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More in U.S. Expressing Doubts About Death Penalty

Logli, who is also president of the National District Attorneys Association, said prosecutors in the 38 states with a death penalty "by and large believe in it as a deterrent and believe it should be used wisely, sparingly."

The New York legislature this year stopped short of renewing the state's death penalty law, which a court had declared invalid. North Carolina, where condemned prisoner Alan Gell was acquitted in a retrial with the help of evidence that was initially suppressed, created a commission to study how the death penalty operates. California, home to the nation's largest death row, with 648 inmates, did likewise.

Elsewhere, legislation on the desk of Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle (D) is designed to improve witness-identification procedures, require electronic recording of interrogations and ensure the preservation of DNA evidence. If the interviews are not recorded, juries are to be told that police violated the law.

Texas has executed more than one-third of the men and women put to death since 1976, as well as 19 of the 55 inmates executed this year. With no more executions scheduled there this month, the state's total this year will fall well below its eight-year average of 28.

Jordan M. Steiker, a death penalty expert at the University of Texas, attributes the slowdown largely to federal court concerns, notably the 2002 Supreme Court decision to bar the execution of the mentally retarded and this year's ruling prohibiting the execution of juveniles.

Gov. Rick Perry (R) has signed a law that offers juries a chance to sentence capital defendants to life without parole. He also created a Criminal Justice Advisory Council, which has a committee that will focus on the death penalty.

State Rep. Elliott Naishtat (D), a death penalty opponent from Austin, said: "We are seeing a mood change. Legislative and executive branches are responding to a clear change in public confidence."

A poll conducted by Rice University sociologist Stephen L. Klineberg found that even in Harris County, where more defendants are sentenced to die than anywhere else in the country, support for the death penalty fell from 68 percent in 1999 to 60 percent this year. In response to a separate question, 53 percent favored life without parole as an alternative.

The latest survey was conducted before last month's Houston Chronicle series on Ruben Cantu.

Prosecutors presented no physical evidence linking Cantu to the 1984 nighttime attack in San Antonio. Nor did they call the 15-year-old co-defendant, who had pleaded guilty to the lesser crime of robbery and identified Cantu, an admitted thief, as his partner. The principal witness was Juan Moreno, the wounded worker.

The jury did not believe Cantu, who said he had been in another city that night, and ordered him to die. He was executed on Aug. 24, 1993.

The Chronicle found numerous gaps and flaws in the investigation. Further, Moreno told the newspaper that he had accused Cantu under police pressure.

Cantu's co-defendant, David Garza, signed a sworn statement saying he lied when he told police that Cantu was with him that night, the newspaper reported. He now says he knew who the true killer was, but honored a neighborhood code of silence in not naming him.

"You've got a 17-year-old who went to his grave for something he didn't do," Garza said, adding that he was speaking now because of a guilty conscience. He said that as Cantu's execution date neared, he wrote Cantu's unpaid appellate lawyer from prison to say the case was "real messed up" and added: "Hope to hear from you real soon."

The lawyer told the Chronicle that she doubted the worth of Garza's comments and did not inquire further. Roy R. Barrera Jr., the trial judge, told the newspaper that he was shocked that no defense lawyer interviewed Moreno or compelled Garza to testify during the appeal. But he also said he believes Garza is now lying "because he has nothing better to do and wants to put everybody on a guilt trip."

Guilty or innocent, Cantu could not have been executed if he were prosecuted now. According to this year's Supreme Court ruling, he was too young at the time of the crime.


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