John Green, 25, is awaiting trial after being charged with murdering a woman during a robbery in Houston in 2008. He says he is innocent.
His lawyers have challenged the constitutionality of Texas' death penalty, claiming that there is a high probability of wrongful convictions and executions under current trial rules. Their effort is predicated on Texas rules that allow defendants to challenge the legality of potential punishments even before trial begins.
The state has executed 464 inmates over the last three decades -- far more than any other U.S. state. But death penalty opponents cite two prominent Texas cases in which significant exculpatory evidence has come to light years after inmates' sentences were carried out.
During roughly two weeks of testimony, state District Judge Kevin Fine will hear arguments from prominent death penalty opponents, who will shine a spotlight on the legal processes and evidentiary support used in Texas' capital punishment trials, which critics say are error-prone....
County prosecutors said they will "stand mute" during the hearing, after citing 19 reasons why it should not proceed. Prosecutor Alan Curry told Judge Fine he would "respectfully refuse to participate" in the hearing. Fine later told Curry, "I expect your participation."
Fine evoked the ire of Texas Governor Rick Perry in March when he granted a request by Green's lawyers to declare the state's death penalty as unconstitutional, a common request in capital murder cases that Texas judges routinely deny. Fine rescinded the ruling after pointing to evidence that "we execute innocent people," and called for the hearing.
Fine is a Democrat who presides in Harris County, which has sentenced more prisoners to death than any other Texas county. Texas is a predominantly Republican state where support for the death penalty runs high.