Slate – The Price of Death: Why capital punishment cases are in steep decline, even in Texas.

Randall County, Texas. Randall County, Texas.

Photo courtesy Charles Henry/Flickr

This investigation was reported and written by Maurice Chammah for The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization that covers the U.S. criminal justice system. Sign up for their newsletter, or follow The Marshall Project on Facebook or Twitter.

Just before sunrise on a spring morning last year, Larry Maples shot and killed his wife, Heather. He had tracked her to the home of a former boyfriend, a ranch hand named Moses Clemente. Maples shot and wounded Clemente. He then called 911, handed his Colt .45 revolver over to the sheriff’s deputies and confessed.

It was a shocking event for Van Zandt County, a largely agricultural swath of East Texas with roughly 50,000 residents. The local authorities had never sent someone to death row, but Maples—by shooting Clemente along with Heather Maples and thereby aggravating the murder—qualified for the death penalty under state law. It was up to the young district attorney, Chris Martin, to decide whether to seek that punishment.

Martin had been telling reporters he might seek the death penalty, but behind closed doors with the victim’s family and Clemente, the D.A. said he wasn’t sure the case was strong enough to convince a jury that Maples should be executed.

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