The Death Row

The death row, which was located in the East building of the Huntsville unit, remained there from the early years of 1928 to 1952. From 1952 to 1965 the electric chair was located in the Huntsville unit as well.

The men on death row were moved from the Huntsville unit to the Ellis unit in 1965 where the death row chambers would remain until 1999. In 1999 the TDCJ moved the death row unit to the Polunsky unit, however the women on death row, are housed at the Mountain View unit. The Polunsky unit houses death row offenders separately in single person cells measuring 60 square feet, with each cell having a window. Death row offenders also have individual recreation. Offenders on death row receive a regular diet; they have access to reading, writing, and legal materials. Depending on their custody level, some death row offenders are allowed to have a radio. Offenders on death row do not have a regular TDCJ-ID numbers, but have special death row identification numbers.

Inmates serving in death row have showers every other day, they are counted for at least once an hour, and they are escorted in handcuffs and wear them everywhere except in their cells, the exercise yard, and the showers. The inmates are in their cells at all times except for medical reasons, exercise, social or legal visits or media. Death row inmates are served meals three times daily; at 5:00 A.M., at 10:30 A.M. to 11:00 A.M. and from 4:00 P.M. to 4:30 P.M. The food is prepared by prison staff and is transported in an insulated cart to the cells.

The means of execution in the early years of 1819 all the way through 1923 was by hanging. In the year of 1923, the state of Texas authorized the use of the electric chair, and ordered all executions to be carried out by the state of Huntsville; prior to 1923, Texas counties were responsible for their own executions.

The first execution of an individual offender by means of electrocution by the State of Texas was on the eighth of February in 1924. Charles Raynolds from Red River County was also executed on the same date; four additional offenders Eswell Morris, George Washington, Mack Matthews, and Melvin Johnson were executed.

The State of Texas executed brothers on six occasions; Frank and Lorenzo Noel were electrocuted on the third of July, 1926; S.A. and Forest Robins as well as Oscar and Mark Brown were also executed by means of electrocution. While two other (four in total), brother-offenders were executed by lethal injection.

One of the most notorious offenders to be executed was Raynold Hamilton, a member of the “Bonnie and Clyde” gang. He was sentenced from Waufer County and was executed on the tenth of May, 1935 for murder. Hamilton and another man had escaped from death row only to be captured and eventually returned to await their fate.

The State of Texas executed the last offender by means of electrocution on July 30, 1964; Joseph Johnson from Harris County. A total of 361 inmates were executed by electrocution in the by the State of Texas.

Capitol punishment was declared “cruel and unusual punishment,” by the United States Supreme Court on June 29, 1972; however at that time there were forty-five men in Texas and seven in county jails waiting to carry out their death row sentence. Those sentences were committed to life sentences by the governor of Texas, and death row was clear by March of 1973.

In 1973 revision of the Texas penal code, once again allowed for executions to resume effective the first day of 1974. Under the new statute, the first man number five hundred seven John Durries, was placed on death row in February 1974 however his sentence was never resumed, he committed suicide by hanging himself with bed sheets in July 1974.

The State of Texas adopted lethal injection as means of execution in 1977. The State of Texas executed the first offender by lethal injection on December 1982. Charlie Brooks of Tarrant County was executed for the kidnapping/murder of a Fort Worth auto mechanic. Effective January 1996, close relatives and friends of the deceased victims were allowed to witness the executions.

Texas Capitol