Frequently Asked Questions
Victim Survivors Viewing Executions
How long have victim witnesses been allowed to view executions?
In late 1995, victim survivors and victim advocacy group members appeared before a panel of Texas Board of Criminal Justice members in Austin, Texas. Their plea was that the Board allow victim witnesses the opportunity to view executions. While many felt not all executions would have victim witnesses, they at least wanted the option to attend. It was voiced that attending an execution might assist in the healing process. The first execution allowing victim witnesses was on February 3, 1996. Allowing victim witnesses the opportunity to view an execution is a Texas Board of Criminal Justice Rule, and not mandated by law.
Is execution viewing limited to immediate family members of the deceased?
Initially, victim witnesses were limited to immediate family of the deceased. In 1998, at the request of victim survivors, the Texas Board of Criminal Justice revised this rule. The victim’s family is given the opportunity to invite close friends of the deceased or surviving relatives, law enforcement officials, and prosecutors previously involved in the case the opportunity to view. In May 2008, the Board expanded the rule allowing victim witnesses to be accompanied by a spiritual advisor.
How many victim witnesses may view an execution, and can anyone attend the execution without viewing?
When there is one victim, five victim witnesses are allowed to view. With multiple victims, the victim witnesses may be increased to six; however, the victim witness slots are divided evenly between the families of the victims.
If there are multiple victims, the family with the capital murder conviction for which the offender received the death sentence has priority over the witness slots, with any unused slots going to the families of the other victims whose murder the offender was undeniably responsible. Victim witnesses may also have three support person slots per execution.
These are persons that may accompany the victim witnesses to Huntsville for support, but must remain in the support room during the execution.
Victim Services Division staff will accompany both victim witnesses and their support persons during the entire execution process.
What time do executions take place and where?
The execution order states that the executions will take place after 6:00 p.m. on the scheduled date. There are times when pending legal issues in the courts or with the Governor may cause the execution to be delayed until the issues are resolved. There have also been occasions when the courts have granted a “stay of execution.”
Are victim witnesses prepared for viewing the execution?
Yes, the victim witnesses generally meet with a representative of the TDCJ-Victim Services Division on the afternoon of the execution at a designated location in Huntsville, Texas. The witnesses and support persons are advised regarding what to expect from the time they arrive at the prison unit until their departure.
What can an inmate say during their last statement?
The offender may say anything during the last statement, or choose not to make a statement. Some have expressed remorse for their crime, addressed their witnesses, and occasionally addressed the victim witnesses. Others have professed their innocence and criticized the criminal justice system.
What happens after the execution?
After the execution, the victim witnesses return to the room where their support persons have stayed during the execution. They are allowed as much time as necessary to share about the experience. The entire group will then be escorted to a media conference, if requested by the victim witnesses, or away from the prison unit.
Victim Services staff will make follow-up contact a few weeks after an execution to offer additional assistance as needed.