Mr. Pierce has been living on death row since 1978, longer than all but two of his neighbors. He was convicted of the 1977 murder of the manager of a fried chicken restaurant in Houston.
His first two convictions were both overturned as a result of problems with jury selection and two years ago the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new punishment hearing because Mr. Pierce was not allowed to put forth mitigation evidence at his punishment trial.
Now, rather than hold a new punishment trial, the Harris County District Attorney's Office has decided to offer Mr. Pierce life in prison. Since the punishment would be applied under the law as it existed at the time of his trial, Mr. Pierce will be eligible for parole immediately.
But why would the government finally stop trying to kill Mr. Pierce? Maybe it's because of the time the trial would take. According to Mr. Pierce's attorney, Robert Loper, jury selection alone could take a couple of weeks. The government would then have to muster its evidence and present it to the jury. Then Mr. Pierce would put forth a mitigation defense. Then there's the question of whether a jury would see blood in the water when the underlying crime took place 35 years ago. The public's appetite for revenge does cool off after a while.
In addition to the time involved, there's also the financial expense. Retrying punishment would tie up attorneys from both the DA's Office and the Public Defender's office costing the county far more money that it would to make the offer of life.
I'm sure Mike Anderson will raise a stink over the fact that Pat Lykos isn't foaming at the mouth to stick a needle in Mr. Pierce's arm. But Ms. Lykos has done the right thing. While you can criticize Ms. Lykos' management style and her dictatorial ways, one thing she has done is brought the Harris County DA's Office into the 21st century. She has done what she could to move the office past the good ol' boy days of Carol Vance and Johnny Holmes and Chuck Rosenthal. With her decision today she has shown the maturity to realize that there is no purpose in killing Anthony Pierce.
With a life sentence, there will be some degree of closure. There is no closure when the appellate and post-conviction process lasts more than three decades.
There is a small victory, however. Whenever a man or woman is taken out of the grip of the state's death apparatus, it's a victory for humanity and for decency. It's a victory for those who fight against the state's ability to kill prisoners.
For a primer in how to preserve error during jury selection, read the following opinions:
- Pierce v. State, 604 SW2d 185 (Tex.Crim.App. 1980)
- Pierce v. State, 696 SW2d 899 (Tex.Crim.App. 1985)
- Pierce v. State, 777 SW2d 399 (Tex.Crim.App. 1989)