“I don't want you to be confused and think I'm suicidal or anything like that. It's not natural for somebody to want to die,” said Jerry Duane Martin at a hearing about his death penalty case in June. He had been on death row since 2009, after he attempted to escape from the Wynne Unit, where he was already serving fifty years. A correctional officer had been killed during the incident. In the presence of his attorneys and prosecutors, Martin was now answering the judge’s questions to determine whether his decision to give up his appeals was rational and truly his own. “I've done the wrong thing all my life,” he said. “I'm tired. This is my one chance to do the right thing.”
Martin was convicted of the murder and tonight he will be executed by lethal injection. But another inmate who attempted to escape with him—and who some argue is also culpable for the death of the correctional officer—is not on death row. His name is John Falk, and he hasn’t yet been convicted; his case is in a peculiar and rare form of legal purgatory.
The bizarre story of their escape and the wildly different outcomes in their cases is testament to a much broader truth about the death penalty in Texas: whether or not an execution takes place is the product of a dizzying array of factors.