Texas Death Row Suicides

The American-Statesman had an article Sunday entitled “Texas prison suicide rate high among inmates in isolation“. Everyone on Texas death row is held in solitary confinement. The term for solitary confinement is “administrative segregation”.

Between 2007 and 2012, the 8,000 to 9,000 state prisoners housed in administrative segregation made up between 5 and 6 percent of the total prison system census. Yet in a given year, the analysis shows, their suicides have accounted for as high as 40 percent of the self-inflicted deaths. Some years, the rate of suicide among administrative segregation inmates is more than 10 times that of the general prison population.

The deaths also add to the debate over confining mentally ill inmates for long periods in relative isolation. About a quarter of Texas inmates held in administrative segregation have a diagnosis of mental illness or mental retardation.

Below are the names of the 12 people on Texas death row who have committed suicide in the modern era. This list does not include attempted suicides, which would of course be a much higher number. It also does not include cases of self-mutilation that may not have been classified as suicide attempts, such as the case of Andre Thomas, who in 2009 used his bare hands to pull his one remaining eye out and ate it.

Suicides on Texas Death Row

John Devries committed suicide on July 1, 1974 by hanging himself with bed sheets. In 1973, revision to the Texas Penal Code had once again allowed assessment of the death penalty after the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled it unconstitutional nationwide in 1972. Under the new statute, the first man (#507 John Devries) was placed on death row on February 15, 1974.

Kenneth Palafox, December 17, 1980

Stephen Mattox, June 26, 1983

Joseph Turner, July 5, 1986

James Gunter August 24, 1997

Deon Tumblin hanged himself in his cell on November 2, 2004.

Christopher Britton hanged himself in his death row cell on February 4, 2005.

Michael Johnson committed suicide by cutting his neck and arm on October 19, 2005, 15 hours before his scheduled execution. He wrote on the wall in blood “I didn’t do it”.

Jesus Flores bled to death after he cut his throat with a razor in his death row cell in Livington’s Polunksy Unit on January 29, 2008. He tried to scrawl a note with his blood on the cell wall. “It appeared he had tried to write something on the wall but it appeared largely illegible, said Michelle Lyons, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

William Robinson, 49, a psychologically troubled inmate, hanged himself with a bed sheet in his Jester 4 Unit cell on Feb 1, 2008.

Ronnie Neal, 39, committed suicide inside his death row cell at the Polunsky Unit by taking pills that he had saved up, June 12, 2010.

Selwyn Davis committed suicide on July 29, 2012. He apparently had accumulated a bunch of pills of some kind and then took them all at once. This was not his first suicide attempt on death row.

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