CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Spotlight on a Texas Capital Crimes Defense Attorney

From The Observer recently published an article showcasing the life of a death penalty defense attorney in Texas.  Here is an excerpt:

Texas sentences more people to death than any other state in America, and the emotional toll on its defence lawyers is so great that many only ever work on a handful of cases. Not so Jerry Guerinot. He's defended 39 men and women. The bad news: 20 have been sentenced to death.

A few miles west of downtown Houston, in his office on a scruffy industrial estate, Jerry Guerinot, probably America's most dangerous defence lawyer, reflects on his career. For a conscientious attorney, death penalty murder trials create 'absolutely the most pressure you can have', he says emphatically. 'You never want anybody to be sentenced to death on your watch. I'm never happy to see anybody get sentenced to death. I don't think anybody could ever be happy.'

Guerinot, a big man with a booming voice and thinning, silvery hair, says that at the age of 62 he's finally had enough of the legal death business in which he's toiled for more than 25 years. '[If] the state tries you for the death penalty in Harris County [the jurisdiction in which Houston sits], the chances of you getting it are huge. And the chances of you having it carried out against you are even bigger.' Guerinot is right - as of July this year, 98 Harris County men and two women have been dispatched since the US Supreme Court restored the death penalty in 1976. Houston has 1.3 per cent of America's population but carries out 10 per cent of its executions.

But however great the trauma of losing a client, Guerinot, who earlier acted as a prosecutor in six cases in which the defendant received the death penalty, says he can't recall how many of those he defended have been sentenced to die in Texas's well-used lethal injection chambers: 'I want to say maybe 10 to 15, somewhere in there.' But he cannot, he admits, remember them all: 'There's just so many.'

According to Guerinot, 'significantly more did not get death than got death'. In fact, no fewer than 20 of the men and women Guerinot has represented since he turned to defence work have been sentenced to death. Two had their sentences commuted when the Supreme Court ruled in 2005 against capital punishment for juveniles, because they were under 18 when they committed their crimes. Thirteen are still on death row. Five have already been executed, the most recent last year. Rest of Article. . .

[Mark Godsey]

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