The Governor of Texas has blocked part of a bill which would have prevented the death penalty being used for a particular category of people convicted under a particular provision called the Law of Parties.
The move comes amid continued pressure from both anti and pro-death penalty advocates, with church groups lobbying on both sides of the debate.
Mainstream denominations and progressive Christian activists oppose capital punishment, while the religious right favours it.
The Law of Parties applies where someone takes part in a crime – robbery, for example – and does not kill anyone themselves but “should have anticipated” and prevented a murder by an accomplice.
Governor Rick Perry threatened to veto the bill which was passed the previous week by the Texas House of Representatives, unless the Senate House Committee removed the section which would have prevented the death penalty being applied in these cases.
However, the bill still contains a provision that defendants will get separate trials. Previously, people convicted under the Law of Parties were tried and sentenced alongside the person who actually committed the murder.
This happened in 1997 when Kenneth Foster was sentenced to death under the Law of Parties but granted life imprisonment just six hours before his scheduled execution. The co-defendant was executed on July 19 2006.
The news comes as Texas prepares for the 200th execution under Governor Perry, scheduled for 2 June 2009.
Law of Parties cases are actually very rare and account for only three of the 438 executions carried out by the state since 1982. 152 executions were carried out under former Governor, George W. Bush.