Bill Would Create Larger Lawyer Pool

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Former prosecutors without experience as defense attorneys could find themselves appointed to help indigent defendants facing the death penalty.

That's the thrust of legislation tentatively approved by the Texas House Thursday. A final vote is expected Monday.

The bill's author is House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee Chairman Terry Keel. The Austin Republican says his bill would create a larger pool of attorneys who could be appointed to represent indigent defendants.

Under current law, lawyers must have lead defense experience in a significant number of felony cases -- including murders -- before they're appointed to a death penalty case.

Supporters of the Keel bill say former prosecutors have experience and skills that defense attorneys lack -- including knowledge of what to expect from prosecutors.

Critics, however, contend the bill is a step backward in attempts to raise the quality of lawyers in death penalty cases.