projects
Texas Defender Service