TEXAS DEATH ROW NEWS:
No fun & games, serious information and news

    The images above may seem like graphics from Bigpoint MMO games, but the topic at hand is definitely not something you'd find in MMO games on the market today. No, the very serious topic of the death penalty in the Texas prison system is certainly not something being included in MMO games and for good reason. It's a heavy topic, highly debated, and not exactly the kind of thing you'd want included in your children's games. However, here you can find all the information you need on the topic of the Texas death penalty, see below for the latest stories and information.


2014:


    March 3

    Justice for Louis Castro Perez!

    The 5th Circuit Court has released an opinion denying relief to innocent Texas death row prisoner Louis Castro Perez. Many folks will be familiar with the case through Louis' sister, Delia Perez Meyer, who sits on the board of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty.

    Delia has been a tireless advocate for her brother and all death row prisoners.

    She has travelled the world in the fight to win death penalty abolition. For some time, Louis has been fighting to win DNA testing of several items found at the crime scene that contain the DNA of an unknown person, including on a bloody towel wrapped around a knife found at the crime scene! For more facts about the physical evidence and issue in this case please check out:
    Justice for Louis Castro Perez!

    The latest appeal for Louis was based on an issue of ineffective assistance of counsel. The 5th Circuit had previously rendered a judgement denying Louis relief. His lawyer then had 30 days to respond, however, she failed to respond to a 30 day deadline for filing a new motion with the district court. In fact this attorney received notification of the deadline and without alerting Louis or the other consulting attorney on the case, she decided on her own not to respond to the motion, effectively abandoning her client.

    In March of 2012, after being made aware of the error, the court granted a motion to allow Louis to reenter the appeal that his lawyer should have made. However, late last week the 5th Circuit vacated that order, and has decided to let the original judgement of denial of relief stand.

    We will continue to fight for justice for Louis Castro Perez and against any execution date!

    The full judgement from the 5th Circuit can be read here.

    (Source: CEDP)


    Feb. 24

    In Texas, Death-Row Gold Diggers Reportedly Marry Texas Inmates for Life Insurance

    It's a curious phenomenon, the "death row groupies" who become enamored with men who committed some of the most vile crimes you can imagine. When Scott Peterson arrived at California's San Quentin State Prison fresh off a conviction of murdering his wife and unborn child, he received a marriage proposal within the 1st hour.

    "These are usually women who would love to date a rock star or rap idol, but if they wrote to a musician, they might get a letter. Here they could get a marriage proposal," as Northeastern University criminologist Jack Levin, author of Extreme Killing: Understanding Serial and Mass Murder, explained to D in 2011.

    In Texas, these proposals have often resulted in actual nuptials carried out (if not consummated) through a practice called proxy marriage, in which the inmate signs an affidavit allowing them to wed without being physically present. But with proxy marriages virtually banned during the previous legislative session, and because the Texas Department of Criminal Justice won't allow prison weddings, death row and other inmates no longer have the chance to formalize their unions.

    The state's de facto ban on prison marriages is only temporary. The Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that prisoners have a right to marry. Besides, state Representative Trent Ashby, the author of Texas' proxy-marriage limitations, has said repeatedly that it was meant to cut down on fraud, not prison weddings.

    Still, the matter has provided a glimpse at a specimen related to but distinct from the death row groupie. Via The Dallas Morning News, meet the death-row gold-digger.

    [Polk County Clerk Schelana] Walker wrote to Ashby to support the bill after watching a parade of women troop through the courthouse to marry condemned inmates on nearby death row. Some seemed sincerely in love, she said.

    "They would show up in a white wedding dress with flowers. It was a big deal," she said.

    Others, particularly those from Europe, seemed more businesslike.

    After obtaining the license, most brides-to-be went down the hall to be married immediately by a local justice of the peace.

    Walker said the JP often asked them "what drew their interest" to death row.

    In her letter to Ashby, Walker said the JP was "advised by many of these women that they will go back to their country and get a life insurance policy on the absent applicant because their country doesn't recognize the death penalty."

    Walker said in an interview that one woman married a death row inmate who was executed in a matter of months.

    "And within a few months after that," Walker said, "she was back getting a marriage license to marry someone else."

    (Source: Dallas Observer)


    Feb. 20

    KCBD Investigates: The Cost Of The Death Penalty

    More than 500 people have been executed in the state of Texas since 1976, including 2 from Lubbock in just the past year.

    However, while Texas may lead the nation in executions, no one seems to know how much this is costing the taxpayers.

    Right now, there are 274 offenders on death row at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas. The state spends large amounts of money on those individuals every year, but Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark says those numbers don't exist.

    "We don't break out the cost of general population as opposed to an inmate that's on death row. There's just a flat figure for offenders that spend time in a state-operated prison," Clark said.

    TDCJ gets their figures from the Legislative Budget Board, who says the state spends about $57 per day housing inmates across Texas. However, that number is an average of the lowest to highest security inmates.

    KCBD: "Bottom line, we don't know how much it costs to keep an inmate on death row?"

    CLARK: "No.

    KCBD: "And do you think there is something wrong with that?"

    CLARK: "Our cost analysis is done by the legislative budget board."

    Life on death row is significantly different than it is in general population, which could mean a higher price tag.

    "Offenders on death row are single-celled, so they spend about 22 to 23 hours a day in their cell. They eat there; they would come out for recreation and a shower," Clark said.

    Kristin Houle is the executive director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. She says the meter starts running the second a county pursues that sentence.

    "In Texas, the average time when someone is sentenced and executed is about 10 to 12 years, so they are entitled to both state and federal appeals and those impact the taxpayers," Houle said.

    Houle tells us the last comprehensive study on the cost of the Texas Death Penalty was done in 1992 by the Dallas Morning News. They nailed down a $2.3 million price tag for executions, versus $750,000 for a life sentence. That was 20 years ago.

    "We have seen state after state who have managed to conduct cost studies on the death penalty. In fact, there are concerns that Texas has actually done it on the cheap," Houle said.

    KCBD was able to find out how much the state is paying for execution drugs. According to receipts we've obtained, a compounding pharmacy in Houston was paid $2,800 for 8 vials of Pentobarbital.

    We reached out to the Legislative Budget Board to find out if any death penalty cost studies were planned for the future and they said there were not.

    (Source: KCBD news)


    Feb. 12

    Rick Perry Lures Washington State Residents to Texas with Thriving Death Penalty

    Responding to the news that Washington Governor Jay Inslee had suspended the death penalty in his state, Texas Governor Rick Perry seized on the opportunity to urge Washington residents to "vote with your feet and move to Texas, where the death penalty is thriving."

    At a hastily called press conference this afternoon, the Texas Governor made an emotional appeal to Washingtonians who might be disappointed by the sudden suspension of executions in their state: "Come to Texas. The death penalty is alive and well here."

    Blasting Governor Inslee, he reassured Washington residents that if they move to Texas, "as God is my witness, no one will ever take your death penalty away from you."

    "That's just not what we're made of in Texas," he said. "We believe in the sanctity of death."

    (Source: Andy Borowitz, The New Yorker)


    Woman Executed in Texas for 1998 Torture Killing

    Feb. 5

    A woman convicted of torturing and killing a mentally impaired man she lured to Texas with the promise of marriage was put to death Wednesday evening in a rare execution of a female prisoner.

    The lethal injection of Suzanne Basso, 59, made the New York native only the 14th woman executed in the U.S. since the Supreme Court in 1976 allowed capital punishment to resume. Almost 1,400 men have been put to death during that time.

    Before being put to death, Basso told a warden who stood near her, "No sir," when asked to make a final statement. She appeared to be holding back tears, then smiled at 2 friends watching through a window. She mouthed a brief word to them and nodded.

    As the lethal dose of pentobarbital took effect, Basso, dressed in a white prison uniform, began to snore. Her deep snoring became less audible and eventually stopped.

    She was pronounced dead at 6:26 p.m. CST, 11 minutes after the drug was administered.

    Basso was sentenced to die for the 1998 slaying of 59-year-old Louis "Buddy" Musso, whose battered and lacerated body, washed with bleach and scoured with a wire brush, was found in a ditch outside Houston. Prosecutors said Basso had made herself the beneficiary of Musso's insurance policies and took over his Social Security benefits after luring him from New Jersey.

    The execution, the 2nd this year in Texas, came about an hour after the Supreme Court rejected a last-day appeal from Basso's attorney who argued she was not mentally competent.

    Lower federal courts and state courts also refused to halt the punishment, upholding the findings of a state judge last month that Basso had a history of fabricating stories about herself, seeking attention and manipulating psychological tests.

    Leading up to her trial, Basso's court appearances were marked by claims of blindness and paralysis, and speech mimicking a little girl.

    "It was challenging, but I saw her for who she was," said Colleen Barnett, the former Harris County assistant district attorney who prosecuted Basso. "I was determined I was not going to let her get away with it."

    Basso's attorney, Winston Cochran Jr., argued she suffered from delusions and that the state law governing competency was unconstitutionally flawed.

    Her lawyer said a degenerative disease left her paralyzed, but Basso, who used a wheelchair, blamed her paralysis on a jail beating years ago. At a competency hearing two months ago, she testified from a hospital bed wheeled into a Houston courtroom and talked about a snake smuggled into a prison hospital in an attempt to kill her.

    But she acknowledged lying about her background, including that she was a triplet, worked in the New York governor's office and had a relationship with Nelson Rockefeller.

    She originally was from the Albany and Schenectady areas of New York.

    Prosecutors said Musso was living in New Jersey when he met either Basso or her son at a church carnival, then moved to Jacinto City, east of Houston, with an offer of marriage. Evidence showed Basso was already married but took over Musso's benefits and insurance.

    An autopsy showed Musso had several broken bones, including a skull fracture and 14 broken ribs. His back was covered with cigarette burns, and bruises were found all over his body.

    Basso became a suspect after reporting Musso missing following the discovery of his body. 5 others also were convicted, including Basso's son, but prosecutors only sought the death penalty for Basso.

    "Suzanne ran the show for sure. ... She was the one in charge. She directed them. She wanted the money," Barnett said. "She's a heinous killer."

    Among witnesses testifying at Basso's punishment trial was her daughter, who told of emotional, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her mother.

    About 60 women are on death row in the U.S., making up about 2 % of the 3,100 condemned inmates. Texas, the nation's busiest death-penalty state, now has executed 5 women and 505 men.

    The last woman executed in Texas before Basso was Kimberly McCarthy, who was put to death last June for killing her neighbor near Dallas and cutting off the 71-year-old victim's finger to steal her wedding ring.

    Basso becomes the 2nd condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Texas and the 510th overall since the state resumed capital punishment on December 7, 1982. Basso becomes the 271st condemned inmate to be put to death in Texas since Rick Perry became governor in 2001.

    Basso becomes the 7th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1366th overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977.

    (Sources: Associated Press & Rick Halperin)


    Jan. 30

    Advocates Urge Prison Officials to Reconsider Death Row Isolation

    Unlike other inmates in Texas' sprawling prison system, inmates who receive the ultimate punishment are automatically sent to solitary confinement. On Texas' death row, they spend 23 hours a day in their tiny cells. They can't work, watch television, have physical contact with family members who visit, or access educational or rehabilitative programs.

    Advocates hope that the living standards and privileges for the more than 270 inmates on death row could change now that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is reviewing and updating its Death Row Plan. The plan defines the responsibilities of staff who working on the row and activities in which inmates there are allowed to engage.

    Department spokesman Jason Clark said in a statement that despite the review of the plan, "there are no significant changes anticipated." He added that it is a routine review and that there is no scheduled completion date.

    A coalition of inmates' rights activists including mental health groups, religious officials, security experts and civil rights advocates this week sent TDCJ its suggested revisions to the plan. The groups say that solitary confinement is costly, increases staff stress and inmate suicide and gives inmates no incentives for good behavior. Under the advocates' proposed changes, inmates could earn the opportunity to receive more visits from family members.

    They could participate in group recreational and religious activities, work in on-site jobs, and use the television and the phone.

    Before 1999, when death row inmates lived in the Ellis Unit in Huntsville with other inmates, the prisoners could participate in such activities. After convicted murderer Martin Gurule???'s 1998 escape from death row, the TDCJ moved the row to the Polunsky Unit in Livingston and adopted the current solitary confinement arrangement.

    Lance Lowry, president of the Huntsville American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said the creation of the current system was a knee-jerk reaction to Gurule's escape and did not address the problems of training and equipment for prison employees. The TDCJ increased the physical security and upgraded facilities in the prisons but failed to better equip the staff, Lowry said.

    "This has not been a positive thing for the inmates or the staff," Lowry said. "There has been increased aggression toward officers."

    While prison officials individually assess other inmates to determine the type of security and housing arrangements that are appropriate, as they are in many states with the death penalty, those with death sentences are sent automatically to solitary confinement. They have no opportunity to work their way out with good behavior.

    But in a ruling in November, a federal district court in Virginia ruled that the state violated death row inmates' right to due process by automatically sending them to solitary confinement in much the same way Texas does. The court, calling that state's death row "dehumanizing," found that death row inmates did not inherently present a bigger risk to the prison system and that, like other inmates, they were deserving of rehabilitative resources in the event that their appeals to the court might one day lead to their release.

    The National Alliance on Mental Illness says the TDCJ's current system of long-term solitary confinement has been shown to cause mental health disturbances, suicide, depression, paranoia, psychosis and other antisocial behaviors. Greg Hansch, the policy coordinator for NAMI Texas, said it fosters an unsafe environment for both inmates and staff.

    "Sticking with the status quo is alarming," Hansch said.

    It is also more expensive to house inmates in solitary confinement, and the advocates' proposed revisions that would allow for inmates with good behavior to live in units with non-death row inmates who are serving time for similar crimes. Lowry suggested that the TDCJ could redirect the savings toward training and incentives for solitary confinement staff to reduce turnover.

    TDCJ spokesman Clark said in a statement that the agency is reviewing the suggestions like it would any public input.

    (Source: KBTX news)


    Texas Execution May Put Americans Abroad at Risk

    Jan. 24

    The Texas execution of a Mexican in the Lone Star State may put Americans who run afoul of the law in foreign countries at greater risk. Texas has executed Mexican citizen Edgar Tamayo despite pleas from Mexico and Washington. The 46-year-old, jailed 20 years ago for murdering a Houston police officer, was the 1st of the condemned in Texas to be executed in 2014.

    To take pressure off of diplomatic relations with Mexico, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had intervened and asked Texas to delay the execution. The request was condemned by the officer's family as well as death penalty supporters.

    Gary Gaddis, a brother of the slain officer said, "We're [outside the Texas execution site] here to remind the public who the true victim is in this crime and to warn the public that John Kerry has no right to try to chain the lock to the Supreme Court and turn the keys over to the international community."

    In 2004, the judicial body of the United Nations, informally known as the World Court, ruled that the US was to review the conviction of Tamayo. Also at stake were the convictions of 50 other Mexican citizens who saw their Vienna Convention rights violated. A Texas execution faced most of those 50 as well.

    Kerry had reached out to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbot seeking a stay of execution for Tamayo. The Secretary of State's appeal included concerns that the execution may set a benchmark for how American's are treated overseas.

    While Kerry didn't doubt the facts of Tamayo's conviction nor did he express sympathy for Tamayo, his statement said, "...I am raising because it could impact the way American citizens are treated in other countries."

    Unable to travel to the U.S. to say goodbye, Tamayo's family gathered in Miacatlan as news of his death was received.

    Mexico had objected strongly to the execution. The country claimed that Tamayo had never been made aware of his legal right to seek help from the Mexican consulate. In a statement issued earlier in the week, the Mexican government said that it strongly opposed the execution. The statement went on to say that any failure by the U.S. to review the case would constitute a violation of America's obligations under international treaties.

    The criticism from the Mexican government and subsequent appeal from the U.S. State Department followed claims by Tamayo's attorneys that he was not promptly told he could get assistance from the Mexican consulate after his 1994 arrest. Records from the trial show that the Mexican consulate became aware of the case just as the trial began.

    Prior to the execution, the U.S. Supreme Court looked at 2 last-ditch appeals Wednesday. The 1st looked at the problem of Tamayo's mental health and whether it made him ineligible for execution. The 2nd issue was related to the consulate matter.

    Officer Gaddis, 24 when he was murdered, had been taking Tamayo and another man to jail from the scene of a robbery. Tamayo, who had hidden a pistol in his trousers, shot Gaddis three times in the neck and head. Tamayo escaped but was recaptured close by. Still in the handcuffs Gaddis had put on him, Tamayo was also wearing the robbery victim's watch and necklace.

    The last item on a Facebook page set up for Edgar Tamayo only read:

    #EdgarTamayo ya murio a las 9:32 R.I.P.

    Danniel

    Texas led the country in executions in 2013 with 400 instances. The 2nd most active death row was in Florida with 38. A Texas execution is conducted with the injection of a single drug, phenobarbital.

    (Source: Guardian Liberty Voice)


2013:


    Dec. 17

    Deadly Statistics----38, 55, 500 -- TCADP Recounts The Grim Toll Of Capital Punishment

    While Harris County retains its rank as the county that has sent the most defendants to Death Row since reinstatement in 1976, in recent years Dallas County has surged forward, earning it the top spot for new death penalty sentences since 2008, according to a report released this morning by the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

    Of the 55 inmates condemned to die since 2008, Dallas sent 20% (11 defendants) to death row during the last 5 years, according to the annual TCADP report.

    That distinction is unsettling, given that Dallas County also leads the state in the number of exonerations established through DNA evidence, with 24 men exonerated through mid-2012. "While most of Texas is moving away from the death penalty, Dallas County has emerged as a major outlier in its pursuit of the ultimate punishment, particularly for defendants of color," Kristin Houle, TCADP executive director, said in a press release. "These troubling patterns directly counter Dallas' reputation as a leader in criminal justice reform."

    Indeed, while the number of new death sentences handed out in Texas remained low in 2013 - just 9 new sentences were delivered, the same as in 2012 (up by one over the 8 delivered in 2010 and 2011) - geographically, the use of the death penalty remains isolated, and the imposition of the ultimate sentence on minority defendants remains high. In the last 2 years, just 12 of Texas' 254 counties have imposed death sentences and 18 people in all were sentenced to death; 5 of those were from Dallas County. Since 2008, Travis County has sentenced just 3 persons to death, and returned no new death sentences in 2013.

    And since 2008, 2/3 - or more - of all new death sentences were imposed on minorities. In Dallas County, for example, of the 11 men sentenced to die since 2008, 8 are black and 2 are Hispanic. In Harris County, 12 of the last 14 defendants sentenced to death were black and the other two were Hispanic. Harris County last sent a white man to death row in 2004, according to the report.

    Texas also marked an execution milestone in 2013, with the 500th execution since reinstatement. At year end the total was up to 508 inmates put to death since 1982, when Texas resumed executions. In all, 16 inmates were executed this year, up from 15 in 2012. Texas accounted for 42% of all executions in 2013, putting to death more than 2 times as many persons as the second most active state, Florida, which executed seven inmates. (At press time, 38 inmates had been executed in 2013; 1 execution, in Oklahoma, is pending.)

    TCADP will be hosting a Tweet Chat today (Tuesday, Dec. 17), from 3-4pm, at #2013TXDP, with yours truly - @chronic_jordan - serving as a moderator. We'll be ready to discuss the implications of Texas' use of the death penalty and eager to answer #deathpenalty related questions.

    (source: Austin Chronicle)


    Nov. 30, 2013

    Conservatives Vs. The Death Penalty

    Opposition to the death penalty is not just the province of the political left.

    This year has seen the emergence of a new national group, Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, which has been assembling a network of like-minded activists since its debut at the Conservative Political Action Conference in March in National Harbor, Md. This month, the conservative group announced a partnership with a Ron Paul-inspired, campus-centered organization, the Young Americans for Liberty.

    The driving principles are capital punishment's incompatibility with the conservative ideals of restraining government, protecting life and maintaining fiscal responsibility.

    The political right has teamed up with the left to push "smart on crime" reforms in sentencing and incarceration, among other issues. From the standpoint of this newspaper and our opposition to the death penalty, that same political axis could be key to making further inroads as more states consider joining the 18 that have already abolished the practice.

    Texas, it is clear, is a stronghold of death-penalty support. A University of Texas-Texas Tribune poll this fall showed 74 % of Texans in favor - about 14 points above national support expressed to a similar death-penalty question in a Gallup Poll last month.

    The Texas poll showed that about 13 % of the registered voters who opposed the death penalty identified themselves as conservatives.

    One such Texan is criminal defense attorney Pat Monks of Houston, a Republican precinct chairman in Harris County. Monks said he once was a fervent supporter of capital punishment, a position that hardened after a friend was murdered. He said he would attend social justice seminars to press his point, once even heckling noted capital punishment opponent Sister Helen Prejean, who came to speak.

    Ultimately, Monks said, the futility of seeking justice through the death chamber hit home to him. The impossibility of eradicating human error from the system hit home to him.

    Monks said he came to see no deterrent value for a punishment that's imposed unevenly at an intolerable expense to the public. Monks asserts that a more suitable punishment is sending a killer to a "4-by-8 cell, 23 hours a day for the rest of his life."

    Monks joined the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty; he says he's 1 of 3 conservative board members. This year, he was asked to help staff the booth that the Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty set up at the Maryland CPAC convention.

    It was a surprise, Monks said, to see how many conservative activists at the convention stopped by to discuss the death penalty. "People would come up and say, 'Man, I'm with you on that.'"

    That's not where most Texans are, not by a long shot. Most hold the same pro-death-penalty position Monks once held. We hope more will do the inquiry he did and have that same transformation.

    Supporters of new Conservative Group

    "I believe that support for the death penalty is inconsistent with libertarianism and traditional conservatism. So I am pleased with Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty's efforts to form a coalition of libertarians and conservatives to work to end capital punishment."--Ron Paul, former Texas member of Congress and Republican presidential candidate.

    "I'm opposed to the death penalty not because I think it's unconstitutional per se - although I think it's been applied in ways that are unconstitutional - but it really is a moral view, and that is that the taking of life is not the way to handle even the most significant of crimes. Who amongst anyone is not above redemption?"--Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the religious-liberty advocates American Center for Law and Justice.

    "Conservatives have every reason to believe the death penalty system is no different from any politicized, costly, inefficient, bureaucratic, government-run operation, which we conservatives know are rife with injustice. But here the end result is the end of someone's life."--Richard Viguerie, direct-mail mogul and major funder of conservative causes.

    [sources: Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty; Religion News Service; Sojourners]

    (source: Editorial, Dallas Morning News)


    Oct. 3, 2013

    This Texas County Kills More People Than Any Other County In America

    Since 1976, Harris County, Texas has executed more criminals than any other U.S. county, according to a study from the Death Penalty Information Center(DPIC). The county includes Houston, Texas' largest city.

    The results show that more than 1/2 of America's executions since 1976 come from only 2% of its counties. And Harris County tops the list. Los Angeles leads the U.S. in putting people on death row - but it hasn't killed as many criminals as Harris County.

    Within the top 1%, 15 counties comprise 30% of nationwide executions. Harris County killed more inmates than any other county in that group. It has executed 115 people since 1976. The next-highest, Dallas County, executed just 50 people in that period.

    Harris County has been sharply criticised for the way it handles death penalty cases.

    A 2011 study about race and the death penalty from the Houston Chronicle found that of the last 13 men sentenced to die in Harris County, 12 were black. The lone, white male requested a death sentence after strangling and torturing 4 women and girls and raping 3 of them.

    Texas executes the most criminals of any state. More than 1/3 of Texas??? 305 death row inmates - and 1/2 of the 121 black death row inmates - came from Harris County, according to the same study.

    A more recent analysis from Raymond Paternoster, a criminologist at the University of Maryland, found the district attorney in Harris County more than 3 times as likely to pursue the death penalty for black criminals.

    Duane Buck, accused of a double murder in 1997, is often cited as an example of bias against black defendants in Texas. The court allowed a psychologist to classify Buck as more dangerous and more likely to re-offend simply because of his race, according to the Texas Observer.

    Brent Newton, a professor at the University of Houston Law Center, wrote a frequently cited article in the 90s that tried to explain why Texas executes so many people, according to Frontline. For one thing, Texas appeals court judges are elected, and they have to appear tough on crime for successful re-election. And up until about 2001 Texas didn't have a public defender system for poor defendants and instead relied on outsourced lawyers who weren't necessarily familiar with capital cases.

    Mistakes have definitely been made in Texas' death penalty cases. The top 2% of counties for executions also constitute 52% of the death penalty reversals since 1976, according to DPIC.

    (source: Business Insider)


    Oct. 2, 2013

    Texas Reveals Execution Drug's Origin

    The nation's most active death-penalty state has turned to a compounding pharmacy to replace its expired execution drugs, according to documents released Wednesday, weeks after Texas prison officials declined to say how they obtained the drugs amid a nationwide shortage.

    The Texas Department of Criminal Justice, responding to a Freedom of Information request from The Associated Press, released documents showing the purchase of 8 vials of the drug pentobarbital last month from a compounding pharmacy in suburban Houston. Such pharmacies custom-make drugs but aren't subject to federal scrutiny.

    Texas' previous supply of the sedative expired last month, but prison officials wouldn't say where they were getting their new supply. Several companies have been refusing to sell the drug for use in executions, leading to a shortage in death penalty states, though at least South Dakota and Georgia have also turned to compounding pharmacies.

    Texas - which carries out far more executions than any other state - now has enough pentobarbital to carry out scheduled executions into next year, department spokesman Jason Clark said. Pentobarbital has been used as the lone drug in lethal executions in Texas for more than a year.

    "The agency has purchased a new supply of the drug from a Texas pharmacy that has the ability to compound," Clark said.

    A message left by the AP for the pharmacy, The Woodlands Compounding Pharmacy, wasn't returned Wednesday.

    Texas' purchase invoice shows that the warden from the Huntsville Unit, which houses the state's death chamber, bought eight 2.5-gram vials of pentobarbital on Sept. 16. 5 grams, or 2 vials, are used in each execution, with another 5 grams available should they be needed to complete the execution.

    Clark said the agency also has purchased from the same pharmacy another eight vials that will expire April 1. The recently purchased supply will expire in March.

    The disclosure came a day after a federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of 3 death-row inmates who are challenging the state's use of the new drugs. Among the defendants is death-row inmate Michael Yowell, who is scheduled for execution on Oct. 9 for killing his parents at their home in Lubbock.

    The lawsuit, filed in Houston, contends that Texas' use of untested drugs during an execution would violate the U.S. Constitution's protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

    "Use of compounded pentobarbital would constitute a significant change in the lethal injection protocol, a change that adds an unacceptable risk of pain, suffering and harm to the plaintiffs if and when they are executed," the suit said.

    Clark said he had not seen the lawsuit and would not comment on it.

    The lawsuit also alleged that prison officials have been trying to obtain execution drugs in the name of the "Huntsville Unit Hospital," though a hospital at the prison hasn't operated since 1983. Clark said the state corrections department had a current federal drug agency number registered to the Huntsville Unit.

    Texas switched to a lethal, single dose of the sedative pentobarbital last year after one of the drugs used in its previous 3-drug execution process became difficult to obtain. Legal challenges were filed to that revision but failed.

    Other death-penalty states have encountered similar problems after some drug suppliers barred the drugs' use for executions or have refused, under pressure from death-penalty opponents, to sell or manufacture drugs for use in executions.

    South Dakota has carried out 2 executions using the sedative from a compounding pharmacy. Georgia has said it's taking that route, but it's difficult to tell exactly how many states have used or are planning to use compounding pharmacies for execution drugs because states frequently resist disclosing the source of the drugs.

    Georgia's 1st use of an execution drug obtained through a compounding pharmacy was put on hold in July after the condemned inmate challenged a new state law that bars the release of information about where Georgia obtains its execution drug.

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers products from compounding pharmacy unapproved drugs and does not verify their safety or effectiveness. But such businesses came under intensified scrutiny after a deadly meningitis outbreak was linked to contaminated injections made by a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy.

    (source: Associated Press)


    Sept. 20th

    Report Calls For Death Penalty Law Changes

    A committee report on the Texas death penalty calls for changes in the state law. Former Texas Governor Mark White says he does support the death penalty in some situations, but our system can't remain as it is. He's hoping the Legislature could play a role.

    He says changes in the law could help, saying the group's report, "Calls for changes that can be done by judges today, and also by district attorneys today. So, it's a very full and comprehensive study."

    White says the changes would put Texas in the 21st Century. He points out that 12 former death row inmates have been exonerated, in many cases by DNA evidence.

    "When you sit there next to a fella who's had 2 execution dates set for him, spending over 18 years on death row, and later to found absolutely innocent of the crime, that should change people's minds," he says.

    (source: KTRH news)


    Sept. 19th

    Texas Won't Switch Execution Drug

    The nation's most active death penalty state says it won't change its execution drug, but won't say how it will replace its supply that expires this month.

    "We have not changed our current execution protocol and have no immediate plans to do so," Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark said in a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday, shortly before the state carried out its 12th execution this year. He would not elaborate on how the state will obtain the drug.

    Texas switched to a lethal, single dose of the sedative pentobarbital last year after one of the drugs used in its previous three-drug execution process became difficult to obtain and the state's supply expired. Other death-penalty states have encountered similar problems after some drug suppliers barred the drugs' use for executions or have refused, under pressure from death-penalty opponents, to sell or manufacture drugs for use in executions.

    In the past 2 years, pentobarbital has been used alone or in concert with other drugs in all executions in the U.S.

    Some death penalty states, including Georgia, have said they're turning to compounding pharmacies for pentobarbital. Such pharmacies make customized drugs not scrutinized by the Federal Drug Administration. It's hard to tell exactly how many states have used or are planning to use compounding pharmacies for execution drugs because states frequently resist disclosing the source of the drugs.

    Missouri, meanwhile, is planning to use propofol, an anesthetic which gained infamy in the 2009 death of pop star Michael Jackson, as the lethal drug for scheduled executions of two convicted killers later this year.

    If Texas plans to continue using the same execution drug, it would make sense that it would get it from a compounding pharmacy, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington.

    "States are taking different routes, but they're all facing this kind of crisis," he said.

    Dieter said it's hard to know if getting execution drugs through compounding pharmacies will become the norm for states. But he expects there will be legal challenges to the procedure as inmates and their attorneys will want to find out information about the drug, its dosage, the reliability of its manufacturer.

    Georgia's 1st use of an execution drug obtained through a compounding pharmacy was put on hold in July after the condemned inmate challenged a new state law that bars the release of information about where Georgia obtains its execution drug.

    "This is a basic matter of due process. A defendant has a legitimate interest in how he's going to be executed," he said.

    The FDA considers compounding pharmacy products unapproved drugs and does not verify their safety or effectiveness. However, such businesses have come under scrutiny after a deadly meningitis outbreak was linked to contaminated injections made by a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy.

    As of May 2012, Texas had 46 of the 2.5-gram vials of pentobarbital - presumably enough to execute as many as 23 prisoners, since each execution requires a 5-gram dose. The execution Thursday of Robert Gene Garza, convicted of being involved in the fatal ambush shootings of four women in the Rio Grande Valley, was the 21st lethal injection since that disclosure.

    Texas by far has executed more inmates than any other U.S. state since a Supreme Court ruling in 1976 allowed executions to resume. Since 1982, when Texas resumed carrying out capital punishment, the state has executed 503 inmates.

    It's possible the drug issue could result in court challenges by death penalty opponents or attorneys for the inmates facing imminent execution, such as Arturo Diaz, set to die in Texas next week for the slaying of a Rio Grande Valley man stabbed nearly 100 times during a 1999 robbery.

    Garza, in late appeals Thursday to the U.S. Supreme Court, contended the state should disclose the expiration date of drugs intended for his execution, arguing that those nearing the end of their shelf life could fail and leave him in pain, paralyzed or comatose.

    (Source: Associated Press)


    Sept. 18

    Texas Death Penalty System in Urgent Need of Reform: Report

    The Texas Capital Punishment Assessment Team, organized by the American Bar Association (ABA), today issued a comprehensive report with recommendations to help ensure fairness and accuracy in the state's death penalty system.

    "Evaluating Fairness and Accuracy in State Death Penalty Systems: The Texas Capital Punishment Assessment Report" is the culmination of a 2-year review of Texas capital punishment laws, procedures and practices by an assessment team of former judges, prosecutors, elected officials, practitioners and legal scholars.

    "A just system of capital punishment in our legal system requires procedures that ensure that only those deserving of the ultimate punishment are sentenced to death, and that the public have confidence in the adequacy of the criminal justice system to that task," said Jennifer Laurin, Professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, and chairwoman of the Assessment Team. "Texans cannot accept less than the strongest system of checks and balances to ensure that our capital punishment system is fair and minimizes the risk of wrongful convictions and unjust executions."

    Former Gov. Mark White, who oversaw 19 executions during his term, said, "I know that no decision is as weighty or significant as whether or not to allow an execution to go forward" and that he is "pleased that this report brings into clear focus the current state of the death penalty system in Texas and recommends prompt action to protect the innocent and provide a fair and accurate system for every person who is sentenced to death."

    Paul Coggins, former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas, noted that mistakes in the administration of the death penalty lead to serious public safety concerns with the innocent being convicted, possibly facing execution, while a guilty perpetrator remains free to commit additional crimes. Such a flawed process exacts an intangible toll on victims' families.

    "State and federal courts spend significant time and resources correcting errors in capital cases - errors that could have been prevented - to the detriment of the vast majority of Texans who rely on the justice system every day. We can do better," Coggins said.

    Recent reforms like the Michael Morton Act, improved handling of eyewitness identifications, and creation of new institutions like the Criminal Justice Integrity Unit, the Regional Public Defender for Capital Cases and the Office of Capital Writs have all strengthened capital punishment procedures in Texas.

    Despite recent progress, assessment team members have identified a number of areas in which the state's death penalty system fall far short.

    Notably, the Lone Star State appears out of step with better practices implemented in other capital jurisdictions, failing to rely upon scientifically reliable evidence and processes in the administration of the death penalty, and providing the public with inadequate information to understand and evaluate capital punishment in the state.

    The nearly 500 page report states that the system could be helped with a myriad of reforms to correct short-comings in death penalty administration, including defense services, procedural restrictions and limitations on state post-conviction and federal habeas corpus proceedings, jury instructions, an independent judiciary, racial and ethnic minority representation, and mental retardation and mental illness.

    Of the 500-page Report, team member and former Chairman of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Charlie Terrell noted, "This document catalogues numerous reasons why I asked to have my name taken off the death row unit in Huntsville."

    (Source: PR Newswire)


    Sept. 18th

    Bar Association: Texas Death Penalty System Falls Short

    Texas has improved its criminal justice system following dozens of exonerations in recent years, but a new study the American Bar Association will release Wednesday finds that the death penalty system here still falls far short when it comes to fairness and eliminating the risk of executing the innocent.

    "In many areas, Texas appears out of step with better practices implemented in other capital jurisdictions, fails to rely upon scientifically reliable methods and processes in the administration of the death penalty and provides the public with inadequate information to understand and evaluate capital punishment in the state," the report says.

    The report, which outlines a host of recommendations to improve the criminal justice system, is part of the bar association's national project examining the implementation of the death penalty in states. While it praises Texas for recent improvements intended to increase fairness, the report says much work remains. The organization says its recommendations would restore public confidence in the system and help to ensure that Texans aren't wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death. Those include requiring the indefinite preservation of biological evidence in violent crimes, abandoning the evaluation of "future dangerousness," banning the execution of those with mental retardation and mental illness and establishing an innocence commission to examine the lessons of wrongful convictions.

    "Texas has made some good policy decisions over the last couple of years," said Royal Ferguson, the founding dean of the University of North Texas at Dallas College of Law and a former U.S. district judge who served on the association's Texas Capital Punishment Assessment Team. "There are a lot more that need to be made."

    Prosecutors contacted for this story declined to comment because they had not yet seen the embargoed report.

    Since 1989, there have been 132 Texas convictions overturned, including those of 12 people who were on death row, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. In recent legislative sessions, lawmakers have passed new laws designed to prevent erroneous convictions. In 2007, lawmakers established a regional public defender's office for those accused of capital crimes. In 2009, legislators created the Office of Capital Writs to represent death row inmates.

    2 years ago, lawmakers required that local police agencies begin using better practices for photograph lineups. And this year, the Legislature approved the Michael Morton Act, which requires prosecutors to turn over police reports and witness statements to defense lawyers.

    The report calls on lawmakers to require police agencies to preserve biological evidence in death penalty cases. Among the exonerations in Texas, 48 were based on the results of DNA testing. This year, lawmakers approved a law that requires testing of all biological evidence in death penalty cases. But in older cases, like that of death row inmate Hank Skinner, who was convicted in 1995 of murdering his live-in girlfriend and her 2 sons at their Pampa home, tracking down evidence to test can become challenging. Skinner fought for about a decade to obtain DNA testing he claims will prove his innocence in the brutal killings. The courts finally allowed the testing in 2012, but the state has been unable to locate a key piece of evidence, a man's windbreaker that Skinner argues could contain DNA that leads to the real killer.

    A key recommendation in the report, Ferguson said, is the elimination of the use of "future dangerousness" as an element in the jury's decision-making in death penalty cases. In Texas, juries are asked to determine whether the defendant would commit violent crimes in the future before sentencing a person to death.

    In 2002, then-Attorney General John Cornyn acknowledged that Texas had made a mistake in 7 cases where prosecutors used testimony from a doctor who indicated to the jury that the defendants would present a bigger risk for future violence because they were black or Hispanic.

    "It's impossible for anybody to try to predict the future," Ferguson said. "That part of the law needs to be repealed immediately."

    The report also suggests that Texas lawmakers should specifically ban the death penalty in cases where the defendant suffers from mental retardation or mental illness. And it urges the state to require the use of current scientific standards in evaluating whether a defendant is mentally retarded or mentally ill.

    The U.S. Supreme Court in 2002 ruled in Atkins v. Virginia that states could not execute the mentally disabled because it violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. But it allowed states to develop their own criteria for mental disabilities. Texas lawmakers, though, have been unable to agree on criteria, leaving it to the courts to decide how defendants should be evaluated.

    The standards currently used to determine whether a Texan convicted of murder is mentally fit to be executed are called the "Briseno" standards - after the case that led to their development - and are based, in part, on the fictional character Lennie from John Steinbeck's classic novel Of Mice and Men.

    The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, in its Briseno ruling, wrote that "most Texas citizens would agree that Steinbeck's Lennie should, by virtue of his lack of reasoning ability and adaptive skills, be exempt from execution. But does a consensus of Texas citizens agree that all persons who might legitimately qualify for assistance under the social services definition of mental retardation be exempt from an otherwise constitutional penalty?"

    The court's 3-part definition requires the convicted inmate to have below average intellectual function, to lack adaptive behavior skills and to have had those problems prior to age 18.

    Reform advocates argue the existing standards have resulted in the execution of some inmates who ought to have been classified as mentally retarded. And state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, proposed legislation this year that he said would create more scientifically sound standards, calling the current ones "junk science."

    But prosecutors have argued that the existing standards ensure that Texas doesn't violate the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

    Finally, the report calls on Texas to create a commission to investigate each of the state's wrongful convictions, identify the factors that contributed to them and consider ways to solve those problems through legislation or other policy changes.

    Lawmakers have proposed such a commission in recent legislative sessions, but the measures have failed. State Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Southside Place and a former prosecutor and judge, was one opponent during the 2013 legislative session.

    "Anyone listening to this could not argue we haven't made significant reforms in criminal justice," Huffman said during a legislative hearing in May. "We do not need yet another layer to go through this again."

    Jennifer Laurin, a University of Texas School of Law professor and chairwoman of the team that prepared the report, said its goal was not to call into question the use of the death penalty in Texas. Instead, she said, it was to ensure that it is implemented fairly.

    Former Texas Supreme Court Justice Deborah Hankinson, who also worked on the report, said lawmakers must take steps to restore public confidence in Texas' court system.

    "For citizens to have confidence in the process, it requires transparency in every phase," she said.

    (source: Texas Tribune)


    Sept 18th

    Former Prosecutors, Death Row Inmates To Help Release Report Critical Of Texas Death Penalty

    Former Gov. Mark White is helping release a new report from the American Bar Association that levies new criticism of the death penalty in Texas.

    The report Wednesday will propose reforms in the nation's most active death penalty state. 11 inmates have already been executed this year in Texas, and at least 7 more are scheduled to die in the coming months.

    Anthony Graves spent 18 years on death row before being cleared by DNA evidence. He is expected to join White and former federal prosecutors at the Texas Capitol, where Graves testified to lawmakers earlier this year.

    Texas courts have exonerated Graves and 11 other men after juries sentenced them to death row.

    (Source: Associated Press)


    Sept. 18th

    Texas Seeks New Ways to Execute Death Row Inmates

    Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials said they will run out of the drug used to execute death row inmates. State officials will not say what they will do when that happens.

    Texas uses pentobarbital for lethal injections. Executioners will use the last dose Thursday, whey the put Tri-City Bomber Robert "Bones" Garza to death. Garza was convicted in the murder of 4 women in Donna in 2002. He is accused of taking part in the murder of 6 men months later in Edinburg.

    The question now is, what will the state use to execute Arturo Diaz, 37, of Las Milpas, in 9 days?

    Diaz has been on death row for 13 years at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, north of Houston. He was sentenced to death for the 1999 stabbing death of Michael Ryan Nichols in a McAllen apartment.

    The victim was stabbed 94 times.

    Garza and Diaz are the only 2 death row inmates scheduled for execution in September.

    TDCJ officials released a statement in August about the pentobarbital shortage.

    "The agency is exploring all options, including alternate sources of pentobarbital or an alternate drug for use in the lethal-injection process," the statement said.

    TDCJ officials said the pentobarbital shortage will not delay any of the executions.

    (Source: KRGV News)


    Sept. 11th

    Court: Death Row Inmate Can't Be Forcibly Drugged

    The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has ruled that a convicted killer with a history of mental illness cannot be forcibly medicated for the purpose of making him competent for execution.

    The court ruled Wednesday in favor of 51-year-old death row inmate Steven Staley, who was convicted for the 1989 shooting death of a Fort Worth restaurant manager during a botched robbery.

    The same court in May 2012 granted a reprieve for Staley 2 days before he was scheduled to die by lethal injection.

    Prosecutors have argued Staley is competent for execution, but his attorneys have countered that this was accomplished only because a state judge in Fort Worth improperly ordered Staley be given drugs to make him competent so the state of Texas could kill him.

    (source: Associated Press)


    Aug. 1, 2013

    Officials: Texas Running Out Of Execution Drug

    By Mike Ward
    American-Statesman Staff

    State officials said Thursday they are again running out of the lethal drug used to operate the nation’s busiest execution chamber.

    Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark said the state’s remaining supply of pentobarbital expires in September, and officials “are exploring all options” for an alternative.

    Prison officials acknowledged last year that if the supply of pentobarbital ran out, they had explored switching to other drugs including propofol — the powerful anesthetic that contributed to pop star Michael Jackson’s death from cardiac arrest in 2009.

    Clark and prison officials offered few other details on Texas’ latest quandary on a source for its lethal drugs, which have caused it to switch twice in three years as manufacturers stopped producing the necessary drugs under pressure from death penalty opponents.

    Eleven people have been executed in Texas so far this year with pentobarbital, a barbituate used medically as a sedative. Texas and at least four other states switched to it just over a year ago after pancuronium bromide became unavailable. Pancuronium bromide was part of a lethal three-drug cocktail that Texas and other states had used for decades, until its manufacture was stopped in part over concerns about its use for executions in the United States.

    Texas executed its latest criminal on Wednesday. Officials said two executions are scheduled in September and at least five others are set in the months after that. They would not say exactly when the pentobarbital supply would expire and become unusable, and would not comment on whether any of the September executions would be delayed.

    Other states in recent months have reported problems with buying pentobarbital, but because Texas bought a large supply more than a year ago, officials had previously insisted they faced no such issue.

    In all, Texas has executed 503 inmates since 1982, when it resumed executions after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowed capital punishment to resume in 1976.

    Virginia is second in executions at 110.

    Propofol, an anesthetic used in veterinary medicine as well as human medicine, is approved for use in more than 50 countries, and generic versions are available. It has largely replaced sodium thiopental, previously one of Texas’ three execution drugs.

    Officials: Texas Running Out Of Execution Drug


    August 1st

    Execution-Proud Texas Says Lethal-Injection Drug Supply Will Expire In September,
    No Alternative Found Yet

    America's most active death penalty state is running out of its execution drug.

    The Texas Department of Criminal Justice said Thursday that its remaining supply of pentobarbital expires in September and that no alternatives have been found. It wasn't immediately clear whether 2 executions scheduled for next month would be delayed. The state has already executed 11 death-row inmates this year, and at least seven more have execution dates in coming months.

    "We will be unable to use our current supply of pentobarbital after it expires," agency spokesman Jason Clark said. "We are exploring all options at this time."

    Texas switched to the lethal, single-dose sedative last year after one of the drugs used in its three-drug execution process became difficult to obtain and the state's supply expired. Other death-penalty states have encountered similar problems after some drug suppliers barred the drugs' use for executions or have refused, under pressure from death-penalty opponents, to sell or manufacture drugs for use in executions.

    No executions in Texas were delayed because of that shortfall. But because the shortage is now affecting such an aggressive death-penalty state, the effects could move beyond Texas.

    "When Texas raises a flag that's it having a problem, obviously numerically it's significant in the country," Richard Dieter, executive director of the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center, an anti-death penalty organization, said Thursday.

    Some death penalty states, most recently Georgia, have announced they're turning to compounding pharmacies, which make customized drugs that are not scrutinized by the Federal Drug Administration, to obtain a lethal drug for execution use.

    Missouri wants to use propofol, the anesthetic blamed for pop star Michael Jackson's 2009 death - even though the drug hasn't been used to execute prisoners in the U.S. Its potential for lethal injection is under scrutiny by the courts.

    He said pentobarbital, which has been used along or in concert with other drugs in all executions in the U.S. the past 2 years, was more readily available because it was commonly used as a sedative.

    Texas has by far executed more inmates than any other state in the U.S. since the Supreme Court allowed executions to resume. Since 1982, 6 years after the high court's order, Texas has executed 503 inmates. Virginia is a distant 2nd at 110.

    As of May 2012, Texas had 46 of the 2.5-gram vials of pentobarbital, presumably enough to execute as many as 23 prisoners since each execution requires a 5-gram dose. The execution Wednesday of an inmate convicted in 2 road-rage killings was the 20th lethal injection since that disclosure.

    (source: The Province)


    Aug. 1

    Nation's Busiest Death Penalty State Running Out Of Lethal Drug;
    No Replacement Found Yet

    The nation's most active death penalty state is running out of its execution drug.

    The Texas Department of Criminal Justice said Thursday that its remaining supply of pentobarbital expires in September and that no alternatives have been found. It wasn't immediately clear whether 2 executions scheduled for next month would be delayed. The state has already executed 11 death-row inmates this year, and at least 7 more have execution dates in coming months.

    "We will be unable to use our current supply of pentobarbital after it expires," agency spokesman Jason Clark said. "We are exploring all options at this time."

    Texas switched to the lethal, single-dose sedative last year after one of the drugs used in its 3-drug execution process became difficult to obtain and the state's supply expired. Other death-penalty states have encountered similar problems after some drug suppliers barred the drugs' use for executions or have refused, under pressure from death-penalty opponents, to sell or manufacture drugs for use in executions.

    No executions in Texas were delayed because of that shortfall. But because the shortage is now affecting such an aggressive death-penalty state, the effects could move beyond Texas.

    "When Texas raises a flag that's it having a problem, obviously numerically it's significant in the country," Richard Dieter, executive director of the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center, an anti-death penalty organization, said Thursday.

    Some death penalty states, most recently Georgia, have announced they're turning to compounding pharmacies, which make customized drugs that are not scrutinized by the Federal Drug Administration, to obtain a lethal drug for execution use.

    Missouri wants to use propofol, the anesthetic blamed for pop star Michael Jackson's 2009 death - even though the drug hasn't been used to execute prisoners in the U.S. Its potential for lethal injection is under scrutiny by the courts.

    "The states really scramble to go all over to get drugs. Some went overseas, some got from each other. But these manufacturers, a number them are based in Europe, don't want to participate in our executions. So they've clamped down as much as they can," Dieter said.

    He said pentobarbital, which has been used along or in concert with other drugs in all executions in the U.S. the past 2 years, was more readily available because it was commonly used as a sedative.

    "But I guess restrictions have been put on its distribution," Dieter said. "It's uncertain where all of this goes because it's inherently a medical kind of procedure involving some health professionals who are largely focused on keeping people alive. It runs into contradictions with executions - people strapped to a table. Executions aren't exactly what the medical model is."

    Texas has by far executed more inmates than any other state in the U.S. since the Supreme Court allowed executions to resume. Since 1982, 6 years after the high court's order, Texas has executed 503 inmates. Virginia is a distant 2nd at 110.

    As of May 2012, Texas had 46 of the 2.5-gram vials of pentobarbital, presumably enough to execute as many as 23 prisoners since each execution requires a 5-gram dose. The execution Wednesday of an inmate convicted in 2 road-rage killings was the 20th lethal injection since that disclosure.

    (source: Associated Press)


    July 24

    Execution Date Set For Texas Women's Death Row Inmate

    State District Judge Mary Lou Keel has set a Feb. 5, 2014 execution date for Suzanne Basso, 59, who's held on women's death row in Gatesville.

    Basso was convicted of capital murder in the death in 1998 of Louis Musso, 59, a mentally impaired man in Harris County who was beaten with belts, baseball bats and hands and kicked with steel-toed boots.

    He was also bathed in a solution of beach and pine cleaner and scrubbed with a wire brush.

    His body was unrecognizable after the attack, authorities said.

    Basso led the group of 6 attackers, records show.

    The motive for the murder was an insurance policy in which she was named the beneficiary.

    Evidence showed she had promised to marry Musso, convincing him to leave family and friends in New Jersey and moving to Texas.

    (source: KWTX news)


    July 23

    When I Was on Death Row, I Saw a Bunch of Dead Men Walking.
    Solitary Confinement Killed Everything Inside Them


    By Anthony Graves, Death Row Exonoree #138

    When I was on death row, I saw guys come to prison sane and leave this world insane, talking nonsense on the execution gurney.

    I am death row exoneree #138.

    There are 12 more people like me from Texas. 12 people who spent years of their lives locked alone in concrete cages waiting to die before they were set free, exonerated for their innocence.

    11 people have committed suicide on Texas' death row. All because of the conditions.

    When I was sentenced to death, I did not know that this sentence would also mean that I would have 12 years without any human contact, i.e. my mother, my son, my friends. All those people were stripped from my life because of this injustice. I did not know it would mean 12 years of having my meals slid through a small slot in a steel door like an animal. I did not know it would mean 12 years alone in a cage the size of a parking spot, sleeping on concrete steel bunk and alone for 22 to 24 hours a day. All for a crime I did not commit. The injustice.

    For me and the 400 other prisoners on Texas' death row while I was there, a death sentence meant a double punishment. We spent years locked alone in a tiny, concrete cage in solitary confinement, with guys going insane, dropping their appeals, doing everything they could to check out of this place before we were ever strapped to an execution gurney. All because of the conditions.

    I am writing today because the ACLU has put out an important new paper about what it does to people to lock them alone in cages on death row. They found that over 93% of states lock away their death row prisoners for over 22 hours a day. Nearly 1/3 of death row prisoners live in cages where their toilet is an arm's length away from their bed. 60 % of people on death row have no windows or natural light.

    Solitary confinement is like living in a dark hole. People walk over the hole and you shout from the bottom, but nobody hears you. You start to play tricks with your mind just to survive. This is no way to live.

    I saw the people living on death row fall apart. One guy suffered some of his last days smearing feces, lying naked in the recreation yard, and urinating on himself. I saw guys who dropped their appeals and elected to die because of the intolerable conditions. To sum it up, I saw a bunch of dead men walking because of the conditions that killed everything inside of them. And they were just waiting to lie down.

    After I got out, I have tried to use my time to raise awareness about these conditions. I am currently working on a book and traveling the globe trying to share my message and educate people about the effects of solitary confinement. I have created AnthonyBelieves.com, which is my consulting firm that I use to help attorneys, nonprofit organizations, etc. I am asking for your support in my endeavors to bring attention to such inhumane issues by going to my website and ordering anything from my store to help offset my travel expenses. There's also a petition on my webpage that I am asking 10 million people around the world to sign in solidarity with me as I stand up for justice.

    Please help me and the ACLU get the word out about these conditions. Our death penalty system is broken in this country - it is applied unfairly against people. When you have a broken system, innocent people like me can end up on trial for their life. And subjecting anyone in prison to solitary confinement is torture. I am speaking on experience. Many of these same people are returning to our society, and when they do they come with all the baggage we put on them in the system. This keeps the rate of recidivism high.

    In this country, we should be doing better than that. We should not have a criminal justice system turned into a criminal by the way we treat our citizens. Even when we do not like people or believe they have done something wrong, our emotions should not govern our society. We should be making laws from a rational perspective. We have to be above the criminal by keeping our system humane. Everyone should be treated like a human being. This is America.

    Please share the new video I recorded for the ACLU to help get the word out about the double punishment of solitary confinement on death row. And make sure to read the ACLU's new report.

    Also please check out AnthonyBelieves.com and give me your support while I cross the county and try to educate people about the inhumane treatment in our criminal justice system.

    Thank you and best wishes.

    For more on the double punishment of solitary confinement on death row, read the ACLU's report A Death Before Dying.

    (Source: ACLU blog)


    July 22

    THE TEXAS 500

    In case you didn't notice, with all the recent fanfare involving ground-breaking Supreme Court decisions, government spying, or the demise of a Southern cooking empire, Texas - where they do everything on a grand scale - carried out its 500th "modern execution." Modern, that is to say, since 1982, when the death penalty was resumed in that state.

    500 executions in 31 years! Unpardonable. The size of a small town. What a dreadful waste of human life. The life sentence alternative at least exonerates vengeance. Yet, is there no other humane possibility?

    In the late 1960's, shortly after the UK abolished the death penalty, I was invited to speak at the Annual Meeting of the Scottish Prison & Borstal Govenors' meeting where their main concern was what to do with prisoners serving life sentences, especially those who were young? The only suggestion that had been put to them was transferring such prisoners to another prison for a month each year as a kind of "busman's holiday!"

    I proposed an alternative which not only spares human life, but allows prisoners another opportunity to pay their debt to society by helping us better understand the criminal mind. After all, every man or woman on death row was once a child - what went wrong? And who could better tell us than that person?

    No Pie-In-The-Sky

    What I proposed, & have been advocating for the past 45 years, was several "crime labs" whereby prisons would operate in collaboration with university criminal justice schools - much like the arrangements medical schools have with hospitals - combining teaching and research with treatment. Only this idea would include prisoners collaborating with the professors as teachers & as researchers. If they also became better human beings, well that would be a spin-off.

    Could prisoners be interested in self-study? Years ago psychologists at California's hard-boiled San Quentin Prison studied the records of its most violent prisoners, and then asked a number of them if they would be interested in working on a project to study violence of their most notorious. Indeed, they were interested. The psychologists taught them how to interview the other prisoners & then they formed a study group where they scrutinized their results. Remarkable. Their important book, Violent Men (Aldine 1969) tells what they found out - not only what but how they got their information: From & by their most violent.

    A Crime Lab would give criminology professors a living laboratory for study and research in criminal behavior; a place where they could conduct various kinds of treatment & study its effectiveness, while offering students a place for an internship in preparation for their life's work. It would give the prison new life as well as a new humanizing purpose - not merely custodians, but contributors to understanding and dealing with one of our most serious social problems.

    Executing 500 potential criminology teachers & researchers is an incalculable loss to our nation's treasure at a time when their know-how is so sorely needed.

    (Source: dagblog.com)


    July 17

    Texas Bill Would Block Anti-Abortion Laws Until Death Penalty Is Abolished

    A Texas lawmaker has introduced a bill that would block anti-abortion laws from going into effect until the state ends its use of capital punishment.

    State Rep. Harold Dutton Jr. (D) introduced the measure to counter a slew of abortion restrictions proposed by Republican legislators in the Texas statehouse. Dutton's measure, HB 45, would block any law that restricts access to abortions until 60 days after the state abolishes its death penalty.

    Dutton also offered a similar amendment to HB 2, the contentious abortion bill famously filibustered by state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) last month.

    "12 people can put somebody to death in this state," Dutton said of his amendment, which was eventually tabled. "But now, we want 1 person to not be able to decide that same issue."

    Texas, which recently executed its 500th inmate since 1976, currently leads the country in use of capital punishment. As MSNBC reported, 261 of those executions took place under Gov. Rick Perry (R), who announced last week that he would not seek reelection in 2014.

    Dutton has taken on the death penalty in the past, first filing a measure to end the policy in 2003. He filed a similar bill last year.

    (source: Huffington Post)


    July 17

    Texas Should Suspend The Use Of The Death Penalty As A First Step Toward Full Abolition

    Marina Schuster (Germany, ALDE), the Parliamentary Assembly's General Rapporteur on the abolition of the death penalty, regrets the execution, on 16 July 2013 in Texas, of John Manuel Quintanilla, who had married a German national whilst on death row, according to the Council of Europe.

    "In many parts of the world, executions are becoming a thing of the past. All the Council of Europe's 47 member states have either abolished capital punishment or instituted a moratorium on executions.

    In the United States, the trend is toward fewer executions and death sentences, with more states repealing the death penalty. Texas, too, should feel encouraged to join the majority of states around the globe who reject the death penalty as a moral or practical response to the grievous, even heinous, crime of murder.

    We call on the authorities to immediately suspend the use of the death penalty, as a 1st step toward full abolition," Ms Schuster said.

    (source: The Financial)


    July 14

    It's Debatable: Death Penalty: Necessary Or Evil?

    [Vaughn Ross is scheduled to be executed July 18 for a 2001 double homicide in Lubbock. Texas recently executed its 500th prisoner. This week, Arnold Loewy and Don May debate the death penalty. Don writes an independent blog for lubbockonline.com and Arnold is the George Killiam Professor of Law at Texas Tech University School of Law.]

    Don: Capital punishment is a necessary and vital component of a civilized society. The primary purpose of the death penalty is to rid a society of violent criminals so they will have no further opportunities to harm others.

    Liberal parole boards, judges, governors and presidents are quick to release violent criminals for almost any reason and often push to return criminals to the street as soon as possible. Execution dates are delayed for as long as possible, with the continued pursuit of reprieve.

    Imprisonment without execution gives criminals the continued hope of a parole, an early release, a pardon or even a chance to escape.

    Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed a law in March 2011 banning any further convicted criminal executions. He also commuted the sentences of death row inmates to life sentences without the possibility of parole or release.

    Quinn wanted to make sure a future conservative governor would not have the chance to execute anyone currently on death row.

    He offered this excuse for signing the bill, "I have found no credible evidence that the death penalty has a deterrent effect on the crime of murder and that the enormous sums expended by the state in maintaining a death penalty system would be better spent on preventing crime and assisting victims' families in overcoming pain and grief."

    The death penalty is indeed a deterrent. Executed criminals no longer pose a danger to civilized society. No executed criminal has ever committed another crime.

    Liberals claim Judeo-Christian theology mandates criminals be forgiven and not executed. This is not the case, and liberals dance around the issue hoping conservatives do not understand the Bible.

    The words of Genesis 9:6 tell us why murderers should be executed, "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed. For God made man in His own image."

    There is no record Christ ever said thieves and murderers should not be executed. Christ did not tell the thieves being crucified with him they did not deserve to die.

    Executions are the only way to eliminate the worst criminals. Murderers, rapists, armed robbers, child molesters, terrorists and other doers of evil are permanently eliminated when executed, never again to commit another atrocity.

    Executions ensure a liberal judge, governor, president or parole board will not release a dangerous criminal back into society in the future.

    Criminal executions should be swift, frequent and inexpensive.

    Arnold: Whatever else might be said for or against capital punishment, it most certainly is not "a necessary and vital component of a civilized society."

    Almost every society other than the United States that we consider civilized have abolished the death penalty (e.g., Canada, Australia, England, France, and Germany.)

    And all of these countries have a significantly lower homicide rate than we do.

    Indeed, there have been times when they have refused to return a fugitive from justice out of fear he will be subject to capital punishment.

    As for Governor Quinn's observations, they are absolutely true. There is neither credible evidence nor logic to believe the death penalty deters murderers.

    If there were, it would be hard to explain the lower murder rate in countries that do not have capital punishment and even the generally lower murder rate in the U.S. among states that have abolished capital punishment as opposed to Texas and Florida, which are among the leaders in both their murder and execution rates.

    The governor was also quite correct in regard to the cost of maintaining capital punishment. During the recent economic crisis, some states have abolished capital punishment in the name of fiscal conservatism.

    Dr. May's explanation of why he thinks the death penalty is a deterrent goes to the issue of restraint, not deterrence. He is quite correct an executed offender (or for that matter a wrongly convicted innocent) will not offend in the future.

    The question is whether such restraint is necessary given the cost of capital punishment. I suggest it's not. We have a super-max prison in Colorado where we send the worst of the worst offenders (e.g. shoe bomber Richard Reid).

    So far as I am aware, no one has ever escaped from that prison or harmed an innocent person outside.

    Given we do sometime convict innocent persons, such as Timothy Cole, it seems to me those supporting capital punishment have the burden of proving some good will come from the administration of capital punishment that would not come from life without parole.

    Frankly, I have difficulty finding any, and certainly none that's worth the risk that, under our fallible system, some day a state official will have to tell a mother: "We're terribly sorry we executed your son, who we now know was innocent."

    Don: There is no evidence even a single innocent person has been executed in the United States since the death penalty was reinstated. If there were, the left would remind us at every opportunity.

    Even though innocent people are sent to prison, that is no reason to close our prisons and to release dangerous criminals into society. Most releases from death row have been on legal technicalities. As far as is known, those who were innocent of a capital crime have consistently been identified and released by the legal appeals system in place.

    The left tries to equate the physical act of a criminal murdering a victim with the physical act of the state executing the murderer and uses this "equivalence" as a reason to end the death penalty.

    While each act of killing may be a physical equivalence, there is no moral equivalence because the state is removing a violent menace from society.

    A life sentence without parole for a violent criminal is not equivalent to executing the criminal. With a life sentence without parole, the condemned has no reason to avoid killing other prisoners, guards and prison employees, as he already has the maximum sentence allowed by law.

    Many Europeans describe the death penalty as a barbaric ancient relic with a thirst for vengeance.

    Such feelings ignore the barbaric and evil nature of crimes deserving of the death penalty, deny the value of the lives of the victims and their families, and elevate the importance of the criminal above that of the victims.

    The claim Britain and other European countries have fewer violent crimes than the United States is a myth.

    Eurostat, the European Commission's database, revealed a "77% increase in murders, robberies, assaults and sexual offenses in the UK" between 1997 and 2009.

    Violent crime has increased 67% in France over the past decade, with a rate of 504 violent crimes per 100,000 population.

    There are more than 2,000 violent crimes a year per 100,000 population in the UK and 1,677 per 100,000 population in Austria.

    The violent crime rate continues to decrease in the United States, with the 2011 FBI Crime Statistics report listing "386.3 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants."

    Opinion polls show the American people favor capital punishment by more than 2 to 1, with 67% favoring the death penalty and only 28% opposing.

    Research has shown racial minorities have been treated fairly when it comes to the death penalty. Research from Emory University has shown "capital punishment has a strong deterrent effect; each execution results, on average, in 18 fewer murders."

    A polite and safe society is well-armed and eliminates its violent criminals.

    Arnold: Although it is true that current system has worked to save many innocents from execution (e.g. Juan Melendez, a former guest speaker at one of my symposia, who spoke after being released from death row in Florida after spending 20 years there for a crime of which he was eventually found to be innocent), the system advocated by Dr. May would not.

    Under his view, trials should be swift, and the appeals process short.

    Under his system, we would not tolerate saving an innocent man from death if it took 20 years to establish his innocence.

    Thus, instead of riveting my audience with his harrowing story of surviving the process, he'd be dead, and Dr. May would continue to claim there is no proof we have ever executed an innocent person because the proof wouldn't be there. Who spends time trying to prove a dead man is actually innocent?

    Have we ever executed an innocent person under the current system? Well one cannot be sure, but I do know that a few years ago we executed a man from Texarkana named Willingham, who had been convicted of murder of his 3 children by burning down their house with them in it.

    We later learned that the evidence upon which the arson/murder was predicated was junk science and totally unreliable. Nevertheless the state of Texas went through with his execution, evidently believing in his guilt despite the lack of evidence to prove it.

    So, was he innocent? Who knows? The only thing we know for sure is there was no credible evidence to prove him guilty.

    Any thought victims' families are better off with capital punishment is belied by the evidence.

    In jurisdictions that do not have the death penalty, family members typically feel vindicated when their loved one's killer receives life in prison. But in jurisdictions with the death penalty (e.g. Texas), frequently a jury verdict of life (which is more common than death) causes the victim's family to believe that his/her life was undervalued.

    Finally, those studies which show for every execution there are a certain number of lives saved (one says 8, another says 18) have been debunked by other studies as methodologically flawed.

    Indeed, if they were true, it would be hard to know why the murder rate is as high as it is in Texas and Florida. So, I am inclined to credit those studies which challenge the life-saving power of capital punishment as flawed.

    So, because capital punishment is not a meaningful deterrent, is fiscally irresponsible, and is administered by us, flawed human beings, it should be abolished immediately.

    (source: Lubbock Avalanche-Journal)


    June 30

    From America's Busiest Death Chamber, A Catalog of Last Rants, Pleas and Apologies Texas Department of Criminal Justice

    Karl Eugene Chamberlain went to his neighbor's apartment that night in Dallas under the pretense of borrowing sugar. He returned later, forced her into a bedroom, bound her hands and feet, raped her and then used a rifle to shoot and kill her. His victim, Felecia Prechtl, 29, was a single mother with a 5-year-old son.

    11 years after he was convicted of capital murder, Mr. Chamberlain, 37, was strapped to a gurney in Texas' execution chamber at the Walls Unit prison here and was asked by a warden if he had any last words. "Thank you for being here today to honor Felecia Prechtl, whom I didn't even know," he told her son, parents and brother on June 11, 2008. "I am so terribly sorry. I wish I could die more than once to tell you how sorry I am."

    His words did not die with him. Texas wrote them down, kept them and posted them on the Internet.

    The state with the busiest death chamber in America publishes the final statements of the inmates it has executed on a prison agency Web site, a kind of public catalog of the rantings, apologies, prayers, claims of innocence and confessions of hundreds of men and women in the minutes before their deaths.

    Charles Nealy asked to be buried not to the left of his father but to the right of his mother. Domingo Cantu Jr., who dragged a 94-year-old widow across the top of a chain-link fence, sexually assaulted her and then killed her, told his wife that he loved her and would be waiting for her on the other side.

    The condemned praised Allah and Jesus and Sant Ajaib Singh Ji, a Sikh master. 3 cheered for their favorite sports teams, including Jesse Hernandez, whose execution last year made headlines after he shouted, "Go Cowboys!" They spoke in English, Spanish, French, Vietnamese, Gaelic, German ("Meine schone prinzessin," said Mr. Cantu, German for "my beautiful princess"). They quoted the Koran and the Bible, but also Todd Beamer's phrase aboard United Airlines Flight 93.

    "Sir, in honor of a true American hero, 'Let's roll,'" said David Ray Harris, who was dishonorably discharged from the Army and was executed in 2004 for killing a man who tried to stop him from kidnapping the man's girlfriend.

    The execution on Wednesday of Kimberly McCarthy - a 52-year-old woman convicted of robbing, beating and fatally stabbing a retired psychology professor near Dallas - was the 500th in Texas since December 1982, when the state resumed capital punishment after the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

    In those 30 years, Texas has executed more people than Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Oklahoma and Virginia combined.

    The state's execution record has often been criticized as a dehumanizing pursuit of eye-for-an-eye justice. But three decades of last statements by inmates reveal a glimmer of the humanity behind those anonymous numbers, as the indifferent bureaucracy of state-sanctioned death pauses for one sad, intimate and often angry moment.

    "I hope that one day we can look back on the evil that we're doing right now like the witches we burned at the stake," said Thomas A. Barefoot, who was convicted of murdering a police officer and was executed on Oct. 30, 1984.

    Among the death-penalty states, Texas and California are the only ones that make the last words of offenders available on their Web sites. But only Texas has compiled and listed each statement in what amounts to an online archive.

    The collection of 500 statements, which includes inmates' verbal as well as written remarks, has been the subject of analysis, criticism and debate by lawyers, criminal justice researchers and activists who oppose the death penalty.

    It has spawned at least one blog, Lost Words in the Chamber, which has regularly posted the last statements since 2011. Officials with the prison agency, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said there were 3 million page views of inmates' final words last year.

    "It's kind of mesmerizing to read through these," said Robert Perkinson, the author of "Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire" and a professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. "Most people about to be executed haven't had a lot of success in school or life. They're not always so skilled at articulating themselves. There are plenty of cliches, sometimes peculiar ones, like the Cowboys reference. But I think many of these individuals are also striving to say something poignant, worthy of the existential occasion."

    The last statements are not uttered in a vacuum - they are heard by lawyers, reporters and prison officials, as well as the inmates' families and victims' relatives. But the power of their words to change the system or even heal the hearts of those they have hurt is uncertain.

    Nearly 7 years after he murdered a Houston city marshal who caught him with cash and loose change stuffed into his pockets from the bar he had just robbed, Charles William Bass refused his last meal and told the warden in 1986, "I deserve this." "I think he was correct," said Mr. Baker, 63, a minister at the Church of Christ in Emory, Tex., who was 29 when his father was killed. "It's called capital punishment for a reason."

    Strapped to a gurney in a spare brick room painted dark green, the inmates nowadays speak into a microphone attached to the ceiling, their arms stretched out and buckled into a T-shaped gurney so the drugs flow easily from the IVs into their veins. With the victims' and the inmates' witnesses in place in 2 separate rooms, the warden asks the inmate if there is a last statement. The last words are not recorded, but transcribed by hand by staff members listening inside the warden's office.

    Jim Willett, 63, a retired Walls Unit warden, said none of the 89 statements he heard from 1998 to 2001 changed his support for the death penalty.

    "You can hear it in their voices sometimes and in their delivery that they are sincerely hurting for the pain that they put their own family through," said Mr. Willett, the director of the Texas Prison Museum in Huntsville. "I saw the strangest thing one night. You got this little wall here like this, separating those 2 witness rooms. One night I saw the daughter of the inmate and the daughter of the victim, and they were both leaning against that wall. They were that far apart and didn't even know it."

    Jason Clark, a spokesman for the prison agency, said the last statements were posted to respond to the demand for that information by the public and journalists. But opponents of the death penalty call it a perverse tradition.

    "The death penalty is a process, not an act, and posting the final words of a condemned person after a process which has usually lasted a decade or more is simply a disservice," said Rick Halperin, director of the Embrey Human Rights Program at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. "How is one to assess the phrase of 'Go Cowboys!' from a man on a gurney?"

    Freddie Webb said 1 word - "Peace" - but James Lee Beathard, who murdered his accomplice's father, stepmother and half-brother, said 684 of them in December 1999, in a rambling statement that mentioned the embargoes against Iran and Cuba. He viewed his final minutes the way others had - as a fleeting moment on a stage, with a silent, watchful audience. "Couple of matters that I want to talk about," he said, "since this is one of the few times people will listen to what I have to say."

    (source: New York Times)


    June 29

    Playing The Race Card In US Executions

    The 500th execution carried out by Texas this week has brought the spotlight back on the treatment of black offenders in the United States, and the case of Duane Buck looms large.

    Like Kimberley McCarthy, the 52-year-old woman given a lethal injection on Wednesday, Buck is an African-American. Statistics show blacks are more likely to be given a death sentence than any other race.

    The United States brought back the death penalty in 1976, and Buck was sentenced to death in Texas in 1997 for killing a former girlfriend and her male friend.

    Buck does not deny the murders, but the capital punishment order came after a psychologist told the sentencing hearing that blacks are more likely to commit violent acts.

    He had one last-minute reprieve from death in September 2011 but is still on death row while lawyers, activists, church leaders and, increasingly, politicians dispute the case.

    "This is not about being innocent or guilty. This is about prejudice," Buck's lawyer Kate Black told AFP.

    "Mr Buck hasn't had a fair sentencing trial because of this racial testimony," said Kathryn Kase, director of the Texas Defender Service.

    "They might have given him life. We don't know. But we do know that he suffered from prejudice," added Howard Jefferson, head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Houston.

    Civil rights leader Reverend Bill Lawson is at the forefront of a campaign to get a new sentencing hearing for Buck. Lawson has questioned the independence of lawyers appointed by judges who are themselves elected and so could be more tempted to take a populist decision.

    Maurie Levin, a lawyer for McCarthy, said that "shameful" race errors were also made in her case. McCarthy was executed for killing a white neighbor in a drug-fueled frenzy.

    The jury which chose death rather than life in prison was made up of 11 whites and 1 black.

    McCarthy had been given 2 last-minute reprieves this year because of discrimination doubts.

    On the eve of her execution, Richard Dieter, director of the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), said he believed there would be a new suspension because the Texas legislature is considering a Racial Justice Act to bolster moves against racial bias.

    The law, supported by Texas's only black district attorney, Craig Watkins, is however held up in state committees. Some conservatives say they see no need for it.

    Statistics indicate a grim picture for black defendants.

    Over the past three decades, African-Americans have made up 35% of those executed and 42% of those sent to death row. They make up just 12% of the US population.

    If Hispanics are added, minority groups make up more than half of death row inmates, even though they are less than 1/3 of the population, according to the DPIC.

    Robert Blecker, a New York Law School professor who advocates for the death penalty, acknowledges that one study says the facial features of African-Americans get a "harsher" treatment by juries. He however says the race card is "played and overplayed."

    Dieter said the death row statistics are linked to poverty. Gloria Rubac, a Texas death penalty abolition campaigner, says it has to do with the US past of slavery and lynchings.

    "Race is so intertwined with everything in the justice system that you cannot separate it from the death penalty," she said.

    Buck's future may depend on whether lawyers and politicians can unravel the history and the law.

    (sources: Sapa-AFP)


    June 22

    Texas' Grim Death Penalty Milestone

    Owing to its size and inclinations, Texas registers prodigious statistics, but none so bleak as what comes from the state's pre-Civil War red-brick prison in Huntsville that houses the nation's busiest execution chamber.

    There, on Wednesday, Texas' 500th execution since national reinstatement is set to be carried out. The life scheduled for termination belongs to Kimberly McCarthy, whose grisly murder of elderly neighbor Dorothy Booth of Lancaster brings the state to this grim milestone.

    It's one that no other state may ever touch. Virginia, 2nd in terms of executions, is barely a 5th of the way there, and the pace of capital punishment has slowed nationwide, even in Texas.

    Part of that has to do with a collective shudder at the realities of a fallible criminal-justice system. Part of it has to do with a growing list of states - now at 18 - that have abolished the death penalty. Part of it has to do with a willingness to pause and take an unflinching look at the system and why it singles out some killers to die and others to live.

    In Ohio, the 8th-ranking capital-punishment state, a special commission appointed by the state Supreme Court is now doing that self-examination. It was galvanized by a report that showed the likelihood of being executed depended on where a killer committed his crime and who he killed. Defendants paid a disproportionately higher price in Cincinnati, for example, as opposed to Cleveland and other major cities. Killers of whites were far likelier to face execution than killers of blacks.

    Unevenness in capital punishment is also a blemish on the Texas record. Again, geography and race count - among the reasons that this newspaper opposes capital punishment.

    Of Texas' 254 counties, only 22 have sent killers to death row in the previous 5 years, and only 11 have done so in the previous 2, according to an analysis from the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. A death case is too time-consuming and expensive for many counties to take on.

    Studies indicate that the race of the victim and murderer likely produce different outcomes in Texas, from decisions made by jurors to convict and by prosecutors to bring charges. Of the 46 death verdicts in the past 5 years, 21 defendants were black.

    It's time, in Texas, for our own unflinching self-exam on the system of sending people to the death chamber.

    That's especially important for Dallas County, which is suddenly notable as Texas' leading county for new death sentences, with 8 in the previous 5 years.

    The McCarthy case, the potential 500th execution, dredges up this county's sketchy history of racially discriminatory jury selection. New briefs in the case cite findings by this newspaper that, as recently as 2005 - 3 years after the McCarthy trial - Dallas County prosecutors excluded eligible blacks from juries at more than twice the rate they rejected eligible whites.

    McCarthy is not a sympathetic character, and her culpability in a brutal murder is not at issue. Still, in the grim business of seeking an eye for an eye, Texas must insist on a fair, dispassionate, even-handed, colorblind justice system. It's not the one we have today.

    LEADING DEATH-PENALTY STATES

    Executions since National Resumption in 1976:

    Texas: 500
    Virginia: 110
    Oklahoma: 104
    Florida :77
    Missouri: 68
    Alabama :55
    Georgia: 53
    Ohio :51
    North Carolina: 43
    South Carolina: 43

    (source: Editorial, Dallas Morning News)


    June 22nd

    It's Time To Halt Executions In Texas

    The figure 500 is sobering, particularly when it is applied to people and their deaths.

    On Wednesday evening, barring intervention by a court or the governor, Texas will carry out its 500th death sentence since capital punishment was reinstated in 1974.

    Between 1924 (when the state took charge of executions from its counties) and 1964, the start of a decade-long moratorium, the Lone Star State performed 361 killings by electrocution.

    Texas has the bragging rights for its frequency of ultimate punishment, leading the nation even though other states have more inmates on death row.

    These large numbers represent people, individuals with names who, although convicted of horrible crimes and deserving punishment, should not have their deaths determined by flawed human beings acting in the name of the state.

    Kimberly McCarthy, if her sentence is carried out shortly after 6 p.m. Wednesday, will have the distinction of being that 500th person (and only the 4th woman) to be executed in Texas since the death penalty was reinstated.

    It is time - in fact, long past - for Texas to get out of the killing business.

    A character in an 1889 short story, The Bet by Anton Chekhov, makes a compelling argument during a dinner party debate on capital punishment. He boldly states, "The State is not God. It has no right to take away that which it cannot give back, if it should so desire."

    Precisely.

    On moral grounds alone, Texas should abolish capital punishment as six other states have done in the last 6 years. Maryland become the most recent in May.

    Just as the Supreme Court declared in 1972, the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment, and its application continues to be arbitrary and capricious.

    Whether a killer receives a death sentence can vary according to many factors, including the county where the crime occurs. The costs of prosecuting such cases and providing court-appointed lawyers are too high for some counties to absorb. Poor rural counties are less likely than large urban ones to seek the death penalty.

    Death row tends to be occupied by the poor, as rich people seldom are sent there. And minorities are over-represented. Of the 283 people on Texas's death row, 39.2% are black, 29.7% are Hispanic and 29.7% are white, state figures show.

    Although no one is certain that an innocent person has ever been executed, Texas has an embarrassing record of wrongful conviction, as evidenced by the number of recent prisoner exonerations.

    Progress has been made on limiting executions in certain cases, and in reducing the overall number of capital cases and death sentences. For example, recent Supreme Court rulings prohibit the execution of the mentally ill and people who were under age 18 when the crime was committed. After 2005, when Texas began allowing prison sentences of life without parole in capital cases, jurors have been more inclined to hand down that sentence instead of death.

    Although a Gallup poll shows 63 % of Americans still favor capital punishment, the number of executions has dropped by more than 1/2 in the past 15 years, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

    Texas executed 15 people last year, compared to 40 in 2000. McCarthy, convicted of robbing and murdering a 70-year-old Dallas woman, would become the 8th person to die by lethal injection this year. 7 other executions are scheduled through November.

    Proponents of the death penalty argue that it is the appropriate punishment for people who take a life, often in the most heinous way.

    The victims, they say, deserve justice, and killing their killers is the best way to mete it out.

    Abolishing capital punishment would neither demean the memory of victims nor deny any of them justice. Instead, it would make our society as a whole more just, more morally consistent and certainly more humane.

    Texas retired "Old Sparky," its electric chair, in 1977.

    It is time to permanently close our infamous death chamber.

    (source: Editorial, Fort Worth Star-Telegram)


    May 17

    State of Texas: The Road to 500 Executions

    Texas will soon execute its 500th person since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

    If the current schedule holds - barring any stays or reprieves - the 500th execution will take place in June.

    Texas uses the death penalty more than any state, and it isn't even close. No. 2 on the execution list is Virginia, which has killed just 110 people - and only 5 since 2010.

    Texas has executed more people than the next 6 states - Virginia, Oklahoma, Florida, Missouri, Alabama and Georgia - combined. It wasn't always so.

    Texas executed fewer than 10 people a year until 1992, when executions spiked under then-Gov. Ann Richards. They peaked under George W. Bush, who sent 37 people to the death chamber in 1997 and 40 in 2000.

    The Texans put to death are disproportionately African-American.

    (source: Texas Observer)


    May 7

    FACTS & FIGURES

    In 1977, executions resumed in the United States following the lifting of a ban on the practice by the U.S. Supreme Court the previous year.

    9 of the 50 states carried out lethal injections of convicted capital murderers in 2012, led by Texas with 15 executions, more than 1/3 of the nationwide total for the year, according a report by Amnesty International released on April 10.

    Since the revival of the death penalty in 1976, about half of those on death row at any given time have been black. More striking is the racial comparison of victims. Although approximately 49% of all homicide victims are white, 77% of capital homicide cases since 1976 have involved a white victim.

    According to Texas Department of Criminal Justice, 4 of the 5 people executed in Texas so far in 2013 have been African Americans.

    In 2006, the Human Rights Committee recommended that the United States assess the extent to which [the] death penalty is disproportionately imposed on ethnic minorities and on low-income population groups, as well.

    (source: Press TV)


    April 29

    Democrat Proposes Repeal Of Death Penalty; Measure Faces Uphill Battle In GOP-Run Legislature

    Texas lawmakers will hear testimony on a bill to repeal the death penalty.

    A Democratic lawmaker from Houston has introduced the measure, and the House Criminal Jurisprudence committee will consider it on Monday.

    Rep. Jessica Farrar and some other Democrats have repeatedly called for an end to the death penalty. But the ultimate punishment remains popular in Texas, and her measure is unlikely to gain traction.

    Activists say the risk of executing an innocent person is too high to continue executing people. Texas has one of the highest exoneration rates in the country and recently released innocent men from death row.

    Supporters say there are some crimes that are so heinous the death penalty is the best option. Both sides are expected to testify before lawmakers.

    (source: Associated Press)


    April 17

    Panel Discusses Death Penalty As SMU Alumnus Faces Execution In July

    An SMU graduate student finishes Summa Cum Laude, earning one of the most coveted MBA degrees in the country.

    Well on his way to take advantage of all that SMU has to offer, he took a wrong turn and went straight into death row.

    It was August of 1998 and Douglas Feldman, who graduated with the class of '85 from Cox School of Business, was cruising on his Harley in Plano when an 18-wheeler, driven by Robert Everett, blew past him, cutting him off and effectively upsetting him to the point of murder.

    According to police reports, only a few inches and a couple of seconds avoided a lethal collision between Feldman and Everett.

    Feldman, who later testified that he "Was consumed by anger" and "emotionally compelled," pulled out his 9mm on that fateful night and put a few holes into the back of Everett's trailer.

    Witnesses say Feldman then drove the bike up alongside the truck's cab and unloaded on his victim, instantly killing Everett.

    Feldman escaped the scene and after 30 minutes, he found himself at a gas station on Hillcrest and Arapaho, where he shot and killed his 2nd victim.

    "There is no question of innocence," said Dr. Rick Halperin, director of the Embrey Human Rights Program, who went on to talk about what he believes are the multiple flaws with the capital punishment system.

    As Texas pursues its milestone 500th execution, Halperin, on behalf of Embrey Human Rights, is sponsoring a multidisciplinary symposium at SMU called "Death By Numbers: What Moral, Legal and Economic Price Are We Paying to Maintain the Death Penalty?"

    Death row inmates are statistically uneducated, black and poor.

    That alone, according to Halperin, should allow legitimate questions to be raised.

    "Such a morbid milestone should make us stop and look at the record number of people being executed, the high cost of maintaining capital punishment and the increasing number of states eliminating it," Halperin said.

    Feldman is not a statistically common death row inmate. He is highly educated, and was financially stable at the time of the murders.

    Although his state of mind has been questioned on multiple occasions, most experts have ruled out insanity from his case, extending the confusion in Feldman's case.

    Regardless, it took 24 minutes to convict Feldman of capital murder but it has taken 15 years to lead him into the execution chair.

    Many in the theological field believe that 15-year wait is consistent with torture.

    Wednesday the 17, faculty members from Perkins School of Theology will talk about capital punishment from the theological vantage point in Prothro Hall at 12:30 p.m.

    The panel discussion will be led by Susanne Scholz, associate professor of Old Testament, Joerg Rieger and Wendland-Cook, Endowed Professors of Constructive Theology, Theodore Walker, who is Jr. associate professor of ethics and society, and Joseph Allen, Professor Emeritus of Ethics.

    The symposium will also talk about the literary, societal and economic impacts on the death penalty at 7 p.m. in Dedman Life Sciences building.

    Feldman's execution date is set later this year on July 31. He is scheduled to be the 505th person to be executed in Texas under capital punishment and the 1st alumnus from SMU.

    (source: Southern Methodist University Daily Campus)


    April 16

    New Evidence: A New Study Reveals A Disturbing Trend In Death Penalty Cases In Texas

    A significant new study finding racial bias in Harris County's death penalty system was released today in an appeal filed by condemned prisoner, Duane Buck, in Harris County's 208th Criminal District Court. Mr. Buck challenges his death sentence as an unconstitutional product of racial discrimination and presents research showing that at the time of his 1997 capital trial, the Harris County District Attorney's Office was over 3 times more likely to seek the death penalty against African American defendants like himself, than against similarly-situated white defendants. The research also shows that Harris County juries were more than twice as likely to impose death sentences on African American defendants in cases like Mr. Buck's, than on similarly situated white defendants.

    Mr. Buck, who seeks a new, fair sentencing hearing, cites a recent analysis conducted by University of Maryland Professor Ray Paternoster. Prof. Paternoster, who has more than 35 years of experience in criminology and quantitative methods, examined data on over 500 Harris County cases in order to identify and compare, based on a comprehensive set of variables, the cases most similar to Mr. Buck's. Prof. Paternoster found that in the cases like Mr. Buck's, the Harris County District Attorney's Office sought the death penalty 20% of the time when the defendant was white and 70% of the time when the defendant was African-American. This sharp disparity was similarly present in the decisions of Harris County sentencing juries: juries imposed death 20% of the time in the cases similar to Mr. Buck's, that involved white defendants and 40% of the time in the cases involving African-American defendants.

    "We are all at risk when our justice system allows prosecutors and juries to exercise lethal discretion based on race," said Sherrilyn Ifill, Director Counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. which represents Duane Buck, along with Kathryn Kase of the Texas Defender Service and attorney Kate Black. "Duane Buck's case is as much about his own unlawful death sentence as it is about the ability of Harris County's criminal justice system to produce outcomes free from the taint of racial discrimination."

    David Kirk, Associate Professor of Sociology at The University of Texas at Austin, said that "Professor Paternoster's research conforms to highly rigorous standards for statistical analyses. His conclusion - that there is strong evidence of Black-White disparities in the advancement of cases to a death trial as well as the imposition of a death sentence - is the logical, and profoundly disturbing, conclusion to be drawn from the weight of the available data."

    The evidence of racial discrimination in Mr. Buck's case is not limited to Prof. Paternoster's recent study. At Mr. Buck's capital sentencing hearing, the trial prosecutor elicited testimony from a psychologist that Mr. Buck posed a future danger to society because he is black. The prosecutor relied on this testimony in arguing in favor of a death sentence. The jury accepted the prosecutor's argument, declared Mr. Buck a future danger, and sentenced him to death. 3 years later, then-Texas Attorney General (now U.S. Senator) John Cornyn acknowledged that reliance on testimony connecting race to dangerousness was wholly unacceptable and promised that the Attorney General's Office would seek new, fair sentencing hearings for 7 people, including Mr. Buck, whose cases were tainted by such testimony. The State kept its word in every case - except for Mr. Buck's.

    "The suggestion that a person's race can be a basis for assessing the ultimate penalty of death undermines our entire system of justice," said Gary Bledsoe, President of the Texas NAACP. "I am hopeful that the Harris County District Attorney's office will take action to start and make amends for the many wrongs it has perpetrated against African-Americans, including many facing the most serious of punishments."

    Mr. Buck's life was spared by the U.S. Supreme Court before his scheduled execution in September 2011. Although two U.S. Supreme Court justices agreed that Mr. Buck's death sentence required review because "our criminal justice system should not tolerate" a death sentence "marred by racial overtones," the case is now back in the hands of state officials.

    "Texas should honor the promise that was made by the highest legal officer in the state, then-Attorney General John Cornyn, and grant Mr. Buck a new, fair sentencing not tainted by racial discrimination," said Texas State Senator Rodney Ellis, whose district includes parts of Harris County.

    One of Mr. Buck's trial prosecutors, former Harris County Assistant District Attorney Linda Geffin, and the surviving victim, Phyllis Taylor, have joined Sen. Ellis in opposing Mr. Buck's execution. Ms. Taylor explained, "I have forgiven Duane and could not bear to see him executed. I pray that his life is spared."

    As Kate Black, counsel for Mr. Buck, explained, "This case is very simple: no death sentence can be supported by an appeal to racial prejudice."

    (source: EBONY)


    April 13

    Austin Filmmakers Tackle The Death Penalty In Animated Short The Last 40 Miles

    Filmmakers in Austin may not have access to the big budgets of the West Coast, but that doesn't mean they are short on groundbreaking ideas.

    The filmmakers behind The Last 40 Miles are crafting a unique vision: tackling the death penalty in an animated short. And to see the vision through, they are seeking funding via an Indiegogo campaign.

    The Last 40 Miles tells the story of Ray, a condemned man serving out his sentence on Texas's death row, as he travels his last 40 miles to the execution chamber. Along the way, a kindly guard accompanies him as he looks back and reminisces on his life.

    It's a powerful story with deep roots in reality. British journalist Alex Hannaford is the writer and director of the film, and on the film's Indiegogo page he recounts the inspiration for the film, which comes from his interviewing Texas death row inmates. He specifically recalls one inmate who had been locked up in his solitary 6-foot-by-10-foot cell for all of Hannaford's life.

    "I don't think any case I had covered before or since impacted me more than that one did," says Hannaford.

    While he knew he wanted to tell the story, an animated short was not his first idea. In a talk with CultureMap, Hannaford says, "I had an idea buzzing around in my head for either a piece of long form journalism, or even a book. By the time I eventually decided to put pen to paper, I'd thought it could make a good film, but then I decided most of the 'action' would take place on a single journey: from death row to the death chamber."

    A play or short film became his primary focus - that is until he had coffee with friend Jeff Roth, an animation professor at the Art Institute of Austin. Roth sold Hannaford on the idea of an animated short.

    Roth explained it to Hannaford by saying, "Animation can sometimes bring drama to life in a way that live action can't. If you remove actors from the picture, you can connect more strongly with their personalities, emotions, the drama of the scene; allow yourself to be truly enveloped by the story."

    Gathering a team of filmmakers to form Onalaska Films, Hannaford and Roth set to work on creating and telling the story of Ray and his last 40 miles. The team has taken things a step further by choosing to rotoscope the film (the process when live action is traced) so that the resulting figures look almost exactly like the original actors.

    Hannaford says that the rotoscoping effect was chosen because they loved how "the characters looked 'real' but at the same time were animated." The crew signed a deal with Flat Black Films to create the rotoscoping, an impressive win considering that Flat Black is the team behind other major rotoscoped film projects such as A Scanner Darkly and Waking Life (both Richard Linklater films).

    Once completed, Hannaford hopes to start submitting the film to various film festivals, and he hopes it starts a dialogue as well.

    "I really hope it'll become a springboard for discussion...And so it'd be great if The Last 40 Miles got people talking about the death penalty [and] about justice in America and how it's carried out."

    The Indiegogo campaign for The Last 40 Miles ends Sunday night. Funds will go toward production and promotion costs from the film.


    April 13

    Lege Lines

    Weighing the Scales of Justice April promises to be a month packed with criminal justice matters to consider. Last week lawmakers heard testimony about whether to tweak language for the criminal definition of insanity - changing the word "know," as in "know something is wrong," to "appreciate," as in "actually grasp the concept that something is legally wrong." The debate was, in moments, spirited, with freshman Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, opining that the change would make it "unduly easier" to prove insanity. That measure was left pending by the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee - along with perennial proposals to downgrade punishments associated with possession of small amounts of controlled substances including cocaine and heroin. Those measures may be smarter on crime than is the status quo, but they still face an uphill battle.

    This week lawmakers in the House considered whether to ban the death penalty for individuals who may have been party to a crime but were not actually directly responsible for it. (The bill was left pending in committee.) Meanwhile, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee considered a raft of other proposals - including Senate Bill 1292, a joint proposal by Sens. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, to require pretrial DNA testing of all evidence in death penalty cases. That measure, which is backed by Attorney General Greg Abbott, sailed out of committee Tuesday.

    (source for both: Austin Chronicle)


    April 12

    Author Of 'Dead Man Walking' Brings Campaign Against Death Penalty To Fort Worth

    It's been nearly 20 years since Dead Man Walking was published, and its author, Sister Helen Prejean, still travels the country, speaking about the horror of government-sponsored execution and the pain that killers cause to the families of the murdered.

    The Roman Catholic nun, based in New Orleans, was in Fort Worth Thursday, urging people to stretch their arms around convicted criminals and the families of the people they harmed.

    Regarding the death penalty in America, much has changed but much remains the same, she said.

    "In the past 6 years, 6 states have done away with the death penalty," Prejean said. "What frustrates me is that we can't get the word out fast enough.

    "If more people knew what was going on, they would not support the death penalty."

    Dead Man Walking was based on her experience as a spiritual adviser to a Louisiana death row inmate, Patrick Sonnier. Later, as she worked with other condemned men, she came to believe that some were not guilty of the crimes they were convicted of. Her 2nd book was The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions.

    On Tuesday, Ricky Lewis of Tyler became the 494th person executed in Texas since executions resumed in 1982.

    6 executions are scheduled in Texas in April and May, and 5 more through July.

    Prejean argues that the United States should abolish the death penalty and urged churches and others to stand closer to the families of murder victims.

    The movie of Dead Man Walking, which garnered actress Susan Sarandon an Academy Award for her portrayal of Prejean, has been turned into a play, which film director Tim Robbins has turned over to young people because he believes that they are the best hope for success in ending the death penalty, Prejean said.

    Some Trinity Valley School students who performed the play in March attended Prejean's lecture at the Polytechnic United Methodist Church sanctuary on Thursday.

    Prejean said she will visit Robbins in Chicago this week and talk to him about the work students are doing to increase understanding of the issue.

    Everyone can have a role in changing the trajectory of this issue in Texas, Prejean said.

    "Maryland just did it and don't think you are so different because this state executes more people than any other place in the world," she said. "The situation is bad here, but the people are good."

    (source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram)


    April 11

    Texas 2012 Executions Up, Capital Punishment Declines Globally

    According to a new Amnesty International report, the United States can count itself among the top 5 countries in the world that carry out executions.

    In this region, the USA has a very dubious distinction. "The only country in the Americas that carried out an execution last year," explained Brian Evans, interim Director of the Death Penalty Abolition Campaign for Amnesty International USA.

    The United States carried out a total of 43 executions in 2012, which was the same number carried out in 2011. "In terms of known executions, that puts the United States in 5th place, behind China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and ahead of Yemen," Evans said.

    3/4 of all executions in the U.S. occurred in only 4 states: Texas, Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma. In 2011, 13 Texas prisoners were put to death; that number increased last year. Evans said, "Texas had 15 executions, which would put them in 8th place if they were a separate country in the world - between Sudan and Afghanistan."

    The number of death sentences carried out in the Lone Star State are expected to be even higher in 2013, with some 12 executions scheduled over the next 4 months. But even those numbers would be down from the record 40 lethal injections performed in the year 2000.

    The Amnesty International report sites an overall decline in the use of the death penalty and outright abolition of the punishment in some states. Evans said another contributing factor for fewer death sentences is the expanded use of DNA and juries now receiving the option of handing down sentences of life with the possibility of parole.

    Amnesty also noted that Americans are becoming more concerned about the discriminatory application of the death penalty and its possible use on someone who has been wrongfully convicted - with nearly three dozen exonerations occurring in Dallas County alone.

    While all executions carried out in the United States were done by lethal injection, other methods for the 682 executions known to have been carried out worldwide included hanging, beheading and firing squad.

    (source: CBS News)


    March 27

    Race And The Death Sentence; Keep Race Out Of Death Sentence Hearings To Help Ensure That Justice Is Equal For All

    Whenever Texas juries sentence a criminal to death, they have to find beyond a reasonable doubt that the convicted is a continuing threat to society. When Duane Buck was sentenced to death, prosecutors relied on his race to help prove this point. As a black man, the jury heard, Buck was more likely to pose a future criminal threat.

    There is no doubt that Buck is guilty of murder. There is also no doubt that his death sentence is tarnished by racial considerations.

    The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is currently considering an appeal arguing that Buck deserves a new sentencing hearing. Our state needs to show our criminal justice system is free of racial discrimination, and it can start by granting Buck a clean, unbiased hearing.

    Buck's case should not be controversial nor should it have come this far. When he was known as attorney general instead of senator, John Cornyn called for Buck and five other death row inmates to have new hearings due to improper racial considerations during their sentencing.

    "It is inappropriate to allow race to be considered as a factor in our criminal justice system," he said back in 2000.

    The 5 other inmates received their rehearings, and each again was sentenced to death. Buck has not received a rehearing because Texas argues his defense opened the door to racial considerations. This is pushing a tenuous argument through a pinhole opening, and we're disappointed that Sen. Cornyn has fallen silent on the matter. This is a prime opportunity for Texas' senior senator to provide strong leadership.

    While Texans wait to hear from the Court of Criminal Appeals, the Harris County district attorney should acknowledge the racial bias in Buck's sentence and drop any opposition to a new hearing. But Texas seems to lack that leadership at the local level as well.

    Our state criminal justice system does not have a sterling reputation for race-blind procedure. Juries in Harris County are twice as likely to sentence black criminals with the death penalty than they are white criminals, according to a recent study by University of Maryland criminologist Ray Paternoster.

    Texas has to prove that everyone, no matter how cruel or evil, receives proper due process in our courts, free of immoral and now illegal racial bias. And we can do so by granting Duane Buck a new sentencing.

    (Source: Editorial, Houston Chronicle)


    March 25

    Pro-Con: Should The Death Penalty Be Abolished?

    State Rep. Harold Dutton Jr., a Democrat out of Harris County, wants to ban the death penalty in Texas - and he isn't alone.

    Texas House Democrat Jessica Farrar, also out of Harris County, has authored a bill to end the death penalty in Texas. She has written similar bills since 2007, and not one has passed the Texas Legislature.

    Dutton authored a different bill for the 83rd Legislature to abolish the death penalty, but it remains in committee.

    Farrar's bill also is still in committee. In both bills, the Texas Penal Code would allow judges and jurors to give a life term or life without parole sentence to those convicted of capital murder with no mention of the death penalty.

    Some legislators contend the death penalty is simply too expensive.

    The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, for example, found the death penalty system "dysfunctional" for costing the state about $137 million per year. Both New York and New Jersey have abolished the death penalty because of the high costs, which include an exhaustive appeals system.

    Though no similar study has been released for Texas, a 1992 Dallas Morning News report found that each Texas execution cost the state about $2.3 million, 3 times the cost of imprisoning someone in a single cell at the highest security level for 40 years.

    Despite the costs, others believe the death penalty is necessary for justice and acts as a deterrent to crime.

    With 2 men out of Victoria County currently on death row, the conflict hits close to home.

    (Source: The Victoria Advocate)


    Editorial: With Death Penalty Bans Gaining Steam, What’s Next For Texas?

    Published: 20 March 2013

    There should be no debate that evolving standards of decency mold the justice system. If that were not the case, Texas judges could still hang horse thieves.

    So it is important to note, here in the nation’s most active death penalty state, that lawmakers in yet another state, this time Maryland, have decided to abolish the anachronistic punishment of terminating human life.

    Having lobbied hard for repeal, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley intends to sign the bill, passed by his Legislature last week, and make his state the sixth in six years to outlaw capital punishment. It would boost the number of non-death-penalty states to 18 in all.

    O’Malley asserts the justifications cited often by this newspaper: The death penalty has no proven deterrent value, is laced with racial bias and cannot overcome the inherent danger of fatal error. O’Malley also argues that the capital punishment apparatus has been a colossal waste of money that should be put to better use in combating the core contributors to crime.

    At best, the death penalty is selectively used state-supported retribution, which has no place in a civilized society.

    With its state Capitol and governor’s office controlled by Democrats, Maryland is half a continent and political worlds away from GOP-held Texas, where support for capital punishment has traditionally been stronger than the nation’s. A UT-Texas Tribune poll last year showed the death penalty with solid majority support in this state, regardless of political party and ethnic group.

    That raises the bar for reformers in the Legislature who have filed solid bills to limit application and improve the fairness of the death penalty. For example, one bill (HB 189) would ban the use of snitch testimony to send someone to the death chamber, if the testimony came in exchange for leniency or special treatment for the witness. That’s a good standard to enforce if the state wants to exact lethal justice.

    Another bill (SB 750) would outline a procedure drawing on scientific standards to establish whether a defendant had an intellectual disability that would rule out execution. The Supreme Court invoked “standards of decency” in a 2002 case, Atkins vs. Virginia, in barring execution of the mentally retarded, noting that most states had already done so. Yet since then, Texas lawmakers have neglected to devise a test for mental capacity, leaving it up to the courts. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals came up with criteria that invoked the character Lennie from Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men as the type of person who ought to be exempt.

    Texas is outlier enough on capital punishment without using literature as a guide for who lives and who dies. It’s time for a legislative fix that removes Lennie from Texas law.

    Bills in Austin that could improve capital justice:

    HB 189: Would bar use of snitch testimony in death penalty cases if obtained from a witness or accomplice in return for favorable treatment or leniency. By Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston

    HB 261: Would require separate trials if prosecutors sought the death penalty for more than one person for the same crime. By Rep. Borris Miles, D-Houston

    SB 87: Would require police to record interrogations of suspects in murders and other violent felonies and sex crimes. This could help combat the phenomenon of convictions based on false confessions. By Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston

    SB 750: Would create a procedure for courts to establish whether a defendant’s mental deficiency ruled out execution. Finding would come from judge or jury before trial, based on scientific standards. By Ellis

    SB 1270/HB 2614: Would bar imposition of a death sentence that was sought or obtained through racial bias. Coincides with Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins’ call for a racial justice law. By Sen. Royce West, Rep. Eric Johnson, both D-Dallas

    SB 1292: Would require state to test all biological evidence in a murder case before seeking the death penalty. Would send a strong signal to prosecutors who might want to negotiate the matter. The bill has bipartisan support and the backing of GOP Attorney General Greg Abbott. By Ellis

    [Source: Dallas Morning News]


    March 19

    Bill Would Require DNA Testing For Death Penalty

    Texas prosecutors would be required to test all biological evidence for DNA before seeking the death penalty under a measure a Democratic state senator proposed Tuesday with the backing of the Republican attorney general.

    The bill authored by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, is intended to ensure that only the guilty face execution. He said after-trial DNA testing has reversed 17 death penalty cases in the United States.

    "We always want to avoid the possibility of the wrong person being executed," Ellis said. "We've dodged this bullet a couple of times thanks to advocates for people who have been wrongfully convicted."

    Ellis said he does not oppose the death penalty but that the state needs to require testing before a case goes to trial. In two recent cases, exonerations came only after those wrongfully convicted spent more than a decade on death row and appeals courts ordered evidence tested for DNA.

    Attorney General Greg Abbott said he also was concerned about false convictions but added that testing beforehand could shorten the appeals process for those who are guilty.

    "If you are innocent, you will find out your exoneration will come sooner; if you are guilty, justice will be more swift and more certain," he said. While the testing may slow when a trial begins, it is better to take the time beforehand to ensure the police have the right suspect rather than to find out later someone was wrongly convicted, he added.

    Ellis said he is working on language in the bill that would lay out what evidence police should collect and test and establish what lab performs the tests. The state would pay for all testing, he said.

    Abbott said there have been less 30 death penalty cases over the last 3 years, and he does not think the bill will dramatically increase costs. He said that most evidence is tested eventually following a conviction and that mandatory pretrial testing might save money spent on the appeals process.

    (source: Associated Press)


    March 13

    Research Exposes Racial Discrimination In America's Death Penalty Capital---
    Black inmates in Houston more than three times as likely to face death sentence than whites, groundbreaking study shows

    Black defendants facing trial in Houston – the death penalty capital of America – are more than three times as likely to face a possible death sentence than whites, new academic research has revealed.

    The study, by a criminologist at the University of Maryland, exposes the extent of racial discrimination inherent in the administering of capital punishment in Harris County, the ground zero of the death penalty in the US. The county, which incorporates Houston, Texas's largest city, has carried out 116 executions in the modern era – more than any entire state in the union apart from Texas itself.

    Professor Raymond Paternoster of the university's institute of criminal justice and criminology was commissioned by defence lawyers acting in the case of Duane Buck, a death row prisoner from Houston whose 1995 death sentence is currently being reconsidered by the Texas courts.

    Paternoster, whose report is based on the latest quantitative methods, looked at 504 cases involving adult defendants who had been indicted for capital murder in Harris County between 1992 and 1999 – the period during which Buck was charged for murdering his former girlfriend, Debra Gardner, and a man called Kenneth Butler. Paternoster whittled down that pool to 20 cases that most closely echoed that of Buck's own in terms of the factors involved in the crime that were likely to incur a death sentence.

    He found that of the 21 men, including Buck, seven out of the 10 who were African American were sent by the Harris County district attorney for capital trial, compared with just one of the five white defendants.

    "The probability that the district attorney will advance a case to a [death] penalty trial is more than three times as high when the defendant is African American than for white defendants," Paternoster writes. He adds: "The disparity by race of the defendant, moreover, cannot be attributed to observed case characteristics because these cases are those that were most comparable".

    The huge disparity by race is only slightly ameliorated at the stage at which juries deliver their sentences: in Texas it is up to the jury to decide whether or not to send a convicted person to execution. Paternoster found that Harris County juries imposed death sentences on four of the seven African Americans put on capital trial, while also sentencing to death the only white defendant.

    By imposing the death sentence on 100% of the white capital defendants in the sample while meting out the ultimate punishment to 57% of the black defendants, the juries to some extent corrected the glaring disparity of the initial charges. But the gulf remains: of the original group of 21 cases, the black defendants were more than twice as likely to be sentenced to death than their white counterparts.

    The Paternoster report was filed on Wednesday with the Harris County district court as part of a habeus petition in Buck's case. Buck's lawyer, Christina Swarns of the NAACP legal defense fund, told the Guardian that it formed a pattern with past behaviour in Texas in the administering of the ultimate punishment. "Over generations there has never been a time in Texas when the death penalty did not yield evidence of racial discrimination. Any way you slice our new research, you find it."

    The racial element of Buck's case is all the more prominent because his execution in September 2011 was halted by the US supreme court on grounds that his original sentence had been racially influenced. At his sentencing hearing in 1995, the jury heard testimony from a psychologist, Dr Walter Quijano, who told them that black people posed a greater risk to violent reoffending if released from jail than white prisoners.

    The habeus petition chronicles the long and controversial history of the death penalty in Texas, particularly in Harris County. Though the county has a black population of 19%, African Americans represent almost 50% of the people detained in its jails, while 68% of the past 34 executions to emerge from the area involved black inmates.

    The district attorney at the time of the Buck trial, Johnny Holmes, personally decided whether to seek the death penalty in every potential case. The petition states: "There is an abundance of evidence demonstrating that throughout Holmes' tenure, the Harris County district attorney's office excluded African Americans from jury service because of their race."

    In 2001, Holmes was replaced as chief prosecutor in the county by Charles "Chuck" Rosenthal, whose tenure was no less contentious. In 2008, a batch of 1,500 emails from Rosenthal's official computer were released in a civil rights lawsuit in which racist "jokes" and slurs emerged relating particularly to African Americans. One such "joke" was that having Bill Clinton in the White House was akin to having a black president because he "smoked marijuana and receives a check from the government each month."

    The Harris County district court is now considering whether or not to grant Buck a new sentencing hearing. A former assistant district attorney from the county, Linda Geffin, and Phyllis Taylor, an acquaintance of Buck's who was also shot by him in 1995 but survived, have called for his death penalty to be overturned.

    Of the four black death row inmates in Paternoster's study, one has been executed, one died of cancer in prison, and a third, Jeffrey Demond, has his execution scheduled for 15 May. The last of the four is Duane Buck.

    (source: The Guardian)


    March 6

    Bill Would Limit Execution of Intellectually Disabled

    Before Texas executed Marvin Wilson last year for the 1992 murder of Jerry Robert Williams in Beaumont, his case generated headlines, reminding the nation of a rather unique corner of death penalty law here.

    The standards used to determine whether a Texan convicted of murder is mentally fit to be executed are based in part on the fictional character Lennie from John Steinbeck's classic novel Of Mice and Men, a fact that enraged the author's son.

    "I find the whole premise to be insulting, outrageous, ridiculous and profoundly tragic," Thomas Steinbeck said, calling for a halt to Wilson's execution. "I am certain that if my father, John Steinbeck, were here, he would be deeply angry and ashamed to see his work used in this way."

    State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said Wilson's execution and other cases left him feeling embarrassed for his home state. "It's junk science. It's not a credible way of making a decision," he said.

    So Ellis filed Senate Bill 750, which would establish new - and, he argues, more scientific - standards to determine when a convicted Texan is too intellectually disabled to face the death penalty. The bill revives a decade-old fight with prosecutors, who argue that the current standards are adequate and that Ellis' proposal would make it too easy for defendants to make a case that they are mentally retarded and exempt from the death penalty.

    "Sen. Ellis' proposal creates 2 or 3 additional bites at the apple for a defendant to show he is mentally retarded, and it skews the process," said Shannon Edmonds, spokesman for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association.

    In 2001, Texas lawmakers approved a bill by then-state Rep. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, now a state senator, that would have implemented new requirements for courts to have independent experts evaluate defendants to determine whether they were mentally retarded. Gov. Rick Perry vetoed the bill. In a proclamation with his veto, he argued that existing safeguards were effective in preventing the execution of the mentally disabled.

    The U.S. Supreme Court in 2002 ruled in Atkins v. Virginia that states could not execute the mentally disabled because it violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. But it allowed states to develop their own criteria for mental disabilities.

    Texas lawmakers, though, were unable to agree on criteria. Prosecutors wanted a standard in which jurors would decide during the penalty phase of a capital murder trial whether a defendant was too intellectually disabled to face execution, allowing them to consider the person's past crimes in the decision-making. Defense lawyers supported creating a process that allowed a judge to evaluate the defendant's mental fitness.

    "A legislative fix is always preferable to a judicial fix when the parties can come together and agree on a solution," Edmonds said. "The problem is that prosecutors and anti-death penalty advocates have never been able to agree on how to address this legislatively."

    In 2004, when Jose Garcia Briseno's case came before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the nine judges were without legislative guidance and developed their own standards. Lawyers for Briseno, who is still on death row, argued that he was mentally retarded and should not face execution for the 1991 murder of a Dimmit County sheriff's deputy. The court rejected those arguments and in the process developed the so-called Briseno factors that are used now to determine whether Texas defendants are eligible for the death penalty.

    The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals invoked, in part, an evaluation of Lennie from Steinbeck's book, writing that "most Texas citizens would agree that Steinbeck's Lennie should, by virtue of his lack of reasoning ability and adaptive skills, be exempt from execution. But does a consensus of Texas citizens agree that all persons who might legitimately qualify for assistance under the social services definition of mental retardation be exempt from an otherwise constitutional penalty?"

    The court's 3-part definition requires the convicted inmate to have below average intellectual function, to lack adaptive behavior skills and to have had those problems prior to age 18.

    Lawyers for at least 90 Texas death row inmates have brought so-called Atkins claims before the courts, arguing that their clients' limited cognitive functioning exempted them from execution. Of those, 14 have been deemed mentally retarded and their sentences commuted to life in prison.

    Prosecutors stopped asking legislators to approve standards after the court adopted the Briseno standards, Edmonds said, because they wearied of the fight with defense lawyers and because they were mostly satisfied with court's solution.

    "I think Texas can continue under the current standard and remain in compliance with Supreme Court case law," Edmonds said.

    But defense lawyers say that Texas still puts mentally retarded defendants to death, flouting the Supreme Court's prohibition. They argue that Ellis' bill is a critical step to ensure that the courts rely on scientific evaluations of mental capacity and that the state doesn't violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

    "Reliance on the Briseno factors is frankly something that has made the state the butt of much scientific criticism," said Kathryn Kase, director of the Texas Defender Service, which represents death row inmates.

    Ellis' bill would use the definition developed by the American Association on Intellectual Developmental Disabilities to determine whether a defendant is eligible for the death penalty. A key part of the standard set out in the proposal is that the defendant must have an IQ of 75 or below to be exempt from execution. Delaware, Idaho, Kentucky, Maryland, New Mexico, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Washington use similar standards, but require an IQ of 70 or below for exemption.

    "The most appropriate thing for state statute is to be parallel to existing definitions that are existing professionally within the field," said Ed Polloway, dean of graduate studies at Virginia's Lynchburg College and a member of the AAIDD's death penalty task force. The task force is developing a guide for states to use to evaluate defendants for intellectual disabilities.

    "Our attempt is to stay as close to the science as possible," Polloway said.

    The AAIDD's definition of intellectual disability, he said, is used to determine state and federal aid for programs like Medicaid and special education placement in schools. The existing Texas death penalty standard, Polloway said, would allow for the execution of individuals who are considered intellectually disabled for the purposes of government programs.

    Ellis said basing decisions about who is fit for execution on established scientific research would save Texas money it would otherwise spend fighting inmates' appeals.

    "It will protect the rule of law and the integrity of our judicial system," he said.

    (Source: Texas Tribune)


    March 1

    Court Reverses Death Row Inmate's 2003 Conviction

    A man sentenced to death for the 2001 murder of another man in Fort Worth has had his case overturned by a federal appeals court.

    The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with attorneys for Nelson Gongora that prosecutors in his 2003 murder trial should not have suggested to the jury that Gongora's decision to not testify indicated his guilt.

    In their decision Wednesday, the 5th Circuit judges wrote that repeated comments by the Tarrant County prosecutor about Gongora's lack of testimony violated his right to a fair trial. The 5th Amendment guarantees criminal defendants the right to not testify at trial and in 1965, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that this meant a prosecutor could use a decision to not testify as evidence of guilt. The lead prosecutor in Gongora's case, J.D. Granger, did not return a call requesting comment.

    Gongora remains on death row while the Tarrant County district attorney's office decides whether to try him again. "It's premature to determine how we're going to proceed," said Melody McDonald, the office's spokeswoman.

    Gongora, who was 22 at the time of the murder, was one of six men riding in a van one night in April 2001. According to court documents, the group saw Delfino Sierra walking on the street and decided to rob him. The van's driver pulled over, and Gongora and another man exited and demanded money from Sierra, who started running and was shot in the head.

    The driver initially told police that someone other than Gongora shot Sierra. But he later identified Gongora as the shooter, saying he had lied before because he was afraid of Gongora, according to court records.

    After his arrest, Gongora admitted to police that he had exited the van to rob Sierra. He said that he heard shots and saw the man lying on the ground, but that he did not fire the shots.

    Prosecutors said the men were in a criminal street gang called Purp Li'l Mafia, according to court records, a statement that Gongora's current attorney, Danny Burns, denies.

    Gongora's co-defendant, Albert Orosco Jr. was convicted of murder in the case and is currently serving a 23-year sentence. Prosecutors didn't seek the death penalty for Orosco. A friend of the men involved testified at Gongora's trial that he saw Orosco shortly after the murder with a .38 caliber handgun in his waistband. A bullet from a .38 caliber gun was found to have killed the victim.

    Many of the other men in the van on the night of the murder took the stand at Gongora's 2003 trial, but Gongora did not. During closing arguments, the prosecutor said to the jury, "Who should we go ahead and talk to? Who should we go ahead and present to you? Should we talk to the shooter?"

    Gongora's lawyer objected, accusing the prosecutor of trying to sway the jury against Gongora even though he had the right to not testify.

    The judge agreed and told the jury to disregard the comment. Rephrasing his statement, the prosecutor said, "I don't want to give the wrong impression in any sort of way. We're asking who do you expect to take the stand? Who do you expect to hear from, right?"

    Gongora's lawyer objected again. The judge agreed again. Then the prosecutor told the jury, "I'm not talking about that, do you want to hear from him, because you can't do that."

    Gongora's lawyer objected once again, but the judge allowed the comment.

    The Court of Criminal Appeals, Texas' highest criminal court, wrote in 2006 that the prosecutors' comments were "inartful and often confusing," but did not violate Gongora's rights. A federal district judge said in 2007 the prosecutor should not have made the comments, but that they did not affect the jury's decision.

    On Wednesday, however, the 5th Circuit, which reviews appeals from all Texas death penalty cases, wrote that the prosecutor's comments were "repeated and direct violations" which were "both inexplicable and inexcusable." In context, the court said, the comments might be read as the prosecutor's attempt to correct his initial mistake, but over time they served to "reinforce the impression of Gongora's guilt."

    "Gongora was denied a right to a fair trial," the court concluded.

    Judge Priscilla Owen dissented, arguing that the prosecutor's comments had "little if any, bearing on Gongora's guilt," because he admitted to trying to rob the victim.

    Burns, Gongora's attorney, said he hopes a new trial would allow jurors to see that Gongora had no real involvement in the murder, because he was charged as being a conspirator, but the murder happened without a preconceived plan. "How can you be a conspirator without a conspiracy?" he said.

    (source: Texas Tribune)


    Feb. 21

    Mentally Ill Inmate May Face Death Penalty, Against Eighth Amendment

    The death penalty is a very controversial subject on its own, with a wide range of arguments for and against, ranging from cost-effectiveness to ethical considerations.

    That argument continues to become more complex when you begin discussing the mentally ill and whether or not they should be exempt from capital punishment.

    Headlines on this facet of the death penalty discussion have recently begun covering the story of Andre Thomas, a man who, according to huffingtonpost.com, murdered his wife and two children in 2004...for fear they were possessed by demons.

    Thomas was convicted and sentenced to death in 2005, but the case has recently come back into light with the publishing of death penalty lawyer Mark Bookman's essay in Mother Jones (a nonprofit news organization) last week.

    The details of the Thomas murders are gruesome. In his article, Bookman summarizes the events that transpired: "Andre had cut out the children's hearts and returned home with the organs in his pockets...he was careful to use 3 different knives so that the blood from each body would not cross-contaminate, thereby ensuring that the demons inside each of them would die. He then stabbed himself in the chest, but he did not die as he had hoped. In fact, he was well enough to leave a message on his wife's parents' phone explaining that he thought he was in hell, and he managed to confess to the police what he had done before they took him in for emergency surgery."

    Bookman goes on to further explain the bizarre behavior exhibited by Thomas while he was incarcerated. In July 2008, he procured a sharp object and attempted to slit his own throat, requiring 8 stitches.

    He managed to gauge out his eyes on two separate occasions. He first removed his right eye, and during a 2nd attempt removed and ate his left eyeball in order to prevent the government from reading his mind.

    After removing his only remaining eye, the trial proceedings skidded to a halt.

    Bookman writes that the prosecutors have not reported back to the court on their record-gathering.

    Autoenucleation, or the act of removing one's own eyes, is uncommon, to say the least. But when it occurs, it is typically a manifestation of severe psychiatric illness, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

    It typically occurs hand-in-hand with paranoid delusions and extreme psychosis, which provides substantial evidence that Thomas is indeed extremely mentally ill.

    Bookman reports that Thomas comes from a long line of schizophrenics, and has a family history of mental illness as well as alcoholism and abuse.

    Both his grandmother and mother believed that God spoke directly to them, and it seems that Thomas believed that God spoke to him, as well.

    In fact, Thomas claims that he murdered his family because God told him to kill "Jezebel, the Antichrist and a 2nd evil spirit," which he took to mean his wife and kids.

    Hearing voices and having delusions are extremely common with schizophrenic patients, so it's probable that Thomas has inherited his family's mental illness.

    There is more than sufficient evidence that Thomas is severely psychologically ill, and according to the precedent set by the Ford v. Wainwright Supreme Court case, states cannot inflict the death penalty on a prisoner who is insane and cannot comprehend what he is being executed for without violating the Eighth Amendment.

    Yet, the state of Texas is continuing to pursue Thomas' execution. According to Bookman, "No state authority figure has expressed hesitation about ending the life of a man who intentionally blinded himself, nor has there been any move by the district attorney to reconsider Thomas's mental state at the time of the killings."

    How can government officials claim that Thomas is mentally stable even after the inmate gouged out both of his eyes, insisted that he could hear the voice of God and announced that the government still has the eyeball that he didn't eat and he would like it back? Those in charge of evaluating Thomas' condition continue to assert that "he is not presenting delusional or paranoid symptoms, and that his 'insight/judgement' is fair," says Bookman, citing Thomas' prison records.

    I am outraged that anyone in their right minds would believe this man to be psychologically sound.

    Bookman also mentions, "Joe Brown, the district attorney of Grayson County, said he was surprised to hear that Thomas had removed his 2nd eye, but he did not call it a 2nd impulsive act.

    He simply announced that the state would gather together Thomas' records and evaluate the situation."

    It seems to me what Thomas needs is severe psychiatric help, and Texas is standing between this man and his Eighth Amendment rights.

    Maurie Levin, Thomas' lead attorney, told huffingtonpost.com that she is "cautiously optimistic" that her client will escape lethal injection. "I have to have faith that any reasonable judge will see the travesty of pressing the execution of somebody as mentally ill as Thomas," she says.

    I hope she is right.

    (source: Samantha Bloom, The (University of Tampa) Minaret)


    Feb. 17

    Pruett's Execution Set For May 21

    Most of those in the courtroom Monday morning were armed security personnel when Texas Department of Criminal Justice correctional officers walked in with Robert Lynn Pruett.

    Senior District Judge Ronald Yeager sat on the bench, presiding over the 156th District Court. Yeager was only minutes away from telling Pruett he was scheduling his execution by lethal injection for May 21.

    Pruett turned 33 in September and has been on death row since he was convicted in a Corpus Christi courtroom on April 30, 2002, of murdering 37-year-old Daniel Nagle.

    Nagle had been discovered, lying in his own blood, near a multipurpose room in the William G. McConnell maximum security unit in Bee County on Dec. 17, 1999.

    He had been stabbed repeatedly with an inmate-made "shank," a steel bar sharpened on one end and wrapped with cloth on the other end.

    Nagle was the 1st, and only, correctional officer to be murdered inside 1 of the 3 TDCJ prisons in Bee County.

    It did not take investigators long to single out Pruett. The 20-year-old inmate was serving a life sentence for a murder in which he had been involved with his father and older brother at a trailer park in Houston. And Nagle had told Pruett he was going to write him up for violating one of the prison's rules.

    "It sounds like they have overwhelming evidence against me," the prisoner told Yeager Monday. He knew that testimony from fellow McConnell Unit inmates and DNA evidence found on his clothing had sealed his fate.

    Pruett was surrounded by 5 correctional officers, 2 Bee County deputies and 2 court bailiffs as he sat with his defense attorney, Richard Rogers III of Corpus Christi. At the other table, state prosecutor Mark Edwards sat as Yeager went over the documents before him on the bench.

    In the audience sat TDCJ's Region IV Director Eileen Kennedy and several other prison officials.

    Bailiff Bill Lazenby had blocked off access to the stairway leading to the 2nd floor where the hearing was held. There were no spectators in the courtroom from the general public.

    Pruett spoke briefly to Yeager, saying that researchers from the University of Houston had reported that they had uncovered some evidence that could exonerate him. But he did not say what that evidence was.

    The defendant said it appeared that prosecutors "basically cheated to get an advantage" in his April 2002 trial in Corpus Christi.

    Pruett asked the judge to give him "a month or so, just a little more time."

    Rogers requested that the execution date be scheduled for sometime after August.

    He mentioned the search for evidence but declined to comment on it because he was not involved in that effort.

    Yeager said he had been told that the state was asking for a May 21 execution date. The judge told Pruett and Rogers that he was going to overrule their request for a later execution date and scheduled the event for the requested date.

    Yeager told Pruett and Rogers that would give them time to bring any new evidence to the court. He reminded them that all avenues of appeal had been exhausted at both the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and United States Supreme Court.

    Yeager then ordered that Pruett be taken to the TDCJ's Death Chamber on May 21 and that he be given an intravenous injection "sufficient to cause death until Robert Lynn Pruett is dead."

    Pruett appears to be a poster boy for the state's death penalty. He was just weeks shy of his 16th birthday when, on Aug. 9, 1995, he and his brother allegedly held down a resident of the trailer park where they lived in Houston while their father stabbed the man to death.

    All 3 of them were sentenced to life in prison. Robert Pruett began serving his life sentence in October 1995, only weeks after the murder. He had just turned 16.

    At the time, TDCJ officials were saying he was considered the youngest inmate in Texas' adult prison system.

    According to an executive summary of Nagle's murder, written by the TDCJ's Institutional Division, Pruett had tried to take a sack lunch to the recreation yard on the day Nagle was killed. The meal was supposed to have been eaten in his cell.

    Nagle told Pruett that he was going to write a disciplinary report on the incident. Then the inmate was allowed into the recreation yard.

    The report indicated that Pruett argued with Nagle over the report and the inmate ended up grabbing the report the officer had written. Pruett then ran toward a restroom adjacent to the multipurpose room where Nagle's body was found.

    When Nagle followed Pruett into the area, Pruett apparently attacked the officer with the 6- to 8-inch weapon, stabbing him numerous times.

    Nagle's body was discovered at 3:30 p.m., possibly 15 minutes after the attack. He was pronounced dead at 3:55 p.m.

    Medical examiners found multiple stab wounds to the victim's head, neck, arms and upper body. It was later determined that the officer died of a heart attack as he was being stabbed.

    A number of changes in TDCJ officers' prison routines were approved following the murder.

    If he is executed, Pruett will be the 2nd inmate to die for attacking someone at the McConnell Unit while serving a life sentence for murder.

    McConnell Unit inmate Rogelio Cannady was executed on May 19, 2010, for killing his cell mate during an attack on Oct. 10, 1993.

    Cannady was serving 2 life sentences and a 20-year sentence for robbery for his part in the murder of 2 teenagers, a 16-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl who had run away from a youth home.

    Cannady was 37 when he was executed.

    (Source: Bee-Picayune)


    Feb. 16

    CONTINUED RACIAL DISPARITIES IN THE CAPITAL OF CAPITAL PUNISHMENT: THE ROSENTHAL ERA

    In a new study in Harris County (Houston), Texas, criminologist Scott Phillips found significant racial and gender disparities in the application of the death penalty under former District Attorney Charles Rosenthal.

    Read More: CONTINUED RACIAL DISPARITIES IN THE CAPITAL OF CAPITAL PUNISHMENT: THE ROSENTHAL ERA


    Feb. 1

    Texas Leads U.S. in Executions, Payments to Exonerated Inmates

    In 2006, after serving 19 years and 11 months in a Texas prison for a rape he didn't commit, Billy Smith was exonerated of all charges and set free. He was 54. Despite clearing his name, he's never been able to find a job.

    "Who wants to hire someone who's 61 years old and who's an ex-convict?" Smith said. "Even though I'm exonerated, people don't consider that, because I was in prison for 20 years."

    Texas is well known for its prodigious use of the death penalty: On Halloween, it carried out its 250th execution under Republican Governor Rick Perry's 12-year tenure. It's also the most generous state in the nation when it comes to showing remorse for locking up the wrong man, Bloomberg Businessweek reports in its Feb. 4 issue. Under a law Perry signed in 2009, Texas will pay Smith about $80,000 a year for the rest of his life. He's also eligible for the same health-care insurance as employees of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Money can't replace his lost years, Smith says, but he's now married and owns a home. The activists who persuaded Perry to support the cash settlements are lobbying Texas lawmakers to expand the law to include health coverage for ex-prisoners' families.

    27 states and Washington, D.C., provide some form of compensation to the wrongfully convicted. Vermont gives them a one-time payment of between $30,000 and $60,000 for each year they were locked up. Wisconsin pays $25,000 total, regardless of how long a person was incarcerated. So far Texas has paid 88 former prisoners, including 2 released from death row, a total of nearly $60 million, according to R.J. DeSilva, spokesman for the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. A dozen former inmates were added to the rolls in 2012.

    Wrongly Convicted

    Perry endorsed the reparations under pressure from falsely convicted men and their families. In 1986, Timothy Cole, an Army veteran, was found guilty of raping a classmate at Texas Tech University. He died of a heart attack in prison in 1999. On Mother's Day 9 years later, Cole's mother, Ruby Cole Session, received a letter from the real rapist, who confessed. As Cole Session and her family lobbied the governor to clear Timothy Cole's name, several other men who'd been wrongfully convicted in Dallas, including Smith, were suing the city for tens of millions of dollars.

    Freedom Money

    They agreed to drop their lawsuits if the legislature increased the small payments that Texas then provided. At one meeting, Cole Session grabbed the governor's hand and said, "I need this bill passed for these gentlemen," recalls her son, Cory Session, who was there. Session says Perry told his mother, "If it gets to my desk, I'll sign it." (A Perry spokesman could not confirm the anecdote.) Perry called the Tim Cole Act a "significant step for justice," and the men withdrew their lawsuits.

    The law provides exonerees with a lump sum based on how many years they spent behind bars, plus the $80,000 annuity. The state also agreed to pay for 120 hours of college credit and $10,000 for job training. Cory Session, who's now policy director of the Innocence Project of Texas, which helps identify and free falsely convicted prisoners, says even the application process was made simple: Freed prisoners submit a few documents, and about 6 to 8 weeks later the 1st check arrives. "In most states," he says, "you need a lawyer."

    Prison State

    The Innocence Project, which is funded by private donations and is currently reviewing 14 more claims of false conviction, has become a savvy lobbying force in Austin, in part because Texas courts have locked up so many innocent people and their stories are hard for politicians to ignore. (Texas ranks No. 3 nationally in wrongful convictions over the last 24 years, behind Illinois and New York, according to a 2012 study by the University of Michigan and Northwestern University law schools.)

    On Jan. 10, Session led a group of exonerated men to the Capitol in Austin, where they were greeted warmly. Afterward, they pressed a list of new demands in meetings with lawmakers. The legislature is now considering at least 6 of their proposals, including a change to the state's habeas corpus rules that would allow challenges to convictions based on shoddy science; a requirement that police record all interrogations of people charged with serious felonies; and funding to help the state's 4 public law schools investigate claims of false convictions.

    The key to winning over legislators, Session says, is letting the innocent men who lost years in prison do the talking. "I was able to get all the attention just on them."

    (source: Bloomberg News)


    Jan. 29

    TEXAS----New Film
    THE ROAD TO LIVINGSTON

    Directed by Erik Mauck & Chelsea Hernandez

    Delia Perez-Meyer, an elementary school teacher, has taken a weeklyjourney from the classroom to death row for the past 12 years. She tells of her personal voyage, beginning from a place of frustration to acceptanceand hopeful activism.

    Over the years, Delia has formed lasting relationships with people she's met along the way to Livingston, Texas. Whether it be at gas stations,or the Mexican restaurant she stops at for lunch, these familiar faces have evolved into something more. Being the only family member to regularly visit her brother Louis, she's been forced to create a new family, all somehow tied to death row.

    We encounter worlds we never knew existed, including a group of European women who, through letters and occasional visits, fall in love with inmates. We witness a wedding of a Dutch woman to inmate Kenneth Foster, performed at a local radio station. At first, this ceremony seems surreal and farcical, but as the vows are read, there's no doubt as to the sincere emotion conveyed over the airwaves to the unseen groom. Through Delia's interactions we learn more about why these women voluntarily enter this world, and how powerful a non-physical relationship can be.

    These women serve as messengers of the harsh conditions inmates experience daily, like the absence of fruit and vegetables. Delia buys severely marked-up fruit in the visiting room vending machines so Louis can have something other than his usual gruel-like fare. Art supplies are banned on death row, but despite not having conventional tools at their disposal, Louis and inmate friend Tony, manage to make art and share it with the world. Delia and Tony's mother, Golda, organize art shows to honor their work and raise awareness.

    We witness Delia's struggle to exonerate her brother of a crime she claim she did not commit. Louis blames the murder of 2 women and a little girl on the Texas "Railroad Killer" of the mid-90s. Foreign DNA from the crime scene, if tested, could prove Louis' innocence. Delia fights to overcome obstacles put forth by what she believes to be an inherently flawed legal system. She's not the only person we meet on this journey who tells a similar story of a wrongful sentence, disregard of evidence,and failure of the system to give a fair trial.

    The bond Delia creates with people who share her plight gives her the strength to continue on.

    This film offers a glimpse into the world of those touched by death row. This film shows the life-long ramifications dealt to families, friends, lovers and the communities surrounding the prison who rely on death row fortheir own means of living. Seen by society as already as good as dead, these communities are trying to beat the clock to save their loved onesfrom death. With most prisoners on death row for less than 10 years before they're executed, Delia, with as many years of trips behind her,races to save her brother on the road to Livingston.

    (source: austinfilm.org)


    Jan. 10th

    Cost Of Justice Is A Factor In The Death Penalty

    According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the 1st scheduled execution of 2013 in the state of Texas will occur Jan. 29, when Kimberly McCarthy will receive the ultimate form of punishment for robbing and stabbing to death a 70-year-old woman in Dallas County. Following the murder, McCarthy also used the deceased victim's credit cards and vehicle.

    The Death Penalty Information Center released a report Dec. 18, indicating that capital punishment in 2012 - as far as new death sentences - was down to its second-lowest total since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

    In 2012, there were 43 executions nationwide - 15 in Texas.

    On a related note, the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty - hey, at least the organization states its agenda in its name - described the state of Texas as being "haphazard" in how it implements capital punishment, specifically among individual counties.

    Considering the cost of capital punishment (see lawyer fees) is an ever-escalating factor in the decision whether to seek the death penalty, a perceived discrepancy in how counties institute the ultimate form of punishment shouldn't come as a surprise.

    Unfortunately, it seems the pursuit of justice is more and more coming down to dollars and cents - that is just the reality of the situation, which the TCADP mentions.

    There are 4 convicted offenders on death row from the Amarillo metro area (Potter and Randall counties). 3 have been on death row since 1999 and another since 1991.

    The TCADP also mentions capital punishment may be on the decline because "of a growing sense that the system is unfair and makes mistakes."

    Considering how DNA testing has changed the justice system - when available, DNA testing can confirm innocence or guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, in most cases - the possibility of making "mistakes" when it comes to DNA testing should no longer be a major consideration.

    The state of Texas executed 15 offenders in 2012 - 4 were white, 4 were Hispanic and 7 were black. Since 1982, 46 % of executed offenders in Texas were white, 37 % were black and 17 % were Hispanic.

    Justice should not come down to cost, but there can be no denying that counties have no other choice but to make the price of justice a major consideration when it comes to the death penalty.

    (source: Editorial, Amarillo Globe-News)


2012:


    Dec. 15

    Legislature Should Seriously Reconsider The Death Penalty;
    Human Error Cannot Be Eliminated From Justice System

    By Grant Jones and Sam Millsap

    As district attorneys in the 1980s, we believed that the death penalty was the best punishment for certain crimes. We no longer believe that today. We haven't gone soft. We have come face to face with some hard truths. Both of us have been involved in the execution of men who may well have been innocent.

    This year, an investigation by a law school revealed that eyewitnesses might have mistaken Carlos DeLuna, who was executed for murder in 1989, for another man, also named Carlos. The two men bore such a strong resemblance that even family members mistook photographs of one man for the other. No one will ever know for sure whether a mistake was made, but cases like DeLuna's raise serious doubts about the wisdom of continuing the death penalty.

    Long after Ruben Cantu was put to death in 1993, an investigation by this newspaper persuasively argued that he was wrongfully convicted and executed.

    2 decades after the trial, the only eyewitness recanted his testimony and explained that he felt pressured by the police to identify Cantu as the shooter.

    This witness had nothing to gain by changing his position.

    As long as human beings are in charge, there will be mistakes. Even people who are hardworking, and acting in good faith, make mistakes. In most criminal cases, the appeals process is there to identify and remedy errors. But the problem with the death penalty is that once it is carried out, there is no way to go back and fix a mistake.

    Family members of Cameron Willingham know this fact all too well. This year, they petitioned the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant him a posthumous pardon. Willingham was executed in 2004 for setting a house fire that killed his children, but new evidence shows that the fire was accidental and he was almost certainly innocent.

    There are signs that Texans are less willing to take the risk of executing people who are innocent. You see it when they sit on juries. Death sentences in Texas have dropped more than 75% since 2002 and remain near historic lows in 2012.

    In fact, only 22 of 254 Texas counties have imposed death sentences over the last 5 years, according to a new report by the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. From a budget standpoint, this means the significant financial burden of the death penalty is generated by a small minority, but paid for by all taxpayers.

    Our state is part of a nationwide trend away from the death penalty. Last year, the number of death sentences across the country dropped below 100 for the first time since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976. 5 states in 5 years have ended the death penalty, including our neighbors in New Mexico. By every measure, the death penalty is being used less and less.

    In recent years, the Texas Legislature has passed important reforms to address the causes of wrongful convictions. We have improved eyewitness identification procedures, expanded access to post-conviction DNA testing and done more to ensure that poor defendants have competent lawyers. These measures make the system more accurate, but no one argues that they will catch every mistake.

    TV shows like "CSI" have led to the misconception that DNA technology prevents the conviction of the wrong person. Without a doubt, whenever DNA exists, it should be tested. What few people realize is that only a small fraction of cases involve the type of evidence that can be subjected to DNA testing.

    Next month, when the legislators convene for a new session, they should seriously reconsider the death penalty. A sentence of life without parole - that is, without any possibility of release under any circumstances - keeps society safe while eliminating the chance of an irreversible mistake.

    The professionals who administer our justice system cannot guarantee that they will never be without fault. Once we accept that fact, we have to ask ourselves, as a civilized society, whether we can live with a system that promises nothing more than to get it right most of the time in death penalty cases. We submit that we cannot.

    Jones served as district attorney for Nueces, Kleberg and Kenedy counties from 1983 to 1991; Millsap served as district attorney for Bexar County from 1982 to 1987.

    (Source: Opinion, Houston Chronicle)


    Dec. 15

    Death Row Population Drops to Lowest Level Since 1989

    The number of people on death row dropped to 289 this year, the lowest number since 1989, according to the yearly report from the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. Texas's death row population includes 10 women.

    Only California and Florida have more people on death row, 726 and 405 respectively. But since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, California has executed only 13 people, fewer inmates than the 15 that Texas executed this year. Florida has put 73 people to death since 1976, three of them in 2012.

    Juries across Texas sentenced 9 people (8 men and 1 woman) to death row in 2012, a slight uptick from last year (when they sentenced 8 people to die). But, overall, the number of new death sentences has dropped 75 % since 2002, when 37 people received death sentences.

    "While new death sentences and executions remain near historical low levels in Texas," the report states, "troubling questions persist regarding the arbitrary determination of who receives the ultimate punishment. This year, cases involving individuals with comparable backgrounds or who presented similar legal arguments received vastly different treatment by the criminal justice system. In addition, people of color remain disproportionately impacted by the death penalty: in the last 5 years, nearly 75 [%] of all death sentences have been imposed on African-American or Hispanic defendants."

    Factors contributing to this drop include the legislature's 2005 law creating a natural life sentence as well as the emergence of several high profile wrongful conviction cases in recent years.

    The potential for the execution of innocent people, the report concludes, "continue[s] to cast doubt on the fairness and accuracy of the system."

    (Source: TM Daily Post)


    Dec. 6

    Henderson Case Timeline

    Jan. 21, 1994: Cathy Lynn Henderson flees after 3-month-old Brandon Baugh dies in her Pflugerville-area home.

    Feb. 1, 1994: Henderson is arrested in Independence, Mo.

    Feb. 8, 1994: Investigators find the infant's body buried in a Bell County oat field.

    May 17, 1995: Henderson is found guilty of capital murder.

    June 11, 2007: An appeal halts Henderson's June 13 execution and returns her case to Travis County.

    May 14, 2012: Travis County judge recommends that Henderson's conviction be overturned.

    Dec. 5, 2012: Court of Criminal Appeals orders a new trial.

    What's Next

    Henderson will be transferred from death row to Travis County Jail, where she will await a new trial.

    Travis County prosecutors will determine what charge to seek and, if it's capital murder, whether to seek the death penalty.

    (Source: Austin American-Statesman)


    Dec. 5

    New trial ordered for woman on Death Row----Henderson condemned in 1994 death of infant

    A Travis County woman who was just days away from being executed for killing a baby in 1994 was granted a new trial on Wednesday by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

    The state's highest criminal court deferred to opinion of the trial judge that scientific evidence that came to light after Cathy Lynn Henderson, now 55, was convicted of killing Brandon Baugh while babysitting at the boy's home in Pflugerville.

    In an evidentiary hearing after the conviction, Dr. Roberto Bayardo said recent developments in the study of biomechanics suggested that the baby could have died from head injuries suffered in a accidental fall rather than from a deliberate blow.

    "The trial court concluded that applicant has proven by clear and convincing evidence that no reasonable juror would have convicted her of capital murder in light of her new evidence," the appeals court said in an unsigned opinion.

    District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg said she supports the appeals court's decision, but did not say whether the death penalty would be on the table in a new trial.

    "I believe justice requires that a new jury hear the case, which was the position I took with the appellate court," she said. "We will try the case again. I will review all the evidence at the trial and at the subsequent hearings to determine whether the State will again seek the death penalty."

    In 2007, Henderson was only two days away from her scheduled execution when the Court of Criminal Appeals granted her a reprieve and ordered the lower court to hear arguments in her appeal.

    Henderson, who is 1 of 10 women on death row in Texas, has always maintained the death was an accident. She said she panicked, packed Brandon's body in a wine cooler box and buried him in a shallow grave 60 miles away. Henderson then left Texas before being apprehended in Missouri under an assumed name.

    Brandon's father told KXAN in May that they still believe their son was murdered on Jan. 21, 1994.

    "This is so not fair. It should have been over with a long time ago," said Brandon's father, Eryn Baugh. "It's something that you just cannot imagine the amount of pain, anger and frustration for having to live through this experience day in and day out without a resolution."

    (Source: KXAN News)


    Nov. 27

    Bill Would Restrict Informant Testimony in Death Cases

    Anthony Graves was wrongly convicted and sent to death row in 1994 based largely on the testimony of an alleged accomplice in the fiery murders of 6 people. The accomplice, while on the execution gurney, admitted he was the lone killer. 10 years later, in 2010, Graves was exonerated.

    Like Graves, Muneer Deeb, Michael Toney and Robert Springsteen were sentenced to death after trials that involved the testimony of their cellmates or alleged accomplices. Their convictions were all overturned.

    State Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, has filed a bill, HB 189, that aims to prevent wrongful death sentences in cases that involve unreliable testimony from alleged accomplices or jailhouse snitches who receive a reward for implicating someone else.

    "What we have found is that there have been people who, for their own self-interest, have basically fabricated testimony about other folks, and as a consequence that person has been found guilty," Dutton said.

    Criminal justice reform advocates said the measure is a critical next step in Texas' efforts to prevent wrongful convictions. Critics of the measure, though, argue that current rules already protect defendants against unreliable testimony and that eliminating such accomplice or informant testimony could tie prosecutors' hands.

    Under HB 189, prosecutors in death penalty cases would be unable to use testimony from informants or from alleged accomplices of the defendant if the evidence were obtained in exchange for immunity, leniency or any other special treatment. The measure would also make testimony from cellmates of the defendant inadmissible unless the conversation was recorded.

    "Odd as it may sound, Texas is at the vanguard of snitch testimony," said Alexandra Natapoff, a law professor at Loyola Law School Los Angeles, and author of the Snitching Blog. Texas was one of 1st states to require the corroboration of jailhouse informant testimony and drug snitches, she said. And Dutton's bill would make Texas among the 1st states to prohibit prosecutors from offering criminals benefits for their testimony.

    A 2004 Northwestern University study of wrongful convictions found that informants played a major role in more than 45 % of overturned death sentences nationwide.

    "The use of criminal informants is a massive source of error in our most serious cases," said Natapoff, who also wrote the book Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice.

    She said the Texas bill recognizes that "rewarded testimony by paid informants is one of the riskiest, most unreliable forms of testimony that the criminal justice system tolerates." And disallowing that testimony in death penalty cases, she said, would acknowledge that cases in which an individual's life is at stake require a higher ethical standard.

    "Criminal informants have strong incentives to lie and very few disincentives to lie, because criminal informants are almost never punished," Natapoff said.

    Jeff Blackburn, chief counsel for the Innocence Project of Texas, said his organization has long pushed lawmakers to restrict the use of informants and snitches.

    "That's what the government does when they really need to convict somebody and they really don't have the evidence," Blackburn said. "It sounds dramatic, and it's very tempting for prosecutors to use."

    State Rep.-elect Joe Moody, an assistant El Paso County district attorney, said accomplices or informants are often the only witnesses who know the circumstances of the crime. Existing rules allow defense lawyers to question informants about deals they may have made with prosecutors in exchange for their testimony. If a defense attorney effectively cross-examines the witness, Moody said, the jury should be able to make an informed decision about the person's credibility.

    Requiring electronic recordings of jailhouse conversations, as Dutton???s bill suggests, Moody said, would force jails to install recording equipment in all of their facilities.

    "I think the rule itself would do a disservice to trying the case in the full and open light," said Moody, D-El Paso.

    In the wake of dozens of wrongful convictions in recent years, Texas has passed a number of measures to prevent such injustices and to compensate the victims of the criminal justice system's mistakes. Most recently, in 2011, legislators passed a bill that improved police procedures for eyewitness identifications after studies showed misidentifications played a major role in many wrongful convictions.

    Dutton has filed similar proposals to curb the use of informants in past sessions, and they have failed. As Texas continues to make national headlines with its exonerations, Dutton said, he is hopeful that lawmakers will be more amenable in the 2013 session.

    "Members now recognize that Texas needs to do a lot better job of protecting the integrity of our legal system," he said. "The truth of the matter is all the systems we have in place to protect innocent people from being convicted simply haven't worked."

    (Source: Texas Tribune)


    Nov. 21

    Recent death penalty cases in Travis County

    May 2011: A jury sentenced Areli Escobar to death for fatally stabbing and sexually assaulting 17-year-old Bianca Maldonado.

    March 2010: Milton Gobert was sentenced to die for the 2003 stabbing death of Mel Kernena Cotton, a Velocity Credit Union teller and single mother.

    June 2010: After more than 30 years of appeals, David Lee Powell is executed for the 1978 murder of Austin police officer Ralph Ablanedo.

    October 2009: Paul Devoe is given the death sentence after a 6-person, 2-state murderous rampage that took place in 2007.

    October 2009: A jury gives a sentence of life in prison without parole to Albert Jesse Segura, a drug addict convicted of killing a man and the man's mother.

    Prosecutors sought the death penalty.

    September 2008: Jurors gave Alberto Garcia life in prison after he was convicted of killing 2 cab drivers in 1990. Prosecutors argued for the death penalty.

    (Source: Austin American-Statesman)


    Nov. 27

    Perry Taps Chief of Staff for Texas Supreme Court

    Gov. Rick Perry has appointed his chief of staff to the Texas Supreme Court.

    Jeffrey Boyd will join the state's highest civil court Dec. 3 and finish a term that expires at the end of 2014.

    He replaces Dale Wainwright, who resigned Sept. 30 to join Bracewell & Giuliani LLP in Austin.

    Boyd became Perry's chief of staff last year and was previously the governor's general counsel.

    In 2004, Perry named his then general counsel, David Medina, to the Supreme Court. Medina lost a re-election bid during the Republican primary in July.

    The general counsel helps the governor review death-penalty cases.

    Perry has overseen 253 executions and commuted 1 sentence -- granting life in prison to a death row inmate who drove the getaway car during a robbery and murder.

    (Source: nbcdfw.com)


    Visualization: Executions on Perry's Watch

    By Ryan Murphy, Brandi Grissom and Noah Seger
    Updated: November 1, 2012

    Wednesday's execution of Donnie Lee Roberts Jr., 41, for the 2003 shooting death of a Polk County woman marked the 250th execution during Gov. Rick Perry’s tenure. It is, by far, the largest number of executions under any recent governor in the United States, and Perry has rarely used his power to grant clemency. He has granted 31 death row commutations, most of them — 28 — the result of a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision banning capital punishment for minors.

    As Roberts' execution approached on Wednesday, Amnesty International USA, which opposes the death penalty, called on Perry to support clemency in this and future cases and to work toward ending the practice in Texas.

    “Governor Perry’s anachronistic enthusiasm for state killing is in stark contrast to the clear trend away from the death penalty exhibited by ordinary Texans in juries, where death sentences have declined dramatically over the last dozen years," said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of Amnesty International USA.

    According to a Texas Department of Criminal Justice report, Texas juries during the 2011 fiscal year sent just six defendants to death row compared with 93 who were sent to prison for life without the possibility of parole.

    Perry spokesman Josh Havens said, "Like the vast majority of Texans, Gov. Perry supports the death penalty as a fitting and constitutional punishment of the most heinous crimes."

    2012 - 12 executions
    2011 - 13 executions
    2010 - 17 executions
    2009 - 24 executions
    2008 - 18 executions
    2007 - 26 executions
    2006 - 24 executions
    2005 - 19 executions
    2004 - 23 executions
    2003 - 24 executions
    2002 - 33 executions
    2001 - 17 executions

    Source: Texas Department of Criminal Justice

    Visualization: Executions on Perry's Watch


    Oct. 25

    Past Haunts Judge Seeking Re-Election

    3 judges on Texas' highest criminal court are seeking re-election in November, including Presiding Judge Sharon Keller, who has been a controversial figure since her last test with voters in 2006.

    Elected to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 1994, she is the only incumbent on the court with major-party opposition, facing a Democrat and a Libertarian.

    In 2007, Keller, 59, of Austin, gained national attention for refusing to keep the court open past 5 p.m. to accept a last-minute appeal of a death row inmate who was executed hours later. Charges were filed by the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct, but it ruled that she did not violate any laws or warrant punishment "beyond the public humiliation she has surely suffered."

    In 2010, Keller received the largest fine ever levied by the Texas Ethics Commission - $100,000 - for breaking finance disclosure law by failing to report $2.4 million in personal assets. Keller did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

    Straight Party Ticket

    Andrew Wheat, research director for Texans for Public Justice, said he expects Keller to extend her term despite her "embarrassing activities" because many Texans vote straight-ticket Republican and "can't quite remember why Keller's name rings a distant bell."

    The court, which has a presiding judge and 8 associate judges, is the last judicial stop for criminal matters in Texas, hearing all appeals in which the death penalty has been assessed.

    The court's 2 other Republicans, Barbara Parker Hervey and Elsa Alcala, face Libertarian candidates Mark W. Bennett and William Bryan Strange III, respectively.

    Bennett, 42, a Houston defense lawyer, said he wants to give voters something "other than the status quo" to support.

    "Texans like their freedom. We want to be left alone by the government," Bennett said. "These 3 judges base their rulings on the result they want, which is that the state wins and the criminal loses, rather than fairly applying the law case-by-case."

    Keller's opponents are Democrat Keith Hampton and Libertarian Lance Stott.

    Hampton, a defense attorney in Austin, ran unsuccessfully for the court's Place 6 in 2010. He said he hopes Keller's missteps will boost him to become the 1st Democrat elected to statewide office since 1994.

    "We have a judge on the court who has been found to be unethical by every agency in government that can make that determination," Hampton said. "Her actions have given (the Texas judicial system) a black eye."

    Hampton, Stott

    Hampton, 51, drafted the original proposal of Senate Bill 112 in 2009, which established veterans courts in Texas, and he advocated for a law passed in 2007 that established prisoners' rights to petition a court to have DNA evidence tested.

    Libertarian Stott, 41, of Austin, said the court needs more "balance."

    "(Keller) has said she is pro-prosecution, and I think that shows in her rulings," he said.

    Ana Yanez-Correa, executive director for the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, said Keller is a leading advocate for mental health and indigent defense.

    "The Judge Keller that people portray is not the Judge Keller I know, respect and care about," Correa said. "The Judge Keller I know is the judge that advocates for indigent defense and evidence-based sentencing."

    (Source: Houston Chronicle)


    Oct. 17

    Texas State students should stand against the state's outdated and ineffective death penalty

    Texas State prides itself as a home of multiculturalism and empathy. This year's Common Experience theme encourages students to explore the world and become socially responsible members of the global community. One way students can adhere to this theme and become more socially responsible is to take a stand against faulty systems like the death penalty.

    According to an Amnesty International report released in May, the death penalty sentencing process can be surprisingly arbitrary and unfair. According to the same report, Texas has accounted for 37% of all executions in the nation since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. An Oct. 11 ABC News article reported the state recently executed its 10th inmate in 2012 through a lethal injection. The death penalty is a complicated issue that students must consider and take a stand on.

    Students should not elect supporters of the death penalty in next month's election. For one, performing an execution is expensive. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, a non-profit organization that provides analysis on capital punishment, the process costs more than sentencing an inmate to life in prison. According to information from the center, $693,500 is the cost of housing an inmate for 40 years.

    However, the legal costs alone of fulfilling a death penalty case from indictment to execution total about $1.2 million, according to information from the center. The death penalty makes no financial sense. Students have the power to oppose capital punishment in next month's election by voting for state legislature representatives and judges. Fiscally, there is no reason for students to elect death penalty supporters.

    Students should also know the death penalty is not the most effective way to deter crime.

    According to the Amnesty International report, cited FBI data shows 14 states without death penalties had homicide rates at or lower than the national level.

    Many industrial countries do not support capital punishment. Instead, these nations use alternative methods to deter crime.

    It is important to consider the innocent lives that can be put at risk through capital punishment.

    According to the Amnesty International report, 140 inmates have been released since 1973 from death penalty rows because of evidence of wrongful conviction.

    If the system is unnecessary and flawed, it is only just that Texas State students should stand against it.

    Texas State is a university with a growing voice in state politics. If students and campus organizations work together against the state's use of capital punishment, then the issue could resurface in Texas' policy agenda. Texas State, like many universities, encourages an atmosphere of congeniality and multiculturalism. Students are always reminded to place themselves in other people's shoes. As a result, there are many organizations at the university that support a variety of social issues. These organizations would do well to unite and advocate for alternatives to the death penalty. Politically and socially oriented campus organizations across the spectrum should join to tackle the death penalty issue.

    The death penalty is a worthless policy that makes little fiscal, logical or moral sense. Texas State students should make sure to voice their opposition to the death penalty, both in the voting booth and through university organizations. This university can play an important part in the state political scene, and Texas as a whole is a major player in the death penalty issue. Students at Texas State have a greater impact on the issue than they might realize.

    (Source: The (Texas State) Universtiy Star; Christian Penichet-Paul is a history junior)


    Sept. 28

    Death Penalty Witness Condemned by Courts

    A.P. Merillat has spent two decades investigating crimes in Texas prisons, and his testimony about the violence that inmates serving life sentences can inflict has helped send at least 15 murderers to death row.

    Now, the credibility of Merillat - a go-to expert for prosecutors seeking the death penalty - has been condemned by the state's highest criminal court, after judges determined that Merillat gave false testimony and 2 death sentences were reverted to life sentences, the most recent in June.

    Merillat said he was close to being devastated by those decisions. "A guilty capital murderer was removed from the punishment a jury, according to proof beyond a reasonable doubt, determined he deserved," he said.

    Merillat said he believes the court has unfairly jeopardized his standing - and that he is facing an uphill battle to repair it.

    "I am currently attempting to rebuild my reputation for honor and integrity that was so unjustifiably destroyed by our own Court of Criminal Appeals," he said.

    Merillat, 56, began his career as a policeman in Huntsville and Houston, and for years, he said, he assumed that anyone who committed a heinous capital murder would be closely watched by the prison.

    "I was very mistaken," he said.

    For the last 20 years, Merillat has been an investigator with the Special Prosecution Unit, an independent agency financed by the governor's office to investigate and prosecute crimes that occur in prison.

    "I see the ugliness of the prison system that is not very well known," Merillat told a Travis County jury last year. "Visitors have been harmed by inmates in the visitation areas. One of our prosecutors was stabbed in the stomach before he got his law degree."

    For a Texas jury to sentence a murderer to death, it must find that he or she will be a continuing threat to society. For decades, prosecutors relied on psychiatrists to testify that the accused would commit violent crimes again if given a sentence less than death.

    Many of those psychiatric experts, like James Grigson (popularly known as Dr. Death), Richard Coons and George Denkowski, have since been discredited for their predictions of future dangerousness. Instead, prosecutors have turned to prison experts for testimony about the opportunities for violence behind bars - but outside of death row.

    Merillat became popular with Texas prosecutors, publishing training books and winning awards for his seminars. He published a manual for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association called "Future Danger."

    "I got to the point where I was seeing defense lawyers bring in so-called experts for large amounts of money," Merillat said. "Jurors were hanging their hats on false information."

    James Farren, the longtime Randall County district attorney who called on Merillat in the 2009 retrial of Brent Ray Brewer for a 1990 stabbing and robbery in Amarillo, said he has always found Merillat to be "professional, competent, and very knowledgeable."

    But in 2010, Texas' Court of Criminal Appeals threw out the death sentence of Adrian Estrada for the 2005 stabbing of 17-year-old Stephanie Sanchez. Judge Barbara Hervey found Merillat erred by testifying that a convicted capital murderer would have more freedom in prison than would ever be possible.

    Then, earlier this year, the court threw out the death sentence of Manuel Velez, a death row inmate convicted of killing his girlfriend's infant son, after his attorneys found Merillat had given similar testimony in his Cameron County trial.

    Brian Stull of the American Civil Liberties Union, who represents Velez, said Merillat's voice and personality led jurors to "trust him right away."

    "He gives the jury great stories, and the jury becomes part of the story," Stull said, "because the jury can help stop violence that is rampant in Texas prisons."

    "It makes me worry about everything he says," Stull added.

    Among defense attorneys and their expert witnesses, Merillat has long been distrusted.

    "His testimony was always anecdotal," said Larry Fitzgerald, a former spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice who has testified in more than 30 cases for the defense, several times across from Merillat. "I always felt safe when I walked into these [prison] units, but if you listen to A.P's testimony, it's like blood flowing down the aisles."

    Merillat, for his part, said he'd "be a fool" to get back on the witness stand.

    "Even a 1st-year defense lawyer would certainly be shrewd enough to begin cross-examination of me with, 'You have been determined by - the highest court in the state to be a liar, haven't you?'"

    (Source: Texas Tribune)


    Sept. 20

    Rick Perry Death Watch: Former Army Recruiter Scheduled To Die----Cleve Foster was convicted of a 2002 rape and murder

    Cleve Foster, a Desert Storm veteran turned Army recruiter in Fort Worth, is slated to be the next inmate executed in Texas.

    Foster, known as "Sarge," and 1 of his recruits, Shelton Aaron Ward, were each convicted of the 2002 rape and murder of Sudanese immigrant Nyanuer "Mary" Pal. The 2 were seen talking to her in a bar shortly before her murder; the 3 left at the same time, and Foster and Ward followed Pal as she drove off in her car. Pal's body was later found in a ditch by workers laying pipe.

    Ward died in prison, reportedly of brain cancer, in 2010. Foster has maintained his innocence, and argued that he had an incompetent trial attorney who failed to present expert testimony supporting his innocence claim - and that his state habeas attorney was also incompetent for failing to raise on appeal the ineffectiveness of his trial counsel. In several statements Ward repeatedly claimed that he alone murdered Pal, but prosecutors have said Ward's statements are inconsistent with the evidence. DNA evidence showed both men had sex with her before her death, but Foster insists he was passed out from sleeping pills and wasn't involved in Pal's killing. Indeed, Foster was tried and sentenced to death not for directly killing Pal, but as a party to the crime. Under Texas law, if a person knows or could have anticipated that a crime would occur, he can be charged as a party to it, even if he has no direct physical connection to the crime or any intent to commit it. (For more on Texas' law of parties, see "Wrong Place, Wrong Time," Feb. 11, 2005.)

    Foster had 3 dates with death in 2011, each stayed while the court considered his appeals, which have each been denied. His case is headed back to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where he will again argue that his state habeas attorney was incompetent for failing to raise the ineffectiveness of his trial attorney; the U.S. Supreme Court, in an unrelated case earlier this year, concluded that this could be grounds for relief. If the 5th Circuit fails to act, Foster's case will head to the Supremes for consideration. His execution is scheduled for Sept. 25.

    At press time the Supreme Court had not yet decided whether it will stay the execution of Robert Wayne Harris, who is slated for execution Thursday, Sept. 20. For more on Harris' case see, "Death Row Inmate Hoping for Supreme Intervention," Sept. 14.

    (Source: Austin Chronicle)


    Sept. 18

    The Living Dead: HuffPost Live Talks To Exonerated Death Row Inmate Anthony Graves

    20 years ago, a Texas judge sentenced Anthony Graves to death for 6 murders he did not commit. He spent 18 years in prison, 12 of them on death row. For most of that time, he was in solitary confinement -- locked in an 8 by 12 cell, reinforced by a steel door.

    Throughout his incarceration, Graves maintained his innocence and was finally exonerated in 2010. Now an activist working to create awareness around prisoner isolation, he testified before a congressional subcommittee, describing the emotional torture he endured and the mental anguish of his prison mates.

    Friday, he joined HuffPost Live -- to tell his story again and describe how his many years in the hole impacted his life. He told Jacob Soboroff that solitary confinement is "a world that I could never describe that you would truly understand." He said, "to confine someone like that is to break them down in every aspect of their being -- emotionally, spiritually, whatever you can think of. It just breaks a man's will to live."

    Joining Graves in the conversation was Alan Mills, an attorney who represents isolated prisoners at an Illinois supermax prison, and Richard Sawyer, a law student and activist with the Jails Action Committee. Both are working to end the practice of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons.

    For an interview, see: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/17/the-living-dead-huffpost-_n_1889976.html

    (Source: Huffington Post)


    Sept. 16

    Kimberly McCarthy, Lancaster Woman Convicted of Murdering Neighbor For Crack Money, Set to Die Jan. 29

    It was a grisly scene Lancaster police found on July 22, 1997: Dorothy Booth, a 71-year-old retired psychology professor, stabbed to death on the floor of her dining room stabbed, her left ring finger severed from her hand.

    The evidence quickly led police to Kimberly McCarthy, Booth's next-door neighbor. McCarthy, police said, had taken Booth's ring to sell for crack.

    Immediately after the killing, she drove Booth's white Mercedes station wagon to a drug house, handed over the keys to one of the occupants and told him, according to a Morning News story, "I need some crack bad, give me a bump or something." During her trial, a police officer testified that McCarthy promised to confessed to the murder if he would give her crack.

    A jury convicted her of capital murder. She was indicted but not tried for the 1988 murders of Jettie Lucas and Maggie Harding, both 85-year-old friends of McCarthy's mother. Lucas was beaten with a hammer and stabbed to death in her kitchen.

    McCarthy's conviction was overturned after an appeals court determined that her confession was obtained illegally after she'd requested a lawyer. She was convicted again and sentenced to the death penalty upon retrial.

    She's been on death row ever since, one of only 10 women awaiting execution in Texas, but she won't be for much longer. McCarthy, now 51, is set to die on Jan. 29, per the Dallas County DA's office. That will leave child killer Darlie Routier as Dallas County's lone female inmate on death row.

    (Source: Dallas Observer)


    Sept. 8

    The District Attorney's Corner: Demolition of the death penalty

    The 60's and the early 70's were a time of fierce legal challenges to the death penalty as a form of punishment in the United States.

    From the last execution in Texas by electrocution on July 30, 1964, until 1982, there were no executions in Texas.

    The legal challenges to capital punishment acted as a halt to all executions in our entire country until the constitutionality of the death penalty was decided upon by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1972 decision of Furman v. Georgia.

    Although Texas wasn't stated in the name of the case, the appeal of a Texas rape conviction which resulted in a death penalty was consolidated with the Furman appeal.

    Furman was not good news for capital punishment proponents. The highest court in our country held that the Georgia and Texas capital punishment procedures were unconstitutional in that they resulted in cruel and unusual punishment forbidden by the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

    The laws in question provided that a jury's decision in a capital case was carried out in a unified (single) trial procedure.

    The jury would determine a person's guilt or innocence of a capital offense and also (if found guilty) determine whether the punishment would be a life sentence or the death penalty all in a single proceeding and with 1 verdict.

    The subject capital punishment laws were very broad and essentially provided very little legal guidance for a jury in determining who would receive a life sentence in prison and who would die.

    The Furman decision held that this unified proceeding in determining guilt or innocence and punishment all at one time resulted in the arbitrary and capricious application of the death penalty.

    In other words, the Court ruled that a jury had too much discretion in deciding between death and life.

    One defendant charged with a capital crime could receive the death penalty while another defendant charged with committing a very similar type of capital crime could have his life spared.

    With the unified proceeding and no aggravating or mitigating parameters to provide legal guidance for a jury, a jury's decision was much akin to the "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" decision which decided the fate of defeated gladiators in ancient Rome.

    Therefore, the death penalty as it was being applied by the Georgia and Texas capital punishment procedures was unconstitutional.

    Regrettably for capital punishment proponents, every other state death penalty statute was remarkably similar to these statutes. Although Furman v. Georgia was handed down in Washington D.C., the legal effect of this ruling invalidated all state death penalty statutes nationwide, including the Texas statute.

    The silver lining to Furman was that death as a form of punishment was NOT in and of itself held unconstitutional as cruel and unusual punishment. Since the Supreme Court held that the death penalty was only being applied in an unconstitutional manner, the states had an opportunity to go back to the drawing board and "constitutionalize" their death penalty procedures.

    Texas chose to do so rather quickly at the next regular session of the Texas Legislature in 1973. But meanwhile, on June 29, 1972, the 5-4 Furman ruling was truly a life-saving 1 for the 52 inmates in Texas who had been sentenced to death and who were waiting for their date with the executioner.

    All of their sentences were commuted to life in prison.

    The 1973 revision of the Texas death penalty procedure introduced the bifurcated (two parts) trial process. We still have this same procedure almost 40 years later. We'll discuss it and other aspects of the revision in my next issue.

    (Source: The Liberty County Vindicator)


    Aug. 23

    In Justice System, Life Is Cheaper Than Death

    Ector County may be saving taxpayers and the state money by not seeking the death penalty on accused killer James Doyle Burwell.

    District Attorney Bobby Bland on Tuesday waived the death penalty in Burwell's capital murder case, in which he is accused of slaying Dick and Peggy Glover in May 2011 in their home. Bland said the family requested that it be waived. The Glover family declined to comment Tuesday.

    According to state and national advocacy groups, everything about death penalty cases, including sentencing someone to death, could be as much as 3 times more costly than sentencing a person to life in prison in a capital case.

    Richard Dieter, the director of the national nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center, said costs vary not only state-by-state, but also locally.

    Although it's impossible to estimate a national average of costs for capital cases, Dieter said studies done across the United States allow him to safely estimate that a death sentence costs 3 times more than a capital case in which life in prison is the sentence.

    "The consensus is now that the death penalty is costly. The question is: is it worth it?" Dieter said.

    Jason Clark, a spokesman with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said the department does not keep data on how much individual classes of inmates, such as death row inmates, cost to the state, just the average of all inmates. Clark said the state spends about $50.79 per day on the average inmate, or about $18,500 per year.

    However, because the death row offenders must be housed separately in single-person cells with a window and be recreated individually, the costs to house them each day are substantially higher. According to the TDCJ, the average time on death row is just more than 10 1/2 years, and the longest was 31 years.

    In a capital murder trial in Ector County, such as the 2009 capital murder case of Brian Swearengin, costs could run up as high as $120,000. Swearengin was convicted of capital murder in the death of Lourdes Maria "Lou Lou" Medrano and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

    Swearengin's state appeals ran out in February, when the Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest criminal court in Texas, rejected his appeal.

    The cost of the case through 2011 came to $120,927.77, including attorney and expert fees, but not including costs such as jury, security and court fees.

    In addition, Swearengin, who was 25 years old when he was sentenced, could rack up more than $750,000 in costs to the state in 40 years by being held in prison according to the average inmate cost.

    But Dieter said prosecuting someone for the death penalty is still more expensive, citing the more numerous appeals in both state and federal courts, a higher cost for housing death row inmates for what Clark said was an average of 10 to 11 years, and Dieter said death penalty cases also last longer, incurring more costs.

    The most recent published estimate for the cost of a Texas death penalty case from the trial to execution was $2.3 million (and $750,000 for a non-death penalty capital case) from a 1992 Dallas Morning News story, which Dieter said was a good and thorough story but outdated for current purposes.

    The 1992 report is the most recent report on statewide costs of the death penalty, and 20 years later is still used by state and national advocacy groups against capital punishment.

    "I think the best you could say is that study was in line with a lot of other studies done around that time - and since then - in its basic conclusion," Dieter said. "The basic conclusion is the death penalty is costing taxpayers money, not saving taxpayers money."

    The 2009 resentencing phase and some state appeals alone for Michael Dean "Spider" Gonzales, who was convicted of killing an elderly Odessa couple, cost Ector County $227,369.84. His original trial was in 1995, making a dollar comparison inappropriate. Gonzales may still have some appeals options.

    According to the TDCJ, since 1976 Ector County has sentenced 6 people to death including Gonzales but the previous five were not executed. Midland also has a man on death row - Clinton Lee Young - but has not executed anyone since 1976.

    Despite calls to state agencies throughout Texas, the detailed cost of capital death penalty cases was not immediately available, even in small pieces from the agencies over those cases.

    Dieter said part of the problem is the financial responsibility is spread over a number of agencies.

    Bland said the punishment phase in a death penalty trial requires the jury to answer questions for which expert witnesses must be called.

    "When you're seeking the death penalty, it's obviously more expensive," Bland said.

    That doesn't even factor in the opportunities for appeal, which Bland said there are generally more of.

    Texas Tech Law School professor Arnold Loewy said it's cheaper to send a person to prison for life, despite public sentiment.

    "There's a sense among the populace that, 'Gee, if we just executed them, look how much cheaper it would be. We wouldn't be housing them all these years,'" Loewy said.

    It would be true, Loewy said, if not for the appeals and additional time it took to try such a case.

    Kristin Houle, director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said the money spent on capital murder cases takes away money that could be used for in other areas of government.

    "We know from case after case that it is exorbitantly more expensive for a county to pursue the death penalty in a capital case," Houle said. "I think it's one of the most compelling pieces of information that is little-known and understood by the public."

    DEATH PENALTY

    The U.S. Supreme Court ruled the death penalty was unconstitutional as "cruel and unusual punishment" on June 29, 1972. Texas was forced to clear its death row by commuting all 52 men with death sentences to life sentences, which was done by March 1973.

    But in 1973, a revision to the Texas Penal Code allowed executions to resume Jan. 1, 1974, and lethal injection was adopted in 1977.

    Charlie Brooks, of Tarrant County, was the 1st to be executed by lethal injection on Dec. 7, 1982, on charges of the kidnap and murder of a Fort Worth auto mechanic.

    From 1982 through 2012, a 3-drug method was used in lethal injections, with sodium thiopental as the 1st drug, pancuronium bromide the 2nd and potassium chloride the 3rd drug. The 3 drugs cost a total of $83.35 to administer per execution.

    But when sodium thiopental went off the market, Texas switched to pentobarbital for the 1st drug in March 2011, which cost about $1,200 per execution.

    When pancuronium bromide became unavailable, Texas then switched to a single-drug administration of pentobarbital in July of this year. The cost for the single-drug execution is $1,273.82 per execution.

    [Source: Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark]

    (Source: Odessa American)


    Aug. 22

    Witnessing Execution Strengthens Reverence For Life

    On Aug. 7 I witnessed the state of Texas execute my friend Marvin Lee Wilson, No. 999098.

    I started corresponding with Marvin in 2006. We wrote monthly at first, then more often. We talked of our families, exchanged pictures and gradually became friends.

    Over the years I visited Marvin twice for 4 hours each time, separated by a few years. Visits are through glass, talking on a phone. No contact visits are allowed. I would have visited him more often, but with his visiting list limited to 10 people, he asked if he could take me off the list to put more of his family on, hoping they would visit.

    I knew Marvin as a gentle and kind soul. He loved the Bible and spent some of his time memorizing favorite passages that he quoted in his letters and visits. Little did I know that when his execution date was announced, he would ask me to be with him as one of the witnesses. I have lost a friend.

    Although we did not dwell on the legal aspects of his case in detail, I have serious doubt he was guilty of murder. He readily admitted his earlier robbery offenses and involvement with drugs and was deeply remorseful.

    Marvin claimed to me he was innocent of murder. There is some evidence to support that claim. As I got to know Marvin well I believe he was telling the truth.

    In the presidential debates on Sept. 7, 2011, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas was asked about the death penalty, specifically if he lost any sleep over the possibility that one of those 234 executed while he was governor might have been innocent. Perry replied to applause: "No sir," and said the process in Texas was very thoughtful, very clear and fair.

    Governor, this is not always true. Carlos DeLuna, executed for murder in Texas in 1989, was found innocent this spring. On Oct. 4, 2011, Michael Morton was exonerated in Austin for the murder of his wife after almost 25 years in prison.

    There are more examples. Nationally, the University of Michigan and Northwestern University law schools have compiled a National Registry on Exonerations, a database of over 2,000 prisoners exonerated between 1989 and the present. Some of these were death row prisoners. Many are published on their website.

    They state: "The most important thing we know about false convictions is that they happen and on a regular basis."

    Causes of wrongful convictions included perjury, flawed identification and, most disturbingly, misconduct by prosecutors. The Death Penalty Information Center reported 140 people released from death row since 1973 due to innocence. From Aug. 22 through Dec. 12, Texas is scheduled to execute 9 men -- 2 white, 2 Hispanic, the rest black. Marvin was black.

    This preponderance of blacks, not only in Texas, prompted Christina Swarns, director of the criminal justice unit at the NAACP, to state, "The death penalty is a direct descendent of lynching." She herself has gotten 7 prisoners convicted of murder off death row (1 exonerated, 3 overturned and 3 had death sentences vacated).

    Louis Brandeis (1865-1941) an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1916 to 1939, said, "Our government is the potent, omnipresent teacher. For good or ill it teaches the whole people by its example."

    Although this statement was not made in a capital punishment case, the principle applies here. Capital punishment denies our common humanity. Those involved in carrying out executions use selective moral disengagement, dehumanization, and other psychological mechanisms to protect themselves. We do the same. In the process, society becomes a little less concerned about killing. Hearts are hardened.

    John Bright (1811-1899), a member of Parliament in Britain, said it better in 1868. "The real security for human life is to be found in reverence for it. If the law regarded it as inviolable, than the people would begin to also so regard it. A deep reverence for human life is worth more than a thousand executions in the prevention of murder -- The law of capital punishment while pretending to support this reverence, does in fact tend to destroy it."

    We live in a world of violence. Our culture erroneously presents violence as the ultimate victor. I would want less violence in the world. Let's hope for reverence for life and hearts of flesh, of compassion, love, and forgiveness instead of hardened hearts. We could start by ending the death penalty.

    (Source: Opinion; Rich Van Dellen, a retired physician, still writes to one other death row prisoner----Post Bulletin)


    Aug. 21

    Texas Judge in Anti-Death Penalty Ruling Resigns

    A Texas judge who in 2010 had declared the death penalty unconstitutional before being an appeals court overruled him is resigning effective immediately.

    The Houston Chronicle reports ( http://bit.ly/PbuBDo) state District Judge Kevin Fine announced his resignation Tuesday. He wasn't seeking re-election this fall.

    Fine wasn't commenting but Robert Fickman, one of his confidants, told the newspaper Fine apparently is seeking a job that wouldn't be available if he waited until after the November election to step down.

    In March 2010, Fine initially declared the Texas death penalty statute unconstitutional after granting a pretrial motion in a capital murder case over which he was presiding. He later rescinded the ruling and ordered a hearing.

    The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stopped the hearing, later ruling Fine had exceeded his authority.

    (Source: Associated Press)


    August 14th

    Death-Row Inmates' Final Words Speak of Love, God and Anger

    They are the last words of doomed men. Convicted of capital murder, they spend an average of about 10 years on death row before they are executed for their crimes.

    The statements are available on the Texas Department of Criminal Justice website, along with other information about prisoners executed in the past 30 years.

    Prisoners utter their final statements right before intravenous drugs flood their bloodstream, knocking them out within seconds and stopping their heart within minutes. Reading through them can be chilling.

    The latest entry in the database is Marvin Wilson, 54, whom Texas executed last week despite his attorneys' arguments that his IQ was too low for him to be eligible for capital punishment.

    Wilson, convicted of killing a police informant, told his watching three sisters and son several times that he loved them and asked that they give his mother a hug.

    "Y'all do understand that I came here a sinner and leaving a saint," he said. "Take me home Jesus, take me home Lord, take me home Lord."

    In their statements, most prisoners thank relatives and friends who are present, and urge them not to cry. Many also say prayers and proclaim their belief in God.

    Some apologize for their heinous crimes to the victims' families. Others profess their innocence and lash out at the justice system.

    "From there you call me a cold-blooded murderer," said Henry Porter before his execution in July 1985. "I didn't tie anyone to a stretcher. I didn't pump any poison into anybody's veins from behind a locked door. You call this justice. I call this and your society a bunch of cold-blooded murderers."

    Cameron Todd Willingham, convicted in 1992 of killing his 3 daughters, maintained his innocence until his execution in 2004. His case has since received international attention because of claims that he was wrongfully convicted.

    "The only statement I want to make is that I am an innocent man" convicted of a crime I did not commit. I have been persecuted for 12 years for something I did not do. From God's dust I came and to dust I will return - so the earth shall become my throne."

    Texas has executed 484 people since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, more than 4 times as many as any other state. The online information dates back to 1982, when the state first executed a convict by lethal injection.

    Some inmates are more philosophical, such as David Martinez, executed in July 2005: "Only the sky and the green grass goes on forever and today is a good day to die."

    About 20% of inmates decline to say anything at all.

    In some of the more chilling entries, prisoners comment on the sensation they feel as the intravenous drugs begin to flow.

    "Are they already doing it? I'm gonna go to sleep. See you later. This stuff stings, man almighty," said Rodrigo Hernandez, the first man executed in 2012 in Texas, at the end of his statement.

    Mark Stroman, a white supremacist executed in 2011 for a 2001 convenience store shooting spree which he called a revenge act for 9/11, said he was at peace and that "hate causes a lifetime of pain."

    He added: "God bless America, God bless everyone. Let's do this damn thing." Later, when the injection began: "I feel it; I am going to sleep now. Goodnight, 1, 2, there it goes."

    An analysis earlier this year showed the most commonly used word in prisoners' last statements is "love." That is followed by "family," "thank," "sorry" and "God."

    The word "death" is the 15th on the list, just behind "Jesus." Many of the statements end with the person saying, "I'm ready, Warden."

    Texan death row inmates used to be allowed to choose their last meal. James Collier, before his execution in December 2002, was given fried fish, chicken fried steak, baked potato and ice cream.

    His last words: "The only thing I want to say is that I appreciate the hospitality that you guys have shown me and the respect; and the last meal was really good. That is about it."

    The 'last meal' privilege ended in September 2011 after Lawrence Russell Brewer, executed for torturing and killing a handicapped man in 1998, requested an extravagant last meal and didn't eat a bite of it, leaving officials infuriated.

    Now convicts eat their last meals from the regular prison menu.

    (Source: Toronto Star)


    Aug. 2

    Death Row Inmate's Sentence Reduced to Life

    Banks Jr., who has been on death row for 3 decades, on Wednesday accepted a life sentence and will be eligible for parole in 2024 under an agreement with Bowie County prosecutors.

    Banks, 53, was convicted of the 1980 shooting death of 16-year-old Richard Whitehead. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Banks death sentence in 2004, finding that Bowie County prosecutors who tried the case suppressed evidence and deliberately covered up their mistakes for decades. A trial to decide a new sentence for Banks was scheduled for October.

    Bowie County District Attorney Jerry Rochelle told the Texarkana Gazette that Whitehead's family wanted the case to end.

    "They were ready for some closure," Rochelle told the newspaper. "After 32 years of dealing with the offense, the death of their son, the original trial, the appeals and the prospect of a new trial, they were ready for it to end."

    Banks, who is black and was 21 when the crime was committed, was convicted of killing Whitehead, who was white, so that he could take his car. Police found Whitehead's body in a park near Texarkana and soon discovered that Banks had been with him on the last night he was seen alive. There were no witnesses to the killing and no physical evidence linking Banks to it. The prosecution's case relied largely on the testimony of Robert Farr and Charles Cook, both admitted drug users; Cook also had convictions for robbery by assault and forgery.

    Banks had no criminal history, and people who were with him and Whitehead on the last night that Whitehead was alive testified there was no ill will between the 2. Nonetheless, an all-white Bowie County jury convicted Banks, who was sentenced to death.

    Almost 20 years after the trial, in 1999, a federal judge forced Bowie County to open its case records. Banks' lawyers discovered a transcript showing that Cook's testimony had been extensively rehearsed and coached. They also learned that the police had paid Farr, an informant who had an unreliable record, $200 for his role in the investigation.

    Farr, in an affidavit, said he was afraid that the police would arrest him on drug charges. In exchange for the money, and to avoid jail, he agreed to set up Banks, he said. Prosecutors allowed Cook and Farr to lie in court and never told jurors that their information was false, the U.S. Supreme Court found.

    In arguments before the Supreme Court, state lawyers did not dispute that Cook had been coached and that Farr was paid for his help. But they said Banks' lawyers were at fault for not uncovering the information sooner. At a hearing in the case last year, prosecutor James Elliott, who tried Banks in 1980 and had vowed to see his death sentence restored, said that during the original trial he had not known that Farr was a paid informant or that Cook's testimony had been coached.

    In previous motions, Banks' had sought to also challenge the jury's decision that he was guilty, based on the court's findings that prosecutors had erred in the trial. But in the agreement signed Wednesday, Banks agreed not to attempt any additional challenges of his conviction. And he waived his right to seek clemency. He will be 65 when he is eligible for parole, and he will have served 44 years in prison.

    George Kendall, attorney for Delma Banks, issued a brief response to yesterday's agreement: "After 32 years, the State has decided to no longer seek the death penalty in this case. We hope the resolution of this case will bring closure to all concerned."

    (Source: The Texas Tribune)


    July 26

    Austin killer on death row dies, official say

    Selwyn P. Davis, sentenced to death by a Travis County jury for the 2006 Austin murder of his girlfriend's mother, was found dead in his cell on Texas' death row last week, according to a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

    Corrections officers conducting routine security checks found Davis, 30, unresponsive on the floor of his cell about 9 p.m. Friday, spokesman Jason Clark wrote in an email.

    "Staff began life saving measures, called 911, and took the offender to the unit infirmary," Clark wrote. "An ambulance then transported Davis to Livingston Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced deceased by an attending physician at 10:04 pm."

    Clark said the cause of death is unknown and that the department's Office of Inspector General will investigate the death, which is routine.

    Davis stabbed Regina Lara to death in her 38 1/2 Street apartment on Aug. 22, 2006.

    According to testimony at his trial, the killing occurred during a 2-day crime spree that began the day before, when he brutally beat his ex-girlfriend in their Southeast Austin apartment, fracturing her eye socket and jaw, slicing her leg, pouring rubbing alcohol over her head and threatening to set her on fire.

    Later that night, he went to his uncle's South Austin house and sliced him with a knife, according to testimony. He left after taking his aunt's car and purse and went on an overnight drug binge, according to testimony.

    The next day he went to Lara's apartment and attacked her when she came home from work. Davis also sexually assaulted a teenage girl at the house, accofding to testimony.

    In seeking the death penalty, prosecutors revealed Davis' long criminal history, which included assaults on police officers and unprovoked attacks -- on a teacher and another student -- at Lanier High School, and robberies of immigrant workers in the East Riverside Drive area.

    When he was 16, Davis attacked a 13-year-old girl by punching her in the face and kicking her in the stomach after her mother told Davis the girl was pregnant, according to testimony.

    (Source: Austin Legal)


    July 12

    Death Penalty Undermines Justice

    Death penalty advocates have long maintained there is no evidence that Texas ever executed an innocent person.

    It is time for these folks to fess up. Texas has executed an innocent person.

    I base this upon a recent Columbia University Human Rights Law Review report. If ever there is evidence that we got it wrong and executed an innocent person, this is it.

    Wanda Lopez, a convenience store clerk in Corpus Christi, was brutally knifed to death in 1983. Carlos DeLuna was executed in 1989 for the murder. But an 18-month investigation led by Professor James Liebman concludes it was most likely another man who committed the murder.

    This report (which may be accessed at www.thewrongcarlos.net) details how Texas executed the wrong man. Video clips, police records, audio interviews and notes from 100 witness interviews paint a vivid picture of the system flaws that led to DeLuna's execution.

    A number of things went wrong.

    •A single eyewitness identification was made while DeLuna was sitting in the back seat of a police car. I probably would have made the same mistake. The 2 men (DeLuna and another man described in the report) ) looked uncannily alike.

    •The crime scene investigation was terribly mishandled. Potential evidence was destroyed or never recovered.

    •DeLuna's legal representation was woefully inadequate. One of his court-appointed lawyers had never tried a criminal case in court. No witnesses or mitigating evidence were presented during the sentencing phase of the trial.

    •Worst of all — DeLuna's defense was that the other man committed the murder, the man singled out in the law review report, but the prosecution told jurors that man did not exist. All the while, that individual, according to the report, was well-known to police and prosecutors.

    In the end, the police, lawyers, jury and courts failed DeLuna.

    Even the execution did not go right. The lethal injection should have taken 6 minutes to kill him. It took 10. This is not the 1st case where serious questions have been raised in a Texas execution. Critics have pointed to Cameron Todd Willingham and San Antonian Ruben Cantu as possible cases of wrongful execution.

    We know the system makes mistakes. Since 1987, 12 death row prisoners have been exonerated in Texas, the most recent in 2010. No one wants to see innocent people on death row. The exonerations at least set people free, albeit after grave injustices. We cannot bring Carlos DeLuna back. Execution is final.

    Not surprisingly, the innocence issue is a major reason why more people are challenging the death penalty. The innocence issue is also a reason why 5 states have abolished the death penalty.

    In 2006, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia observed, “(There has not been) a single case ... in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit.”

    Justice Scalia should spend some time poring over the Columbia University report.

    If conservative lawmakers in Texas truly want to conserve something, they should conserve justice. Ultimately, the death penalty is simply not consistent with conserving justice.

    (Source: Opinion; Roger C. Barnes chairs the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at the University of the Incarnate Word----San Antonion Express-News)


    July 11

    Texas Switches Execution Procedure To 1-Drug Instead Of 3 Due To Shortage

    Texas, the nation’s most active death penalty state, announced Tuesday that it would become the latest to switch to single-drug executions amid a drug shortage that has left states scrambling for acceptable alternatives.

    The Texas Department of Criminal Justice said it will begin using a single dose of the sedative pentobarbital to carry out death sentences. It had been using that drug in combination with 2 others, but its supply of one of the other drugs expired.

    Texas began using pentobarbital last year after another drug, sodium thiopental, became unavailable when its European supplier bowed to pressure from death penalty opponents and stopped making it. But pentobarbital is now in short supply after its Danish manufacturer said it would try to prevent its use in executions.

    An Oklahoma inmate asked a federal court on Tuesday to halt his upcoming execution because that state has only one dose of pentobarbital left. A lawyer for Michael Hooper said Oklahoma has no backup plan if the drug fails to render Hooper unconscious, and that creates a risk of cruel and unusual punishment.

    Texas officials said in May that they have enough doses of pentobarbital to carry out 23 executions. No one has been executed in the state since.

    In the 3-drug cocktail, Texas officials administered 5 grams of the drug — about 3.4 ounces — to render the inmate unconscious, followed by the muscle relaxant pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride to stop the heart. Pancuronium bromide is the drug that expired.

    Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark said officials didn’t expect the dose of pentobarbital needed to change with the new procedure.

    4 other states — Arizona, Idaho, Ohio and Washington — have used a single drug to carry out executions, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Ohio was the 1st to use just pentobarbital, during a March 2011 execution.

    Other states, such as Missouri, plan to use propofol, the anesthetic blamed for Michael Jackson’s death, to do single-drug executions.

    Death penalty opponents claim single-drug executions may be less humane. They point to an April execution in Arizona, where an inmate shook for several seconds after receiving a lethal dose of pentobarbital. The drug was used by itself in that case.

    Richard Dieter, executive director of the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center, said three-drug cocktails kill quicker than a single anesthetic like pentobarbital.

    “The person still goes to sleep and gradually loses mental capacity and dies, but it may take a slightly longer time,” Dieter said. “I think the idea originally was to cause death quickly, but you needed the anesthetic to make those next 2 drugs painless.”

    Texas has carried out more executions than any other state, 482 since the state reinstated capital punishment in 1982. Its next scheduled lethal injection is July 18, when Yokamon Hearn is set to die for killing a 23-year-old stockbroker from Plano, north of Dallas, in 1998.

    Hearn’s lawyer, Richard Burr, said he was studying the switch to a single drug and hadn’t decided yet whether to file an objection to it.

    Texas has 9 executions, including Hearn’s, scheduled between now and mid-November. Clark said switching to a single-drug method now will ensure that all can be carried out as planned.

    Dieter said Texas’ switch might influence other states and provide more evidence for whether a one-drug procedure works better than previous methods.

    “Either way, it provides more evidence that this is or is not the way to go,” Dieter said. “Everybody thinks of Texas as the leading execution state. It’s a question of numbers.”

    (Source: Associated Press)


    Texas Will Change Its Lethal Injection Protocol

    By Brandi Grissom
    July 10, 2012

    Texas will join a handful of states that use a single drug in lethal injections, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice announced Tuesday.

    "Implementing the change in protocol at this time will ensure that the agency is able to fulfill its statutory responsibility for all executions currently scheduled," TDCJ spokesman Jason Clark said in an email.

    For Yokamon Hearn's scheduled execution on July 18, officials plan to administer a lethal dose of pentobarbital instead of the three-drug cocktail that has been used since Texas reinstated the death penalty in 1982. Clark said the decision to change the protocol came because the state's supply of one of the other drugs that had been used in the protocol — pancuronium bromide — had expired and TDCJ was unable to obtain more.

    "The agency currently has an adequate supply of pentobarbital to carry out all scheduled executions," Clark said. Currently, nine inmates are scheduled to be executed between July 18 and Nov. 14. Clark said that courts have upheld the use of the single-drug protocol as constitutional.

    Pentobarbital is a barbiturate that is often used in animal euthanasia, but states began using it more widely in lethal injections last year. Ohio was the first state to switch to the single-drug protocol using pentobarbital in March 2011.

    Illinois-based Hospira Inc. sent Texas and other death penalty states scrambling last year when it announced in January that it would stop selling sodium thiopental, part of the three-drug cocktail used for lethal injections in Texas, which Hospira had planned to manufacture the drug in an Italian plant, but authorities in that country wanted a guarantee that the drug would not be used in executions.

    But pentobarbital has had some of the same troubles as sodium thiopental. The drug was previously only available from one company operating in the United States, Lundbeck Inc., based in Denmark, a country that also opposes the death penalty. Lundbeck had asked states not to use the drug in executions.

    Last year, Lundbeck sold pentobarbital, along with two other products, to Illinois-based Akorn Inc. but required restrictions on the use of the drug in executions to continue.

    The Austin American-Statesman reported last month that the TDCJ stockpiled supplies of pentobarbital last spring when concerns about the supply of death penalty drugs arose around the country.

    Editor's Note: This story initially reported erroneously that Lundbeck Inc. sold the drug pentobarbital. That company sold the product to a different company, and the story has been corrected.

    Texas Will Change Its Lethal Injection Protocol


    July 9

    Commentary: End The Death Penalty

    While others have been analyzing and debating the U.S. Supreme Court's most recent divisive decision, I have been thinking about another landmark case handed down 40 years -- almost to the day -- before the court's ruling to uphold the controversial Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare."

    On June 29, 1972, the Supreme Court declared the death penalty "cruel and unusual punishment" based mostly on the "arbitrary and capricious" nature of how it was being applied by the states. That 5-4 ruling in effect ushered in a moratorium on capital punishment for a few years. I want to use the anniversary of that ruling to make two appeals: one to call for another moratorium on the death penalty, and the other to ask help for state prisoners who once again are suffering through a sweltering Texas summer.

    Prior to the 1972 decision, Texas executed 361 people by electrocution, with the last one occurring in 1964, according to records of the Department of Criminal Justice. In those days, rape was one of the crimes for which one could be put to the death, something that had changed by the time executions were reinstated effective Jan. 1, 1974.

    The state retired "Old Sparky" (the electric chair) and in 1977 adopted lethal injection as a means of execution. A Fort Worth resident, Charlie Brooks, became the 1st person in the country to die by lethal injection in 1982. Since then, 481 other men and women have been killed in the Texas death chamber, and 8 more are scheduled to die this year.

    Through those years, it has been easy to see that the death penalty as administered in this country, especially in Texas, remains arbitrary and capricious.

    In recent years, the Supreme Court has ruled that the state cannot execute people who are mentally ill or those who were juveniles at the time of their crimes -- the decisions coming too late for several in those categories who had been put to death.

    While I'd like to see the death penalty outlawed outright, as some other states have done in the past few years, at the very least we should call for another moratorium so that we can have a rational discussion about the legality and morality of capital punishment.

    Now to another continuing problem in the state prison system that becomes more acute in the summer. I was reminded of it again last week as the unofficial temperature in Fort Worth was 109 degrees, knowing that the vast majority of Texas prisoners were in un-air-conditioned facilities where the summertime temperature usually is well above 100.

    For the past 12 years Texas Citizens for Rehabilitation of Errants (TX-CURE), whose headquarters is in North Texas, has been providing fans for indigent prisoners (as defined by TDCJ).

    Through 2011, the group had bought 6,015 fans for inmates, Project Director Dorothy Deen said.

    The way the program is set up, the fans have to be purchased through the prison system at $20 each.

    After inmates request a fan and are certified as indigent (having $5 or less in their prison trust fund account for 6 months), TX-CURE can add their names to its list and buy fans for them as the money becomes available.

    Requests always exceed the amount of funds.

    I'm especially proud of the program because it was started by longtime TX-CURE members and supporters Kenneth and Lois Robison. Their son, Larry Robison, was executed in 2000 for the 1982 murder of Bruce M. Gardner, 1 of 5 people killed in the Lake Worth tragedy.

    The Robisons, who said their son was mentally ill his entire adult life, fought hard to try to stop his execution.

    So far this year, 360 indigent prisoners have received fans from the organization, Deen said, and she is working on verifying about 250 more requests.

    If you can help pay for one fan or several, send your donations to:

    TX-CURE Fan Project
    P.O. Box 372
    Burleson, TX 76097
    For more information,
    Contact Deen at (817) 447-1448.

    (Source: Commentary; Bob Ray Sanders----Fort Worth Star-Telegram)


    June 25

    Don't Let Texas Be The Last

    Our Texas legislature cannot ignore the fact that the days of the death penalty are slowly coming to an end. There are now 17 states that have abolished the death penalty, and 5 of those repeals have happened within the past 5 years.

    Death sentences are at a historic low in Texas and nationwide. Prosecutors, juries and judges are less and less comfortable with the death penalty being a just alternative.

    Texas lawmakers are supporting repeal of the death penalty more and more. The time is now.

    Do not let the last execution in the U.S. happen in Texas. We need to show that Texas has grown beyond that.

    Bill Betzen,
    Dallas/Oak Cliff

    (Source: Letter to the Editor, Dallas Morning News)


    June 24

    Executions Under Rick Perry, 2001-Present-----243

    Number--------Scheduled Execution Date---------Name

    244-------------July 18----------------------Yokamon Hearn
    245-------------August 1--------------------Marcus Durery
    246-------------August 7--------------------Marvin Wilson
    247-------------August 22------------------John Balentine
    248-------------September 20--------------Robert Harris
    249-------------November 8----------------Mario Swain
    250-------------November 14---------------Ramon Hernandez
    (Source: Texas Department of Criminal Justice)

    You can also view the Execution List Here


    June 21

    Former Texas Death Row Inmate Testifies at Congressional Hearings on Solitary Confinement

    On June 19, the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights held hearings on solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, including the conditions of many state death rows. The hearings marked the 1st time lawmakers on Capitol Hill have considered this issue.


    Anthony Graves (pictured r., along with Sen. Richard Durbin)

    A former Texas death row inmate, described the conditions of his incarceration in a 8 by 12 foot cage with no physical human contact for years. Meals were passed through a slot, as if feeding an animal. Graves equated his time on Texas’s death row with solitary confinement and described it as “physical, emotional, and psychological torture.”

    He added, “I saw guys who dropped their appeals because of the intolerable conditions. Before his execution, one inmate told me he would rather die than continue existing under these inhumane conditions. I saw guys come to prison sane, and leave this world insane, talking nonsense on the execution gurney.

    One guy suffered some of his last days smearing feces, lying naked in the recreation yard, and urinating on himself.” In 2010, Graves was completely exonerated and released from death row because of new evidence of his innocence.

    Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said, “We can have a just society, and we can be humane in the process. We can punish wrongdoers, and they should be punished under our system of justice, but we don’t have to cross that line.”

    (Source: DPIC)


    Records: Texas bought execution drugs before supply dwindled

    By Mike Ward
    AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
    Published: June 20, 2012


    Turned down in their request for secrecy by state Attorney General Greg Abbott for the second time in as many months, Texas prison officials have revealed that their large stockpile of lethal injection drugs — probably the largest in the country — came from a South Carolina pharmaceutical supplier.

    In releasing invoices and other records about its supply chain, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice shed new light on how it obtained the stockpile of a key drug used in executions last year, at a time when other states were unable to purchase any and some were being forced to switch to other drugs.

    The information confirmed that Texas purchased its lethal drugs in spring 2011 through a U.S.-based supplier, not through a shadowy overseas network that several other states had used last year — actions that drew federal agents to seize illegally imported drugs.

    Texas appeared to get a head start on other states by buying the drugs when supplies were still available. By the summer of 2011, the domestic supplies had mostly dried up — and the other states were left hunting for pentobarbital in places such as England and Pakistan.

    Last month, the Texas agency, which operates the busiest death chamber in the United States, confirmed that it had enough lethal drugs on hand to carry out as many as 23 executions — and that it does not prepare backup doses of the three drugs, as officials previously had said state policy requires.

    The American-Statesman had requested the information in March under the Texas Public Information Act, after disclosing that the state appeared to have purchased more than $50,000 worth of lethal drugs in just a few months.

    Invoices made public by the agency Wednesday show that more than $51,000 worth of the powerful sedative Nembutal, a brand name for pentobarbital, was purchased in March and April 2011 through Physician Sales and Service in Houston.

    Other forms disclosed Wednesday show it was shipped from company offices in West Columbia, S.C.

    Calls to the company in both locations were not returned. Company officials previously had not commented about the sales.

    The newly disclosed documents reveal that in one shipment, three of 39 vials of Nembutal were broken in transit. The state received a credit for the breakage, according to the records.

    Prison officials Wednesday said they could not discuss the records in further detail.

    Like other states, Texas uses Nembutal with two other drugs to carry out executions. Nembutal is the most difficult to obtain, and its European manufacturer, Lundbeck, has barred the use of its product in executions in the United States.

    In arguing that disclosure of the details of its supply chain could limit Texas' ability to buy the necessary drugs in the future, prison officials had refused to release the records. They said the disclosure would allow death penalty opponents to harass suppliers as part of an international campaign to block executions, and would interfere with Texas carrying out the ultimate penalty.

    Abbott disagreed, ruling June 6 that the invoices and other purchasing records had to be made public. A month earlier, Abbott came to the same conclusion in ordering the agency to disclose how much lethal drugs it had on hand.

    At the time, prison officials said they had 46 2.5-gram vials of Nembutal and similar amounts of the other two drugs on hand.

    In his four-page decision, the attorney general rejected claims by prison officials that disclosure of the information could endanger the safety of prison employees and jeopardize Texas' continued ability to obtain the drugs.

    Jason Clark, a prison system spokesman, said Wednesday that he could not comment on any discussions prison officials may have had with the suppliers about the release of the information.

    Contact Mike Ward at 474-2791

    Records: Texas bought execution drugs before supply dwindled


    June 1st

    Kimberly Cargill Sentenced to Death Penalty

    Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham tells KETK that Kimberly Cargill has been sentenced to die for killing 29-year old Cherry Walker.

    During the punishment phase, Cargill relatives took the stand against her.

    (Source: KETK News)


    June 1st

    Kimberly Cargill Given Death Penalty For Murdering Her Babysitter

    Shortly after 9:30 pm, Thursday, a Smith County jury has reached a sentence for Kimberly Cargill of Whitehouse convicted of killing her babysitter, Cherry Walker.

    The jurors had to decide between 2 penalties, life in prison or the death penalty. After 8 hours of deliberation, the jurors decided upon the death penalty.

    Cherry Walker’s body was found partially burned on June 24, 2010 on the side of Oscar Burkett Road. Smith County investigators said that Ms. Walker died of “homicidal violence”.

    Richard Wilson, a retired psychologist who worked for the Andrews Center diagnosed Ms. Walker as mentally challenged in 1995. He stated that she had the daily living skills of a 9-year-old and suffered from major motor seizures.

    Ms. Walker has been described as a kind person who loved children. She was especially fond of Cargill’s 4-year-old son whom she babysat.

    Ms. Walker babysat Cargill’s’ son many times without pay and used her food stamps to feed him. Walker’s mother asked her many times why she sat for Cargill, each time Walker would smile and answer for Luke.

    Cargill was not only abusive to Walker; she was also abusive to her children.

    In March, 2010, Cargill was arrested for injury to a child, but bond out the next day.

    Shortly after Cargill’s release, Walker was subpoenaed as a witness in Cargill’s child custody case. Cargill did not want Walker testifying, so she killed, burned her and left her on the side of the road.

    Cargill testified that Walker died from a seizure. She also made the statement that she had found Walker unconscious and tried to revive her. Cargill stated that when she found Walker, she didn’t know what to do, so she left her on the side of the road. Cargill contended that she burned Walker’s body to rid it of any DNA that might have gotten on her from Cargill trying to revive her.

    Time after time Cargill lied during questioning, showing no remorse.

    Shortly after the court’s death penalty decision an automatic appeal was filed on behalf of Cargill.

    If executed, Cargill will be the fourth woman in Texas since 1863.

    (Source: Dallas Examiner)


    May 28th

    Recent Exonerations Reducing Death Penalties

    Death penalties have become a rarity from juries in some parts of Texas in the wake of a string of prison inmates — including some on death row — who have been exonerated by DNA and other new evidence.

    The last death sentence returned by a Bexar County jury in San Antonio came in 2009, when only 1 defendant was condemned in that county, the San Antonio Express-News reported. In the 11 years ending in 2006, Bexar County juries meted out at least 24 death sentences.

    “We don’t go get the death penalty just because we can. It’s a very serious decision-making process,” First Assistant District Attorney Cliff Herberg told the Express-News.

    Recent state and national surveys continue to show strong support for the death penalty, but less so when the option of life imprisonment without parole is offered to juries. Texas began offering that option in 2005. That, Herberg said, “definitely changed the dynamics” in Bexar County.

    As for appeals, “I think you do see the courts are saying, no matter what, let’s test it,” Herberg said.

    By way of illustration is a recent federal court reprieve of Anthony Bartee hours before his scheduled May 2 execution for a 1996 San Antonio slaying. That shows judges are choosing to err increasingly on the side of caution when death row inmates appeal for new DNA testing of evidence in their cases.

    “The courts are more cautious and most people think they should be, there is a question about it,” Professor John Blume of the Cornell University Law School told the Express-News.

    “I think it’s moved the pendulum to at least introduce an element of skepticism in capital cases,” said Professor John Schmolesky of the St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio.

    That is only appropriate, said civil rights attorney Jeff Blackburn, head of the Innocence Project of Texas. The nonprofit advocacy group says DNA testing has led to the exoneration of more than 280 people nationally, most of them over the past 12 years and 17 of them death row inmates. The new National Registry of Exonerations shows that at least 890 inmates — perhaps as many as more than 2,000 — have been falsely convicted nationally since 1989.

    “We have to err on the side of finding out every fact that we can,” Blackburn told the newspaper.

    However, prosecutors say DNA-based appeals can be used purely to stall executions. In the case of Bartee, said Assistant District Attorney Rico Valdez, “He wasn’t convicted with DNA evidence but by his own behavior.”

    (Source: Associated Press)


    May 27th

    Decision adds to scrutiny of death penalty cases

    At 3:25 a.m. on May 2, Anthony Bartee was eating breakfast, not knowing if it would be his last.

    That evening, Bartee, 55, was to be strapped to the gurney in the death chamber in Huntsville for the 1996 robbery and slaying of his friend David Cook, 37.

    Bartee's attorney David Dow started his day scrambling to get his client a 2nd stay — the 1st was granted within a week of Bartee's original Feb. 28 execution date. In addition to the usual appellate route, Dow took an atypical one.

    He filed a federal lawsuit against the Bexar County district attorney's office, claiming that Bartee's civil rights were violated by prosecutors withholding evidence for DNA testing that could prove his client's innocence.

    The DA's office doubted the attempt would work because Bartee had 15 years to make evidence claims. And besides, he wasn't convicted based on DNA. But with Bartee's death imminent, Chief U.S. District Judge Fred Biery granted the temporary stay to allow more time to examine Dow's civil rights claims.

    The ruling was rare, experts said, and speaks to an ever-increasing scrutiny of death penalty cases as exonerations from post-conviction DNA testing continue to mount.

    “The courts are more cautious, and most people think they should be if there is a question about it,” said Cornell University Law School Professor John H. Blume.

    Juries, too, are handing down fewer death sentences, nationwide and locally.

    Local prosecutors have noted the trend and are taking a harder look at whether to seek death.

    “We don't go get the death penalty just because we can,” First Assistant District Attorney Cliff Herberg said. “It's a very serious decision-making process.”

    Dow did not return phone calls or emails.

    A majority of Texans, 73%, either strongly or somewhat support the death penalty, according to a University of Texas at Austin and Texas Tribune poll published Thursday. The number drops to 53% when asked about the option of life without parole.

    A majority of Americans also support the death penalty, according to a 2011 Gallup Poll. But at 61%, that support is at its lowest point in 39 years, the poll concluded.

    Since the state adopted life without parole in 2005 as an alternative to death, it “definitely changed the dynamics” in Bexar County, Herberg said.

    Exonerations also have affected the entire criminal justice system, including jurors who must decide if someone lives or dies, said John Schmolesky, a professor at St. Mary's University School of Law.

    “I think it's moved the pendulum to at least introduce an element of skepticism in capital cases,” Schmolesky said.

    The last death sentence in Bexar County came in 2009, a year when only 1 person was condemned to die although prosecutors had sought the death penalty more often than that.

    Given that at least 24 people were sentenced to die in the 11-year period that ended in 2006, Bartee being one of them, that's a dramatic decrease.

    Death sentences in the United States also have dropped, by 65% in the past 12 years, with 78 handed down last year, compared with 224 in 2000, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

    Prosecutors here, in deciding whether to seek the death penalty, weigh the cost of the litigation, the circumstances of the crime and the accused killer's history of violence, among other factors, Herberg said.

    “The future danger aspect of it has always been an issue with the jury,” he added. “If they can't get out of prison, (communities) are safer.”

    Bartee's own violent past wasn't known to Cook, his friends or family.

    He was sent to prison for raping at knifepoint a girl, 15, and a woman, 20, in separate incidents in 1983, according to court records. At the time Cook was killed, Bartee had been out on parole for only 15 months.

    In San Antonio that day, district attorney's office investigator George Saidler, a retired homicide detective who worked on Cook's case, was searching the police property room for glasses and cigarettes collected 16 years ago from Cook's house.

    What prompted him was Dow's new request for DNA evidence testing. Prosecutors needed to know if authorities still had the evidence, especially if a court ruled in Bartee's favor.

    Biery's decision to stay the execution was a move in the right direction, said civil rights attorney Jeff Blackburn, who heads the Innocence Project of Texas.

    “We have to err on the side of finding out every fact that we can,” he said. “I think that if we've learned anything, it's that it's hard to trust the government when they say (DNA's) not involved in this case.”

    Nationwide, DNA testing has been instrumental in exonerating more than 280 people, the majority in the past 12 years. Of those, 17 spent time on death row, according to The Innocence Project.

    Still, that's just a fraction of the more than 2,000 people falsely convicted in the past 23 years, according to the first national registry of its kind, which was released last week.

    In response to the growing number of exonerations and advances in DNA testing technology, the Texas Legislature made changes regarding DNA evidence that could help someone wrongly convicted prove their innocence.

    2 changes occurred late last year. Lawmakers made it less difficult for someone convicted to get DNA testing introduced in court. Also, judges now have the power to order that DNA profiles be sent through national and state databases, presumably to find out whether someone else committed the crime.

    Bartee, so far, has benefited from the new laws.

    “I think you do see the courts are saying, no matter what let's test it,” Herberg said. “We're certainly seeing that. That's the reason for this delay (in Bartee's case).”

    The new evidence laws have ushered in debates about what to test and when. Advocates of testing argue that every avenue needs to be explored, while some prosecutors contend that more DNA testing can be used as a stalling tactic.

    “DNA evidence isn't the silver bullet that's going to solve every single case,” Schmolesky said. “If the (person) admits he was present, he may have left fingerprints, saliva on cups for example, or things that result in DNA testing but don't show he committed a crime.”

    Local prosecutors haven't wavered in their belief that further testing for Bartee's case is a waste of time.

    “He wasn't convicted with DNA evidence but by his own behavior,” Assistant District Attorney Rico Valdez said.

    (Source: San Antonio Express-News)


    May 27th

    Death Penalty

    Regarding "Texas must take steps to be sure of guilt in capital cases" (Page B7, May 19), former Gov. Mark White's op-ed concludes "we must take every possible precaution to ensure there is never another Carlos DeLuna."

    Evidence reviewed after his execution raises the probability that he was incorrectly identified and convicted, and unjustly executed.

    In addition to the DeLuna error you can add the possible wrongful execution of Ruben Cantu, also from San Antonio. Again, no evidence other than eyewitnesses that later recanted their testimony coupled with questionable police procedures dealing with the witnesses.

    The governor and I share the same Texas background and age profiles, and I was also once convinced that heinous crimes warrant the death penalty. But after reviewing the ugly truth as the governor so eloquently presented it, DeLuna's case should give us all pause as we realize that the possibility of executing an innocent individual is very real.

    It is the human limitation of "fallibility" that is the culprit of White's concern. Fallibility has brought me to conclude our system and our human resources lack the "infallibility" White seeks.

    The only logical course is to retire the death penalty in favor of life without parole, a fate as cruel as execution itself.

    Michael R. Wimberly
    Houston, Texas

    (Source: Letter to the Editor, Houston Chronicle)


    Texas has enough lethal drugs for 23 executions, officials say

    By Mike Ward
    AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
    May 18th,

    Forced to go public by an order from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, state prison officials late Friday disclosed that they have enough lethal drugs on hand to carry out as many as 23 executions.

    The agency also said Friday that it does not prepare backup doses of the lethal drugs for each execution, as state officials have long said policy requires.

    In a brief statement issued without elaboration, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said it has 46 2.5-gram vials of Nembutal on hand and similar amounts of two other drugs included in a three-drug cocktail used in executions at the Huntsville Unit.

    That could mean that Texas has the largest stockpile of the lethal drugs in the country, at a time when other states are scrambling to find suppliers for the same drugs.

    Death penalty critics have long suspected that Texas has not been following state policy on backup doses, but until Friday there was no official confirmation.

    For years, state officials have said agency policy calls for them to prepare double doses of the three-drug cocktail in case the initial round fails. If the backups were prepared, each execution would use twice the amount of lethal drugs as is needed if the first dose executes the prisoner.

    Prison officials have previously refused to comment on whether the backup doses were being prepared. But on Friday, officials said that they interpret the policy to require the drugs to be on hand but not in syringes.

    "The backup set of lethal injection drugs is not actually prepared, but an additional dose is available if needed," the brief statement said Friday.

    Abbott's opinion Monday was prompted by requests under the Texas Public Information Act filed by the American-Statesman and a reporter for The Guardian, a British newspaper.

    The attorney general rejected claims by prison officials that disclosure of the information could endanger the safety of prison employees and jeopardize Texas' continued ability to obtain the drugs — especially pentobarbital, a key pharmaceutical that is in short supply for executions because of increasing restrictions on its use.

    Abbott had issued a similar ruling in late 2010, forcing the agency to disclose how much of the drugs it had on hand. Prison officials since had insisted that a recent Texas Supreme Court opinion would allow them to keep the information and other information about suppliers secret, but Abbott again disagreed.

    The state said Friday that it is using the powerful barbiturate Nembutal, known generically as pentobarbital, which is in short supply. According to Texas execution procedures, a 5-gram dose — about 3.4 ounces — is used during each execution.

    The agency said Friday that it has a hefty amount of the other two execution drugs: 290 10-milligram vials of pancuronium bromide and 737 20-milliequivalent vials of potassium chloride.

    There was no word late Friday on whether the agency planned to disclose the details about its suppliers, as Abbott had directed, or planned to fight the matter in court. Officials declined to comment.

    Though the information made public late Friday was brief, it appeared to confirm details about Texas' execution drug supply that were revealed by the American-Statesman in late March.

    The newspaper reported that, facing a possible shortage of key drugs needed to keep the nation's busiest execution chamber in business, Texas prison officials a year ago had purchased tens of thousands of dollars' worth of lethal drugs.

    Contact Mike Ward at 474-2791

    Texas has enough lethal drugs for 23 executions, officials say


    May 18th

    Texas prisons must disclose execution drug details

    Texas prison officials must disclose information about who supplies lethal drugs for executions and how much of the drugs the Department of Criminal Justice has on hand, the state attorney general's office ruled.

    The opinion this week came in response to public information requests filed earlier in the year by the Austin American-Statesman and the British newspaper The Guardian.

    Prison officials had argued that releasing the information could be harmful to employees and provide death penalty opponents with an avenue to harass the drug suppliers in the hope those firms would refuse to do business with the state.

    "We find your arguments as to how disclosure of the requested drug quantities would result in the disruption of the execution process or otherwise interfere with law enforcement to be too speculative," Sean Opperman, an assistant attorney general, wrote in the opinion.

    Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials did not immediately respond to a phone message left by The Associated Press seeking comment. The Austin paper, which first reported about the ruling Thursday, said prison officials said they hadn't seen the opinion yet and couldn't comment on it.

    The prison agency has 30 days to comply with the opinion or to challenge it in court, under state guidelines.

    Opperman said that while the attorney general's office "acknowledge(s) the department's concerns," the corrections department didn't show how disclosure of the information "would create a substantial threat of physical harm to any individual."

    Department officials have indicated they have a sufficient supply to handle upcoming executions. At least 5 so far are scheduled for Texas into the summer, including 1 early next month.

    Last year Texas had to change from sodium thiopental, one of the drugs used in the process, when it became unavailable after its European supplier bowed to pressure from death penalty opponents and stopped making it. No other vendor could be found and pentobarbital was used as a replacement.

    The physical effects of the new drug on condemned inmates have not been noticeable at executions in Huntsville but the financial cost to the state has risen considerably. Prison officials put the cost of the previous drug mixture, which also used pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride, at $83.35. It's now $1286.86, with the higher cost primarily due to pentobarbital.

    About 3.4 ounces of solution containing 5 grams of pentobarbital is used in the lethal injection process, followed by lethal doses of the other two drugs. In addition, the department's written procedures call for a matching set of drugs and syringes "in case unforeseen events make their use necessary."

    (Source: Associated Press)


    May 15

    Carlos De Luna Execution: Texas Put To Death An Innocent Man, Columbia University Team Says

    One of the strongest arguments against the death penalty is the frightening chance of executing an innocent person. Columbia University law professor James Liebman said he and a team of students have proven that Texas gave a lethal injection to the wrong man.

    Carlos De Luna was executed in 1989 for stabbing to death a gas station clerk in Corpus Christi 6 years earlier. It was a ghastly crime. The trial attracted local attention, but not from concern that a guiltless man would be punished while the killer went free.

    De Luna, an 8th grade dropout, maintained that he was innocent from the moment cops put him in the back seat of a patrol car until the day he died. Today, 29 years after De Luna was arrested, Liebman and his team published a mammoth report in the Human Rights Law Review that concludes De Luna paid with his life for a crime he likely did not commit. Shoddy police work, the prosecution's failure to pursue another suspect, and a weak defense combined to send De Luna to death row, they argued.

    "I would say that across the board, there was nonchalance," Liebman told The Huffington Post. "It looked like a common case, but we found that there was a very serious claim of innocence."

    Police and prosecutors treated the killing of Wanda Lopez at the Sigmor Shamrock gas station on February 4, 1983, like a robbery gone bad. A recording of the chilling 911 call from Lopez, a 24-year-old single mom working the night shift, captured her screaming and begging her killer for mercy.

    De Luna, then 20, was found hiding under a pickup truck a few blocks from the gory crime scene. A wad of rolled-up bills totaling $149 was in his pocket.

    Eyewitness testimony formed the bedrock of the case against him. Now, that testimony is perhaps most contested aspect of his conviction.

    Cops brought De Luna back to the Shamrock. A customer filling his tank before the murder told police that De Luna was the man he saw putting a knife in his pocket outside the store. Another customer who rushed to the store's entrance when he heard Lopez struggling identified De Luna as the man who emerged. A married couple saw a man running a few blocks away and later identified De Luna in police photos shown to them.

    With De Luna's record of numerous arrests for burglary and public drunkenness, plus a conviction for attempted rape and auto theft, it seemed like police had found the perp. But Liebman said De Luna took the fall in a case of mistaken identity.

    Among the key findings in the Columbia team's report:

    •The eyewitness statements actually conflict with each other. What witnesses said about the appearance and location of the suspect suggest that they were describing more than one person.

    •Photos of a bloody footprint and blood spatter on the walls suggest the killer would have had blood on his shoes and pant legs, yet De Luna's clothes were clean.

    •Prosecutors and police ignored tips unearthed in the case files that Carlos Hernandez, an older friend of De Luna, who had a reputation for wielding a blade, had killed Lopez. The defense failed to track down Hernandez, who bore a striking resemblance to De Luna.

    "If a new trial was somehow able to be conducted today, a jury would acquit De Luna" said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, who read a draft of Liebman's report. "We don't have a perfect case where can agree that we have an innocent person who's been executed, but by weight of this investigation, I think we can say this is as close as a person is going to come."

    In 1983 and during the appeals process, officials handling De Luna's case saw the opposite -- a slam-dunk conviction. The prosecution and the court-appointed defense lawyer didn't put much stock in De Luna's claim that Hernandez plunged a knife into Lopez's chest. Record-keeping was so lax there's no clear evidence the gas station was robbed during the slaying, Liebman said.

    In trying to clear his name, De Luna didn't help himself. For months after his arrest, he refused to reveal the name of the real killer, because he feared Hernandez. His credibility plummeted when other parts of his alibi for the night of the murder were disproven by the prosecutor.

    The fateful night began, according to De Luna, when he went to a skating rink, where he met Hernandez and two sisters. De Luna admitted that he was near the gas station later, but said he was across the street in a bar. While he nursed his drink, Hernandez bought cigarettes in the Shamrock. He said he emerged from the bar to see Hernandez fighting with Lopez. Hearing police sirens, he said he fled, because he didn't want to get into trouble.

    The prosecution, however, discredited De Luna's version of events. One of the sisters who was allegedly with him at the rink testified that she was at her baby shower that night.

    "I had blown his alibi to bits," said Steve Schiwetz, one of the prosecutors.

    A guilty verdict was reached with little delay. The capital murder trial lasted 6 days in July 1983.

    "I'm open to the argument that somebody named Carlos Hernandez really did it," said Schiwetz, "but everything I know confirms the original impression that De Luna did it."

    The apparent random targeting of Lopez wasn't Hernandez's style, Schiwetz said. Hernandez's tendency was to unleash violence on the his girlfriends and wife, not strangers, he said. In 1986, Hernandez was accused of murdering another woman with a knife, but the case was dismissed.

    Several of Hernandez' family members interviewed for the Columbia University report said pictures of the murder weapon found at the gas station looked like the knife Hernandez habitually kept with him. In all of De Luna's numerous arrests, police never found him carrying a blade, according to the Columbia report.

    The relatives' portrait of Hernandez's disheveled appearance gelled with a description of the suspect seen fleeing the convenience store. Witness Kevan Baker said the killer looked like a "derelict," wearing a flannel jacket and gray sweatshirt. Hernandez's relatives said he often wore a flannel coat. De Luna was fastidious with his appearance and always wore black slacks and dress shirts, the report said.

    Liebman sought more scientific proof. Fingerprints taken from the knife and cigarette pack found at the crime scene were sent to a former Scotland Yard investigator for comparison with Hernandez's prints. But the evidence had been so poorly collected by police, Liebman said, that the results were inconclusive.

    The Columbia University team's report, more than 400 pages long, also is a biography of the central players, emphasizing the troubled upbringings and hard-drinking adulthoods of De Luna and Hernandez.

    Liebman learned about De Luna roughly 10 years ago, when he began examining convictions in which a single eyewitness testified. As he and a student delved into the files, they became convinced De Luna wasn't guilty.

    They turned over their findings to the Chicago Tribune which published a three-part series in 2006 that found evidence suggesting Hernandez killed Lopez. Multiple people told the Tribune that Hernandez -- who died in 1999 in prison from cirrhosis of the liver -- had confessed to killing her.

    Revisiting questions about Lopez's death would be too painful, her nephews said.

    "That's something our family has had to deal with," Louis Vargas told The Huffington Post. "We've had closure with it and we don't want to reopen it. We believe the justice system did what it had to do."

    One of De Luna's attorneys, James Lawrence, told HuffPost he doesn't count him among the clients who've been wrongfully accused of capital crimes.

    "The fact that he wouldn't help us and this was his life on the line -- that's the one thing that kept bothering the living daylights out of me," Lawrence said.

    Since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976, there have been 1,295 executions, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Texas leads with 482 executions.

    The ease with which De Luna was prosecuted and the obscurity of his death are what makes his case so important, said Liebman.

    "There are many cases out there that nobody has ever looked at and are probably at risk of innocence," said Liebman. "It's a cautionary tale about the risks we take when we have the death penalty."

    (Source: Michael McLaughlin, Huffington Post)


    May 5th

    Death Penalty isn't Solution
    Re: "Think of victims instead"

    By Don Skaggs, Tuesday letters

    As Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said, "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." In just 134 words, Don Skaggs manages to bring his own freshly minted facts to the death penalty discussion.

    He writes, "If you had a loved one raped, murdered and killed, you have to hold The News in contempt for its misplaced sense of justice." This is a doozy of a statement. Does Skaggs mean that newspaper editorials shouldn't be protected as free speech? More important, many families of victims supported the Connecticut repeal of its death penalty.

    Skaggs also repeats the old chestnut that the death penalty deters murders. The News' source editorial pointed out the the nonpartisan National Research Council has determined there is not enough information to either support or confirm this contention. Other studies over the years have echoed this conclusion.

    Kudos to Connecticut for abolishing the barbaric practice of capital punishment.

    More states are lined up bumper to bumper to do the same. Texas may be dead last in this long march, but it will happen. That's a fact.

    Tom Heines, Far North Dallas

    (Source: Letter to the Editor, Dallas Morning News)


    May 4th

    It's time to abolish the death penalty

    Last week, Connecticut joined with 16 other states and with the rest of the civilized world when it abolished the death penalty. But the very next day, Texas chose to remain in darkness when it executed Beunka Adams, making him the 5th victim this year of the state's anachronistic practice of killing people. If not for a last-minute stay, on Wednesday Texas would have put another human being to death.

    Since the death penalty was re-instated in the United States, 1,295 human beings have walked that cruel corridor to the death chamber. Our country ranks number 5 among nations willing to kill people, surpassed only by Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Iran and China. What is almost as disturbing as the killing is the fact that 61 % of the American population approves of this barbaric practice.

    Many of the country's God-fearing Christians believe that killing someone who has been convicted of murder is a proper means to achieve justice. They incorrectly equate death with justice. Killing a human being is more tantamount to revenge. Families of murdered victims travel to Huntsville to watch the murderer of their loved one suffer the same fate. They call that closure.

    However, closure should come knowing that their family member is in the hands of God.

    According to the National Research Council, there is no evidence that the death penalty serves as a deterrent to murder. The major problem that death penalty proponents do not want to discuss is the possibility of killing an innocent person. There have been three very strong cases of possible wrongful execution in Texas. Todd Willingham, executed in 2004, Ruben Cantu in 1993, and Carlos De Luna in 1989, all went to their deaths with serious doubts of their guilt.

    Since 1975, there have been 140 people released from death row in 26 states, 12 of them in the state of Texas. They all could have easily been killed because of our need for revenge. If that many have been released, just imagine how many were executed who were innocent.

    Dr. Roger Barnes is chairman of the Sociology and Criminal Justice Department at the University of the Incarnate Word. He believes that we should be ashamed and hugely embarrassed that our country is the only Western industrialized democracy that uses execution, and Texas does it more than any other state.

    The late Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, a conservative judge when appointed by President Richard Nixon, changed his mind about capital punishment.

    “I can no longer tinker with the machinery of death,” he wrote. “We are just not equipped to get this right.” It is time for Texas to join with Justice Blackmun and the rest of the civilized world and do away with the bloody practice of killing people.

    (Source: Fred Williams, San Antonio Express-News)


    May 4th

    DEATH ROW INMATES SUE TEXAS GOVERNOR RICK PERRY AND SENATOR JOHN WHITMIRE FOR ABUSIVE CONDITIONS

    Thomas Whitaker, an inmate on Texas death row, has filed a class action lawsuit against Texas Governor Rick Perry, Senator John Whitmire, and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for the inhumane and unconstitutional conditions under which the men on death row must live. Allegations include taking away wheelchairs from those who cannot walk, denying mental and physical health care, being held in solitary confinement for over ten years without any legal justification based on their conduct, dangerously unsafe living conditions, inadequate nutrition, inadequate exercise, denial of adequate access to telephones, destruction and loss of necessary legal documents, denial of religious freedom, denial of fair administrative process, failure to timely deliver mail including legal correspondence, and other abuses. In the case of Ruiz v. Estelle, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District held that conditions for the Texas prison system were unconstitutional but also held that the inmates of death row would need to bring a separate lawsuit to address their unique situation. That is the action now being taken by Whitaker.

    There have been acts of retaliation by TDCJ toward men who have been a part of this suit or similar litigation.

    Thomas Whitaker, No. 999522 age 32, from Fort Bend County, Tx----Residing on Texas Death Row since March 2007, convicted under the Law of Parties.

    Contact Information:
    Robert B. Wells, Co-Director Descending Eagles
    email: mfelps@descendingeagles.org
    P.O. Box 49339, Austin, Tx 78765
    3724 Jefferson, Ste. 309, Austin, Tx 78731

    _______________
    The following acts and omissions of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice have caused irreparable harm to all residents of death row at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas.

    These acts and omissions continue to harm the residents of death row at the Polunsky Unit.

    All residents now housed at Polunsky, previously housed at Ellis, on death row were put in solitary confinement in administrative segregation improperly and in violation of the existing plan for incarceration of those persons on male death row. Although most of the residents had not been charged with or found guilty of any conduct that would be punishable by solitary confinement, they have been retained in solitary for over ten years (since 2000). No less than a full due process hearing is required to determine whether there is a valid reason for the continued confinement in solitary. No such hearings have been held. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice regulations require a hearing with attendance by the Plaintiff, the warden, and the Classification Committee of the unit to determine if administrative segregation is appropriate or to extend such conditions beyond a limited period. There have been no such hearings. Those so held do not meet the Texas Department of Criminal Justice [TDCJ] requirements for such confinement because there has been no determination that each individual is in need of segregation for his protection or safety; there is no violation of the regulations of TDCJ for which a hearing is pending, there is no reason to assume that all are "custody risks" when they have shown no signs of being such. The fact that another person attempted escape does not make this entire class any more of a custody risk than the average person incarcerated in the general population.

    By both action and inaction basic human needs of adequate food, safe shelter, adequate exercise, medical care and living conditions conducive to mental health are being denied every resident of death row. There are frequent failures to provide sufficient nutrition for the residents of death row in their daily food provision. Housing conditions include unsanitary living conditions due to inadequate cleaning of the cells and shower areas. At times, no cleaning product other than water is used by those performing general cleaning. Residents are not given access to cleaning products to maintain their cells in a sanitary condition and to kill black mold. Although security might dictate precluding caustic chemicals in the area housing those who might be a security risk, there is no reason to deny them ordinary cleaning products to keep their living area safe from disease causing bacteria. The food trays are often placed on the floors where there is sewage or spittle. The showers have inadequate ventilation causing it to be so humid and hot that residents have been made ill. The attorney visitation booths are not adequately ventilated for the residents. When an unruly resident is being gassed for misconduct, the other are exposed to so much of the caustic and harmful fumes as to also suffer from the contact. There is inadequate exercise. One hour a week is inadequate for the maintenance of physical health. There is no reason access to the outdoors and vigorous physical activity daily should be denied.

    The cells have inadequate ventilation and they effectively shut off the residents from all contact with the outside world. The occupants of the cells are subjected to harsh temperatures. The ceilings of some cells leak and there is black mold growing in some cells. Lights are controlled by officers who turn them off and on at their discretion exposing those trying to sleep to light that awakens them and prevents adequate rest. Food is served at hours not usually considered appropriate for meals with no justification for such a schedule.

    Clothing also is delivered at hours designed to interrupt sleep. Other than the brief periods they are allowed out to shower and one time a week they are allowed recreation, they are in solitary confinement 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The prolonged period of sensory deprivation has resulted in serious mental health conditions. No effort has been made to examine the residents of these isolation cells to see how they have been damaged by these conditions.

    There has been a frequent lack of care used in regard to legal documents. When their cells are searched for contraband, their legal documents are often tossed in with other property and subsequently lost or damaged.

    In violation of the regulations of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, "legal visits" between offenders in order to obtain needed assistance in their legal cases have been curtailed. Adequate postage is denied which prevents corresponding with legal counsel when necessary. Mail sent to or received from legal representatives has been opened and read. Access to law books is very limited and difficult as well as access to information that could be gained from having greater access to the library and to television. Telephone access so as to be able to contact their legal representatives is not permitted. Residents of death row are denied adequate telephone access to contact legal counsel. At times, the transport of the resident is so slow that they are denied access to legal counsel. Counsel often is forced to wait for up to an hour or completely denied a legal visit.

    Residents of death row have been denied reasonable treatment for diagnosed medical conditions. Medical staff exhibits indifference or is unavailable.

    Dental care is extremely inadequate as is care of vision. Those in need of wheelchairs are now being denied access to a wheelchair and required to walk using a walker out of an excessive reaction to one person having been a security risk because he was being transported in a wheelchair when a weapon was found in the wheelchair. There is a concerted effort to avoid identifying the mentally handicapped for fear it will lead to them getting their sentences reduced to life rather than execution. Further, the mentally ill are not housed separately as is required by the regulations. Those nearby are kept awake by the shouts of those who are psychologically disturbed. There is inadequate treatment of the mental health issues that incarceration in these conditions necessitates. There is totally inadequate screening to determine whether mental health issues have arisen. There is inappropriate supervision of the mentally ill in terms of their maintenance on the prescribed treatment. The seriously mentally ill are not transferred to more suitable facilities nor is staff trained to deal with them properly.

    Prescribed medications and "over the counter" medications are not provided promptly or consistently so as to allow maintenance of the health of all residents, both mentally and physically in need ofregular treatment. Both the mentally and physically ill have had the water turned off in their cells to prevent them from urinating due to dehydration. They have been denied food so as to not have fecal matter if the mentally ill individuals throw feces at guards.

    The physically ill had hemorrhoids and was bleeding excessively. At such time as each such sick individual became unable to move, they were finally given some degree of treatment at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas. Contrary to the ethical standards required, no physician or guard or warden reported these crimes of abuse. The elderly, diabetic or mentally ill have been abused because they could not move quickly or fell due to their fragile condition. The very severely mentally ill are incapable of completing their administrative appeals due to their condition. Everyone suffers emotional trauma from witnessing these episodes of abuse of weak and fragile individuals.

    The mentally challenged or mentally ill are subject to punishment for their failure to understand the regulations they must follow. Their non-compliance due to confusion leads to longer and longer confinement in segregation without clothes, mattress, linens, and inadequate food and medication. Guards are poorly trained in mental health so as to recognize whether there is real misconduct or a lack of comprehension. Those who are delusional are harassed and tormented by some guards. These guards are not disciplined or terminated, but are allowed to continue to abuse the mentally ill.

    Those who are mentally ill are incompetent to personally bring any grievance or complaint on their own behalf. Assistive devices such as braces, medical issue boots, and wheelchairs have been confiscated and not provided to those requiring them for proper function of their extremities or movement from location to location. Adequate pain medication is routinely withheld.

    All residents are denied activities that would be conducive to good mental health such as an opportunity to engage in creative work or crafts which are allowed those in the general population of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and only denied to residents of death row, including those who have nearly perfect conduct records. They are further denied access to television.

    These activities were allowed until recently. Some men escaped from Ellis, as a consequence of their conduct - not the conduct of the current residents of death row at Polunsky, all previous activities that actually provided the residents with an incentive to improve their conduct so as to be able to engage in such activities, have been curtailed. It should be noted that the residents of death row purchase the materials with which to do crafts from the commissary operated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice which provides money for the operation of the prison system. The men then were able to sell their work and spend the money paid for the completed craft project at the commissary, which actually recirculates the money again into the income of TDCJ. There is no security reason for denial of this activity. Furthermore, when a resident attempts to design his own craft activity, it is destroyed because using shoe strings or thread or plastic lids to make a craft is deemed using the item for a purpose other than the one originally intended. This is cruel and an absurd abuse of authority.

    The residents of death row are thwarted in their attempts to pursue their administrative appeals as these appeals are mislaid either accidentally or intentionally or by there being a denial of the right to pursue their administrative appeal to conclusion due to action designed to delay or circumvent the administrative process.

    Access to religious literature and other religious objects is denied in an indiscriminate manner. Those on death row are also denied the right to attend a religious service. No religious service is available for them to attend. Some are denied access to a representative of their faith as a spiritual adviser. In regard to adequacy of food, food that is Halal or Kosher is being exposed to pork grease.

    The mail room is one of the worst situations for those men on death row. Entire publications are being withheld because the newspaper or magazine contains one article that the particular person screening the mail found unacceptable without applying the written standard as set out in Department regulations.

    Correspondence is very, very frequently mishandled. There is an ongoing retaliatory process to prevent some residents from sending or receiving their mail or to delay receipt of their mail unnecessarily. The amount of postage actually physically permitted each individual has been unduly and unreasonably curtailed. Access to postage at all has also been unreasonably curtailed. Legal mail has been opened before being delivered and has been read. Outgoing legal mail has been read.

    The is no justification for denial of access to television. Television was available until death row was moved to the Polunsky Unit. Charitable groups have offered to donate televisions, there is an empty rack for holding a television in the day room, but no television. There is no valid security reason for denying access to the educational and recreational benefits of television. No other residents of penal institutions in Texas are denied televisions. This, on occasion, denies access to information that would be beneficial in regard to their legal defense.

    The opportunity to work in a job in the Department of Criminal Justice is now suspended. That suspension needs to be ended. Other men found guilty of murder who are in the general population are permitted to work. This would be a very strong incentive for the men to maintain good conduct. Many, if not most, men on death row would be eager to have an opportunity to perform work. This would reduce the cost of maintaining their pod. They would willingly clean their pod themselves. They would maintain their own living area better than it is now cleaned.

    Giving any person who is incarcerated incentives for good conduct is going to result in fewer disciplinary problems. Treating people fairly and with decent concern for their health and safety and emotional needs will result in a group that is easier to discipline. Those who do not respect the opportunity, then deserve to have opportunities denied.

    (Source: Minutes Before Six)


    April 27th

    Death No More--Salute to Connecticut for banning executions

    In many corners of the nation, it was heartening news this week that Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Mally signed a bill outlawing the death sentence as an oprion of juries. His became the 5th state in 5 years to eliminate capital punishment, reflecting growing uneasiness about imposing an irrevocable punishment in light of deep flaws that continue to be exposed in the justice system.

    Malloy didn't come to his decision as a reform zealot or overcome by compassion.

    That's important. His perspective is that of a former prosecutor who once built cases against criminals, killers included.

    In time he saw how a well-meaning system of justice broke down despite the efforts and training of honest people. The DNA-driven scientific revolution has pulled the curtain back, and it's impossible in good conscience to ignore the truth and defend state-sponsored killing.

    Eyewitnesses are mistaken. Forensic evidence is misread or misinterpreted. Innocent people admit things they didn't do. Innocent people end up with bad lawyers and cut bad deals. Innocent people go to death row.

    Still, defenders of the death penalty constitute a majority in polls, especially in Texas, but also in Connecticut, where a new survey showed a 2-1 margin in favor. We salute political leaders such as Malloy who take a principled stand against the death penalty despite the political risk.

    That's not where enough Texas politicans are today, and it's a sad wonder. Texas is the epicenter of DNA exonerations, and stories of slipshod and corrupt prosecution curdle the blood. Despite this, Texas continues to have the nation's most active execution chamber since reinstatement of the death penalty, with more than 480 executions since 1976. But there is encouraging evidence that even in Texas prosecutors are losing eagerness to add to Texas' death row: Just 10 executions were scheduled this year -- less than half the annual average of 22 people executed in Huntsville over the past decade.

    Many of our fellow Texans who favor capital punishment do so in the belief it deters crime. Former Gov. George W. Bush, for example, once said: "I don't think you should support the death penalty to seek revenge. I don't think that's right. I think the reason to support the death penalty is because it saves other people's lives."

    To our fellow Texans who agree, we urge a pause to test assumptions. A study recently released by the National Research Council analyzed research on the deterrent effect of the death penalty since 1976 and came away with this: There is not enough evidence for or against the porposition that capital punishment actually prevents murder.

    With reason to suspect one of its core justifications, should the death penalty forever hold sway among Texans as a defining element of our justice system? We hope the time is drawing near that most people say no.

    (Source: Editorial, Dallas Morning News)


    April 24

    Family fights against death penalty appeals

    A family is calling for changes to laws that let death row inmates appeal their sentences over and over again. This comes after a stay of execution in a crime that impacted them.

    2 men robbed a Cherokee County gas station in 2002. That robbery spiraled out of control and ended with 1 man dead and 2 women severely injured. One of the robbers, then-22-year-old Beunka Adams, got the death penalty. He was supposed to die Thursday, but now that's on hold.

    "She started talking and started telling me the reasons why," Nikki Ansley said. "And I had to have her repeat it because I didn't hear a word she said after she said he got a stay."

    It's not the 1st time Ansley has heard 29-year-old Beunka Adams would have his execution delayed. She and her family have watched appeal after appeal, and they say they're tired of seeing him kick the can down the road.

    "I'm outraged," Nikki's mom Melinda said. "I still am. I'm hurt. I want it fixed."

    Melinda describes it as a nightmare that you never wake up from.

    "Until you're caught in this web, you could never understand it," she said.

    Nikki says there's no doubt that Adams is the one who raped her and shot her in the back. A decade later, there's a scar on her shoulder, and a bigger one that you can't see.

    "To be strong today, I have to make it through for my two kids," Nikki said.

    The rest of the family have their own battles to fight as they search for a way to move on.

    "My father and I were in Houston when this happened," Nikki's brother Troy said. "I've never heard a grown man wail and cry like he did."

    "What's the point of going to court?" Nikki asked. "What's the use of me pointing the finger and saying he did it? It was useless."

    The family says victims get no communication--and no rights--while criminals are allowed to ask for second chances for free. They don't want to see other victims go through this.

    "I'll fight diligently helping [to change the laws]," Melinda said. "I'll work until I can't work anymore."

    "This is for every victim," Troy said.

    Together they hope to change the laws that let these cases drag on, as they work toward forgiveness.

    "It's not something you say lightly," Nikki said. "You know? It's harder said than done."

    The Ansleys are hoping a lawyer who knows a lot about the death penalty will see their story and be able to help them as they fight against the way things are. Adams is safe until the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals gets a chance to review his case and determine whether his original attorneys did an adequate job.

    Adams' accomplice in the robbery, Richard Cobb, was also sentenced to death in 2004. He is still on death row and his execution has not been scheduled.

    (Source: CBS News)


    April 11

    Time To End Death Penalty In Texas

    2 events last week -- 1 in the Connecticut Senate chamber, the other in a Dallas courtroom -- helped once again to focus attention on 2 of the nation's most glaring flaws: wrongful convictions and capital punishment.

    In Dallas, 3 more men were exonerated for crimes they did not commit, bringing to 30 the total number of exonerations in Dallas County since 2001. One of the men had been sentenced to 99 years in prison for a 1994 violent purse snatching involving a 79-year-old woman.

    About 1,600 miles away in Hartford, the Connecticut Senate voted 20-16 to repeal the death penalty based partly on the growing evidence of wrongful convictions and the possibility that an innocent person could be executed. The state's House of Representatives is likely to approve the measure soon, and the governor has vowed to sign it into law.

    If the measure is enacted, Connecticut will join a growing number of states (the 5th in 5 years) to abolish capital punishment. California voters will weigh in on the subject in a ballot initiative in November.

    After the Dallas defendants were officially cleared in court, both District Attorney Craig Watkins and District Judge Lena Levario declared that it was time to have a discussion about race and justice, The Dallas Morning News reported.

    Actually we need a discussion about much more than that in America.

    The latest Dallas case again revealed that prosecutors withheld evidence from the defense and that police, during their initial investigation, subjected the suspects to prejudicial identification tactics. These kinds of injustices cry out for discussion.

    How many innocent people are behind bars based on overzealous police work, unethical prosecution or just honest mistakes? How many might be on death row?

    When it comes to executions, there are signs that the nation's thirst for blood is waning, bringing some hope to those of us who have been fighting against capital punishment for so long.

    Even in Texas, which has the busiest death chamber in the country, the numbers are decreasing. Texas juries are sentencing fewer people to death, and the population on death row is declining.

    Texas executed 13 people last year, the lowest number since 1996 when t3 people were killed by lethal injection. In 2000, a record 40 executions occurred in the state.

    4 people have been put to death this year in Huntsville, bringing the total to 481 since 1982, when Texas resumed executions after the Supreme Court had declared capital punishment "cruel and unusual" in 1972.

    Today 298 people are on Texas' death row, including 9 women.
    The ethnic breakdown is:
    29.2 % Anglo,
    40.6 % black,
    28.5 % Hispanic
    and 1.7 % other.
    At the end of fiscal 2001,
    the death row population was 446.

    Those are all good signs, but not good enough.

    If more states continue to lead the way, maybe the Lone Star State will eventually follow. New York, New Jersey, Illinois and New Mexico recently repealed capital punishment, and The Associated Press reports that Kansas and Kentucky are considering it.

    Many people acknowledge that we have a flawed justice system, and that's understandable with any structure that depends on human judgment and actions.

    But it is because of the fallibility of humans that we mortals should not be charged with deciding to take a life -- the one thing we can never give back in case of a mistake -- in the name of the state.

    The progress toward abolishment of the death penalty has been steady, but slow. It's now time to pick up the momentum.

    I'm ready to see the movement gather steam, wage an all-out legal assault and awareness campaign to change these barbaric laws one state legislature at a time.

    We are a nation that should be better than this. Let's vow to end capital punishment in this country, now and forever.

    (Source: Column, Bob Ray Sanders, Fort Worth Star-Telegram)


    APRIL 08, 2012

    Jesus Christ 'The All-Time Poster Child For The Innocence Movement'

    Grits offered up these musings about Easter last year and thought I'd reprise them today:
    Easter is strikingly filled with criminal justice themes, isn't it? The Christian religion was essentially founded on a repudiation of Roman capital punishment.

    Easter celebrates the sinless Man-God killed for His beliefs who triumphed over the grave, mooting, even while respecting to the end, the earth-bound laws that condemned Him. Jesus, a blameless man executed, is the all-time poster child for the innocence movement.

    Corrupt and biased prosecutors prevailed in His case because of a judge's personal indifference and deference to the mob. Christ's betrayal by Judas was the archetype cementing into Christian values a lingering distrust of snitches and informants. Romans accused the disciples of grave robbery. St. Peter committed assault with a deadly weapon in the Garden of Gethsemane then thrice lied about his identity to avoid arrest.

    And taken as a whole, the passion story documents Jesus' arrest, trial, and execution all taking place in an incredibly short span, as though criminal convictions could be obtained as quickly in real life as on an episode of Law & Order.

    Christmas is a story about family. Easter is a story about a wrongful criminal conviction, the misapplication of the death penalty, the overweening power of the state, and the irrepressible urge of humanity to resist it.

    Happy Easter, gentle readers. Enjoy this beautiful day.

    POSTED BY GRITSFORBREAKFAST


    April 4

    TDCJ wants to block release of lethal injection drug info

    The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is refusing to disclose the size of its stock of a key pharmaceutical used in executions, saying doing so would endanger its drug makers and suppliers.

    The charge comes in a brief filed with the Texas Attorney General's Office in response to a December query by an British newspaper concerning the contents of state's death house medicine chest. The agency said releasing such information would provide ammunition for Reprieve, a British anti-death penalty group that successfully has pressured drug makers to stop selling to executioners.

    Likening Reprieve's campaigns to those of violent prison gangs, the brief written by TDCJ Assistant General Counsel Patricia Fleming asserts that releasing information "creates a substantial risk of physical harm to our supplier. ... It is not a question of if, but when, Reprieve's unrestrained harassment will escalate into violence..."

    TDCJ is seeking authorization not to answer questions posed in a December public information request by Ed Pilkington, the New York correspondent for The Guardian, a national British newspaper. An attorney general's response is expected this month.

    Pilkington sought to determine how much pentobarbital, one of three drugs used in executions, the death house had in stock. He also asked how the agency met requirements that a second "back up" dose of lethal drugs be available at executions.

    "I was very surprised by the language they chose to use, which was pretty inflammatory, really," Pilkington said. "Obviously, there is an international disagreement over the death penalty. ... Usually that discourse is conducted in a civilized manner."

    He called the claim that the prison system's drug suppliers were in jeopardy, "pretty far-fetched."

    'Public interest'

    Joseph Larsen, a lawyer for the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said Pilkington's questions go to the "heart of how effectively TDCJ performs its official functions."

    "The whole idea behind the Texas Public Information Act is that the governmental bodies do not get to control the information that underlies political discussion," he said. "Specifically, the governmental body does not even get to ask why a requestor wants certain information. How then can a governmental body base its argument for withholding on what use it anticipates will be made of the information if released?"

    In a 2008 case, the Attorney General's Office sided with TDCJ in denying Forbes magazine the names of companies that supplied execution drugs, noting that "releasing the names of the companies would place the employees of those companies in imminent threat of physical danger."

    Drug's Maker Pressed

    An appeals court rejected that ruling the following year.

    Pentobarbital was added to the state's lethal cocktail in May 2011, replacing sodium thiopental after that drug's maker stopped production, in part because of Reprieve's anti-drug agitation.

    Reprieve followed by directing international pressure on Lundbeck, pentobarbital's Danish maker, obtaining a July 2011 agreement that the company no longer would sell to prisons in death penalty states. The production plant later was sold, but the new owner abided by the agreement.

    Reprieve also targeted a pharmaceutical company that had supplied sodium thiopental to Arizona. On its website, Reprieve posted photos of the supplier's office along with its tax returns and the name, phone number and address of its owner.

    Reprieve investigator Maya Foa said the group posted no information that was not already in the public domain.

    (Source: Houston Chronicle)


    March 28

    Texas Accuses Anti-Death Penalty Charity Reprieve of Fomenting Violence
    ----Extraordinary escalation in war of words as Texas prison service accuses charity group of behaving like a prison gang

    Texas, America's most prolific practitioner of the death penalty, has launched an extraordinary attack on the international anti-death penalty charity Reprieve, accusing it of intimidating and harassing drug companies and likening the group to violent prison gangs responsible for the eruption of prison riots.

    The attack comes from the Texas department of criminal justice, TDCJ, which each year carries out the lion's share of executions in America. In a letter to the attorney general of Texas, Greg Abbott, the TDCJ accuses Reprieve of "intimidation and commercial harassment" of manufacturers of medical drugs used in lethal injections.

    In astonishingly vivid language, the TDCJ says that Reprieve, which is headquartered in London, "crosses the line from social activists dedicated to their cause to authoritarian ideologues who menace and harass private citizens who decline to submit to Reprieve's opinion on the morality of capital punishment by lethal injection".

    Reprieve's tactics present the risk, the Texas prison service claims, of violence. "It is not a question of if but when Reprieve's unrestrained harassment will escalate into violence against a supplier."

    In the most colourful accusation, the TDCJ compares the human rights organisation to gangs operating in Texas prisons. It writes that Reprieve's methods "present classic, hallmark practices comparable to practices by gangs incarcerated in the TDCJ who intimidate and coerce rival gang members and which have erupted into prison riots".

    The Texas letter takes the war of words between US states still practising executions and anti-death penalty campaigners to a new level. Reprieve has long had fraught relations with states practising capital punishment in the US, but never before has it been accused of fomenting violence.

    Maya Foa, Reprieve's specialist campaigner on lethal injection, said the accusation was absurd. "Pharmaceutical manufacturers have been objecting to the use of medicines in executions since the lethal injection was invented – Reprieve didn't create these ethical scruples! And far from harassing them, Reprieve defends these companies and their ideals and we have excellent relationships with them.

    "Medicines are made to improve and save lives, not to end them in executions. This principle is at the core of the pharmaceutical profession, and companies have long objected to the misuse of their products by US departments of corrections."

    Texas makes its assault on Reprieve in a 15-page brief that it composed in response to a request for information from the Guardian relating to the quanitity of anaesthetic that the prison service had left in its supplies. The pool of anaesthetic – the 1st drug used in a cocktail of 3 chemicals that makes up the lethal injection – has been running low as a result of boycotts in Europe and other countries.

    In its brief, the TDCJ makes a case for withholding the information requested by the Guardian on security grounds. It says that to release information on drug stocks would help Reprieve identify the source of the medicines and that in turn would create "a substantial risk of physical harm to the supplier".

    As supporting evidence, the TDCJ cites the example of Lundbeck, a Danish drug company that is one of the world's leading producers of the anaesthetic pentobarbital, trademarked as Nembutal. Last summer the firm placed strict restrictions on the distribution of Nembutal to prevent it being used in executions in the US.

    Texas claims that Lundbeck imposed the restriction in response to intimidation by Reprieve. "Lundbeck acquiesced to Reprieve's unrestrained harassment and agreed to deny orders from prisons located in those states active in carrying out death penalty sentences," the brief says.

    But Lundbeck has told the Guardian that its move to impose restrictions on the end use of Nembutal had nothing to do with Reprieve. "We acted because we are a company that wants to help save people's lives and we are against the misuse of our drugs in prisons. We took our stance long before we were contacted by Reprieve."

    In a gesture that makes a mockery of the claim of intimidation, Lundbeck this week has signed a Hippocratic oath that pledges its commitment to advance the health of the public and avoid inflicting any harm. The oath was drawn up by Reprieve as part of its campaign to block the use of medical drugs in executions.

    Texas is the powerhouse of the death penalty in America. Since executions began in the modern era in 1976, the state has put to death 480 people – 4 times more than the next most plorific practitioner, Virginia, with 109.

    Last year, it executed 13 prisoners, again far more than any other state.

    The enthusiasm of Texas for judicial killings became an issue in the presidential race last September when its governor, Rick Perry, told a cheering TV audience at a Republican nomination debate that he never lost sleep over the thought that some of the 240 people who have been executed on his watch may have been innocent.

    (Source: The Guardian)


    March 26

    Death Sentence Gets Reviewed

    One of the infamous "Texas 7" fugitive gang has won an appeal at the U.S. Supreme Court and will have his death sentence reviewed.

    Donald Newbury and another Texas death row inmate won reviews from the nation's high court Monday on claims they had deficient legal help during initial appeals.

    The 49-year-old Newbury was to die Feb. 1 but won a reprieve while the Supreme Court was considering an Arizona case that raised the same issues. That inmate won his appeal earlier this month.

    Newbury and 6 other inmates killed a suburban Dallas police officer after fleeing a South Texas prison. 2 gang members already have been executed.

    (Source: Associated Press)


    March 26

    Retrials Offer Some A Path Off Death Row

    Death penalty trials, beginning with weeks of hand-picking jurors, continuing through relentless questioning and concluding with arguments about justice and mercy, are exhausting and emotional.

    Yet, with more than a dozen death row cases from 20 years ago overturned in recent years for flawed jury instructions, Harris County prosecutors have been faced with doing them over again.

    Since 2009, three of the defendants have had their lives spared after Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos allowed them to plead guilty in exchange for stacked life sentences.

    3 other men whose capital murder cases were reversed have gone through a 2nd grueling trial and are back on death row, including Carl Wayne Buntion, who was again sentenced to death earlier this month.

    The death penalty cases tied to flawed jury instructions continue to come back to Harris County as they exhaust their other appeals.

    On Tuesday, Roger Wayne McGowen's case was sent back for a retrial. The 48-year-old, on death row for 25 years, was convicted of killing a 67-year-old woman during a bar robbery in 1986.

    'We look at it Again'

    McGowen's case is typical of what the District Attorney's Office has to review before deciding whether to again seek the death penalty.

    "We look at it again, from start to finish, and decide if it is still a death penalty case," said Jim Leitner, the district attorney's first assistant. "We really have to look at who is the worst of the worst."

    The office has to balance the time and energy of redoing an old case against finite resources, which may mean a death row inmate can get a deal by pleading guilty to stacked life sentences.

    "Even though a jury once decided this is a death penalty case," Leitner said. "We look at what evidence we still have, access to witnesses, strength of the case and the willingness of the person to plead to something that will keep them out of commission forever."

    Some attorneys have been able to persuade prosecutors to walk away from the death penalty.

    "Death penalty trials take weeks and weeks longer, everything is amped up," said attorney Danalynn Recer. "It takes a huge amount of resources and exhausts everyone, including the victim's family, and then the case goes on forever."

    Recer, a staunch death penalty opponent, has worked with two death row inmates who slipped the hangman's noose. She said the defendants most likely to get off death row are the ones who accept responsibility. They also agree to waive time served and any appeals.

    "We structure the plea in a way that there's not ever going to be parole," Recer said. "And in those instances it's the smartest outcome for everybody."

    Recer was able to get Robert Tennard off death row in 2009 for fatally stabbing an acquaintance named Larry Neblett the night of Aug. 15, 1985.

    Tennard, then a 22-year-old rapist on parole, and 2 friends were drinking and smoking marijuana with Neblett at his home when Tennard stabbed the man 15 times.

    Tennard agreed to a life sentence for the death and a 2nd life sentence for another assault. He also waived his appeals.

    'Penry Cases'

    The cases that are being reconsidered, like Tennard's, were tried before 1991 with jury instructions that did not allow jurors to properly consider mitigating evidence.

    They are commonly called "Penry cases," for Johnny Paul Penry, a capital murder defendant whose case twice went to the U.S. Supreme Court, the 2nd time for flawed jury instructions.

    Retrying the sentencing phase of a trial actually means redoing the case entirely because prosecutors want jurors to have the complete story. If the verdict is life in prison instead of death, jail time is governed by the law at the time of the slaying, so the killers could be eligible for parole.

    Of the Penry cases to come back to Houston, 3 inmates have been able to get off of death row. 3 others have been retried and again condemned to die by lethal injection.

    Buntion's Retrial

    One of the most notorious defendants to be retried was 68-year-old Buntion, who gunned down Houston police officer James Irby in 1990.

    "Sometimes we see, even though they're 60 years old, if we plead him, he could conceivably be out the next day, and he's just as bad today as he was back then," Leitner said. "Like Buntion."

    Attorneys for Buntion tried in vain to broker a deal for the career criminal to plead guilty to past wrongdoing in exchange for several life sentences stacked together.

    Casey Keirnan, one of Buntion's lawyers, said it was not fair that 1 death row prisoner can get a life sentence while others, including his client, wait for their death warrant to be signed.

    "No man should have to face the death penalty twice," Keirnan said. "If there was a mistake made in the law, all of those sentences should have been commuted to life."

    He said the law never envisioned defendants spending 20 years waiting to be executed then going through another death penalty trial.

    "That's cruel and unusual," Keirnan said. ...


    March 26

    More than a dozen death row cases from 20 years ago in Harris County have been overturned in recent years for flawed jury instructions. --The Harris County District Attorney's Office has been faced with prosecuting the cases again or reaching plea deals with the convicted killers.

    Some of the Cases are Pending.

    So far 3 men have been retried on punishment in those cases and were resentenced to death:
    Carl Wayne Buntion - Fatally shot HPD motorcycle officer James Irby during a routine traffic stop in 1990.

    Brian Edward Davis - Robbed and stabbed 31-year-old Michael Foster in 1991 after meeting him in a bar.

    Raymond Deleon Martinez - Shot tavern owner Herman Chavis in the back during a 1983 robbery.

    3 men have been allowed to plead guilty in exchange for life sentences:
    Theodore Goynes - Abducted, raped and fatally shot 25-year-old Linda Tucker in the head in 1990. Her body was found in an abandoned apartment complex.

    Roy Gene Smith - Went on a crack-fueled rampage in 1988 that ended with Smith killing James Whitmire for $4.27.

    Robert Tennard - Fatally stabbed Larry Neblett 15 times as a companion killed one of Neblett's friends with a hatchet in 1985. The four men were drinking and smoking marijuana together.

    Outcomes of Death Row Cases

    More than a dozen death row cases from 20 years ago in Harris County have been overturned in recent years for flawed jury instructions. The Harris County District Attorney's Office has been faced with prosecuting the cases again or reaching plea deals with the convicted killers. Some of the cases are pending.

    So far 3 men have been retried on punishment in those cases and were resentenced to death:
    Carl Wayne Buntion: Fatally shot HPD motorcycle officer James Irby during a routine traffic stop in 1990.

    Brian Edward Davis: Robbed and stabbed 31-year-old Michael Foster in 1991 after meeting him in a bar.

    Raymond Deleon Martinez: Shot tavern owner Herman Chavis in the back during a 1983 robbery.

    3 men have been allowed to plead guilty in exchange for life sentences:
    Theodore Goynes: Abducted, raped and fatally shot 25-year-old Linda Tucker in the head in 1990. Her body was found in an abandoned< apartment complex.

    Roy Gene Smith: Went on a crack-fueled rampage in 1988 that ended with Smith killing James Whitmire for $4.27.

    Robert Tennard: Fatally stabbed Larry Neblett 15 times as a companion killed one of Neblett's friends with a hatchet in 1985. The four men were drinking and smoking marijuana together.

    (Source: Houston Chronicle)


    March 21

    Court Ruling Could Affect Texas Death Row Cases

    Death row inmate Jesse Joe Hernandez, set to be executed next week for the 2001 death of a 10-month-old boy in Dallas, is hoping that a ruling Tuesday from the U.S. Supreme Court could give him another chance to prove that the tragedy was not entirely his fault.

    The nation’s highest court ruled that the failure of initial state habeas lawyers to argue that their client’s trial counsel was ineffective should not prevent the defendant from making that argument later on. Lawyers across the country, including those for at least 2 Texas death row inmates, were eagerly awaiting the court’s ruling in the Martinez v. Ryan case out of Arizona, which could expand appeals access for inmates.

    “A procedural default will not bar a federal habeas court from hearing those claims if, in the initial-review collateral proceeding, there was no counsel or counsel in the proceeding was ineffective,” the court majority held.

    Habeas lawyers investigate issues that could or should have been raised during a defendant’s original trial.

    Brad Levenson, director of the Texas Office of Capital Writs, filed a petition with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Tuesday afternoon on behalf of Hernandez, arguing that his March 28 execution should be stayed, in part, because of the court’s ruling.

    Although the ruling applies to federal courts, Levenson said, Texas’ highest criminal court should take its cue from the nation’s highest court and hear Hernandez’s claims.

    Hernandez was convicted in 2002 for the death of a child who lived in the home where he lived at the time. Hernandez admitted he hit the child, who was rushed to the hospital, where he was put into a medically induced coma and then died after he was removed from life support.

    In a writ filed Tuesday with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Hernandez argues that his actions did not directly cause the child’s death. Instead, an expert who recently reviewed the medical records concluded that the hospital gave the child a lethal dose of the drug pentobarbital and that he was pulled from life support too soon.

    “There’s no way to tell at end of day whether he would have survived,” Levenson said. “Our expert said there’s a very real probability the child could have lived.”

    Levenson said Hernandez’s trial lawyers and his initial appeals lawyers were ineffective because they failed to do further investigation and hire their own experts to find out why the child died. Levenson, who took the case only three weeks ago, hired a doctor who reviewed the medical records and determined that the little boy had not been diagnosed as brain-dead before he was removed from life support and that he was given toxic doses of pentobarbital.

    “It’s not to say that Mr. Hernandez is not guilty of a crime, but he’s not guilty of capital murder,” Levenson said.

    Current law, though, could prohibit Hernandez from arguing that because his original trial lawyers were ineffective by not further investigating the cause of death that he should get a new trial. Those kinds of claims must be raised from the beginning of the appeals process to be valid later on. And Hernandez’s previous habeas lawyers did not argue that he was inadequately represented.

    Levenson said that even though Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling applies to claims made in federal court — not state writs like the one he filed — the same principle ought to apply.

    “We’re saying the state courts should also take a look at these claims for the same reason the Supreme Court would take a look at them,” he said.

    The ruling could also be a boon for death row inmate Rob Will, who was convicted in 2002 of fatally shooting a Harris County sheriff’s deputy. Will says that the man he was with that night was the real shooter and that he is innocent.

    In January, U.S. District Court Judge Keith Ellison denied Will’s pleas for a new trial but wrote that he lamented doing so because of “disturbing uncertainties” raised about his guilt.

    Will is hoping the court’s ruling in Martinez will allow him to argue that he should get a new trial because both his trial lawyer and his state-appointed habeas lawyer were ineffective when they failed to track down several witnesses who have testified that the other man confessed to the killing.

    (Source: Texas Tribune)


    March 6

    Texas Execution: How Much is a Death Worth?

    The cost of lethal injection drugs used in the US to kill criminals on death row has risen dramatically over the past year. The increase comes as their manufacturers move to prevent them being used in executions.

    The state of Texas is scheduled to spend $1,286.86 (£811) to kill Keith Thurmond on Wednesday night.

    Thurmond, a 52-year-old former air-conditioning technician, was convicted in 2002 of killing his estranged wife and her lover in an argument over child custody.

    A little after 18:00 local time (midnight GMT), Texas prison officials will strap Thurmond to a gurney and pump a cocktail of 3 drugs into his arm.

    The cost of the death drugs has risen 15-fold since 2010, when the mixture cost the state $86 (£55).

    A toxic cocktail - drugs used in lethal injection

    Pentobarbital or thiopental sodium: Strong sedatives render the condemned person unconscious, administered in a dose intended to be lethal on its own

    Pancuronium bromide: Paralyses the muscles, causing breathing to cease and preventing involuntary movement during the death

    Potassium chloride: Stops the heart

    [source: BBC research]

    That is because the drug formerly used to sedate the patient, thiopental sodium, is no longer available, having been pulled off the market in 2010.

    As a result, Texas and several other states switched to another sedative, pentobarbital. The drug is significantly more expensive - and it may soon become impossible for capital punishment prisons to purchase.

    "Even though it is a small amount in the big scheme of things, it represents one more spiralling expense that makes the death penalty less reliable and more costly," says Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington DC.

    Rivas was sentenced to die for killing a man after a prison escape "From a cost-benefit analysis, the scales tip away from keeping capital punishment."

    Volumes of research have suggested the death penalty is significantly more expensive to taxpayers than the punishment of life in prison, due largely to the lengthy legal processes involved.

    Fundamentally, it stems from the use of what opponents say is a barbaric, antiquated mode of punishment within a sophisticated legal system ostensibly aimed at ensuring the rights of the accused, preventing punishment of the innocent, and executing human beings without causing them too much physical pain and suffering.

    Aside from Texas, most US states seldom carry out executions. But even those that do must spend billions of dollars to defend the death sentence against prisoners' appeals and to house the condemned securely and what they see as humanely.

    California, for instance, has spent about $4bn (£2.54bn) since 1978 to fund its capital punishment system, but has executed only 13 prisoners, Federal Judge Arthur Alarcon and Loyola Law School Professor Paula Mitchell found in a law review article.

    In that same period, at least 78 death row inmates died of natural causes, suicide or other causes while awaiting execution, they wrote.

    In Washington state, one prosecutor told a committee of the state bar association that capital cases are at least four times as costly to prosecute as a non-capital murder trial.

    "The rarefied nature of a death penalty case results in more motions being brought and more advocacy being presented, which further adds to the time and costs of a capital case," the commission reported in 2006.

    Medical supplies to end a life - North Carolina's costs, 2009:
    Syringes: $5.52
    Saline solution: $2.13
    IV kit: $37.26
    Thiopental sodium: $81.12
    Pancuronium bromide: $34.25
    Potassium chloride: $7.75
    Total: $168.03

    [source: Independent Weekly of Durham, North Carolina; North Carolina Department of Correction]

    The on-the-day costs of the execution vary from state to state, but are relatively small compared to the costs the states incur on the way to the death chamber.

    The state of Washington spent $97,814 (£62,004) to execute Cal Brown in 2010.

    Most of that was staff pay, but the state also had to hire fencing and lighting for the demonstration outside the prison, a tent for news media, food for the special security teams, and counselling for staff, says Maria Peterson, a spokeswoman for the Washington department of corrections.

    Also, the thiopental sodium used to sedate the convicted murderer cost $861.60 (£546), she says.

    Ronnie Lee Gardner's 2010 execution by firing squad cost Utah $165,000 (£105,000). Most of that was staff pay, but $25,000 (£15,800) went on materials used in the execution, including the chair to which he was strapped and the jumpsuit he wore, a corrections spokesman told the Salt Lake Tribune.

    Washington state paid for counselling for staff after Cal Brown's execution The execution of rapist and murderer Robert Coe in 2000 cost Tennessee $11,668 (£7,395), according to a report by the state comptroller. That included medical supplies and personnel and the death drugs.

    The cost of the death drugs in Texas, Ohio, Oklahoma and other states has risen as manufacturers pull the drugs off the market, not wanting to supply pharmaceutical products used to end lives.

    Texas and other states switched the sedative used to render the condemned person unconscious from thiopental sodium to pentobarbital last year after the only US maker of the drug, Hospira, said it was pulling the drug off the market in order to avoid a row with authorities in Italy, where the drug was manufactured.

    In December, the European Commission ordered EU firms wanting to export drugs that can be used in lethal injections to ensure the product is not going to be used for executions.

    Indian producer Kayem Pharmaceuticals has also said it will no longer sell thiopental sodium drug to US prisons.

    It is unclear how long pentobarbital, the current replacement drug, will be available.

    The only company approved by US drug regulators to market the sedative in the US, Danish pharmaceutical giant Lundbeck, has just sold the drug to Illinois company Akorn, which has pledged to restrict distribution of it to prevent it being sent to prisons in capital punishment states.

    Executions in 2010:
    96 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes
    23 countries carried out executions
    China: 1,000s (lethal injection)
    Iran: 252+ (hanging)
    North Korea: 60+ (hanging)
    Yemen: 53+ (shooting)
    US: 46 (lethal injection, electrocution)
    Saudi Arabia: 27+ (beheading)
    Libya: 18+
    Syria: 17+ (hanging)
    Bangladesh: 9+ (hanging)
    Somalia: 8+ (shooting)

    [source: Amnesty International, BBC research]

    Now, purchasers must sign a form affirming they will use the drug, normally used to treat epilepsy and other conditions, on their own patients and not resell it without authorisation.

    The difficulty obtaining the death drugs illustrates the problems inherent in lethal injection as an execution method, says Kent Scheiddeger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which supports the death penalty.

    "It amounts to medicalising a procedure that shouldn't have anything to do with medicine," he says.

    "It's supposed to be punishment - it shouldn't be this quasi-medical procedure. It just strikes me as wrong and now we have all these additional complications. Manufacturers, particularly in Europe, try to meddle in things that are none of their business and try to cut off the supply."

    Mr Scheidegger does not foresee a halt to executions forced by a lack of drugs, as the executioners can merely change the ingredients in the cocktail, he says.

    "Any barbiturate will do it," he says.

    (Source: BBC News)


    Feb. 29

    Death Penalty Unjust

    The state of Texas has scheduled the execution of George Rivas for Wednesday.

    Gov. Rick Perry has presided over about half of all Texas executions in the modern era since executions were resumed in 1982.

    It is appalling to us is that our governor identifies himself as a fervent follower of Jesus.

    The Religious Outreach Committee of the Dallas Chapter of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty seeks to follow Jesus and the inspiration of other religions in our opposition to these killings.

    The death penalty falls unfairly on the poor, the uneducated, ethnic and religious minorities, and persons with mental and emotional illnesses.

    Jesus was executed at the hands of legalized authority.

    Jesus' courage inspires us to seek a better world in which we honor the sacredness of human life and the human capacity for redemption.

    David Noblin Sr., Dallas Chapter of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Garland

    (Source: Letter to the Editor, Dallas Morning News)


    Feb. 27

    Add cost of drugs to death penalty debate

    Add to the list of topics for public discussion the high cost of dying.

    The American-Statesman's Mike Ward reported last week that the cost of chemicals used to execute condemned inmates has jumped from $83.35 to $1,286.86 each.

    The high cost of the drugs used to make the lethal injection is one concern Texas prison officials face. A related one is the shrinking availability of pentobarbital. That chemical, combined with pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride, is an ingredient in the fatal cocktail used in executions in Texas and other states.

    The manufacturer of pentobarbital announced that it will try to block the use of drugs in executions. The maker of thiopental — which had been one of the 3 ingredients used in making the lethal cocktail — stopped producing it in the aftermath of international protests over its use in U.S. executions.

    While capital punishment might be unpopular elsewhere, Texans strongly support it. A recent poll conducted by the University of Texas and The Texas Tribune showed a solid 77 percent support for the death penalty in Texas. That number, combined with the rising cost and availability of the chemicals used in executions, poses a dilemma for cost-conscious lawmakers.

    Prison officials are using those developments to try to keep information about the availability and drugs under wraps — a move that can't be adequately justified. Withholding information impedes a fully informed discussion on this topic.

    Though the cost of the drugs is steep on a percentage basis, the overall impact on the state budget is minimal. Nonetheless, the shrinking availability of pentobarbital will steer a discussion about alternatives that are cheaper or in greater supply or both.

    While public support for the death penalty is strong, Texans are also demanding less government spending. Death penalty opponents have always had a tough way to go in Texas and while the rising cost of executing inmates may give them another argument, the poll numbers show they still have a steep hill to climb.

    Mitigating the rising cost is the fact that more Texas jurors are opting for life-without-parole sentences as an alternative to the death penalty. Since the law was passed — over the strenuous objections of state prosecutors — Texas executions have been steadily decreasing. A prison system report issued in December showed that 13 Texas inmates were executed in 2011; 17 were executed in 2010. In 2000, 40 Texas inmates were executed.

    The decrease is attributed to a variety of reasons, including the overall cost of prosecuting capital punishment cases.

    No one should expect that the cost of the drugs alone will motivate Texas legislators to even consider making the death penalty of thing of the past.

    William "Rusty" Hubbarth, vice president of Justice for All, a staunch pro death penalty group told Ward: "There are ongoing attacks to try to frustrate the process, and since opponents could not overturn the death penalty in court, they are bringing pressure on the drug manufacturers — and this pressure goes beyond America. As for the rising cost, what price would you put on justice?"

    The tone and tenor of Hubbarth's reply confirms that this ongoing discussion is going to be as robust as ever and that's as it should be. An informed discussion, however, demands that relevant information about the cost of drugs and the supply be public.

    Prison officials are avoiding questions about most aspects carrying out executions, citing the fear of driving up costs and impeding their drug supply.

    Prison authorities want Attorney General Greg Abbott to allow them to keep most information about the execution drugs — where they come from and how much they cost — secret.

    An informed discussion is vital and not knowing about the drugs and their costs works against that. Texans have a right to know how their money is being spent.

    Abbott should open up those books, not close them.

    (Source: Editorial, Austin American-Statesman)


    Feb. 15

    Prisons Running Low On Execution Drugs Again, But Prison Agency Withholds Details

    A new report surfaced on Tuesday [read article below; Texas executions threatened as stocks of death penalty drug run low] that Texas again might be running out of a key drug used to execute its condemned criminals, but state prison officials said that they have enough to carry out the next 6 scheduled executions.

    What happens after that might be anyone's guess, thanks to a new no-disclosure policy imposed by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice on details about the execution drugs.

    2 years ago, the prison system revealed its drug supplier and the amount of drugs on hand after Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott issued an opinion saying it was public information. The prison system had sought to keep the information secret, arguing that releasing details about the drug supply might trigger violent protests outside the execution chamber or embolden death penalty opponents.

    Prison system spokesman Jason Clark said Tuesday that the agency is seeking another opinion from the attorney general on the execution drug information "because the law has changed and due to changing circumstances."

    Specifically, Clark said, a state Supreme Court ruling last July could have changed the situation. The case, filed by the Austin American-Statesman and other newspapers, sought travel vouchers for the governor's security detail under the Texas Public Information Act.

    In that case, the Supreme Court ruled, for the 1st time, that safety concerns might trump laws mandating public disclosure of information that reveals how a government spends taxpayer money.

    Texas operates the busiest death chamber in the United States, executing more than twice as many prisoners last year as any other state — 13 in all. Its execution practices have made it a target of death penalty opponents for years.

    The Guardian, a British newspaper, reported Tuesday that Texas has only enough pentobarbital on hand to complete 6 executions "and may be incapable of carrying out further death sentences after June."

    The newspaper quoted Maya Foa, a London-based investigator for Reprieve, an international group that opposes the death penalty.

    Based on state inventory records from a year ago, she estimated that Texas probably has 27 vials of pentobarbital, more commonly known by the brand name Nembutal, left on hand — and the sole U.S. supplier of the powerful sedative has blocked its availability for use in future executions.

    Privately, some prison officials suggested Tuesday that Texas has enough pentobarbital for more than 6 executions. But even so, other public documents hint that Texas and other states face a new difficulty in obtaining pentobarbital in the future.

    In January 2011, the Danish pharmaceutical company H. Lundbeck A/S announced that it would prohibit sales of Nembutal for use in executions. That restriction was continued when the firm sold the trademark drug and 2 others to Akorn Inc., an Illinois pharmaceutical firm, in December 2011, according to a statement about the transaction.

    Echoing previous sentiments from other death penalty opponents and open government advocates, Foa said transparency in the process is a key.

    "Given the recent controversies over execution drugs — illegal imports, botched executions, faulty drugs, etc. — you'd think that a department of corrections would be doing all it could to show that it was acting legitimately and lawfully," she said in an e-mail from London.

    Texas faced the same problem 13 months ago, when the sole U.S. manufacturer of the sedative sodium thiopental permanently halted production after authorities in Italy, where it was made, demanded a guarantee that it would not be used in executions — a promise the company said it could not give.

    At the time, Texas and 33 other states used sodium thiopental in executions. In Texas, the drug was one of three used to sedate and paralyze a convict and then stop the heart.

    Texas subsequently switched to pentobarbital. A barbiturate, it is commonly used to euthanize animals — and other states, including Oklahoma and Georgia, now use it in executions as a replacement for sodium thiopental.

    (Source: Austin American-Statesman)


    Feb. 14

    Texas Executions Threatened As Stocks Of Death Penalty Drug Run Low----Most Prolific Judicial Killing State In America Has Only Enough Sedative For 6 More Executions – And Could Run Out By June

    Texas, the powerhouse of the death penalty in America which last year executed more than twice the number of prisoners than any other state, is running out of supplies of lethal drugs and may be incapable of carrying out further death sentences beyond June.

    The state prides itself on its robust approach to the death penalty, and last year administered the ultimate punishment to 13 death row inmates. The nearest competitor on the league table of judicial killings was Alabama, with 6.

    Yet Texas has only sufficient quantities in its stores of pentobarbital – the middle drug of the triple lethal injection – to serve in 6 more executions. That number of executions are scheduled to take place on the state's books over the next 4 months.

    The dwindling supplies in the nation's most prolific death penalty state underline the crisis that is sweeping the 34 states that still have the death sentence on their books. Last summer, Lundbeck, the Danish company that makes pentobarbital under the trademark Nembutal, placed strict restrictions on its distribution to prevent it falling into the hands of US executioners.

    Georgia, the state that caused outrage in September when it put to death Troy Davis despite considerable doubts about his guilt, is also running low on stocks of the drug it used to kill him. It has only enough pentobarbital to kill four more prisoners – the same number of executions as it carried out in 2011.

    The severity of America's lethal injection drought has been uncovered by the human rights group Reprieve. Using freedom of information appeals, its investigator Maya Foa has calculated the remaining stocks in Texas and Georgia of pentobarbital, a barbiturate used to put prisoners to sleep before they are administered a separate drug to stop their heart.

    Her calculations show that Texas has 27 vials of Nembutal left in its stocks, with each vial containing 2.5g of the sedative. The state needs 2 vials to inject into each condemned prisoner, and a further 2 as a back-up in case of problems with the first, as outlined in its official execution procedures.

    That is sufficient for 6.75 executions.

    The Texas Department of Criminal Justice declined to confirm how much pentobarbital it had in its stores, saying it was seeking to keep the quantity secret "for security reasons".

    Similarly, Georgia has 17 vials of pentobarbital left, Reprieve has calculated – just over four executions' worth.

    "These shows that the restrictions on sale of medical drugs to US corrections departments are starting to bite. States that practice the death penalty are now reaching a desperate situation," Foa said.

    "It's getting harder and harder for them to get hold of these drugs and eventually they will be forced to recognise that medicines should not be used to execute people."

    Difficulties over lethal injections has already put a halt to executions in several other states. California has a moratorium in place until at least 2013 as a result of legal wrangling over the procedure, while Ohio has also been forced to put its executions on hold because it was found by the courts to be straying from its own protocols in administering the drugs.

    The question hanging over death rows across the country is what happens when states like Texas run dry of pentobarbital. Will they move on to a new alternative sedative in the hope of bypassing restrictions on sales of the medicines, or will they try to procure Nembutal through circuitous routes?

    Legitimate channels through which the drug can be obtained are fast closing. A ban has been imposed since last December across the European Union on selling the constituent parts of the lethal injection to US prisons.

    The next execution in Texas is scheduled for 28 February, when Anthony Bartee is set to die for murdering a 37-year-old man in 1996. Rick Perry, who has presided over 238 executions since becoming governor of the state, wore that record as a badge of pride during his presidential run for the Republican nomination, telling a cheering debate audience that he had never struggled to sleep at night by the idea that anyone might have been innocent.

    (Source: The Guardian)


    Feb. 14

    Berlinale Behind Bars----Werner Herzog Looks for the Human Side of Death Row

    Their crimes are monstrous. But renowned German filmmaker Werner Herzog seeks to show that death row inmates in the US are not monsters. His new series of documentaries, showing at the Berlin International Film Festival this week, provides a different look at those up for execution.

    James Barnes sits in his orange colored prison jumpsuit and talks about how he's always been in trouble. As a youngster, he killed his family's cats, set fires and committed other crimes. Now, Barnes is sitting on Florida's death row awaiting execution for killing at least three women, including his wife, whom he strangled and stuffed in a closet.

    Barnes is 1 of 5 inmates featured in "Death Row," a film series directed by legendary German filmmaker Werner Herzog. The series is being shown at the Berlin International Film Festival this week.

    Barnes accepts full responsibility for his crimes and is repentant. In his conversation with the German film director, the inmate does not appear to be a monster at all. And that's just what Herzog wanted to show.

    The purpose of the series is to humanize the murderers, not to excuse their crimes, Herzog, 69, said in a statement released Monday. "The crimes of the persons in the films are monstrous, but the perpetrators are not monsters."

    'I Respectfully Disagree'

    Herzog, a Munich native, is firmly against the death penalty, in line with the overwhelming sentiment of his fellow Germans. "A State should not be allowed -- under any circumstance -- to execute anyone for any reason," Herzog said in the statement.

    He referred to the millions of innocent people killed by the Nazi government of his native country during World War II. But the killing of innocents is a secondary issue, he said. Government-sponsored executions are just wrong.

    Still, says Herzog, his intent with his four-part series about death row, which portrays five people awaiting executions in Texas and Florida, is not to tell Americans what they should do about capital punishment.

    "As a guest in the United States, and being German, I respectfully disagree with the practice of capital punishment," he says. "I would be the last one to tell the American people how to conduct their criminal justice."

    Herzog doesn't excuse the crimes. He tells the story of Linda Carty, probably the most revolting of the series. Carty is one of 10 women on death row in Texas. She was convicted of masterminding a bogus home invasion on a Mexican-American couple with the goal of stealing the family's newborn child. The mother was found dead with duct tape over her nose and mouth and a plastic bag tightly sealed over her head. Though Carty denies any involvement in the gruesome and bizarre crime, there is overwhelming evidence supporting her guilt.

    Reviewing the Death Penalty

    Herzog, in a statement, denied there is any "activist's anger from my side" and said he doesn't commiserate with the inmates or in any way befriend them. "There is no false sentimentality," he said. But "there is a strong sense that these individuals are human beings."

    It is perhaps no coincidence that most of Herzog's portraits are of inmates in Texas.

    The state has been responsible for by far the most executions in the United States. According to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), a non-profit based in Washington, Texas has executed 478 inmates since 1976. The number 2 spot goes to Virginia, with 109, followed by Oklahoma with 97 and Florida with 71.

    Herzog's film comes at a time in which many state governments in the US are reviewing their death penalty statutes. Last year Illinois got rid of the death penalty. In 2009, New Mexico voted to abolish the death penalty. It was repealed in New York and New Jersey in 2007. In Oregon, Governor John Kitzhaber halted all executions last year, though the death penalty is still technically legal.

    The next state likely to abolish the death penalty is Connecticut, DPIC's executive director Richard Dieter said.

    Dieter said popular films may have more of an effect, but documentaries are becoming increasingly important and are attracting more moviegoers in the US. "Anything that will increase the discussion will add to the possibilities of getting rid of it," he said of the death penalty.

    Still an overwhelming majority -- 34 of the 50 US States -- still has the death penalty on the books. That disturbs not only Herzog, but many of his compatriots.

    The Human Side of Death Row

    Last year German Economics Minister and Vice Chancellor Philipp Rösler rejected US requests to provide a German-manufactured drug used in lethal injections to US states facing shortages, despite requests from then-US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to help ease the shortage.

    "I noted the request and declined," Rösler said at the time.

    In September, Germany along with countries all over Europe, reacted with protests to the execution of African American Troy Davis, who was put to death in Georgia. Davis was convicted of killing a white police officer in 1989. He maintained his innocence until the end and his supporters said there were serious doubts about his guilt. Davis, 42, was executed by lethal injection.

    Hank Skinner, another subject in the Herzog series, was luckier. The Texas inmate was sentenced to death 18 years ago for the fatal stabbing of his girlfriend and her two mentally impaired sons. His execution has been scheduled three times -- the second time he got his reprieve only 23 minutes before his scheduled execution.

    Skinner, a vivid story teller, gives a harrowing account of his remaining minutes before he thought he was going to die. It's just one of the film series' many moments that shows viewers the human side of death row.

    (Source: Spiegel Online)


    Feb. 3rd

    Death row inmate wins new punishment hearing

    The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has thrown out the death sentence of a convicted killer because jurors couldn't adequately consider evidence of his difficult childhood when they were deciding his punishment.

    Rodney Rachal has been on death row since March 1993 for the robbery and fatal shooting of Charles Washington at a Houston apartment complex in 1990.

    Rachal's trial in October 1992 came during a time before guidelines covering punishment phases of capital murder trials were refined by rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court.

    The appeals court in 2009 asked his trial court to review the case. The Austin court's decision Wednesday backed the findings of the trial court that the 41-year-old Rachal deserves a new punishment hearing.

    There was evidence that Rachel was a troubled and impoverished youth.

    (Source: Associated Press)


    Feb. 3

    Insiders speak out on the death penalty

    Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that capital punishment was legal in 1976, the state of Texas has executed 478 people.

    For many Americans, the death penalty is seen as a part of a complex judicial system that ultimately protects the majority from a dangerous minority.

    Except in cases of extreme controversy like that of Troy Davis in September, the death penalty is an issue that often goes ignored by the American public.

    "If you think this is not your issue, I would urge you to get out of your naiveté," Rick Halperin, director of the SMU Embrey Human Rights program, said to a packed McCord Auditorium.

    In the upcoming presidential election, candidates on both sides of the aisle are for the death penalty.

    "You should really be aware of the implications of your voting. You are voting for people who have said they would kill someone," Halperin said.

    A panel discussion on the death penalty in Texas on Thursday night portrayed an often-untold perspective of capital punishment.

    Exonerees Anthony Graves and Clarence Brandley along with the Rev. Carroll Pickett, a former death row chaplain, presented their arguments against a punishment often described as inhumane.

    "Most of you weren't even born when I went through this hell 23 years ago," Brandley said.

    Brandley was wrongfully convicted of the rape and murder of a 16-year-old student. He spent 9 years on death row.

    His 1st trial ended in a hung jury. But just a few weeks later, he was sentenced to death.

    Brandley was desperate for media and legal attention when an overzealous prosecution convicted him.

    "I passed my polygraph test and no one cared," Brandley said. "But if I had failed, all the news media would have been all over it."

    He urged the crowd to carefully examine the merits of the justice system in America before deciding on the capital punishment issue.

    "Don't let anyone tell you that your vote doesn't count," Brandley said. "I don't understand how someone can sign a death warrant and go to bed that night.

    I don't know what kind of God he serves."

    Brandley's impassionate speech for political activism was followed by the Rev. Pickett's discussion on the evolution of his views on the death penalty.

    "I was in favor of the death penalty because my grandfather was murdered when my father was just 12," Pickett said. "I assumed that no one was just found to be guilty without cause."

    Pickett was known as the death chaplain at the Huntsville prison because he was the last religious figure that saw death row inmates before their executions.

    The former chaplain now regrets his former stance on the death penalty issue.

    "I buried 4,000 inmates who died in prison and watched over 95 executions," Pickett said. "The longer I was at the prison and talked to people, I realized that the death penalty was wrong."

    Pickett listed multiple reasons for why the death penalty was not a practical punishment.

    He listed the high public costs of the death penalty, cruel and unusual treatment of prisoners and the ineffectiveness of the death penalty as a crime deterrent as reasons to look at other punishment alternatives.

    However, Pickett saved his best reasons for last.

    "We have executed innocent people because of faulty eyewitness testimony," Pickett said. "And even worse, before someone dies, they strip search him and leave him naked in a 9-by-9 room waiting to die."

    A silent crowd, shocked by the horrors of capital punishment, listened to Anthony Graves' story on how he spent 18 years in jail.

    Graves was wrongfully convicted of killing four children, one teenager and an adult woman.

    "I didn't even know the family. I didn't live in that area," Graves said.

    A single personal statement caused the Texas Rangers to pursue Graves for the crime.

    "It was never about seeking the truth [in my case]. Someone just had to pay for the horrendous crime," Graves said.

    Graves criticized the lack of accountability and checks in the judicial system.

    "Prosecutors have total immunity. Politicians have no accountability," Graves said. "This whole notion of ‘innocent until proven guilty' should be thrown out the window."

    According to Graves, there is a very real racial problem in the American judicial system.

    "The post-racial era is a myth. Ask my mother if race doesn't matter when you go to prison and you'll know the truth," Graves said.

    In front of an audience that did not take its eyes off the emotional Graves, he called for individual action from everyone in the crowd.

    "No one here cared when I was locked up, and it's because all of this is being done in your name," Graves said. "You should never buy into the story that the death penalty makes society better and safer. All the power rests in your hands.

    It's time to hold people accountable."

    (Source: SMU Daily Campus)


    Feb 3rd

    Exoneree: Guantanamo Bay Is "Peanuts Compared to What's Going On In" Texas

    As "the death chaplain" at Huntsville prison, Reverend Carroll Pickett has counseled 95 prisoners, one at a time, on the day the state has scheduled to end their life. Death by lethal injection, the chaplain found, is not a quiet exit.

    It's torturous. It's not fool-proof. And there's no guarantee that everyone put to death is guilty.

    "That cruel and unusual punishment starts the minute they walk in the death house ... It's not painless. It is not painless," Pickett said last night at SMU, where was joined for a panel discussion by death row exonerees Anthony Graves and Clarence Brandley. (Brandley also spoke at an SMU death row exoneree panel last year).

    "There are botched executions. I've been there. I saw it," Pickett said.

    He supported capital punishment when he started his job in 1982, but death after tortuous death wore away at him. "This one young man, they tried and they tried and they tried, and they couldn't find a place to put a needle in that would flow properly," he said.

    The man had abused drugs enough to know how to effectively tap into his veins.

    He was permitted to sit up and demonstrate the most effective way to put him to death. His instructions worked, the lethal liquids flowed, and his life drained.

    After 45 minutes of being stuck with needles, "he just wanted the pain over," Pickett said.

    Graves was sentenced to lay on the same gurney for a 1992 murder. The original suspect, who has since been put to death for the brutal small-town Texas homicide, told police that Graves was also involved. After awaiting trial for two and a half years, Graves went to trial in front of a jury of 11 white people and 1 black man. The black foreman of the jury tearfully handed the judge the verdict: guilty. Like his accuser, Graves was sentenced to death.

    He later learned that prosecutors had withheld the man's admission that he lied, and that the prosecution said they would charge the man's wife if he did not implicate Graves. "We have a failed and broken system today," Graves said, stressing a lack in accountability.

    "It changed my whole world. It changed the world of my family," Graves said. "I was the next dead man walking for a crime I did not commit."

    "All that stuff that's going on in Guantanamo Bay, that's peanuts compared to what's going on in your backyard," Graves said. "I was a good father, but the state of Texas took that from me in your name."

    In 2010, after 18 years in prison, police came to Graves's cell and walked him down the hall to meet his attorney. The charges against him had been dropped, she told him. That day, he walked out of prison unshackled and in civilian clothes. He called his mother from the parking lot.

    "Mom, what are you cooking?" he asked, as he always had from prison. This time, instead of imagining the food, he told her, "Your son is coming home."

    Across the United States, 3,200 people are currently on death row; Texas has put the most people to death "out of any jurisdiction anywhere in the free world," said Dr. Rick Halperin, SMU human rights program director.

    "The death penalty is not an act; the death penalty is a process ... of psychological torture that either can conclude in an execution or can conclude in a release," Halperin said. He added that the death certificates filled out when prisoners pass away have several options under "Cause of Death," and that a specific box is checked when a prisoner is purposefully put to death: homicide.

    (Source: Dallas Observer)


    Feb. 2

    SHSU Criminal Justice professor speaks out against death penalty----
    Criminal justice prof. shows his anti-execution stance with solitary candle

    When someone hears that a criminal justice professor is at an execution, they may think he's doing research. Not holding a candle in support of human life, like Dennis Longmire, Ph.D.

    Texas has performed over 400 executions since 1976 According to the Death Penalty Information Center website. The 478th execution happened on Jan. 27 at the Walls Unit, and Longmire was there like he has been since he moved to Huntsville in 1984.

    Longmire, a criminal justice professor at Sam Houston State University, focuses his research primarily in capital punishment.

    He stood on the corner of Avenue I and 12th Street outside the prison with other pro death penalty supporters where the executions take place.

    "I don't come to the corner for any particular case," Longmire said. "The issue isn't innocence, [but] when we execute someone, we are taking human life."

    At about 5 p.m., the "vigilers" take post and wait for key signs that signal parts of the execution. Rodrigo Hernandez, an inmate convicted of rape and murder of a 38 year old woman, was was executed for his role in the crime.

    Hernandez was required to provide a DNA sample as part of his parole when he was released in 2002. He was serving time for "beating a man nearly to death", according to txexecutions.org. Hernandez's sample matched DNA found on a woman who was assaulted and strangled back in 1994.

    Longmire held a "mother of Mary" candle, while Kelly Epstein, another pro-death penalty "vigiler" were only two of several pro-death penalty persons at the corner.

    They share it with a few members of the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, including very vocal members such as Gloria Rubac and Pat Hartwell. Rubac and Hartwell set up poster boards with the words "Honk to Stop Executions" and "Gov. Perry Texas Owes $800,000 to Clarence Brandley."

    The supporters share a common belief that the death penalty is morally wrong, but take different extremes to get their message across.

    "If somebody's being murdered, you should yell and scream," Rubac said.

    "How many more millions does it cost to keep a prisoner on death row than it does for the amount of time you keep them in prison? It's less," Harwell said.

    Longmire believes that he is witnessing what he calls "the sin and injustice that's taking place."

    The group knows the moments leading up to execution by watching media, as well as family members, enter and exit the building.

    Standing on the corner passers-by can see straight into the top floor of the jail, where prisoners stand watching the pro-death penalty supporters. The prisoners can hear Rubac and others as they shout over the loudspeaker their beliefs.

    "I believe that no matter what the people have done, they're people," Longmire said. "They are humans, they're part of our spirit and soul. It's incumbent upon us to try to help the transition for them and ultimately it's our transition as well."

    (Source: Houstonian Online)


    Jan. 30

    EXONEREES, FORMER DEATH ROW CHAPLAIN REFLECT ON CAPITAL PUNISHMENT IN TEXAS

    3 men whose paths were scheduled to cross in Texas’ execution chamber in Huntsville will be at SMU Feb. 2 for “The Death Penalty in Texas 2012,” a panel discussion that will highlight the state of the death penalty in Texas and how the lives of 2 condemned men and a prison chaplain took drastic turns.

    The free event, open to the public, will be:
    Feb. 2nd
    7–9 p.m.
    at McCord Auditorium
    306 Dallas Hall, on the SMU campus.

    2 of the panelists, Anthony Graves and Clarence Brandley, were exonerated after serving 18 and 9 years, respectively, for heinous murders. They will join former death row chaplain the Rev. Carroll Pickett — who once had counseled both Graves and Brandley about being at peace with death as they waited for execution. Carroll went from supporting the death penalty to being ardently against it.

    “Watching people put to death who I later learned may have been innocent, and seeing more than 80 people who were almost killed but at the last minute were found innocent, made me begin to wonder if many of the others we executed while I was there were innocent as well,” Pickett says. “I knew I could no longer stand there and watch them die, listen to their last breaths, when there were too many doubts. And the sad thing is,” he adds, “even though Anthony and Clarence are alive, they’ll never be compensated for what happened to them.” Pickett retired in 1995 after working for the Texas prison system for 16 years and overseeing 95 executions.

    “All 3 of these people are part of this terrible system called ‘the conveyer belt of death,’ says Rick Halperin, director of SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program, which is sponsoring the event. “Clarence Brandley and Anthony Graves are alive today to talk about their experiences not because of the system but in spite of it.”

    For more details about the event call 214-768-8347.

    (Source: SMU News)


    Jan. 26

    Rick Perry Death Watch----Perry becomes killingest governor tonight

    Texas is slated to carry out its 478th execution since reinstatement of the death penalty. For Gov. Rick Perry, the scheduled execution of Rodrigo Hernandez this evening will mark a milestone: the 239th execution he's presided over, meaning Perry will have overseen half of all Texas executions, securing his spot as the killingest governor in the U.S.

    Hernandez was convicted and sentenced to death for the abduction, rape, and murder of 38-year-old Susan Verstegen, a Frito-Lay saleswoman who disappeared in February 1994 while working a late-night shift. Her body was later found stuffed into a 55-gallon trash can behind a San Antonio church. Her murder went unsolved for 8 years until DNA found at the scene was matched to Hernandez, who reportedly supplied the DNA sample to jailers in Michigan, where he was incarcerated on an unrelated charge, as a condition of his release.

    (Source: Austin Chronicle)


    Jan. 26

    ‘Texas 7' Fugitive Gets Execution Reprieve

    One of the infamous “Texas 7? fugitive gang has won a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court 1 week before his scheduled execution.

    Donald Newbury was to die Feb. 1 for his part in the fatal shooting of a Dallas-area police officer. Justice Antonin Scalia granted the reprieve Wednesday.

    Attorneys argued that he should be spared while justices consider an Arizona case that questions whether death row inmates are entitled to better legal help during initial appeals. The court already has heard arguments on that case.

    Newbury and 6 other inmates fled a South Texas prison 11 years ago in the state’s biggest prison break. He would have been the 2nd of the gang executed for the Christmas Eve 2000 killing of Irving police officer Aubrey Hawkins during a robbery.

    (Source: Associated Press)


    Jan. 20

    Death Penalty Foes March On MLK Day

    “Clarence Brandley!” boomed over the loud-speaker system, and the crowds lining the downtown sidewalks answered, “Pay him now!” The Texas Death Penalty Abolition movement honored Clarence Brandley in the 34th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Parade Jan. 16 in downtown Houston, sponsored by The Black Heritage Society.

    Brandley, who is known and loved by African Americans as well as activists of all nationalities around Texas, was exonerated off Texas death row exactly 22 years ago. But he is still fighting for compensation from the state of Texas for the 10 long years that were stolen from him.

    Abolitionists and progressive activists, along with their children, formed a spirited contingent in one of the largest MLK parades in the country. They not only demanded an end to the racist and anti-poor death penalty, but also demanded compensation for Brandley. Brandley and his brother, the Rev. Ozell Brandley, rode in the back of a pickup truck covered with signs about Clarence’s struggle with Texas. As children tossed candy to the crowds, activists distributed thousands of leaflets about Clarence Brandley and the death penalty, as well as leaflets about political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. In 1995, after five years of struggling to find and keep a job, Brandley went to Philadelphia to support Abu-Jamal when he had an execution date. Brandley says he was glad to contribute to another innocent man getting a stay of execution, just as others had done for him.

    Today Brandley works with Witness To Innocence, an organization made up solely of people who have been exonerated off death row. (In the U.S., 130 people have been exonerated.) Brandley is fighting to abolish the death penalty in Texas. He says he will never forget his time on death row and will continue to fight for those he left behind.

    (Source: Workers World)


    Jan., 20

    When it comes to executions over the last 30 years in Texas, Harris County with 116 has the most.

    Surprisingly, at number 9 on that list is Potter County with 10 executions.

    What's also a surprise is, Randall County near the bottom of the list with 3.

    Both James Farren and Randall Sims have the same assumption as to why they think numbers have fallen here over the last seven years, and both feel the same when it comes to pursuing the death penalty in court.

    James Farren says when comparing the crime rates in Potter and Randall counties the numbers should be close to the same, but types of crime is where things differentiate.

    "Potter County certainly has more violent crime than Randall County, we have more property crime. Potter County has more drive by shootings, more drugs, more drug cases, more assaults, and more homicides."

    He says prosecutors must be very circumspect when it comes to seeking the death penalty.

    "The death penalty is appropriate in an appropriate case, but with life without parole now available and with changing attitudes people have towards the death penalty, we have to be really careful."

    And Potter county DA Randall Sims agrees.

    "The legislature changed it from the 2nd possibility of being life without parole, and that's also effected the decision making on some of the prosecutors part on whether to try and seek the death penalty or not."

    Farren says for the state to be serious about taking the life of a citizen, the crime must be *very* serious and the evidence has to be overwhelming.

    The last time someone was sentenced to die out of Potter County was in 2005, and in Randall County, it was just last summer.

    (Source: connectamarillo.com)


    Jan. 17

    3 Decades of Capital Punishment in Texas

    35 years ago today, the state of Utah executed Gary Gilmore by firing squad and restarted the death penalty in the United States. Texas followed suit, reinstating capital punishment in 1982 and quickly becoming home to the nation's busiest execution chamber.

    A 1972 U.S. Supreme Court opinion that the states' use of the death penalty was arbitrary and capricious led to a de facto moratorium on the penalty across the nation. States began changing their death penalty laws, and the pause on executions ended with a subsequent high court decision in 1976.

    The 1st post-moratorium execution in Texas was in 1982. Charles Brooks Jr. was executed for the 1976 shooting death of a mechanic. Since 1982, Texas has executed 477 men and women, more than any other state. And there are more than 300 men and women in Texas awaiting execution now.

    Executions in Texas — and nationwide — eventually peaked and then evened out in the 1990s. In 1994, there were 328 death sentences issued nationwide, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Starting in 1999, though, use of the death penalty began to drop off dramatically, and by 2009 there were 109 death sentences.

    Last year, Texas executed 13 prisoners, the lowest number in more than a decade. And juries assigned 8 new death sentences in 2010 as well as in 2011, compared with 48 in 1999, according to the Texas Defender Service.

    Below, we've compiled some fascinating data from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice about the last 3 decades of the death penalty in Texas.

    In the 1st graph, we have charted both the frequency of executions and the racial makeup of the executed. The graph is broken into 5-year segments starting in 1980 and going through 2011. An interesting trend that becomes visible in this graph is the growing number of Hispanic inmates who are executed. Although the number of executions of black inmates has declined, the number for Hispanic criminals has risen. In 2010 and 2011, more Hispanic criminals were executed than black criminals. The 1st person set to be executed in 2012 is a Hispanic inmate, Rodrigo Hernandez, from Bexar County.

    Despite that trend, the number of black inmates on death row continues to exceed any other, as the graph below illustrates.

    There are 10 inmates who have been on Texas' death row for 30 years or longer.

    Of those men, six are black, including the longest-serving death row inmate, Raymond Riles, who was convicted in 1976 of robbing and murdering a used-car salesman. In 1985, Riles tried to commit suicide by setting fire to his death row cell, according to TDCJ records.

    Like many death row inmates, Riles is from Harris County. That county has sent more Texans to death row and to the execution chamber than any other county in the state. Of the 477 people executed since 1982, 24 percent — 116 inmates — were sentenced in Harris County. More than one-third of the 307 men and women on death row are from that county, a total of 104.

    Polls indicate that Americans, and Texans in particular, continue to support the death penalty.

    But Rick Halperin, director of Southern Methodist University's Embrey Human Rights Program, said in a news release that the drop in executions and death sentences shows that juries are less willing to impose capital punishment. High-profile exonerations and more public awareness of DNA science, he said, have made the public more willing to question the use of capital punishment.

    “We’re in the beginning stages of ending the death penalty in this country,” Halperin said.

    Number of Executions/Offenders on Death Row by County of Incident

    County of Incident ----# Executed--------# on Death Row

    Harris County--------116------------------104
    Dallas County----------4-------------------36
    Tarrant County-------36--------------------19
    Bexar County---------35--------------------21
    Nueces County--------14---------------------6
    Jefferson County-----13---------------------2
    Montgomery County----13---------------------3
    Brazos County--------11---------------------5
    Potter County--------10---------------------2
    Lubbock County-------10---------------------4
    Smith County----------9---------------------8
    Travis County---------8---------------------7
    Denton County---------6---------------------0
    Cameron County--------6---------------------5
    Galveston County------6---------------------1
    Collin County---------6---------------------8
    McLennan County-------6---------------------3
    Fort Bend County------5---------------------2
    Taylor County---------5---------------------0
    Bowie County----------5---------------------6
    Navarro County--------5---------------------1
    Brazoria County-------4---------------------0
    Anderson County-------4---------------------1
    Gregg County----------4---------------------1
    Liberty County--------3---------------------1
    Tom Green County------3---------------------0
    (Source: Texas Tribune)


    Jan. 16

    Death penalty doesn't work

    As president of Lake Highlands Libertarians and Youth for Ron Paul, I talk a lot of politics with my peers. One subject just kills me: the death penalty.

    Many of my Republican peers claim to be pro-life and pro-death penalty. I understand that unborn fetuses are innocent and victims of the death penalty aren't, but it still doesn't make sense.

    When a child lies, do you lie to the child as punishment and hope it will deter others from lying? When a child hits one of his/her peers, do you hit the child as punishment and hope it will deter others from hitting? I hope not.

    When an adult kills someone, do you kill the adult as punishment and hope it will deter others from killing? Unfortunately, in Texas, we do. Capital punishment is morally wrong, expensive, and ineffective as a deterrent. The death penalty must be killed.

    Now, to those who tolerate such an inhumane, cruel and expensive penalty, it may come as a shock to discover that capital punishment does not decrease crime. The New York Times examined FBI data and found that the states with the death penalty had average murder rates that were higher than the murder rates of states without the death penalty.

    No matter what the intentions behind the death penalty are, it clearly does not work.

    Mac McCann, senior at Lake Highlands High School, Dallas

    (Source: Letter to the Editor, Dallas Morning News)


    Jan. 16

    Charity Lee, SA death penalty opponent, to make her stand on Supreme Court’s stoop

    At the death penalty intersection, popular caricatures include both victim’s families pressing up to the glass for a better view of the lethal injection process and those rogue Catholics who’ve worked their way beyond abortion in their pro-life positioning holding signs and chanting outside.

    San Antonio’s Charity Lee has certainly earned a right to permanent front-row seats inside the killing chamber. Her own father was murdered when she was only 6. Then, as a young parent herself, her daughter was raped and murdered in 2007 by her son. Perhaps because of the nature of the intra-family assault, she has instead joined the anti-death penalty camp.

    “Inevitably, at some point if you have a child, they’re going to hit someone. Then you see these parents that are spanking their children and they’re screaming at them ‘You’re not supposed to hit people!’” Lee told the Current from Washington, D.C. “We say all the time, ‘You’re not supposed to kill, but if you kill somebody we’re going to kill you.’ There’s no logic to it.”

    Since her daughter Ella’s death, Lee established the ELLA Foundation, quickly entered the speaking circuit both in the States and abroad. The mission of ELLA is to “prevent violence and to advocate for human rights through education, criminal justice reform, and victim advocacy.”

    Today, Lee is preparing to protest on the 35th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision to reinstate the death penalty in the United States in an act of civil disobedience she expects to be arrested for on the Supreme’s front steps tomorrow.

    We interviewed her by phone earlier today.

    From your vantage point, what are the roots of violence that we can address as a culture?

    I really believe violence is a generational thing, and so in order to stop it we have to have more effective policy and law. But we also really need to focus on getting kids really early in the education system, and supporting families more, and not giving single moms that are working three jobs to make ends meet a hard time because their children might be running on the street. I don’t believe all these kids and adults that end up committing crime are bad seeds, you know?

    They’ve lived a lifetime not being educated, they might not have job skills, especially in San Antonio, you have 13 and 14 year old girls popping out babies right and left. I really think if we’re going to address the issue of violence, the first thing we need to do is address the issue of education, employability, sex ed, these basic fundamental issues that should start really, really early.

    We’re too judgmental, we’re too punitive, we’re too harsh. … I definitely agree a person should suffer for their crime, especially if it’s a crime like what happened to Ella. But our efforts at eliminating these problems too date have not worked. We need to start looking at these problems through a different lens.

    Not lock them up and throw away the key, but what can we do to help each other.

    Does fighting the death penalty mean forgiving the killers?

    No. I have many differernt colleages in the field of death-penalty abolition that don’t support the death penalty for many different reasons. Some think it can’t be applied fairly and it’s applied so arbitrarily. There are seriel killers out there who in exchange for their plea, in exchange for information about where the bodies are, a prosecutor will allow them to plea for life, but then a guy, like a friend of mine’s son in Delaware: her son grew up physically and sexually abused his whole life, he obviously abused his girlfriend, and then he ended up shooting her between the eyes. Well, he was given the death penalty.

    Well he only killed one person, and there were a lot of mitigating circumstances. It was not fairly applied.

    I know a lot of people who are opposed to [the death penalty] that still think these people are worthless pieces of trash. That’s not the mentality that I have, but that they have. Some people think it costs too much. Others, I know a lot of people who would support the death penalty if it could be applied fairly and they knew for a fact that nobody innocent could be executed. And then you have people like me who are just morally opposed to it on the grounds that killing is wrong.

    Have you forgiven your son?

    Yes. Yes, I have. I mean … yeah … it’s kind of hard. Our case is different because my son is incapable of remorse to date. … I mean my son is a predator, so it was never a question of forgiveness. Because that would be like forgiving a shark for biting me. He is wired to do what he does. I had to let go of a lot of rage and anger as time went on, but I never really saw it as a function of forgiveness. I have friends who tell me all the time that that’s what forgiveness is: let go of your anger, let go of your range, you don’t want revenge. But I never really saw it that way with my child. But I guess I have. I still only want what is best for him.

    What role does civil disobedience play on death-penalty protest?

    In contemporary America we have forgotten the fact that we were revolutionaries at one point and the First Amendment gives us the right to speak up for what we believe in. … We need to show people in America it’s still OK to take a stand for what you believe in — and that if you truly passionately believe in something enough, you need to put yourself out there.

    (Source: San Antonio Current)


    Jan. 12

    Death Lives On

    When John Holbrook put together a photo essay of Texas death row inmates for Fort Worth Weekly in 2008, he probably little suspected that its effects would still be rippling outward more than three years later. His eerie pictures have been exhibited in Geneva, Rome, and Oslo, and even in a lighthouse inside the Arctic Circle. Holbrook, a private investigator who has worked for attorneys defending death-penalty cases, has become an advocate for abolishing the death penalty — not because he thinks all the people sentenced to death are nice people or innocent of their crimes, but because he came to believe that, “The only way we can truly stop suffering is to love and forgive those who have caused the suffering.”

    More recently, Holbrook has worked with reporter Renaud Dumesnil of the French Arte TV channel, which Holbrook said is something like PBS in this country. Dumesnil has put together a 28-minute documentary on the death penalty, centered on a Texas death-row inmate. Hank Skinner was convicted by a Tarrant County jury of a 1993 triple murder in Pampa, in which his girlfriend Twila Busby was bludgeoned and her two adult sons were stabbed to death (the case had been moved here on a change of venue). Skinner has come close to being executed several times; currently his execution has been stayed while lawyers seek court rulings on whether new DNA evidence should be tested and allowed to be submitted as evidence in a new trial.

    In October, Dumesnil, who is based in New York, came to Fort Worth and, with Holbrook, interviewed two of the jurors in Skinner’s original trial. Both jurors, Holbrook said, told them that they would not have convicted Skinner had they known of the possibility of new evidence and witness recants.

    Holbrook will have a part in the documentary, which is expected to air in the next few months. More important to him, his Texas death-row photographs, including some of those that first appeared in the Weekly, will be shown.

    In keeping with the often-bizarre nature of his work regarding the death penalty, Holbrook said he and Dumesnil interviewed one of the two former jurors on Halloween with the lightheartedly ghoulish trappings of that holiday all around them.

    “It was a very strange dynamic,” he said.

    (Source: Fort Worth Weekly)


    Jan. 05

    Herzog takes us into abyss of death row

    Werner Herzog does something great reporters know how to do: He listens. He pays attention during conversation. He instinctively asks the natural follow-up question, and that's what often elicits the greatest honesty and the most unexpected emotion.

    In taking on a divisive topic like the death penalty -- especially in a place like Texas, where the punishment is more prevalent than in other states -- Herzog never seems to be judging the people on the other side of his camera in his latest documentary, "Into the Abyss." He simply lets them tells their stories.

    It's hard not to be moved by the horrifically needless crime he's exploring. In 2001, 3 people were shot to death over a red Chevrolet Camaro near Conroe, Texas: 50-year-old Sandra Stotler, her teenage son and a friend of the boy.

    The convicted killers, Michael Perry and Jason Burkett, knew Stotler's son and only meant to break into their house to steal the car, but the crime went horribly wrong. Perry was sentenced to death for Stotler's murder, and Herzog spoke to him in prison just 8 days before his July 1, 2010, execution. Perry found religion behind bars, as is so often the case. He smiles a lot. He's beyond calm; he's almost upbeat.

    Burkett, meanwhile, is serving a life sentence. There's a chilling stillness in his eyes. He speaks matter-of-factly.

    Regardless of your own stance on the death penalty, it's impossible not to be shaken by the senseless loss depicted in "Into the Abyss," the overwhelming sadness, but also the possibility of spiritual redemption. Herzog lets all these complicated dynamics speak for themselves, and then lets us decide.

    "Into the Abyss" -- an IFC Films release. PG-13 for mature thematic material and some disturbing images. Time: 106 minutes.

    Watch the Trailer HERE

    (Source News-Leader)


    Jan. 03, 2012

    No change in ‘capital of capital punishment'----Texas will continue as the nation's leading state for executions.

    With 6 executions scheduled for the 1st 3 months of 2012 — and more than twice as many executions as any other state last year — Texas continues to lead the nation in using capital punishment.

    That's despite dropping to a 15-year low in 2011, with 13 executions, even as questions are raised nationwide about the wrongful conviction of inmates and as petitions call on the United States to abolish capital punishment. Last year, 43 prisoners were executed nationwide.

    “Clearly, Texas is known as the capital of capital punishment,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, based in Washington, D.C.

    “Ultimately, this stems from strong public support for the death penalty in Texas,” he said. “In almost every other state, the death penalty is used more selectively, more cautiously and with greater protections for defendants.”

    Alabama, which had the 2nd-most executions, put 6 to death in 2011.

    Other states with more than 1 execution were Ohio with 5, Georgia and Arizona each with 4, and Oklahoma, Florida and Mississippi each with 2, center statistics show.

    The national numbers are down from 2010, when there were 46 executions nationwide (17 in Texas) and from 2009, when there were 52 (24 in Texas), according to the center.

    “Executions have dropped by about 50 percent since the late 1990s,” Dieter said. “With a growing concern about whether some of those convicted are actually innocent, jurors, prosecutors, judges and legislators (are) more cautious about the use of the death penalty.”

    That gives hope to opponents of capital punishment that Texas and other states at some point will end executions. “I think that we are in the very beginning phases in Texas of the end of the death penalty,” said Rick Halperin, the coordinator of Amnesty International's campaign against state death penalties. “It won't happen in this state anytime soon, but we are reaching a point where, sooner or later, it is going to end.”

    Texas has executed more people than any other state: 477 since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976. The states closest to Texas in total number of executions are Virginia, with 109, and Oklahoma, with 96, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

    Recently, at least one drug used in lethal injections — sodium thiopental, a sedative — has been harder to obtain because the European Union began restricting its sale to countries that haven't abolished capital punishment.

    While officials say the supply shortage has delayed some U.S. executions, many states such as Texas had already switched to a different sedative, pentobarbital. But recent reports show that the only U.S.-licensed manufacturer of it is selling the product to a different manufacturer, which could affect the availability of the drug.

    More than 30 states still allow the death penalty, although only 27 have put someone to death in the past decade. Oregon, Illinois, New Jersey and New Mexico are among the states that stopped executions in recent years, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

    At its peak in recent years, Texas executed 40 inmates in 2000. Since then, the numbers have fluctuated.

    Some attribute the wane to state prosecutors offering — and juries choosing — life-without-parole sentences, which became an option for those convicted of capital murder after Sept. 1, 2005.

    Since then, nearly 400 people have been sentenced to life without parole, state records show.

    In recent years, the 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham prompted a renewed debate about the merits of capital punishment in Texas.

    Willingham was executed Feb. 17, 2004, for setting a 1991 house fire that killed his 3 young daughters. Through the years, he maintained his innocence, and he reasserted that in his final statement just before he was executed.

    Gov. Rick Perry, who described Willingham as a “monster,” and other officials said evidence supported the jury's decision. The state fire marshal has said the investigation was thorough and accurate; 2 arson experts who re-examined the investigation said it relied on outdated concepts and did not support a finding of arson.

    The Texas Forensic Science Commission reviewed the case, concluding in 2011 that discredited scientific methods were used in the investigation, but an attorney general ruling stated that the commission had no jurisdiction.

    (Source: San Anotnio Express-News)


    2011:


      Editorial: Death penalty on the wane

      Published: 29 December 2011

      Use of the death penalty is losing favor with more and more Americans, and for good reasons, those undeniably being (a) shaken confidence in the system and (b) the alternative of life-without-parole sentencing.

      Lethal punishment is also being sought less often by Texas prosecutors and handed out less often by Texas juries, probably for the same reasons.

      The year-end snapshot of Death Row, USA, offers more upsides, from the perspective of this newspaper’s opposition to the death penalty.

      The number of executions continued to slide nationwide, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. And one more state, Illinois, joined the list of 16 non-death-penalty states and became the fourth to repeal the punishment since 2004.

      The number of executions continued to wane in Texas, but this state held on to its position of ignominious prominence: Texas executed, by far, the most people of the 13 states that used the death penalty this year. Thirteen prisoners were put to death in Texas, 30 percent of the 43 who died in the nation’s death chambers in 2011.

      Texas’ distinction as the No. 1 death-penalty state remains in unseemly juxtaposition to the embarrassing developments throughout our criminal justice system.

      For a second straight year, a Texas murder case unraveled in spectacular fashion, this one freeing Michael Morton of Williamson County, who spent almost 25 years in prison of a life sentence for his wife’s bludgeoning murder. The case against Morton ignored evidence that pointed elsewhere and, it appears from DNA tests, allowed the real killer to roam and kill again. Morton’s exoneration produced serious charges of prosecutorial misconduct this month.

      The year before — when Texas executed 17 of the 46 nationwide — the Anthony Graves murder case unraveled, freeing a man who was sent to death row in another instance of alleged prosecutorial mischief.

      Add to that the continuing parade of DNA exonerations across the state, and it’s evident why people have become squeamish about the death penalty. Supporters attest to the certainty of the court system, with its many steps of review, but it so often has taken volunteer lawyers and university workshops to pry free the truth.

      Are there cases where innocent people have slipped through that sieve and gone to their deaths in Texas? None have been proven, but there’s no justification for taking the chance. The justice system will never be foolproof, and, therefore, use of the death penalty is never justified.

      That sentiment seems to be taking hold nationally, with a Gallup Poll showing the lowest level of support in almost 40 years, with 61 percent in favor. That compares with 80 percent in 1994. A CNN poll found more support for life without parole than death for murderers.

      Qualms about how the death penalty is applied caused the governor of Oregon to call a moratorium and the chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court to convene a study commission.

      In Texas, there are ample arguments for both of the above.

      A welcome decline

      New death sentences and executions in Texas:
      2003: 28, 24
      2004: 24, 23
      2005: 14, 19
      2006: 11, 24
      2007: 14, 26
      2008: 12, 18
      2009: 9, 24
      2010: 8, 17
      2011: 8, 13

      NOTE: In 2011, Dallas County sentenced no one to death for the first time in five years. The execution record since resumption in 1982 was 40, in 2000.
      SOURCES: Texas Departments of Criminal Justice, Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

      Editorial: Death penalty on the wane


      December 28, 2011

      2 condemned Texas killers lose appeals

      By MICHAEL GRACZYK
      THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

      HOUSTON — A federal appeals court has refused appeals from two Texas death row inmates, including one condemned for killing a corrections officer 12 years ago while already serving a life sentence for murder.

      The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected arguments Tuesday from Robert Pruett, 32, and Bobby Lee Hines, 39.

      In December 1999, Pruett was at the McConnell Unit prison near Beeville in South Texas, serving 99 years for a slaying in Harris County, when prosecutors said he used a shank to fatally stab a corrections officer, Daniel Nagle.

      Hines was condemned to death for the 1991 rape-slaying of Michele Wendy Haupt, 26, at her Dallas-area apartment. He was 19 at the time and on probation from a 10-year burglary sentence after spending three months in a boot camp.

      Neither prisoner has an execution date. Their attorneys did not respond to calls seeking comment Wednesday morning. The 5th Circuit rulings can be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

      Pruett had argued that prosecutors presented a summary to jurors at his trial for the corrections officer's slaying that was improper and erroneous. The summary described how Pruett tried to recruit friends and solicit his brother and father to murder a neighbor in Harris County in 1995, and said he tried to escape arrest, bragged about the killing, attempted to kill witnesses while in jail and showed no remorse.

      He contended the summary was used improperly to show he would be a continuing threat — one of the determinations jurors must make in deciding a death sentence.

      The appeals court agreed with lower courts and prosecutors that the summary, was prepared three years before the officer's murder, had been intended for prison classification purposes and didn't violate his constitutional rights.

      At Pruett's trial in Corpus Christi in 2002, evidence showed Nagle earlier had told Pruett he couldn't take his sack lunch to a recreation yard. Pruett testified he was upset that he had missed a hot lunch and said Nagle was writing a disciplinary report against him, but he denied killing the 37-year-old corrections officer.

      A fellow prisoner testified that he saw the officer killed and a second inmate said Pruett told him earlier that day he intended to kill Nagle.

      Hines came within two days of execution in 2003 before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stopped the punishment so he could pursue claims he was mentally impaired and ineligible for the death penalty under Supreme Court guidelines. His appeal before the 5th Circuit was intended to challenge the findings of lower courts that since then have ruled he's not mentally impaired.

      The appeals panel said there's no indication to show the findings were unreasonable and cited a state court opinion that found "broad and consistent evidence that Hines lied frequently and well when his self-interest demanded it."

      The victim in his case, Haupt, was found dead on the floor of her apartment in Carrollton, just north of Dallas. She'd been stabbed about 18 times with an ice pick and strangled with a cord from a stereo. DNA evidence tied Hines to the scene, he was found with items taken from the apartment and had bragged that he had keys to all apartments in the complex because he was staying with complex's maintenance man.

      2 condemned Texas killers lose appeals


      Dec. 13, 2011

      Rick Perry: death penalty delivers “ultimate justice”

      Texas Gov. Rick Perry is a staunch supporter of the death penalty. “In the state of Texas, if you come into our state and you kill one of our children, you kill a police officer, you’re involved with another crime and you kill one of our citizens, you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas, and that is you will be executed,” he said at a recent Republican presidential debate. Rick Perry makes no bones about the fact he strongly supports the death penalty.

      Since he took office as the Governor of Texas, he’s presided over 236 executions, more than any other governor in U.S. history.

      And while Perry views have drawn harsh criticism from those who oppose the death penalty, statistics would suggest his tough stance has helped decrease the number of executions.

      From a high of 33 carried out in 2002, executions declined to 17 in 2010. As 2011 draws to a close, the yearly total decreased to 13 executions.

      A recent report released by the Council of State Governments also showed the state’s crime rate had dropped one percent despite a two percent population increase. In addition, during Perry’s time as Governor the report indicated prison costs had declined.

      For many, the results speak for themselves and his hard line on crime has won Perry enormous praise. However, his position on the death penalty remains a different matter for many Texans.

      “He has done more good than any other governor we’ve ever had. He approaches criminal justice issues like a lay person rather than like a prosecutor or judge, which makes him open-minded and willing to embarrass the system. Unless, of course, it involves the death penalty,” Jeff L. Blackburn, chief counsel for the Innocence Project of Texas said. “On the death penalty, Rick Perry has a profound mental block.”

      The 2004 execution of Kelsey Patterson is a case that illustrates the complicated question of Perry’s concept of “ultimate justice”. Patterson was sent to death row for the 1992 double murder of a well-liked businessman and his secretary in broad daylight for no apparent reason. After the senseless killing, Patterson ran to a nearby yard and threw off his clothes. Horrified witnesses watched as he stood naked waving his arms and howling freakishly until police arrived.

      Patterson had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and previously deemed incompetent to stand trial for shooting coworkers on 2 separate occasions.

      Despite his serious and obvious mental illness, Perry denied requests to commute his death sentence to life in prison.

      "Death penalty decisions are never easy, and this one is particularly difficult - not only because of the brutal murder of 2 innocent victims of this crime, but also because of Mr. Patterson’s mental and criminal history - including 2 prior charges of attempted murder,” Perry said in a released statement. At that time, a sentence of life without the possibility of parole wasn’t possible in Texas.

      "This defendant is a very violent individual. Texas has no life without parole sentencing option, and no one can guarantee this defendant would never be freed to commit other crimes were his sentence commuted,” Perry stated. “In the interests of justice and public safety, I am denying the defendants request for clemency and a stay."

      The question of the death penalty continues to haunt Texas’ longest-serving Governor. But, has Perry ever lost sleep over presiding over more executions than any governor in U.S. history? When asked the question at a recent Republican presidential debate, Perry remained confident about his stance.

      “I’ve never struggled with that at all. The state of Texas has a very thoughtful, a very clear process in place,” Perry said. “When someone commits the most heinous of crimes against our citizens, they get a fair hearing, they go through an appellate process, they go up to the Supreme Court of the United States if that’s required.”

      Saying the death penalty should be put into effect on a state-by-state basis, Perry again voiced his support for what he has referred to as the “ultimate justice.”

      “In the state of Texas, if you come into our state and you kill one of our children, you kill a police officer, you’re involved with another crime and you kill one of our citizens, you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas, and that is you will be executed.”

      (Source for both: yourhoustonnews.com)


      Nov. 29

      Nearly 400 capital murder convicts get life without parole

      In 6 years, Texas has built a "lifer's row" filled with 398 prisoners who will never be released through parole - a fast-growing group that already has outpaced the number of inmates serving a death sentence in the Lone Star State, a Houston Chronicle analysis of prison records shows.

      Harris County prosecutors, who historically have led the state in seeking death sentences, have so far also been the most aggressive in pursuing capital murder charges and obtaining mandatory life without parole sentences in capital cases.

      Texas became the last of the death penalty states to approve life without parole in September 2005, after Harris County prosecutors dropped their opposition to the change. The law applies only to offenders convicted of capital murder.

      For the first time, it gave jurors and prosecutors a non-death sentence that guaranteed someone convicted of killing a child, killing multiple victims, slaying a police officer or committing another capital crime could not be released on parole.

      In all, 110 Harris County offenders have been sentenced to life without parole since the law took effect, compared with 11 death sentences.

      "Harris County is a tough law and order county on the really bad actors. That hasn't changed," said First Assistant District Attorney James Leitner.

      The change has led to fewer death sentences in Texas and nationwide.

      51 people were sentenced to life without parole in Dallas County. Tarrant County had 26; Bexar County had 22.

      Texas offenders convicted of capital murder were 6 times more often sentenced to life without parole than to death: 66 people got death sentences compared with the 398 lifers. The life without parole law has been used in about one third of all Texas counties at least once, the Chronicle's analysis of state prison records shows.

      Recent sentences

      Nationally, it's viewed as a less expensive option that offers the benefit of being reversible - unlike a death sentence - if innocence evidence or other information becomes available after the fact, said Richard Dieter, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

      "Texas is certainly down, and life without parole is definitely playing a role there," Dieter said. "And other states have found that as well."

      One of the most recent no-parole sentences went to former Houston Fifth Ward Pastor Tracy Bernard "T.B." Burleson, 44, convicted earlier this year of persuading his 21-year-old son to shoot his 56-year-old wife, Pauletta, May 18, 2010.

      "He could have been injected, but they gave him life, and I'm satisfied with that … I know I can't bring my sister back. But he's going to have ample time where he's going to think about what he did," said Fannie J. Aaron, the victim's sister. "And that's a lifetime. He won't be able to get out and take someone else's life."

      In August, Omar Javier Torres, arrested in North Carolina after 2 years on the lam, received a life without parole sentence for breaking into his ex-girlfriend's apartment and shooting her boyfriend.

      The no-parole option has been most controversial when used against juveniles; the U.S. Supreme Court last year issued a ruling in Graham v. Florida that banned the sentences for youths convicted of non-homicide offenses. Other appeals are pending.

      Juvenile offenders

      From September 2005 to September 2009, Texas allowed life without parole prison sentences for juvenile offenders who had been certified to stand trial as adults. The law was subsequently changed to bar such punishment. By then, 21 people sentenced for crimes they committed before age 18 had been sentenced, including 8 from Harris County.

      Chris Joshua Meadoux, the only juvenile offender serving life without parole from San Antonio, was convicted of killing 2 friends when he was 16.

      Meadoux appealed his no-parole sentence to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, arguing that "juveniles are unfinished creatures whom we cannot label as irretrievably depraved." He lost the appeal in November 2010.

      17 women are serving life without parole. 2 were juvenile offenders. One is Ashley Ervin, a former Harris County area honor student sentenced for her role at 17 as the driver for a murderous robbery ring led by older males.

      Minority groups

      Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit critical of the national explosion in such sentences, argued the offenders are more likely to come from impoverished minority groups who sometimes get unfairly targeted by police.

      "We see that around the country that the race differences in life sentences are generally more extreme," he said.

      So far in Texas, 76% of the state's "lifers" are minorities, compared with 70% of death row inmates.

      (Source: Houston Chronicle)


      Nov. 25


      I’M IN HELL ON DEATH ROW BUT I DIDN’T KILL ANYONE...

      The 1st British woman to face the death penalty in 50 years has spoken from a Texan jail cell to insist she is innocent and her life is a living “hell”.

      Grandmother Linda Carty, 53, has been on death row for 10 years after being found guilty in a circumstantial case of kidnapping and murdering a mother to steal her newborn baby.

      Human rights groups and a raft of celebrity supporters have blasted her defence lawyer, claiming his handling of the case was shambolic.

      There was no forensic evidence linking her with the abduction and the men who carried out the crime, who claimed they were acting on her orders, only confessed to doing so after making a deal to serve lesser sentences themselves if they blamed Carty.

      The poor track record of her defence lawyer Jerry Guerinot – 20 people he has represented have ended up on death row – has led him to be dubbed “undertaker for the state of Texas”.

      Yet all Carty’s appeals have failed, meaning that at any moment a judge could sign her death warrant leaving her 90 days before a lethal injection.

      Her plight will feature in a TV documentary this month by filmmaker Steve Humphries. He travelled to Mountain View prison in Gatesville, Texas, to hear Carty’s story. From behind the jail’s razor wire, she said: “I know nothing about this murder, nothing about an abduction, I don’t even know the victim.

      This is the pettiest place I’ve been in. The people hate you for being different. It’s hell, hell.”

      Carty was convicted for the kidnap and murder of Mexican-born Joana Rodriguez in Houston in 2001. The 25-year-old was found bound, gagged and suffocated in the boot of a car while her 4-day old son was found uninjured in another. Both vehicles were either used by or belonged to Carty.

      The kidnappers said she was desperate to steal the baby to raise as her own. Police also found a pushchair, baby clothes, a baby bed and a baby bath in one car. They said scissors found in her bag would have been used to cut the baby from Rodriguez’s womb had she not already given birth.

      Carty denies it all and insists she lent the cars to 2 men, Oscar and Chris, who used them without her knowledge in a botched robbery on the Rodriguez home on May 16.

      At her trial, she said Guerinot did not even speak to her. Nor did he contact the British government, which he was supposed to under international law, because she was entitled to consular support having been born on the Caribbean island of St Kitts when it was under British rule in 1958.

      She said: “How would you feel if your trial attorney never spoke to you, never addressed you by your correct name and lied and said he had to bribe me with chocolate to get a conversation going with me when I’m allergic to chocolate?” Paul Lynch, British consul general in Houston, Texas, admitted: “It is a terrible failure of the system and all I can say is that the authorities have changed the system so that it won’t happen again. But that’s too late for Linda Carty.”

      Carty’s last hope lies with Michael Goldberg, of global law firm Baker Botts, who has taken up her case for free. He said: “If you throw out the criminals’ testimony, what does the state have? The state has nothing.” Also in her corner are celebrities including Bianca Jagger.

      Guerinot did little to even uncover circumstances that could be used in mitigation. Had he used the funds he was given to fly to St Kitts he would have discovered that Carty was raised in a well-off religious family and worked as a teacher, but was forced to leave when she gave birth to a daughter as an unmarried mother in 1982.

      In America she attended college while caring for her daughter, Jovelle. When she fell pregnant again after being raped, her life started to unravel. She put the baby up for adoption, but then fell into a series of troubled relationships. One was with a drugs kingpin, which led to her working undercover for the Drug Enforcement Agency.

      In her last relationship, she suffered 2 miscarriages, which supporters say may explain the baby paraphernalia in her car. Jovelle, now a mother of 2 boys, said: “My fears are that they’ll win and my mom won’t come home.”

      Carty no longer fears death but says: “If I have to die, I pray that my family, especially my mother and daughter, will not look and not feel ashamed. It isn’t because I am guilty, it’s because the state of Texas has failed and failed me badly.”

      The last woman in Britain to be executed was murderess Ruth Ellis in 1955.

      (Source: Daily Mail)


      Nov. 22

      Death Row Author Draws Ire of Some
      Is it free speech or a legal loophole?

      An inmate on Texas death row has written a book of poetry and essays. The book, published a month ago, is called "Witness To Murder."

      Its author, Tony Medina, is awaiting execution for his role in a southwest Houston drive-by shooting that killed two children, almost 16 years ago.

      Texas has laws that are intended to prevent criminals from cashing in. But it's not clear Medina's book violates those laws.

      "It doesn't look like there's any policies and certainly no statutes to prevent Medina or any other death row inmate (from) publish(ing) a book," says Houston Victim Advocate Andy Kahan.

      The Texas prison system can only step in if Medina's book is considered a "business." That is, if it's making money for him.

      "We have flagged this offender's account," says Jason Clark with the Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice. "And we're going to be looking at his trust fund account to see if there were unusual deposits being made."

      When asked by FOX 26 News about account activity so far, Clark replied, "It does not appear that there are any unusual deposits."

      The book's Britain-based publisher, Peter Bellamy, says “Witness To Murder” sold nine copies in its first two weeks of availability.

      "No profits are directly funded to Tony, but come to me in the UK," says Bellamy. "As a supporter, I may choose to increase my donations to his defense fund if I choose, but on the basis of 9 sales, and little prospect of the book ever reaching best seller status, the question is entirely academic."

      Not to Andy Kahan, it isn't.

      "Whether it's one copy, hundreds or thousands of copies, it's irrelevant," says Kahan. "Basically you're looking at constituting what i would consider to be blood money."

      Bellamy insists his author is innocent. Tony Medina claims he was framed by fellow gang members and then sandbagged by incompetent attorneys.

      So far, the courts have not seen things that way.

      (Source: myfoxhouston.com)


      Nov. 4

      Death Row Inmate Dies
      Natural Causes Catches Death Row Inmate Before Execution

      Texas prison officials have announced the death of a death row inmate who had been getting treatment at a psychiatric unit since 2010.

      John Selvage died late Wednesday after he was found unresponsive earlier in the day in his cell at the Jester IV Unit near Richmond, about 30 miles southwest of Houston.

      Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark said Thursday that an autopsy will be performed to determine what caused the 61-year-old’s death.

      Selvage was sentenced to death for killing Harris County sheriff’s Deputy Albert Garza during a July 1979 Houston jewelry store robbery. He had faced lethal injection at least 5 times, but won stays each time.

      Selvage’s attorneys argued that he was mentally retarded and his death sentence was unconstitutional.

      (Source: Associated Press)


      Oct. 23

      Hundreds gather to stop the death penalty

      The State Capitol hosted another event in downtown Austin with a more serious tone this weekend.

      Led by 25 death row survivors, hundreds gathered Saturday afternoon for the annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty.

      Beginning with a street march, they ended up at the Capitol listening to speeches on why the death penalty should be stopped.

      Texas, along with 34 other states, currently allow capital punishment. Those marching want it stopped because the killing of one Innocent person is too much.

      "There's 139 former death row inmates that have been exonerated in the United States," said Kirk Bloodsworth, who was exonerated from death row. "That means actual innocence, and the truth is, if it can happen to me, an honorable discharged marine with no criminal record or history, it can happen to anybody."

      Texas leads all states in the U.S. in capital punishment since a Supreme Court ruling allowed it in 1976.

      Those in favor of it say that capital punishment deters crime, cuts down on prison costs and it's equal retribution against someone convicted in a crime.

      (Source: KVUE News)


      Oct. 23

      Exonerated death row inmates urge Perry to end executions in Texas

      In an emotional series of speeches on the steps of the state Capitol, about 2 dozen freed death row inmates from across the nation on Saturday called on Texas and Gov. Rick Perry to end the state's death penalty.

      "If I had been in the state of Texas, I'd be dead right now," said Derrick Jamison, who spent nearly two decades on Ohio's death row before his murder conviction was overturned because prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence.

      "I have to come here and speak out about the death penalty, because not another person should die at the hands of the government," Jamison said afterward. "You can't bring them back from the grave if you make a mistake."

      The exonerated inmates then joined a few hundred supporters and death penalty abolitionists for Austin's 12th annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty. As part of their march through downtown, protesters stopped at the Governor's Mansion, where they called on Perry to return home from the presidential campaign trail and "do what's right."

      Lily Hughes, with the Austin chapter of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, said Perry's presidential bid was an opportunity for death penalty opponents. "The national spotlight is once again on Texas," she said. "If we succeed here, the national abolition of the death penalty can't follow far behind."

      Texas leads the nation in the number of executed inmates with 475 since the state re-enacted its death penalty in 1974, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Of the 136 inmates freed from the nation's death rows since 1973, 12 were from Texas, according to the center.

      Many in the crowd carried mock Perry/Willingham campaign signs, a reference to Cameron Todd Willingham, a Corsicana man who was executed in 2004. In April, the Texas Forensic Science Commission determined that fire investigators, including a deputy fire marshal, relied on scientifically invalid techniques to rule that Willingham intentionally set fire to his Corsicana home, killing his 3 young daughters.

      The exonerated death row inmates, many of whom are touring the country to rally support for the abolition movement, sounded a consistent note as they addressed the crowd. "I'm here to tell you that if I had been in the state of Texas, I would not have been here. I would have been dead," said Juan Roberto Melendez, who spent more than 17 years on Florida's death row before being released in 2002.

      Ray Krone was sentenced to die in Arizona, but he was released in 2002 after DNA testing determine someone else committed the killing for which he was convicted. "Thank God for DNA, and thank God it wasn't in Texas," he said.

      (Source: Austin American-Statesman)


      Oct. 22

      20 Death Row Exonerees to Lead 12th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty

      The 12th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty will be held Saturday, October 22nd, 2011 at the Texas Capitol at 2 PM (on the north side of the capitol). A rally will begin at 2 PM followed by a march through the streets of downtown Austin at 3.

      The march will be led by 20 death row survivors who each spent many years on death rows around the U.S. despite being innocent. The 20 exonerees are coming to Texas as members of Witness to Innocence. Some of the exonerees are in Texas for a speaking tour across the state and all of them will be in Austin for the Witness to Innocence "Gathering" from October 20-23. Witness to Innocence is the nation's only organization composed of, by and for exonerated death row survivors and their loved ones.

      Many people at the rally and march will carry signs that say "Perry/Willingham 2012" to suggest that if Rick Perry becomes president of the U.S., it will be over the dead body of a person whose execution Perry allowed even though he was given information before the execution discrediting the forensic science used to convict Todd Willingham. After Willingham's execution, Perry abused his power as governor to interfere with the investigation of a governmental body into the Willingham case. Rick Perry's actions regarding Todd Willingham raise serious questions about Perry's character and judgement. Perry is not ethically qualified to be president of the United States.

      One of the signs marchers will carry is below:

      From Todd Willingham

      Before his execution, Todd Willingham told his parents,"Please don't ever stop fighting to vindicate me."

      Before his execution, Troy Davis told his supporters in a letter,"There are so many more Troy Davises. This fight to end the death penalty is not won or lost through me but through our strength to move forward and save every innocent person in captivity around the globe. We need to dismantle this unjust system city by city,state by state and country by country."

      Texas has executed 475 people since 1982 (as of Oct 16, 2011). Under current Texas Governor Rick Perry, 236 people have been executed, including some with a strong case of innocence. 12 people have been exonerated while on death row in Texas, the most recent being Anthony Graves in 2010. Since 1976, there have been 138 death row exonerations in the United States.

      A recent CNN poll showed that when given a choice of sentences between life in prison without parole or the death penalty for the crime of murder, more Americans (50%) would opt for the life sentence than for death (48%).

      "We will be urging all Texans to join us at the March to Abolish the Death Penalty on October 22 in Austin", said Ron Keine, formerly on death row in New Mexico.

      "As they see what the death penalty really means, in my case and others, more and more Texans believe that Texas can do without the death penalty," said exonerated death row survivor Clarence Brandley, from Conroe, Texas, who has been fighting for compensation from the state of Texas for over 20 years.

      Each October since 2000, people from all walks of life and all parts of Texas, the U.S. and other countries have taken a day out of their year and gathered in Austin to raise their voices together and loudly express their opposition to the death penalty. The march is a coming together of activists, family members of people on death row, community leaders, exonerated former death row prisoners and all those calling for repeal of the Texas death penalty.

      The annual march is organized as a joint project by several Texas anti-death penalty organizations and their allies: Texas Moratorium Network, the Austin chapter of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, Texas Students Against the Death Penalty, Witness to Innocence, Journey of Hope ... From Violence to Healing, Texas Civil Rights Project, International Socialist Organization, Amnesty International at The University of Texas, Kids Against the Death Penalty, The Austin Chronicle, NOKOA, Gray Panthers and Democrats for Life.

      (Source: Burnt Orange Report)


      Oct. 17

      Wrongfully convicted men talk about death row

      Former death row inmates made a visit to the UH Law Center to speak with students about the challenges of wrongful convictions and what it was like to be on death row for a crime they did not commit.

      “Witness to Innocence,” a program founded in 2005 by exonerated death row inmates, aims to change perceptions and put an end to the death penalty by placing Americans face to face with those who have lived through the sentence.

      “We are here to educate; we plant seeds” said Ron Kleine, assistant director of the program.

      “We’ve single-handedly stopped the death penalty in Wisconsin, and we ended it in New Mexico with the help of a lot of other people because we can’t do this alone.”

      Kleine and 3 of his friends spent 2 years on death row in New Mexico for the 1974 kidnapping and killing of William Velten, a student at the University of New Mexico.

      “When we got arrested, we basically were given this attorney (who) walked up to us at arraignment and said, ‘Hi, I’m your attorney. We can make a deal with you—if you confess, we’ll get you life without parole.’”

      What Kleine and his friends did not know was that the whole thing was a cover-up for a cop. Kleine said that the prosecution went so far as to pay one witness, a doctor, $50,000 to testify, though he later admitted to lying. A hotel maid was also bribed to testify against the men.

      10 days before Kleine was scheduled to be executed in New Mexico’s gas chamber, another man confessed to the killing.

      In addition to putting an end to the death penalty, “Witness to Innocence” also helps exonerees readjust to civilian life once they are released from prison. Even though they have been exonerated, many of these people struggle to find jobs because most employers only pay attention to the word “murder.” About 15 percent of funds raised by the program go toward helping members struggling with unemployment.

      “This is the problem with a lot of people who are out on exoneration — there’s nothing for them there,” said Kleine. “If you went to prison for a crime that you did, you get out on parole. You have a parole officer to make sure you can get a job, housing, a way to feed yourself — we don’t have that. I couldn’t even get a job at McDonald’s.”

      (Source: The (Univ. Houston) Daily Cougar)


      Oct. 15

      The last testimony: The final words of Texas death row prisoners

      In the state of Texas, condemned prisoners can deliver a final statement.

      Since 1982, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has executed 475 death-row prisoners by lethal injection.

      Before they died, each prisoner had the chance to eat a final meal of their choosing (a right which last month was deemed not inalienable, and removed), and to speak their last words in the form of a recorded statement. A final testimony may be a tradition inherited from Britain, but freedom of speech is a concept as hardwired into the American constitution as the right to bear arms.

      Approximately seven minutes after delivering their statement, the speaker is dead, so these words are their arsenal: a last opportunity for the convict to give the world their view on the crime, often horrific, and usually committed many years before.

      Most of the statements, says Robert K Elder, author of Last Words of the Executed, conform in some way with the 'five stages of grief' theory: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. And whether there is remorse for the victims or not, there will be grief for the actions that have brought them to their own point of death. "I would like to tell my Uncle Kyle that I am sorry," the 29-year-old convict Carlton Turner said in 2008. "I have been sorry for the last 10 years for what I did. I wish you could accept my apology... I know you can't give your forgiveness..."

      Few statements are long, but all are glimpses of much bigger stories. Some are apologies, flat acknowledgements of actions regretted, deeds unchangeable, the powerlessness to gather back a darkness unleashed. Many show a fractured character: a murderer, yet a caring husband; a killer, but a father who loves his children. "I wish I could... change it, but I know I can't," John Alba says in May 2010. He had murdered his wife nine years before, shooting her repeatedly with a pistol. He thanks his children for their support, praises them for turning into good adults, sends his grandchildren a kiss from their "Papa".

      And, of course, many find faith on death row. This new belief is often spoken of, too, as fervent as a childlike prayer for sleep at bedtime, as the clock ticks towards the end of life in this realm.

      Name: Steven Woods
      Executed: 13 September 2011
      Age at the time of offence: 21
      Age when executed: 31
      Offence: Woods and a co-defendant killed a 21-year-old white male and a 19-year-old white female victim with shots to the head and by cutting their throats.
      "You're not about to witness an execution, you are about to witness a murder. I am strapped down for something Marcus Rhodes did. I never killed anybody, ever. I love you, Mom. I love you, Tali. This is wrong. This whole thing is wrong. I can't believe you are going to let Marcus Rhodes walk around free. Justice has let me down. Somebody completely screwed this up. I love you too, Mom. Well Warden, if you are going to murder someone, go ahead and do it. Pull the trigger. It's coming. I can feel it coming. Goodbye."

      Name: Humberto Leal Jr
      Executed: 7 July 2011
      Age when executed: 38
      Age at the time of offence: 21
      Offence: Rape and murder of a 16-year-old
      "I am sorry for everything that I have done. I've hurt a lot of people... Lord Jesus Christ in my life, I know He has forgiven me, I have accepted His forgiveness. I have accepted everything. Let this be final and be done. I take the full blame for this. I am sorry and forgive me. I am truly sorry. I ask for forgiveness. Life goes on and it surely does. I am sorry for the victim's family for what I had did. May they forgive me. I don't know if you believe me, life goes on... Life goes on, it surely does. I ask for forgiveness. I am truly sorry. That is all. Let's get this show on the road. One more thing, Viva Mexico, Viva Mexico."

      Name: Michael Perry
      Executed: 1 July 2010
      Age at the time of offence: 19
      Age when executed: 28
      Offence: Perry and a co-defendant fatally shot a 50-year-old white female, a 17-year-old white male and and 18-year-old white male.
      "... I want to start off by saying to everyone know that's involved in this atrocity that they are all forgiven by me. Mom, I love you... (crying) I am ready to go Warden. Coming home dad, coming home dad."

      Name: Cary D Kerr
      Executed: 3 May 2011
      Age at the time of offence: 36
      Age when executed: 46
      Offence: Kerr sexually assaulted a 34-year-old white female, strangled her, then pushed her out of a moving vehicle, resulting in her death.
      "... Tell my sister Tracey, I love you. Nicole, thank you and I love you. Wanda and all of my friends, I love you and thank you for your support. To the State of Texas, I am an innocent man. Never trust a court-appointed attorney. I am ready Warden. Thank you, Brad, I'm sorry. Check that DNA, check Scott. Here we go. Lord Jesus, Jesus."

      Name: Karla Faye Tucker
      Executed: 3 February 1998
      Age at the time of offence: 23
      Age when executed: 38
      Offence: with an accomplice, slayed two people with a pickaxe. The bodies of both victims had more than 20 puncture or stab wounds
      "Yes sir, I would like to say to all of you – the Thornton family and Jerry Dean's family that I am so sorry. I hope God will give you peace with this. Baby, I love you. Ron, give Peggy a hug for me. Everybody has been so good to me. I love all of you very much. I am going to be face to face with Jesus now. Warden Baggett, thank all of you so much. You have been so good to me. I love all of you very much. I will see you all when you get there. I will wait for you."

      Name: Reginald Blanton
      Executed: 27 October 2009
      Age at the time of offence: 18
      Age when executed: 28
      Offence: Blanton and one co-defendant shot and killed a 20-year-old Hispanic male in his apartment. Blanton took jewellery from the victim which was later pawned for $79.
      "I know ya'lls pain, believe me I shed plenty of tears behind Carlos. Carlos was my friend. I didn't murder him... what is happening right now is an injustice. This doesn't solve anything. This will not bring back Carlos. Ya'll fought real hard here to prove my innocence. This is only the beginning. I love each and everyone dearly... They are fixing to pump my veins with a lethal drug the American Veterinary Association won't even allow to be used on dogs. I say I am worse off than a dog. They want to kill me for this; I am not the man that did this. Fight on. I will see ya'll again..."

      Name: Terry Lee Hankins
      Executed: 2 June 2009
      Age at the time of offence: 26
      Age when executed: 34
      Offence: Hankins shot his 34-year-old wife in the head while she was sleeping, resulting in her death. The next day, Hankins shot and killed his 10- and 12-year-old stepchildren in the same manner. After his arrest, Hankins told authorities where to find the bodies of his 55-year-old father and his 20-year-old sister, whom he murdered in 2000.
      "Yes, I am sorry for what I've done and for all of the pain and suffering that my actions have caused. Jesus is Lord. All glory to God."

      Name: Dale Devon Scheanette
      Executed: 10 February 2009
      Age at the time of offence: 23
      Age when executed: 35
      Offence: Scheanette sexually assaulted and strangled a 22-year-old black female.
      "Is the mic on? My only statement is that no cases ever tried have been error free. Those are my words. No cases are error free. You may proceed Warden."

      Name: David Martinez
      Executed: 4 February 2009
      Age at the time of offence: 22
      Age when executed: 36
      Offence: killed girlfriend and her 14-year-old son with a baseball bat, let her 10-year-old daughter run away. No motive offered.
      "... Nothing I can say can change the past. I am asking for forgiveness. Saying sorry is not going to change anything. I hope one day you can find peace. I am sorry for all of the pain that I have caused you for all those years... I can't change the past. I hope you find peace and know that I love you. I am sorry. I am sorry and I can't change it."

      Name: Virgil Euristi Martinez
      Executed: 28 January 2009
      Age when executed: 41
      Age at the time of offence: 28
      Offence: Martinez fatally shot a 27-year-old Hispanic female, her two young children, and an 18-year-old Hispanic male.
      "... First, Veronica's sister. I know what you've been told and that's all a lie. John Gomez killed your kids and sister. I know ya'll love John Gomez but he was a violent man. I wish I would have shot him in the leg, then he would be here. Those investigators were just trying to convict somebody."

      Name: Gregory Wright
      Executed: 30 October 2008
      Age at the time of offence: 31
      Age when executed: 42
      Offence: Wright broke into the home of a white female and stabbed her with a knife, causing her death. Wright took many items from the home and left the scene in the victim's vehicle.
      "... John Adams lied...He made deals and sold stuff to keep from going to prison... John Adams is the one that killed Donna Vick. I took a polygraph and passed. John Adams never volunteered to take one. I have done everything in my power. Donna Vick helped me; she took me off the street... Donna gave me everything I could ask for. I helped her around the yard. I helped her around the house. She asked if there were anyone else to help. I am a Christian myself, so I told her about John Adam. We picked him up at a dope house. I did not know he was a career criminal... I was in the bathroom when he attacked. I am deaf in one ear and I thought the TV was up too loud. I ran in to the bedroom. By the time I came in, when I tried to help her, with first aid, it was too late. The veins were cut on her throat. He stabbed her in her heart, and that's what killed her. I told John Adams, 'Turn yourself in or hit the high road'. I owed him a favour because he pulled someone off my back... Two or three days later he turned on me. I have done everything to prove my innocence. Before you is an innocent man. I love my family. I'll be waiting on ya'll..."

      Name: Michael Rodriguez
      Executed: 14 August 2008
      Age at the time of offence: 40
      Age when executed: 40
      Offence: While on escape from TDCJ [prison], Rodriguez and six co-defendants robbed a sporting-goods store at gunpoint; a police officer was murdered as the co-defendants left the scene.
      "... I know this no way makes up for all the pain and suffering I gave you. I am so so sorry. My punishment is nothing compared to the pain and sorrow I have caused... I am not strong enough to ask for forgiveness... I realise what I've done to you and the pain I've given. Please Lord forgive me. I have done some horrible things. I ask the Lord to please forgive me. I have gained nothing, but just brought sorrow and pain to these wonderful people. I am sorry. So so sorry... Father God I ask you too for forgiveness. I ask you for forgiveness Lord. I am ready to go Lord..."

      Name: Carlton Akee Turner
      Executed: 10 July 2008
      Age at the time of offence: 19
      Age when executed: 29
      Offence: Turner fatally shot his adoptive parents whose bodies were discovered in their garage.
      "First of all I would like to tell my Uncle Kyle that I am sorry. I have been sorry for the last 10 years for what I did. I wish you could accept my apology. I know you can't accept my apology, I know you can't give your forgiveness; it's OK and I understand... I have done what I could to heal the rest of the family... I know I was wrong; I accept responsibility as a man. I take this penalty as a man. This doesn't solve anything, 'cause it hurts others that love me. I am sorry. I love you Kjersti. I love you too Roland. I love you too Uncle Kyle; I am still your nephew, no matter what you believe."

      Name: Mark Stroman
      Executed: 20 July 2011
      Age at the time of offence: 31
      Age when executed: 42
      Offence: Stroman murdered a 49-year-old Middle Eastern male convenience store employee during an attempted robbery.
      "Even though I lay on this gurney, seconds away from my death, I am at total peace. May the Lord Jesus Christ be with me. I am at peace. Hate is going on in this world and it has to stop. Hate causes a lifetime of pain. Even though I lay here I am still at peace. I am still a proud American, Texas loud, Texas proud. God bless America, God bless everyone... it's been a great honour. I feel it; I am going to sleep now. Goodnight, 1, 2 there it goes."

      Name: Milton Wuzael Mathis
      Executed: 21 June 2011
      Age at the time of offence: 19
      Age when executed: 32
      Offence: Mathis shot three victims in the head with a .45 caliber pistol at a known drug house in Fort Bend County, Texas. One of the victims, a 15-year-old Hispanic female, survived the shooting, paralysed from the chest down.
      "...To all my supporters, family and friends; I love y'all and appreciate y'all. To the ones representing me today, thank you for everything. The system has failed me. This is a miscarriage of justice. There are people on death row that need help. I love my family. I love you too, Mom... I asked the Lord to have mercy on me and I hope He has mercy on these people carrying out this mass slaughter. They have no respect for humanity. To Melanie, I never meant to hurt you. You were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I am not asking for your forgiveness... I hope you get better and for the doctors to continue to take care of you. Take care of my mother for me..."

      Name: Lee Taylor
      Executed: 16 June 2011
      Age at the time of offence: 20
      Age when executed: 32
      Offence: in a prison dayroom, Taylor, a member of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, fatally stabbed a black male offender multiple times with an 8" home-made weapon.
      "... Jennifer, I love you. Mom, I love you. Rick, take care of you. For all of you people, I defended myself when I killed your family member. Prison is a bad place. There was eight against me. I didn't set out to kill him. I am sorry that I killed him, but he would not have been in prison if he was a saint... I hope people understand the grave injustice by the state. There are 300 people on death row, and everyone is not a monster. Texas is carrying out a very inhumane injustice. It's not right to kill anybody just because I killed your people. Everyone changes, right? Life is about experience and people change... I hope you don't find satisfaction in this, watching a human being die."

      Name: Michael Wayne Hall
      Executed: 15 February 2011
      Age at the time of offence: 18
      Age when executed: 31
      Offence: Hall and one co-defendant abducted a 19-year-old white female from a public street and drove her to a remote location where they shot her several times. They were caught at the border attempting to leave the state.
      "First of all I would like to give my sincere apology to Amy's family. We caused a lot of heartache, grief, pain and suffering, and I am sorry. I know it won't bring her back. I would like to sing, I would like to sing for that person's dead... As for my family, I am sorry I let you down. I caused a lot of heartache, and I ask for your forgiveness. I am not crying for myself, I am crying for... those that don't know God and have never been set free. I've been locked up 13 years. I am not locked up inside... Here I am a big strong youngster, crying like a baby. I am man enough to show my emotions and I am sorry. I am sorry for everything. I wish I could take it back, but I can't."

      Name: Larry Wooten
      Executed: 21 October 2010
      Age at the time of offence: 37
      Age when executed: 51
      Offence: Wooten murdered an 80-year-old black male and his 86-year-old wife. Wooten stabbed the victims and cut their throats. Wooten then robbed the couple of $500-600 in cash.
      "No sir. Warden, Since I don't have nothing to say, you can go ahead and send me to my Heavenly Father."

      Name: John Alba
      Executed: 25 May 2010
      Age at the time of offence: 36
      Age when executed: 54
      Offence: killed his wife, Wendy Alba, when she was aged 28
      "... First I want to tell the victim's family, Wendy's family, I am sorry for taking something so precious to you and to my kids. I wish I could take it all back and change it, but I know I can't... Sabrina, you are a wonderful daughter, I am proud of you. Jr., John, you turned out to be a great young man. Hector, you too. Amy, thank you for always being there... To my family, I appreciate you always standing by me and everything ya'll have done. Tell, everyone I love them. I'll be OK. You will too. Remember what asked you. Give my love to the grandchildren. Tell Jake and Mia, Papa Alba loves them... OK Warden, let's do it, I love y'all. I can taste it already. I am starting to go."

      Name: James Edward Martinez
      Executed: 10 March 2009
      Age at the time of offence: 26
      Age when executed: 34
      Offence: Martinez fired 20 shots into the victims' vehicle, resulting in the death of a 20-year-old white male and 29-year-old white female.
      "Yes sir, I want to tell my Mom that I love her and thank her for everything that she has done for me. Tell my sister that I love her too thank her for everything that she has done for me. I hope you can move on after this. I'll be fine. I'll be OK. I love you too. I love you too. Take care OK. That's all I have to say Warden. Thank you sir."

      All final statements taken from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice
      To view all death row inmates last statement click Here.

      (Source: The Independent)


      Oct. 2

      Is the death penalty about to die?----Millions of dollars wasted on capital punishment in Texas.

      In 2003 there were 28 death sentences handed down in Texas, and last year, only eight. Harris County, which accounts for more than 100 of the 314 people on death row, saw no new death sentences in 2008 or 2009 and only two in 2010.

      Bexar County has seen only three death sentences since 2007.

      It looks like Texas is having second thoughts about death sentences, and executions.

      In 2010, Texas carried out 17 lethal injections, the fewest since 2001. Texas isn’t about to abolish the death penalty, but it may be starting to move away from its infamous grip on the death penalty.

      There are 3 factors afoot:

      There is mounting concern about the execution of innocent people. No one wants to see an innocent person executed. With 12 individuals exonerated and freed from Texas’ death row since 1987, we know the system isn’t faultless.

      Has Texas actually executed an innocent person? No one knows for certain, but death penalty scholars point to 3 executed prisoners who had credible claims of innocence: Cameron Todd Willingham, Ruben Cantu, and Carlos De Luna.

      The Texas Forensic Science Commission’s April 15 report did not address Willingham’s actual guilt or innocence in the Corsicana house fire that killed his 3 daughters. However, 9 fire experts who reviewed his case concluded there was no evidence of arson.

      Investigative reporting by the Chicago Tribune on the De Luna case and by the Express-News and Houston Chronicle in 2006 on Cantu threw considerable doubt on the actual guilt of both men. It is immoral to have executed an innocent one.

      The financial costs of the death penalty are staggering. Fiscal conservatives question whether it is worth the price. The cost of a capital trial, the appeals process, time on death row and the execution itself cost an estimated $2.3 million in 1992, according to the Dallas Morning News. In today’s dollars, that would be more than $3.6 million.

      In short, millions of dollars are wasted on a capital sentencing system in Texas. The money could be much better spent on improving policing functions, expanding restitution programs and developing more drug treatment programs — all of which would do far more to enhance public safety than having a death penalty.

      Finally, there is an alternative to the death penalty — a sentencing option that Texas lawmakers adopted in 2005: life without parole. In 2010, Texas juries handed down three life-without-parole sentences in capital cases. The point is, juries don’t have to hand out death sentences.

      Texas may be the death penalty capital of the United States, but, even here, the tide may be starting to turn.

      (Source: Roger C. Barnes chairs the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at the University of the Incarnate Word)


      Sept. 30

      Former Death Row Chef Says Leave Last Meal Alone

      Amid the east Texas thicket on the shore of Houston County Lake, you will find a cafe and a kitchen run by the reluctant holder of a not-likely-to-be broken record.

      "I worked on 218 executions, prepared the last meals on 189 of those," former Texas inmate and death row chef Brian Price said.

      Long before Price and wife Nita opened the Way Station Cafe to the good folks around Crockett, he spent a decade focusing his considerable culinary skill on a much different clientele: the kind of diners who wouldn't be coming around for seconds.

      When other convict cooks dodged the duty, Brian discovered "a calling" and endeavored to deliver the condemned "Meals to Die For".

      Brian recalls the first review from a death row diner.

      "Hey Price, that guy that they killed last night sent a word of thanks back to you. Told the chaplain to thank you. He really enjoyed that."

      “Well that blew me away," Price said.

      While crafting burgers and chicken fried steaks at the Way Station, he recalled the intense burden carried by those charged with delivering state-sanctioned death.

      He says what frequently emerged behind death row walls were small measures of Christian compassion that often tempered a final and fatal reckoning.

      "Magically, I'd be about to prepare the meal and someone would hand me a bag of shrimp, 'Here, just don't tell anyone where you got it'," he said.

      Faith filled, happily married and free after completing his own 14-year stretch for assault, Brian Price wants his old job back.

      That's because the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has terminated the tradition of delivering a requested last meal, borne from the outrage of State Senator John Whitmire who was angered by the eight course supper that reportedly went untouched by executed murderer Lawrence Russell Brewer.

      "I think it's real hypocritical for the state of Texas to give someone the death penalty and then treat them like a celebrity just short of execution," Whitmire said.

      Price calls Whitmire’s action politically opportunistic and mean-spirited.

      "Let’s let the people vote on this. I don't think any one or two persons should have that type of power and if they do have that type of power, I see this as an abuse of it," he said. "Senator Whitmire, what if it was your son on that death gurney?"

      In the meantime Price, owner of the Way Station café, is offering to prepare and deliver, at no expense to taxpayers, any and all last meal requests made by the condemned men and women currently sitting on the Lone Star State's crowded death row.

      Why?

      "That old saying what would Jesus do? I believe this is just what he would do. Justice is being rendered; let’s not take it any further than that. A last meal requested by a condemned person, why not?" he said.

      The way he sees it: even in a state so thoroughly committed to an eye for an eye, killing and kindness shouldn't be mutually exclusive.

      (Source: myfoxhouston.com)


      Sept. 28, 2011

      The condemned in Texas can no longer choose their last meal

      On September 21st Lawrence Russell Brewer ordered up a feast: 2 chicken-fried steaks smothered in gravy, a supersized cheeseburger, an omelette, fried okra, fajitas, a pizza, a pound of barbecue, half a loaf of bread, and, for pudding, ice cream and fudge with peanuts on top.

      But when it arrived, he decided not to eat any of it. He may well not have been hungry. Mr Brewer, a white supremacist, was about to be executed for a murder committed in 1998, when he and two other men tortured a black man, James Byrd Jr, and dragged him to death behind a truck. It was one of the most notorious crimes in modern Texas history, and one that had already changed the law; in 2001 Rick Perry, the newly inaugurated governor, signed a bill mandating stricter penalties for hate crimes.

      Now Mr Brewer’s final request has brought another change to Texas justice. On September 22nd John Whitmire, a state senator from Houston, sent an angry letter to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. “Enough is enough,” he wrote; such privileges are “ridiculous”. The department’s director agreed, and announced that from now on all prisoners will get the same meal.

      The last meal has always been a strange aspect of executions. Eating is for people with a future. Some offenders resist the irony, and request nothing but a glass of water. But most accept some final comfort. And in reading their requests the bathos of the ultimate penalty is impossible to ignore. People facing execution want sugar, salt, fat, and phosphates—fried chicken, ribs, hamburgers, ice cream, pie, pop.

      This move by Texas comes at a time when many people are a little queasy about the death penalty anyway. Nearly two-thirds of Americans support capital punishment; but many of them were horrified during a Republican presidential debate last month, when the audience cheered the fact that Mr Perry had then presided over 234 executions as governor of Texas (Mr Brewer made the 236th).

      And last week hundreds of people protested outside a Georgia prison as that state executed a man, Troy Davis, who was convicted on testimony that was later recanted. Will American support for the death penalty soften as a result of any of this? As the Brewer case makes clear, the death penalty is a sickening business. The grim theatrics of an execution debase the executioner. But capital crimes are also repulsive. And so hopes for abolition are probably still unrealistic.

      (Source: The Economist)


      Sept. 23, 2011

      Death Penalty No Longer Includes a Last Meal in Texas

      Texas may lead the U.S. in executing criminals, but that doesn't mean the condemned are getting cushy treatment: Texas prison officials have halted the practice of letting death row inmates choose their last meal.

      Texas state Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, was apparently incensed that Lawrence Russell Brewer, a white supremacist who was executed Wednesday for dragging a black man to death behind his truck, ordered a massive meal of 2 chicken fried steaks, a triple-meat bacon cheeseburger, fried okra, a pound of barbecue, 3 fajitas, a meat lover's pizza, a pint of ice cream and a slab of peanut butter fudge with crushed peanuts and then didn't eat any of it.

      "It is extremely inappropriate to give a person sentenced to death such a privilege," Whitmire wrote in a letter Thursday to Brad Livingston, the executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

      Livingston swiftly responded to the criticism, nullifying the practice of offering prisoners a last meal within hours of receiving Whitmire's letter, according to The Associated Press. From now on, inmates about to be executed will be served the same meal as other prisoners.

      Texas has a longstanding practice of accommodating last meal requests so long as they can be cooked in the prison kitchen, using ingredients already on hand.

      Whitmire, a Democrat, said the practice was an attempt to diminish the magnitude of executing someone.

      "We're fixing to execute the guy and maybe it makes the system feel good about what they're fixing to do." said Whitmore. "Kind of hypocritical, you reckon?"

      (Source: International Business Times)


      Sept. 22, 2011

      Texas Prisons End Special Last Meals In Executions

      Texas inmates who are set to be executed will no longer get their choice of last meals, a change prison officials made Thursday after a prominent state senator became miffed over an expansive request from a man condemned for a notorious dragging death.

      Lawrence Russell Brewer, who was executed Wednesday for the hate crime slaying of James Byrd Jr. more than a decade ago, asked for 2 chicken fried steaks, a triple-meat bacon cheeseburger, fried okra, a pound of barbecue, 3 fajitas, a meat lover's pizza, a pint of ice cream and a slab of peanut butter fudge with crushed peanuts. Prison officials said Brewer didn't eat any of it.

      "It is extremely inappropriate to give a person sentenced to death such a privilege," Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, wrote in a letter Thursday to Brad Livingston, the executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

      Within hours, Livingston said the senator's concerns were valid and the practice of allowing death row offenders to choose their final meal was history.

      "Effective immediately, no such accommodations will be made," Livingston said. "They will receive the same meal served to other offenders on the unit."

      That had been the suggestion from Whitmire, who called the traditional request "ridiculous."

      "It's long overdue," the Houston Democrat told The Associated Press. "This old boy last night, enough is enough. We're fixing to execute the guy and maybe it makes the system feel good about what they're fixing to do. Kind of hypocritical, you reckon?

      "Mr. Byrd didn't get to choose his last meal. The whole deal is so illogical."

      Brewer, a white supremacist gang member, was convicted of chaining Byrd, 49, to the back of a pickup truck and dragging him to his death along a bumpy road in a case shocked the nation for its brutality.

      Whitmire warned in his letter that if the "last meal of choice" practice wasn't stopped immediately, he'd seek a state statute to end it when lawmakers convene in the next legislative session.

      It was not immediately clear whether other states have made similar moves. Some limit the final meal cost: Florida's ceiling is $40, according to the Department of Corrections website, with food to be purchased locally.

      Others, like Texas, which never had a designated dollar limit, mandate meals be prison-made. Some states don't acknowledge final meals, and others will disclose the information only if the inmate agrees, said K. William Hayes, a Florida-based death penalty historian.

      Some states require the meal within a specific time period, allow multiple "final" meals, restrict it to one or impose "a vast number of conditions," he said.

      Historical references to a condemned person's last meal go as far back as ancient Greece, China and Rome, Hayes said. Some of it is apparently rooted in superstition about meals warding off possible haunting by condemned people once they are put to death.

      The Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington-based anti-capital punishment organization that collects execution statistics, said it had no data on final meals.

      Since Texas resumed carrying out executions in 1982, the state correction agency's practice has been to fill a condemned inmate's request as long as the items, or food similar to what was requested, were readily available from the prison kitchen supplies.

      While extensive, Brewer's request was far from the largest or most bizarre among the 475 Texas inmates put to death.

      On Tuesday, prisoner Cleve Foster's request included 2 fried chickens, French fries and a five-gallon (19-liter) bucket of peaches. He received a reprieve from the U.S. Supreme Court but none of his requested meal. He was on his way back to death row, at a prison about 45 miles east of Huntsville, at the time when his feast would have been served.

      Last week, inmate Steven Woods' request included 2 pounds of bacon, a large 4-meat pizza, 4 fried chicken breasts, 2 drinks each of Mountain Dew, Pepsi, root beer and sweet tea, 2 pints of ice cream, 5 chicken fried steaks, 2 hamburgers with bacon, fries and a dozen garlic bread sticks with marinara on the side. 2 hours later, he was executed.

      Years ago, a Texas inmate even requested dirt for his final meal.

      Until 2003, the Texas prison system listed final meals of each prisoner as part of its death row website. That stopped at 313 final meals after officials said they received complaints from people who found it offensive.

      A former inmate cook who made the last meals for prisoners at the Huntsville Unit, where Texas executions are carried out, wrote a cookbook several years ago after he was released. Among his recipes were Gallows Gravy, Rice Rigor Mortis and Old Sparky's Genuine Convict Chili, a nod to the electric chair that once served as the execution method. The book was called "Meals to Die For."

      (Source: Associated Press)


      Sept. 20, 2011

      Court halts Texas execution of ex-Army recruiter

      The U.S. Supreme Court has blocked the execution of a former Army recruiter for the rape-slaying of a woman in Fort Worth nearly 10 years ago.

      47-year-old Cleve Foster was set to die Tuesday evening in Huntsville.

      The high court twice earlier this year had stopped Foster's scheduled lethal injection as his punishment was imminent. This latest court ruling came less than 3 hours before Foster could have been taken to the Texas death chamber.

      Foster was 1 of 2 men convicted and sent to death row for fatally shooting a 30-year-old woman whose body was found in a ditch by pipeline workers in Fort Worth in February 2002. His partner died last year of cancer.

      (Source: Austin American-Statesman)


      Sept. 20, 2011

      Rick Perry Likes the Death Penalty----The Republican presidential candidate has a record of killing kids, innocents, blacks (for being black), and the mentally ill

      Rick Perry likes killing all kinds of people—kid people, innocent people, black people, mentally ill people, and just plain people people. It really doesn’t matter to him.

      The Kids: Napoleon Beazley was a 17-year-old honor student, football star, and senior class president with no criminal record. While trying to steal a car in 1994, he shot and killed a man. During his sentencing hearing in Smith County, the district attorney from the youngster’s Houston County community asked the jury for life instead of death. The trial judge later asked Rick Perry to commute the death sentence. But his reply was hell no, kill ‘em all! Napoleon was executed on May 28, 2002. Three years later, the conservative U.S. Supreme Court in Roper v. Simmons banned the death penalty for juveniles as “cruel and unusual punishment” in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

      The Innocents: Cameron Todd Williams was convicted of the 1991 arson deaths of his three young daughters. Dr. Gerald Hurst, a nationally renown arson expert, submitted an official report to Perry’s Board of Pardons and Parole (BPP)—which votes to approve or deny death sentence commutations—indicating that the prosecutor’s fire investigation was woefully flawed and that there was no proof of arson. Another expert, Louisiana Fire Chief Kendall Ryland, who also reviewed the entire case file, agreed. In 2005, the Texas Forensic Science Commission (FSC) was established to address this kind of tragic error. But just two days before the FSC was to hold a 2009 hearing on Hurst’s scathing report, Perry abruptly replaced three members and canceled the hearing. Finally, in 2011, the FSC recommended more education and more training for fire investigators. A lot good that did for Williams. He was already dead, having been executed on February 17, 2004.

      The Blacks For Being Black: Duane Buck was sentenced to death in 1997 for the 1995 murder of his ex-girlfriend. When questioned by prosecutor Joan Huffman during Buck’s sentencing hearing, Dr. Walter Quijano, who is the former chief psychologist of the Texas Department of Corrections, responded “yes” to the question whether “the race factor, black, increases … future dangerousness …” Yep. He sure did. And he did so without even cracking a racist smile. The Texas attorney general at the time, current Republican U.S. Senator and Perry ally John Cornyn, stated in his 2000 report that 6 cases have been so racially polluted by Quijano that Perry should schedule new sentencing hearings for each. In fact, federal courts have done just that in five cases. Even one of the trial prosecutors wants a new hearing because, in her words, “Race should never be put in front of a jury in any case, particularly a death penalty case.” But Buck will die very soon if Perry’s appointed BPP rejects the clemency request.

      The Mentally Ill: In June of 2002, Perry vetoed a ban on the execution of mentally ill inmates, contending, “This legislation is not about whether to execute mentally retarded murderers. It’s about who determines whether a defendant is mentally retarded in the Texas justice system.” And because he, like former Governor George W. Bush is “the Decider,” every inmate in Texas is determined to be Albert Einstein—like Walter Bell who killed two persons in 1974 and who a six-member team of state-employed mental health professionals along with a prison psychiatrist concluded was “mentally retarded.” Despite prosecutors’ repeated arguments throughout the decades, Bell was released from death row after a state judge in 2004, adhering to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2002 Atkins v. Virginia decision declaring the death penalty for such persons to be “cruel and unusual punishment,” ruled that Bell fit the guidelines for “mental retardation.” But Perry and his gang of state-sanctioned killers, I mean death penalty prosecutors, already knew that. It didn’t take about 30 years of Bell deteriorating on death row for them to realize that. They were well aware that his I.Q. was in the mid-50s and that the threshold for “mental retardation” is 70.

      According to the Death Penalty Information Center, approximately seven percent of the Texas’s “Dead Men and Women Walking” have I.Q.s less than 70. What about the severely mentally ill Kelsey Patterson? After murdering 2 women in 1992 for no reason whatsoever, he wandered the streets dressed only in socks. A diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, Patterson had been ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial on other charges. Even the BPP had voted 5-1 to commute his death sentence. But, alas, Perry once again replied hell no, kill ‘em all! Patterson was executed on May 18, 2004.

      During the September 7th Republican presidential debate, Perry was asked this about the 234 executions he approved as Texas governor: “Have you struggled to sleep at night with the idea that any one of those might be innocent?” He answered “no”—because he had determined that the process is mistake-proof. Does he expect us to believe that every single one of those 234 cases had perfect investigations, perfect arrests, perfect hearings, perfect trials, perfect sentencings, and perfect appeals regardless of income, race or gender? Is he aware that 273 American citizens have been exonerated throughout the country since DNA testing has been available (and that 166 of them are black)?

      Perry kills people who have already been captured and who have already been shackled in jail for life, but he claims to be an evangelical Christian. Yeah, that makes sense. And I’m quite sure that Jesus would do the very same thing.

      (Source: Michael Coard, The Philly Post)


      Sept. 9, 2011

      Rick Perry's Death Penalty Record is Nothing to Brag About

      There were a couple of telling moments in Wednesday's Republican debate. One was when a question about 9/11, and President Obama's decision to attack and execute Osama bin Laden drew not a single clap. The other was when Gov. Rick Perry, with an almost-feral expression on his face, bragged about executing 234 people in Texas, and a large portion of the audience applauded.

      It's entirely possible that Wednesday's audience was what Shirley Jackson envisioned when she wrote The Lottery.

      One of the people put to death, Cameron Todd Willingham, was quite possibly innocent. And if not for an exhaustive Texas Monthly investigation that freed another death row inmate, Perry would have been fine with Texas executing a provably innocent man, Anthony Graves, last year.

      Perry defensively touched on the Willingham case last when he mentioned offenders who kill children—Willingham was accused of murdering his three children by arson. Perry directly intervened to interrupt the exculpatory forensic process in the Willingham case, replacing three members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, and kept the execution moving forward. He refused a stay of execution, despite mounting evidence against the arson accusation.

      Perry's eagerness and braggadocio on the subject are disturbing. He told moderator Brian Williams that he hadn't lost a wink of sleep at night over any of the executions. I don't know about you, but if I'd presided over the deaths of more than 200 people, it would be cause for more than a few moments of self-reflection

      Several years ago, one of my friends served as a cabinet member for a governor in another southern state. There were multiple appeals for clemency from prisoners on death row. None were granted, and the executions were carried out.

      But those responsible for making recommendations to the governor took their task to heart, did their due diligence, and were acutely conscious that they were signing off on the state putting a man to death. They lost plenty of sleep over it, and they weren't flip about it.

      I am, like many people, conflicted about the death penalty. I recognize that there may be some circumstances in which it can be justified. The world is a better place without Ted Bundy in it.

      But I also believe, despite our best intentions, it is beyond our flawed human capacity to implement the death penalty fairly, and that the Ted Bundys of the world are few and far between. Most death penalty cases are far more mundane and born of a combination of race, poverty, circumstance, and an overburdened judicial system. Too often the death penalty is an instrument of revenge, not justice.

      Rick Perry's enthusiasm to the contrary, bragging about how many people your state has executed isn't an applause line, and it doesn't qualify you to be president.

      (source: Laura K. Chapin is a Democratic communications strategist based in Denver, Colorado, advocating for progressive causes and candidates in the Rocky Mountain West; US News & World Report)


      Sept. 9, 2011

      Exonerated Texas Inmate: “How Can You Applaud Death:?

      Anthony Graves read in the newspaper about the crowd at the Republican presidential debate applauding the fact that Gov. Rick Perry had authorized 234 executions during his tenure.

      “How can you applaud death?” Graves asked.

      Graves is 1 of 12 death row inmates who have been exonerated in Texas since 1973. Five of those exonerations occurred while Rick Perry was governor, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a group that opposes capital punishment.

      “The state of Texas has a very thoughtful, a very clear process in place in which when someone commits the most heinous of crimes against our citizens they get a fair hearing, they go through an appellate process, they go up to the Supreme Court if that’s required,” Perry said during the debate Wednesday.

      Perry defended the use of the death penalty in his state and told the audience, “I think Americans understand justice.”

      But Graves said his mother would not be one of those Americans. Graves spent 18 years in prison and 12 years on death row as a convicted murder. In 2010 his conviction was overturned and he was released.

      “He should ask my mother about that,” he says. “She lost her son for 18 years.”

      Graves says he was stunned at the governor’s comments because he was exonerated less than a year ago. “I was exonerated from the very same system that he is boasting about. He’s a politician, but I’m an exoneree and I think I know more about the subject.”

      In fact Perry was quick to admit in 2010 that Graves’ murder conviction had been a miscarriage of justice. The governor worked to pass a bill that lead to Graves being awarded $1 million for his incarceration. But Perry also said last year that Graves case proves that the system worked.

      In 2010 the governor said of the case, ”I think we have a justice system that is working, and he’s a good example of–you continue to find errors that were made and clear them up,” according to an account in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.

      Graves had been convicted of assisting in multiple murders in 1992. In 2006, the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit overturned his conviction citing that prosecutors had made false statements. A special prosecutor hired for the second trial realized after months of investigation that Graves was innocent.

      Former Harris County Assistant District Attorney Kelly Siegler told the Houston Chronicle, “This is not a case where the evidence went south with time or witnesses passed away or we just couldn’t make the case anymore. He is an innocent man.”

      Graves says he appreciates the work that Perry did to work for his compensation. “He passed a bill that lead to my compensation, but he knows there is a problem with the criminal justice system.”

      (Source: ABC News)


      Sept. 9, 2011

      Rick Perry’s Lethal Overconfidence

      Despite loads of evidence, Rick Perry says he’s 'never struggled' with the idea that Texas has executed an innocent person. Lawyer David R. Dow on Perry’s foolish hubris.

      Jaws dropped when the governor of Texas, running for president, said on national television that he was “100 percent sure” everyone who had been executed on his watch was guilty. The governor was George W. Bush, appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press, during his first presidential run. 6 months before Bush’s election, Texas executed Gary Graham, who continued to protest his innocence even as the lethal injection was killing him and whose objections were almost certainly true. Then, just before Bush moved to the White House, Texas executed Claude Jones. Last year, new DNA testing on a hair found at the crime scene cast doubt on Jones’s guilt.

      Rick Perry likes to say that while President Bush went to Yale, he went to Texas A&M, which I guess is meant to imply that Bush is smarter than he is. But when it comes to their confidence in Texas’s executions, the two are equally idiotic. Asked at Wednesday night’s presidential debate if he ever worried that Texas had executed an innocent person on his watch, Perry answered, “I’ve never struggled with that at all.”

      Certainty is cheap if one achieves it by ignoring the actual facts, and indeed, Perry’s answer to the death-penalty question asked of him Wednesday night reflected a staggering inattentiveness to the facts. As the founder of the Texas Innocence Project, I’ve had a couple of dozen clients executed during Perry’s tenure as governor. There are some I think could well have been innocent—Frances Newton, for example, who supposedly killed her husband and two children without getting even a spot of blood or speck of gunpowder on herself; or Charles Nealy, who did not remotely match the description of the person who killed the convenience store clerk. But there was no DNA in either case, and so I am left being unsure.

      It is not weak to be unsure. It is the only reasonable position in those murder cases—and it is the vast majority of them—that lack DNA evidence. Without DNA, certainty is usually impossible. Murderers get convicted on the basis of confessions, which can be coerced; eyewitness identifications, which can be mistaken; and pseudo-science like fiber analysis, which is often junk.

      Perry, however, continues to voice his confidence despite widespread evidence that the system is flawed. Anthony Graves spent 14 years on death row before being exonerated and released in 2010. He’s not the only one: Ernest Willis, Michael Toney, Michael Blair, and Robert Springsteen are just a few of the others who have been released from death row during Perry’s tenure. Maybe Perry has a good reason for believing that these are Texas’s only mistakes, but if he has such a reason, I don’t have any idea what it is.

      Then there’s Cameron Todd Willingham, whose case suggests we probably don’t catch errors all in time. He was executed in 2004–on Perry’s watch–for killing his three children by setting fire to their house. The problem is, every national arson expert to have reviewed the facts (there have been at least four) has concluded that the fire was accidental. A committee investigating the case was preparing to hear from the nation’s leading arson expert who intended to explain why there was no evidence that Willingham had committed any crime. On the eve of the expert’s testimony, Perry dissolved the committee.

      But when it comes to their confidence in Texas’s executions, Bush and Perry are equally idiotic.

      As Perry prepares for his presidential run, he’s showing no signs of doubts. It’s not just his debate answer. Next week, the state is set to execute my client, Duane Buck. At Buck’s trial, the prosecutor urged the jury to sentence him to death on the basis that because Buck was black, he would be dangerous in the future. Earlier this summer, I had a client executed whose lawyer neglected to raise any issues during the very appellate process Perry lauded during Wednesday’s debate as a safeguard against mistakes. Two years ago, I had a client executed after prosecutors had removed all the blacks from the jury. One of my intellectually disabled clients was executed because his previous lawyer neglected to inform the court of the inmate’s IQ score. Another client was executed because the court of appeals refused to stay open past 5 p.m. so we could file a last-minute appeal. I don’t know of any definition of fair that could be applied to these cases.

      Despite Perry’s certainty, and his characterization of a broken and racist regime as fair, the people of Texas seem to have developed a different view. Twenty years ago, there were 35 or sometimes 40 new death sentences a year. Last year there were nine. The year before that there were eight. The very people who have to decide whether someone should live or die seem to know there is no such thing as certainty. The bad news for Perry is that those same people vote for president.

      (source: The Daily Beast)

      ****************

      Sept. 13--237--Steven Woods----------------------------474
      Sept. 15--238--Duane Buck------------------------------475
      Sept. 20--239--Cleve Foster----------------------------476
      Sept. 21--240--Lawrence Brewer-------------------------477
      Oct. 27---241--Frank Garcia----------------------------478--50%
      Nov. 9----242--Hank Skinner----------------------------479--50 + %

      (Sources: TDCJ & Rick Halperin)


      Sept. 8, 2011

      Rick Perry's big applause moment: Where's the respect for human life?

      It was disturbing to hear people cheer last night when it was announced that Rick Perry had overseen a record number of executions in the modern era. I have to remind myself that these people are cheering justice, an abstract principle, not the ending of human life. On the flip side, though, can you imagine the same crowd's reaction if people at a liberal event cheered a record number of abortions? I realize it's apples to oranges, but there is a basic respect for human life. Even when Americans used to hang people from gallows, they did it with a basic level of dignity and humanity.

      Rick Halperin, Director, Embrey Human Rights Program at Southern Methodist University, had this response: "The fact that in 2011, Americans, or any audience in a civilized country, would give prolonged and loud applause at the fact that our governor has presided over 234 executions in one state -- more than any other governor in the history of a state -- is a disturbing and disgraceful commentary on America's unwillingness and inability to move beyond embracing violence as a cure for social problems. Inherent flaws in this state under Gov. Perry's tenure are well documented, and questions need to arise about executing those subject to racial prejudice, innocence and mental health issues. It's disturbing to hear Gov. Perry say he's never struggled with any case when so many questions continually arise regarding implementing the death penalty in this state under his tenure. It is well documented that the capital punishment institution in Texas is inherently flawed and mistakes have indeed been made in wrongly convicting, incarcerating and executing the innocent."

      On a related note, tomorrow night is a special SMU event at 7-9 p.m. in McCord Auditorium: "Ending the Cycles of Violence: Reflections on Compassion, Forgiveness and Healing." According to a press release:

      The event will feature a diverse gathering of religious and peace leaders, including 9/11-hate crime survivor Rais Bhuiyan of WorldWithoutHate.org; Mavis Belisle of the Dallas Peace Center; Bill McElvaney, professor emeritus of SMU's Perkins School of Theology; SMU Chaplain Stephen Rankin; Acharya Shree Yogeesh of the Siddhayatan [Hindu-Jain Tirth] Spiritual Retreat Center; Brother ChiSing, a Thich Nhat Hahn-ordained Buddhist minister and director of the Dallas Meditation Center; and Hind Jirrah, co-founder of the Texas Muslim Women's Foundation. The moderator will be Dianne Solis of The Dallas Morning News. The free event is sponsored by SMU's Embrey Human Rights Program in Dedman College and the Dallas Peace Center.

      (Source: Michael Landauer/Editor, Dallas Morning News)


      Sept. 8. 2011

      Execution By Race

      When the United States Supreme Court approved death penalty statutes, it did so on the promise that race would play no role in the decision to execute a person. That, of course, mirrors society's moral stance. Some people believe capital punishment is just. Some don't. But we can all agree that deciding who lives and who dies must not be determined by the color of their skin.

      Despite this broad agreement, our nation has failed to rid race from the decision to execute — take, for instance, the case of Marcus Robinson in North Carolina. And now, shockingly, Texas appears poised next week to execute Duane Edward Buck based on the fact that he is black.

      In Texas, imposing the death penalty in capital cases comes down to one question: is the defendant going to be a "future danger" if he or she is not executed? Mr. Buck was sentenced to die based on testimony by Dr. Walter Quijano, who told jurors that Mr. Buck was more likely to pose a future danger to society because he is black. Dr. Quijano's testimony came in 1997, more than 20 years after Texas promised the Supreme Court that "no correlation exists between the race/ethnic background of a defendant and the probability that he will be either convicted of capital murder or given the death penalty."

      The same psychologist gave similar testimony in a total of seven Texas cases. In 2000, then-Attorney General John Cornyn did something highly unusual for a prosecutor: he called for the retrial of all seven men who had been sentenced to death based on Dr. Quijano's testimony that their race or ethnic background made them more dangerous. This list of seven included Duane Edward Buck.

      Courts granted new sentencing trials to six of those inmates, but upheld Mr. Buck's unconstitutional death sentence on technical procedural grounds (which we have previously noted often lead to unjust results based on form over substance). Mr. Buck was therefore not granted an opportunity to have a new sentencing hearing unbiased by race. He is scheduled to be executed by the State of Texas on September 15, 2011.

      Attorney General Cornyn was a vigorous defender of the death penalty in Texas, but made it clear that he wanted no part of calling for executions that were based on this kind of racism: "The people of Texas want and deserve a system that affords the same fairness to everyone." It remains to be seen if the governor agrees.

      We must not allow the execution of a man on the basis of his race. You can help to prevent this injustice: go here to urge Texas Governor Rick Perry and to the board of pardons and parole to intervene before it's too late.

      (Source: ACLU)


      Sept. 5, 2011

      USA - Capital punishment a costly option

      “I no longer believe you can fix the death penalty. (It) throws millions of dollars down the drain. Give a law enforcement professional like me that $250 million, and I’ll show you how to reduce crime. The death penalty isn’t anywhere on my list.— New Jersey Police Chief James Abbott

      Those Jersey boys know how to lay it on the line. Abbott made that observation years ago when asked his opinion of whether his state should scrap its costly deathpenalty law. New Jersey did so in 2007.

      Forget all the arguments about the rightness or wrongness of capital punishment — if it is a powerful deterrent or morally repugnant, if its use is appropriate for worst-of-the-worst crimes.

      Should death-penalty laws eventually go by the wayside here and elsewhere, their demise won’t be based on philosophical debates.

      The issue will come down to the bottom line. In this era of fiscal peril, legislatures and voters must decide: Do they continue sustaining the nation’s most expensive punishment option — for a relatively small number of convicted murders — when other needs, including education, health care, infrastructure and public safety, go wanting?

      Budget cutbacks in Oklahoma since 2008 have resulted in layoffs and the drastic slashing of services and programs.

      The state’s safety net, which so many people rely upon, is ripping at the seams.

      Prisons are at capacity, yet the per-capita violent crime rate remains among the highest in the U.S.

      No reliable figures exist for how much Oklahoma deathpenalty system costs. Suffice it to say it’s tens of millions of dollars.

      Throwing political caution to the wind, some leaders have suggested dropping the death penalty. State Sen.

      Constance Johnson, DOklahoma City, was roundly ignored when she proposed scrapping that system and going to a far less costly lifewithout- parole system.

      A few states have abolished their systems in light of cost. In the 34 states with a death penalty, some are asking: Can the needs of so many be sacrificed to pay for punishment of so few?

      Death row numbers

      Nationally, about 3,200 people are on state and federal death rows, including 69 in Oklahoma. The average cost, from arrest to execution, for a single deathpenalty case ranges from $1 million to $3 million. Those costs, on a per-offender basis, rank as among the most expensive part of criminal justice systems. That fact has prompted countless studies, including an eye-popping one released in June in California.

      That state has the nation’s largest and costliest death row – 714 inmates. Since reinstating its death penalty in 1978, California has conducted nearly 2,000 capital trials and has executed 13 people. Over those 33 years, the death-penalty system cost the state $4.6 billion.

      Divided up, that equates to $308 million per execution.

      For a state teetering on the brink of financial collapse, here’s how the $4.6 billion broke down: pre-trial/trial costs, $1.94 billion, automatic appeals and state habeas corpus petitions, $0.925 billion, federal habeas petitions, $0.775 billion; costs of incarceration, $1 billion.

      In light of those costs, backers of a stalled legislative bill to abolish the death penalty recently kicked off a campaign to put the question on the November 2012 ballot.

      If approved, California’s death-penalty laws would become history. The measure would do something else, which could persuade voters to pass it: $100 million from the state’s general fund — the estimated savings from eliminating death row — would be distributed over the next 4 fiscal years to local police for solving more homicides and rapes.

      Death-penalty studies

      A North Carolina study also performed a cost-benefit analysis and found a $2 million difference between a death sentence and a lifewithout- parole sentence.

      In Texas, a death-penalty case costs about $3 million, 3 times the cost of imprisoning an inmate for 40 years.

      In Maryland, a death-penalty case costs about three times more than a case in which the prosecutor does not seek the death penalty, according to an Urban Institute study. Since 2000, death sentences across the U.S. have dropped precipitously.

      A 2008 poll of police chiefs, often cited by Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C., produced surprising answers. Almost all the chiefs surveyed ranked the death penalty last among their priorities for crimefighting, saying that they did not believe — based on murder rates — that it deterred homicides. Most rated it as the least efficient use of limited taxpayer dollars.

      New York abolished its death penalty in 2007. In the many years the law was on the books, no death sentences were upheld by its courts nor was any offender executed.

      New Mexico abolished its death penalty in 2009.

      The death penalty is widely favored in Oklahoma, which has the executions to prove it. For many, keeping it as an option is crucial — whatever the cost. But is that an informed stance?

      One need not put aside a philosophical beliefs about capital punishment to recognize the financial impracticality of the system.

      Oklahoma leaders should undertake a study to determine the cost of the deathpenalty system here. Relying on those results, Oklahomans could make a more informed choice about whether to keep it. Ultimately, the question comes down to priorities.

      (Source: Tulsa World)


      Aug. 18, 2011

      TEXAS: Rick Perry By The Numbers

      Amnesty International does not comment or take sides on elections. But everyone knows that Rick Perry, Texas Governor for over a decade, is now running for President. And everyone knows that during his tenure as Texas Governor, he has presided over a lot of executions. The total now sits at 234 (40% of all US executions carried out since Perry became Governor in December 2000).

      Many folks also know that at least 1 of those, Cameron Todd Willingham, was probably innocent, and that evidence of his innocence was ignored by Governor Perry in the days and hours before Willingham was put to death. And that an investigation into the dubious forensics that led to Willingham’s conviction was sidetracked when Perry suddenly put Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley in charge (Bradley is now being accused of withholding evidence of innocence in a case in his home county).

      But there have been other cases of possible innocence, and, as currently scheduled, Perry’s 240th execution would be of Henry Skinner, a man whose innocence claim the Lone Star State is refusing to examine.

      BY THE NUMBERS:

      9 – The number of prisoners suffering severe mental illness who, according to a 2006 Amnesty International report, were put to death during the first half of Rick Perry’s tenure

      8 – The number of Texas prisoners who “volunteered” to be executed under Rick Perry

      7 – The number of foreign nationals executed under Rick Perry, most of whom were denied their rights under U.S. treaty obligations

      4 – The number of juvenile offenders executed under Rick Perry (before the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed such executions in 2005)

      2 – The number of men put to death under Rick Perry for crimes in which they were not the killer

      1 – The number of clemencies granted by Rick Perry that were not required by court rulings

      (Source: Amnesty International USA blog)


      Shooting survivor wants Texas execution stopped

      The Associated Press

      Published: July 14, 2011

      AUSTIN, Texas — Attorneys for a former convenience store clerk shot and wounded nearly a decade ago have filed a civil suit in Austin against Gov. Rick Perry and other state officials seeking to stop the convicted gunman's execution scheduled for next week.

      Mark Stroman faces lethal injection July 20 for fatally shooting Mesquite convenience store clerk Vasudev Padel in 2001. He's one of two clerks killed by Stroman. Rais Buiyhan, whose attorneys filed the suit Wednesday, was shot in a third robbery but survived to identify Stroman.

      Bhuiyah's lawsuit argues his rights as a victim have been violated. His complaints include a contention he should be allowed to meet with Stroman under a remediation program.

      Stroman said he wanted to kill people of Middle Eastern descent after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

      Copyright 2011, The Associated Press.

      Shooting survivor wants Texas execution stopped


      SHOWDOWN: Rick Perry Defied The White House And Executed A Foreign Prisoner Tonight

      Steven Loeb
      Jul. 7, 2011


      Barack Obama asks for Texas and Rick Perry to spare Mexican the death penalty
      Texas is preparing to execute a Mexican citizen for a gruesome 1994 murder on Thursday despite an appeal by Barack Obama to spare him because he was not granted the consular help required by international law.

      By Toby Harnden, Washington
      05 Jul 2011

      Humberto Leal, 38, a native of Monterrey, Mexico was convicted of the 1994 rape and murder of Adria Sauceda, 16, whose naked body was found with a large stick protruding from her. She had been bitten and her head crushed by a lump of asphalt.

      The United States Supreme Court is due to decide whether to issue a stay of execution, which Texas state lawyers insist should go ahead.

      If the Supreme Court does not intervene, Leal's fate will lie in the hands of Governor Rick Perry of Texas, who is currently pondering whether to join the 2012 presidential race.

      Texas executes more prisoners than any other US state. In his 10 years in office Mr Perry has refused clemency in 230 executions, almost half the 470 executions in Texas since the death penalty was reinstated in 1974.

      Among other evidence against Leal, a bite mark was matched to him and the victim's bloody blouse was found at his home. Leal told police that she had attacked him and had fallen and lost consciousness.

      Even Leal's lawyers concede that it was "plausible" he was responsible for Miss Sauceda's death. But they contend that if he had been given consular assistance rather than a state-appointed defence lawyer he would probably have been convicted of manslaughter.

      The Obama administration, adopting a similar stance to the one taken by President George W Bush's, believes executing Leal could endanger Americans abroad who are also entitled to consular assistance under the Vienna Convention.

      "This case implicates United States foreign-policy interests of the highest order," said Donald Verrilli, Mr Obama's Solicitor General in an amicus brief filed in the Supreme Court case.

      "The imminent execution of petitioner would place the United States in irreparable breach of its international law obligation."

      Executing him, he said, "would have serious repercussions for United States foreign relations, law enforcement and other co-operation with Mexico, and the ability of American citizens traveling abroad to have the benefits of consular assistance in the event of detention".

      There is legislation pending in the US Senate would allow federal courts to review cases of condemned foreign nationals to determine whether the lack of consular help made a significant difference in the outcome of their cases.

      The United Nations, Amnesty International and a number of former diplomats and military officers have requested that the sentence be commuted to life.

      Mr Perry has commuted the death sentences of 31 inmates. Of these, 28 involved cases in which the defendant was a juvenile at the time of the crime and Mr Perry acted after a Supreme Court ruling on the issue.

      Polls show that about 65 per cent of Americans favour the death penalty. Mr Perry's enthusiastic backing for the death penalty would be unlikely to be an issue that could harm him in the Republican primaries. It could, however, became an issue in a general election against Mr Obama, who supports the death penalty but is much more willing to consider exclusions.

      Barack Obama asks for Texas and Rick Perry to spare Mexican the death penalty


      Lawsuit: Void Texas’ new execution procedure

      By Mike Ward
      March 29, 2011

      Texas’ new procedure for executing condemned murderers should be invalidated because prison officials did not comply with state law in adopting it, two condemned murderers alleged this morning in a new lawsuit seeking to block their scheduled date with the death chamber.

      In a suit filed in an Austin state court, attorneys for Cleve Foster and Humberto Leal contend that Texas’ new execution protocol — replacing sodium thiopental with pentobarbital as one of three drugs used in lethal injections — violated the state Administrative Procedures Act.

      Reason: Officials with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice did not follow proper procedure in adopting the new protocol.

      According to the suit, TDCJ announced on March 16 — less than three weeks before Foster’s scheduled execution — that it would change the drugs used.

      Foster is slated for execution on April 5.

      The lawsuit contends that since November 2010, Foster made numerous public information requests and pleas for information regarding the drugs TDCJ planned to use to execute him, but prison officials delayed their response and made the decision to change drugs without required public input — or input from Foster and other condemned convicts.

      “Executions, and the manner in which we carry them out, are of unique public interest and importance, and precisely the sort of decisions and procedures that should be aired in the light of day,” said Maurie Levin, Foster’s attorney.

      “The requirements of transparency, deliberation, and accountability reflected in the APA are even more imperative when we are carrying out the ultimate act that Texas can take against one of its citizens. In its rush to execute Mr. Foster, Texas has violated the law and circumvented the open government process.”

      Court officials said no hearing has been set in the case.

      If the Travis County court invalidates the change in drugs because state law was not followed, the state would be forced to resort to using the previous drug — which has become unavailable in the United States.

      Leal, a Mexican citizen, is scheduled for execution on July 7.

      Prison officials said they had no immediate comment on pending litigation. Some officials had earlier said they expected legal challenges when the execution drug was changed.

      Lawsuit: Void Texas’ new execution procedure


      Texas to change death cocktail for condemned inmates

      By PEGGY O'HARE
      HOUSTON CHRONICLE
      March 16, 2011

      The state prison system is making the most substantial change ever to the ingredients of the lethal injections used to execute condemned Texas inmates since 1982 because one of its three main drugs, a powerful sedative, is no longer being manufactured in the U.S.

      But an attorney for a Tarrant County man scheduled to be executed next month said she is "appalled" and "horrified" by the decision because she is concerned the change has not been thoroughly investigated or subject to public scrutiny. The attorney anticipates challenging the matter in court.

      Administrators for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice decided this week to replace sodium thiopental — the sedative given to condemned inmates before they are executed — with pentobarbital, a drug that has similar properties. The change was necessary because the only U.S. company that manufactured sodium thiopental stopped making the drug, said TDCJ spokeswoman Michelle Lyons.

      Oklahoma made the same change recently to its so-called "death cocktail" and while some death row inmates' attorneys challenged the move in that state, courts upheld and supported the change there.

      "We're confident that it would also be upheld here in Texas," Lyons said Wednesday.

      TDCJ officials consulted with the Texas Attorney General's Office and its own general counsel and reviewed medical expert testimony from federal litigation challenging Oklahoma's death row cocktail change before making its decision, Lyons said.

      The appellate lawyer for Cleve Foster, 47, a Tarrant County man who is the next death row inmate scheduled to be executed on April 5, said she expects to launch her own legal challenge.

      "I am horrified — I am appalled at the lack of transparency in such an important process," said Foster's attorney, Maurie Levin, who has represented death row inmates in state and federal courts since 1993. "I think that state law and general concerns for openness in government require more than this.

      "My concern at this point is that TDCJ has known since at least early January that their current drug supply of sodium thiopental expired on March 1st and that the producer of that drug was no longer making it. And they waited until less than three weeks before Cleve's execution to either decide or announce the change," Levin said.

      Foster, an oil field worker and construction laborer, was sentenced to death for sexually assaulting and fatally shooting a 28-year-old woman in Tarrant County in 2002. The victim's body was later found in a ditch by workers who were installing pipe there.

      Levin dismissed the courts' approval of Oklahoma's new execution process as irrelevant to what might happen here in Texas.

      "Oklahoma is one thing, Texas is another," Levin said Wednesday from the University of Texas at Austin School of Law's Capital Punishment Center, where she is an adjunct professor. "They had some kind of vetting process in Oklahoma — they didn't have it here. They fact that it's been approved there is irrelevant to Texas' process and certainly irrelevant to the lack of openness here."

      While Texas has made small modifications to the dosage amounts of the three drugs used to execute an inmate since lethal injections began here in 1982, this is the most substantial change ever made to the so-called "death cocktail," Lyons said.

      "We were no longer able to purchase sodium thiopental domestically — the manufacturer in the U.S. announced they would no longer be manufacturing the drug. So we had to look for an alternate drug," Lyons said Wednesday.

      While TDCJ still has a supply of the long-used sedative on hand, it expires at the end of this month, so the agency had to find a new drug before Foster's scheduled execution on April 5, Lyons said.

      A lethal dose of the pentobarbital will be administered first to sedate the condemned inmate, followed by a deadly dose of pancuronium bromide, which acts as a muscle relaxant. The final ingredient, potassium chloride, is then injected to stop the inmate's heart.

      TDCJ has enough of the new sedative in supply to carry out the next five scheduled executions, Lyons said.

      peggy.ohare@chron.com

      Texas to change death cocktail for condemned inmates


      March 4, 2011

      Editor discusses problems with death penalty

      Dave Mann spoke at MonkeyWrench Books about how false convictions relate to capital punishment Thursday. Mann doesn’t foresee the death penalty going away but does see changes in the review of convicted suspects.

      A considerable number of inmates sentenced to death or life in prison could be innocent, the executive editor of the Texas Observer said in a lecture Thursday.

      Dave Mann spoke at MonkeyWrench Books about the death penalty in Texas. Mann focused on specific cases in which he thought the evidence was insufficient to sentence a person to death, including that of convicted arsonist Alfredo Guardiola.

      Guardiola, a heroin addict, was on the scene of a house fire in Houston that killed 4 people, Mann said. Houston police brought Guardiola in for questioning as a witness, but he soon became a suspect, he said.

      “People often want someone to blame when there is a tragedy,” he said.

      Mann asked the audience of 20 people to be the jury in the case. The audience seemed convinced that Guardiola was guilty, agreeing with the jury that sentenced him to 40 years in prison. Mann then revealed that Guardiola gave a written confession after police interrogated him for 13 hours and showed him pictures of the children killed in the fire. A few days later, Guardiola retracted his confession claiming the interrogators coerced him to confess.

      Guardiola currently has 20 years remaining on his sentence.

      Mann said the case is like many others in which either because of police coercion or botched forensic science, innocent people end up in jail or on death row.

      Dallas has re-examined approximately 200 cases, and more than 20 convicts have been exonerated, Mann said. Some areas of forensics, such as blood spatter and ballistics, are currently not sound enough to sentence a person to death, Mann said.

      “We can’t have the death penalty until we are close to 100-% sure that [a suspect] is guilty,” he said. “Judges could be much more discerning when interpreting forensic evidence."

      Scott Cobb, president of the anti-death penalty group Texas Moratorium Network, said capital punishment is an inefficient policy.

      “We don’t have a need for it in the U.S.,” Cobb said. “The rest of the world has turned their back on it."

      Of the 20 audience members, the majority agreed the death penalty has flaws.

      Mann said a moratorium would be a viable solution to the death penalty.

      “It’s a mystery why these cases don’t catch on,” said Mann. “We could use more scrutiny from the media."

      Republican Party of Texas spokesman Chris Elam said the party stands by the death penalty as an option available to juries.

      “The appropriate legal authorities have declared it as a viable punishment,” Elam said.

      (Source: Daily Texan Online)


      Mar. 2, 2011

      Option of life means fewer get death

      In 1998, it took only 12 minutes for a Jefferson County jury to decide Elroy Chester should die.

      12 minutes - 1 minute for each juror - to sentence a man to death.

      The jury's decision in the fatal shooting of Port Arthur fireman Willie Ryman III was the culmination of what was described as the worst crime spree in the county's history.

      And while the circumstances surrounding Chester's crime wave - in which prosecutors alleged five people were killed, five more were shot and three girls were raped - were extreme, such a verdict is less likely today.

      In fact, it is rare that a Texas jury even arrives at a death verdict anymore, experts say.

      Last year, Texas juries sentenced eight convicted killers to death, the lowest since 1976, when the U.S. Supreme Court approved new death penalty statutes, according to data from the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. By comparison, Death Penalty Information Center data show more than 25 new people were added to the ranks of the Texas death row each year between 1985 and 2004.

      Executions are also down. Texas executed 17 people in 2010, the lowest since 2001. By comparison, the Lone Star State executed a high of 40 people in 2000.

      District Attorney Tom Maness said he cannot readily remember the last death penalty conviction in Jefferson County. Texas prison information shows the most recent Jefferson County killer placed on death row under the state judicial system was more than 12 years ago.

      "Certainly, there is a momentum nationwide to legislatively abolish the death penalty," said Kristin Houlé, executive director for the Texas anti-death penalty coalition.

      "In Texas, there is a growing understanding of the flaws and failures of the Texas death penalty," she said.

      Writers for websites like prodeathpenalty.com, however, would debate there are no flaws with the death penalty except for some media accounts that "turn the death of a convicted murderer into a tragedy ... and the deaths and suffering of countless victims is only an easily ignored statistic."

      No matter what side of the debate you are on, data show death sentences in Texas have dropped more than 70 % since 2003.

      According to legal experts and groups passionate about the issue of capital punishment, the decrease can be attributed to the following:

      - A sentencing option of life without parole that became available in September 2005.

      - Studies showing that it is cheaper to imprison a killer for life than execute him.

      - A growing awareness and concern about the risk of wrongful conviction.

      - An improved quality of legal defense in the state.

      - A perceived shift in attitudes on the part of Texas jurors.

      In the last decades, Maness has seen the shift firsthand.

      "The most important reason is the fact that we have life without parole," Maness said. "That gave prosecutors another tool to use and it gave the jury another verdict to use."

      Maness emphasized that prosecutors consult with the victims' families before deciding on how to proceed with a capital case. He said increasingly, victims are comfortable with the jury assessing life without parole, knowing the killer will never get out of prison and be on the streets again.

      A victim's perspective

      That wasn't an option in Chester's case more than a decade ago and it isn't a decision that Erin DeLeon, one of his young victims, would be comfortable with today.

      For DeLeon - whose uncle was killed by Chester in 1998 when she was 17 - execution is the only just punishment.

      "That kind of person is never going to learn any better. There is no way to rehabilitate," she said in a recent telephone interview.

      The death penalty is not a pleasant idea, she said, "but it is a necessity for keeping society from going chaotic."

      "If you do something wrong, you have to take your punishment," she said.

      DeLeon, now 30, and her then-15-year-old sister were sexually assaulted by Chester at gunpoint in their Port Arthur home in February 1998. When their uncle, a decorated Port Arthur firefighter, walked into the house and tried to stop the attack, the gunman fatally shot him.

      Chester pleaded guilty to killing Ryman. The only issue the jury had to decide was life or death.

      The Enterprise doesn't normally identify sexual assault victims, but the sisters and their mother consented at the time of the trial. DeLeon also agreed to publishing her name for this report.

      DeLeon, who held her uncle's hand the night of the slaying as he lay dying on the kitchen floor, said she plans to witness Chester's execution.

      "I decided that back when I was 17 years old," she said. "We've just been waiting. I know it will be a hard thing. ... It's a hard thing to do."

      A mother now living in Lumberton, DeLeon disputes the perception that people's attitudes have shifted against capital punishment.

      "I think the majority of the people honestly believe in punishment. They are just not out there with signs and getting on TV," she said of anti-death penalty groups.

      "If there is no consequence, there is no reason not to do something wrong," she said.

      Ultimate penalty vs. bottom line

      For some states, the argument for abandoning capital punishment comes down to dollars and cents.

      Studies show that the ultimate cost of prosecution of a death penalty case, coupled with defending the subsequent appeals, is much higher than a non-death-penalty case, Maness said.

      A 1992 study by The Dallas Morning News showed the average cost of a Texas death penalty case is $2.3 million versus $750,000 for life in prison, Houlé said.

      In recent years, challenges to the death penalty have ranged from arguments that capital punishment is unconstitutional to claims that the three-chemical cocktail used to execute the condemned constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

      Earlier this year, the sole U.S. maker of one of the lethal injection drugs announced it is ending production. Jason Clark, a state prison spokesman, said Texas had enough of the drug, sodium thiopental, to carry out executions through the end of February. After that, the state will explore other options, including possibly finding an alternate source for the drug or seeking an alternate drug entirely. There are currently four executions scheduled in Texas, one each in April and May and 2 in July.

      Meanwhile, Houlé, of the anti-death penalty coalition cites 138 exonerations of death row inmates nationwide, 12 from Texas, released because of evidence of a wrongful conviction.

      Also in Texas, Houlé points to 42 exonerations of defendants because of DNA evidence. While the vast majority of those cases did not involve the death penalty, Houlé emphasizes that had those inmates been executed, the outcome would have been irreversible.

      "There's no way to correct for that mistake," she said.

      Is it revenge or justice?

      For Beaumont resident Chris Castillo, national outreach coordinator for Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation, revenge for his mother's 1991 slaying in Houston is not his goal.

      Castillo, a former Beaumont Enterprise reporter, said his mother, Pilar Castillo, 52, was strangled to death in her home. Officials suspect the killer or killers were men who were renovating her house who invaded it in the middle of the night and robbed her. To this day, the killers have not been caught.

      Castillo said he experienced myriad emotions after his mother's death, but ultimately decided he wanted to put aside his anger.

      "I don't want someone's execution to be my mother's legacy," he said.

      "I think it is kind of ironic: The way we get back at them is killing somebody else."

      Castillo envisions a day in which more and more states will do away with capital punishment.

      He acknowledged Texas might well be the last.

      To date, 15 states have done away with the death penalty, Houlé said, and Illinois - a state awaiting a governor's signature to abolish the death penalty - might soon join them.

      As for Jefferson County District Attorney Maness, he does not believe Texas should ever do away with the death penalty - what he describes as the ultimate punishment for the most horrific crime. As a hypothetical, Maness described a scene in which a gunman invades a McDonald's restaurant and guns down 20 kids at a birthday party.

      There is always going to be a case in which society demands the ultimate punishment, he said.

      (Source: Beaumont Enterprise)


      Feb. 28, 2011

      Rev. Carroll Pickett: The TT Interview

      Rev. Carroll Pickett holds the world record for witnessing the most state executions as a chaplain. He saw 95 men die by lethal injection during his career as the death house chaplain.

      In the years since he left the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Pickett has written a book and starred in an award-winning documentary that chronicled his work at the Walls Unit in Huntsville. He sat down with The Texas Tribune recently to talk about how he "seduced the emotions" of the condemned, why his views about the death penalty changed and how he now copes with all the death he has witnessed.

      Pickett: Death house is at the Walls Unit, and that’s where I was chaplain. The death house is used only for executions. And I was chaplain for 2,200 inmates on the unit and also when executions were reinstated in 1982 after they had been declared unconstitutional in ’64 I was assigned death house chaplain.

      TT: What were your duties as death house chaplain?

      Pickett: Well the warden’s assignment — and he and I got along really well — his main concern was to seduce his emotions so he won’t fight. It was to be honest with him, to talk to him. I would help them with their last letters, to write letters. If they wanted to make telephone calls, the warden gave me permission to go — we had to go through the secretary’s office to make telephone calls. And mainly it was just to keep them calm, to give them juice or drinks or whatever it was they want. If they wanted to talk about the Bible, we’d talk about the Bible. If they wanted to talk about the Quran, I had a friend up in Dallas who gave me the very most expensive Qurans, a whole case of them, to be used only in the death house. Of course, I only used three. Sometimes they just want to sing. I had one that sang all day long. And I did a bunch of little things that made them happy. For instance, if a guy wanted a Dr Pepper, Dr Peppers aren’t available in the death house but, you know, I’d go next door to my house and bring them one. Little things that to them were important.

      TT: What changed your mind about the death penalty?

      Pickett: The main reason I was in favor of the death penalty was because my grandfather was murdered. And my father never talked about it. I found out through one of his cousins. My father was very strongly in favor of punishment, punishment, punishment, hard punishment. So I live with that. Then I began to see that these fellows, first of all they were not the same people who committed the crime, if they committed the crime. You know, they change. We called it restorative justice. Everybody can change. And then I got to see how much it costs. You know, the third guy that was executed it cost that county $6 million. And then there were many of them — way too many — who I knew were innocent, who did not commit the crime.

      It is cruel and unusual punishment. It is not always painless. We have botched executions.

      TT: What changes are needed in death penalty policy?

      Pickett: Law enforcement agencies have to be a lot more careful. Policies and programs like DNA and blood work — [we need to] do this quicker and not wait 20 years like Anthony Graves and some of these other people. If we are going to continue killing people in the name of the state, let’s get them right.

      TT: Why should lawmakers keep prison chaplains in the state budget?

      Pickett: On our unit, our wardens believed when everything is going smooth in the chapel, the fights and the problems go down. If they didn’t believe in anything, and they came to believe in something — something greater than they were — that would change their life. And many, many lives were changed. I have 78 men that became Christians while I was there who are ministers in different churches throughout the United States.

      TT: How do you cope with all the death you've seen over the years?

      Pickett: I feel like my ministry today is to work with organizations and with people and to go places to explain to people exactly what it’s like. That last day is painful. They are sitting there in Cell One looking at that big, black iron door knowing that at midnight or 6 o’clock they are going in there and they are not coming out.

      (Source: Texas Tribune)


      Feb. 25
      TEXAS:

      David R. Dow's 'The Autobiography of an Execution' is exemplary: new in paperback

      The Autobiography of an Execution, Twelve, 276 pp., $14.99

      Near the beginning of The Autobiography of an Execution, David R. Dow explains, "Because I used to support the death penalty, it's not so hard for me to have sympathy for the misguided souls who still do."

      Working out of Houston, where he teaches law, Dow has represented more than 100 Texas death-row inmates. Most he hasn't liked, many have committed monstrous crimes, yet he writes, "If you have reservations about supporting a racist, classist, unprincipled regime . . . then the death-penalty system we have here in America will embarrass you to no end."

      This clear, firm book is much more than a legal argument. It's about rising to do work each morning that will almost invariably fail, in the teeth of knowing that people die because "their lawyers neglect to dot the i's or cross the t's."

      It's also about the desperation of such work when the client is innocent, as Dow concludes for seven men he represented. His book's emotional resonance comes from the toll of this principled work on the author, his wife and young son.

      After a lunchtime phone call about missing an outing with his boy, Dow wonders, "Why is it that when my six-year-old son says, Okay, Dada, I feel like my entire life is a waste of time?"

      "The Autobiography of an Execution" is a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle award.

      (Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer)


      Feb. 11, 2011

      Prison director says execution drug will be found

      Texas' prison director says he's optimistic the state can find the drug sodium thiopental or an alternative to carry out executions after Texas' supply expires at the end of March.

      Rick Thaler, director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Institutional Division, said Friday outside a state prison board meeting the issue has been a top priority within the agency for several months.

      Sodium thiopental is 1 of 3 drugs used in the lethal mixture given to condemned killers but the sole manufacturer in the U.S. has suspended production and supplies elsewhere have been scarce.

      2 executions are scheduled this month, including 1 next week. Another is set for early April, days after the current Texas supply expires.

      Texas is the nation's most active death penalty state.

      (Source: Associated Press)



      U.S. drug maker discontinues key death penalty drug

      By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
      Associated Press
      Posted: 01/21/2011

      COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The sole U.S. manufacturer of a key lethal injection drug says it's discontinuing drug's production because it couldn't guarantee Italian authorities that it wouldn't be used in executions.

      Hospira Inc., of Lake Forest, Ill., said Friday that its plant in Italy was the only viable place where the company could produce sodium thiopental.

      Hospira spokesman Dan Rosenberg told The Associated Press that Italian authorities insisted the company prove the drug would never end up with states using it to put condemned inmates to death. Rosenberg said the company determined after discussions with Italy and Hospira wholesalers that it could not make such a guarantee.

      A shortage of sodium thiopental has disrupted executions around the country since last spring when Ohio nearly postponed an execution when it almost ran out.

      U.S. drug maker discontinues key death penalty drug


    2010:


      Texas prisoner executed for killing cellmate

      May 19, 2010

      Condemned Texas prisoner Rogelio Cannady has been executed for killing a cellmate while already serving 2 life sentences for a double murder.

      The 37-year-old Cannady didn't deny fatally beating his 55-year-old cellmate with a belt and padlock in October 1993. But he insisted the attack at the McConnell Unit prison in South Texas was in self-defense from an unwanted sexual advance.

      The lethal injection Wednesday evening made Cannady the 10th inmate put to death this year in the nation's most active capital punishment state.

      Cannady's execution came after last-day appeals failed in the federal courts.

      Cannady had argued his original conviction for killing 2 teenagers was tainted because of what he called a coerced confession.

      (Source: CNN)


    2009:


      EDITORIAL: CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM

      The yogurt shop case: Injustice for all

      November 01, 2009

      When it comes to the yogurt shop slayings, calling our criminal justice system a system does great injustice to systems that actually work.

      The case has gone on longer than any of the four victims lived.

      For emphasis, let's put it this way: The parents of the four slain girls now have had to suffer through the botched investigation into their daughters' deaths longer than they were able to enjoy their daughter's lives.

      And there still is no resolution.

      After almost 18 years, several trials and untabulated costs, we again have little more than suspects in the horror that began on Dec. 6, 1991, when Austin Police Officer Troy Gay reported the fire that led to the discovery of the bodies of Jennifer Harbison, 17, her sister Sarah, 15, and their friends Eliza Thomas, 17, and Amy Ayers, 13, at the I Can't Believe It's Yogurt shop.

      We can't believe this is justice for anybody involved, including the former defendants, who, as a result of the latest courtroom maneuvering, are back to being mere suspects.

      The latest depressing twist in the case came Wednesday when Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, faced with little choice, dismissed the charges against Robert Springsteen IV, 34, and Michael Scott, 35, as part of a plan to retry them.

      Springsteen, convicted in 2001, was sentenced to death, and Scott, convicted in 2002, was sentenced to life in prison. Both had confessed to the murders, but lawyers for both argued at trial that the confessions were coerced. Four years after the Springsteen conviction, his death sentence was changed to life in prison when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to execute people who were juveniles at the time of the offense.

      Everything blew up for the prosecution when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals threw out the convictions because the confessions of each defendant improperly were used at each other's trial.

      Problems with prosecuting Scott and Springsteen were complicated when, in preparing for retrials, updated DNA technology found a sample from an unknown male. Tests showed it came from neither Scott or Springsteen, nor from suspects Maurice Pierce or Forrest Welborn, Capital murder charges against Welborn were dismissed in 2000 when grand jurors declined to indict him. Charges against Pierce were dismissed in 2003.

      In June, prosecutors asked for and were granted a delay in the Scott and Springsteen retrials. In granting the delay, State District Judge Mike Lynch released Scott and Springsteen from jail on bond.

      And Lynch backed prosecutors to the wall on Wednesday with his warning that if they did not proceed to trial he'd consider dismissing the case for violations of the defendants' speedy trial rights.

      Lehmberg, faced with the possibility of a ruling that could preclude retrials, had little choice but to blink and move to dismiss the charges, for now. She called it "the best legal and strategic course to take" and noted it was the "best possible posture to ultimately retry both Springsteen and Scott."

      We're not all the way back to square one, but we may be closer to that than we are to justice that is long, long overdue.

      Fault? It has to all default to investigators who overzealously sought confessions and prosecutors who, to date, have been unable to successfully make the case.

      Victims? Everybody for whom the system has not worked. Unfortunately, that's everybody involved, from the slain young girls to the defendants and suspects. The case is far from closed, and all involved are far from closure — if indeed such is possible in a case this horrific.

      The victim list also includes everybody who counts on a functional criminal justice system. You can see one of those people in your bathroom mirror.

      The yogurt shop case: Injustice for all


      Charges dismissed in yogurt shop case

      By Steven Kreytak
      October 28, 2009

      UPDATE

      Travis County prosecutors moved to dismiss the murder indictments against the two remaining defendants in the 1991 yogurt shop murders after announcing in court today that they are still looking for the person whose DNA was found last year in one of the four teenage victims.

      Assistant District Attorney Efrain De La Fuente said in court that the decision came because state District Judge Mike Lynch has ordered that a continuance in the case to conduct further DNA testing would not be considered.

      “We are still testing,” he said.

      The packed courtroom was quiet after Lynch ordered the dismissals. Defendants Michael Scott and Robert Springsteen, who were once both convicted in the case, hugged their lawyers and supporters in court.

      Outside the courtroom, lawyers for the defendants called on authorities to find the real killers.

      “Those men that did this back in 1991, they left DNA in there,” said Scott lawyer Carlos Garcia. .”And I don’t know if those guys are still alive …but we have your DNA and sooner or later we are going to match your face to it.”

      Springsteen lawyer Joe James Sawyer said that he and his client believe that it is the families of the slain girls who have suffered the most.

      “We should reserve our sympathy for the families of those girls,” Sawyer said.

      “That is paramount.”

      Scott, gripping his wife’s hand, was reserved outside court.

      “This has been a long time in coming,” he said. “I’m happy to be here.”

      At a press conference following the hearing, Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg issued a statement that said in part: “Make no mistake, this is a difficult decision and one I would rather not have to make. I believe it is the best legal and strategic course to take and is the one that leaves us in the best possible posture to ultimately retry both Springsteen and Scott.”

      EARLIER

      A critical hearing is set for this afternoon in the capital murder cases against two men accused in the 1991 killings of four teenage girls at a North Austin yogurt shop.

      If prosecutors try to avoid setting a trial date, then state District Judge Mike Lynch may consider dismissing the cases against defendants Robert Springsteen and Michael Scott based on their rights to a speedy trial, Lynch wrote in an August order. Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg could also decide to dismiss the case on her own.

      The hearing is set for 1:30 p.m. in Travis County’s 167th District Court.

      Lehmberg has scheduled a press conference following the hearing.

      In June, Lynch released the men from jail on their own recognizance after prosecutors said they wanted more time to identify the source of male DNA found in vaginal swabs taken from victim Amy Ayers, 13. Scott, Sprignsteen and two previous co-defendant were excluded as contributors of that DNA.

      Prosecutors have not yet determined whose DNA it is, according to defense lawyers who have been kept apprised of the testing.

      In a strongly worded order in written in August, Lynch said that the lawyers in the case must announce they are ready for trial today. “Extreme circumstances would be required to obtain a continuance,” he wrote.

      If either party announces they are ready for trial and later asks for more time, Lynch wrote, “it would be a violation of this order” if there was no new reason for the continuance request.

      Today’s hearing is the latest critical juncture for a case that has taken many turns since Dec. 6, 1991, when the bodies of Ayers, sisters Sarah and Jennifer Harbison, 17 and 15, and Eliza Thomas were found, each bound with their own clothing and shot in the head, at the I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt Shop on West Anderson Lane.

      In 1999, Scott and Springsteen confessed. Their lawyers later said those confessions were coerced under psychological pressure and lengthy interviews by police. Both were convicted but those convictions were overturned when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found that Scott’s confession was improperly used at Springsteen’s trial and Springsteen’s confession was improperly used at Scott’s trial.

      Prosecutors ordered testing using new, previously unavailable DNA technology, and found the DNA on Ayers.

      Defense lawyers say that additional testing found the same unknown male’s DNA in a vaginal swab taken from victim Jennifer, and another partial DNA profile in Sarah, who was also killed in the crime. They also found additional unknown male DNA on clothing used to bind the wrists of Eliza.

      The DNA results were obtained using technology not previously available. The Y-STR profiles can not be run through databases of DNA taken from convicts and others and must be individually compared to known DNA profiles. Scott and Springsteen have been excluded as contributors of any of the DNA found at the crime scene.

      In June, Lehmberg said the DNA found on Ayers had been compared to DNA taken from 130 people, including associates of the defendants, crime scene workers and others. None matched, she said.

      Lehmberg in June would not say whether she go to trial without first identifying whose DNA was found on Ayers.

      Lynch wrote in his order that he would not grant the district attorney more time to prepare the case to conduct further DNA testing.

      If the cases are dismissed by either Lehmberg or Lynch it is likely that they could be re-filed after additional investigation.

      To read about the challenges the DA faces in prosecuting the case, go Here.

      Charges dismissed in yogurt shop case


      Oct. 27, 2009

      28-year-old convicted in 2000 shooting executed

      A man convicted of murder in a San Antonio robbery more than 9 years ago was executed Tuesday evening after proclaiming his innocence.

      Reginald Blanton, 28, received lethal injection for the April 2000 shooting death of Carlos Garza at the 22-year-old man's apartment.

      In a brief statement after he was strapped to the Texas death chamber gurney, Blanton insisted his execution was an injustice and he was wrongly convicted.

      "Carlos was my friend," he said, looking at Garza's mother, wife and 3 sisters, who watched through a window a few feet from him. "I didn't murder him. What's happening right now is an injustice. This doesn't solve anything. This will not bring back Carlos."

      Blanton also complained the lethal drugs that would be used on him weren't allowed to put down dogs.

      "I say I am worse off than a dog," he said. "They want to kill me for all this. I am not the man that did this."

      Then he told friends he loved them and to continue to fight.

      "I will see y'all again," he said.

      He was pronounced dead at 6:21 p.m., 8 minutes after the lethal drugs began flowing.

      "Today is the day we have all been waiting for," said one of Garza's sisters, Sulema Balverde. "My brother Carlos Garza can finally rest in peace."

      The women held hands or wrapped their arms around each other while Blanton spoke. Some wiped away tears.

      "I miss my son dearly and have waited for this day to finally get here," said Irene Garza, the victim's mother.

      The punishment was carried out less than 2 hours after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Blanton's last-day appeals.

      He had always maintained his innocence but a security video submitted at his capital murder trial showed him pawning 2 gold necklaces and a religious medal belonging to Garza about 20 minutes after the shooting. When he was arrested 4 days later, he was wearing more of Garza's jewelry.

      Blanton's twin brother, Robert Blanton, told police his brother broke into Garza's apartment, believing no one was home, and shot Garza when he appeared.

      Prosecutors said Reginald Blanton, who was 18 at the time, took some jewelry and left, then returned 20 minutes later to go through Garza's place. He took about $100 in cash. The necklaces got him $79 at a pawn shop.

      A neighbor called police after seeing the broken door and spotting Garza lying on the floor. Garza died later at a hospital.

      Robert Blanton's girlfriend tipped police about the shooting. Robert Blanton implicated his brother during questioning. Reginald Blanton argued his brother's statement was coerced by police.

      Robert Blanton wasn't charged in the case because authorities couldn't show he was involved in the break-in or shooting, but he's now in prison, serving a 2-year term for an unrelated drug conviction at the Huntsville Unit, the prison where the execution was carried out.

      Reginald Blanton's trial attorneys told a Bexar County jury he shouldn't be sentenced to die, saying he had a horrible childhood with little supervision and he could have been harmed as a fetus because his mother was pushed down the stairs.

      Witnesses testified Blanton smoked marijuana at age 11, spent time at a juvenile boot camp and joined gangs in San Antonio to seek protection his family didn't provide. He had previous arrests for shoplifting, weapons possession, auto theft and marijuana possession. When he was arrested on the capital murder charge, he had 4 bags of marijuana and a shotgun. He was accused of assaulting an inmate while awaiting trial.

      On death row, prison records show Blanton had several disciplinary infractions, including possession of a sharpened steel shank. He also was among death row inmates caught last year with illegal cell phones.

      Blanton became the 19th inmate to be executed in Texas this year. At least 6 more lethal injections are scheduled before the end of the year, including Khristian Oliver, 32, set to die next week for the beating death of a Nacogdoches County man during a burglary in 1998. Blanton becomes the 442nd condemned inmate to be put to death in Texas since the state resumed capital punishment on December 7, 1982. He is the 203rd condemned inmate to be put to death since Rick Perry became governor in 2001.

      Blanton becomes the 42nd condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1178th overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977.

      On the Net: Texas Department of Criminal Justice Execution Schedule

      (Sources : Associated Press & Rick Halperin)


      10/25/09

      Ex-governors death penalty skepticism a welcome step

      Former Texas Gov. Mark White did last week what he could never have done during his 2 campaigns for state attorney general and three bids for the governors office. He said it is time for Texas to rethink the use of capital punishment and replace the death penalty with life in prison.

      You see, no one can run a successful statewide campaign in Texas the death penalty capital of the country without being for capital punishment. Just ask any of the candidates already running for governor in next years election. They wouldn't dare come out against the ultimate legal penalty.

      Even the late Ann Richards, a compassionate soul indeed, felt compelled to talk tough like the good ol boys and declare her stand in favor of this barbaric practice.

      When White ran his 3rd race for governor, in 1990, facing Richards in the Democratic primary, he actually bragged about the people who were executed on his watch.

      19 people were put to death by the state while he was governor, between 1983 and 1987. During an interview on National Public Radio last week, he was reminded of the commercial he ran in that race, which Richards ultimately won.

      Melissa Block, host of All Things Considered, began the conversation by saying, "I'm going to play for you part of a campaign ad from back in 1990 when you ran again. You lost in the Democratic primary, and the ad shows you walking along the portraits of people who were executed while you were governor. Let's listen."

      The sound bite from the ad has White saying, "These hardened criminals will never again murder, rape or deal drugs. As governor, I made sure they received the ultimate punishment: death. And Texas is a safer place for it."

      White's change of heart last week, coming after national news coverage about the 2004 execution of a man who might have been innocent, was heralded by death penalty opponents, including Amnesty International USA.

      "The evolution of Governor White's views on the death penalty in Texas is welcomed news, and it mirrors the change that is taking place nationwide," the human rights organization said in a statement. "As advances in DNA and forensic science have revealed the extent to which our criminal justice system is prone to error, judges, jurors, the public and even some politicians, have begun to question the wisdom of resorting to capital punishment. Those who once supported the death penalty are now significantly less sure."

      With the growing number of exonerations of convicted people in Texas 2 others from Dallas County announced last week one can't help but wonder, "How many innocent people have been put to death for a crime they did not commit?"

      The Texas case getting a lot of scrutiny now partly because Gov. Rick Perry overreacted to a state commissions investigation of it is that of Cameron Todd Willingham, convicted of killing his 3 young daughters in a fire. He was executed 5 years ago.

      (source: Editorial, Fort Worth Star-Telegram)


      10/25/09

      Death penalty demonstrators march at State Capitol

      Hundreds rallied Saturday afternoon at the State Capitol as part of the 10th annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty. They came certain an innocent man was executed and called for an end to the death penalty.

      The protesters drew attention to the controversial case of Cameron Todd Willingham. He was tried, convicted and in 2004 executed for setting a fire to his house, killing his 3 young daughters. Despite not having a clear motive, investigators accused him of arson. But a new report, commissioned by the Texas Forensic Science Commission, says the expert evidence was wrong.

      Elizabeth Gilbert, a playwright and Willinghams former pen pal, is convinced of his innocence and was instrumental in helping his family find a fire investigator to examine his case. She believes an innocent man was put to death.

      "We executed a person who didn't commit a crime," she said. "I am hoping to bring attention that if 1 person is executed, thats more than enough."

      Governor Perry has come under fire for replacing several members of a state commission just days before it was to hear a report on the science used to convict Willingham of arson. He has dismissed the criticism as anti-death penalty rhetoric. He says the panel will move forward with the investigation and maintains Willingham was guilty.

      "Willingham was a monster," said the Governor. "This was a guy who murdered hi s 3 children, who tried to beat his wife into an abortion so that he wouldn't have those kids. Person after person has stood up and testified to facts of this case that, quite frankly, you all aren't covering."

      There were counter-demonstrato rs at the rally.

      Willingham's mother, Eugenia, had been scheduled to speak at the rally but organizers said lawyers had advised her not to attend. In a written statement handed out by organizers, she wrote: "At this time, my primary concern is that the Texas Forensic Commission be given the opportunity to continue the investigation into Todd's wrongful death." She wrote about receiving letters of support from death row inmates, saying her son's execution has caused appeals courts to take a closer look at their cases. This won't bring Todd back, but I take comfort in knowing that others may be freed because of him."

      (source: TXCN News)


      DEATH PENALTY

      Protesters march to call for an end to executions
      Recent remarks by Perry fuel anti-death penalty rally.

      By Joshunda Sanders
      AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
      October 25, 2009

      Anti-death penalty protesters gathered at the Capitol on Saturday in part to voice their disapproval of Gov. Rick Perry's remarks this month regarding Cameron Todd Willingham, the Corsicana man convicted of setting a fire that killed his three young children on Dec. 23, 1991.

      The 10th annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty occurred in the midst of a renewed debate over capital punishment, largely spurred by Willingham's case. Most recently, former Texas Gov. Mark White said the state should reconsider its use of capital punishment "so we don't look up one day and determine that we, as the State of Texas, have executed someone who in fact was innocent."

      White's comments came as Perry has been criticized for replacing four members of the Texas Forensics Commission and delaying consideration of a fire scientist's report questioning the 2004 execution of Willingham. Perry has described Willingham as a "monster" and said he is certain of his guilt.

      One of the lawyers who represented Willingham in his appeals disagreed.

      "Todd Willingham was a person who deserved to be treated fairly, and he didn't get that," said Walter Reaves, Willingham's appellate attorney. "No one could ever make the case that if we knew then what we know now that he would have been convicted, tried and executed."

      Jeff Blackburn, founder of the Innocence Project of Texas, a nonprofit group that works to overturn wrongful convictions, said that the Willingham case "represents an opportunity for Texas to fix a broken criminal justice system."

      Scott Cobb, president of the Texas Moratorium Network, a nonprofit organization that aims to mobilize support for a moratorium on state executions, said about 50 organizations were responsible for organizing Saturday's march.

      The event attracted hundreds of people, who carried signs with photographs of inmates currently on death row and posters bearing slogans such as "Stop All Executions."

      About a dozen protesters sat on the steps of the Capitol, holding white posters with lists of the hundreds of inmates who have been executed in Texas since 1982, when the state resumed executions.

      Austinite Jeanette Popp, 60, came to the march with a different perspective.

      On Oct. 24, 1988, Popp's 20-year-old daughter, Nancy DePriest, was found dead with her hands bound behind her back at the North Austin Pizza Hut where she worked. Two men were wrongfully convicted of her death and served 12 years in prison. They were freed in 2001, after DNA evidence implicated another man.

      The confessed killer, Achim Josef Marino, said that he had shot DePriest as part of a satanic sacrifice. Eventually, Popp lobbied for Marino to be spared the death penalty, which he was.

      Despite the time that has passed, Popp said, the conversation on capital punishment has not changed.

      "It's the 21st anniversary of my daughter's murder, and we're still talking about murdering people with the murdering machine," she said.

      jsanders@statesman.com; 445-3630

      Protesters march to call for an end to executions


      Oct. 24, 2009

      A change of heart: Sex offenders who kill deserve the death penalty

      This will be one of my shortest op-ed pieces within 9 years of writing them, but I must come clean. In as much as I say that I am pro-life where I have stated I am pro-life from cradle-to-grave, I must, I must take back that mantle especially when it comes to child sexual predators. These monsters will at times take the lives of innocent victims, namely children. Our precious children gone before the promise of their lives not realized to all of us.

      If a writer is to be honest with their readers, then they must be honest with themselves first and foremost. Over the years I have read up on pedophilia and have written of it. There are no words to adequately describe my feelings towards these predators. If I had to choose one word, it would be 'hate'. That word at times seems tame.

      In delving into the heinous world of pedophilia, one cannot take enough hot showers to clean themselves from reading story-upon-story of children raped and murdered by demons. I want these demons dead. I cannot stomach their apologists or those who try, try to explain away their deviant behavior. How dare they?! Let them face a child who has survived a predator or a parent whose child was taken by one.

      I do not want these demons out within our neighborhoods being told to register under Megan's Law, I want them locked up. Is that so much to ask of our stupid politicians who think this is the best way of dealing with sexual offenders? In doing so, it is their abdication of judicial responsibility to deal with these predators. They expect us to deal with them instead of them. I have stated that from the get-go, yet, yet no one listens.

      Tonight, I had to put out a tweet on Twitter.com and my Facebook.com page this entry: "My tears and anguish go out to Diena Thompson whose daughter Somer was killed by a child predator.
      Fry him!"

      It is my sincere hope that you sit and listen to Diena Thompson openly grieve fully knowing that her beloved Somer will not come back to her again and murdered at the hands of a predator. Whose rights should we as a society be protecting? The rights of the victim(s) or the rights of the predator(s)?

      Somer Thompson and children just like her namely Jessica Lunsford will not be coming back to their loved ones or to us and it is time we stand up for them. We as a society must demand of our politicos that if you sexually harm a child and are declared a level 3 sex offender, you are never getting out of prison. If you kill a child in the act of any sexual act, you will face the death penalty. It is the least we can do for those most innocent amongst us; our children.

      So, I guess I am not pro-life from cradle-to-grave; but justice for the most innocent amongst us rings louder in my ears. I hope that you hear them too.

      (source: Mary MacElveen, OpEdNews)


      10/24/09

      Death Penalty Is Too Expensive for States; Study Finds----State and Local Governments Facing Budget Crunches Can Realize Big Savings by Eliminating the Death Penalty

      A group opposing capital punishment is urging government officials to reassess the costs and benefits of the death penalty in light of America's economic troubles.

      State and local governments facing dire budget crunches can realize substantial savings by replacing capital punishment with a regime that sentences the worst offenders to life in prison without parole, according to a report released Tuesday by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC).

      The number of death sentences handed down in the United States has dropped from roughly 300 a year in the 1990s to 115 a year more recently.

      Executions are falling off at the same rate, the report says.

      In the meantime, some 3,300 inmates remain on death row.

      "[T]he death penalty is turning into a very expensive form of life without parole," said Richard Dieter, DPIC executive director, in a statement. "At a time of budget shortfalls, the death penalty cannot be exempt from reevaluation alongside other wasteful government programs that no longer make sense."

      Despite the report's findings, the death penalty has the support of most Americans. According to an October 2008 Gallup survey, 64 percent of Americans favor the death penalty for a person convicted of murder. Thirty percent oppose it.

      Only once in the past 70 years (in 1966-67) did more Americans oppose capital punishment than support it, the poll results show. In that time span, 47 % opposed it, while 42 % supported it.

      The DPIC study does not address American attitudes toward capital punishment. Instead, the report focuses on the economic costs.

      A 2008 study in California found that the state was spending $137 million a year on capital cases. A comparable system that instead sentenced the same offenders to life without parole would cost $11.5 million, says the DPIC report, citing the study's estimates.

      New York spent $170 million over 9 years on capital cases before repealing the death penalty. No executions were carried out there.

      New Jersey spent $253 million over 25 years with no executions. That state also repealed capital punishment.

      Some officials may be tempted to try to cut capital-punishment costs, notes the DPIC report, but many of those costs reflect Supreme Court-mandated protections at the trial and appeals-court levels. "The choice today is between a very expensive death penalty and one that risks falling below constitutional standards," the report says.

      Nationwide, the report estimates, at least $2 billion has been spent since 1976 for costs that wouldn't have been incurred if the severest penalty were life in prison. The figure is based on an estimate in a 1993 North Carolina study that found the average extra cost of a death sentence in this state was $300,000. The average extra cost of capital punishment is significantly higher in several other states like California, Florida, and Maryland, the report says.

      Bills calling for an end to capital punishment have been introduced in 11 state legislatures this year. Also this year, New Mexico abolished the death penalty, and Maryland narrowed its use. The Connecticut governor vetoed a law that would have ended capital punishment.

      The DPIC report includes the results of a recent poll of 500 police chiefs nationwide. 57 % of the chiefs polled said they agreed with the statement that the death penalty does little to prevent violent crimes because perpetrators rarely consider the consequences when engaged in violence.

      39 % of police chiefs disagreed with this statement.

      The DPIC study concludes that capital punishment is a wasteful, expensive program that no longer makes sense. "The promised benefits from the death penalty have not materialized, "the report says. "If more states choose to end the death penalty, it will hardly be missed, and the economic savings will be significant."

      (source: ABC News)


      Oct. 23, 2009

      Abolish the death penalty today

      After spending 28 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Mark Clements was finally set free in August. Here, he comments on the case of Reginald Blanton, who is scheduled to be executed on October 27 by the state of Texas.

      Texas is still under fire for the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, but on October 27, 2009, the state is scheduled to execute Reginald Blanton, despite his claims of innocence.

      In the Willingham case, Texas Gov. Rick Perry carried out the execution.

      Now that new evidence has surfaced that strongly suggests Perry killed an innocent man, he wishes to insist that he do likewise in the Blanton case.

      Gov. Perry has ignored the opinion of millions around this nation who firmly believe that Willingham was indeed innocent. He has called him a "monster" even as he has disregarded key evidence by fire experts that Willingham never set the fire that killed his children, but rather that it was caused by some kind of accident.

      In the Reginald Blanton case, Blanton was convicted on faulty evidence--that a shoe print belonged to him. The shoe print is now known to have been two sizes larger than his shoe print. His trial attorneys were ineffective, and there was not one eyewitness in the case. The witnesses against Blanton have since come forward to claim that police forced them to sign statements. The Texas courts once again allowed African Americans to be excluded from the jury.

      This is a case that Gov. Perry should be pleased to reexamine, but he has told the media that he will carry out the execution of Reginald Blanton as planned--which amounts once again to a smack in the face of African Americans all across this nation.

      No other race has suffered injustice like African Americans in this country. In the state of Illinois, it is a known fact that innocent men have been beaten and tortured by racist police detectives-- framed and convicted, and placed on death row.

      History is repeating itself once again. Slavery still exists. If you think it does not, then try walking in the shoes of Reginald Blanton, Kenneth Foster, Troy Davis, Rodney Reed, Stan Tookie Stanley Williams, Stanley Howard and many others.

      The state of Texas' criminal justice system serves as the spotlight on why the death penalty in this country should be abolished today, not tomorrow.

      (source: Socialist Worker)


      10/22/09

      Uncomfortable jokes about executing prisoners by former Texas Death House warden

      Joking about executions was more than some students and college professors were ready to hear, especially when the stand up comic was in charge of executing so many Texas prisoners.

      The warden who oversaw the Walls Unit in Huntsville, giving the order to go ahead with 89 executions, joked about sending inmates to their death as he spoke to a University of Houston Downtown lecture Tuesday night, but some students and staff expressed discomfort as they talked about it outside the event.

      Jim Willett had copies of his two books for sale as he addressed the UHD Criminal Justice Lecture Series.

      Now head of the Texas Prison Museum in Huntsville, he never focused on one single theme or message as he addressed a room full of around 80 students, faculty and visitors. He began telling several stories and then stopped, midway, and told the audience he needed to back up or he had forgotten details.

      In answering one student's question, Willett said an inmate had clearly told the prison chaplain minutes before his execution that he was innocent of the crime he was about to die for. As the audience sat and digested his statement, he said he meant to say that the inmate had admitted his guilt.

      Willett was responding to a question about whether he ever gave the command to execute an inmate that he believed may be innocent. Willett said the inmate in his botched story had told the chaplain that he really was guilty, but he gave a final statement professing his innocence because he just couldn't stand the thought of telling his family he was guilty.

      While joking or making fun may be an understandable part of on-the-job stress relief for prison workers when no one else is around, Willett's jokes about sending prisoners to their death took students, faculty and others in attendance by surprise.

      He said that one inmate was strapped to the gurney and asked for a piece of gum because his mouth was so dry. In a move of compassion, the executioner stepped up and opened a piece of candy and plopped it into the inmate's mouth. The warden said that inmate just started chewing and chewing on that candy.

      Then Willett said he stepped around to the inmate's other shoulder and asked the inmate if that happened to be a Livesaver. While a few uncomfortable laughs were heard in the UHD auditorium, others looked to the floor.

      Willett then continued his story and said the inmate replied that he was hoping that it was, indeed, a Lifesaver, but he didn't think it was working.

      Willett also says he joked with another inmate who was about to die, over the gesture the warden would give to start the execution. He said that the inmate had heard a national radio interview, in which Willett said his signal to the executioner was to simply take off his reading glasses when the inmate's final statement was finished. When the glasses come off, the executioner starts the lethal drugs flowing through the IV.

      Willett gleefully said he asked this particular inmate how he'd know when the final statement was finished, and he said the inmate replied that he would just tell the warden to take off his glasses.

      But that joke wasn't over for the UHD crowd.

      Willett said he sternly told the inmate not to say such a thing during his final statement to the witnesses in the execution chamber. He said he was very firmly telling him not to do something, but he chuckled with the UHD college crowd and said he found it strange that he was threatening an inmate who was about to die. After all, said Willett, what could he possibly threaten this person with anyway?

      Willett's story about taking off his glasses to signal the executioner has been repeated many times since he started selling books. He told a KPRC Local 2 interviewer about his trademark move for a report that aired after his retirement from TDCJ. It was also immortalized in that radio broadcast that the now deceased convict had mentioned hearing, since that NPR broadcast received a Peabody Award.

      At the UHD event, he admitted that he copied that move from the past warden. Perhaps that past warden didn't take so much joy in telling about this move, which is why it's ripe for this warden to use as new material.

      Willett also said he followed the advice of that past warden by waiting exactly 3 minutes from the time the inmate appears to die before calling in the doctor to pronounce the inmate dead. He said the past warden had indicated this was 'just to be safe' so he figured he should follow that protocol.

      On the first execution he presided over, he said it was the longest 3 minutes of his life.

      Willett told several stories of how he was compassionate in the final hours or moments of a convict's life, almost as if he was bragging.

      In one case, he says he allowed a series of phone calls that are normally off limits, in other cases he says he allowed cigarettes for the condemned even though TDCJ has been smoke free since the 90's.

      At first, Willett said there were almost never any problems in finding a vein to insert needles on both arms of the inmate. Then later, he was asked a specific question and he admitted one instance where veins could not be easily found so only a single needle was inserted in one arm. After he gave the order to start the execution, he said the inmate turned to him and announced the needle had fallen out.

      Willett said he closed the curtains to shield the witnesses, and those witnesses were led out so that they could be led in to start all over again once the needle had been replaced.

      He said he often tapped people who are not state employees to help him with the difficult task of starting the final IV's for executions under his watch. When pressed for exactly what he meant, he remained vague but he said he would sometimes find people who had experience in starting IV's during the Vietnam War since they would be perfect for the task in the stressful Texas Death Chamber.

      On the subject of needing to round up help in executing convicts, Willett said several employees who executed Karla Faye Tucker asked to be removed from the execution detail. He said some called in sick the following day and others sought counseling, while others said it changed how they looked at executions.

      Tucker was one of two women to be executed on Willet's watch. The other, he said, went smoothly. However, Tucker's was complicated by the immense national media attention since she had claimed to be a born-again Christian and shots of her praying were all over the national news as her execution approached in 1998. She was condemned for a barbaric 1993 drug-fueled pickax slaying of 2 people.

      Willett said his entire 'strap down team' and anyone having any part of the execution always handled it with professionalism and that was always important to him. He said that he would watch carefully because anyone who seemed to enjoy executions had no place in the execution process.

      He said he would quickly call them in and take them off the execution detail if they seemed like they'd be unprofessional about such a somber task.

      In this reviewer's opinion, Willett should follow his own advice and take himself off the execution detail for his book tour.

      From a reporter who has been an official witness of 2 executions and covered dozens more: This UHD book-selling lecture was likely the worst example of insensitivity and glee from a TDCJ Death House employee being on display in such a disturbing manner.

      (source: Stephen Dean, Houston Examiner)


      Oct. 21, 2009

      Death Row Inmates in Texas Tell Their Stories in New Book

      The U.S. state with the busiest death chamber and one of the largest prison populations is Texas, where public opinion polls show the death penalty is supported by more than 70% of the population.

      A new book by students at a Texas university compiles writings and art work done by condemned prisoners.

      The book, Upon This Chessboard of Nights and Days, Voices from Texas Death Row, was published by Texas Review Press, on the campus of Sam Houston State University in Huntsville - a city that is the location of one of the state's largest prisons and where executions are carried out.

      The book provides a rare look into the minds of men who await their moment in the death chamber.

      Texas courts have condemned nearly 350 men and 10 women to be executed. The men are kept in a high-security prison near Livingston, Texas, a short drive from Huntsville, where the execution chamber, known as Ellis Unit One is housed.

      One of the men on death row is 31-year-old Robert Will, who, at the age of 22, took part in a crime that resulted in the murder of a police officer.

      Robert Will

      When asked to write something for the book on Texas' death row, he chose not to write about himself, but about a fellow inmate who took his own life. "My friend was a genuinely good person who just made some bad choices in life," he wrote. Will says many inmates on death row struggle with guilt over the people they killed as well as the anxiety of knowing they are condemned to die."

      "There is more stress on a person's psyche, because you are living under a sentence of death and that can weigh heavily on a person's mind. I mean I have seen guys literally go completely insane," he said.

      In addition to writings, the new book contains art work done by death row inmates, many of whom Will regards as true artists. "There is so much talent back here. And I know that this might sound outrageous, but if someone reads that book, perhaps it will not sound so outrageous. You have individuals back here who, I mean, you have artists who are brilliant, absolutely brilliant artists," he said.

      Paul Ruffin with students

      The idea for the book on death row originated with Sam Houston State University English Professor Paul Ruffin, who teaches a class in which students develop a book from inception to printing. He says this book gives a voice to people who society has cast off. "What we wanted to do was give them an outlet for their work, for their expression. We wanted to know what it was like, day-to-day, living on death row," he said.

      Around 50 male inmates submitted writings and art work. But none of the condemned women responded, much to Ruffin's disappointment. He says they, like many male inmates, might have distrusted the motives of the people working on the book. A photo of a torn-up request for submissions is featured in the book.

      Paula Khalaf, student editor

      But one of the book's seven student editors, Paula Khalaf, says those who did contribute seemed to like the idea. "One of the inmates said, 'Thank you for the opportunity to show that we are not monsters; we are human beings,'" she said.

      Khalaf says that before working on this book, she never thought much about the death penalty, but she was deeply touched by reading the stories of men who often grew up in broken homes and who, as one inmate says, "became lost souls as children." "I have to say I have probably changed my feelings about the death penalty. Probably, if I had to come down as either for or against it at this point, I would be against it," she said.

      James Ridgway

      But fellow editor James Ridgway has mixed feelings about that issue and the prisoners themselves. "The first reaction is to be sympathetic, like, 'Oh, wow, these are really sad stories and I feel bad.' And then, the second thing that happens is you look up the crime and you are horrified," he said.

      Although the book does not describe the crimes committed by the inmate contributors, the information is provided online by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

      Ridgway says working on the book challenged him intellectually and emotionally. You are reading these things and this kind of dark mood sets over you and again, whether you are for or against the death penalty, that is not my point - it is that sifting through enough of that [writing] sort of puts that mood on you," he said.

      There is so much interest in the book that Professor Ruffin says his new class is already at work on a follow-up book that will include creative writing by inmates and various kinds of art work as well. One early submission is a dice game made of scrap material by an inmate who also included detailed, handwritten instructions on how to play the game he invented in his cell.

      Ruffin says one goal of this project has already been accomplished in that the condemned men are no longer just names and numbers. "They have become something like people we know now, whereas before they were obscure," he said.

      Copies of the Texas death row book were sent to the inmate contributors.

      Upon This Chessboard of Nights and Days, Voices from Texas Death Row is available for purchase in bookstores as well as online.

      (source: Voice of America News)


      Oct. 21, 2009

      Texas Gov. Could Face Criminal Charges for Interfering with Death Penalty Review

      Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) is facing questions about his responsibility for wrongfully executing Cameron Todd Willingham, convicted of arson for a fire that killed his daughters, despite new expert analysis showing there was in fact zero evidence of arson. An investigation into the execution has already found that Perry was given the new evidence to review which should have shown him that all the evidence of guilt was actually scientifically unfounded testimony but chose not to stay the execution pending review of the trial process and evidence.

      When the investigation began looking into Gov. Perry's review of the process, what he knew and when he knew it, he refused to reappoint the sitting chair of the commission and replaced him and two other members with conservatives sympathetic to his point of view. The new commissioner has canceled testimony from a leading arson expert that would discredit the case used to execute Willingham.

      Gov. Perry is locked in a serious challenge within his own party from Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who says his politicization of the death penalty has put the entire system at risk. There are also mounting concerns the governor in fact saw the new evidence and even received a direct communication from Willinghams lawyer requesting a stay, but deliberately chose to ignore clearly exculpatory evidence for political reasons.

      If that is indeed the case, Gov. Perry might face legal consequences for knowingly putting an innocent man to death to further his own political career. That question has not been put forward explicitly by the state's investigators, and Gov. Perry's moves to change the makeup of the panel by appointing potential allies are a clear attempt to prevent it from being posed formally, but allegations the governor's office sought to halt the investigation suggest precisely the possibility he knew he was executing an innocent man and umis worried about the legal and political fallout should his actions be formally investigated.

      For his part, Gov. Perry is now aggressively attacking Willingham in the court of public opinion, seeking to make his death seem a welcome end to a reign of terror by calling him a "monster" and saying he beat his wife to force her to have an abortion. Perry hopes to persuade a majority of voters to see him as a man who did his civic duty in putting a murderer to death. But even Republicans are now questioning Perrys personal responsibility and commitment to the integrity of the system.

      Could a governor empowered by law to approve death sentences, but also to halt them before they are enforced, actually face homicide charges, should he be seen to have knowingly executed an innocent man for personal gain? Certainly federal law provides ways such a charge and/or verdict could come to pass for instance felony murder based on abuse of office, or violating a citizens civil rights by denying him his day in court (with the new evidence).

      What is perhaps more surprising than that this situation has arisen or that such questions are being raised this has long been expected to some degree, given the radically pro-death penalty political climate in Texas is the fact that Gov. Perry appears to have so brazenly and publicly sought to interfere in the process and evince his personal wishes that the matter never be fully reviewed.

      The point has many times been made, by both opponents and responsible proponents of capital punishment, that everyone, every citizen and every politician, had the same very real interest in making sure the system never permits an innocent person anywhere near death row. Perry, however, seems determined not to take any action that would ensure the integrity of the system.

      Either he does not claim and does not want any responsibility over the system, in which case, one imagines he is unfit to serve at the top of it, or he has taken it upon himself to impede the progress of justice, conceal evidence and unilaterally assert the reliability of a process, while refusing to use its last true humane tool to scrutinize the process and side with justice, in which case.

      It gets easier to see over time why Perry wants the investigation halted.

      He has put far more Americans to death than any living official. And Willingham was not the first case he simply shrugged off as settled and in no need of review. How many of those cases will suddenly become suspect, if 1) Willingham is formally found innocent and 2) evidence emerges that the governor ignored exculpatory evidence and executed an innocent man, not just as a result of a travesty of justice but with specific personal political and professional gain in mind? In how many of those cases did Perry consciously or even explicitly consider personal political benefit as tied to ending a human life?

      Opponents of the death penalty already smell blood in the water and are beginning to view Perry as easy prey. If they can show that the single most prolific executioner in the United States ignored evidence, gamed the system and put people to death banking on the political benefits of having done so, it will breathe new life into the abolitionist movement. Perry must fight not only that political battle, but also the perception that his attempt to end the investigation might be a criminal coverup.

      (source: CafeSentido. com)


      Oct. 21, 2009

      Study: Death penalty is a waste of taxpayer money

      If you live in a state that provides a taxpayer-funded program no one is using, is it worth keeping?

      So why do we still have a death penalty?

      A new nationwide study puts things in stark terms: The death penalty is a waste of money:

      "A group opposing capital punishment is urging government officials to reassess the costs and benefits of the death penalty in light of America's economic troubles.

      State and local governments facing dire budget crunches can realize substantial savings by replacing capital punishment with a regime that sentences the worst offenders to life in prison without parole, according to a report released Tuesday by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC)." --Christian Science Monitor

      The Death Penalty Information Center is a non-profit information warehouse on capital punishment that also opposes the death penalty.

      Execution Chamber, San Quentin (Sacramento Bee) Their study found that death penalty costs can average $10 million more per year per state than life sentences. The increased costs are due to more expensive security requirements and guaranteed access to an often lengthy appellate process.

      States often must assign public defenders and pay for the costs of the prosecution as well. Cases are more costly to prosecute and can take over four times longer to try, requiring additional moneys for lawyers, jurors, court personnel and other related costs.

      States can't afford that, so cases take longer, executions are fewer (down from a record 98 a decade ago to 40 so far this year), inmates remain on death row longer, where their incarceration is more expensive to maintain.

      Some 3,300 inmates remain on death row in the 35 states where capital punishment remains on the books.

      The death penalty needs to go. I'm not squeamish about executions. I just don't like wasting money, and the death penalty is a waste of money.

      New Jersey is a good test case. In December of 2007, Jersey became the first state in modern times to repeal its death penalty. It was 1 of 5 states where capital punishment remained on the books but has been unused for decades. Another 5 states have each executed only one prisoner during the past 40 years.

      With a blue-ribbon commission, the state of New Jersey came to what I think was a rational conclusion: capital punishment --which requires a more elaborate process at trial and in appeals-- costs too much, financially and emotionally, to maintain it as an empty gesture.

      The state had spent a quarter of a billion dollars above and beyond the cost of non-capital murder trials to try to satisfy the exacting standards for death penalty cases established by U-S Supreme Court and interpreted by skeptical lower courts. And in those appeals, of the 60 death sentences recommended by New Jersey juries under the current law, 57 have been reversed on appeal. The emptiness of a penalty that is so rarely imposed convinced state lawmakers that the death penalty served no purpose, and the state decided that a life sentence without possibility of parole can accomplish as much but without the added financial burdens.

      California, where I live, still has its death penalty. It has 678 death row inmates. We haven't executed anyone in four years. Since 1992, we've executed 13 people. From the time capital punishment was reinstated in 1978 until 1992, we've executed no one.

      A death penalty in which no one is put to death is not a death penalty; it's life without parole, just a more expensive form of it.

      Yet we pay for its upkeep. A California prison inmate in the general population costs the taxpayer about $50,000 annually. On death row, it's $90,000, over $60 million annually for all 678 inmates just for the jail cell.

      Last year, a blue ribbon panel put the entire cost of maintaining California's death penalty system at $137 million a year. Imagine the t-shirt: "We spent $137 million and all we got was a lousy 13 executions in 17 years."

      Why so much? Because a fundamental right in our system of government is due process and a defendant must have every opportunity to avail himself of all legal remedies before the state can take his life. There's no money to adequately fund the courts to quickly move defendants through the system. To do so, it would cost California taxpayers another $96 million, according to last year's panel.

      On the other hand, a system imposing a maximum penalty of life without parole would cost just $11.5 million per year.

      It's a simple choice: Spend $137 million on a death penalty system that executes no one, $233 million to execute more people more quickly, or $11.5 million to lock 'em up for good.

      And yet, the governor, who's been demanding budget cuts and keeps cutting state worker salaries, approved a plan to rebuild the state's death row at a cost of $356 million to the taxpayer. For what, to spend the next 17 years executing another 13 more death row inmates?

      States are starting to get it. The nation is moving towards abolition. Before repealing their death penalties in 2007, New York and New Jersey had spent a combined $433 million on capital cases over the previous 25 years. They executed no one.

      This year, New Mexico abolished the death penalty, Maryland narrowed its use and bills calling for an end to capital punishment have been introduced in 11 state legislatures. Should California follow suit?

      Even in Texas, passion for the death penalty is fading. Changing attitudes reflect broader changes in the cultural, political and social climate, and a key change in state sentencing laws now allow Texas juries to levy a life-without- parole sentence, dubbed LWOP. The LWOP sentencing provision, though vociferously opposed by the Texas prosecution bar, was passed by a conservative legislature and signed by a conservative governor in 2005.

      And again, there is the cost. In Texas, capital cases usually cost county government on average around $2.3 million each. That's three times higher than the locking up someone in maximum security for 40 years, around $770,000. Question: You have $2.3 million dollars. You can spend it on an execution, or you can spend 1/3 of it on life in prison without parole and the other two-thirds on something else that might benefit the taxpayer: Education, infrastructure like roads or public transportation, a valuable social service --whatever is of the greatest value while being cost effective. Do you want to spend $2.3 million for vengeance, or is it just as well to lock the criminal up forever with no chance of parole, get rid of the more-expensive- to-operate death row, even eliminate the possibility of executing an innocent person, and use $1.4 million normally spent in that endeavor for something that actually fulfills more of a need than a simple human emotion?

      Before you answer those questions, you might ask yourself some personal questions about capital punishment:

      a) How much of your support for the death penalty is strictly about personal revenge?

      b) Is the chance of executing an innocent person a small price to pay to eliminate the lengthy appeals process?

      c) Is the law of the land which requires due process, including the lengthy appeals process, important to you; that is, do you respect that we are a nation of laws and that we be civilized enough to abide by them, even if we don't like them?

      d) The cost, because if we are not executing prisoners on death row in a manner that is cost-effective to the taxpayer, it just may not be worth keeping?

      Would you say the death penalty is worth keeping if we're not even using it? Is it worth it for a state like California to spend another $96 million it doesn't have to make sure they do use it? Can you tell me how that makes sense when life without parole is just as effective at a fraction of that cost? The real question is: How is the greater public good served, or more specifically, how is the taxpayer being served? What are we buying for our tax dollars?

      As far as I can tell, not much. The death penalty is getting us nowhere and yielding us nothing. What's the point of spending money on something like that?

      (source: Bruce Maiman, The Examiner)


      Once Convicts’ Last Hope, Now a Students’ Advocate


      Tom Dunn worked with death row inmates; now he works with students like Halima Osman, a sixth grader in Atlanta.

      By JOHN SCHWARTZ
      Published: October 18, 2009

      ATLANTA — “Pick your head up, buddy,” Tom Dunn said to Darius Nash, who had fallen asleep during the morning’s reading drills. “Sabrieon, sit down, buddy,” he called to a wandering boy. “Focus.”

      Mr. Dunn’s classroom is less than three miles from his old law office, where he struggled to keep death row prisoners from the executioner’s needle. This summer, after serving hundreds of death row clients for 20 grinding, stressful years, he traded the courthouse for Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School.

      The turmoil of middle school turns many teachers away, said the school’s principal, Danielle S. Battle. Students’ bodies and minds are changing, and disparities in learning abilities are playing out.

      “A lot of people will say, ‘I’ll do anything but middle school,’” she said.

      But this is precisely where Mr. Dunn chose to be, having seen too many people at the end of lives gone wrong, and wanting to keep these students from ending up like his former clients. He quotes Frederick Douglass: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

      The school has institutional architecture that brings prisons to mind, but Ms. Battle has warmed it with colorful paint and brighter light. Ninety-three percent of students are black and 5 percent Hispanic; some 97 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch.

      “I just walked in here and fell in love with the place,” Mr. Dunn recalled. His day begins at 8 a.m., when he stands by the school’s buzzing metal detector, checking bags, as nearly 600 students file through in a half-hour. It is not a popular job, but he uses the time like a politician working the plant gate at shift changes. Saying hello with a smile, he taps the bags, peeks inside, sends the students along. But he is also no-nonsense, with a “hey-hey-hey!” to pull back the ones who try to slip around the detector. Ms. Battle drops by to greet the students.

      As a lawyer, Mr. Dunn said, he saw his job as “telling stories,” to help judges see each client as a human being who may or may not have done terrible things, but who suffered wrongs at trial or earlier in life — and who deserved fairness under the rule of law, perhaps even mercy.

      He told clients’ stories while defense counsel in the Army Trial Defense Service, in Florida, in New York State and most recently at the Georgia Resource Center, the nonprofit law firm he led. Though the center does not keep a scorecard, the strategy has resulted in delayed executions, commuted death sentences and even overturned convictions, said Brian Kammer, who took over as executive director.

      “If you’re just talking about the legal niceties of the case, you’re boring the heck out of the audience,” Mr. Kammer said. “You’re squandering the moral force of your argument.”

      After decades of accumulating such stories, Mr. Dunn said, he recognized a common thread: the lack of a supportive authority figure like a teacher, of a helping hand that might have meant “the difference between a good life and a ruined life.”

      Illness forced his decision to leave the law. In 2006, he ignored a sore throat and worked through two months of grueling hearings in four cases back to back. Bacteria entered his bloodstream, causing toxic shock; the infection caused deterioration in his spine and led to congestive heart failure. He recovered, but not fully; this year, Mr. Kammer recalled, Mr. Dunn met with the staff and said: “I have the heart of a 70-year-old man. If I continue to do this work at the level I want to do it, I’m going to die.”

      The same day that he left the center, he showed up at the Atlanta training program of Teach for America. During his training, he focused on special education, recalling that he saw learning disabilities “in nearly every case” on death row. He now works mainly in classrooms that blend special education students with the general population.

      When he interviewed with the administrators at King, though, he encountered skepticism. “I was just baffled by why he’d want to come here,” said Barbara Shea, an assistant principal, standing with Mr. Dunn as the hallways cleared and an afternoon class began. “I tried to warn him — I wanted him to understand it was not an easy job.”

      Across the hall a classroom door opened, and the teacher pulled a tall, angry student out by his arm and asked Mr. Dunn for help. “He’s having a Taylor moment,” Ms. Shea said, referring to a girl in the class. “He wants to sock her in the mouth.”

      The boy walked toward the exit, but Mr. Dunn argued him back to a chair where he sat, stormy and silent. Mr. Dunn talked softly to him, helping him to settle down. Walked to his office, Mr. Dunn chuckled at the thought that Ms. Shea might have seen him as a dreamer. “You can’t be a starry-eyed idealist and do defense work in capital cases for 20 years,” he said.

      Propped against the wall in the office — actually, a converted teacher workroom that his colleagues pass through to get to a restroom — is a clipboard with a paraphrase of a quotation from former Justice Harry A. Blackmun of the United States Supreme Court: “From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death.” It was from a dissent in a 1994 case in which the justice argued that “the death penalty experiment has failed.”

      Mr. Dunn was in the office in August when he got word that the Supreme Court had ordered a lower court to reconsider the case of one of his best-known former clients, Troy Davis. At that moment, being out of the game was “really hard,” Mr. Dunn said.

      But in the classroom, there is no hint of regret. In the afternoon, a student, Shamon Nations, abruptly asked, “What made you come to school and give up your other job?” He replied, “Because I love you guys.” Somehow, it does not sound saccharine.

      Shamon was not satisfied. “Yeah, but what about the money?”

      “I made a lot more money last year,” Mr. Dunn acknowledged. “But it’s not about money.”

      Between classes, as he walked down the halls and the class bell rang, he stopped stragglers who might have been tempted to keep wandering. “Hey, buddy,” he asked one. “Where are you going?” He slipped an arm around the boy’s shoulder, and used it for leverage to give a gentle shove in the right direction.

      Once Convicts’ Last Hope, Now a Students’ Advocate


      Oct. 18, 2009

      Screams, flames among horrors of botched US executions

      US executions are meant to be clinical and humane, but for some they end up resembling medieval torture, complete with the smell of burning flesh, screams, and scenes so gruesome that witnesses faint.

      "We put animals to death more humanely," reporter Carla McClain said of a 1992 execution she witnessed, in which Donald Eugene Harding writhed and thrashed in an Arizona gas chamber for over 10 minutes before dying.

      Last month, Romell Brown became only the 2nd man to leave a US execution chamber alive, after 18 failed attempts to administer the lethal injection.

      Authorities in Ohio decided to halt his execution after officials spent two hours trying to inject him with lethal chemicals.

      Many of those executed in the United States in the last 25 years were not so lucky, suffering through executions in which flesh caught on fire, blood saturated shirts, and witnesses watched and listened as the condemned convulsed and screamed with pain.

      In 1999, Florida Supreme Court Justice Leander Shaw reacted with horror to pictures of Allen Lee Davis, who was put to death by electric chair.

      "The colour photos of Davis depict a man who -- for all appearances -- was brutally tortured to death by the citizens of Florida," Shaw wrote.

      Davis had been strapped into an electric chair especially designed to fit his 160kg frame. As he was electrocuted, but before he was pronounced dead, blood poured from his mouth, soaking his white shirt and oozing through the buckle holes of the strap holding him down.

      Michael Radelet, a professor at the University of Colorado, worked with the Death Penalty Information Centre to collect testimony on more than 40 botched instances from the witnesses required to be present at executions.

      Horror stories have emerged about all the execution methods commonly used in the United States, including the electric chair, lethal injection and gas chamber, with most of the disasters due to human error.

      In 1983 in Alabama, a 1st jolt of electricity caused the electrode attached to John Evans' leg to catch fire. Smoke and sparks also came from under the hood placed over his head, near where an electrode was strapped to his left temple.

      A 2nd jolt was administered, but despite the smoke and smell of burning flesh, doctors discovered Evans' heart was still beating and applied a 3rd jolt that finally killed him after 14 minutes.

      2 years later, in Indiana, William Vandiver received 5 separate jolts of electricity over the course of 17 minutes before his heart stopped.

      Jesse Joseph Tafero was sentenced to death by electric chair in Florida in 1990, but a synthetic sponge that was used during his execution caught fire, causing 6-inch flames to erupt from his head.

      Sentenced to death by gas chamber in Mississippi in 1983, Jimmy Lee Gray had the misfortune to be put to death by an executioner who later admitted he was drunk. Gray's gasps and moans so horrified observers that the witness room was cleared by officials.

      In recent years, several lawsuits have challenged the lethal injection as "cruel," but it continues to be used by most US states practicing the death penalty and the Supreme Court upheld its constitutionality in 2008.

      But for Bennie Demps, who spent 33 minutes of agony as execution technicians tried to find a back-up vein that could support an alternate intravenous drip in case the first one failed, the pain was excruciating.

      "They butchered me back there. I was in a lot of pain. They cut me in the groin, they cut me in the leg. I was bleeding profusely. This is not an execution, it is murder," he said in his final statement.

      In Angel Diaz's case, in Florida in 2006, a single dose of the lethal cocktails that anesthetise, paralyse and then stop the recipient's heart was not enough. The 1st injection went through his vein and out the other side, dispersing the chemicals into his muscles, forcing a 2nd dose to be given.

      At times, the scenes have been gruesome enough to physically affect observers.

      In 1989, in Texas, which holds the record for the most US executions, a male witness fainted after watching Stephen McCoy's violent writhing.

      Some of the most recent horror stories come from Ohio, where Broom's execution was halted.

      "It don't work! It don't work," yelled a sobbing Joseph Clark in May 2006, as the vein that executioners had worked 22 minutes to find collapsed while the chemicals were being administered.

      A year later, Ohio authorities took 2 hours to successfully find veins and administer Christopher Newton the lethal injection. The process took so long, he was authorised to take a bathroom break.

      The only other person to have survived execution in the United States was young black man named Willie Francis who survived a Louisiana electric chair in the 1940s. He was later put to death on a 2nd attempt.

      (source: Agence France Presse)


      Oct. 5, 2009

      Texans sent to death row by bad science

      On September 3, the Dallas Progressive Examiner reported on the conclusion reached by Maryland's Dr. Craig L. Beyler, that two men were sent to Texas' death row, because of bad science. Dr Beyler was hired by the Texas Forensic Science Commission, to run a study of the investigations of two fires resulting in deaths . Ernest Willis was convicted in 1987 of killing 2 women by setting a fire. In 2004, a new district attorney, suspected that bad science had been used in the original investigation. The D.A. ordered a new one, which cleared Willis. The 2nd case, was that of Cameron Todd Willingham of Corsicana, who was convicted in 1992 of setting the fire which killed his 2 year old daughter and 1 year old pair of twins. He was executed in 2004

      The Commission was scheduled to hold a hearing on Friday, October 2 in Irving, at which Beyler was to testify about the study. 2 days before that hearing, Governor Perry removed the chairman and two others from the commission. The new chairman, reputed to be one of the most conservative prosecutors in Texas canceled the hearing, and refused to say whether it will be rescheduled.

      Beyler, a nationally-recogniz ed expert in fire science, released his findings in August. He found that there was no way that an investigator could determine that Willingham intentionally set the fire that killed his children. Willingham's prosecutor admitted that the fire science used to prove that Willingham set the fire was bad, but said there were other reasons he knew Willingham was guilty, such as the fact that Willingham's feet weren't burned, as they would have been, if he had tried to rescue his children. Beyler said that there was extensive documentation showing that Willingham was burned.

      Shortly before Willingham's execution, his attorneys found indications that the investigation had been flawed, and applied to the governor for a 30 day stay, so that they could submit their findings to the court.

      Perry denied the stay. He said that he didn't accept Beyler's findings and felt there was further proof of Willingham's guilt.

      Many experts condemned Perry's action of dismissing the commissioners.

      Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project compared the firings of the commission members to the Saturday Night Massacre, in which Richard Nixon fired special prosecutor Archibald Cox, before he was compelled to give Cox the Watergate tapes. Sam Bassett, the chairman of the commission who was replaced, said that forensic investigations should not be stopped by political ramifications. Gerald Hunt, a chemist with an explosives corporation who wrote Perry before the execution saying the investigation had been faulty, said he is not surprised by Perry's actions, but that he had not expected the governor to go so far. He thinks Perry doesn't want the public to hear from Beyler, because Beyler's professional credentials are impeccable.

      Perry's opponents in the gubernatorial race also spoke up. His Republican opponent, US Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, said that she is pro death penalty, but only when we are sure of the person's guilt. Democratic candidate Tom Schieffer said that "No one in public life should ever be afraid of the truth", and called for the hearings to be rescheduled.

      Most of the developed countries have abolished the death penalty. A list of the nations who execute the most people is telling. The top 3 in order are China, Saudi Arabia and the United States. Texas executes more people than any other state.

      (source: Dallas Progressive Examiner)


      Oct. 5, 2009

      Welcome to Texas: The Death Penalty State

      You know those billboards you see on the side of freeways advertising new subdivisions built in rural areas outside of town? "If you lived here, you'd be home by now."

      Someone needs to throw up a similar one next to the "Welcome to Texas" signs you hit when coming in on I-10.

      "If you'd done what our Governor has done, you'd be executed by now."

      As the case against Cameron Todd Willingham, executed in 2004, sinks like a rock, the truth has started to float to the top and the rats are streaming out from all sides, led by none other than Texas Governor Rick Perry. Perry has reason to be running - his office denied clemency to Willingham just before he was executed, despite the fact that new information was submitted from arson experts stating that "no evidence of arson" was found (see Dare Devils: Governor Rick Perry and the Texas Death Panel----below).

      This is the same Rick Perry - as a native Texan who voted for the Democrat in that election, I feel honor-bound to remind you - who won with only 39% of the vote in 2006. Even Texans know that at best this makes him unpopular. It also means that our Governor, his hair a-glaze, has his work cut out for him in his re-election race.

      So it should come as no surprise that Perry is now pawing the ground like a cat in a litter box, covering his tracks. Inconveniently for him, the stink remains. As the state's Forensic Science Commission, which was set up to investigate the Willingham case, was preparing a report on the validity of the arson investigation, Governor Perry decided to replace three of the nine members appointed to the commission. The chairman of the commission was replaced with Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley, who the Dallas Morning News calls "one of the most conservative, hard-line prosecutors in Texas." The timing, according to the Dallas Morning News, disturbed the former chairman, Austin lawyer Sam Bassett.

      "In my view, we should not fail to investigate important forensic issues in cases simply because there might be political ramifications, " Bassett said.

      But political ramifications, particularly to a professional politician who's been called everything from a "cyborg" to "Tricky Ricky," are exactly what keeps our Texas Governor up at night, not the death of innocent people, under-funded public schools, teen pregnancy rates or children without health insurance.

      For the rest of us, Willingham's final words are a chilling reminder echoing in the news around the world this week nearly 6 years after his execution: "I am an innocent man convicted of a crime I did not commit. I have been persecuted for 12 years for something I did not do."

      But, ultimately, Governor Perry's statement regarding his not-so-covered cover up says it better than anything I could ever write. In one moment at a press conference this week, he took all that was taken from Cameron Todd Willingham - a breath of life, a beat in his heart, an air of innocence - and said, straight faced, that his decision to replace the board members was, simply, "Business as usual."

      Welcome to Texas.


      10/05/09

      Dare Devils: Governor Rick Perry and the Texas Death Panel

      I've chosen to ignore most of the health care rhetoric. I know what I believe -- the health care industry is so clearly broken that a thousand monkeys typing explanations of benefits could come up with that conclusion -- and I'm sick of hearing Republicans argue otherwise. But on the subject of death panels, which Sarah Palin dropped into her recent Wall Street Journal op-ed with a wink, like a 12-year old flashing a passing car -- "Dare me, guys?" -- I find the conservative argument bordering on the edge of delusional. Republicans like Sarah Palin need to stop playing truth or dare with people's lives.

      Since when do conservatives care about anyone dying? With the exception of their fetish for protecting a few eggs produced by women's ovaries every twenty-eight days, the Republican Party has historically shown zero regard for whether anyone lives or dies. People die every day, buried with medical bills and coughing blood from their graves. The slaughter of Iraqis is neither shocking nor awesome. Immigrants scrambling across the border are not deserving of a life in this country, legal or otherwise.

      Former Republican Party of Texas vice chairman David Barton, now enjoying an appointment by the Texas Board of Education, has so little regard for a human's life that he wants to strike Cesar Chavez from the history books.

      In Barton's "expert" review of Texas schools' social studies curriculum, he says Chavez "lacks the stature, impact and overall contributions of others." He forgot to add, "Who are white" after that statement.

      But the most disturbing representation of a life lost was the one sentenced to Cameron Todd Willingham, who in 1991 lost his three children in a house fire in Corsicana, Texas and was sentenced to death after refusing a plea-bargain for life in prison. The New Yorker recently took an in-depth look at the case, asking, "Did Texas execute an innocent man?"

      Willingham, who maintained his innocence up to his death, spent 12 years in prison going through the government's appeals process. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, whose presiding judge is conservative Sharon "We Close at 5 O'Clock" Keller, "was known for upholding convictions when overwhelming exculpatory evidence came to light." The court denied Willingham of his writ of habeas corpus and a month before his execution, his file landed on the desk of Dr. Gerald Hurst, an Austin scientist and fire investigator who began reviewing the case. Hurst's report, which concluded there was "no evidence of arson," (a conclusion which has since been reached by three additional investigations) was sent to Governor Rick Perry and the Board of Pardons and Paroles along with Willingham's appeal for clemency. The board members are not required to review any submitted materials, and "usually don't debate a case in person." Instead, they cast their votes by fax -- a process which, the New Yorker article states, "has become known as 'death by fax.'" Even more troubling: "Between 1976 and 2004, when Willingham filed his petition, the State of Texas had approved only one application for clemency from a prisoner on death row."

      It is, in fact, Texas' own death panel.

      Health care reform at best will offer an alternative to the people who need it the most, stymie medical costs, and create change within an industry that has been allowed to run rampant. At worst, it would be symbolic proof that the option can be supported and improved from there.

      In either case, it is not going to create a government panel to put people to death. We already have one.

      "The only statement I want to make is that I am an innocent man convicted of a crime I did not commit. I have been persecuted for 12 years for something I did not do. From God's dust I came and to dust I will return, so the Earth shall become my throne."

      - Cameron Todd Willingham's final statement, February 17, 2004

      (source: Rachel Farris, Huffington Post)


      October 3, 2009

      Texas governor accused of covering up innocent man’s execution

      The head of a Texas anti-death penalty group has accused that state's governor of scuttling an investigation into a possible wrongful execution for political reasons.

      "[Texas Governor Rick] Perry saw the writing on the wall," Scott Cobb, president of the Texas Moratorium Network, told CNN. "He moved to cover that up."

      The "writing on the wall" Cobb was referring to was the investigation by the Texas Forensic Science Commission into the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was put to death in 2004 for the 1991 arson deaths of his three daughters.

      Forensic investigations done since Willingham's conviction have found no evidence of arson. Nonetheless, Perry refused to grant Willingham a stay of execution in 2004, even though credible questions had already been raised about Willingham's guilt.

      On Wednesday, Gov. Perry ordered the removal of three members of the forensics commission, and instituted a "political ally," as CNN described him, to head the committee. That ally is reported to have ordered the investigation into Willingham's execution delayed indefinitely, saying he "couldn't begin to guess" when the commission would reconvene.

      As CNN's Randi Kaye noted, since Willingham's conviction, "three forensic investigations found there was no evidence of arson. None."

      What's more, as RAW STORY reported in August, Gov. Perry was informed before Willingham's execution that the claim of arson made by fire officials and the prosecution in the 1991 trial was likely unfounded.

      Put together, those facts may make Gov. Perry "the first governor in history to preside over the death of [a known] innocent man," CNN stated in a report aired Friday.

      "Critics suggest he's trying to delay or maybe even derail the state's own investigation" into the Willingham case, CNN's Kaye stated. And the reasons for it may be quite obvious: The commission's final report would likely have arrived weeks before the primary gubernatorial election Perry faces next year.

      Asked about the removal of the three commissioners, Perry stated: "Those individuals' terms were up, so we replaced them. There's nothing out of the ordinary there."

      But, as the Fort Worth Star-Telegram notes, some of those removed had already had their terms renewed.

      CNN's Kaye noted that Perry "declined to make the time for an interview" for its report.

      ACLU: 'EXTREMELY SUSPICIOUS' TIMING

      "Gov. Perry said that the change was 'business as usual,'" the ACLU wrote on its blog Friday. "Unfortunately, his words ring all too true. Willingham is not the first likely innocent person executed by the State of Texas. Others include Carlos De Luna and Ruben Cantu. But the state has never acknowledged any of these tragic mistakes. Business as usual, all right."

      The ACLU statement described the governor's timing for the removal of the three commissioners as "extremely suspicious, to say the least."

      But some observers have gone further. Glenn W. Smith at FireDogLake states that Gov. Perry may have violated federal law when he shut down the investigation into Willingham's execution.

      Smith argues Perry could be prosecuted under USC.18.1001, which makes it a crime for anyone "in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States" to "falsify, conceal, or cover up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact."

      The federal statute applies, Smith argues, because Texas takes money from the federal government for its justice system, and the funding guidelines refer to the law directly.

      "If firing three members of the commission and bringing to a screaming halt an investigation and hearing about the execution of an innocent man is not a trick to cover up material facts, nothing is," Smith wrote.

      Source: The Raw Story


      October 3, 2009

      Executions enliven death penalty debate

      John Allen Muhammad's scheduled Nov.10 Virginia execution enlivens the debate over capital punishment, sampling the cadence of every high-profile death penalty case marching to the beat of the count-down "drum."

      Karla Faye Tucker, sentenced to death in the so-called "pickax murders," played unwitting but pleasant host to a media-frenzied event, attended by reporters, and festooned in satellite trucks beaming up images of demonstrators for and against the death penalty.

      In such cases, the "wisdom of crowds," bristling with symbolic "sticktights" and "hitchhikers" for their trouble, departs the field of screams. In other words, we are no better and no more enriched by hoopla, hype, and talking heads. The buzzing in our ears comes from too much sound, and not from the jury.

      Such grassroot convocations--whether flashlight-illumined or candle-lit, in fertile acres of controversy and grim reaper statistic-keepers--propagate a sub-culture of their own.

      You've seen their huddled masses. Outside prisons on the day of execution, in virtual or real-time attendence: popes and "nopes," cardboard sign-wielders and murmuring prayer groups, most whose hearts and thinking drive what they do.

      Back home, the death penalty should--and maybe has--become dinner table conversation, peppered with newscasts and children's questions: "Mommy, Daddy, what is a death penalty?" Grown-ups linger over coffee and dessert, wondering can the issue itself ever die?

      To that end, scholarship and organized discussion have much to add. Googling "death penalty" produces 4,500,000 results, while "capital punishment" yields slightly fewer, or 4,420,000 returns. Likely, the latter phrase reflects word usage and semantics.

      Often, the heart moves to little beyond the sound of its own beat. From brainstem to wishful thinking, be it the desire for life or for the life of the one who has taken another's, the issue is just that simple: it isn't.

      Looking at 2007 murder rate comparisons of the top 12 executing states (below), as compared to murder rates of non-death-penalty states, lively discussions ensue:

      According to the above graphs:
      [MY NOTE:

      1. Louisiana, "landlord" of legendary penitentiary Angola's death chamber-- portrayed in the award-winning documentary, "The Farm: Angola USA" -- had the highest 2007 per capita murder rate of surveyed death penalty states.

      2. Iowa--a non-death penalty state--had 2007's lowest murder rate at approximately 1.2 per 100,000 people.

      3. Non-death penalty states Maine and Hawaii also experienced relatively-lower murder rates in 2007.

      4. Arizona's 2007 murder rate per capita somewhat surpassed that of Texas. To which death penalty advocates might say that the highest number of executions--26 in Texas as compared to 1 in Arizona in 2007--acted as deterrents, when comparing the murder rates of the two states. What's more, according to the top graph, Texas death rates are actually below the average or mean of 6.89--just under 7 per 100,000 people of the "Top 12 Executing States."

      5. Overall, both graphs may prompt a question: excluding drugs, impaired mental capacity and other medically-related bearings on murder, do criminals who kill in death penalty states have death wishes of their own? Or does race--not specified in these graphs--figure in? These are clearly complex issues.

      Moreover, at the time of their capital offenses, does knowing the state will likely convict and execute them influence, even drive some crimes? Could such aspects echo "suicide by cop" in a long-term sense? Such questions are for experts to answer; lay-persons interested in criminal behavior also might want more information.

      While a first impression of the graphs makes one case for abolishing the death penalty, such representations may generalize, when each crime is unique. It is impossible to rely solely on numbers, because people are neither numbers nor bars on a graph.

      Still, if "trending" is not just a Twitter creation, in a NY Times article by Dan Frosch, when asked if there is a general trend toward fewer executions, or to abolishing capital punishment altogether, the Death Penalty Information Center's Executive Director, Richard Dieter, states, " I wouldn't say that the death penalty is being rejected by the public, but there's definitely a reconsideration underway."

      For some survivors of the murdered, capital punishment is one guarantor of justice. For others, however, forgiveness and redemption offer measures of life's continuum, after the funerals and tears.

      (source: True Crime Examiner)


      Sept. 30

      Local prosecutor has no idea why Perry removed him from Forensics Commission

      A lawyer in the Tarrant County district attorney's office has no idea why Gov. Rick Perry replaced him on the Texas Forensic Science Commission this week.

      Perry abruptly removed three members of the board, causing the cancellation of Friday's high-profile meeting in Irving on a report that a faulty investigation may have led to the execution of an innocent man.

      The panel was considering a report critical of the arson finding leading to Cameron Todd Willingham's 2004 execution for the deaths of his 3 daughters in a 1991 fire, according to The Associated Press.

      Alan Levy is one of 2 local members that Perry removed from the board Tuesday. The other, Aliece Watts, is a forensic scientist in Euless.

      Levy's term had expired Sept. 1 but he didn't know that Perry was going to replace him.

      "What his reasons for doing it, I have no idea," Levy said. "I feel like a jilted lover except that he's prettier than I am."

      Levy said he wasn't going to assume that Perry replaced the board members as a way of forcing the meeting to be canceled until after the March primary.

      "I've got my own thoughts but I don't have any way of knowing," Levy said. "It's just odd. I'll assume that this was just part of the normal process; but if it was, it certainly wasn't handled the way it should have been."

      Levy said he got a call Tuesday about 4:30 p.m. from someone in the governor's office. The person said the governor was "going in a different direction," Levy said.

      "I felt like a decaying fish they were trying to dispose of," Levy said. "Since the job doesn't pay anything, I've been thrown out of better places."

      Levy had high praise for the way Commission Chairman Samuel Bassett of Austin ran the commission.

      Levy said he had no idea why he, Watts and Bassett were replaced.

      "Sam and I were the two lawyers. Everybody else was a scientist," Levy said. "The only thing that links us is Governor Perry, which of course isn't much of a link anymore."

      (source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram)


      Perry replaces head of commission on execution

      By ALLAN TURNER
      Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle
      Sept. 30, 2009

      In a surprise move, Gov. Rick Perry today appointed two new members to a state commission investigating case of a Corsicana man who some believe was wrongly executed for murdering his children — forcing the cancellation of a meeting on the case scheduled for Friday.

      Named to head the Texas Forensic Science Commission was John Bradley, district attorney in Williamson County. Bradley cancelled Friday's meeting at which the panel was to accept fire expert Craig Beyler's analysis of arson investigators' work in the deadly December 1991 house fire.

      Three children perished in the blaze. Their father, Cameron Todd Willingham, was convicted of capital murder and executed. Bradley, who has been his county's chief prosecutor since December 2001, said he called off Friday's meeting because he didn't have adequate time to study the arson case.

      Beyler's report was extremely critical of the investigations by Corsicana and state arson investigators, concluding they based their arson ruling on outdated and sloppy procedures.

      Beyler's was the third review to fault the arson investigators.

      Outgoing commission chairman, Sam Bassett, an Austin defense lawyer, expressed “disappointment” at Perry's timing in the naming of new commissioners, but noted, “I understand that I serve at the pleasure of Gov. Perry.”

      Also replaced were commission members Alan Levy, head of the Tarrant County District Attorney's criminal division, and Aliece Watts, quality director at Euless-based Integrated Forensic Laboratories.

      Perry named Norma Farley, chief forensic pathologist for Cameron and Hidalgo counties to the panel, and will name a third member in the near future.

      A spokeswoman for the commission, which is headquartered at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, said the outgoing members' two-year terms technically expired on Sept. 1.

      Spokesmen for Perry's office did not offer immediate comments on the timing of the appointments.

      Levy, who, like Bassett, had served four years on the panel, called Perry's timing on the appointments “unfortunate.”

      “It will raise suspicions whether they are justified or not,” he said. “This is a very important case. What this is going to do is raise the temperature, and that will not be a good thing.”

      allan.turner@chron.com

      Perry replaces head of commission on execution


      Editorial

      High Cost of Death Row

      Published: September 27, 2009

      To the many excellent reasons to abolish the death penalty — it’s immoral, does not deter murder and affects minorities disproportionately — we can add one more. It’s an economic drain on governments with already badly depleted budgets.

      It is far from a national trend, but some legislators have begun to have second thoughts about the high cost of death row. Others would do well to consider evidence gathered by the Death Penalty Information Center, a research organization that opposes capital punishment.

      States waste millions of dollars on winning death penalty verdicts, which require an expensive second trial, new witnesses and long jury selections. Death rows require extra security and maintenance costs.

      There is also a 15-to-20-year appeals process, but simply getting rid of it would be undemocratic and would increase the number of innocent people put to death. Besides, the majority of costs are in the pretrial and trial.

      According to the organization, keeping inmates on death row in Florida costs taxpayers $51 million a year more than holding them for life without parole.

      North Carolina has put 43 people to death since 1976 at $2.16 million per execution. The eventual cost to taxpayers in Maryland for pursuing capital cases between 1978 and 1999 is estimated to be $186 million for five executions.

      Perhaps the most extreme example is California, whose death row costs taxpayers $114 million a year beyond the cost of imprisoning convicts for life. The state has executed 13 people since 1976 for a total of about $250 million per execution. This is a state whose prisons are filled to bursting (unconstitutionally so, the courts say) and whose government has imposed doomsday-level cuts to social services, health care, schools and parks.

      Money spent on death rows could be spent on police officers, courts, public defenders, legal service agencies and prison cells. Some lawmakers, heeding law-enforcement officials who have declared capital punishment a low priority, have introduced bills to abolish it.

      A Republican state senator in Kansas, Carolyn McGinn, pointed out that her state, which restored the death penalty in 1994, had not executed anybody in more than 40 years. In February, she introduced a bill to replace capital punishment with life without parole. The bill gained considerable attention but stalled. Similar arguments were made, unsuccessfully, in states such as New Hampshire and Maryland. Colorado considered a bill to end capital punishment and spend the money saved on solving cold cases. But this year, only New Mexico went all the way, abolishing executions in March.

      If lawmakers cannot find the moral courage to abolish the death penalty, perhaps the economic case will persuade them to follow the lead of New Mexico.

      High Cost of Death Row


      Editorial:

      Perry's certainty about execution ignores science

      September 25, 2009

      When a nationally respected fire engineer rebuked an arson investigation that sent a Texas man to his death, the country took notice.

      The question of whether our state executed an innocent man spurred a national discussion, as media outlets from Nightline to The New Yorker explored whether the fiery deaths of Cameron Todd Willingham's three young children were a tragic accident or capital murder. A growing number of experts have rejected the finding that the fire was arson, arguing that investigators relied on folklore and junk science to reach that unsupported conclusion.

      Most recently, an expert hired by the Texas Forensic Science Commission issued a scathing report that detailed the many failings of the original arson-murder investigation. Dr. Craig L. Beyler wrote that investigators' conclusions could not be supported by modern science.

      Beyler's emphatic rejection of the arson conclusion, coupled with similar findings by other forensic experts, have rightly compelled many to take a hard look at whether Texas got it wrong. On Friday, the Forensic Science Commission will take up Beyler's report and decide how to proceed in this case.

      But Gov. Rick Perry has not let expert reports or modern science shake his belief that Willingham must be a murderer. So certain is the governor that he's delivered his own guilty verdict without bothering to wait for the Forensic Science Commission's own conclusions in the case.

      Perry flippantly dismissed the findings of "supposed experts." Just in case his sarcasm wasn't evident, he added air quotes with his fingers to dismiss the nationally respected scientists.

      The governor says he's seen nothing that would cause him to question this capital murder conviction. That's disappointing.

      While it's difficult to say definitively whether a dead man was actually innocent, the prosecution' s original case appears to be unraveling. At the very least, Willingham would have sought a new trial and a chance to allow a jury to hear the more scientifically sound findings.

      Prosecutors have said that other evidence – such as Willingham's strange behavior at the time of the fire – proves his guilt. But if they could not credibly argue that this was arson, how did he kill his family?

      The very foundation of this case has been debunked, so it requires a leap in logic to argue that without proof of arson, Willingham somehow still was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

      Just as advances in DNA science have shed new light on physical evidence from old cases, improved scientific methods have helped experts understand how fire behaves and have provided new insights into arson investigations. To ignore these advances is irresponsible and risks the possibility of the state making a fatal error.

      The governor would be wise to allow the commission to finish its work before making such definitive determinations. And as Perry considers this case, he should not allow reflexive certainty to trump science.

      Meeting this week:

      The Texas Forensic Science Commission will meet at 9:30 a.m. Friday at the Omni Mandalay Hotel at Las Colinas. On the agenda: a review and discussion of a new report that rebukes an arson investigation that led to Cameron Todd Willingham's capital murder conviction. The meeting will include a public comment period.

      Perry's certainty about execution ignores science


      Convicted Dallas-area cop killer wins reprieve

      By MICHAEL GRACZYK
      Associated Press Writer © 2009
      The Associated Press
      Sept. 23, 2009

      HUNTSVILLE, Texas — The U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday night stopped the scheduled execution of Texas death row inmate Kenneth Mosley a day before he was to receive lethal injection for the fatal shooting of a suburban Dallas police officer.

      The court agreed to halt the lethal injection until it resolves an Alabama death penalty case that Mosley's attorney said could affect his case.

      The Alabama case, to be heard by the high court in November, centers on whether a trial lawyer was constitutionally deficient in failing to raise objections during the punishment phase of the trial.

      Mosley's attorneys have raised similar claims, saying his trial attorneys were deficient for not objecting to victim impact testimony from the officer's wife and for not calling witnesses to testify about Mosley's drug and alcohol addictions.

      Mosley, 51, was condemned for the February 1997 shooting death of Garland Officer Michael David Moore.

      Moore was responding to a 911 call about a robbery at a bank.

      One of four bullets to hit Moore struck over the top edge of his protective vest. Mosley was shot in the wrist by another officer waiting outside and was arrested in the parking lot. Authorities found he was carrying a holdup note.

      "As far as him committing the actual crime, it was open and shut," said Jason January, a former Dallas County assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case. "Plus we had a videotape of the event taking place and eyewitnesses."

      Mosley declined to speak with reporters in the weeks preceding his scheduled punishment. He had an extensive criminal record he blamed on drug addiction. Evidence at his trial showed he sexually assaulted a woman, was arrested for possession of marijuana and illegal knives, got busted for stealing merchandise from a Home Depot and then returning the items for cash refunds and for robbing a Home Depot.

      At the time of the shooting, he was wanted for a fast-food restaurant robbery five days earlier in nearby Mesquite and had been fired from his last known job at a Coca-Cola bottler for testing positive for cocaine.

      Jurors who decided the Flint, Mich., native should be given the death penalty also heard how he told deputies guarding him during his capital murder trial that it would "make his day to kill another cop," according to court documents.

      Mosley's trial lawyers didn't deny the shooting but argued it was accidental, that as he was trying to surrender the weapon it went off five times.

      Moore was 32, married and the father of three. He went to high school in Middletown, Ohio, served four years in the Marines and in 1987 joined the Garland police force. He'd won numerous awards and commendations during his 10 years on the job.

      Tuesday evening, Christopher Coleman, 37, was put to death for the slayings of three people in a Houston drug deal robbery. Next week, John Balentine, 40, faces lethal injection for the slayings of three teenagers at a house in Amarillo in January 1998.


      Governor Rick Perry defends execution of Corsicana man some experts say was innocent

      September 20, 2009
      By TODD J. GILLMAN
      The Dallas Morning News
      tgillman@dallasnews.com

      WASHINGTON – Governor Rick Perry today strenuously defended the execution of a Corsicana man whose conviction for killing his daughters in a house fire hinged on an arson finding that top experts call junk science.

      "I'm familiar with the latter-day supposed experts on the arson side of it," Perry said, making quotation marks with his fingers to underscore his skepticism.

      Even without proof that the fire was arson, he added, the court records he reviewed before the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham in 2004 showed "clear and compelling, overwhelming evidence that he was in fact the murderer of his children."

      These were the governor's first direct comments on a case that has drawn withering criticism from top fire experts.

      Death penalty critics view the Willingham case as a study in shoddy – or at least outdated – science, and they consider it the first proven instance in 35 years of an executed man being proven innocent after death.

      "Governor Perry refuses to face the fact that Texas executed an innocent man on his watch. Literally all of the evidence that was used to convict Willingham has been disproven – all of it," said Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, a nonprofit group affiliated with the Cardozo School of Law in New York that has championed the case. "He is clearly refusing to face reality."

      Three independent reviews over the last five years, involving seven of the nation's top arson experts, found no evidence the fire was set intentionally. The most recent is a report commissioned by the Texas Forensic Science Commission.

      The author, renowned arson expert Craig Beyler, blasts the investigators who handled the Willingham case, finding that they misread the evidence and based their conclusions on a "poor understanding of fire science."

      The commission says it is reviewing the Beyler report and other evidence and will issue a conclusion next year.

      The fire took place two days before Christmas 1991, and claimed the lives of Willingham's three daughters: 2-year-old Amber, and 1-year-old twins, Karmon and Kameron.

      State fire investigators and Corsicana fire officials maintained that burn patterns, cracked windows and other signs pointed to arson.

      Willingham, 24 at the time and an unemployed auto mechanic, had only superficial burns. He said he'd run outside after Amber alerted him to the fire, looking for the others, and couldn't reenter because the blaze grew so quickly.

      He had a criminal record for burglary and grand larceny. He had once beaten his pregnant wife, and a jailhouse snitch said he'd confessed.

      At trial, prosecutors told jurors that Willingham had intentionally left his daughters to die in a burning home.

      But myriad scientists say that conclusion of arson was based on outdated training that, at the time of trial 15 years ago, had already been replaced by science-based methods that would have pointed to bad wiring or a space heater.

      Willingham protested his innocence to the end. Strapped to a gurney awaiting lethal injection on Feb. 17, 2004, he asserted that "I am an innocent man -- convicted of a crime I did not do."

      The Board of Pardons and Paroles, appointed by the governor, had rejected the appeal his lawyers had filed three days earlier. Hours before the execution, the lawyers appealed directly to Perry.

      The appeal included a report from a widely respected fire expert, Gerald Hurst, that cast serious doubt on the arson finding.

      Hurst, a Cambridge-educated chemist who was chief scientist for the nation's largest explosive manufacturer, says the signs used as proof that an accelerant had been poured were almost certainly the result of "flashover" – an intense heat burst that causes an entire room to erupt in flame.

      The effects of flashover can mimic arson.

      In 2004, the Chicago Tribune asked three fire experts to evaluate the case. Their testing confirmed Hurst's report. The case was recently featured in an extensive article in The New Yorker, launching a new round of questions.

      Perry, in Washington for a campaign fundraiser today and a speech tomorrow to conservative activists, said during an hour-long session with reporters that he does not believe the state executed an innocent man.

      "No," he said. "We talked about this case at length. One of the most serious and somber things that a governor of Texas deals with is the execution of an individual.… We go through a substantial amount of oversight."

      In 2006, the Innocence Project, using state open records law, obtained records from Perry's office regarding the last-minute appeal. The governor's office provided no documents that acknowledged the contents of the appeal or its significance, Scheck's office said – a "lack of action" that indicates the governor ignored critical analysis.

      Perry, whose authority as governor is limited to delaying an execution for 30 days, said he reviewed the case extensively.

      "I get a document that has all of the court process. It gives you all of his background, all of the court machinations on the legal side of it, and the recommendation of both my legal side and the courts. It's pretty extensive amount of information, " he said. "I have not seen anything that would cause me to think that the decision that was made by the courts of the state of Texas was not correct."

      Governor Rick Perry defends execution of Corsicana man some experts say was innocent


      Sept. 20, 2009

      Last Words

      Last week, reports of executions one postponed in Ohio, one carried out in Texas punctuated the news more frequently than usual. These reports prompted me to reflect on an archive of executed prisoners' last words I found on the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Web site while researching parole terms. The archive's earliest entry dates from Dec. 7, 1982; the most recent was added after Stephen Moody was executed on Wednesday by lethal injection for murder.

      What follows are quotations taken from inmates' last statements in Texas.

      The statements, delivered before family members, relatives of victims, friends and the press, are compiled out of chronological order.

      CLAIRE CAMERON, the author of "The Line Painter"

      Go ahead?

      Nothing I can say can change the past.

      I done lost my voice.

      I would like to say goodbye.

      My heart goes is going ba bump ba bump ba bump.

      Is the mike on?

      I don't have anything to say. I am just sorry about what I did.

      I am nervous and it is hard to put my thoughts together. Sometimes you don't know what to say.

      Man, there is a lot of people there.

      I have come here today to die, not make speeches.

      Where's Mr. Marinos mother? Did you get my letter?

      I want to ask if it is in your heart to forgive me. You don't have to.

      I wish I could die more than once to tell you how sorry I am.

      Could you please tell that lady right there can I see her? She is not looking at me I want you to understand something, hold no animosity toward me. I want you to understand. Please forgive me.

      I don't think the world will be a better or safer place without me.

      I am sorry.

      I want to tell my mom that I love her.

      I caused her so much pain and my family and stuff. I hurt for the fact that they are going to be hurting.

      I am taking it like a man.

      Kick the tires and light the fire. I am going home.

      They may execute me but they can't punish me because they can't execute an innocent man.

      I couldn't do a life sentence.

      I said I was going to tell a joke. Death has set me free. That's the biggest joke.

      To my sweet Claudia, I love you.

      Cathy, you know I never meant to hurt you.

      I love you, Irene.

      Let my son know I love him.

      Tell everyone I got full on chicken and pork chops.

      I appreciate the hospitality that you guys have shown me and the respect, and the last meal was really good.

      The reason it took them so long is because they couldn't find a vein. You know how I hate needles. ... Tell the guys on death row that I'm not wearing a diaper.

      Lord, I lift your name on high.

      From Allah we came and to Allah we shall return.

      For everybody incarcerated, keep your heads up.

      Death row is full of isolated hearts and suppressed minds.

      Mistakes are made, but with God all things are possible.

      I am responsible for them losing their mother, their father and their grandmother. I never meant for them to be taken. I am sorry for what I did.

      I can't take it back.

      Lord Jesus forgive of my sins. Please forgive me for the sins that I can remember.

      All my life I have been locked up.

      Give me my rights. Give me my rights. Give me my rights. Give me my life back.

      I am tired.

      I deserve this.

      A life for a life.

      It's my hour. Its my hour.

      I'm ready, Warden.

      (source: Op-Ed, Claire Cameron, New York Times)


      Sept. 20, 2009

      Should doctors be allowed to assist in the execution of death-row inmates?---- A not-so-lethal injection raises queries

      Hippocrates famously wrote that doctors should do no harm, but physicians are among those being consulted by Ohio prison officials as they look for a method to successfully put Romell Broom to death.

      Officials are talking with medical advisors about the possibility of using veins other than those in the arms and feet to administer a lethal injection to Broom, a convicted killer from Cleveland who last week became the 1st U.S. inmate since the 1940s to survive an execution attempt.

      Doctors are part of the discussion, said Julie Walburn of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

      Experts said that appears to be in violation of the American Medical Associations code of ethics, which forbids "an action which would assist, supervise or contribute to the ability of another individual to directly cause the death of the condemned" and "rendering of technical advice regarding executions."

      Broom's case underlines the dilemmas found at the intersection between lethal injection and medical ethics.

      "A problem inherent in lethal injection is, the persons most qualified are the ones who are unable to do it ethically," said Dr. Jonathan Groner, professor of clinical surgery at the Ohio State University College of Medicine. "People have called it the Hippocratic Paradox."

      Broom, 53, was sentenced to death for raping and killing a 14-year-old girl he abducted while she was walking home from a football game with friends 25 years ago. He stabbed Tryna Middleton 7 times.

      On Tuesday, Sept. 15, executioners at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility at Lucasville pricked Broom 18 times over two hours as they tried to find a vein that wouldnt collapse. In an affidavit filed in court Friday, Broom claimed he cried out in pain as executioners hit muscle and bone with intravenous needles. He assisted his executioners in trying to find a viable vein.

      Gov. Ted Strickland granted a one-week reprieve and said executioners should try again on Tuesday. But a federal judge on Friday ordered a temporary delay and set a hearing for Sept. 28 on defense attorneys' bid for a preliminary injunction against the execution. Brooms attorneys also have filed suit in the Ohio Supreme Court. They say a 2nd execution attempt would amount to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.

      Broom is the only inmate to survive an execution attempt since the lethal injection method was introduced in 1982. But 2 other Ohio inmates, Joseph Clark in 2006 and Christopher Newton in 2007, endured lengthy executions as executioners labored to find usable veins. The state changed its execution protocol after those cases.

      "We have absolute faith in the process and the team members," Walburn said.

      But Ty Alper, associate director of the Death Penalty Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, said, "I think what happened with Mr. Broom should give no one confidence in the process or the people. Mr. Broom had to help them. I mean, the whole thing is kind of ghoulish."

      Deborah Denno, a professor at Fordham Law School in New York, said the history of lethal injection "has been abysmal. It's been botch after botch after botch."

      The corrections department wont identify its executioners, but under its policy, the execution team must include people qualified under state law to administer injections who have at least one years experience as a certified medical assistant, phlebotomist, emergency medical technician, paramedic or military corpsman. Doctors arent involved, except to declare the inmates dead.

      Joan Wehrle of the Ohio Medical Board said state law outlines 40 grounds for disciplinary action against doctors, from reprimand to permanent license revocation, including breaches of the AMA ethics code. Holly Fischer, general counsel for the Ohio Nursing Board, said nurses also could face disciplinary action for assisting in executions.

      But Alper, author of an upcoming North Carolina Law Review article on the subject, said doctors have participated in executions, even directly, in other states. In fact, an Oklahoma anesthesiologist invented the three-drug lethal cocktail used by most states. "No doctor has ever been disciplined for participating in an execution in this country, and every court to consider the matter has concluded that state medical boards cannot impose discipline," Alper wrote.

      Walburn said prison officials are being advised on different procedures for inserting intravenous lines and whether those procedures require people with higher credentials than those on the execution team. She said officials won't disclose the names of those giving the advice.

      Groner said it usually requires a physician to put in central lines in the large veins in the neck, chest or thighs. "That would require a physician in the execution chamber," he said.

      He thinks direct or indirect physician participation in executions is a "stain on the face of medicine."

      "It defiles the profession in that they use the same skills they learned for healing to kill somebody," Groner said. "Thats what the Nazi doctors did."

      (source: Dayton Daily News)


      Sep. 19, 2009

      Texas: The Kinder, Gentler Hang 'Em High State

      By Hilary Hylton / Austin

      Tim Cole couldn't tell his own story and so his family recounted the saga to the hard-bitten Texas legislators last spring. The convict had insisted he was innocent right up to the day he died. He had refused parole because that would have required him to admit he was guilty of raping a fellow student at Texas Tech University. The ordeal was wrenching: Cole wept during the nights as he awaited a trial that would sentence him to 25 years in jail. Twice during his prison term he was found unconscious in his cell, the result of the asthma that had plagued him since childhood. The third time he suffered an attack, Dec. 2, 1999, he died from heart failure. Then, in 2007, another man confessed to the crime and Cole was declared innocent. The Texas lawmakers wept at the tale; and as a result, the state that has the reputation of being toughest on crime came up with one of the most generous and supportive programs to compensate those wrongfully convicted: the Tim Cole Act.

      "I think Tim Cole's story moved a lot of people," says Lubbock attorney Kevin Glasheen, who represents 12 men exonerated after serving lengthy terms for rape. "As far as the politicians go, there are a lot of Republicans who do not like abusive government power."

      But the legislators from both parties did more than shed tears. Apart from the Tim Cole Act, they passed a second law this spring creating a well-funded office of expert appellate lawyers to represent death row inmates, a move to overcome the tales of sleepy defense attorneys and inept lawyering. The two new laws are now being implemented and their backers hope they will mitigate the state's hang 'em high image. (Read a story about the decline in the number of death sentences in Texas.)

      The Tim Cole law provides $80,000 for each year of wrongful incarceration and adds free college tuition, and financial and personal counseling. Unlike past lump sum payments, the new compensation will be paid out in a mix of monthly payments, an upfront lump sum and an annuity which can be passed on through a recipient's estate. The new law also sets up an investigative panel, the Tim Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions. (Read how the tide is shifting against the death penalty.)

      Glasheen's 12 clients are among 38 Texas prisoners cleared by DNA testing thanks to the efforts of the New York-based Innocence Project. He filed federal civil rights lawsuits on behalf of his clients against several Dallas-area police departments and municipalities. Facing a long, arduous legal process, Glasheen also proposed a legislative solution to Dallas area civic leaders. The legal fight would be expensive for both sides, Glasheen told them, and the fundamental question was one of fairness. This spring, State Senator Rodney Ellis, a Houston Democrat and a longtime champion of the innocence projects, and State Senator Bob Duncan, a Republican and, like Cole, a Texas Tech alumnus, sponsored the Tim Cole Act.

      Glasheen, a self-described Republican from the "Libertarian wing of the party," hopes new DNA testing on old evidence will free more prisoners. However, that hope is limited: Dallas County kept evidence on file, hence the large number of exonerated prisoners from that area, but evidence in Houston was lost in a flood, and smaller counties across Texas did not keep evidence once the appeals process ran out. "There's a whole bunch of guys down there who were convicted on just eyewitness identification, " Glasheen says, as Cole was. There is now a national campaign to press a best practices written policy for lineups and eyewitness evidence. Dallas has adopted the new standards.

      The second law passed by the legislature will set up new standards and funding for indigent defense appellate counsel programs. Texas was embarrassed by the 2001 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that ordered a new trial for a death row inmate whose lawyer slept through much of his proceedings in Houston in 1984. It responded after the ruling by boosting funds for indigent counsel. Despite that, studies showed death row inmates were still often badly served by appellate counsel.

      "Since 2004, 2005 there has been documented some horrible lawyering," says Andrea Marsh, executive director of Texas Fair Defense Project.

      In one case, a habeas appeal was filed by an attorney who simply cut and pasted an old appeal and changed the defendant's name, leaving the facts of the old case in place, Marsh says.

      "These cases piled up and there got to be a consensus that something should be done," Marsh says. The conservative- dominated appeals court, the Republican-led legislature and Republican Gov. Rick Perry were not opposed to reform. "The courts, officials were tired of being embarrassed all the time," Marsh says. The new Office of Capital Writs, scheduled to be in place by 2010, will deal with new cases, not those already in the pipeline.

      The Tim Cole law and the new state-funded appellate office may not change the image of Texas justice beyond the state. How outsiders feel about Texas justice "probably depends on whether you are universally opposed to the death penalty," Marsh says. "But the hope [in Texas] is that we will stop seeing stories where the defendant never had a fair shot."

      Find this article at:
      Texas: The Kinder, Gentler Hang 'Em High State


      09/19/2009

      Error-prone death penalty system ensnares innocent

      By JOHN HOLDRIDGE and CHRISTOPHER HILL
      HOUSTON CHRONICLE

      Cameron Todd Willingham's unthinkable story has shocked the conscience of many Americans. The state of Texas executed Willingham in 2004 for supposedly murdering his three children by setting their house on fire. His conviction was based in substantial part on testimony by the state's arson experts about the cause of the fire. A recent report by a fire expert hired by Texas condemns the state's arson testimony as bogus and unscientific.

      In other words, Willingham almost certainly was innocent — as he desperately maintained until his last dying breath.

      The expert's damning report has led to an onslaught of publicity about the case. However, this publicity should not mislead Americans into thinking Willingham has been the only innocent victim of our error-prone system of capital punishment. There have almost certainly been at least nine others, and possibly many more given the flaws in our criminal justice system revealed by the recent explosion in DNA exoneration. These include Carlos DeLuna, Ruben Cantu, Gary Graham, Larry Griffin and, perhaps, Sedley Alley — names no doubt unfamiliar to most Americans.

      The state of Texas executed DeLuna in 1989 for stabbing to death a clerk at a convenience store. At his trial, DeLuna's lawyers attempted to show that the murder was committed by a man named Carlos Hernandez. The lead prosecutor called Hernandez a “phantom.” Hernandez was real. A post-execution investigation by the Chicago Tribune showed that Hernandez almost certainly committed the crime, and Hernandez's family acknowledged that he boasted about getting away with the murder.

      Cantu was executed by the state of Texas in 1993 for an attempted robbery-murder. His conviction was based on testimony from his co-defendant and a surviving victim of the attempted robbery. After Cantu's execution, both men recanted, and the victim disclosed that he had been coerced by police to identify Cantu. The prosecutor in Cantu's case, Sam Millsap, has since become a vocal campaigner against the death penalty.

      In 2000, the state of Texas executed Graham, who changed his name while in prison to Shaka Sankofa. The evidence against him consisted of one eyewitness who, after being subjected to a suggestive photo lineup, said she saw Graham through her car windshield in a dark parking lot from 20 to 40 feet away. Other witnesses stated that Graham was not the murderer because the murderer was much shorter than he was.

      Missouri executed Griffin in 1995 for a murder that occurred during a drive-by shooting. Prior to his trial, no one bothered to interview a surviving victim of the shooting who knew Griffin. When contacted after Griffin's execution, this victim stated categorically that Griffin was not involved in the crime.

      Also after Griffin was put to death, the first police officer on the scene gave a new account that thoroughly undermined the testimony of the one witness who had identified Griffin as the murderer.

      Not everyone is convinced that these men were innocent. Some assert that they have not been shown to be innocent beyond a reasonable doubt. That may be true in some of the cases.

      However, absent DNA evidence, which exists in only about 10 percent of murder cases, a death-row inmate often has a nearly impossible time proving beyond a reasonable doubt that they did not commit a crime. As the old saying goes, it can sometimes be impossible to prove a negative. That is one reason why our criminal justice system requires prosecutors to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and does not require criminal defendants to prove their innocence.

      DNA evidence did exist in Alley's case but it didn't do him any good. The state of Tennessee executed Alley in 2006 for the rape and murder of a 19-year-old servicewoman. Alley had confessed to the crimes, but a leading expert on false confessions concluded that his confession was probably false. There was a simple way to find out. The Innocence Project, which took on Alley's case, asked the courts to allow it to test the DNA evidence to see whether Alley was innocent. The courts and the state of Tennessee refused. Alley was put to death, despite the serious doubts about his guilt.

      Willingham's case would be frightening enough if it were unique. The fact that there may be several innocent people who have been executed is abhorrent and should give any capital punishment proponent serious pause.

      The execution of an innocent person is an irrevocable event that, as Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun once wrote, comes perilously close to murder. No society should tolerate it. Of that, there can be no doubt.

      Holdridge is director of the American Civil Liberties Union Capital Punishment Project; Christopher Hill is state strategies coordinator for the ACLU Capital Punishment Project.

      Error-prone death penalty system ensnares innocent


      09/18/2009

      Forgotten Families? A Visit to Death Row

      Kevin's eyes were dark, wideand sad. Sad beyond anything I'd ever seen in one so young. It was obvious he had experienced far too much in his brief four or five years of life. And though he undoubtedly didn't understand why things were as they were, he knew enough to realize his life wasn't like that of other boys his age.

      I met Kevin briefly nearly 15 years ago, and I haven't seen him again since, though I've often wondered what became of him. A child who sees his father only once a month under such stringent conditions has a tough road ahead of him, to say the least.

      My one-time meeting with Kevin and several others, including his mother, took place on San Quentin's infamous Death Row, a place that has housed such inmates as Charles Manson and Sirhan Sirhan. I had been invited to come to the Row one Sunday afternoon, to meet and talk with one of the inmates and to learn more about the prison ministry in which I was so deeply involved at the time. Though I had mixed emotions about going, I readily accepted.

      As expected, I had to jump through a lot of hoops to get inside the Row's visiting area, more even than the usual number of hoops required to gain entrance into any other correctional facility. But the inmate I met with, whose wife had escorted me inside, had become a devout Christian since his arrest and conviction years earlier, so our visit was a joyful one. Even the correctional officers commented on the deep and genuine faith of this particular inmate, referring to him as "the preacher" and proclaiming how he freely shared that faith with anyone who would listenprisoner or guard alike.

      But it was the families of the inmates who most caught my attention.

      Though we occasionally hear of someone who was falsely convicted of a crime and eventually proven innocent due to new DNA technology or some other breakthrough, for the most part I realize that nearly every resident of San Quentin's Death Row is there because he murdered someone. But guilty or not, repentant or not, most have families somewheresome who at least occasionally come to visit them, some who don't. Whatever the personal family situations, I couldn't help but wonder at the pain those families endured.

      Now I've always been a strong victim's advocate, and my heart goes out to the families of those who have lost loved ones as a result of a violent crime. But that day on Death Row opened my eyes to the unique trauma experienced by those whose father or son, husband or brother, prayed for a miracle even as he counted his days until he walked the "green mile." As a result, I have become a supporter of Angel Tree and other ministries to families of those who are incarcerated. If you could have seen the look on little Kevin's face that day as he visited his daddy on Death Row, you'd understand and join me.

      Of course, I've had many experiences during my jail/prison ministry days that affected me just as strongly as my encounter with Kevin, one of which was the opportunity to interview Charles "Tex" Watson, formerly of the Manson Family. Though Tex was one of the actual murderers of both the Tate and LaBianca families that awful night so many years ago, he has now become a strong believer and ministers to many who live in the dark world that exists behind bars. On another occasion, I had the opportunity to help David Berkowitz (formerly known as "Son of Sam" but who has now become a Christian and as such is known as "Son of Hope") edit his prison memoirs, which are now published. I can tell you without hesitation that I have no doubt of the sincerity of either of these men's faith.

      Both of these experiences were real epiphanies for me, as I saw firsthand what God can do with those who would often be considered unredeemable. But as we know, with God nothing is impossible. I now pray for those within the prison system whose lives have been changed by a genuine encounter with Jesus Christ and who now work to share that encounter with others.

      Some of the greatest evangelizing and discipling I've ever witnessed is carried out by these transformed inmates.

      I know. I'm walking a fine line here, between justice and mercy, and I am not even getting close to expressing an opinion on the death penalty issue. I am simply trying to bring a fresh awareness of families whose loved onesfor whatever reasonare behind bars, families who might otherwise be forgotten. I pray the result will be that it helps us all reach out to the Kevins of this world, as well as the David Berkowitzes and Tex Watsons, even as we humbly respect the law, defend the victims, and deal justly and mercifully when it comes to crime. For isn't that what God has called us all to do?

      He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8, NKJV)

      (source: Kathi Macias is the author of nearly 30 books and numerous articles, including My Son, John, which deals with a woman whose mother is a murder victim and her grown son, the perpetrator. My Son, John contains resources for prisoners, their families, and those who minister to them. Kathi can be reached via her website at www.kathimacias.com or her blog http://kathieasywritermacias.blogspot.com/.----Crosswalk.com)


      09/15/2009

      Death penalty: a divided debate

      The official definition for capital punishment, the death penalty or execution, is the killing of a person by judicial process for retribution, general deterrence, and incapacitation. The debate over the death penalty has been going on for as long as anyone can remember.

      Either Americans are finding they believe the death penalty is a harsh and violent way to punish someone for committing a crime, or they believe that those sentenced with the death penalty deserve to be killed.

      In the end, it comes down to whether one believes the golden rule do unto others as you would have them do unto you or their own rule, which goes a little more along the lines of: Do unto others as they did unto others.

      Personally, I am not in favor of implementing the death penalty as a serious option, not only because of the moral and ethical beliefs that have been instilled in me but also because it isnt very economical to do so. It actually costs more to use the death penalty than it would be to keep that same person in prison for the rest of their life. In California alone, the death penalty system costs taxpayers $114 million per year beyond the costs of keeping convicts locked up for life.

      These taxpayers have paid more than $250 million for each of the states executions. In Florida, enforcing the death penalty costs taxpayers $51 million more than the cost of convicting their murderers to a life imprisonment in jail.

      In Texas, the cost of the death penalty is almost three times the amount of simply holding someone in a cell for 40 years.

      According to the Death Penalty Information Center, there are only 15 states that do not allow the death penalty to be used. That means that 70% of Americans believe murdering criminals is an appropriate way to punish wrongdoers. The top 5 death penalty states are Texas, Florida, Oklahoma, Virginia and Missouri. These 5 states alone accounted for 66% of all United States executions since 1976. Most of these states are located in the southern part of the United States and consequently, the South accounts for more than 80% of executions. According to Amnesty International, in 2008 the United States had one of the highest amounts of executions at a whopping 37 people. Funny how the United States is also in much more economic trouble than the rest of the world.

      According to a survey done in May of 2006, overall support of the death penalty was down to 65% from the 80% of 2 years before. In that same 2006 survey, it was discovered that when given the option between the death penalty and life imprisonment without parole, more people would choose life imprisonment over the death penalty. In 2009, a survey showed that 88 % of the people surveyed do not believe that the death penalty is an effective deterrent to crime.

      Outside of the United States, world leaders are also beginning to remove the death penalty. For instance, in Kenya this past August, President Mwai Kibaki announced that he was commuting all criminals who face the death sentence to life imprisonment. He said that the wait for those 4,000 criminals in his country to face the death penalty was "undue mental anguish and suffering."

      Even within the United States, more and more state governors are beginning to change their laws in objection to the death penalty. New Mexico's governor Bill Richardson said that ridding his state of the death penalty was "the most difficult decision in my political life." (New Mexico had previously banned the death penalty from its state, but it had been reinstated in 1976.)

      I can understand the dilemma people have on choosing which side they will stand on. I also realize that, for many people and many issues, things are not simply black and white there are some gray areas as well. But in my case, I simply see it as killing someone. No matter whether a person committed a horrible crime or not, what gives us the right to be able to choose when and how they die? How is what we are doing any different than first-degree murder? Even the definition of the death penalty itself states that it is the killing of a person. Although this person may have done something in the past and may have gone against the laws of the United States of America, it does not justify the killing of a living, breathing, thinking being.

      (source: Katrina Widener is a second-year magazine major, Drake University, The Times-Delphic)


      Sept. 14, 2009

      Is Rick Perry Responsible for Texas' Wild Increase in Executions?

      Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) presided over 200 executions between taking office in 2001 and June of this year. During that time, Texas executed 3 times more people than the next 3 states combined had executed since 1976. New investigations are now raising the question of just how many innocent people were sent to their deaths by a governor and a system that ignore legal obligations to examine new evidence or counter prosecutorial or judicial misconduct?

      Perry has been one of the most radical proponents of capital punishment in American politics, refusing to issue a posthumous pardon to Tim Cole, an innocent man, proven to be so, who died in prison and ignoring exculpatory evidence in what appears to be a standard procedure that mystically discounts the possibility of wrongful conviction in capital cases.

      Gov. Perry may either be a moral coward, afraid to offend a radical hard-right base that believes society will unravel without an aggressive death penalty system, or he may be more eager to put people to death than he is to achieve justice.

      As detailed in a lengthy New Yorker feature for the Sept. 7, 2009, issue, "Trial by Fire", Perry ignored a raft of damning scientific evidence showing an arson case against a man on death row was unsubstantiated "junk science."

      On 17 February 2004 after Gov. Perry refused to stay his execution and falsely claimed to have judged the "facts of the case" to show guilt, Todd Willingham was executed for a crime scientific examination appears to show he did not commit.

      For the first 18 years the Texas death penalty system was in place, Texas executed 238 people, or about 13 per year. Since Perry took office, the figure has risen dramatically, to 22 per year. That particular statistic raises questions about what has changed under Rick Perry's governorship.

      For one, more cases are coming to the fatal moment of execution that are affected by Republican control of the State Court of Criminal Appeals.

      Since 1995, when elected Republican judges won a majority of seats on the Court, the rate of execution has skyrocketed. And those judges openly pledged during their campaigns for elected judgeship to favor the prosecution and be "tough on crime", a strange claim for a judicial candidate whose job is to be tough on adherence to facts and to the law, not tough on the accused in particular, who are supposed to be presumed innocent.

      With at least one judge accused of professional misconduct for making summary judgment on a death penalty appeal and a review panel that is reported to essentially not carry out its investigative responsibilities, operating on the assumption that the system does not fail and never actually meeting to discuss a case, Texas is not only facing the likelihood it will be proven to have executed an innocent man; it is the state considered most likely to have failed its legal responsibilities in that way.

      That under Gov. Perry, the rate of executions has so dramatically accelerated has raised the ire of human rights groups that say the state's actions are putting the US on short lists of major violators of habeas corpus and fundamental judicial rights that include Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and China. Some death penalty advocates say that only with aggressive application of the stiffest penalty allowed by law can violent crime be curbed, but there is mounting consensus among legal experts that Texas' system is riddled with serious due process flaws that significantly increase the likelihood of carrying out executions of innocent people.

      Opponents of the Texas system say instead of deterring crime, the open bias of politicians and judges toward the prosecution and toward the application of the death penalty means the state is collaborating in the escape of those who really did commit crimes that innocent people have been convicted of. With a growing problem of human trafficking and drug running, and the attendant violence, Texas may need to halt all executions until the system is fixed and at last there is a means for determining when prosecutorial mistakes or misconduct have let the guilty off by targeting the wrong suspect.

      (source: CafeSentido.com)


      Sept. 9, 2009

      Another reason to abolish the death penalty

      The death penalty in the United States should be abolished because it functions as a potent agent of racism and class oppression. African Americans and Latino/as represent the majority of those on death row. And executions are reserved almost exclusively for the poor. 90% of those awaiting execution could not afford to hire a trial attorney.

      In addition, death penalty abolitionists have known for decades that many of those executed are also innocent. Now the corporate media has finally covered one such case in which recent evidence reveals that another innocent person was executedand where else but in the state of Texas.

      Craig Beyler, a nationally recognized arson expert, wrote in an August report for the Texas Forensic Science Commission that a 1991 fire which killed Todd Willingham's 3 young daughters was not arson. Willingham was executed for their murder in 2004.

      As he lay on the gurney in Huntsville, Willingham had said, "I am an innocent man, convicted of a crime I did not commit. I have been persecuted for 12 years for something I did not do."

      Todd Willingham was innocent and theres a simple reason for his 2004 execution: He was poor.

      We are taught in school that justice is blind, but in no civics book does it say how expensive it is.

      His stepmother, Eugenia Willingham, who raised Todd from the age of 13 months, spoke to hundreds in Austin, Texas, in 2006 at the Seventh Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty. The marchers had left a letter at the gates to the Governor's Mansion for Gov. Rick Perry, asking him to investigate the case and stop all pending executions so that no other innocent person would be put to death.

      Today, Texas may become the 1st state in the modern era forced to acknowledge that it executed a legally and factually innocent person.

      Death penalty activists know the names of many other innocent people who have been executed: Shaka Sankofa, Frances Newton, Carlos de Luna, Joseph Nichols, Ruben Cantu and Carlos Santana, to name but a few.

      More than a few innocent people set to be executed are still living on death row and should be exonerated before they, too, are killed by the state: Mumia Abu-Jamal, Troy Davis, Howard Guidry, Cesar Fierro, Jeff Wood, Rodney Reed, Max Soffar, Darlie Routier, Anthony Graves and many more.

      Modern legal lynchings

      The U.S. was founded on the theft of Native land. It developed riches through the super-exploitation of enslaved Africans. From Reconstruction until the gains made by the Civil Rights Movement, Black people were frequent victims of vicious lynch mobs.

      Today"s executions are modern-day lynchingsand almost 90% of executions take place in former Confederate states.

      An innocent Black man in Conroe, Texas, Clarence Brandley, was picked up by cops along with an equally innocent elderly white man in the late summer of 1981 to be questioned about the rape and murder of a white teenager. The sheriff was under pressure to find the perpetrator of this awful crime before school started.

      He looked at Brandley and said, "You're the n-er, so you're elected."

      Brandley spent nine years on death row before being exonerated.

      As Shaka Sankofa lay strapped on the gurney in Huntsville on June 22, 2000, he said, "They know I'm innocent. They've got the facts to prove it.

      ... But they cannot acknowledge my innocence, because to do so would be to publicly admit their guilt."

      Sankofa continued, "Slavery couldn't stop us. The lynchings in the South couldn't stop us. This lynching will not stop us tonight. We will go forward . ... It's state-sanctioned lynching, right here in America and right here tonight. Our destiny in this country is freedom and liberation.

      We will gain it by any means necessary. We must avenge this murder and continue to move forward to stop all executions of the poor and of Black people."

      We must put Shaka Sankofa's words into action and abolish the racist and anti-poor death penalty.

      (source: Editorial, Workers World)


      Tabler blogging from death row

      Richard Tabler, the convicted murderer out of Bell County who last year was at the center of a controversy about cell phone usage by death row inmates, has again captured the attention of the state senator in charge of corrections in Texas - this time through a blog post.

      In a statement released Thursday, state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said he is upset that Tabler continues to get messages out from death row, some of which threaten him and his family.

      Less than 11 months ago, Whitmire, chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, led a sweep of the Texas prison system for contraband after Tabler called him on a cell phone.

      Whitmire said then that Tabler made threatening comments to him and Whitmire vowed to clean up the Texas prison system and rid it of smuggled cell phones. But now Tabler has apparently found a new way to communicate and threaten people.

      Since May, he has had a letter posted on an Internet blog for inmates. In the letter he inquires about the health of one of Whitmire's family members and writes "that just because I'm on death row does not mean that you cannot be gotten to or your family."

      "Once again, I must express to you my utter dismay at the level of security that continues to be present at the Polunsky death row Unit," Whitmire said in a statement. "If Richard Tabler was a political opponent, I would ignore him; however, he is a convicted capital murderer."

      Whitmire made sure top officials in the Texas prison system heard his message Thursday. In his statement outlining his frustrations he mentioned by name Brad Livingston, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, and Oliver Bell, chairman of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice.

      The ability of a death row inmate to continually author these threats represents a threat to all Texans and our public safety, the statement said.

      "I specifically ask how an inmate on death row is allowed to openly send letters out to the public that are designed to intimidate,threaten and retaliate against an elected official or any citizen of this state. I am also appalled that no one within TDCJ has even contacted me concerning this issue," Whitmire said.

      The Web site that is posting the letters is dedicated to teaching the public about "the hearts of the coldest killers," according to a post that explains why the site was created.

      (source: Temple Daily Telegram)


      Editorial

      Questions About an Execution

      Published: August 30, 2009

      People should have no illusions about the brutal injustice of the death penalty after all of the exonerations in recent years from DNA evidence, but the case of Cameron Todd Willingham is still shocking.

      Mr. Willingham was executed for setting a fire that killed his 2-year-old daughter and 1-year-old twins, but a fire expert hired by the State of Texas has issued a report casting enormous doubt on whether the fire was arson at all. The Willingham investigation, which is continuing, is further evidence that the criminal justice system is far too flawed to justify imposing a death penalty.

      After the fire, investigators decided, based in large part on burn patterns on the house’s floors, that it was intentionally set.

      Prosecutors charged Mr. Willingham, who escaped from the burning home, with capital murder. Mr. Willingham protested his innocence until the day the state killed him by lethal injection in 2004.

      The following year, Texas created the Forensic Science Commission to investigate charges of scientific mistakes or misconduct, and the panel began looking into the Willingham case. It commissioned Craig Beyler, a nationally recognized fire expert, to examine evidence.

      Mr. Beyler issued a report last week that painted an ugly picture of what passes for expert scientific investigation and testimony in a capital case in Texas. The report found that the official inquiry into the Willingham fire did not meet prevailing scientific standards of the time, much less current ones.

      The investigators “had poor understandings of fire science,” Mr. Beyler said, and their “methodologies did not comport with the scientific method.” He determined that the opinions of one main investigator were “nothing more than a collection of personal beliefs that have nothing to do with science-based fire investigation.”

      The report concluded that a “finding of arson could not be sustained.” The Forensic Science Commission is now asking the state fire marshal’s office for its response. It anticipates issuing a final report next year.

      The commission is to be commended for conducting this inquiry, but it is outrageous that Texas is conducting its careful, highly skilled investigation after Mr. Willingham has been executed, rather than before.

      A version of this article appeared in print on August 31, 2009, on page A18 of the New York edition.

      Questions About an Execution


      Houston woman's killer dies on death row

      By MICHAEL GRACZYK
      ASSOCIATED PRESS
      Aug. 30, 2009

      HOUSTON — A convicted killer on Texas' death row for nearly three decades has died in prison, prison officials said.

      Danny Dean Thomas was found dead Saturday, a day before his 54th birthday, on death row at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Polunsky Unit near Livingston. Prison officials said an autopsy would be performed but initially were attributing his death to natural causes.

      Thomas changed his name to Shozdijiji Shisinday since his conviction for the July 1981 abduction and murder of a Houston woman. Sylvia Elaine Harrison, 19, was fatally shot and her body was dumped in the San Jacinto River in Harris County.

      Thomas' 1982 conviction for her slaying was overturned on appeal and he was retried and sentenced to death again in 1998. Last October, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review his case.

      He did not have an execution date. He was 26 when he first arrived on death row and spent more than 27 years there.

      Thomas had won a second trial because the Texas attorney general's office missed a deadline to appeal a federal judge's decision to overturn his conviction.

      According to evidence at his trials, Thomas explained bloody clothing he was wearing by saying he'd hit a dog and that he and a friend had put the bloody animal in their car before dumping it in the river. He told others he had shot the dog because it would not stop whimpering.

      Thomas, however, later acknowledged that he and a friend, Zendal Peels, stopped to help Harrison, who was having car trouble. She thanked them for repairing her car and invited them to her home where court documents indicated they had drank beer and smoked marijuana.

      In his statement to police, Thomas said Peels unexpectedly struck Harrison in the head, knocking her out. Then the two took some items from her home, carried the unconscious woman to their car and drove around. When she regained consciousness, according to his statement, Thomas shot her in the head at close range. They drove to the river, removed her clothing and tossed her in the river after tying concrete blocks to her feet.

      Peels' family was upset to find blood in the car. Thomas was arrested after seeking psychiatric treatment at a hospital where he claimed people were blaming him for killing a person when he had killed a dog.

      A case against Peels, who was 17 at the time of the attack, was dismissed for lack of evidence.

      At his second trial, where jurors were deciding between life in prison or a death sentence, a life term would have made Thomas immediately eligible for parole because of time served for his first conviction.

      Defense attorneys had described him as mentally unstable, tired, hungry and scared when he spoke with police and signed a confession about 23 hours after he was taken into custody.

      The Harris County jury considering his case at the second trial decided he should die.

      Testimony showed Harrison repeated “God help me” until Thomas shot her in the head.

      Houston woman's killer dies on death row


      August 23, 2009

      My thanks to maligned Judge Keller

      I'd like to express my gratitude to Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller.

      She has made Texas' supreme court for criminal matters into a better institution.

      Unfortunately, she didn't do it by bringing organizational skills to a court that must deal more than any other state court in the nation with the pressures of last-minute appeals in death penalty cases.

      But she did it.

      The firestorm of criticism that followed her decision not to keep the clerk's office open for a late filing, based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision from earlier in the day, of a man scheduled to be executed an hour after closing time, has produced some improvements.

      According to her own testimony and that of other court officials during this week's four-day trial, the court had a protocol for dealing with execution day filings, but it was something of a secret.

      For one thing, it wasn't written.

      For another, the court staff was not given any formal training on it.

      Part of the procedure was the appointment, on a rotating basis, of a single judge to whom all communications regarding the pending execution would be directed. But the name of that judge was not to be disclosed to anyone outside the court, including lawyers for the condemned man.

      In Keller's 7 years as the court's chief judge, that was the state of things.

      Now, due to the allegations that she violated that procedure by not referring the call seeking to file a late plea for a stay of execution to Judge Cheryl Johnson, the assigned judge for that execution day, everyone knows the procedures.

      The court's judges, some of whom were waiting around in expectation of a filing and were angered to learn days later of Keller's actions, agreed to put the protocol in writing. And the protocol has been widely publicized in the controversy.

      There is another improvement. Ed Marty, the general counsel who took the request to Keller rather than to Johnson (who testified she would have accepted late pleadings), retired.

      His replacement, Sian Schilhab, said she contacts the appropriate attorneys days ahead of the prosecution to make sure they know she is available up until the execution takes place. She said she not only gives them her cell phone number, but forwards the office phone to her cell.

      She also says all outside communications not only "clearly go to the assigned judge, but I try to communicate them to all the judges, or at least their staffs."

      She said that's not because of the recent controversies, but because "I believe in more communication rather than less."

      If Keller had instructed Marty to do that, we wouldn't have had this firestorm.

      Keller's attorney argued this week that the defense lawyers had orchestrated media coverage creating the firestorm.

      Truth in advertising

      The coverage was not always fair and not always accurate, but I'd suggest that Keller herself made the ground fertile for belief that she would violate court policy to coldly reject the last-minute appeal.

      When she first ran for the court in 1994 she wrote in the Dallas Morning News that she was "pro-prosecutor. " It was truthful advertising.

      When DNA evidence showed a man imprisoned for raping a girl who was also murdered did not contribute the semen, she ruled against his appeal, saying he might have worn a condom.

      When prosecutors put on an expert in another case who testified a convicted man was a threat to society and therefore should get the death penalty because he was Hispanic, she voted not to require a new sentencing proceeding. The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed.

      When a district judge ruled that the evidence "unquestionably established" that a man had been pressured into falsely confessing to raping his stepdaughter, Keller voted with the minority against his release from prison.

      I'll say this for her. She is hard working. In the midst of this week's trial, she voted not to hear an appeal in a death penalty case. 6 of the 9 members of the all-Republican court voted the other way.

      (source: Commentary, Rick Casey, Houston Chronicle)


      August 23, 2009

      Justices lost on death penalty

      According to a strict constructionist view of the Constitution, innocence is not enough to stop the government from executing you. All that matters is that you had a legally "fair trial."

      If you prove your innocence after that trial ends in a death sentence, too bad. Back the hearse up to the prison.

      Upholding the supposed integrity of the system is more important than your life, your innocence, or even the knowledge that the person who committed the crime is on the loose and probably committing others.

      That's the argument U.S. Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas recently made in a death penalty case.

      Seriously.

      "This court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is 'actually' innocent," Scalia wrote.

      Law professor Alan Dershowitz put Scalia and Thomas' logic into simpler terms: "If a defendant were convicted ... of murdering his wife and then came to the Supreme Court with his very much alive wife at his side ... these 2 justices would tell him, in effect: 'Look, your wife may be alive as a matter of fact, but as a matter of constitutional law, she's dead, and as for you, Mr. Innocent Defendant, you're dead, too, since there is no constitutional right not to be executed merely because you're innocent.'"

      From a legal standpoint, Scalia and Thomas don't seem to believe a person can actually be innocent, only "guilty" or "not guilty," because that's the only thing the system is designed to determine. That's an incredible view of our justice system, one that deserves much more debate.

      And to think, many spent weeks arguing against Sonia Sotomayor because she "hopes" a "wise Latina" can make better judgments on certain issues than white men.

      Let a Puerto Rican woman show pride in her heritage, and critics unleash a Category 4 hurricane of complaints, arguing Democracy itself is under attack.

      Let long-serving white and black male Supreme Court justices suggest the constitution provides no protection for "actually innocent" people, and the resulting outrage doesn't even amount to a tropical depression.

      Fortunately for Troy Davis, who was convicted 20 years ago of murdering off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail, the other justices displayed common sense.

      They forced a lower court to re-consider the evidence.

      No physical evidence linked Davis to the murder. More than 2 dozen former prosecutors and judges said Davis should get a new hearing. 7 of the 9 eyewitnesses used to convict him have recanted, saying they were pressured to name Davis.

      And according to a mountain of research, eyewitness testimony is notoriously inaccurate.

      I can't tell you if Davis is guilty. I can tell you it is beyond absurd to believe that even if he proves his innocence, he should still take a trip to Georgia's death chamber.

      But that's one of the problems with what we call the justice system. The outcomes aren't always about justice.

      Even in South Carolina, if you are innocent - meaning you didn't do it - but get stuck with a lawyer who isn't very good, the chances are almost zero you'll win an appeal.

      Why? Because appeals aren't about making sure justice prevails. It's often about making sure all the legal 't's' have been crossed and 'i's' have been dotted.

      If your lawyer didn't make the right objections during your initial trial - those that could later help prove your innocence or show things weren't fair - the appeals court may not even consider it.

      The legal logic says we shouldn't try cases into perpetuity, that it would put too much chaos in the system, that there has to be a point where cases end.

      According to Scalia and Thomas, the Constitution doesn't protect innocent men from death at the hands of the government, because the system the government created isn't designed to detect innocence.

      Good thing they didn't prevail, for if they had, Davis wouldn't have been the only casualty of such thinking.

      They would have effectively put a needle in the arm of justice, too.

      (source: Myrtle Beach Sun News)


      August 22, 2009

      The Snitching Blog

      Snitching Blog is about a part of our criminal system that most people know little or nothing about: criminal informants, or snitches.

      At any given moment, thousands of informants are trying to work off their own criminal liability by giving information to the government.

      These informants may be in court, in prison, on the street, or in the workplace.

      Police and prosecutors often rely heavily on information obtained from snitches--especiall y in drug enforcement but also in white collar crime, organized crime, and terrorism investigations.

      In fact, it is impossible to fully understand the U.S. legal system without understanding snitching.

      Nevertheless, there is very little public information available about this important public policy.

      That's where Snitching Blog comes in.
      The Snitching Blog

      *See Related Article Below.


      Re-posted; August 22, 2009
      July 30, 2008

      The Rat Trap

      Death row exonerations expose failings of the ‘snitch system’

      By Christopher Moraff

      Levon Jones was freed from North Carolina's death row in May after a paid informant recanted her testimony.

      Since 1973, 129 innocent people were released from death row -- more than 50 of whom were sentenced to death based partly or wholly on false informant testimony Levon Jones is supposed to be dead.

      If the state of North Carolina had its way, Jones, 49, would have been strapped to a gurney years ago, hooked to an IV and pumped full of a lethal, three-drug cocktail until he asphyxiated.

      Instead, on May 2, he walked out of prison a free man after spending 13 years on death row, and another 24 months locked up awaiting retrial — all for a murder he almost certainly did not commit.

      Jones — known to friends and family as “Bo” — was released with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Capital Punishment Project after the prosecution’s star witness recanted her testimony against him. (Lovely Lorden, a former girlfriend, admitted she’d collected $4,000 in reward money in exchange for testifying against Jones.)

      He was an easy target: an African-American ex-con with a history of mental illness and violent behavior. When Lorden came forward with her story — a full three years after the 1987 shooting of a local bootlegger named Leamon Grady — Jones was doing time on an unrelated assault charge.

      The prosecution felt little obligation to question the veracity of Lorden’s claim. And if the witness is to be believed today, investigators actually helped her keep her story straight.

      As a result of Lorden’s testimony — and despite the lack of physical evidence tying him to the crime — a jury convicted Jones in 1993 and he was sentenced to die for Grady’s killing.

      What Jones’ attorneys didn’t know at the time — and, as it turns out, didn’t really bother trying to uncover — is that Lovely Lorden had made something of a career out of testifying against people close to her. By her own admission, she has aided law enforcement in dozens of investigations and says she helped police make cases against several other boyfriends, as well as her own brother and sons.

      What’s more, her work as a confidential informant didn’t stop after Jones was sent to death row. Jones’ attorneys sent In These Times copies of receipts that show Lorden was paid money at least seven times for her work as a confidential informant from December 2003 to April 2004, while Jones sat in jail.

      Today, Lorden contends she testified against Jones under pressure from the police, in particular Dalton Jones (no relation), the lead officer in the case.

      That doesn’t surprise Jones’ ACLU attorney, Brian Stull, who says it’s not uncommon for police to find a suspect first and worry about making a case later.

      “I think often times they look at the usual suspects,” Stull says. “I think Dalton Jones was thinking, ‘This is a dangerous person, and whether he did it or whether he didn’t, I’m going to get him off the street.’“

      Jones owes his freedom in part to an astute federal judge who sensed something amiss with Lorden’s testimony during a 2006 penalty appeal.

      In granting Jones a new trial, U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle, of the Eastern District of North Carolina, noted Lorden’s statements to police were “riddled with inconsistencies” and “reflect that Lorden is unable to fairly and reliably describe the circumstances of the offense.”

      Unfortunately, the case of Levon Jones is not an anomaly. He is the fifth death row prisoner to be exonerated in the past year. Since December, North Carolina alone has released three inmates from death row after it was determined that they did not commit the crimes for which they were convicted. Of these three men, two, including Jones, were convicted on the false testimony of snitches.

      The other, Jonathon Hoffman, was released in December 2007 after spending seven years on death row. His freedom came when the prosecution’s key witness — Hoffman’s cousin — admitted that he had lied to get back at Hoffman for stealing money and had been both paid for his testimony and given a reduced sentence for bank robbery. At the time of Hoffman’s trial, prosecutors withheld the deal from defense attorneys, the jury and even the judge.

      A recipe for disaster

      In a country where more than one out of every 100 citizens is now incarcerated, criminal justice advocates are scrutinizing the way in which police and prosecutors go about getting the information to pursue and prosecute suspects.

      This inquiry has increasingly focused on the extent to which incentivized informants and jailhouse snitches are contributing to the convictions of innocent people.

      A cursory review of the Jones case would be enough to suggest something is wrong. But a thousand Levon Jones stories don’t elicit the same amount of outcry as one Kathryn Johnston case does.

      In November 2006, Atlanta police gunned down Johnston — an elderly Atlanta grandmother — inside her home. The officers, who were from the city’s narcotics task force, claimed to be acting on information they received from a confidential informant that drugs were being sold from the house. That allegation turned out to be false.

      The Johnston tragedy shined a spotlight on the cavalier use of informant information to obtain arrest and search warrants. The Justice Department launched a federal probe and, nine months after the shooting, in July 2007, the House Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing on law enforcement’s use of confidential informants.

      “We’ve got a serious problem here that goes beyond coughing up cases where snitches were helpful,” said committee chair Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) at the hearing. “The whole criminal justice system is being intimidated by the way this thing is being run, and, in many cases, especially at the local level, mishandled. … A lot of people have died because of misinformation.”

      It isn’t known if any of those people have died at the hands of the state; but judging by some of the relevant corollary statistics, it’s plausible that some have.

      Falsified informant testimony accounts for nearly half of all wrongful convictions in capital cases nationwide, according to data from Northwestern University Law School’s Center on Wrongful Convictions. Since 1973, 129 innocent people were released from death row — more than 50 of whom were sentenced to death based partly or wholly on false informant testimony, according to the Center.

      Alexandra Natapoff, an associate professor of law at Loyola University and one of the country’s foremost authorities on the problems with paid informants, thinks that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

      “We have the most data on capital and homicide convictions because they are the most high profile,” she says, “so we have no idea how many wrongful convictions there are in larceny cases or assault cases or any other because nobody is paying any attention to those.”

      Natapoff has written extensively on the role of snitch testimony in wrongful convictions and says that informants have become law enforcement’s investigative tool of choice.

      “The government’s use of criminal informants is largely secretive, unregulated and unaccountable,” she says. “This lack of oversight and quality control leads to wrongful convictions, more crime, disrespect for the law and sometimes even official corruption.”

      She continues: “If the criminal system can’t get homicide cases right, then it’s very unlikely that we’re getting other things right.”

      A broken system

      With the expansion of the “war on drugs” during the crack epidemic of the late 1980s, police began to abandon traditional investigative work in favor of insider cooperation. Cops say it’s almost impossible to make a drug case any other way. But critics say the practice has led to a “dumbing down” of police work across the board.

      “The drug war has eroded law enforcement practices,” says investigative reporter Ethan Brown, whose recently published book, Snitch: Informants, Cooperators and the Corruption of Justice, traces the genesis of the informant culture and its effect on communities.

      Those who study the snitch culture trace the problem to a criminal justice policy that has created the perfect atmosphere for what Brown calls the “cooperator institution” to thrive.

      Most notably, Brown says, federal sentencing guidelines, adopted in 1987, have exacerbated the growth of the cooperator institution over the past two decades.

      Until a 2005 Supreme Court ruling gave judges more flexibility in sentencing, the guidelines made cooperating with authorities the only real option for defendants seeking leniency.

      “Those guidelines really forced drug defendants into cooperating,” says Brown. “Very few people will look at that kind of prison time and not cooperate.”

      But over the years, a practice once confined mainly to drug investigations has become standard operating procedure for the prosecution of all kinds of crime.

      The reasons are myriad, but the simple matter of resources looms large. In a system severely taxed by an unwinnable drug war, relying on informants is a cheap and easy investigative option. It can cost thousands of dollars to house, feed and protect an actual witness until trial, and, depending upon the offense and the defendant, such protection can carry on for years after conviction. By contrast, criminal informants are often compensated with leniency or are paid small sums, and often simply released into the same streets from which they came.

      “It’s all about this staggering misallocation of resources,” says Brown. “We have this incredible institution for cooperators and informants, yet, for the kind of cooperating we need the most, there are really no resources.”

      This mutually beneficial relationship between police officers and their informants is what Natapoff calls “a disturbing marriage of convenience.”

      Prosecutors and police know the pitfalls, but in many cases write them off as the cost of doing business and making cases.

      In a 1999 study published in the Fordham Law Review, Ellen Yaroshefsky, a law professor from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, interviewed a number of assistant U.S. attorneys from the Southern District of New York and found that while most said they made every effort to be diligent in assessing the veracity of informants, they admitted it’s easy to get in too deep and lose objectivity.

      In her study, Yaroshefsky described this as “fall[ing] in love with their rat.”

      “You’re not supposed to, of course. You are trained to maintain your objectivity,” an anonymous participant in Yaroshefsky’s study said. “But you spend time with this guy, you get to know him and his family, you like him. You believe that he has come clean. Hopefully the assistant has a skeptical mindset, but the reality is that the cooperator’s information often becomes your mindset.”

      Still, other times investigators are already working under an assumption of guilt and are simply seeking confirmation.

      “[Sometimes] prosecutors are convinced they have the guilty guy, then they go about seeking to convict and do not carefully look at things that are funny about their case,” one of Yaroshefsky’s sources said.

      Former prosecutor and now Howard University law professor Andrew Taslitz says that when he started out in the Philadelphia district attorney’s office, his youth and ambition often clouded his judgment when it came to reliance on informants who had received incentives. He says he thinks his experience is the norm.

      “Most prosecutors are very, very young, especially at the state level,” Taslitz says. “They’re new graduates of law school or they’ve done some other job for a few years but they’re mostly in their late 20s, early 30s tops, with very little experience. It’s one of the reasons that office policies that just tell them what to do are so important.”

      Another problem is that many of the assumptions that courts make about how witness testimony is received simply don’t pan out.

      The Supreme Court established the constitutional basis for using paid informants in 1966 with U.S. v. Hoffa, which decided that rewarding a witness for testimony does not violate due process. In its opinion, the court wrote: “The established safeguards of the Anglo-American legal system leave the veracity of a witness to be tested by cross examination, and the credibility of his testimony to be determined by a properly instructed jury.”

      But Natapoff says, in practice, those mechanisms are deeply ineffective at protecting defendants from lying informants.

      “Let’s say the government does disclose [compensation] and the jury knows about it,” she says. “You would think, and the Supreme Court certainly thinks, that that will make a difference. Well, psychological research has found that it makes almost no difference, that jurors ignore the fact that the witness is compensated.”

      And that’s only for the cases that go to trial. Because 95 percent of criminal cases are resolved through plea agreements, defendants rarely get the chance to challenge an informant’s story or credibility.

      “The Supreme Court has held that while defendants who go to trial are entitled to impeachment material about their informants, defendants who plead guilty are not,” Natapoff says. “So that means that most defendants will never see the deal that the informant got.”

      In spite of all the potential pitfalls, police and prosecutors say the benefits of informants outweigh the potential for abuse.

      Ronald E. Brooks, president of the National Narcotic Officers’ Associations’ Coalition, calls informants “indispensable investigative assets” and cautions against issuing a blanket judgment on the use of confidential informants by police officers for “a few instances of mismanagement or wrongdoing.”

      “When we appropriately manage informants, great cases, ones that make our community safe are the result,” he says. “When informants are improperly used, the results can be devastating. But without the ability to freely use informants, law enforcement would have very few significant investigative successes.”

      Levon Jones was freed from North Carolina's death row in May after a paid informant recanted her testimony.

      Since 1973, 129 innocent people were released from death row -- more than 50 of whom were sentenced to death based partly or wholly on false informant testimony A call for reform

      Since the 2007 House Judiciary Committee hearing in the wake of the death of Kathryn Johnston, little headway has been made in reforming the practice of using incentivized informants to send people to jail — and, possibly, execution.

      According to the American Bar Association (ABA), 18 states now require corroboration of an accomplice’s statements. Those that require corroboration for other forms of incentivized witnesses, however, are few and far between.

      Illinois currently mandates corroboration in capital cases, and courts in Nebraska and Oklahoma have required corroboration for jailhouse snitches.

      Texas, meanwhile, has a different requirement, not for jailhouse snitches, but for undercover drug operatives working for the police.

      Criminal justice reformers say they want to make sure police and prosecutors are following protocol in how and when they use paid or incentivized informants.

      Taslitz, who serves in the ABA’s Criminal Justice Section, says more transparency is needed during the discovery phase. For example, he’d like to see defendants who are negotiating a plea agreement have access to the information and witnesses being used against them.

      In a 2005 ABA resolution that Taslitz helped write, the association urged federal, state and local authorities to require that informants meet certain standards of credibility and that courts mandate corroboration in all cases that involve jailhouse snitches.

      But so far there has been little in the way of reform.

      “It’s a slow process,” Taslitz says, “and it doesn’t have to necessarily be a matter of legislation, but it could be a matter of individual prosecutors’ offices adopting specific policies; it can be a matter of local ordinances; it can be case law where judges start to intervene. It’s a slow process and, as of yet, there is no uniform informants act.”

      For cases that do go to trial, Natapoff has been pushing for “pre-trial reliability hearings” as a potential remedy. Under such a system, the burden would be on the government to prove witness reliability by a preponderance of evidence. Courts would be required to consider such factors as the criminal history of the informant, any compensation for their testimony, and other cases in which the informant has testified, among other things.

      “Given the prevalence of informant falsehoods in wrongful capital convictions, such hearings should be mandatory in capital cases, even where the defense intends to concede guilt and move directly to the sentencing phase,” Natapoff says.

      Considering that for every innocent person convicted of murder, a real murderer escapes justice, requiring such checks and balances is as much a victim’s rights issue as a matter of criminal justice.

      For his part, in spite of losing a decade and a half of his life, Levon Jones says he holds no grudge against the snitch that put him on death row.

      Rather, he attributes his ordeal to a miscarriage of justice.

      Says Jones: “It was the system itself.”

      Christopher Moraff is a writer and photographer who frequently contributes to In These Times, The American Prospect online and Common Sense magazine. He currently serves as a features correspondent for The Philadelphia Tribune and is associate editor of the finance magazine the Monitor, where he specializes in covering corporate fraud. He lives and works in Philadelphia.

      The Rat Trap


      Editorial

      An Unfit Judge

      Published: August 20, 2009

      Judge Sharon Keller, the Texas appellate court judge who closed the clerk’s office before a death row inmate could file a last-minute appeal, is fighting to keep her job. At a hearing on Wednesday, she said in a crowded courtroom that if she had it to do again, she would do the same thing. That testimony is further proof of why Judge Keller needs to be removed from the bench.

      On Sept. 25, 2007, Michael Richard’s lawyers called the court clerk’s office to say they were running late in delivering the papers for his appeal. The Supreme Court had unexpectedly issued an order in another death penalty case that they believed provided grounds for putting off his execution. When the request to keep the office open reached Judge Keller, she insisted it would close promptly at 5 p.m. The appeal was not filed, and Mr. Richard was executed hours later.

      Judge Keller is now facing five counts of judicial misconduct and a possible recommendation that the state judicial system remove her from the bench.

      In court this week, Judge Keller lashed out at the condemned man’s lawyers, blaming them for the controversy. She argued that Mr. Richard could still have filed his appeal by seeking out another judge, but that misses the point. She did not follow appropriate procedures. And clearly, under any interpretation of the rules, given that a life lay in the balance, the clerk’s office should have stayed open.

      Judge Keller’s profound lack of appreciation for the seriousness of taking a life — and the obligations it places on the state — is similar to the disturbing dissent that Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas delivered this week in the Troy Davis case. They suggested there was no constitutional problem with executing a man who could prove he was innocent.

      We believe the death penalty is in all cases wrong. But people who support it should still insist that it be carried out only after a prisoner has been given every reasonable chance to make his case. Judge Keller’s callous indifference in a case where the stakes could not have been higher makes her unfit for office.

      A version of this article appeared in print on August 21, 2009, on page A26 of the New York edition.

      An Unfit Judge


      August 20, 2009

      Here's a good case for killing the death penalty

      Opponents of the death penalty have reason for hope this week.

      2 high-profile cases are exposing the sick, barbaric folly of execution in America.

      When the U.S. resumed executions in 1977, only 16 nations had abolished the death penalty; the number has since grown to 92. 5 nations now carry out more than 90% of the world's executions: Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, China - and the United States.

      We're in pretty grim company.

      But this week, America took a step toward evolving in the direction of the civilized world.

      In Georgia, a man on death row got an extremely rare ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court.

      And in Texas, a high-ranking judge is herself on trial - prosecuted for misconduct after callously refusing to hear the 11th-hour appeal of a prisoner who was about to be executed.

      The latest development in the Georgia case of Troy Anthony Davis is awe-inspiring.

      For the first time in 50 years, the justices ordered a federal court to reopen a state murder case - even after a long line of appeals - and hear newly discovered evidence that might exonerate Davis.

      As I've written in columns since 2007, the evidence of Davis' innocence is overwhelming. He was convicted in 1991 of the point-blank shooting of a Savannah police officer in a case with scant evidence: There was no murder weapon found, no confession, no fingerprints or other physical evidence.

      Davis was sent to death row on the strength of 9 witnesses. 7 have since recanted in sworn statements, with many claiming police coercion. An 8th witness first told cops he didn't know who the killer was, then "remembered" it was Davis 2 years later.

      And the 9th witness, who originally pointed the finger at Davis, may be the real killer. Three new witnesses now say he was the shooter. (Details about the case are at troyanthonydavis.org.)

      It took marches, rallies, media coverage and an active international movement and appeals from well-known people - including former FBI Director Williams Sessions, ex-Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.), Desmond Tutu and Pope Benedict - to get the high court to act.

      The Supreme Court ruling signals that actual innocence counts for something in a land where so many scream for blood.

      Another encouraging scene is unfolding in Texas, where Sharon Keller, presiding judge of the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals, yesterday took the witness stand in her own defense.

      Keller has been charged with misconduct by the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct and could be kicked off the bench for her actions on the night in 2007 that the state executed Michael Wayne Richard, a rapist and murderer.

      On the day Richard was scheduled to be killed, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a halt to executions in Kentucky based on a claim that lethal injections might be painful and therefore an unconstitutionally cruel form of punishment.

      Richard's lawyers, frantically attempting to stay his execution based on the ruling in the Kentucky case, called Keller's aides shortly before the court's closing time, begging them to keep the court open for 15 to 30 minutes - long enough to allow papers to be filed.

      At 4:45 p.m., the request was passed to Keller, who presides over the very last stop for criminal defendants in the Lone Star State.

      "We close at 5," she said. Richard was executed at 8:23 that evening. And on the stand yesterday, Keller said that, if faced with the same situation, she'd slam shut the doors of the courthouse again.

      That stiff-necked indifference to fairness and justice make Keller - "Killer Keller" to her critics - a poster child, along with Davis, for why we must end the death penalty.

      (source: Opinion, Errol Louis, New York Daily News)


      Keller trial wraps up with harsh criticism

      Decision will come later on whether judge violated court rules regarding 2007 execution appeal.

      By Chuck Lindell
      AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
      August 21, 2009

      SAN ANTONIO — Dismissing most of Judge Sharon Keller's defenses as legally irrelevant, prosecutor Mike McKetta said the state's highest criminal judge failed to perform her job competently in one of the most crucial areas of the law: the death penalty.

      "What kind of telephone call can you get on execution day that could be more urgent than this one: 'We are trying to file'?" McKetta asked Thursday as Keller's four-day misconduct trial came to an end.

      And yet, he said, "we know she said no. ... We know she said no a second time. We know she said, 'We close at 5 p.m.' She knew a filing was anticipated, and what did she do? 'No. No.'"

      Defense lawyer Chip Babcock, in his closing arguments, blamed the charges against Keller on a well-orchestrated attack by death penalty opponents and lies repeated by lawyers for death row inmate Michael Richard, whose missed appeal and execution in 2007 formed the basis of the case against Keller.

      "To even suggest that this fine woman, this fine judge willfully violated the law is frankly an outrage," Babcock said.

      "She and her family — and the family of Mrs. Dixon, frankly — are being put through this ordeal because some very vocal people don't like the way Judge Keller rules," he said.

      Marguerite Dixon was raped and killed by Richard in 1986. Two of her daughters, Marijo and Paula Dixon of Austin, were in the courtroom Thursday.

      Keller's trial ended without a resolution.Under rules governing cases of alleged misconduct against judges, District Judge David Berchelmann Jr. will compile "findings of fact" for the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.

      The 13-member commission will rely on the findings to decide among three options: drop the charges, censure Keller or suggest that she be removed from office. A removal recommendation would be ruled on by a specially created panel of seven appellate court judges.

      In his closing arguments Thursday, McKetta urged Berchelmann to focus on conduct — "what Judge Keller knew, said, thought, decided, did and failed to do."

      Keller, he said, failed to follow the court's execution-day procedures, which required "all communications" about a pending execution be referred to Judge Cheryl Johnson, who was assigned to handle any late appeal from Richard.

      Knowing she was not the assigned judge, Keller still chose to address and dispose of a request from Richard's legal team for more time, McKetta said.

      "She circumvented procedures" that are an important safeguard against the misapplication of capital punishment, he added.

      "The death penalty can be accepted in a civilization only when people can have confidence that it be so carefully administered that it precludes premature or erroneous executions," McKetta said. "Executions cannot be undone."

      Babcock said the charges against Keller assume that "we live in a black and white world. I think our society, and what happened here, is a little more nuanced than that."

      By saying the court clerk's office closes at 5 p.m. — a time set by state law — Keller did not stop lawyers with the Texas Defender Service from filing any appeals, Babcock said.

      Those lawyers failed to remember, or did not know, that appellate rules allow the court's general counsel or any of its nine judges to accept pleadings, he said.

      "Judge Keller didn't close the court to anyone. Mr. Richard's lawyer never knocked on the right doors, and they gave up," Babcock said.

      On the day of Richard's execution, the U.S. Supreme Court said about 9 a.m. that it would examine the legality of lethal injections. Even so, Babcock said, TDS lawyers didn't begin writing briefs until shortly after noon. By then, 40 percent of the time until 5 p.m. had evaporated, he said.

      TDS also assigned the task of drafting four briefs to a first-year lawyer, Alma Lagarda, and offered her no supervision until TDS litigation director David Dow arrived in the Houston office about 2:45 p.m., Babcock said.

      Babcock's harshest criticism was reserved for "lies" told by TDS lawyers that, he said, produced a flurry of negative publicity and scathing media accounts.

      Prosecutors used those news stories to allege that Keller brought discredit on the judiciary.

      There were no computer problems that delayed the creation of Richard's legal briefs, Babcock said.

      The often-told claim that the court would not stay open for only 20 minutes is refuted by the Texas Defender Service's own admission that the briefs weren't completed until almost 6 p.m., he added.

      "This is a tactic of TDS — to attack the Court of Criminal Appeals," Babcock said. TDS lawyers rebutted many of Babcock's claims, sometimes angrily, in testimony this week.

      McKetta urged Berchelmann to look past many of Babcock's claims, noting that they had nothing to do with the charges against Keller's conduct.

      Keller, he noted, made her decision to close the court without knowing that TDS had claimed computer delays, had made legal choices that would be questioned later or would criticize her about the Richard case in the months to follow.

      "She blames TDS solely and in its entirety — that the only reason for criticism around the world was TDS, TDS, TDS, instead of acknowledging that her noncompliance with the execution-day procedures must have accountability," McKetta said.

      Berchelmann has no time limit to make the findings beyond a state rule that says he must act promptly.

      clindell@statesman.com; 912-2569

      Keller trial wraps up with harsh criticism


      Judge Keller: No one did anything wrong

      By CRAIG KAPITAN
      San Antonio Express-News
      Aug. 18, 2009

      SAN ANTONIO — Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Sharon Keller on Tuesday disagreed with prosecutors about her perception of a phone call two years ago that preceded the execution of death row inmate Michael Richard.

      “I just don't think anybody did anything wrong,” said Keller, the state's highest-ranking criminal judge, at her ethics hearing.

      Keller faces possible removal from office after being charged with five counts of judicial misconduct, including the failure to follow the appellate court's execution-day protocol when she didn't notify fellow Judge Cheryl Johnson of the Sept. 25, 2007, request to accept a late appeal. Johnson testified earlier she was at the court after hours, waiting for the expected last-minute appeal.

      “You knew someone had called about that scheduled execution and at minimum (that they) were not ready to file?” asked special prosecutor Mike McKetta, to which Keller responded, “Yes.”

      Keller recalled the court's general counsel Ed Marty saying that night, “They wanted to file something, but they were not ready.”

      She responded, telling Marty to advise Richard's attorneys that the clerk's office closes at 5 p.m. Richard, convicted in the April 1996 rape and shooting death of a Hockley nurse, was executed three hours later.

      During her hourlong testimony Tuesday, Keller said she didn't believe she was making a decision regarding the court accepting an appeal, but an administrative one about the clerk's office hours.

      “I think it was not a substantive matter,” she said, “but I can see why other people think it was.”

      Prosecutors are expected to continue questioning the judge this morning. Prosecutors will likely rest their case by the end of the day, and it is possible the defense will as well, attorneys indicated Tuesday.

      Richard's sister, Betty, who traveled from Houston to watch the proceedings, choked back tears during a break in Keller's testimony Tuesday.

      “She knows it was wrong,” she said. “My brother was not an animal. He was a loved human being.”

      ‘You didn't ask'

      Keller's testimony came after a long and sometimes bruising exchange earlier in the day between Richard's appellate lawyer and her attorney.

      David Dow, a law professor and litigation director for the nonprofit Texas Defender Services, occasionally raised his voice as he fielded questions from defense attorney Chip Babcock that suggested Dow spun false allegations to the media and lied about computer problems the day he was trying to file a last-minute appeal for Richard.

      Babcock said Dow should have known to call Johnson or to call the court's general counsel that day after his paralegal was told the clerk's office closes at 5.

      “You weren't denied (the appeal),” Babcock said. “You didn't ask.”

      Keller later said, “I would have thought a good part of (the execution-day procedure) was known to defense attorneys who practiced in our court.”

      Dow said he wasn't aware at the time that he could call others. He assumed after talking to his paralegal no other options were available.

      “It's reasonable for me to believe the clerk's office is the court,” Dow said. “I don't draw a distinction between the clerk's office and the court the way you do.”

      Both agreed there could have been some confusion that day as a result of the chain of communication. Dow was giving orders to another attorney in his office, who was in turn talking to a paralegal in Austin, who called the court clerk, who called the general counsel, who called Judge Keller.

      A pointed question

      Babcock, whose previous high-profile clients include Oprah Winfrey and the Chicago Tribune, occasionally glanced into the audience as he offered his questions Tuesday. Keller sat at the defense table, occasionally taking notes.

      “Do you think Judge Keller should be removed from office because you didn't think about (calling others) that day?” Babcock asked.

      Dow gathered his thoughts for a moment before responding.

      “I don't have an opinion on whether Judge Keller should be removed from office,” he said.

      ckapitan@express-news.net

      Judge Keller: No one did anything wrong


      Aug. 17, 2009

      The case against death row----Instead of imposing ineffective death penalty, we should build tougher jails

      Seeing another wave of violence, Israelis turn to the "deterrence Messiah" that would save all and cease fatal violence on the streets the death penalty. Seems tempting, I agree knowing that a criminal who murdered another human being would be killed himself by our hand feels somewhat soothing. Let the criminals know the revenge is coming.

      The public should not rush to decide on the issue, however. Let emotions subside and look straight at the facts. And here they are.

      The state of Texas has one of the highest executions rates in the United States.

      The Lone Star state had seen 439 persons executed by the judicial system since 1976, yet crime rates are still high, with 10,869 individuals murdered since 2000. Furthermore, in the past 14 years, murder rates hover around same range (between 1,217 and 1,693), with the Texan public suffering 5.9 murders per 100,000 citizens. This is in contrast with, for example, to Wisconsin, which sees 3.3 murders per same amount of inhabitants, with no single execution since 1976 and only a single death row inmate killed beforehand; Connecticut sees 3 murders per 100,000 with a single execution as well.

      While statistics certainly differ, they also clearly portray another picture more executions do not necessarily mean less violent crime. Georgia, having executed 45 inmates, holds steady at the 7.5 murders mark, with North Carolina trailing at 43 executions and 6.5 murders.

      The call for a death penalty law strikes a cord with many, but I believe the data presented clearly one point death rarely deters those willing to kill another human.

      Secondly, we must recall that the wheels of justice are ill-advised, at times.

      Inventors and scientists work tirelessly to discover new crime investigation technology that would uncover precise evidence in police's search for justice; technology that could exonerate those deemed guilty.

      Mistakes could be made. You cannot revive a dead man.

      So what is a better solution to the problem? Here is an idea: The government should establish an isolated, high-security, hard-labor prison, in the desert under military control. In the hot weather, prisoners should be forced to work 18 hours a day under harsh conditions. They should be given an hour of free time each week, on Saturdays. Radio and TV sets, as well as books should be barred from prison cells, with jailed individuals having access to those once a week, during the free hour.

      Moreover, the media should be called upon to visit the prison, with news crews filming the conditions and the suffering of the inmates. Other reporters should be allowed as well, with the option to interview pre-selected inmates.

      Too cruel? Perhaps. Yet never was law enforcement agencies' need for means to prevent crime as dire as it is now. The offered solution would therefore aim to show villains the true face of justice if you do the crime, the time would be long and painful.

      (source: Jonathan Boyko, Opinion, YNet News)


      Embattled judge faces own trial

      Judge Sharon Keller is expected to testify during this week's hearing.

      By Craig Kapitan - SAEN
      August 17, 2009

      For almost two years, critics have called for the resignation of Sharon Keller, one of Texas' highest-ranking judges, over charges of unethical conduct after she refused to accept a last-minute appeal from a death row inmate.

      Starting today, a rare hearing will begin in San Antonio that could help settle the matter.

      Keller — the presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the criminal equivalent to the State Supreme Court — will sit before state District Judge David Berchelmann Jr. at the Bexar County Courthouse as special prosecutors for the State Commission on Judicial Conduct present evidence against her.

      The process — which has never involved a judge as high-ranking as Keller — could result in the judicial misconduct charges being dismissed, or could be the beginning of a protracted legal battle to boot her from the bench.

      Keller is no stranger to controversy.

      In 1998, she wrote an opinion denying a new trial to a mentally disabled man who'd been convicted of rape and murder even though DNA tests appeared to clear him.

      The latest firestorm, a frequent launching point for criticism of Texas' death penalty policies, began with a short telephone conversation minutes before 5 p.m. on Sept. 25, 2007.

      The execution of death row inmate Michael Richard was scheduled to begin in less than 90 minutes, and his lawyers were racing to file an appeal after the U.S. Supreme Court had announced that morning that it would determine whether lethal injection constituted cruel and unusual punishment.

      Richard's lawyers wanted a stay of execution until the Supreme Court could decide the matter.

      “They want to hold the court open,” general counsel Edward Marty recalled telling Keller over the phone, according to documents that State Commission on Judicial Conduct prosecutors filed earlier this year. Keller refused, saying the clerk's office closed at 5 p.m.

      Despite several attempts that night to talk to the deputy clerk by cell phone, Richard's attorneys said they were stonewalled. At 8:20 p.m., Richard was executed for the August 1986 rape and shooting death of Marguerite Dixon, a Hockley nurse.

      Keller, who had gone home early that afternoon to meet a repairman, had an ethical duty to advise fellow Appeals Court Judge Cheryl Johnson of the conversation, according to the prosecutors for the Judicial Conduct Commission. As was policy, Johnson was on call that night in the event a last-minute appeal was filed.

      “Neither Judge Johnson nor the other judges who remained at the court after 5 p.m. were aware that Mr. Richard's lawyers had called to ask whether filings after 5 p.m. could be accepted,” prosecutors alleged in court documents.

      And because the U.S. Supreme Court had agreed that morning to review lethal injection practices across the country, Keller's colleagues had been expecting an appeal. The nation's highest court eventually rejected the notion that the practice constituted cruel and unusual punishment, but no death row inmate — in Texas or elsewhere — was executed during the six months of debate and review.

      But Keller never intended to obstruct Richard's attorneys from filing an appeal, said her lawyer Charles “Chip” Babcock.

      “If you believe this story that's been spun, it kind of looks bad for Judge Keller,” he said. But in truth, he said, the brief phone conversation she had with Marty was solely about office hours, not an appeal.

      “She picked up the phone and she answered a simple question,” he said. “There's just no way she violated any code of conduct.”

      Richard's attorneys could have easily filed the appeal by calling the on-duty judge, he said, adding that Keller can't be blamed for their dereliction of duty.

      Calls last week to Texas Defender Services, which handled Richard's appeals, were referred to Houston attorney Neal Manne. Placing blame on the respected nonprofit is a classic smokescreen tactic, said Manne, who represented the agency's staff during depositions for the hearing.

      “I understand why she wants to change the focus away from herself, but I think it's a cheap shot,” he said. “It's legally irrelevant.

      The focus is and should be on what she did or didn't do.”

      Keller, who couldn't be reached for comment last week, is expected to testify during this week's hearing. Others expected to testify include fellow Court of Criminal Appeals judges, Texas Defender Services staff and the court's former general counsel.

      The hearing will mirror a civil trial with the exception of its resolution. When concluded, Berchelmann will issue a report stating the facts of the case as he sees them to the 13-member State Commission on Judicial Conduct.

      The panel then will choose one of three options at a public meeting: dismiss the case; issue a public censure; or recommend to the Supreme Court that Keller be removed.

      If she appeals the commission's decision, attorneys said the process from there could take years.

      Keller is the 96th judge in the State Commission on Judicial Conduct's 44-year history to undergo formal proceedings. However, few of those cases have resulted in public inquiries because judges have generally accepted plea deals or resigned before the hearings could take place, Willing said.

      This week's hearing will mark the first such proceeding since 2003.

      Embattled judge faces own trial


      July 30, 2009

      Catholicism 101 - Does the church allow the death penalty?

      Kelsey Grammer has been in the news for his planned appearance at the parole hearing of the man who murdered his sister in 1976. Detained by a weather delay at the airport, Grammer was unable to attend the hearing but sent word pleading that the man who abducted, raped, stabbed and left for dead, 18 year old Karen Grammer should not be set free.

      Since the original conviction of death in the gas chamber, Denver law changed.

      It is now possible for this man to be released. Another parole hearing is scheduled for 2014.

      The story is horrible and the crime, brutal. Such a crime not only brings death and destruction to the individual and their family but also harms the whole of society. It cries out for justice which can only take the form of punishment. What does the church say about it?

      Because of the commandment, you shall not kill which extends toward anger, hatred and vengeance, many believe that the church forbids capital punishment. That is not true.

      Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for ones own right to life (CC 2264).

      According to the Catholic Catechism (2265), "Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for someone responsible for another persons life, the common good of the family or of the state."

      The church understands that the scale for punishment should reflect the gravity of a crime. "Preserving the common good of society requires rendering the aggressor unable to inflict harm." The traditional teaching of the church "acknowledges the right and duty of public authority to punish malefactors by means of penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime, not excluding, in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty" (CC 2266).

      The church ascribes to the correctional aspects of incarceration with an attitude toward reform. "The primary effect of punishment is to redress the disorder caused by the offense. When punishment is voluntarily accepted, it takes on the value of expiation. Punishment has the effect of preserving public order and the safety of persons. It (punishment) has a medicinal value and should contribute to the correction of the offender." (CC 2266)

      For feelings of vengeance, it is best to pray for healing for self, all victims and healing for the perpetrators as well.

      There have been miracles of conversion in prisons and converts such as Carla Faye Tucker, executed for her crime of murder, have died in the grace of God.

      But even if there is little hope for reform, the church advises using capital punishment only as a last resort. "If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person."

      (source: Karen Dudek, Examiner.com)


      July 29, 2009

      Life without parole helps build anti-death penalty support

      A report last week issued by the Sentencing Project, a national organization that works for a fair criminal justice system, pointed to the ongoing problem in the United States of racial disparities in sentencing and the challenges posed by the growing number of people who are serving life in prison without the possibility of parole.

      In light of the report, the Sentencing Project is calling for the elimination of life-without- parole sentences.

      While the organization' s desire to fix problems in the way justice is allocated is certainly laudable, abolishing life without parole as a sentencing option would be a mistake and undercut one of the strongest arguments against capital punishment that we as a society can keep the most dangerous prisoners off the streets permanently and punish them appropriately without resorting to state-sponsored executions.

      Reform, not abolition

      The Sentencing Project's report points out that nearly 1/3 of inmates serving life sentences some 41,000 have no possibility of parole. 2/3 of "lifers" are non-white.

      Such racial disparities, which are also evident in the way the death penalty is administered in the United States, point to the need for an overhaul of the criminal justice system so that it is indeed just for all, particularly the poor and people of color.

      Sentences of life without parole should be given to only the most dangerous and violent criminals who pose a persistent threat to public safety. They should be handed out carefully, judiciously and as infrequently as possible, but they shouldn't be eliminated as a sentencing option.

      While the intention of those who propose eliminating life-without- parole sentences isn't to increase support for the death penalty, it's not difficult to imagine lawmakers and the judicial system coming under added pressure to advocate for capital punishment if permanent prison sentences are no longer a guaranteed option.

      It would begin undoing the progress that has been made in recent years in some states thanks in large part to Catholics to enact capital punishment moratoriums and repeal death penalty laws. Such efforts have been successful in part because of the support of church leaders, such as Pope John Paul II, who called the death penalty "both cruel and unnecessary, " and the U.S. bishops, who rightly pointed out in their 2005 statement "A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death" that "it is time for our nation to abandon the illusion that we can protect life by taking life."

      Choosing life over death

      Unlike the death penalty, sentences of life without parole, when administered properly, cost the public less and uphold the human dignity of crime victims as well as perpetrators who have an opportunity while in prison to reform and rehabilitate their lives.

      Life without parole is a better option than the death penalty, and it is a necessary one if efforts to abolish capital punishment are to be successful.

      (source: Editorial, Joe Towalski, The Catholic Spirit)


      Capital Writs office to give Texas death-row inmates help with appeals

      July 29, 2009
      The Associated Press

      HOUSTON – Condemned killers in Texas will get more legal help with their appeals when a state-backed office opens in 2010.

      The Office of Capital Writs, with an annual budget of about $1 million and a nine-person staff, will be funded by redirecting money already in the state budget. Its attorneys are expected to handle most state appeals.

      An alliance of the State Bar of Texas, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and public defense advocates endorsed the measure before the 2009 Legislature.

      State Sen. Rodney Ellis of Houston sponsored the measure creating the office in response to reports about how death row inmates' lawyers had mismanaged appeals. He said the lack of a public defender to oversee key death row appeals has been an "international embarrassment." He introduced the bill in 2007.

      Texas, the nation's most active capital punishment state, put 18 convicted killers to death last year.

      "I think that everyone agrees [death row inmates] deserve one fair shot at presenting their issues, whether they're meritorious or not," said Andrea Marsh, executive director of the Texas Fair Defense Project. "We saw too many cases where poor state habeas representation forced people to lose appeals."

      Capital Writs office to give Texas death-row inmates help with appeals

      The Associated Press


      July 28, 2009

      State to handle capital appeals

      Texas, which executes more convicts than any other state in the nation, will open its 1st capital defense office next year to manage appeals for death row inmates after years of reports that appointed private attorneys repeatedly botched the job.

      "The status quo has been an international embarrassment," said state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who sponsored the law that created the office. It was supported by an unusual alliance between the State Bar of Texas, the Court of Criminal Appeals and public defense advocates, who all backed it in the last legislative session.

      The law was inspired by a series of stories about Texas inmates who lost crucial appeals after court-appointed attorneys missed deadlines or filed only so-called "skeletal" writs documents with little information often copied from other cases. It represents a significant reform for Texas, one of the only capital punishment states that lacks a public defender to oversee key death row appeals known as state writs of habeas corpus.

      The office, with an annual budget of about $1 million and a staff of 9, won't open soon enough to help any of the inmates whose appellate rights were squandered recently.

      "Better late than never," said Juan Castillo, 1 of 4 death row inmates whose state appeals were never filed by the San Antonio attorney assigned to represent them. "This is a start. There's a lot of cases" that have been screwed up.

      Ellis first introduced the bill in 2007 in response to reports about how death row inmates' lawyers had mismanaged appeals. But the bill was blocked then by last-minute lobbying from Harris County's former DA.

      Deadlines blown

      In the aftermath, appellate mistakes continued. The Houston Chronicle reported earlier this year that 3 attorneys had repeatedly blown state or federal appellate deadlines for their death row clients, effectively surrendering their clients' rights to appeal. The Court of Criminal Appeals recently found 2 attorneys in contempt of court for their shoddy work, including Castillo's lawyer, Suzanne Kramer, and referred them to the State Bar of Texas for possible disciplinary action.

      Kramer has not responded to repeated requests for comment.

      Governor signed bill

      By the 2009 legislative session, remaining opposition to establishing a state capital defense office had virtually disappeared, Ellis said. The law was approved late in the session and signed by the governor last month.

      "I think that everyone agrees (death row inmates) deserve one fair shot at presenting their issues, whether they're meritorious or not," said Andrea Marsh, executive director of the Texas Fair Defense Project. "We saw too many cases where poor state habeas representation forced people to lose appeals."

      The Office of Capital Writs will be funded by redirecting money already in the state budget: $500,000 formerly used to pay private attorneys for appeals and $494,520 from the state's Fair Defense account, already earmarked for indigent defense. Ultimately, its attorneys will likely handle most state appeals about 10 a year, if the current pace of death sentences continues.

      State writs of habeas corpus are considered the most critical step in death row appeals. It is at that stage that any innocence claim, allegation of prosecutorial misconduct, flawed trial defense or other issue involving omissions or case errors must be raised or the arguments cannot normally be raised later in the process.

      The state writ of death row inmate Keith Thurmond, a former Montgomery County mechanic on death row for the 2001 murders of his wife and her lover, first was assigned to an inexperienced attorney who badly botched it. He next was given a Houston attorney, Jerome Godinich, who failed to file his federal appeal on time. Godinich, who has missed deadlines in 3 federal death row appeals, has blamed the mistake in Thurmond's case on another lawyer and a faulty after-hours filing machine.

      Thurmond fears that he will be executed before his innocence claim, or any other challenges to the outcome of his 2002 trial, are ever heard by any appellate judge.

      "I'm lost," he said. "I don't know what to do. I haven't had no representation since I've been here."

      (source: Houston Chronicle)


      July 28th, 2009

      Texas Seeks To Improve Image In Death Penalty Cases

      Texas, the death penalty capital of the country, seems to be looking to change its ways.

      The state has passed legislation creating a capital defense office next year, which will handle appeals for death row inmates, according to this article from the Houston Chronicle.

      The appellate office will have a staff of 9 and a budget of about $1 million.

      Texas has gotten roundly criticized over the years for its handling of capital murder cases. There have been strange capital murder tales coming out of the Lone Star state in recent years, including a capital murder defendant represented by a sleeping lawyer; a defendant sentenced to death by a judge who allegedly was having a secret affair with the prosecutor in the case; and a defendant who was executed after he was barred from filing an appeal after the 5:00 pm closing time of the state's highest criminal appellate court. That later case prompted a move to impeach Sharon Keller, a judge on the state's court of criminal appeals.

      The Chron reports that the legislation creating the capital defense office was inspired by stories of Texas inmates who lost appeals because their lawyers missed deadlines or filed "skeletal" writs, which contained only scant information often copied from other cases.

      "The status quo has been an international embarrassment," state senator Rodney Ellis, who sponsored the legislation, told the Chron.

      (source: Wall Street Journal)


      July 23, 2009

      The Death Penalty for a Hate-Crime?

      The Matthew Shepard Act, as part of the 2010 Department of Defense Authorization Bill that it is attached to, has now officially cleared the Senate and is making its way toward President Obama's desk but first must make a stop at a conference committee to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions of the legislation before final votes in September, but it does so after having had four amendments made to it, one of which adds a death penalty provision.

      Details on the Four Amendments Made to the Matthew Shepard Act

      Approved on Monday, 3 of the amendments were conceived by Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.); they accomplish the following:

      Authorizing the possibility of the death penalty for certain hate-crimes.

      Extending the hate-crimes law to include "injury" against U.S. military service members and their families.

      A requirement that all hate-crime prosecutions adhere to guidelines as set out by the Attorney General, and that they operate on a "neutral and objective" basis.

      A further amendment was then added by Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) seeking to place conditions on the application of the death penalty provision, restricting the measure's use until the attorney general of the state where the hate-crimes law is being applied has created the appropriate standards for the use of capital punishment as a sentence for a hate-crime conviction.

      All 4 amendments were approved, 3 with unanimous consent, and the amendment to extend hate-crime protections to military service personnel passing with a vote of 92-0.

      According to this article by the Washington Blade, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) explained that the amendments made to the Matthew Shepard Act were part of a deal with Republican Senators in order to have the hate-crimes provision clear the Senate. Leahy also states that he supports all 4 of the amendments "in modified form".

      How Have LGBT Groups Reacted to the Matthew Shepard Act Amendments?

      Not well. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) groups have decried the addition of the death penalty. The American Civil Liberties Union have perhaps said it best through Christopher Anders, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel, when noting:

      "The expansion of the federal death penalty stands in stark contrast to furthering the cause of civil rights in the United States"

      In a letter sent by a coalition of gay rights, civil liberties and religious groups amounting to 50 sponsors in total, the addition of the death penalty was denounced. You can read the letter here.

      The Human Rights Campaign group have called the the amendments "poison pills" introduced by Jess Sessions, a Senator that gave a 50 minute speech as to why hate-crimes should not be extended to include LGBTS, to kill the bill.

      This, in itself, also infers the bitter irony inherent in a man arguing that extending hate-crimes legislation to include LGBT protections could endanger the liberty of moral objectors and religious persons, then adding a federal death penalty clause.

      Personally, I think three of the amendments are ill conceived and arbitrary. One places undue demands on the Attorney General to redefine hate-crimes when there has long been a perfectly applicable definition in existing law.

      The second extends protections to military personnel and their families which, firstly, is a move poorly defined - what constitutes "injury", or, indeed, "family" - and secondly, is unneeded due to existing tougher penalties for attacks made on service members or veterans already being in place.

      The death penalty provision we will come to below.

      Lastly the final amendment designed to curtail the death penalty's enforcement is a reactionary damage limitation exercise from the Democrats indicative of the difficulty that making concessions to the Republican opposition has left them in.

      What's Next for the Hate Crimes Legislation?

      The Hate Crimes legislation will go to a conference committee where the disparities between the House and Senate versions of the bill will hopefully be reconciled.

      One thing is clear, a Matthew Shepard Act including the death penalty is an insult to the young man that it was named after, violating the spirit of the legislation as it was intended and making bitter any sense of victory or joy that could have been had from its long overdue passage.

      The Matthew Shepard act has already been attached to a DOD authorization bill, a move which no one really wanted. But we accept, we adapt and we move forward.

      On the issue of the death penalty provision, though, we can not accept, we can not move forward. Instead, we must fight for it to be removed. There is no other way.

      Luckily, there is now such a gulf between the House and Senate versions of the bill that there will be room to maneuver, but it is imperative that we make Senators and Representatives mindful of the fact that they must remove the death penalty provision from the hate-crimes legislation whilst still making it known how vital the nature of the Matthew Shepard Act, or what was once the Matthew Shepard Act, is.

      Take Action and Stop the Death Penalty Provision:

      You can reach the capital switchboard at 202.224.3121. You will be asked who you wish to speak to. Ask for your Senator or Representative's office. Don't know who they are? Find out here, where you'll also be able to access a list of email addresses and direct office phone numbers if you wish to contact your representatives that way.

      Once you are in touch with your Representative or Senator's office, reiterate your support for the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention legislation, but also urge them to work toward removing the death penalty provision when the bill goes to conference.

      You may wish to cite the general consensus opinion that the House version of the bill has always been more comprehensive, better structured and well targeted than its Senate counterpart. Reverting to that format would allow the hate-crimes prevention legislation to operate in the way that it was intended.

      Lastly, please pass on any emails or contact information you do have to friends and family and spread the important message that whilst we do want hate-crimes legislation and therein equal status, we do not want it with the spectre of the death penalty being allowed along for the ride.

      (source: Care2.com)


      July 22, 2009

      Inmate set to die for '99 murder gets reprieve

      By MICHAEL GRACZYK
      Associated Press Writer

      HUNTSVILLE, Texas — The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday stopped the scheduled execution of a condemned inmate after misplaced evidence surfaced related to the abduction, robbing and fatal shooting of a Dallas man a decade ago.

      Roderick Newton, 31, was set to die Thursday. Prosecutors and defense attorneys had anticipated a reprieve after Dallas County authorities gave Newton's lawyers a police questionnaire uncovered in a review of the case.

      The evidence was given to them within the last two weeks.

      Newton was condemned for the death of Jesus Montoya, 20, of Dallas, who in 1999 was abducted from a car wash, forced to make an ATM withdrawal, robbed of his jewelry and then shot and dumped in a vacant lot in Mesquite.

      Dallas County prosecutors cleared the way for the reprieve when they agreed Tuesday with Newton's attorneys that the courts should review the possible impact of the questionnaire, which was filled out by a key prosecution witness at Newton's trial but never given to Newton's trial lawyers.

      It was the first of three statements made to Mesquite detectives by a co-defendant who testified against Newton.

      Only two, however, were known to Newton's trial attorneys.

      The inmate's appeals lawyers, seeking to block the lethal injection, told the Court of Criminal Appeals it was improperly withheld and could have been used to discredit the co-defendant's testimony.

      Police arrested the co-defendant, Julian Paul Williams, whose fingerprints were found in Montoya's truck, and Williams told them of Newton's involvement in Montoya's slaying. He served a 10-year prison term and is now free. Newton got death.

      Prosecutors found the written questionnaire from Williams in a police file while recently reviewing the 10-year-old case. In the questionnaire, Williams told police he knew nothing of the slaying and wasn't involved, a story he changed in subsequent statements.

      The appeals court returned Newton's case to his Dallas County trial court for a hearing on the evidence issue. The appeals court also agreed with Newton's lawyers that their claim Newton was mentally impaired and ineligible for execution should be reviewed.

      The court dismissed other defense claims that Newton should have had a hearing on his competency to stand trial and that he had deficient legal help at his trial.

      Newton had more than two dozen misdemeanor and felony offenses on his record and was a probation violator when he became wanted for Montoya's slaying. He was arrested hiding in a garbage bin after fleeing on foot following a car chase that had ended with him crashing into a parked car.

      Texas leads the nation with 16 executions this year. At least 10 inmates have execution dates in the coming months. Scheduled to die next is David Wood, 52, a convicted serial killer facing lethal injection Aug. 20 for the slayings of six women and girls in the El Paso area over three months in 1987.

      Inmate set to die for '99 murder gets reprieve

      ___
      Copyright 2009, The Associated Press.


      July 21, 2009

      Respected magistrate hangs up his robes but will continue his research at UT-Arlington

      Allan Butcher was known as one of the top death-penalty attorneys in Texas and an advocate for poor criminal defendants when he became a magistrate quietly working away in the basement courtroom at the courthouse a decade ago.

      His switch from writing appeals for death row inmates to simply approving pleas on routine legal matters may have bewildered others, but it made sense to Butcher, who said the job gave him time to continue his research and teaching.

      "Most lawyers like the drama of the courtroom. I like the solitude of the library," Butcher said.

      Butcher, however, hung up his robes Friday after changes in the schedule forced him to work 5 days a week, every week. That made it harder to continue his research, especially into the courts indigent-defense system.

      "When I took the job, we worked 7 days on and had 7 days off," Butcher said. "That gave me a large block of time every other week to devote to my research."

      A 5-member judicial committee has screened about 35 applicants for the magistrate's job and picked 6 finalists, who were interviewed Friday. The county's 19 criminal court judges will make the final selection this week.

      University life

      By the time his successor takes the bench, Butcher plans to be back in his office at the University of Texas at Arlington, where he will continue researching the death penalty, indigency and judicial selection issues that have become synonymous with his name.

      Butcher had 3 careers before becoming a lawyer more than 30 years ago, and he tried a few cases before finding his niche as an appellate attorney. There, he earned a statewide reputation after winning reversals on 1/2 of the 18 death penalty cases he appealed.

      "He was probably the leading appellate lawyer that judges would use in death-penalty cases," said state District Judge George Gallagher, who practiced law with Butcher for 13 years. "He was considered the best because of his thoroughness and knowledge of the law."

      Butcher gave his best to all his clients, not just those facing the death penalty, Gallagher said.

      He recalled a case in which a defendant tried on a felony charge was convicted of a misdemeanor. Still, Butcher appealed the case on the grounds that the judge should have given the jury a legal definition of reasonable doubt.

      It took a year and a half before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed.

      Even though the court reversed itself 6 years later, Butcher continues to fight for his clients and the law, Gallagher said.

      "What struck me about this case is that it was really no big deal as far as the severity of the offense," Gallagher said. "But Allan seized on what he thought was a gap in the law and tried to change it."

      Gatekeeper

      Butcher gives the same careful attention to the hundreds of defendants with whom he interacts only briefly, his staff say.

      "He treats them as individuals," court coordinator Rita Dickerson said. "He tries to convey how important it is for them to get an attorney in time to do them some good but to get someone they're comfortable working with."

      Dickerson said Butcher is equally attentive to the police officers who bring him search and arrest warrants to sign.

      Butcher, a professor emeritus at UT-Arlington, acknowledges that his teaching side kicks in when hes trying to ensure that officers include details needed for him to sign the warrants.

      "I'm the person between the police who want to search and the civilian's right to privacy," he said. "The officer has to convince me he has the reason to do it. I like to think that Im rigorous yet sensitive to the rights of the defendant."

      For the near future, Butcher will return to his research on indigent defense, which already has improved poor defendants access to attorneys throughout the state.

      He'll also continue trying to find ways to ensure that the death penalty is imposed in a fair and consistent way, although he no longer is sure that is possible.

      "I'm not ready to retire," Butcher said.

      (source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram)


      July 20, 2009

      Texas reporter's seen unrivaled number of U.S. executions

      Texas reporter has covered executions in Texas since the early 1980s Graczyk stopped counting, didn't want "notches on my gun belt" Inmates waiting to die have greeted him by name, called to check up on him He says he doesn't worry about the mental toll and has declined counseling.

      It takes 7 minutes to execute a death row inmate, according to the state of Texas.

      Mike Graczyk poses outside the Texas death chamber prior to an execution in January.

      At that rate, Mike Graczyk has spent about 40 hours of his life watching men -- and a few women -- die.

      Graczyk, a correspondent for The Associated Press, is believed to hold a macabre record. He's almost certainly watched more executions than anyone else in the United States.

      "I can't possibly imagine there's been someone present at more than Mike," said Michelle Lyons, the spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which uses lethal injection at its execution chamber in Huntsville.

      Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, no state has executed more inmates than Texas. And no one has witnessed more of them than Graczyk.

      He's on the witness list for 315 of the state's 439 executions -- more than any other reporter, prison employee or chaplain -- and no records were kept for another 80.

      In his early days, he kept count. But he eventually stopped. He didn't want to know.

      "In one circle, I was perceived as putting notches on my gun belt," the 59-year-old reporter said. "I didn't like that."

      Prison regulations in Texas require The Associated Press to be given one of the five designated media witness passes for each execution.

      Texas execution facts:

      Texas executions since death penalty was reinstated: 439
      Cost per execution for drugs used : $86.08
      Average time on death row before execution: 10.26 years
      Youngest inmate executed: 3 at 24
      Oldest inmate executed: 66
      Women executed: 3

      Source: Texas Department of Criminal Justice Graczyk works in the AP's Houston bureau -- it's closest to the state's execution chamber in Huntsville. Since the early 1980s, he's made the hourlong drive north almost every time an inmate has faced the needle.

      The 1st was March 13, 1984, for the execution of James "Cowboy" Autry, convicted of shooting a female store clerk between the eyes with a .38-caliber revolver while arguing over a six-pack of beer.

      She died, along with a former Catholic priest that Autry killed at the crime scene.

      "The first time definitely leaves an impression on you," Graczyk said.

      There are others that stand out along the way.

      Graczyk remembers Bob Black, convicted of killing his wife and trying to collect the insurance money.

      "I walked into the death house, and he was strapped to the table and he said, 'Hey Mike, how are you doing?' It threw me for a loop."

      Graczyk said it's normal for him to know the name of the condemned and not uncommon for the reverse to be true. There have been others who greeted Graczyk by name with a needle in their arm.

      Once, while waiting to be let into the death house, a prisoner phoned him in the media holding area.

      It was the inmate whose execution Graczyk was about to witness.

      "He said, 'I just wanted to call and make sure you were OK.' I was flabbergasted."

      Over the years, the inmate's name has slipped from Graczyk's memory, but not the unexpected phone conversation.

      "I don't think he had any family to call," he said.

      There was Ponchai Wilkerson, who once nearly escaped from death row and, years later, coughed up a handcuff key as he lay dying from his injection.

      There was the "Candy Man," Ronald Clark O'Bryan -- convicted of poisoning his child's Halloween candy with cyanide -- and the gauntlet of college students wearing Halloween masks who showed up to cheer.

      And Karla Faye Tucker, the first woman executed in Texas since the 1800s.

      He remembers a network correspondent crying after her death -- and another blow-drying his hair.

      Of the entire death chamber ritual, Graczyk said, it's the final statements that stick in his mind. Some have been confessions. Others were denials.

      Poetry. Prayers. Bible verses. Curses. Emotions ranging from defiance to resignation.

      There was Jonathan Nobles, an electrician who stabbed 2 people to death. He sang "Silent Night."

      "Ever since then, I think of him on Christmas or Christmas Eve when I'm in church," Graczyk said. "That's the kind of thing that haunts you."

      The person who may come closest to Graczyk's status also felt things that haunted him.

      Don Reid, a writer for the AP and, before that, a Texas newspaper, witnessed 189 executions in the 1960s, when Texas still strapped inmates to "Old Sparky," the nickname for the state's electric chair.

      The experience changed Reid, who died in 1981, from a supporter of the death penalty to an opponent. He wrote a book, "Have a Seat, Please," chronicling that transformation.

      Graczyk said he doesn't worry about the mental toll of watching so many deaths. His bosses with the AP have offered counseling. He's declined.

      "To see someone go to sleep -- not to sound insensitive -- but the carnage at the murder scene is harder than what you see in the death house in Huntsville," he said.

      Over a 25-year career, Graczyk said, the executions have only been a small portion of his work. He finds balance in those other stories.

      As a journalist, Graczyk never answers the question when friends ask his own views on the death penalty.

      "I'm not sure I really know," he said.

      But as long as Texas keeps executing people, Graczyk said, it's important that he keep showing up.

      The next execution in Huntsville was scheduled for Thursday before the condemned, convicted murderer Kenneth Mosley, was granted a reprieve until September.

      If he execution goes ahead then, Graczyk plans to make the drive.

      "I would hate for the state of Texas to take someone's life and no one be there," he said.

      (source: CNN)


      Families of victims and families of mentally ill offenders release death penalty report

      Jul 06, 2009

      Double Tragedies, a report detailing the impact of capital crimes committed by mentally ill people, is being released by the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights. The two organizations launched a campaign last year in San Antonio in opposition to the death penalty for the mentally ill.

      One of the Texas cases highlighted in the report is that of Larry Robison of Tarrant County who killed five people several years after being diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic. His parents, Lois and Ken Robison tried for years to get help for him.

      "Everybody said they couldn't help him, because he wasn't violent," Lois Robison told the report's author Susannah Sheffer. "And if he ever got violent, then they would commit him to a mental hospital. And instead they committed him to death row."

      Larry Robison was executed in 2000.

      Sheffer, said she heard similar stories over and over. "Sometimes these families are perceived as "sort of neglectful and not involved," she says. But "it's not a case of somebody not trying-- they tried every conceivable thing and this is what happened."

      The groups stress "prevention not execution," calling for improvements in the mental health system to stop tragedies before they occur.

      Families of victims and families of mentally ill offenders release death penalty report


      July 4, 2009

      USA Independence Day

      Across America today, on Independence Day, there will be traditional fireworks, parades, summer fun for children in swimming pools and at ballgames, and a pervasive national outpouring of patriotism, reflected in both flag displays and the singing of the national anthem at countless events.

      There are also almost 3,300 individuals who will not be any part of these festivities; they are mostly forgotten, despised and reviled.... they are America's condemned.

      They sit on death rows in 34 states, as well as in a military prison in Kansas and a fedeal facility in Indiana. Most are overwhelmingly guilty of vile, heinous, outrageous and terrible crimes. Many are mentally ill, even profoundly mentally ill, and a good number are innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted. Collectively, they are, in part, responsible for a great deal of anger, hurt, pain and rage in our society.

      They face death by firing squad, hanging, electrocution, cyanide gas, and lethal injection (there are more methods of legitimate state-sanctioned execution in the the USA than in any other country in the world).

      As this nation is trying to emerge from the worst global financial crisis in 70 years, it remains in desperate need of trying to find, uphold and defend its moral soul. We are a long way from accomplishing this important national task.

      Most of America's political and judicial leaders, both male and female, in both major parties, remain committed to upholding the ideology and practice of human extermination. As long as any nation in the world, inclduing the USA, retain and practice the barbarism of killing people in the name of the law, they can never be free. If people support, or are indifferent to the liquidataion of condemned individuals, how can we be surprised that other horrors, such as torture, hate crimes, and crimes against women, continue at such an alarming pace.

      To be sure, some advances in the abolition of the US death penalty have been achieved in the last decade: America has stopped executing its juvenile and mentally retarded offenders; New Jersey and New Mexico have legislatively ended the death penalty, and other states have, in recent years, come close to doing the same. Over 130 innocent people have been released from America's death rows to date, and more will emerge to the free world in the years ahead.

      But this "progress" has come at a frustratingly, agonizinly slow pace. Of the 1168 individuals put to death in America since executions resumed in 1977, 736 have occurred since 1998, including 200 just in Texas alone since Rick Perry became governor in 2001. There is no immediate end in sight to this horror.

      There will undoubtedly be the traditional praise and self-congratulatory editorials and op-eds in our newspapers today, from coast to coast, from our major cities to our small communities, reminding us of how lucky we are to live in such a great nation. And in many ways, that sentiment is correct.

      But it is a fallacy to believe that assessment when considering what is happening in this country regarding the issue of the death penalty. It is time to face the truth, admit national pain, and come to grips with the fact that on this issue, 233 years after the Declaration of Independence was proclaimed (and 402 years after the British first settled here), we are a national disgrace and failure. We remain wedded to the love of violence, and to the preposterous idea that some people in our society (and even around the world), can be classified as "lesser" or "other" humans, 'deserving' to be stripped of their human dignity, caged like animals for years, physically and psychologically tortured and terrorized, and then ultimately liquidated in the name of the law.

      On this day, when so much celebrating in America will occur, I hope and trust that people will take a hard look at the sobering realities of this nation and its nightmare of the death penalty. Now is the time for all people of conscience, everywhere, to re-dedicate themselves with renewed fervor to end this terrible scourge, so that America may join the ranks of most nations in the world that have long since recognized the links between advancing human progress with ending the death penalty.

      When the US does abolish the death penalty, it will then, and only then, have reasons to be proud and celebrate itself.

      Rick Halperin
      Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, and
      Amnesty International USA


      What to the Prisoner is Your Fourth of July?

      To commemorate the independence of the United States of America, Texas prison kitchens are fired up earlier than usual. The traditional Fourth of July meals are prepared by unpaid prisoners (can you say slaves?) whose only incentive for the extra work is leftover mashed potatoes and an extra oven-barbecued soybean patty, if they are lucky.

      By afternoon, Texas prisons are bustling with activities. But today the activity is not the thousands of slaves in the cotton fields. No, the hoe squads, which are normally sweating in the fields while being watched by their armed overseers on horseback, are resting today.

      Instead, volleyball nets are brought out and tournaments are organized around the basketball and handball courts. The big men work up a sweat on the weight pile, encouraged at times by female prison guards proudly displaying American flag patches on the shoulder of their confederate- colored uniforms.

      The American flag itself is flown at high mast along side the Texas flag for all to see. Even the men living in super max segregation, isolation, and sensory deprivation—the death row population who is not privy to the day’s celebration- -can climb up to the small slit of a window high in the back wall of their individual cage and watch those flags rip in the wind.

      Despite the irony, not enough of Texas’ 150,000 slaves seem to question the purpose of a celebration of independence in a prison.

      Prisoners were obviously not a consideration when the Declaration of Independence was written.

      In fact, the reality is that prisons are neocolonial concentration slave camps. For the plantation to run smoothly, the master is dependent on the docility and ignorance of the inmates/slaves.

      In Texas prisons, where the population is disproportionally Black and Latino, rehabilitation and educational programs are rare to nonexistent. The only thing a prisoner is guaranteed to learn how to be a better criminal, guaranteeing their return to enslavement, again and again..

      For most prisoners, the July 4th holiday signifies a moment of relief, a day to eat, drink and be merry.

      For the 400 Texas death row prisoners, the Fourth of July is simply a day closer to our impending execution.

      God Bless America?

      By Howard Guidry,
      Innocent death row prison activist, organizer, poet and Panther
      July 1, 2006


      July 1, 2009

      Condemned inmate Rodney Reed loses appeal again

      Texas death row inmate Rodney Reed lost another appeal before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which on Wednesdsay rejected his claims that new evidence pointed to another man as the killer of a 19-year-old woman in Bastrop County 13 years ago.

      In a 6th petition to the state's highest criminal appeals court, Reed's lawyers argued they had evidence suggesting the boyfriend of Stacey Stites as the person who abducted, raped and murdered her.

      Stites' fiance, Jimmy Fennell, is a former police officer who later was jailed for abducting and having improper sexual activity with a woman in his custody.

      The court, however, said the information submitted by Reed failed to show innocence and failed to show that prosecutors withheld it.

      "The allegations of Fennell's misconduct and domestic violence do not exonerate (Reed)," the court said in a brief decision. "The totality of the evidence before us still supports a guilty verdict."

      The latest challenge cited Fennell's misconduct as he worked as a police officer in Georgetown and earlier in Giddings. It also pointed to a report of domestic violence from Fennell's ex-wife and an affidavit of a "possible sighting of the victim and (Reed) together," according to the court.

      Reed, 41, has insisted he and Stites had a continuing secret affair even though Stites was engaged to soon marry Fennell when her body was found along a rural road after she failed to show up for work at a supermarket in Bastrop, southeast of Austin.

      Reed is black and Stites was white and Reed's lawyers have described the racial aspects of the case as explosive. The also accused prosecutors of improperly withholding evidence. Prosecutors denied any wrongdoing and disputed the claims of a secret relationship between the victim and Reed.

      Reed was arrested almost a year after the April 1996 slaying of Stites after his DNA surfaced in the investigation of an unrelated sexual assault case.

      The court also turned down appeals in three other Texas death row cases, including a man whose death sentence for a murder in Smith County was thrown out by the court in 2005.

      This time the court upheld the second death sentence for Gregory Russeau, 39, convicted of killing a 75-year-old auto mechanic during a robbery in Tyler. Attorneys for Russeau raised 17 claims of error from his 2nd punishment trial, including insufficient evidence, improper psychiatric evidence, constitutional challenges and improper jury instructions.

      The murdered man, James Syvertson, was found at his shop by his wife, daughter and grandchildren. His wallet and car were stolen. Russeau was arrested in Syvertson's car in Longview the day after the May 2001 murder.

      His palm print and hair were found at the auto shop. Russeau had a previous conviction for burglary.

      His 1st death sentence was overturned after attorneys contended reports of his misbehavior while in prison improperly were presented to jurors when they were considering punishment.

      In another case, the court refused an appeal for Chuong Duong Tong, condemned for the 1997 slaying of Houston police officer Coung Huy "Tony" Trinh, who was working off-duty at his family's convenience store when he was shot during a robbery. Tong, 32, is a refugee from Vietnam. He raised 12 claims challenging his conviction and sentence.

      The court also refused an appeal from Patrick Murphy Jr., the last of the infamous "Texas 7" fugitives to receive the death penalty for the shooting death of an Irving police officer on Christmas Eve 2000. In his appeal, Murphy, 48, raised 8 challenges to his conviction and sentence and all were rejected.

      Murphy was serving 50 years for aggravated sexual assault when he and six other inmates broke out of the Connally Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. About two weeks later, Officer Aubrey Hawkins was killed when he interrupted the escapees' robbery of an Irving sporting goods store.

      Murphy and 5 of his companions were captured the following month in Colorado. The 7th fugitive killed himself as police moved in.

      One of them, Michael Rodriguez, was executed last year. Murphy and the 4 others remain on death row.

      (source: Houston Chronicle)


      June 26, 2009

      ON FILM: Death House Door puts penalty on trial
      By Philip Martin

      Watching At the Death House Door (Facets, $29.95), a 2008 documentary by Peter Gilbert and Steve James (best known for Hoop Dreams) released this week on DVD, I was reminded of the story of Albert Pierrepoint.

      Pierrepoint - portrayed by Timothy Spall in the 2005 film The Last Hangman (also known as Pierrepoint) - served as the United Kingdom's official hangman from 1932 to 1956 and presided at the executions of more than 400 people (including some 200 Nazi war criminals hanged after World War II).

      By all accounts, he was extremely precise and methodical, a true professional who dispatched his "clients" with as little ado as possible.

      He was a mercifully swift worker - rarely did more than 30 seconds elapse between the condemned's arrival on his gallows and execution. (Having done some work for the U.S. Army during World War II, he hated the way the Americans dithered around for 6 or 7 minutes reading lengthy charges while the condemned waited on the trap door.)

      Dealing in officially sanctioned homicide gave Pierrepoint a unique perspective on capital punishment. In the end, he became if not an abolitionist at least convinced that the policy had no deterrent effect.

      "I have come to the conclusion that executions solve nothing," he wrote in his autobiography, "and are only an antiquated relic of a primitive desire for revenge which takes the easy way and hands over the responsibility for revenge to other people."

      Pierrepoint's opinion is unlikely to change the minds of capital-punishment advocates - the issue is an emotional one, highly resistant to any evidence and all testimony. It may take something more dramatic than cold numbers to change anyone's mind about whether the state should have the power of life and death over its citizens.

      At the Death House Door starts out as a cinematic portrait of the Rev. Carroll Pickett, a Presbyterian minister whose views on capital punishment were shaped by a "hang 'em high" father, the absence of his murdered grandfather and, years before he worked at the prison, the killing of 2 of his parishioners - civilian library workers - during a 1974 prison siege.

      Pickett, once described by a Texas newspaper as "27 degrees right of Rush Limbaugh," thought the death penalty was appropriate and effective.

      During his 16 years as prison chaplain of the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville, Pickett witnessed 95 executions by lethal injection. Like Pierrepoint, he was changed by his experience from capital punishment advocate to opponent.

      From the beginning, Pickett was deeply affected by his duties, which required him to provide solace and counsel while at the same time pacifying the condemned so they wouldn't struggle at the end. When Gilbert and James interviewed Pickett, they discovered he had recorded his private thoughts, impressions, doubts and misgivings (there were at least 15 instances where Pickett believed the condemned prisoner was innocent of the crime for which he died) immediately after each ex ecution and archived them on audio cassette tapes. They naturally concluded they had uncovered a rich vein of material.

      But we don't really hear much of the tapes, as the focus shifts to the possible wrongful execution of 27-year-old Carlos De Luna in 1989. Pickett was convinced that De Luna was innocent - and, in 2006, Chicago Tribune reporters Steve Mills and Maurice Possley wrote a 3-part series that strongly suggested De Luna was the victim of mistaken identity and a prosecutorial rush to justice.

      Gilbert and James had originally set out to document Mills' and Possley's work on De Luna and only became aware of Pickett pursuant to that thread.

      So the shift between the 2 threads - from Pickett to De Luna's family, from a psychological portrait of amoral evolution to an expose of governmental misconduct - feels a little disconcerting.

      Yet if from a filmmaking standpoint the transposition is less than ideal, it makes great sense from a journalist's perspective. When he retired from the prison system in 1995, Pickett announced that capital punishment was "biblically wrong," which was the official position of the Presbyterian Church.

      He said he had kept his opinion to himself for fear of jeopardizing his job - and forfeiting his chance to minister to the condemned.

      Since his retirement, Pickett has become a vocal capital-punishment abolitionist, and as such he is suspect in the eyes of some advocates. But he has seen up close what executions look like.

      He's convinced the death penalty is no deterrent and in fact, contributes to a cycle of violence.

      There were 58 prisoners on death row when Texas resumed executions in 1982; now there are more than 400.

      (source: Arkansas Online)


      June 24, 2009

      PLEASE CLICK ON LINK BELOW TO WATCH VIDEO

      Judge orders yogurt shop murder defendants to be released.


      COURTS

      Suspects in yogurt shop killings released
      Prosecutors not ready for trial after questions from DNA results.


      Jay Janner
      AMERICAN-STATESMAN
      Michael Scott, second from left, with wife Jeannine, and Robert Springsteen, right, leave the Travis County Jail with their lawyers Wednesday. The two men were released on personal recognizance bonds.

      Jay Janner
      AMERICAN-STATESMAN
      Michael Scott, with wife Jeannine, had been in jail since 1999. He was released Wednesday by state District Judge Mike Lynch after prosecutors said they weren't prepared to go to trial July 6.

      By Steven Kreytak
      AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
      June 25, 2009

      More than nine years after telling police they participated in the grisly slayings of four teenage girls at a North Austin yogurt shop in 1991 — confessions their lawyers say were coerced under psychological pressure — Robert Springsteen and Michael Scott were released from jail on bond Wednesday.

      State District Judge Mike Lynch ordered the men to be released on their own recognizance after prosecutors said they were not prepared to go to trial as scheduled July 6 given questions raised by recently discovered DNA evidence. Each man remains charged with four counts of capital murder.

      Scott, 35, and Springsteen, 34, were each previously convicted of capital murder, but those convictions were tossed on appeal. The men have been locked up since 1999, with Springsteen spending four years on death row. Scott had been sentenced to life in prison.

      Just before 3 p.m. Wednesday, Scott walked arm-in-arm with his wife from the Travis County Jail, smiling briefly when a handful of supporters cheered. He said nothing to a throng of assembled media.

      Behind him was Springsteen, who gazed wide-eyed at the crowd and up into the live oak trees outside the jail. After one of his lawyers, like Scott's before him, proclaimed his innocence, Springsteen was asked how it felt to be free.

      "It's wonderful," he said, "and I'd like to thank God, and my lawyers and my family for this opportunity."

      Prosecutors said they want to conduct more DNA testing to determine whose male DNA was found in a vaginal swab taken from 13-year-old victim Amy Ayers. DNA from the same male was later found in another victim.

      Defense lawyers say the male DNA could have been found in a third victim, but the profile is incomplete, and that another unknown male DNA profile was found on a wrist ligature used to bind a fourth victim.

      Tests show conclusively that none of the DNA belongs to Scott, Springsteen or two previous co-defendants, lawyers have said.

      Defense lawyers say the new DNA evidence exonerates Scott and Springsteen.

      Reading from a statement at a news conference, Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg said: "The reliable scientific evidence in the case presents one .... unknown male donor. Given that, I could not in good conscience allow this case to go to trial before the identity of this male donor is determined, and the full truth is known. I remain confident that both Robert Springsteen and Michael Scott are responsible for the deaths at the yogurt shop."

      Following an earlier promise that a prosecutor delay would mean freedom for the defendants, Lynch released them on personal recognizance bonds, which requires them to post no money. He said he must not only consider the charges and the importance of conducting further DNA tests but the rights of the men to a trial.

      Under the terms of their bonds, the men must not use drugs or alcohol, contact any victims or witnesses, and remain in Travis County.

      Scott's lawyers — Dexter Gilford, Carlos Garcia and Tony Diaz — opposed the trial delay, saying they think the state has little chance of quickly determining the contributor of the mystery DNA.

      Lehmberg said prosecutors have ordered the DNA to be compared with that of more than 130 people — including friends of Scott and Springsteen, as well as police and firefighters — but have not found a match.

      Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo, who was in court and at the news conference, said his detectives are continuing to work the case. "We do believe we have the right suspects in custody."

      The Dec. 6, 1991, killings of Ayers, Eliza Thomas, 17, and sisters Sarah and Jennifer Harbison, 15 and 17, horrified the city. The girls were found bound and gagged with bullets in the back of their heads.

      The killers set the crime scene on fire, an early complication to the police investigation. A string of confessions, which police later dismissed as false, further complicated the pursuit of the killers, as did the proliferation of details about the crime. Hundreds of tips poured in, but no arrests were made.

      One lead police dismissed was when Scott's friend Maurice Pierce told them days after the killings that a .22 caliber gun he was arrested for carrying had been used.

      Police in 1991 interviewed Pierce, Scott, Springsteen and their friend Forrest Welborn and apparently were satisfied that the men played no role in the crime.

      In November 1999, detectives called Scott at his Buda home and asked him to talk. Before that interview, police knew that ballistics tests showed that Pierce's gun was likely not used in the crime. Still, detectives mounted an interrogation of Scott that lasted for more than 20 hours over five days.

      After a few hours, Scott admitted to going to the yogurt shop with three friends, including Pierce, for a robbery turned bad.

      Police later went to West Virginia, where Springsteen had been living, and he agreed to speak with them, eventually admitting a role in the crime in an four-hour videotaped session.

      Prosecutors said that their accounts were similar and that they knew things only the killers would know. Defense lawyers said they were fed those details or had heard them in media reports.

      Scott, Springsteen, Pierce and Welborn were arrested, but Welborn was never indicted. Charges against Pierce were later dismissed.

      On Wednesday, lawyers for Springsteen — Joe James Sawyer and Alexandra Gauthier — said they want an acquittal or dismissal in the case. Scott's wife, Jeannine Scott, sounded a similar sentiment.

      "It's just another tactic; it's another delay," she said. "The evidence already shows they have the wrong men."

      None of the victim's relatives could be reached except Thomas' mother, Maria Thomas, who lives in Oregon. She remains convinced that Scott and Springsteen are guilty.

      "I am very upset about it," she said. "I can't believe that they really let them go."

      skreytak@statesman.com; 912-2946

      Suspects in yogurt shop killings released


      June 22, 2009

      Is There A More Humane Way To Kill?

      Does strangulation offer a better way to kill those on death row awaiting execution? This is the question being asked by Lawrence Gist, a professor and human rights attorney with the International Humanitarian Hypoxia Project. Following in the steps of professor Guillotin, who in 1789 proposed a "mechanism" that beheads painlessly," Gist proposes utilizing the latest research to ensure humane executions, not by beheading, but medical strangulation. Gist said that the proposed execution protocol is humane, and unlike other execution methods currently being used in the United States, this protocol maintains the viability of the corpse's organs and tissue. The bodily remains of those executed, says Gist, "may then be used to offer hope to some of the estimated 55,000 people currently waiting for life-saving transplants."

      The U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld the constitutionality of lethal injection, the most common method used for executions by the federal government and 36 states. However, it has been documented that the 3-drug lethal injection protocol is frequently negligently administered, causing extreme pain and suffering. In Gist's pending law review article, he advocates giving those on death row the option to choose between the potentially painful lethal injection protocol, or this new protocol which offers a humane and pain-free execution.

      Gist notes that the "protocol does not involve the type of slow painful strangulation most people imagine when thinking of strangulation in fact the protocol is far more humane than any previous method designed to end human life." Hypoxia it's called, when someone is deprived of the oxygen required to sustain life. So how can it be humane to deprive someone of oxygen to the point of death? Gist answers this question by stating the execution protocol he is advocating requires inmate to be executed wear a standard medical face mask and breath in pure nitrogen, devoid of any oxygen. Nitrogen is an odorless and tasteless gas which, without oxygen, will lead to asphyxiation without any feeling of suffocation. " Gist said that the new protocol "is inexpensive and could be easily preformed by prison guards without the need for a physician's supervision (other than to pronounce death), an allegedly violation of the Hippocratic oath to 'do no harm.'"

      While Gist is an opponent of capitol punishment, he believes that pending it's abolition, hypoxia is the perfect method for conducting humane executions. Gist went on to say that "because the corpse of an asphyxiated prisoner does not contain toxins left over from lethal injection or the gas chamber, nor physical trauma from electrocution, the bodily remains are fully available for life-saving organ and tissue donation." It would be highly unethical to use organs and tissue without voluntary consent, but Gist stated that his research suggest many of those awaiting execution would like the opportunity to redress a little of the harm they have done to society and give some meaning to their death by donating the gift of life to those awaiting life-saving transplants. Gist's proposal would allow death row inmates the option to choose execution by lethal injection or hypoxia and if hypoxia is chosen, giving them the additional option of making their body available for organ and tissue donation.

      The International Humanitarian Hypoxia Project, founded by Gist, is calling on governors across the country to grant a temporary moratorium on all executions, allowing time for debate and legislative consideration of this new execution protocol.

      Of particular interest to Gist is the upcoming July 16th execution of Kennith Mosley, the 201st person scheduled to be executed during the tenure of Texas Governor Rick Perry. Gist said during a recent interview that he doubts Governor Perry will be persuaded to grant Mosley a stay.

      The political reality, Gist said, is that "lethal injection has been held to be constitutional, and most politicians won't consider a new execution protocol, even if better, if subject to a new round of legal challenges."

      However, Gist remains optimistic, "groups on both the left and right share a common value, the respect for human life, and once the public becomes aware of this protocol, and it's incidental benefits, I believe previously divergent groups will join efforts and petition their state leaders for an immediate temporary moratorium on executions." Gist said that "there is really nothing to lose, and much to gain - a humane execution protocol offering life to the terminally ill it's really a classic win-win proposal."

      Contact Details:
      Lawrence J. Gist II -- Attorney at Law
      lgist@gistprobono.org
      4105 Exultant Drive
      Rancho Palos Verdes, CA 90275

      International Humanitarian Hypoxia Project at www.gistprobono.org/ihhp/

      International Humanitarian Law Pro Bono Project at www.gistprobono.org

      (Source: Express-Press)


      Death penalty decisions loom for Obama

      By: Josh Gerstein
      June 21, 2009

      For the first time in his career, President Barack Obama may soon confront one of the most weighty and unsavory decisions that a chief executive must make, whether to put a murder convict to death.

      The decision could land on Obama’s desk within a matter of months, due to cases winding their way through the federal courts. And while Obama is on record supporting the death penalty for particularly heinous crimes, that’s a far cry from deciding whether a specific man’s life should be taken or spared.

      “The death penalty in the abstract is one thing. The reality of the death penalty and all of its nasty details is a very different thing,” said Dianne Rust-Tierney of the National Coalition Against the Death Penalty. “This is something that this president is not the only one to face…..Having seen this thing in practice, you see it as a very different animal.”

      Already, with little press attention or protest from the anti-death penalty camp, Attorney General Eric Holder has authorized federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty for at least four defendants since Obama took office. In all, 55 men and two women are on federal death row, death-penalty opponents say.

      But the timing of Obama’s first death-penalty decision is likely to be dictated by a case pending in Washington, involving six federal death-row inmates at most imminent risk of execution. Their sentences were stayed by a federal judge, who is deciding whether to let their executions proceed, despite their challenge to federal execution protocols.

      The cases involve three members of a Richmond, Va., gang sentenced to death in 1993 for drug-related murders; two men sentenced to death for abduction, sexual assault and murder of a 16-year-girl; and another man convicted of killing a prison guard. All six defendants are black.

      If the stay is lifted and execution dates are set, any of the men could ask the president to step in. And clearly, death-penalty opponents hope they have a sympathetic ear in Obama, despite his support for the limited use of executions. They hope he will try to impose more safeguards in federal capital cases, and even spare some prisoners. And they note that Holder once authored a ground-breaking federal study that found racial disparities in death penalty cases.

      As a state senator in Illinois, Obama pressed for death penalty reforms, including a requirement that interrogations in capital cases be audio- or videotaped. He also opposed adding gang-related crimes to those which could prompt the death penalty.

      And in his book, “The Audacity of Hope,” Obama said he saw little evidence that the death penalty is a deterrent.

      The Politico 44 Story Widget Requires Adobe Flash Player.

      Still, he is on record supporting the ultimate penalty for “heinous” crimes — even in some cases where it has been found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. During last year’s campaign, he said he disagreed with a 5-4 decision the justices issued holding the death penalty unconstitutional in a child rape case where the child was not murdered.

      “I have said repeatedly that I think that the death penalty should be applied in very narrow circumstances, for the most egregious of crimes,” Obama said following the court’s ruling last June. “I think that the rape of a small child, 6 or 8 years old, is a heinous crime, and if a state makes a decision that under narrow, limited, well-defined circumstances, the death penalty is at least potentially applicable, that that does not violate our Constitution.”

      As president, Obama has been silent on the topic. A White House spokesman said the counsel’s office is aware of pending death penalty cases but had not started a formal policy review of how Obama might deal with them.

      During the Clinton years, Holder helped oversee what he called a “very disturbing” study on racial disparities in the federal death penalty. Death penalty opponents would like to see Holder order a new study, return more autonomy for death penalty decisions to local federal prosecutors, and agree not to seek the federal death penalty in states which do not have it.

      “The Attorney General is reviewing department policies across the board, including those dealing with capital cases, and has made no final determinations with respect to any new policies. As he said at his confirmation hearing, he is open to the idea of a new study,” Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller said. A new study would likely have the practical impact of deferring Obama’s first fateful decision on the death penalty.

      But death penalty proponents say they doubt Obama will take a major stand against the death penalty as president.

      “I don’t believe that Obama is going to rock the apple cart too much,” said Rusty Hubbarth of Justice for All. “The vast majority of Americans are fully in favor of capital punishment if the safeguards are there.”

      One longtime opponent of the death penalty noted that all crime issues have a far lower profile now than in the 1990s – making support or opposition to the death penalty far less of a hot-button for a Democrat like Obama. “Fear of crime was one of the top issues. Now, it’s off the radar. The economy is Number 1, 2 and 3,” said Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center.

      For much of President George W. Bush’s time in office, the federal death penalty was effectively halted while the Supreme Court considered cases challenging the so-called cocktail of lethal injection drugs used by most states and the federal government. In April 2008, the high court cleared away the main obstacle to further federal executions when the justices ruled, 7-2, that the lethal drugs didn’t present an unconstitutional risk of cruel and unusual punishment.

      Clearing the way for a death sentence was nothing new for Bush when he took office in 2001. He presided over 152 executions as governor of Texas and three as president.

      Likewise, President Bill Clinton was no stranger to what Justice Harry Blackmun once called “the machinery of death.” Clinton oversaw a total of four executions as governor of Arkansas. He famously underscored his tough-on-crime credentials by leaving the presidential campaign trail in 1992 to attend to the execution of a brain-damaged cop-killer, Ricky Ray Rector.

      However, no federal inmate was executed on Clinton’s watch, after he twice postponed executions scheduled during his final months in office.

      The execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh under Bush in 2001 was the first execution in the federal system in nearly four decades.

      Obama will likely be the first presidential novice to face the decision about whether to send a man to death since 1963, when President John F. Kennedy rejected a clemency request from a Michigan man sentenced to death in the federal courts for murder and kidnapping, Victor Feguer. He was hanged.

      Even if the Washington cases moved forward, and the six men were cleared for execution, it could take months before it comes to Obama.

      Execution dates are typically set by the Federal Bureau of Prisons at least 120 days in advance. Under federal regulations, a condemned inmate has 30 days from the notice to ask the president to commute the sentence, giving the president 90 days to mull the decision. Of course, the president can order a reprieve or commutation at any time, within or outside the official regulations.

      Other cases are still in the courts.

      In March, prosecutors in San Francisco said Holder “reauthorized” the request for the death penalty for a drug gang leader, Dennis Cyrus, charged with three drug-related murders. Jurors, who convicted Cyrus last month for the murders, are now considering whether to impose death. Holder also authorized seeking the death penalty for a U.S. soldier accused of war crimes in Iraq and for two inmates accused of killing a guard in a California federal prison.

      In other cases, Holder has authorized plea bargains and declined the death penalty, including at least one case where Bush Administration officials were pressing for death.

      More cases loom. On Tuesday, a federal judge in New York asked the Justice Department to move quickly to decide whether the government will seek the death penalty for a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner just flown into the U.S., Ahmed Ghailani, who is accused of involvement in the bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998.

      And Obama will have to decide whether to pursue the death penalty in new military commissions he has proposed for war-on-terror prisoners still housed at Guantanamo.

      Of course, deciding whether to grant clemency to a condemned inmate would not be the first life-or-death decision Obama has faced as commander-in- chief at a time of two wars. And in April, he authorized the use of lethal force against pirates holding a U.S. ship captain off the coast of Somalia. Three pirates were killed.

      © 2009 Capitol News Company, LLC

      Death penalty decisions loom for Obama


      June 19, 2009

      States Without Death Penalty Have Lower Murder Rates

      Scientists agree, by an overwhelming majority, that the death penalty has no deterrent effect. They felt the same way over 10 years ago, and nothing has changed since then. States without the death penalty continue to have significantly lower murder rates than those that retain capital punishment. And the few recent studies purporting to prove a deterrent effect, though getting heavy play in the media, have failed to impress the larger scientific community, which has exposed them as flawed and inconsistent.

      The latest issue of the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology contains a study by a Sociology professor and a graduate student at the University of Colorado-Boulder (Michael Radelet and Traci Lacock), examining the opinions of leading criminology experts on the deterrence effects of the death penalty.

      The results reveal that most experts do not believe that the death penalty or the carrying out of executions serve as deterrents to murder, nor do they believe that existing empirical research supports the deterrence theory. In fact, the authors report that 88.2% of respondents do not think that the death penalty deters murdera level of consensus comparable to the agreement among scientists regarding global climate change. At the same time, only 9.2% of surveyed experts indicated that they believed the death penalty results in a significant drop in murder cases (56.6% completely disagreed with that statement, while 32.9% thought the correlation between capital punishment and lower homicide numbers to be "largely inaccurate"; 1.3% were uncertain).

      The study builds upon previous research, published in 1996, in which the opinions of 67 leading experts in the field of criminology were surveyed. The most recent study sent the same questions to a new group of experts (a total of 73), among whom were fellows from the American Society of Criminology, as well as award-winning criminology scholars.

      A majority of respondents also expressed the opinion that death penalty states don't have lower homicide rates than states where capital punishment has been abolished. The authors point to empirical evidence that backs this up in 2007 murder rates in states that still had the death penalty exceeded those in states that have abolished it by no less than 42%. More than 18 % of surveyed experts went even further and actually expressed the belief that the death penalty leads to a higher rate of murders, something the authors call the 'brutalization hypothesis.;

      In addition, a majority of respondents involved in both the 2008 and the 1996 studies believe that "(d)ebates about the death penalty distract Congress and state legislatures from focusing on real solutions to crime problems." Overall, the authors conclude that there is no significant difference between the opinions of experts from the 1996 and the 2008 time periods and that "a vast majority of the world's top criminologists believe that the empirical research has revealed the deterrence hypothesis for a myth."

      Radelet and Lacock also discuss and point to significant inconsistencies in a number of studies conducted by economists, who have found the death penalty to have a deterrent effect. These inconsistencies lead them to conclude that "(r)ecent econometric studies, which posit that the death penalty has a marginal deterrent effect beyond that of long-term imprisonment, are so limited or flawed that they have failed to undermine consensus."

      (source: Opposing Viewpoints)


      June 19, 2009

      Book Review; Book on one executed prisoner shows flaws in death penalty system

      Reading "A Saint on Death Row: The Story of Dominique Green," one keeps waiting for someone to straighten things out.

      Yes, Dominique Green was more than likely involved in a crime that resulted in the death of Andrew Lastrapes Jr. And Green might be called a saint by author Thomas Cahill but the young man was no angel.

      When he was arrested in 1992 by the Houston police it was his 4th arrest.

      It was that arrest that linked him to the armed robbery and murder that led him to death row.

      Still, he was arrested with 3 others who were involved in the crime that day. One was never charged and the other 2 were given reduced sentences.

      It was only Green who took the full force of the Texas justice system.

      Cahill's book shows that there were many mistakes and flaws leading up to the conviction. Green's lawyer acknowledged that "he drank a couple of Scotches every night and that, well, his recall just wasnt very good."

      Green passed a polygraph test that attested his innocence. However, after hours of interrogation, he finally confessed."

      So why did this young man spend 11 years in solitary confinement on death row? Why was he executed at age 30 when so many good people were working to overturn his conviction? Even Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa visited Green and tried to draw attention and mercy to his case. The Community of Sant'Egidio, based in Rome, interceded on Green's behalf.

      However, there was no last-minute reprieve. There was no recognition of the miscarriage of justice. Green died via a lethal injection in 2004.

      Cahill writes: "Dominique is where he is for 2 reasons only: because he is poor and because he is black."

      Cahill backs up his claim by citing Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun who said in 1994, "Even under the most sophisticated death penalty statutes, race continues to play a major role in determining who shall live and who shall die."

      Cahill notes that about 40 % of the people on death row in Texas are black as opposed to 12 % of the general Texas population.

      Cahill, who is the author of the best-seller "How the Irish Saved Civilization, " makes a compelling case for the elimination of the death penalty.

      He is honest in his portrayal of Green and notes that some might not want to call the accused killer a saint: "Dominique was hardly a saint in his early years, but I think we may speak of him in his last years as a fully achieved human being."

      He cites Green's patience and kindness and writes a compelling story of a young man born into poverty and other difficulties who grew in faith and hope while awaiting to be executed.

      More importantly, Cahill draws attention to the inequity and insidiousness of capital punishment.

      He concludes, "It may be stated unequivocally that there are no good arguments in favor of the death penalty."

      After reading Cahill's book, it would be hard to disagree.

      (source: Peggy Weber, Catholic News Service)


      Key DNA hearing under way in yogurt shop case

      By Steven Kreytak
      June 18, 2009

      The hearing in Judge Mike Lynch’s court is under way. Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg is present, a rare courtroom appearance for her.

      Lynch said he wants lawyers to make general statements as to what the results mean and not get too bogged down in technical details.

      EARLIER:Today is the long-awaited hearing on yogurt shop murder defendant Robert Springsteen’s bid for freedom pending trial because of recent DNA test results that defense lawyers contend exonerate Springsteen and co-defendant Michael Scott and clears two former co-defendants.

      The hearing, initially set for tomorrow but moved up because of a scheduling conflict, is set for 1:30 p.m. in state District Judge Mike Lynch’s court in the downtown Blackwell-Thurman Criminal Justice Center.

      Lynch will take arguments from prosecutors and defense lawyers but will not hear from witnesses. He ordered that all evidence be presented in writing in advance. The affidavits from DNA experts have been sealed.

      The killing of Amy Ayers, 13; Eliza Thomas, 17; and sisters Sarah and Jennifer Harbison at the I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt shop on West Anderson Lane on Dec. 6, 1991, was one of the city’s most shocking. The girls were bound and gagged with their own clothing. Each was shot in the back of the head, and the killers set the crime scene on fire, leaving little physical evidence.

      Scott, 35, and Springsteen, 34, were arrested in 1999 after both confessed to participating in the killings. Both men have recanted, their lawyers saying they caved to hours of psychological pressure, including unethical questioning, placed by Austin police detectives who interviewed them. Two men —Maurice Pierce and Forrest Welborn — were also initially charged in the case after being implicated by Scott and Springsteen, but those charges were later dismissed as prosecutors cited lack of evidence.

      Scott and Springsteen were convicted by juries of capital murder. Their convictions were overturned on appeal. Both men have been jailed since their arrests.

      Scott has not requested to be set free on bail, his lawyers choosing instead to focus on his trial set for the week of July 6. Springsteen’s trial date has not been set.

      Prosecutors in March 2008 informed defense lawyers that testing of the rape kit taken from Amy, the 13-year-old victim, detected the DNA of an unknown male.

      Later testing by the defense found the same man’s DNA in vaginal swabs taken from another victim and the DNA of another unknown male in vaginal swabs taken from a third victim, according to lawyers and court filings.

      Prosecutors have said they stand by their case, pointing to the confessions. When they first discovered the male DNA in Amy in 2008, prosecutors said they would find out whose DNA it was through testing, suggesting that it could belong to a crime-scene worker or medical examiner who worked on the case.

      More than 100 people’s DNA have been compared to that sample— including previous suspects, associates of the defendants and public safety workers — and none has been a match.

      Key DNA hearing under way in yogurt shop case


      YOGURT SHOP MURDERS
      A tragedy in pictures



      Developments

      5.19.09: Yogurt shop DNA hearing delayed
      5.13.09: First yogurt shop retrial planned for July
      3.25.09: Yogurt shop DNA hearing set
      3.1.09: Yogurt shop case DNA leaves jurors wondering
      1.8.09: March hearing set on DNA in yogurt shop killing cases
      1.1.09: Lawyer: DNA clears suspects
      10.30.08: DNA tests delay retrial in killings
      9.18.08: Lawyers: No answers in DNA
      8.21.08: Defense wants dozens of new DNA tests done for yogurt shop retrial
      7.16.08: Judge wants yogurt shop results
      6.12.08: Yogurt shop defense goes on offensive
      5.3.08: Man freed in yogurt shop case arrested
      4.18.08: Yogurt shop DNA not tied to defendants
      4.17.08: DNA test in yogurt shop cases
      2.21.08: Yogurt shop murder retrial set
      11.15.07: Yogurt shop evidence debated
      10.9.07: No gag order in men's retrials
      10.8.07: No reason for pre-emptive gag order in yogurt trial
      9.20.07: Date set for gag order hearing
      9.18.07: Gag order sought in new trial
      8.11.07: Lawyer asks to be reappointed to defense in yogurt shop case
      7.7.07: Defendant in murder case wants 3 charges dropped
      6.7.07: Verdict tossed in teens' deaths
      2.27.07: Yogurt shop case must be retried
      9.28.06: Springsteen decision upheld
      5.25.06: Yogurt shop conviction tossed
      5.25.06: Other man's confession was key in court's ruling
      3.25.05: Opinion by Texas Court of Appeals Judge Michael Lynch
      3.2.05: U.S. Supreme Court strikes down death penalty for juvenile offenders
      5.22.04: Man sentenced to one year for lying in yogurt shop inquiry
      10.9.03: 5th man arrested in 1991 slayings
      5.29.03: Confession targeted in yogurt shop case
      1.30.03: Yogurt shop suspect not planning to sue city
      Statement (PDF)
      1.28.03: Suspect in yogurt shop murders set free
      Recap of major events in the yogurt shop case
      9.24.02: In penalty phase, two images of Scott
      9.23.02: Scott guilty of '91 murder
      The yogurt shop defendants
      9.22.02: Jury finds Scott guilty in yogurt shop murders
      Alternate on jury is wistful as he waits
      9.21.02: Scott's fate in jury's hands
      9.20.02: Jury deliberations to center on coercion vs. confession
      9.18.02: Memories can be manipulated by police, defense expert says
      9.14.02: Yogurt shop jurors hear of '91 media accounts
      9.13.02: Witness: Yogurt shop slayings overwhelmed police
      9.12.02: Defense calls flurry of witnesses
      9.11.02: Officer notes similarities in two men's confessions
      9.07.02: Jailer: Scott was unaware of pistol
      9.06.02: Witness tells of encounter with two teens
      9.05.02: DNA experts testify in yogurt shop case
      Witness alters story, ties Scott to gun
      9.04.02: High school friend says suspect confessed to her
      8.31.02: On videotape, Scott gives detailed account of events
      8.30.02: Jury sees video of gun in Scott interrogation
      8.29.02: Scott knew details of crimes, police say
      KXAN hands over copy of defendant's taped confession it used in news segment
      8.28.02: On tape, Scott says he killed two girls
      8.27.02: Youngest yogurt shop victim fought killers, witness says
      8.24.02: Defense attacks fire investigation
      8.23.02: Bodies were set ablaze, arson expert testifies
      8.22.02: Fire investigator asked about determination of cause
      8.21.02: Defense casts doubt on details of crime scene
      8.17.02: Assistant fire chief testifies at yogurt shop trial
      8.16.02: Scott's story is read to jury
      Statement of Michael Scott that was read to jury Aug. 15, 2002
      8.15.02: Trial of 2nd yogurt shop suspect begins
      7.29.02: Yogurt suspect in court today
      6.02.01: Yogurt shop killer condemned

      YOGURT SHOP MURDERS


      June 18, 2009

      Actor Stephen Collins Says Death Penalty for 'Politicians Who Like to Sound Tough'

      Stars gathered for the "Death Penalty Focuss 18th Annual Awards Dinner" at Hollywood's Universal Studios last month to honor New Mexico's Governor Bill Richardson with the 2009 Humanitarian Award.

      Founded in 1988, Death Penalty Focus is dedicated to the abolition of capital punishment. FOXNews.com talked to "7th Heaven" star Stephen Collins there about the controversial topic.

      The Iowa-born actor/writer, who, by the way, is the great-great- great grandson General James Baird Weaver, the 1880 Greenback Party presidential candidate and the 1892 Populist Party candidate for president, is a long-time contributor to the organization.

      FOX: What is your stand on the death penalty?

      Stephen Collins: It doesn't work. It's expensive, most people don't know that it costs more to execute a person than it does to put them in prison for life, so for people who say I'm not going to pay money to feed prisoners, it strangely enough is economically sound. But we're also one of two countries in the entire Western civilized world who have the death penalty, and there's so much research that shows the victims families don't end up feeling better because of it. I don't know who ends up winning with the death penalty, except politicians who like to sound tough.

      FOX: What do you believe the solution is?

      Stephen Collins: I'm old fashioned and I believe in rehabilitation. I also believe that there is too much evidence that shows we've executed people wrongly, and people who say 'well that's the price we have to pay,' no, we don't have to pay this price. America and South Africa are the only 2 western nations to execute people. Why do we have to pay that price? Why do we have to pay the price for being wrong occasionally?

      I used to do some work with a group that taught meditation at San Quentin prison and it was very interesting to close your eyes and meditate with people on death row. There was a guy there that was in for life, a famous prisoner named Geronimo Pratt, and he was basically framed for murder, he was a Black Panther who they framed, and he was in prison for 22 years before he got out, and much of that in lockdown, and we do make mistakes.

      At least Geronimo Pratt is alive and he's out. Its horrible that he had to spend that much time behind bars, but he wasn't executed.

      FOX: What about all of the talk about whether Jesus would have supported capital punishment?

      Stephen Collins: The death penalty solves nothing except a kind of understandable but misguided sense of justice and vengeance, and certainly Jesus never says anything about executing people. I go to church, I'm a Christian. I think its interesting that so many political Christians support the death penalty when Jesus Christ never says a single, slight word about putting people to death, never even slightly. I don't know where they're coming from as Christians. I don't understand.

      FOX: Can we make progress on this issue?

      Stephen Collins: People are saying prisons are crowded and there aren't too many states that are under budget, so we need to reexamine the dollars we are spending to indulge our lust to put people to death. It is interesting to see the states just missed a referendum in Colorado, but [the death penalty] has been overturned in a couple of states, and most of my life, the death penalty wasn't with us. If we could point to the last 25 years and say 'Yeah the death penalty is really working'? It was always in my gut and troubled me. As a Christian it troubles me, and Christ did not advocate putting people to death for any reason.

      (source: Fox News)


      June 16, 2009

      Death Penalty Does Not Deter Murder, According to New CU-Boulder Study

      88 % of the country's top criminologists do not believe the death penalty acts as a deterrent to homicide, according to a new study published today in Northwestern University School of Law's Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology authored by Professor Michael Radelet, chair of the sociology department at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Traci Lacock, an attorney and CU-Boulder graduate student in sociology.

      The study titled "Do Executions Lower Homicide Rates? The Views of Leading Criminologists" undermines deterrence as a rationale for maintaining the punishment, said Radelet, one of the nation's leading experts on the death penalty.

      "These data show that deterrence, which in many circles is the strongest justification for the death penalty, falls on its face when closely examined by those who are best qualified to study and evaluate it," Radelet said. "Any justifications for the death penalty that might remain pale in comparison to drawbacks such as high costs, arbitrariness, executing the innocent and diverting resources from more effective ways to reduce crime and assist victims."

      The study was conducted by sending questionnaires to the most pre-eminent criminologists in the country, including fellows of the American Society of Criminology, winners of the American Society of Criminology' s prestigious Southerland Award and recent presidents of the American Society of Criminology. The American Society of Criminology is the top professional organization of criminologists in the world.

      The 77 respondents were not asked for their personal opinion about the wisdom of the death penalty, but instead to answer the questions only on the basis of their understandings of the empirical research available on the subject.

      87 % of the expert criminologists also believed that abolition of the death penalty would not have any significant effect on murder rates, Radelet said. And 75 % of the respondents agreed that "debates about the death penalty distract Congress and state legislatures from focusing on real solutions to crime problems."

      "Our survey indicates that the vast majority of the world's top criminologists believe that the empirical research has revealed the deterrence hypothesis for a myth," Radelet and Lacock wrote. "The consensus among criminologists is that the death penalty does not add any significant deterrent effect above that of long-term imprisonment."

      The study was funded by Sheilah's Fund at the Tides Foundation in San Francisco and was arranged through the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.

      (source: Univ. Colorado News)


      Local criminologist disagrees on study showing little deterrent value of death penalty

      Professor James Marquart, head of the criminology and sociology program at the University of Texas at Dallas disagrees with a recent study of criminologists nationwide that concluded the death penalty has little deterrent effect. According to a study by Michael Radelet, Chair of the Department of Sociology at the University of Colorado-Boulder and Traci Lacock, an attorney and Sociology graduate student, 88 % of the country's "top criminologists" don't believe the death penalty acts as a deterrent.

      Dr. Marquart, author of The Rope, the Chair and the Needle, and a former correctional officer, didn't participate in the study. He says academic findings "do support that, but in my own view...one must examine the facts in each case. It comes down to 'Do you have the right person?' And if you've got the right perpetrator, factually, legally and everything else, I believe that there is an individual deterrent value to it. And that means that if you have the right persons and that person is executed, they are deterred. End of story."

      (source: Dallas Morning News)


      Does God approve of capital punishment today?

      June 16, 2009

      Capital punishment, even as corporal punishment, is a highly controversial subject. It should not be, but it is. Without an effort to determine what crime should or shouldn't be worthy of putting the perpetrator to death, our efforts in this article is to determine whether or not God approves of capital punishment under the Christian dispensation. We do know that things are quite different under the law of Jesus Christ when compared to the Old Testament law given to the Jews through Moses. Two different testaments, covenants or laws, whichever one may wish to refer to them. We need to be able to recognize the difference and why, in order to pursue our subject.

      God utilized different methods of rule for mankind at different times and due to different circumstances. The writer of the Hebrew letter explained that in the first 2 verses of that book: "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;" (Hebrews 1:1-2)

      From Adam and Eve through the next 2500 years, God's plans and commands for man were given to the heads of households (actually tribesmade up of the descendants of these patriarchs) whose duty it was to pass these words down through their progeny and they were supposed to lead, or rule over, those children and guide them in the way of the Lord. But only a tiny minority did so. At the time of the universal flood, approximately, 1556 A.M. (Anno Mundi-age of the earth) there were only 8 souls found to be living faithful to God. Noah, his wife, his 3 sons and their wives.

      After the flood this same method of communication with man continued since the world had to essentially, start over. And once again they failed, for the most part, to live obediently to the will of God. After some 500 plus years, approximately 2100 A.M., there were only few righteous people and God chose Abram (Later called Abraham) because of his faithful righteousness, with whom to make a covenant that his descendants would be chosen to furnish the lineage to the coming messiah.

      After Abraham's son, Isaac grew and fathered twelve sons, the providence of God guided their fate into Egyptian captivity so that he could, through Moses, lead them miraculously out of that bondage and finally into the land he had promised Abraham, Canaan. As they moved out of Egypt and arrived at Mt. Sinai, God delivered the law for them to live by, the basis of which were the 10 commandments, but much, much more. The remainder of nations remained under the original patriarchal law, although virtually all had abandoned it.

      But unto the Jews were given the law of Moses, found in the first 5 books of the Bible with more admonitions and guidance throughout the books of prophecy. Importantly, there are several passages in the prophets writings of the coming of the messiah and of His originating a new law and plan of salvation for all men. One of the best prophesies of this is found in Jeremiah 31:31-34)

      Then Jesus came, taught His apostles for three years and then sent the Holy Spirit to them on the first Pentecost after his resurrection, to teach them all things and to bring to their remembrance all that he had taught them, (John 14:26). The fulfillment of that prophecy is recorded in Acts chapter 2.

      Now, under the law given to the Jews, they were commanded to administer capital punishment to their people for several crimes, primarily that of murder and of illicit sexual activities. Even earlier, while under the patriarchal dispensation we find these words from God: "Whosoever sheds mans blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God he made man" (Genesis 9:6)

      Many who try and argue against capital punishment, use the ten commandments as their proof text as in Exodus 20:13 "Thou shalt not kill" which when properly translated says "You shall not murder" which does not rule out killing in self defense or as punishment for a crime.

      On many occasions God commanded the Israelites to utterly destroy a nation evil people. Would He order His people to break His commandment to them? He even had them establish cities of refuge so that one who happened to kill another accidentally might go and have refuge untill a hearing was conducted. This because the dead man's relative had the right to take the killer's life if it was a case of murder.

      When we enter into the Christian dispensation, there are some different considerations. The basic rules of God remain but a different approach is taken for several reasons. Under the law of Christ, all others are mute.

      Christians are not to avenge themself of a wrong. It is his duty to approach and tell a person of his having wronged him but he can take no further personal action against him other than that of the civil law. The apostle Paul tells us in Romans 13:1 "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God."

      Paul also tells us in Romans 12:19 "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." We are not to take the law into our own hands, regardless of how vile an act has been committed. This does not, however, exclude one's right to defend his life or well being of his family. Defense is entirely different to vengenace. The heart is where the difference lies. We should never feel pleased or happy if we have to defend our family at the hurt of others. We should pray for those who despitefully use us.

      God has always advocated the punishment of evildoers and even required it of his people. The prime difference now is that individual Christians do not take it upon themselves to punish criminals for their acts. It is the purpose for God's ordaining governments to protect their people and punish the wicked. It is the Christian's duty to pray for and seek to change the evildoer.

      (source: Joel Hendon, Birmingham Biblical Examiner)


      BOOKS, AUTHOR INTERVIEW, MARK OSLER, DEATH PENALTY, BAYLOR LAW
      ----Faith and the system: Law prof troubled by Christians' support of the ultimate penalty----Former prosecutor sees intriguing and disturbing similarities between the passion of Jesus and latter-day capital cases.

      A majority of Texans profess to love Jesus, or at least identify themselves as Christian. A majority of Texans also love the death penalty.

      And that got Mark Osler thinking. Osler, a former federal prosecutor in Detroit, moved to Waco to teach law at Baylor University in 2001 and found it to be a garden of intellectual delights, a place where he could "reflect on the big issues that I was not focusing on when I was prosecuting cases." Which led to a bold if not reckless idea: as an intellectual exercise, prosecute Jesus under Texas rules before the congregation of a Baptist church.

      "In retrospect, perhaps it wasn't such a great idea for an untenured professor at a Baptist school to prosecute Christ," Osler writes in "Jesus on Death Row: The Trial of Jesus and American Capital Punishment" (Abingdon Press, $16), "In a Baptist church. On Sunday. ... The experience was riveting as it exposed the sharp contrast between the central narrative of Christianity and the affection of most Texans for the death penalty." (After "lengthy and combative" deliberations, the jury hung.)

      And, Osler argues, there are striking parallels between Jesus' trial as recounted in the Gospels and the prosecution of capital crimes today in Texas and across the country surveillance, a swift arrest under cover of darkness and with overwhelming force, habeas procedures, the disproportionate number of poor defendants, the appeals process and the role of emotion in them, the fascination with last meals, the forfeiture of assets (in Jesus' case, his clothes), paid informants (Judas and his 30 pieces of silver), punishment and humiliation of the defendant and an execution in which the condemned is sedated (Jesus was offered wine and myrrh), immobilized and killed not unlike the deadly 3-drug cocktail used by states that use lethal injection.

      Although Osler allows that a biblical argument can be made in support of the death penalty, there's not much question where he stands.

      (Interviewing for his prosecutor's job, he told his prospective boss, the then-U.S. attorney, he wasn't death-qualified. ) And Jesus himself, after happening upon a perfectly legal execution, condemned it in "remarkably straightforward" language. Osler, 46, is saying that Christians should think long and hard about what Jesus said about capital punishment and how he later died. As he writes early in the book: "The fact that God's son came to Earth as a man subjected to capital punishment seems to reveal God's intent that we care about not only that man but also that process."

      So the book is not a polemic, but Osler can't help but heap scorn on Southern governors including by name former ones named Bush and Clinton who reject appeals for pardons or clemency, clinging to the "comforting, ridiculous fiction" that the system is perfect and that they are but a cog in it, as was Pilate, then go to church with their families and worship before an innocent who was executed. He stops just short of calling these players hypocrites.

      Moreover, he says, we're unquestionably executing innocents today. He writes:

      "If we choose to worship an innocent who was executed as a criminal, shouldn't we worry about the execution of innocents in our time ... given a faith that values each life so dearly?"

      If you believe God authored the story of Jesus, he says, he did so for a reason. That mob howling for the release of the murderer and insurgent Barabbas and the crucifixion of Jesus? That mob is us.

      Making such a case would seem to be a mighty hard sell around Baylor, but Osler says the reaction he gets tends to be thoughtful. (He's speaking at BookPeople tonight, where he might anticipate a warm reaction.) And that's what he's after. As he put it, "Nobody ever changed their mind because of a bumper sticker."

      "You may not agree with me about the message of Christ's execution," he said. "And I'm OK with that. But I'm bothered if you're not troubled by that."

      Osler is also an expert in, and operated under, federal sentencing guidelines that got crack cocaine defendants far stiffer sentences than defendants who peddled powder cocaine, and existing guidelines that can get 14-year-olds locked up for life. While once a reliable supporter of throw-the-book- at-'em justice, Osler has had a change of heart. His aim to open minds, to get people asking questions, comes from the knowledge that he once stood on the other side of an issue.

      "What links all my work together is that there needs to be a role for mercy in those parts of our justice system that are most staunchly retributive, where the rules don't bend and the individual isn't seen," he says. "If justice is treating people the same, and mercy is giving people a break, those two things are in tension. We probably should not pick only stern justice. Christ over and over teaches us that."

      (source: Austin American-Statesman)


      Historical Posters

      Peg Averill
      Capital Punishment-- --$20

      One of the first of a number of historical posters we hope to be selling on Justseeds for the War Resister's League.

      This one is a classic Peg Averill design, with her signature illustration style used to great effect in railing against the death penalty. We believe this poster was produced in the early 1980's by the War Resisters League in association with Liberation News Service (or possibly Averill originally did the illustration for Liberation News Service, and it was then reproduced on this poster). It was printed by the union and movement print shop in Smithtown, NY called The Print Shop.

      For those not familiar with her work, Averill (1949-1993) created hundreds of political graphics in the 1970s and 80s, which were used by a large number of organizations working on a variety of political issues (anti-war, anti-nuclear, prisoner rights, anti-death penalty, etc.). Her illustrations were often used in the War Resisters League publication WIN.

      2 color offset printed poster----16" x20" unsigned/unnumbered (although we only have a limited number of copies)

      Click HERE

      (source: justseeds.org)


      Protests condemn Texas governor’s 200th execution

      By Gloria Rubac
      Houston, Texas
      Published Jun 13, 2009

      Chanting, “Perry says death row, we say hell no!” activists gathered in Austin, Huntsville and Houston on June 2 to protest Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s 200th execution since he was elected in December 2001. Perry has surpassed the previous record of 152 executions set by former Governor George W. Bush.


      Illustrating the legacy of slavery,
      Sister Krystal Muhmmad holds up a
      noose at Houston rally June 2
      Photo: Gloria Rubac

      Activists gather at the site of the Old Hanging Tree in downtown Houston where the county courthouse stood at the end of the 1800s. The historical marker in front of the 400-year-old oak tree reads: “It is rumored that 11 criminals were hung here.” A speaker told the crowd: “Those of us who live in the South know who was hung in the trees outside of the county courthouses or on the town square—it was Black people who were lynched.”

      In all the cities, the 200 names of those put to death were read aloud. In European cities, protesters gathered outside U.S. Embassies.

      In Montreal a large die-in was held by activists dressed in black, wearing white plastic face masks and holding signs with the image of the state of Texas on them.

      In Huntsville, where prisoner Terry Hankins was strapped to a gurney and lethally injected at 6 p.m., the Kids Against the Death Penalty chanted, “What do we want?” The crowd responded, “Abolition!” “When do you want it?” “Now!”


      Huntsville protest, June 2
      Photo: Terri Benn

      Sister Krystal Muhammad with the New Black Panther Party told the Houston crowd, “This execution tonight is nothing but a legal lynching. We know that Blacks and Latinos are the majority on death row, and we know that regardless of color, those on death row are poor. I call on you to each bring five more people with you to the next execution protest. We must stop these lynchings.”

      From Montreal, the Amnesty International organizer of that militant protest, Charles Perrouod, told Texas organizers that it was “a vibrant success with even the more ‘popular media,’ the ones never there to cover our events, coming in throngs!! Real strong coverage to say the least.

      The death penalty in the U.S. is fraught with corrupt DAs, lying cops, faulty crime labs, incompetent court-appointed attorneys and wrongful executions. Perry knows this because 40 people have been exonerated and released from prison after being granted DNA testing. Some of them had served over 25 years for crimes they didn’t commit.

      Perry knows that intensive newspaper investigations by the Houston Chronicle and the Chicago Tribune have discovered at least three people put to death in Texas who were found to be innocent—Todd Willingham, Ruben Cantu and Carlos de Luna.

      Texas leads the country with 439 executions since the death penalty was reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976. (amnesty.org) Over 90 percent of all U.S. executions have taken place in former Confederate states. (“Why is Texas no. 1 in executions?” asked Ned Walpin on pbs.org.) In 2008, 95 percent took place in the South. In 2009, over half of all executions have been carried out in Texas. (deathpenaltyinfo.org)

      The struggle, however, to abolish the death penalty is gaining ground. Death sentences are down. Executions are down. Public support for capital punishment is down, even in Texas. And in 2008, Harris County, the leading jurisdiction that sends people to death row in the U.S., not a single person was sentenced to death for the first time in over 30 years.

      For more information see Protest 200 Executions

      To read article, click HERE


      June 11, 2009

      Death penalty for capital punishment?

      With all that is going on in America today, you may not have noticed the death penalty is under attack as never before.

      It's not just the nomination to the Supreme Court of Sonia Sotomayor, a fervent opponent of capital punishment, that leads me to this conclusion.

      It's the fact that Barack Obama seems hell-bent on serving out his presidency as Europe's running dog lacky and the Euro-elite couldn't be more opposed to the death penalty. The United Nations, another place Obama looks for instructions, is equally opposed to capital punishment.

      The pressure is rising from the globalists, and Obama is their man in the U.S.

      Even more alarming to me is a trend I noticed only recently: "Conservatives" having 2nd thoughts about the death penalty.

      You might be surprised to learn that conservative stalwarts from Richard Viguerie to Ollie North are personally opposed to capital punishment. Some of these conservatives are actually huddling together to see how they can achieve their objectives in ending the death penalty in America.

      With all this in mind, I think it's time for a review of what's right about capital punishment.

      First of all, it's biblical. I don't know about you, but I get my ideas about right and wrong from the Bible.

      I defy anyone to read the Bible in its entirety and tell me God doesn't approve of capital punishment. In fact, God does not reserve it exclusively for the crime of murder. And He doesn't just approve of it, He prescribes it.

      I suggest to you the reason He does is because God so highly values life.

      The irony, of course, is that death penalty opponents believe they are valuing life by opposing it. But that's just more evidence of what the Bible frequently refers to as man being "wise in his own eyes."

      The very reason capital punishment is moral is because it places such a high value on innocent human life. It is the ultimate expression of how highly we value life. It is meant as a deterrent to those who might consider taking a life. And, there is not a doubt in my mind that if we used it more frequently and with more certainty in murder cases, it would serve as a formidable deterrent.

      It's common sense.

      Bringing about justice for heinous crimes is one of the reasons God institutes government. As usual, many in government want to abdicate their responsibility to performing the few duties for which government is useful like defending the nation, controlling borders, controlling currency and bringing justice for those who are victimized.

      Government prefers to meddle in affairs in which it has no business such as invading privacy, restricting firearms, controlling free speech, seizing and redistributing wealth and prohibiting the free exercise of religion.

      Executing duly convicted murderers is not only a legitimate role for government; it is a duty.

      The Founding Fathers understood this. They oversaw its implementation.

      There was no thought by any of them that this was "cruel and unusual punishment," as some revisionists seek to suggest.

      Of course, if further restrictions on capital punishment come to America, they won't come by way of an expression of the will of the people by popular or even by legislative action.

      They will come by way of judicial fiat as so many other unpopular ideas have been forced down the throats of the American public.

      It's also worth noting that so many of those most vehemently opposed to capital punishment seem to have no problem with the state's direct involvement in terminating the lives of the most innocent unborn babies and those, like Terri Schiavo, with disabilities.

      That's the world in which we live today where black is white, up is down, left is right and right is wrong.

      (source: Joseph Farah, WND.com)


      June 10, 2009

      Flaws in the U.S. Judicial System Related to the Death Penalty

      On May 26, the United Nations released a report by the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, which highlights, among other things, some of the major flaws in the US judicial system related to the death penalty. The report focuses particularly on the sates of Texas and Alabama, where the research of the Special Rapporteur was concentrated.

      The report rightfully notes that the current judicial system in those 2 states is significantly flawed as it leaves room for the wrongful conviction and execution of innocent people, something that was confirmed even by interviews with public officials. In that respect, the author provides a detailed review of the judicial failings related to the death penalty. He notes that there are legal limitations preventing inmates from access to DNA tests once they have already been convicted.

      In addition, the defense attorneys appointed to death penalty cases often receive compensation far lower than what is necessary to construct an adequate defense. Appointed counsel also frequently have continuing professional relationships with the judges before whom they appear, which can be the source of "structural disincentives for vigorous capital defense." The access of defendants to federal habeas corpus proceedings, the report asserts, is also too limited.

      At the same time, finality in death penalty cases is often granted undue emphasis at the expense of a careful examination of the potential evidence related to innocence claims. The author notes that in Alabama, "officials would rather deny (the execution of innocent people) than confront criminal justice system flaws." Unfortunately, this is true not only in Alabama, as has become evident in the case of Troy Davis, who may soon face his 4th execution date in 2 years, despite the fact that the case against him was build predominantly on the testimony of 9 witnesses, 7 of whom have recanted their statements (and have alleged that they were coerced by authorities) since the time of Troy's conviction.

      However, despite opposition from human rights activists across the world, Troy has remained on death row for 18 years and has not yet received a hearing on the details of his case that have emerged since the time of his conviction. Moreover, the failure of the judicial system to hear the evidence in support of Troy's innocence means that the person truly responsible for the murder of which Troy was convicted, has not yet faced any legal consequences for his action. This danger was also highlighted in the UN report, according to which "wrongful convictions mean that true criminals remain at large."

      The UN report also points to the drawbacks in the electoral system for appointing judges in Texas and Alabama, which highly politicizes death penalty cases. In fact, the author cites statistics suggesting that the likelihood of a death penalty sentence is directly correlated with the imminence of judicial elections or with the lobbying efforts of groups that are supporters of capital punishment.

      He also pinpoints the particular problems with judicial elections in Alabama, where jury decisions can be overruled by elected judges, and where 9 out of 10 cases in which a judge overrode a jury decision resulted in a death sentence.

      Finally, the report uncovers the existence of racial bias behind the imposition of the death penalty across the country, something that is confirmed by the research of Amnesty International USA.

      (source: Evangelicals for Human Rights)


      06/09/2009

      Justice served

      Opponents of capital punishment noted the June 2 execution of convicted murderer Terry Lee Hankins in Huntsville. What makes Hankins' execution in any way unique is that it was the 200th under Gov. Rick Perry.

      Those who would like to see the ultimate form of punishment expire are quick to jump on such numbers, as if statistics should trump justice.

      Amnesty International, one of the more vocal anti-death penalty organizations, released a statement last week, proclaiming Hankins as "the 16th person to be executed in Texas this year out of a national total of 30." According to AI, there have been 1,166 executions in the U.S. since "judicial killing" resumed in 1977. Texas has 439.

      Speaking of killing - of the non-judicial type - Hankins was convicted of killing his girlfriend and her 2 children in Arlington in 2001. All were shot in the head.

      When it comes to capital punishment, the horrible realities of the gruesome acts committed by murderers are often overlooked in favor of numbers.

      However, since groups like AI use numbers to make the application of capital punishment look like a haphazard rush to judgment, here's a few that counter that perception:

      # In Texas, the average stay on death row is 10.26 years.

      # In Texas, there are 8 offenses that allow capital punishment, and 3 involve murder committed by someone already behind bars, such as during a prison escape.

      It is interesting that Perry is condemned for 200 executions carried out by the state during his tenure.

      A number much more difficult to measure would be the number of victims of these heinous crimes, along with the countless family members and friends who lost loved ones under horrific circumstances.

      That's the sad number.

      - Amarillo's Death Row

      The number of Amarillo-area offenders on death row and the number of executed offenders, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice:

      Potter County 3; 10
      Randall County 2; 3

      (source: Editorial, Amarillo Globe-News)


      Human Rights and The Texas Criminal Justice System

      This June 2009 is the 11th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

      On June 2-18 the United Nations will again address major human rights issues in Geneva Switzerland.

      Nations from all over will disparage their grievances to the General Assembly on issues such as improving the rights of children, civil and political rights such as arbitrary detention, and the trafficking of human beings.

      With the constant talk today in the mainstream media of the United States about torture and where to put the terror detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the UN Human Rights Council this year is the perfect venue to discuss these problems. Despite the United States being part of the UN Security Council, there are still issues that need to be addressed.

      According to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston wrote in his Addendum to the Mission of the United States of America that:

      "There is a good deal to commend about the record of the United States of America on extrajudicial killings: in most instances there is no lack of laws or procedures for addressing potentially unlawful killings and, at least domestically, data is generally gathered systematically and responsibly.

      I found, however, 3 areas in which significant improvement is necessary if the U.S. Government is to match its actions to its stated commitment to human rights and the rule of law.

      First, the Government must ensure that imposition of the death penalty complies with fundamental due process requirements; the current systems flaws increase the likelihood that innocent people will be executed.

      Second, the Government must provide greater transparency into law enforcement, military, and intelligence operations that result in potentially unlawful deaths.

      Third, the Government must overcome the current failure of political will and provide greater accountability for potentially unlawful deaths in its international operations; political expediency is never a permissible basis for any State to deviate from its obligation to investigate and punish violations of the right to life."

      It is widely acknowledged that innocent people in Texas have likely been sentenced to death and executed.

      In Alabama and Texas, there is a shocking lack of urgency about the need to reform glaring criminal justice system flaws.

      Texas should undertake a systematic inquiry into its criminal justice system and ensure that the death penalty is applied fairly, justly, and only for the most serious crimes. Deficiencies that should be remedied include the lack of adequate counsel for indigent defendants and racial disparities in sentencing. The system of electing judges in Texas should be reconsidered because it politicizes towards the GOP death penalty sentences and unfairly increases the likelihood of capital offenses. Given the inadequacies of state criminal justice systems, the United States Congress should enact legislation permitting federal court habeas review of state and federal death penalty cases on the merits.

      Human Rights is a serious matter that affects all of us not only internationally but locally in the Dallas Fort Worth area. How can we claim to be the beacon of constitutional freedom and equality as an example to other countries, but we find ourselves unjustly issuing the death penalty to cases that have flaws in the Texas criminal justice system.

      So whether you agree or disagree on how states administer their criminal justice in cases that are unclear, the issue of human rights and the criminal justice system need to be addressed before a mistake is made that can never be reversed.

      (source: Examiner.com)


      June 6, 2009

      Texas does lots of things on a grand scale, including executing people

      Last Tuesday, as the state of Texas prepared to execute Terry Lee Hankins, people gathered in several U.S. cities and on 2 continents to mark a milestone in Rick Perry's tenure as governor. Hankins, by no means a sympathetic character because of his gruesome crimes, became the 200th person to be executed in Texas since Perry has been in office. He was the 16th to be put to death by the state this year.

      To mark the occasion, anti-death penalty protests were held in Huntsville; Austin; Houston; Albuquerque, N.M.; Paris; and Leipzig, Germany.

      Texas is notorious throughout the world for the number of executions it carries out each year, raising fears that the state has made mistakes and that innocent people likely have been killed in the death chamber.

      Hankins was guilty, having been convicted of killing 2 of his stepchildren. He also was charged with the murders of his wife, father and his mentally challenged half-sister who was pregnant probably by him, evidence showed.

      I'm often asked by people regarding such cases, "If anybody deserves the death penalty, don't you think he does?"

      Maybe. But you must understand that those of us against capital punishment don't believe the state should be in the killing business period, regardless of someone's crime.

      The state ought never to be engaged in carrying out systematic homicides.

      And, yes, execution is a homicide.

      While the state is obligated to administer punishment when crimes have been committed, it ought not to be carrying out vengeance.

      One of the speakers at the Huntsville protest last week was Jerry Williams, a sociology professor at Stephen F. Austin State University, whose sister was beaten to death on Mother's Day morning in 1985. Her assailant was given life in prison, but was released on parole after serving 15 years in prison.

      "I hated him," Williams said. "I wanted to see him die. I wanted to see him suffer in prison. And I thought justice would be done only in that way. But what I realized over time was that my hate really diminished me. It damaged me and did nothing for him."

      In anticipation of the 200th execution milestone, the most under one governor in modern U.S. history, Amnesty International last April issued a report on capital punishment in this country, focusing on "too much cruelty, too little clemency."

      Of course the major attention was on the Texas death penalty system, which the human rights organization said "remains one that is fatally flawed and not reserved for the so-called 'worst of the worst,'" due in part to the idea of "future dangerousness" whereby during sentencing jurors are asked to decide if the defendant will remain a threat to society.

      "'Future dangerousness allows junk science and irrational fears based on race, youth or mental illness to affect the outcome of death penalty cases," said Jared Feuer, southern regional director of AIUSA, in a press release.

      The Amnesty report noted, "Texas, where about seven percent of the U.S. population resides, and where fewer than 10 % of murders occur, has accounted for 37 % of the country's executions since 1977, and 41 % since 2001, when Governor Perry came into office."

      It went on to point out, "There were 152 executions in Texas during the nearly 6 years of the [George W.] Bush governorship (1995-2000).

      Now looming is the 200th execution during Rick Perry's term in office. The combined total of more than 350 executions in Texas under these 2 governors represents 30 % of the national total since executions resumed in the USA in 1977. Virginia is ranked 2nd to Texas in executions. In 30 years, Virginia has killed 103 people in its death chamber, 1/2 the number put to death in Texas in 8. This is geographic bias on a grand scale."

      We in Texas have long had a reputation of doing things on a grand scale.

      "How many of the 200 people executed under Perry's watch were innocent?" asked Scott Cobb, president of Texas Moratorium Network, which helped organize the protests. "Perry could have taken a large step to reduce the risk of executing an innocent person if he had supported a moratorium on executions. Now, he may have to answer for the execution of Todd Willingham, who most likely was innocent of the arson/murders for which he was executed in 2004."

      Despite the guilt or innocence of the condemned individual, how does anyone preside over 200 homicides and sleep at night?

      And I continue to wonder: When will we in Texas come to our senses and end this nonsense?

      (source: Column, Bob Ray Sanders, Fort Worth Star Telegram)


      June 5, 2009

      How Austin dealt with our priority list

      When the 2009 Texas Legislature began way back in January, we outlined five major priorities. If lawmakers addressed them in the right way, we believed, they would improve the quality of life for Texans everywhere, including right here in North Texas.

      We have already opined about one of our priorities: giving communities the option to raise local funds to finance roads and rail. That effort failed miserably, and we took Austin to task. We also applauded the Legislature's decision to create more Tier One research universities. That, too, was an important goal.

      Here's how the rest of the list looks after 5 months of writing bills, conducting hearings and casting votes:

      Death penalty

      The odds against reforming much less stopping capital punishment in Texas are as long as they get in the tough-on-crime Legislature. Yet lawmakers made incremental changes that indicate they know that the criminal justice system is not airtight.

      What changed: One move had important symbolism: The House formed its first committee on the death penalty. Lawmakers also sent the governor a bill creating a new office to provide qualified counsel to indigent death row prisoners for certain appeals.

      What didn't change: It's regrettable that other vitally needed reforms fell short, like a bill that would have banned joint trials in capital murder cases and prohibited the death penalty for accomplices who did not kill. Another glaring shortcoming was lawmakers' failure to require police agencies to modernize their photo lineup practices.

      After years of trying, supporters of a special innocence commission to examine exonerations got a weakened bill. Pending the governor's signature, a new advisory panel will assist in a study on whether a full-fledged innocence commission with authority should be formed to tackle systemic changes in the justice system.

      With the record run of DNA exonerations in Texas, particularly in Dallas County, the need is clear.

      (source: Editorial, Dallas Morning News)


      Conservative Group Criticizes Sotomayor on Death Penalty Memo

      06/05/2009
      By Jerry Markon

      A conservative group is criticizing Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor for signing a 1981 memo that opposed the death penalty and said “capital punishment is associated with evident racism in our society."

      The Manassas, Va.-based Judicial Confirmation Network today said the document, written when Sotomayor was on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, offers a window into her thinking on the divisive issue of capital punishment.

      The memo “provides an important data point to flesh out the picture of her that is emerging from her other writings, speeches and judicial opinions: a hard-left liberal judicial activist,’’ Wendy E. Long, the network’s counsel, wrote in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

      Sotomayor was one of three board members of the Puerto Rican advocacy group to sign the memo, which recommended that the full board take a position opposing the restoration of the death penalty in New York State. Sotomayor served on the board from 1980 until she became a federal judge in New York in 1992.

      “The death penalty is final; it eliminates all possibility of the reform of the offender,’’ the memo said, adding that capital punishment is disproportionally applied to minorities and the poor and is not an effective deterrent to crime.

      Cesar Perales, president of the legal defense fund, now called LatinoJustice PRLDEF, said Sotomayor’s critics are taking the memo out of context. He said it is a “fair reading” of the document to conclude that Sotomayor was anti-death penalty at the time, but he said the authors were only “recapitulating” arguments against capital punishment made by religious and civic groups.

      Perales said the driving force behind the document was Joseph P. Fitzpatrick, a fellow board member and Jesuit priest who also signed it and is now deceased.

      He could not specify Sotomayor’s precise role.

      The Supreme Court on which Sotomayor may serve has been increasingly divided over the death penalty in recent years. The justices last year upheld lethal injection, a method of execution used by nearly all states, but they have clashed over decisions rejecting the death penalty for child rapists and juveniles.

      A White House spokeswoman did not return emails seeking comment.

      Conservative Group Criticizes Sotomayor on Death Penalty Memo


      June 4, 2009

      Perry's 200th Execution Sparks Worldwide Protest

      Dozens of death penalty opponents gathered on the steps of the Texas Capitol Tuesday evening to protest the 200th execution under Gov. Rick Perry, which was scheduled for 6 p.m.

      Perry's approval of the execution of Terry Lee Hankins marks the highest number of executions performed by any governor in American history. Hankins, who shot his wife and child in their sleep, has previously described himself as a "non-caring monster."

      Austin's protest took place in conjunction with similar protests taking places in the country and around the world, including Houston, Albuquerque, Liepzig, German and Paris, France.

      The Austin protestors, holding signs and placards, crowded the Capitols entrance along Congress Avenue. A symbolic "burial" took place where 200 candles were placed one by one in a cardboard coffin. The names of each person executed, and the crime they had committed was announced at the sound of a bell.

      Alexis Konevich, a philosophy senior at St. Edwards University and intern for the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said executions were ethically and morally wrong and do not support her personal moral beliefs.

      "By the standards of our Constitution, I believe it is cruel and unusual punishment," Konevich said.

      Scott Cobb, president of the Texas Moratorium Network said the protests, organized by anti-execution organizations, served to demonstrate that people are opposed to the use of the death penalty in Texas.

      "Texas just executes more people than other states," Cobb said. "When you travel abroad, and you say you are from Texas, the 1st thing that comes to mind is executions and maybe cowboys."

      Cobb said he would be protesting outside the Huntsville prison where Texas executes those on death row.

      "I think that people will have an effect on public opinion and policy makers," Cobb said. Kristin Houl, the director for the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, who was present at the Capitols protest, said as people become more educated on the topic and understand the complexity of the practice, support for the death penalty is starting to wane.

      "You can't help but feel a sense of sadness for the lose of life on both sides," Houl said 6 minutes before Terry Hankins was scheduled to die.

      (source: University of Texas Daily Texan)


      UN Investigator Says US Death Penalty Leads to Miscarriage of Justice

      By Lisa Schlein
      Geneva
      03 June 2009

      A U.N. Special Investigator is criticizing the application of the death penalty in the United States, saying it sometimes leads to miscarriages of justice. The expert, Philip Alston, calls for the United States to enact more stringent safeguards to protect the innocent. Philip Alston submitted a report to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

      Special Investigator Philip Alston is not calling for the United States to end capital punishment. But, he urges the government to make sure the imposition of the death penalty complies with fundamental due process requirements.

      "It is widely acknowledged that innocent people have most likely been executed in the U.S," said Philip Alston. "Yet, in Alabama and Texas, the two States that I visited, I found a shocking lack of urgency about the need to reform criminal-justice system flaws."

      Alston says the U.S. Congress should enact legislation permitting a review of state and federal death penalty cases.

      The U.N. Special Investigator also criticizes the U.S. military and intelligence operations for a lack of transparency and accountability in relation to civilian casualties. He says targeted killings carried out by drone attacks on the territory of other countries are increasingly common and remain deeply troubling.

      "The government has failed to effectively investigate and punish lower-ranked soldiers for such deaths, and has not held senior officers responsible under the doctrine of command responsibility, " he said. "Worse, it has effectively created a zone of impunity for private contractors and civilian agents by only rarely investigating and prosecuting them."

      Acting Deputy Chief at the U.S. Mission in Geneva Lawrence Richter says he accepts Alston's observations on the need for safeguards in serious cases of capital punishment. But, he adds the U.S. system already has robust safeguards in place.

      "For example, if the death penalty were disproportionate to the severity of the underlying offense, it could be challenged under the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as being cruel and unusual punishment," said Lawrence Richter. "We fully share Professor Alston's concerns about the need to address the issue of wrongful convictions, and indeed the U.S. government has made this a priority.

      We are one of only five countries in the world that belong to the Innocence Network, a group of countries that are working to embrace modern forensic science and reforms to prevent wrongful convictions."

      Richter says Alston has gone too far in his criticisms of Washington in regard to its actions in the military sphere. He says the United States does not believe military and intelligence operations during armed conflict fall within the Special Investigator' s mandate.

      UN Investigator Says US Death Penalty Leads to Miscarriage of Justice


      June 2, 2009

      USA: Death penalty needs reform

      Most do not relish having the death penalty on the table. We are the only Western country still invoking the death penalty.

      If the purpose of the death penalty is to deter heinous crimes, then it must be carried out quickly so that we remember the crime and the punishment.

      If the penalty is not for that purpose, then for what purpose?

      The May 21 article, "Death penalty path long and costly," indicates that this person has been on Death Row for 25 years! How can this be a deterrent? Who remembers the person, or more importantly, the crime?

      Another aspect of the death penalty that makes no sense: 1st-degree murderers who freely admit to the crime and are given the death penalty still must go through years of automatic appeals. Why?

      Obviously, the state has to seriously review and amend its policy on the death penalty, how it is carried out and how the appeals process can be corrected so that it is not only just, but also takes into account the victims of these horrible crimes.

      Sandy Shuster,
      Boynton Beach

      (source: Letter to the Editor, Sun-Sentinel)


      May 26, 2009

      Attorneys overworked in capital cases----About 1/3 are over recommended limit on felonies Too Many Cases?

      A Chronicle analysis of Harris County 16,000 felony case assignments from 2004-2009 showed:

      More than 150 Felony Clients Per Year: 10 lawyers approved by judges to represent clients facing life or death sentences regularly exceed a nationally recommended limit of 150 felony clients per year.

      About 200 Violations: Lawyers apparently accepted more than 5 felony assignments per day more than 200 times, despite judges' rules.

      Frequent capital assignments: A dozen cases were assigned to the same lawyers less than 60 days apart, another violation of judges' rules.

      Lawyer Jerome Godinich, chastised by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals this year for repeatedly failing to meet federal death penalty deadlines, has represented an average of 360 felony clients per year in Harris County a caseload that surpasses every other similar attorney.

      But even among other Harris County attorneys approved for death penalty cases, his heavy workload is no exception.

      In all, 10 of 32 Harris County lawyers approved by judges to represent clients facing life or death sentences regularly exceeded the recommended limit of 150 felony clients per year a standard established in 1973 and adopted by the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, the Houston Chronicle found. The lawyers, each assigned anywhere from 1 to 10 capital cases, simultaneously juggled 160 to 360 other felony clients each year, according to an analysis of official district court appointments from 2004-2009.

      Stephen Bright, an expert in capital case representation who has taught at Yale and Harvard law schools and reviewed the Chronicle's findings, said death penalty lawyers have no business handling nearly 400 clients in one year. "That's way too many cases and would not leave time for any other cases, particularly capital cases."

      Some felony cases are resolved in minutes, while death cases can take a year. Heavy caseloads limit the time an attorney can devote to each indigent defendant, a job paid for with tax dollars.

      Harris County District Court judges do not monitor caseloads of attorneys they appoint, even for death penalty cases. Through their rules, judges attempt to restrict how frequently felony and capital cases are assigned.

      Even those rules, adopted after one overloaded capital attorney committed suicide, have been repeatedly violated, the analysis showed.

      How rules violated

      The Chronicle review found 220 days in which capital-approved attorneys appear to have accepted more than the limit of 5 assignments per day. Some took as many as 10 cases. It also found a dozen examples where judges violated their own requirement that capital murder case appointments be spaced at least 60 days apart. In some cases, judges knowingly broke their own rule because of unusual circumstances. In others, there were "glitches" in an internal tracking system used to prevent that.

      One lawyer twice accepted 2 capital cases on the same day. The 1st time, Attorney Laine Lindsey said he accepted 2 appointments from the same judge to replace a lawyer stricken with cancer. Later, 2 different judges asked him to take cases on the same day. Lindsey said he didn't know about the rule and no one mentioned it.

      Godinich took 3 capital appointments in less than one 60-day period in 2008. One client was found incompetent to stand trial after drinking toilet water, disrobing and claiming he was Jesus Christ II while in the Harris County jail; another was a 15-year-old who pleaded guilty to felony murder charges and accepted a life sentence without possibility of appeal; the 3rd hired another lawyer.

      Godinich has agreed to take as many as 10 simultaneous capital cases over the past 5 years, though only a few were death penalty cases.

      Only 1 other attorney, Robert Morrow, has recently taken as many simultaneous capital cases, records show. But Morrow uses a team of legal interns and lawyers involved in a mentorship program to help with his assignments and specializes almost exclusively in capital work.

      2 of the Harris County judges , Belinda Hill and Shawna Reagin, said it might help judges to receive reports on caseloads before making capital appointments, though both said numbers alone should not govern decisions.

      "I'm not saying it would always be the determining factor, but I would love to have that information, " said Reagin, who practiced capital case law before being elected a judge in 2008.

      Harris County District Court Clerk Loren Jackson said his staff or the court administration could build a tool to track attorney appointments. "We would love to be able to give that information to the judges. All they have to do is ask," he said.

      Godinich, who juggles federal cases and misdemeanors along with his 360 felonies, has refused interview requests. But in a letter to the Chronicle, he defended his indigent defense record, saying he aims to defend his clients "to the best of my ability."

      "That entails working 7 days a week and investing countless hours in preparation to ensure that my clients receive their rightful due process," Godinich wrote. "It is not an easy job, but it is work that is challenging and has given me enormous personal satisfaction. That is why my clients know who I am and depend on me to stay invested in the process."

      One of his hundreds of Harris County clients, Phillip Hernandez, has been awaiting trial for 18 months on child sexual abuse charges and claims Godinich has never visited him in jail to discuss his innocence claim.

      Hernandez's pre-trial hearing was scheduled earlier this month, but the inmate said he learned it had been postponed at the last minute from a bailiff. Godinich did not attend court that day, records show.

      Kyle Johnson, an attorney who shares an office with Godinich, said any criminal defense lawyer gets occasional complaints. Both he and Morrow praised Godinich's work.

      "I think he's excellent," Johnson said. "This job is Jerome's life."

      (source: Houston Chronicle)


      May 24, 2009

      Texas increasingly out of step on death penalty

      Barring unexpected events, in the next few weeks Gov. Rick Perry of Texas will oversee his 200th execution since taking office in 2000. Perry has already allowed more executions than any other U.S. governor in modern history, far exceeding the 152 while George W. Bush was governor and the 50 overseen by Bushs immediate predecessor, Ann Richards.

      The United States is a global pariah for its continued embrace of the death penalty. In 2008 it was the worlds fourth-leading executioner, surpassed only by China, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Since executions resumed in 1977, after a hiatus of several years, more than 1,161 U.S. prisoners have been shot, hanged, electrocuted, gassed or put to death by lethal injection.

      Yet it is somewhat misleading to attribute this appalling record to "the United States." Unlike in most other countries, criminal justice in the United States is largely a matter of state law and policy.

      Only three executions since 1977 have been carried out by the federal government; the rest have been carried out by the states, and the vast majority by a mere handful of states.

      Texas alone, with 438 executions since 1977, accounts for more than 1/3 of the total.

      Just 3 states Texas, Virginia (103) and Oklahoma (89) together account for well over half of all U.S. executions in the modern era. At the other end of the spectrum, 15 states and the District of Columbia do not permit the death penalty. Of the 35 states whose laws authorize capital punishment, 2 have carried out no executions since 1977, and 5 have carried out only 1 apiece.

      There is a strong regional cast to the death penalty in the United States, with 960 executions in the South since 1977, compared with four in the Northeast.

      The reasons for these state and regional variations are no doubt multiple and complex. The important point is that they show there is nothing necessary or unavoidable about the death penalty, nothing inherent in the American character that demands it.

      Indeed, there are signs that Americans are turning against the death penalty. Just in the last 18 months, the citizens of 2 states New Jersey and New Mexico have, through their elected representatives, abolished capital punishment. The number of new death sentences imposed by juries has dropped dramatically in recent years, to about 1/3 the number imposed annually in the mid-1990s.

      What might account for this change? First and probably foremost is the question of innocence. Since 1973, 131 persons have been released from U.S. death rows after they were shown to be innocent of the crimes for which they had been sentenced to die. Some had come within days of execution.

      These exonerations have fundamentally shifted the debate on the death penalty, forcing even supporters to concede that innocent people have been sentenced to death, and that 1 or more may have been executed.

      Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty and finality; the possibility that a person will be executed for a crime he or she did not commit is a risk no society should tolerate.

      There is also increasing awareness of the significant racial disparities in capital sentencing in the United States. Evidence continues to accumulate that those who kill white victims are far more likely to be sentenced to death than those who kill African-Americans or other people of color. A 2007 study of eight death penalty states by the American Bar Association concluded that "every state studied appears to have significant racial disparities in its capital system," but that "little, if anything, has been done to rectify the problem."

      Finally, as state and local governments face yawning budget deficits and are forced to slash education, health and other vital services, the tremendous cost of the death penalty has become more salient. Studies in various states have concluded that the decision to seek the death penalty increases the cost of a murder prosecution by 38 % to 70 %. Last year a California state commission estimated that maintaining the death penalty costs the state $126 million more each year than would abolishing capital punishment and replacing it with life in prison without possibility of parole.

      Texas will probably not abolish capital punishment anytime soon. But the good news is that more and more Americans seem to be getting the message that the death penalty is not necessary or inevitable. It's a choice and it's a bad one.

      (source: Editorial; David Fathi is director of the U.S. program at Human Rights Watch)


      May 22, 2009

      CRIMINAL JUSTICE----Veto threat dooms change in death penalty law; Measure banning execution of people who haven't killed won't advance.

      Death penalty opponents have long decried a Texas law that allows the state to impose the ultimate punishment - execution - on people who have not killed anyone.

      Legislation to change that was working its way toward Gov. Rick Perry's desk Thursday, when its sponsor said a threatened veto forced him to drop the controversial provision that would have exempted participants in capital crimes who did not pull the trigger.

      "We wanted that provision to stay in, but the governor's office made it clear they would veto the bill if that went through," said state Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen.

      Hinojosa amended the legislation to require only separate trials for co-defendants in capital murder cases in which one or more of the defendants did not kill anyone.

      Though he was not satisfied with the change, Hinojosa said, "we're not going to get any progress on this area of law until we get another governor. I realize that, so we do what we can."

      Perry's office did not return phone calls Thursday evening.

      Austin lawyer William "Rusty" Hubbarth, vice president of Justice for All, a national victim advocacy group based in Houston, applauded the veto threat.

      "I congratulate Gov. Perry for showing he has the courage to protect the interests of victims," Hubbarth said.

      The problem with the bill, he said, was letting all capital co-defendants off the hook if they didn't pull a trigger.

      As proof, he cited a 1992 case in which a husband hired a hit man through Soldier of Fortune magazine to kill his wife; the husband was convicted of premeditated murder and sentenced to death.

      As approved by the House last week, the bill would have made a significant change in the state's death-penalty law, a change vehemently opposed by prosecutors and cheered by death-penalty opponents.

      Under current law, multiple defendants in a capital murder case can face execution, even though not all caused a death.

      Texas has been criticized nationally in past years for cases in which the triggerman cut a deal with police and escaped execution, while a co-defendant who did not kill anyone was executed.

      Although other states also hold accomplices responsible for others' crimes under the so-called law of parties, few of those states have a death penalty.

      None executes as many people as Texas, which has put to death more than 400 people since the state resumed executions in 1982.

      Prosecutors in the past have argued that if defendants participate in a crime, even if they stood and watched an accomplice commit murder, they should be held equally accountable - and several have been sentenced to death.

      After the disputed wording was deleted Thursday, the bill was passed unanimously by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, the last stop before the measure goes to the full Senate for a vote.

      When the measure passed the House on May 15, its sponsors tagged it the "Kenneth Foster Jr. Act," after a man whose death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by Perry in 2007.

      A former member of a San Antonio crime gang, Foster was sentenced to die as an accessory to the Aug. 25, 1996, slaying of Michael LaHood Jr., a 25-year-old law school student who was gunned down during a botched robbery.

      Foster, then 19, drove the getaway car, which was parked 80 feet away.

      Foster's impending execution had drawn a flood of protests from around the world, with South African peace activist Desmond Tutu and former President Jimmy Carter among the hundreds who filed written protests to stop the execution - all arguing that Texas was taking the life of a man who had not killed anyone.

      In commuting the sentence, Perry noted that Foster was tried, convicted and sentenced alongside the triggerman, Mauriceo Brown. Perry said that could have tainted the jury's decision.

      "After carefully considering the facts of this case, along with the recommendation from the Board of Pardons and Paroles, I believe the right and just decision is to commute Foster's sentence," Perry said at the time. "I am concerned about Texas law that allowed capital murder defendants to be tried simultaneously, and it is an issue I think the Legislature should examine."

      (source: Austin American-Statesman)


      May 21, 2009

      Veto threat alters death-penalty bill

      Facing a veto threat from Gov. Rick Perry, members of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee voted this evening to drop a controversial provision from a bill designed to keep defendants from being executed who were involved in a capital crime, did no killing themselves.

      As amended, House Bill 2267 now will require only separate trials for co-defendants in capital murder cases, where 1 defendant committed the murder and the other did not.

      Advocacy groups immediately decried the last-minute change, but said they still supported separate trials.

      As approved by the House last week, the bill would have been significant change in the states death-penalty law, one that was vehemently opposed by prosecutors and cheered by death-penalty opponents.

      Under current law, known as "the law of parties," multiple defendants in a capital murder case can face execution, even if they did not pull the trigger.

      Texas has been criticized nationally in past years for cases in which the triggerman cut a deal with police and escaped execution, after testifying against a co-defendant who did not pull the trigger but was executed.

      Prosecutors have argued that if defendants participate together in a crime, even if one stands and watches an accomplice commit murder, they should be held equally liable.

      "We wanted that provision to stay in, but the Governors Office made it clear they would veto the bill if that went through," said state Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen. "At least we're changing it so co-defendants will have to be tried separately. You won't taint an accomplice by having them sit beside the triggerman in court at the same trial."

      While Hinojosa said he was not satisfied with the change, "we're not going to get any progress on this area of law until we get another governor. I realize that, so we do what we can."

      After the disputed wording was deleted, the bill was passed unanimously by the committee, the last stop before the measure will come for a vote by the full Senate.

      When the measure passed the House last Friday, its sponsors tagged it the "Kenneth Foster Jr. Act," after a man whose death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by Perry in 2007.

      Foster was sentenced to die as a co-defendant in a case, even though he did not kill anyone. He was convicted in a trial with the killer.

      A similar case involving a condemned co-defendant, Jeff Wood, has been championed as a reason to change the law. Wood remains on death row, after his co-defendant the killer has been executed.

      "It will be an important reform to require separate trials in capital cases, but we will be disappointed if the provision to prohibit the state from seeking the death penalty in law of parties cases is removed from the bill. People who do not kill anyone should not be punished by death," Scott Cobb, president of Texas Moratorium Network, a death-penalty opposition group, said before the committee's vote.

      "This bill is very important because it touches the lives of innocent people that did not kill and are waiting to be executed for crimes that they did not commit."

      (source: Austin American-Statesman)


      May 19, 2009

      Death Row phone number still working

      7 months after prison officials busted death row convict Richard Tabler for calling a state senator on a smuggled cell phone, the phone number still works.

      And the senator who faced a death threat from Tabler over the phone caper is demanding to know why.

      "The number used should have been taken out of service forever," said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston. "I would hope whoever has it now would not be another inmate. But who knows. Here we go again."

      Whitmire said today he called Tablers number on Sunday after spotting it in his cell phone directory and was surprised when it went to voice mail, with a gruff-sounding man who warned:

      "Look, this is my phone. This is my voice mail.

      "So, if you're looking to leave a message, be sure that you're leaving a message for me, not nobody else."

      Whitmire said he immediately wondered if some other convict was still using the number. After all, prison investigators determined after his arrest that Tabler had borrowed the phone from another death row inhabitant.

      "As usual with the (prison) system, it's what I don't know that scares me," said Whitmire, who heads the legislative joint committee that oversees the prison system.

      John Moriarty, the prison system's inspector general, confirmed he is investigating who the still-active number is being used by. He would not discuss details.

      A callback left on the number by the Statesman was not returned. The voice did not sound like Tabler.

      "I find this amazing," Whitmire said this afternoon. So did Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, who filed a bill earlier this session that would have required companies that sell cheap, untraceable cell phones to record identification from buyers.

      Corona said the bill was killed by cell companies.

      Moriarty and Whitmire said that having such a law would help authorities track illicit uses of cell phones, by criminals who are behind bars and still loose on the street.

      "This is a homeland security issue," Moriarty said.

      Tabler, 30, a convicted murderer from Killeen, was indicted on May 1 along with his mother and sister on felony contraband charges in connection in the cell phone smuggling case that sparked a statewide controversy and a rare lockdown of all state prisons.

      Tabler was also indicted by the East Texas juryon a felony charge of retaliation, accused of threatening to kill Whitmire after the lawmaker reported to Tablers calls to police.

      In the indictment, Tabler is accused of using another inmate's cell phone to make calls, and his mother and sister are accused of buying minutes for that phone.

      Tabler was given the death penalty for 2 Killeen slayings in 2004. His execution date has not been set.

      After Tabler called Whitmire in October 2008, Gov. Rick Perry ordered Texas' 112 state prisons locked down and searched for cell phones and other contraband. In the following weeks, officials found dozens of cell phones, drugs, tobacco and other items.

      He also called this reporter, and threatened to kill this reporter and Whitmire at their homes.

      (source: Austin American-Statesman)


      Yogurt shop hearing postponed until June

      By Steven Kreytak
      May 18, 2009

      Tomorrow’s long awaited bail reduction hearing for yogurt shop murder defendant Robert Springsteen has been postponed, said Alexandra Gauthier, one of Springsteen’s defense lawyers.

      State District Judge Mike Lynch postponed the hearing after defense lawyers informed him on Friday that their DNA experts could not prepare written affidavits on the testing they have performed in the case in time for the hearing, Gauthier said.

      On May 5, Lynch ordered that all evidence in the case be presented in writing rather than in live testimony.

      That did not give DNA experts hired by Springsteen’s defense team enough time, Gauthier said.

      “My lab director can’t just drop everything for this case,” Gauthier said.

      “It takes longer to prepare an affidavit covering everything, all potential challenges,” then to just answer questions, she said.

      Lynch ordered the hearing in January after Springsteen’s lawyers filed a motion that claimed that recent DNA evidence exonerates him and co-defendant Michael Scott in the killings of four teenage girls at an Austin yogurt shop in 1991.

      The men are accused of killing Amy Ayers, 13; Eliza Thomas, 17; and sisters Sarah and Jennifer Harbison at the I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt shop on West Anderson lane December 6, 1991. The girls were bound and gagged with their own clothing. Each was shot in the back of the head and the killers set the crime scene on fire, leaving little physical evidence.

      Scott and Springsteen both confessed to participating in the killings but later recanted and said they were coerced. Both were convicted of capital murder.

      Their convictions were overturned on appeal.

      New DNA testing conducted in anticipation of their retrials yielded previously undiscovered male DNA profiles on three of the victims, according to statements by prosecutors and defense lawyers and defense motions in the case.

      Those profiles do not match those of Springsteen, Scott or two previous co-defendants, said defense lawyers, who add that they believe that the recently discovered male DNA belongs to the real killers.

      Prosecutors, citing the confessions, have said they stand by their case.

      Gauthier said the hearing would be rescheduled for sometime in mid June.

      Lynch has ordered that the affidavits filed in the case would be filed under seal. He wrote in an order that each side will be able to argue the merits of the bail reduction.

      Scott’s case is tentatively set for trial in July.

      Yogurt shop hearing postponed until June


      May 17, 2009

      Why death penalty is wrong

      Re: "Systemic guilt -- I put a man away for a crime he didn't commit, says James A. Fry," Friday Viewpoints.

      If 17 death row inmates have been proven innocent because of advances in DNA testing, it would be absurd to think that none of the 260 people executed in Texas in the last 10 years was innocent. Hard data show capital punishment to be more costly than life in prison without parole.

      When comparing murder rates in Texas against states that do not have the death penalty, it becomes obvious the death penalty is no more a deterrent than mandatory life sentences. Capital punishment simply makes no sense, and it's time for our country to join the rest of the civilized world and abolish it.

      Fry is clearly an honorable and thoughtful man who did what he thought was right at the time.

      John Latson, Dallas

      (source: Letter ot he Editor, Dallas Morning News)


      May 12, 2009

      'Worst of the worst'? House will consider 'law of parties' in capital cases

      Should the death penalty be applied only to the worst of the worst, or also to those who associate with them?

      That's a question the Texas House will answer today when they take up and consider legislation to eliminate the death penalty for accomplices who didn't kill anyone based on the "law of parties." The issue rose in prominence last year when Governor Rick Perry commuted Kenneth Foster's death sentence under the law of parties and called on the Legislature to reconsider the issue of whether accomplices in capital murder cases should receive separate trials.

      The bill up today would require an accomplice in a capital murder case to stand trial separately from the actual killer and eliminate the death penalty for people who didn't personally murder anyone. As Scott Cobb described HB 2267 by Hodge on Burnt Orange Report:

      HB 2267 would require separate trials for co-defendants in capital trials in which the death penalty is sought and would prohibit the state from seeking the death penalty for people who do not kill anyone but are convicted under the Law of Parties. It is fundamentally unfair to sentence someone to death, like Kenneth Foster was, if they did not kill anyone. The death penalty is intended to be reserved for the worst of the worst killers. People who do not themselves kill anyone are not only not the worst of the worst, they are not even killers.

      The Law of Parties allows people who "should have anticipated" a murder to receive the death penalty for the actions of another person who killed someone.

      A person sentenced to death under the Law of Parties has not killed anyone.

      They are accomplices or co-conspirators of one felony, such as robbery, during which another person killed someone. However, in some cases a person can end up on death row under the law of parties even though they did not even know their co-defendant had any intention to hurt or even rob the victim, which is what happened to Kenneth Foster. A person who did not kill anyone, or intend anyone to be killed, should not be executed for the actions of another person.

      Non-killers convicted of capital murder under the law of parties could still receive life without parole, as I read the bill, but the death penalty would be off the table. See a good discussion of the legislation and its pros an cons from the House Research Organization.

      Relatedly, see also an open letter I wrote last year to the Governor and the parole board regarding Kenneth Foster and the law of parties, which declared in part that, "Increasingly I've come to believe that, if the death penalty is ever abolished, at least in this state, it will not be because its opponents succeed politically but as a backlash to its overzealous implementation." In that sense, arguably, this legislation does more to preserve the death penalty than to limit it. I hope they approve it.

      Posted by Gritsforbreakfast

      Labels: Death penalty


      May 7, 2009

      Critics say Texas parole board pick lacks experience in criminal justice

      One of Gov. Rick Perry's nominees to the state Board of Pardons and Paroles is facing opposition from critics who say she has no criminal justice experience and is best known as a Republican campaigner and crusader against the sale of sex toys in Texas.

      At a Senate nomination hearing Wednesday, Shanda Perkins discussed her experience counseling women and children with family members in prison.

      Shanda Perkins, a retired banker from Burleson, was appointed by Perry in February to serve on the board that has the power to grant or revoke parole and to recommend when the governor should grant clemency or a pardon.

      If approved by the Senate, she would serve a term that expires in 2015.

      Opponents, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, say she is unqualified to serve on the board that sometimes makes life and death decisions.

      Perkins' banking expertise includes marketing, business trusts and retirement accounts. She is also a past ambassador of the Burleson Chamber of Commerce and has been a youth pastor and Sunday school teacher.

      Appearing before the Senate nominations committee Wednesday, Perkins said she is qualified to serve on the parole board because she has often counseled youth and women who have been through drug and physical abuse and had family members in prison.

      "I can bring empathy to the situation as well as uphold the law," Perkins said before her nomination was sent to the full Senate on a 4-1 vote. Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, cast the only no vote.

      The panel also approved the re-nomination of board member Juanita Gonzalez and chairwoman Rissie Owens and the nomination of new member Thomas Leeper.

      The ACLU sent Perry's office a letter Wednesday saying Perkins has "no relevant qualifications for the position and no identifiable experience in the area of corrections policy" and her nomination should be withdrawn.

      Perkins' approval "will fail to promote fairness on the parole board or confidence in the criminal justice system," the letter said.

      No one testified against Perkins' appointment in the hearing.

      Shapleigh questioned Perkins about her role in a 2004 case in Burleson where police arrested a woman who was selling sex toys in apparent violation of a city ordinance and what was Texas law at the time.

      Perkins said she informed city officers about the city ordinance that prohibited the sale of sex toys as a business or near a school.

      Perkins said she did not file a criminal complaint that led to the arrest.

      The state law banning the sale of sex toys was ultimately ruled unconstitutional by a federal appeals court in 2008.

      In February, Perkins distributed fliers linking U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison to President Barack Obama and abortion rights. Perry, who is running for re-election, is expected to face a tough battle with Hutchison in the Republican primary.

      Perkins said her appointment was not political.

      Burleson Mayor Ken Shetter, who testified in support of her nomination, said the sex toy case isn't relevant to the work of the parole board.

      "To bring it up today, with all due respect, misses many larger points ... and focuses on one small event that she had little to do with," Shetter said.

      Shapleigh also asked how she would vote if there was new evidence that could show a death row inmate may be mentally disabled, which would prevent them from being executed.

      "I would vote against" execution, Perkins said.

      (source: Associated Press)


      May 2, 2009

      Texas death row inmate indicted in cell phone case

      A Texas death row inmate and 2 relatives have been indicted for allegedly smuggling cell phones into a prison which led to a statewide lockdown.

      Special Prosecutions Chief Gina DeBottis tells the Austin American-Statesman that 30-year-old Richard Lee Tabler, his mother Lorraine Tabler and his 36-year-old sister Kristina Martinez were indicted Friday on charges of possessing contraband in a state prison.

      A 2nd inmate, 43-year-old Michael Roy Toney, was indicted on similar charges.

      A Polk County grand jury also indicted Tabler on a felony retaliation charge for threatening to kill state Sen. John Whitmire of Houston.

      Officials say Tabler sent a letter to Whitmire.

      Tabler was convicted of shooting a strip club manager and another man in 2004.

      (source: Boston Globe)


      UNITED STATES OF AMERICA-----
      Texas: One Governor, 200 Executions!

      On 2 June 2009, Texas is scheduled to carry out its 200thexecution under the governorship of Rick Perry. In a new report, Amnesty International looks back at a few of the cases of prisoners executed during Governor Perry's term in office and forward to a few cases that may yet come before him for clemency.

      The macabre milestone -- in an increasingly abolitionist world -- of the 200thexecution under an eight-and-a- half-year governorship should give pause for thought for officials with the power over life and death in the capital justice system. Any of them, whether judge or prosecutor, legislator or governor, can and should speak out for an end to this cruel and unnecessary punishment. Amnesty International urges Governor Perry to join such calls, and work with the state legislature to abolish the death penalty in Texas. Meanwhile, he and the parole board should do all in their power to prevent further executions in Texas.

      Amnesty International' s report considers a number of issues, and places them in the context of an executive clemency system in Texas which is far from the "failsafe" against injustice it purports to be:

      17-year-old offenders. Before 2005 when the US Supreme Court outlawed the death penalty against children, the USA was a world leader in this international law violation, with Texas its leading perpetrator. 4 of the last 5 child offenders executed in the USA were put to death in Texas after Governor Perry and the parole board denied clemency. All four were African American, highlighting the issue of race, an ever-present aspect of the US capital justice system.

      18- and 19-year-old offenders. The prohibition of the death penalty against under-18-year- olds recognizes the immaturities associated with youth and the capacity for change in a young person. 18 is a minimum standard -- such attributes continue beyond 17. Some 31 individuals have been put to death during Governor Perry's term in office for crimes committed when they were 18 or 19 years old. Nineteen of the 31 were African Americans, 13 of whom were executed for crimes involving white victims. Another 46 await execution for crimes committed at 18 or 19. One, Derrick Johnson, is due for execution this evening, 30 April, for a crime committed when he was 18. He and 26 of these 46 inmates are black. 8 are white.

      Executions of prisoners with mental illness. As in the case of young offenders, by the time Governor Perry took office, Texas was no stranger to killing condemned inmates suffering from serious mental illness. A number of such prisoners have gone to their deaths in the state execution chamber since then. International human rights bodies and experts have long called for the death penalty not to be used against individuals suffering from mental disorders. In 2004, in the case of an inmate suffering from very serious mental illness, Governor Perry rejected a rare recommendation for commutation by the Board of Pardons and Paroles.

      Inadequate protections for condemned inmates with learning disabilities.

      In 2002, in Atkins v Virginia, the US Supreme Court outlawed the execution of people with mental retardation. The Court left it to states to take the appropriate steps to comply with the ruling, thereby opening the door to inconsistent approaches. Seven years on, the Texas legislature has still not passed a post-Atkins statute, and Texas is one of the states causing concern about inadequate protection for mentally impaired death row prisoners, a situation exacerbated by ineffective clemency.

      Inadequate legal representation. The poor quality of legal representation that indigent capital defendants receive, both at trial and for state-level appeals, remains a recurring theme in Texas capital justice. Also recurring has been the failure of the clemency authorities to recognize the injustice and stop the execution. Some inmates have gone to their deaths after their lawyers missed deadlines for filing federal appeals. Several more in this position face execution.

      Future dangerousness. Every death sentence and execution in Texas is based on a finding of the condemned individual's "future dangerousness". Texas prosecutors have repeatedly resorted to the highly dubious use of "expert" testimony purporting to be able to predict the defendant's dangerousness.

      Research has shown such predictions to be wildly inaccurate. Questions about the future dangerousness scheme also include whether it has allowed fear, rather than a rational consideration of defendant culpability, to drive juror decision-making. Rehabilitation appears to be another issue that the clemency authorities fail to see as a valid reason to spare the life of the condemned prisoner.

      Foreign nationals denied their consular rights. In violation of international law, Texas has continued to execute foreign nationals whose right to consular access after arrest was denied.

      Executing the innocent. For many people, the death penalty's most intolerable flaw is the risk of irreversible error that accompanies it.

      During Governor Perry's time in office, Texas has continued to execute prisoners whose guilt remained in doubt. One of them was Cameron Willingham, convicted of arson murder. Experts now believe the fire may have been an accident. In another case, that of Richard Wayne Jones, the judge who sentenced him to death now believes he may have been innocent.

      The then Governor, George W. Bush, was out of Texas campaigning for the US presidency and left the case to his Lieutenant Governor, Rick Perry. The requested reprieve for DNA testing was denied and Jones was executed.

      Amnesty International is not suggesting that the Texas governor alone is responsible for the fate of those on death row. Many people are involved in capital justice -- from prosecutors to jurors, from legislators to prison staff, from judges to members of the clemency board, and the Texas governor's clemency powers are somewhat circumscribed. However, like his predecessor, Governor Perry has rarely exercised his power of reprieve, or used his authority to seek commutation of a death sentence, and continues to advocate strongly for capital punishment.

      On a positive note, there is reason to believe that the USA is turning against the death penalty. The number of people sentenced to death in 2007 was 1/3 of what it was in 1996 and the lowest since 1977. This pattern is reflected in Texas too. In the 5 years from 1995 to 1999, Texas juries sent 192 people to death row, at an average of 38 per year. In the 5 years from 2004 to 2008, they sentenced 71 defendants to death, at an average of 14 per year.

      This would seem to reflect a broader downturn in public support for the death penalty in the USA. An erosion of the public's belief in the deterrence value of the death penalty, an increased awareness of the frequency of wrongful convictions in capital cases, and a greater confidence that public safety can be guaranteed by life prison terms rather than death sentences have all contributed to the waning of enthusiasm for capital punishment.

      Politicians and legislators in Texas and elsewhere in the United States of America should seize this opportunity to break their country's death penalty habit and lead the USA towards joining the clear majority of countries that have abandoned this punishment.

      For further information, see 'USA: Too much cruelty, too little clemency.
      Texas nears 200th execution under current governor', 30 April 2009,
      available at Amnesty International

      (source: Amnesty International)


      COURTS

      Controversy erupts anew over appeal, execution
      Dallas killer executed despite questions on mental capacity.

      By Mike Ward
      AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
      May 01, 2009

      The execution of a convicted Dallas killer proceeded as scheduled Thursday despite reports that a new test showed Derrick Lamone Johnson may have been mentally disabled.

      In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court banned the execution of anyone with mental disabilities.

      Derrick Johnson Executed for '99 slaying of Dallas woman.

      Controversy surfaced after a group of lawmakers, angered that the state Board of Pardons and Paroles initially confirmed Johnson's execution without reviewing the medical test information, asked Gov. Rick Perry to delay the execution.

      Perry declined, and Johnson was executed as scheduled shortly after 6 p.m. — soon after the U.S. Supreme Court refused Johnson's last-minute appeals.

      At 6:23 p.m., he was declared dead in the death chamber at Huntsville. Johnson, 28, a 10th-grade dropout, was convicted in the 1999 slaying of LaTausha Curry, who was kidnapped, beaten, suffocated and robbed of $10.

      Lawmakers vowed to continue asking questions about how the case was handled. They also said they might try to amend one of several pending clemency bills to prevent such issues in the future.

      "There is no reason why the State of Texas should rush to execute this man before it can be confirmed whether or not he is mentally retarded," said Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston.

      Turner and Reps. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, and Terri Hodge, D-Dallas, petitioned the parole board late Wednesday for a second vote based on the new medical exam results just received in the case. Thompson and Hodge said the board voted before lunch Wednesday to deny a reprieve, even though they had been advised that Johnson's new attorney, who joined the case in early April, was rushing to submit new test results about Johnson's mental capacity.

      The attorney's filings with the parole board are not public, but Thompson, who was briefed on them, said the test showed Johnson was mentally disabled, with an IQ "in the low 70s."

      Hodge said Johnson's attorney got the information to the parole board at 12:38 p.m., after the deadline.

      "We've been through this before with Judge (Sharon) Keller (presiding judge of the state Court of Criminal Appeals) closing the doors at 5 p.m. and not allowing new information to be considered," Hodge said. "It looks like the parole board tried the same thing."

      Though the board initially declined to review its decision, lobbying from Thompson, Turner and Hodge brought another review of the case Thursday morning by the parole board. The board then reaffirmed its earlier 7-0 vote to let the execution proceed. The board confers in private and did not explain its vote.

      "It's amazing to me how callous this system can be," said Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen. "After a cursory review of the file, they vote to hang 'em high no matter what the new information shows."

      In a letter of explanation to the lawmakers, board Chair Rissie Owens said the seven-member board reconsidered a request from Johnson's attorney for a 180-day reprieve and decided against it after "a full and careful review."

      "We should do everything we can to consider all evidence, even new evidence, in these cases before we put someone to death," Hodge said. "When you talk about the ultimate penalty, we shouldn't rush, even when it's the last minute."

      Late in the afternoon, the American Civil Liberties Union joined the lawmakers in asking Perry to give Johnson a 30-day reprieve.

      "Johnson has never had a full and fair hearing" on his mental disability claim, ACLU executive director Terri Burke said.

      Bruce Anton, Johnson's attorney, could not be reached for comment. Katherine Cesinger, Perry's deputy press secretary, said Perry — who had the authority to grant a reprieve and has done so in the past — decided not to act in Johnson's case.

      Controversy erupts anew over appeal, execution


      April 20, 2009

      Death Row lawyers get paid while messing up
      Attorneys who continue to miss appeal dates are still getting cases

      Texas lawyers have repeatedly missed deadlines for appeals on behalf of more than a dozen death row inmates in the last 2 years yet judges continue to assign life-or-death capital cases and pay hundreds of thousands in fees to those attorneys, a Chronicle records review shows.

      Missing deadlines means their clients can be automatically denied constitutionally mandated reviews before their execution. Houston lawyer Jerome Godinich missed 3 recent federal deadlines, the Chronicle reported in March. One client was executed in February after the federal appeal was filed too late. In March, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals chastened Godinich for using the same excuse a malfunctioning after-hours filing machine for missing another deadline for a man still on death row.

      A recent review of the Harris County Auditor's billing records and district court records shows Godinich remains one of the county's busiest appointed criminal attorneys, billing for $713,248, including fees for 21 capital cases. He was appointed to handle 1,638 Harris County cases involving 1,400 different defendants from 2006-March 2009, court records show.

      He refused comment.

      Godinich is not the only attorney to miss death row deadlines. A San Antonio lawyer failed to file 4 state appeals on time, according to opinions last year by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. A Fort Worth lawyer has missed both state and federal deadlines in at least 5 recent cases, though he sought and was granted more time to prepare on 4 of them, according to court records reviewed by the Chronicle.

      The failure to file such appeals, called writs of habeas corpus, means death row inmates risk missing their last chance to submit new claims of innocence or evidence that could alter their conviction or death sentence. State judges can be flexible, but federal judges follow tight and sometimes confusing deadlines.

      Only one of three Texas lawyers who repeatedly missed such death row deadlines has faced fines or been forced to forgo fees by judges.

      Suzanne Kramer, of San Antonio, was removed in October 2008 from 3 state appeals she failed to file on time and was fined $750 by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. She is handling a fourth case over protests.

      "I know if this lawyer stays on my case I'll definitely get executed," death row inmate Juan Castillo wrote the Chronicle. "She's refused to respond to any of my letters she's never come to see me to discuss my case (and) my writ was due Dec. 11, 2006 and she never filed it."

      Appeal filed incorrectly

      The CCA allowed Kramer to continue representing Castillo after criticizing her claim that she mailed in his appeal on a Saturday to the office of a Bexar County judge. The appeal was never filed with the county clerk, as required. "Judges don't file lawsuits. I guess that would go on her credibility as a lawyer," said Gerry Rickhoff, district court clerk in Bexar County.

      Kramer, who did not return phone calls to her office, has been paid $86,577 in fees by Bexar County since 2007, but went unpaid for the 3 late appeals by CCA order.

      Jack V. Strickland Jr., a Fort Worth lawyer who specializes in capital case law, also has repeatedly missed death row deadlines. However, judges accepted his explanations and allowed late filings for 4 of 5 appeals.

      Being overwhelmed on capital cases was the excuse for 2 late 2008 filings.

      Strickland told the court that hed been hospitalized several months before the appeals were due, then "began a new death penalty trial right after his recuperation period, was in the process of preparing another death penalty writ application which was due mid-September, was preparing for trial in another case, and had presented 5 lectures and papers in the previous 60 days," according to a CCA opinion.

      In another case, Strickland missed both state and then federal deadlines for the death row inmate, Quintin Jones. Before losing his federal appeal due to lateness, Jones repeatedly tried to get another attorney.

      Strickland said he "almost begged the magistrate judge to appoint someone else. Jones and I had a very unpleasant relationship. " He was left on the case anyway.

      Strickland blamed the deadline error on miscalculating the due date.

      He earned $428,850.62 in court-appointed fees in Tarrant County from 2006-2009. More than a quarter were bills for late appeals, auditor's records show.

      (source: Houston Chronicle)


      April 17, 2009

      Death penalty was wrong for Jesus, and it's still wrong today

      Reading during recent months of the surprising number of prisoners across the United States who have been declared innocent by the courts after years or decades of wrongful incarceration, I thought during this Lenten season of the most famous prisoner wrongfully accused, convicted and put to death. That person was Jesus Christ whose death and resurrection is remembered by billions of this planet's humans - the most mourned victim of the death penalty.

      Just last week Gov. Rick Perry met with the family of the most-recently exonerated prisoner. Timothy Cole died in a Texas prison while serving time on a rape he did not commit, which innocence was confirmed through DNA tests that were taken 10 years after his death. During recent years, 37 Texas men wrongfully convicted have been exonerated by DNA testing that occurred during their years of imprisonment. These shocking results are occurring during the "enlightened" times of today. One dreads to think what the statistics were during the century or more of the Jim Crow laws in Texas.

      Today, despite the fact that the vast majority of the world's nations have abolished the death penalty, capital punishment is still imposed in the United States as it is in China, Iran and North Korea.

      Currently, in the country, more than 3,000 men and women are on death row, awaiting their execution. Since 1973 hundreds of people in more than 25 states have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence. Identification evidence from victims has come under increasing attack by science as very often unreliable.

      Yet even in cases where the condemned is truly guilty of a horrendous crime, state-imposed execution in the name of the people is not the answer. Jesus saved the adulteress from death by stoning; and from the cross, asked his Father to forgive his own execution.

      Forgiving violence does not mean condoning violence. We cannot ignore terrible violence and must ensure that society is protected, but responding in kind doesn't make the violence go away.

      As we have journeyed through this season of Lent and contemplated the compassionate and forgiving Christ, let us now renew our efforts as Christians to challenge all forms of violence in the world, including violence carried out in the name of the state.

      (source: Guest Column: Richard J. Clarkson lives in Beaumont; Beaumont Enterprise)


      April 16, 2009

      Death Row Inmate's story broadcasted live at UT

      Nashville, Tenn., inmate Timothy McKinney's voice broadcasted through a UT classroom holding a crowd of nearly 90 people "Live From Death Row."

      Students, activists and family members of death row inmates listened in the University Teaching Center as McKinney shared his story for the "Live From Death Row" national tour, sponsored by the Campaign to End the Death Penalty.

      "In 1997, I was accused of killing a police officer," he said. "Within 2 days of my trial, I was convicted of murder. There was no evidence that linked me to the crime."

      McKinney said his trial was unfair, racially biased and that he was the victim of an unjust, corrupt system.

      Unable to afford a lawyer himself, McKinney said the court appointed an attorney who did no investigation into his case.

      "My case in particular is politically motivated and race has a lot to do with it," McKinney said. "We're always looked at, pointed at. We're always stereotyped. Someone with money wouldnt be here."

      Family members of death row prisoners also spoke out against the death penalty system and the Texas law of parties, which states that if a person with someone when they commit a crime, he or she can be held accountable.

      "I don't understand how Texas can convict someone who didn't murder anyone," said Terri Been, whose brother sits on death row.

      Been said her brother was not long out of high school when he and his roommate decided to rob a convenience store in Kerrville on Jan. 1, 1996.

      Her brother changed his mind and backed out of the plan, she said.

      The next day the 2 stopped by the same store for some "driving munchies."

      While her brother waited in the car, his roommate shot the clerk and began to rob the store, she said.

      Been said her brother had been unaware of his roommate's intentions, was not present in the store when the murder was committed and was threatened by his roommate at gunpoint.

      "My brother's family and his daughter were also threatened," Been said. "[The roommate] said he would kill her if he ever turned him in.

      The state wants to know why he didn't call 911. Would you? If you had a daughter that was threatened, If you saw that your roommate just cold-bloodedly murdered someone and threatened your child at gunpoint?"

      Been said her family was gag-ordered by the court and not allowed to attend his trial, where her brother was convicted under the law of parties.

      "It practically makes you have to be a mind reader," she said, citing her brother did not have prior knowledge of the crime. "I don't know about you but I don't have ESP. And neither does my brother."

      Brittany Watson, a member of the UT chapter of Amnesty International, also spoke out against the law of parties and said she wanted to create awareness about the "evils of the death penalty."

      "It is the ultimate form of violation of humans rights, the ultimate form of torture and it is the ultimate form of cruel and unusual punishment," she said.

      But Eryn Baugh disagrees.

      Nearly 15 years ago, his 3-month-old son Brandon was murdered by his baby-sitter, Cathy Henderson. Henderson's original execution date was set for 2 years ago until a last-minute appeal put the decision on hold.

      Baugh said he feels justice has not been served and he and his family cannot find closure until she is executed.

      "Imagine yourself 15 years ago, and someone came up and put a knife to your back," Baugh said. "The pain is great. It doesn't leave, and you're just waiting for someone to pull it out of you so you can heal your wound."

      Henderson's attorneys claimed the murder was an accident and that she dropped the baby on its head, shattering his skull, according to Baugh.

      Baugh said he is not convinced.

      "She would have called emergency services," he said. "We don't know how long he suffered, how long it was before he died. He could have been badly hurt but maybe she could have saved him if she had taken him to the emergency room."

      Baugh said Henderson tried to cover up the death.

      "She put him in our wine cooler box, taped him up," he said. "She went to the bank, got an oil change with our son in her trunk, took him out to a field with some trees, patched out a hole and threw beer bottles on top of it."

      Baugh said he believes the death-penalty system is just and more humane than life in prison, and that lethal injection provides a less painful death than that suffered by victims of violent murders, or even those who die naturally.

      "Until she's dead, I'll never have true closure," he said. "I have to make sure she'll never get out of prison."

      (source: University of Texas Daily Texan)


      Letter to New Yorker

      April 13, 2009

      An increasing number of jurists throughout the world have concluded that our system of capital punishment constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, in part because the vast majority of U.S. death-row inmates are required to remain alone in their cells twenty-three hours a day and denied virtually any human contact.

      Unlike other prisoners, however, they are made to endure these barbaric conditions not because of their conduct in prison but because they have been condemned to die, and they have no opportunity to end their isolation through good behavior. Rather, they are made to sit alone in their cells day after day and year after year, envisioning what they continually fear is their impending execution.

      Click Here

      John Holdridge
      Director, A.C.L.U. Capital Punishment Project
      Durham, N.C.


      April 9, 2009

      A Good Friday Appeal to Abolish the Death Penalty

      10 years ago on Good Friday, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement and call to action: "On this Good Friday, a day when we recall our Savior's own execution, we appeal to all people of goodwill, and especially Catholics, to work to end the death penalty."

      Today, we are able to celebrate recent victories in triumph over the "culture of death" and victories for the "gospel of life."

      Just a few weeks ago, Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico signed into law a bill that repealed the death penalty for his state. He said, "Faced with the reality that our system for imposing the death penalty can never be perfect, my conscience compels me to replace the death penalty with a solution that keeps society safe." New Mexico joined a slowly growing number of states without the death penalty.

      Then, just a week later, Maryland took a step closer to that point as well. The legislature passed and the governor signed a bill creating tight restrictions and high standards for death penalty cases. Both critics and opponents have said the same thing about the bill; the standards for a death penalty case will be so high that it will be nearly impossible to secure a death sentence.

      In New Hampshire, a bill to abolish the death penalty has passed the house and supporters are hoping to overcome a promised Gubernatorial veto if necessary.

      Other states including Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, and Montana all have significant opportunities to abolish the death penalty and have been winning new allies by making the moral argument along with an economic one. Advocates have shown that cases in which the death penalty is sought can be 5 times more expensive and cost more overall than cases pursuing life imprisonment.

      There is a growing energy, across political boundaries and especially among people of faith, to have a new national conversation on the death penalty.

      Watch this space for more on that movement as it unfolds.

      These words of Pope John Paul II in 1999 speak louder today than ever before:

      "A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil.

      Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform. I renew the appeal I made most recently at Christmas for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary."

      May this hope that he felt continue to grow in our hearts as we remember and celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ on this Easter weekend.

      Praise God for answered prayers and strength to continue in the work that is still to be done.

      (Source: Jim Wallis is the author of The Great Awakening, Editor-in-Chief of Sojourners; The Huffington Post)

      ***********

      I will be the first to admit that I am not a biblical scholar and lay no claim to a particularly profound understanding of Easter from a theological perspective.

      Nevertheless, I would respectfully submit that Easter is an appropriate time to reflect on the institution of capital punishment.

      For one thing, Easter is when most Christians give more thought than usual to the implications of a legal and political system that has the power to authorize death as punishment. Whether one views the accounts of Jesus' trial and execution as historical or allegorical there is a deep understanding that in this case the system is about to make a cruel and arbitrary mistake.

      When it comes to our modern American system of capital punishment, mistake is it's hallmark.

      A Columbia University study of capital sentencing found that 68% of all death verdicts imposed and fully reviewed were reversed by courts because of serious error. Half of the reversals called into question the reliability of the death verdict with 82% of the cases ending in a sentence other than death on retrial -- including 9% ending in not guilty verdicts.

      These statistics take on real world implications when you consider that one hundred thirty individuals have been exonerated from death row -- some coming within hours of execution for a crime they did not commit.

      We identify with and understand the overwhelming grief and despair of Jesus' friends and followers. But most of all our hearts break at the thought of what his poor mother must have endured in the days and hours leading up to his death.

      I was taught that Jesus' role in the world was, in part, to take on and understand what it is to be human -- to learn our joys as well as the nature of our suffering. In so doing he learned and expanded his compassion for our condition.

      Christians remembering Jesus' suffering at Easter are instructed in compassion for self and others. So this is an appropriate time to seriously consider the ripples of pain that the death penalty brings mothers, daughters, sons and grandchildren, providing little solace in return for the suffering. This lesson in compassion also challenges us not to turn away, as we too often do from the pain of survivors of homicide -- but calls us to be a part of and actively promote services that are healing.

      But the transcendent message of Easter is that despite the frailties of the human condition -- our capacity to lie, turn our backs on and cruelly hurt one another -- there is also always the opportunity for hope, renewal, redemption and an earth shattering, rock rolling away capacity for love.

      One last reflection on Easter:
      Does retaining the death penalty or ending it bring us closer to its meaning?

      (Source: Diann Rust-Tierney (Executive Director, NCADP), The Huffington Post)


      April 9, 2009

      Executions spark bill on stringent requirements

      Texas executes more people than any other state, and several lawmakers say more must be done to make sure police and prosecutors have the right person before a death sentence is carried out. State Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, recently offered a bill that would require video recordings of confessions used in capital cases, to be sure they are not coerced.

      State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, has filed a package of bills that he calls "the Innocence Project." The legislation would set up a commission to investigate wrongful convictions and to introduce stricter requirements for eyewitness testimony in criminal cases.

      One of his inspirations was Timothy Cole, a Lubbock man, who was exonerated of rape this week, 10 years after his death. A victim incorrectly identified Cole as her attacker.

      Cole maintained his innocence through 13 years of a 25-year prison sentence before he died of an asthma attack at age 38.

      A judge in Austin on Tuesday formally exonerated Cole, based on DNA tests and a confession from the real rapist.

      Texas has exonerated 36 prisoners since 1989 through DNA evidence. Like Cole, the vast majority were charged with sexual assault, but some legislators fear that innocent men or women could be sitting on death row in murder cases.

      Michael Blair, who was convicted in Collin County of a child's murder, spent 14 years on death row before being cleared of the killing in 2008 by DNA evidence.

      Blair, though, was guilty of other crimes. He received a life sentence for sexual assaults he committed as a young man.

      Still, some legislators say, such cases are proof that the system can misfire and put someone on death row unjustly.

      "The death penalty justice system is so flawed that people's minds are changing," said state Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, who has proposed abolishing the Texas death penalty. "No one can remember before in the last 30 years where we've even had a hearing on a death penalty bill."

      Various Texas lawmakers began discussions this month about legislation that would limit or abolish the death penalty after New Mexico became the 15th state to ban executions.

      Dutton's bill on videotaped confessions is one of several that have already come before the House Criminal Jurisprudence subcommittee on capital punishment. His measure seeks stricter standards for evidence when the death penalty is a possibility.

      District attorneys have criticized the measure for making the burden of evidence too high.

      State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, a former prosecutor, said additional requirements for videotaped confessions might be out of reach for small police departments.

      "I don't know if we're ready in some jurisdictions to require that level of technology," he said.

      In 2008, Texas executed 18 prisoners. Virginia was next with 4. More than 350 people sit on Texas' death row today, 100 fewer than at its high point in 2000.

      32 states had prisoners on death row last year, but only 10 carried out executions. Texas accounted for 1/2 of those.

      (Source: El Paso Times)


      March 31, 2009

      Kids Against the Death Penalty has won the 2009 Youth Abolitionists of the Year award given by Students Against the Death Penalty.

      The award was announced and presented to KADP at the Texas Capitol on March 24 by Hooman Hedayati, president of Students Against the Death Penalty and Jason Kyriakides, board member of Texas Students Against the Death Penalty.

      The award recognizes the hundreds of hours of activism performed by Kids Against the Death Penalty in the last year educating the public about the injustice of the death penalty. The hard work and passionate commitment of members of Kids Against the Death Penalty has greatly benefited the national movement to abolish the death penalty. Several members of KADP are relatives of Jeff Wood, who is on Texas death row convicted under the Law of Parties even though he did not kill anyone.

      Scott Cobb of Texas Moratorium Network, one of the many people who nominated Kids Against the Death Penalty for the award said, "Martin Luther King, Jr wrote in a letter from a Birmingham Jail that 'injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere'. That sense of injustice was what compelled Dr King to carry the gospel of freedom beyond his own home town. I have personally witnessed how Kids Against the Death Penalty have brought their message of justice beyond their own home town to cities throughout Texas. They have marched for miles along Texas streets holding anti-death penalty signs, through neighborhoods in Houston and down Congress Avenue in Austin to the State Capitol. They have stood vigil many times at the Texas Capitol when Texas has executed someone. They have visited the home of Texas Governor Rick Perry and pressed for justice. They lobbied members of the Texas Legislature on Lobby Day Against the Death Penalty March 24, 2009. Carissa Bywater of KADP testified to the Texas House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence Subcommittee on Capital Punishment on March 19. (The video of Carissa's testimony is viewable here, click forward to minute 57 and 50 seconds.) KADP has courageously spoken out on an issue in which relatively few other people in Texas, whether adults or children, have found the time or the courage to speak out about. By doing so, they are following in the footsteps of other children in America’s past who have stood up for human rights".

      "Children and teenagers played a significant role in the Civil Rights Movement. Barbara Johns was 16 in 1951 when she started a campaign for equal treatment at her school in Virginia. Her case became part of the landmark Brown v Board of Education decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that ruled that school segregation violated the Constitution of the United States. In 1963, more than a thousand children skipped their classes and marched in downtown Birmingham for equal schools. Many of them were arrested. Because of those kids’ actions during the civil rights movement, we live in a country today where candidates for president are not judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their platforms", said Cobb.

      "KADP has already inspired kids in other states to join the anti-death penalty movement. Because of KADP's hard work against the death penalty, both Texas and the U.S. have moved closer to the day when we live in a society where the state does not kill in order to teach the lesson that killing is wrong", said Hooman Hedayati. KADP members received commemorative medals and $100 to be used in their anti-death penalty work.

      Also Gislaine Williams of Rice for Peace (Rice University) and Ashley Kincaid (University of Indiana) each received a Certificate of Achievement by Students Against the Death Penalty.

      2009 Youth Abolitionists of the Year:

      Gavin Been – Founder and President of KADP
      Nick Been – 1st Vice President
      Nathan Been -2nd Vice President
      Carissa Bywater – Secretary and Committee Chair
      Paige Wood – Board Member
      Cory Bywater - Board Member
      Deanna Nickell - Board Member
      Tanner Tucker – Board member

      Members of KADP holding their awards for 2009 Youth Abolitionists of the Year.

      Front row, Left to right: Carissa Bywater 14, Gavin Been 12 Back Row, Left to right: Deanna Nickell 13, Nathan Been 14, Nick Been 13, Cory Bywater 11, and Tanner Tucker 12

      Below, members of KADP after receiving their award at the Texas capitol.

      From Lobby Day Against the Death Penalty - March 24, 2009


      March 25, 2009

      Speaking out from Death Row----Lee Wengraf reports on the
      "Live from Death Row" National Speaking Tour

      "IF THIS had been the 1950s, I would be hanging from a tree. I would be speaking to you as a ghost."

      With those words, Yusef Salaam, exonerated and freed from prison in the infamous Central Park jogger case, addressed a crowd of more than 110 people who attended the Harlem stop of a "Live from Death Row" national speaking tour to build opposition to the death penalty.

      Sponsored by the Campaign to End the Death Penalty (CEDP), the tour has made more than a dozen stops across the country, with many more slated for the spring.

      Headlined by death row prisoners speaking over speakerphone, the "Live from Death Row" tour brings their voices from behind prison walls to live audiences, allowing them to relate their stories of injustice, loss and struggle, and add to the growing national chorus for abolition of capital punishment.

      Featured speakers include Pennsylvania death row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, John Booth-El of Maryland, Timothy McKinney of Tennessee, Kevin Cooper of California and Stanley Howard of Illinois.

      It's not too late to catch the "Live from Death Row" tour, or host a stop yourself. For details about dates and locations of upcoming tour stops, visit the Campaign to End the Death Penalty Web site, or contact the national tour organizer at nyc@nodeathpenalty.org.

      Upcoming stops include:

      March 25: Peace Center, Albuquerque, N.M.

      March 31: Harold Washington College, Chicago, with police torture victim Darrel Cannon

      April 1: Rutgers University Law School, Newark, N.J.

      April 9: University of Maryland Law School, Baltimore, Md.

      April 14: Georgia State University, with Martina Correia, sister of Troy Davis

      April 14: San Jose State University, San Jose, Calif., with Kevin Cooper and Veronica Luna, whose uncle is on California's death row.

      April 15: University of Texas-Austin

      April 17: Binghamton University, Binghamton, N.Y.

      April 18: Left Forum Conference, New York City, with Lawrence Hayes

      April 28: Brooklyn College, Brooklyn, N.Y.

      The events to date have brought out large crowds--a sign that the brutality of the death penalty and criminal injustice system is sparking activism. The tour kicked off in September 2008 at the Critical Resistance 10 conference in Oakland, Calif., with Barbara Becnel, longtime collaborator with the late Stanley Tookie Williams, as a featured speaker.

      Later stops included Howard University in Washington, D.C., where Mumia Abu-Jamal spoke to an audience of 200; the CEDP's national convention in Chicago; and the Social Justice Conference in Binghamton, N.Y.

      Highlights from the spring included a stop at the University of California-Berkeley , with Jack Bryson, whose son was brutalized in the police attack that killed Oscar Grant; and one at the Seattle Human Rights Film Festival, where CEDP board member Derrel Myers spoke along with Angola 3 member Robert "King" Wilkerson at a screening of In Prison My Whole Life, a new film about Mumia Abu-Jamal.

      At the Harlem meeting, Salaam was joined by Lawrence Hayes, a former Black Panther and exonerated death row prisoner. Both men described the myriad injustices they experienced at the hands of the police, the courts and the media.

      In February, 70 people turned out at Pace University in New York to hear Hayes and Salaam. "There is no reason to kill," said Lawrence. "No reason for me to kill, no reason for you to kill, and no reason for the state to kill." John Booth-El from Maryland's death row and Stanley Howard, speaking live, gave powerful testimony about the dehumanization of everyday life on death row.

      The following day, Hayes and former Illinois death row prisoner Darby Tillis spoke to a crowd of 200 at Rowan College in Glassboro, N.J. "Death row is a place of horror," Darby told the audience. "It feels like hell, it looks like hell, it is hell." They were joined by Barbara Lewis, whose son Robert is on Delaware's death row.

      On March 10, 60 people turned out at Towson University near Baltimore to hear Barbara Becnel and a call-in from Kenny Collins, a former Maryland death row prisoner now serving life without parole.

      The recent abolition victory in New Mexico shows that momentum is with us to turn the tide against the death penalty for good. It needs to be ended now, and the "Live from Death Row" tour is part of bringing together the forces that can make that a reality.

      (source: Socialiar Worker)


      March 20, 2009

      Death penalty opponents hope book will help end executions

      Religious opponents of the death penalty hope a new book about a Texas death row case by a best-selling author can help their efforts to end the practice of state-sanctioned executions.

      Thomas Cahill's just-published book, A Saint on Death Row, chronicles the life of Dominique Green, who at age 30 was executed by lethal injection in 2004 for his role in a robbery that resulted in one mans death.

      The victim's family asked that Greens life be spared, but he was executed anyway.

      "Dominique Green's was one of the many needless Texas executions," said Cahill, the author of such best-selling books as How the Irish Saved Civilization and The Gifts of the Jews.

      Among those championing the case of Green, who underwent what has been described as a sincere embrace of the principles of nonviolence, was Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

      Tutu, long a proponent of nonviolence and forgiveness, became a hero to Green and visited the young man while Green was on death row.

      At a recent appearance with Cahill at New York's Riverside Church, Tutu upbraided the United States for its continued practice of the death penalty. The South African cleric noted the United States, were it a European country, could not join the European Union because the EU bars membership to nations that condone the death penalty.

      "Why do you do this?" Tutu asked. "What are you doing to yourselves, you wonderful, generous people? You are brutalizing yourselves. ... It is making you an obscene nation."

      David Atwood, founder of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, told the Riverside audience he and other death penalty opponents in Texas, many acting out of religious convictions, realize they are fighting an entrenched "system of death," but remain hopeful that ultimately the death penalty will end in Texas.

      Texas leads the nation in the number of executions. Atwood said 435 have been carried out in the state since 1982. 12 have been carried out this year, with the latest occurring the day Cahill and Tutu spoke at Riverside.

      (source: Religion News Service)


      March 20, 2009

      Russ Feingold Introduces Legislation to Abolish Federal Death Penalty----

      The Federal Death Penalty Abolition Act of 2009 comes just after New Mexico governor Bill Richardson banned capital punishment in his state.

      Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) reintroduced legislation Thursday to abolish the death penalty at the federal level. The "Federal Death Penalty Abolition Act of 2009" comes just after New Mexico governor Bill Richardson's decision to ban capital punishment in his state.

      "I oppose the death penalty because it is inconsistent with basic American principles of justice, liberty and equality," Feingold said in a press release, which notes Richardson's decision and also that capital punishment is illegal in 123 countries around the world. The release says the practice puts the United States in some unseemly company: "In 2007, only China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan executed more people than the United States."

      The full release:

      FEINGOLD REINTRODUCES BILL TO ABOLISH FEDERAL DEATH PENALTY

      Feingold's Longtime Effort Comes as New Mexico Repeals Death Penalty

      Washington, D.C. -- As momentum builds in states to abolish the death penalty, U.S. Senator Russ Feingold reintroduced legislation today to abolish the death penalty at the federal level.

      Feingold's Federal Death Penalty Abolition Act of 2009 would put an immediate halt to federal executions and forbid the use of the death penalty as a sentence for violations of federal law. The use of the death penalty has been questioned by a range of prominent voices across the country, recently repealed in New Mexico and New Jersey, and abolished by 123 countries around the world. Feingold's bill would stop executions on the federal level, which are part of a death penalty system that has proven to be ineffective, wrought with racial disparities, and alarmingly costly.

      "I oppose the death penalty because it is inconsistent with basic American principles of justice, liberty and equality," Feingold said. "Governor Bill Richardson and the New Mexico legislature's action to abolish the death penalty in that state adds to the growing momentum behind ending the death penalty in this country. It is truly unfortunate that we are in a shrinking minority of countries that continue to allow state-sponsored executions."

      Feingold is not alone in his opposition to the death penalty. A range of prominent voices have questioned the system in recent years, including former FBI Director William Sessions, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, law enforcement officials and many others across the political spectrum. In 2007, only China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan executed more people than the United States.

      In 2007, Feingold chaired a Senate Judiciary Committee, Constitution Subcommittee hearing on oversight of the federal death penalty that highlighted the lack of transparency at the Department of Justice in the decision-making process about the death penalty and continuing problems of racial disparities in the federal system. Also in 2007, the American Bar Association called for a nationwide moratorium on capital punishment based on its detailed study of state death penalty systems, which found racial disparities, convictions based on bad evidence, grossly inadequate indigent defense systems, and a host of other problems with the implementation of capital punishment in this country.

      Feingold is not alone in his opposition to the death penalty. A range of prominent voices have questioned the system in recent years, including former FBI Director William Sessions, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, law enforcement officials and many others across the political spectrum. In 2007, only China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan executed more people than the United States.

      In 2007, Feingold chaired a Senate Judiciary Committee, Constitution Subcommittee hearing on oversight of the federal death penalty that highlighted the lack of transparency at the Department of Justice in the decision-making process about the death penalty and continuing problems of racial disparities in the federal system. Also in 2007, the American Bar Association called for a nationwide moratorium on capital punishment based on its detailed study of state death penalty systems, which found racial disparities, convictions based on bad evidence, grossly inadequate indigent defense systems, and a host of other problems with the implementation of capital punishment in this country.

      (source: Huffington Post)


      Mixed Opinions of a Judge Accused of Misconduct

      By GRETEL C. KOVACH
      Published: March 7, 2009

      DALLAS — If Sharon Keller, the presiding judge of Texas’ highest criminal court, has ever doubted her judgment, she has not shown it.


      Elena Grothe/Austin American-Statesman
      Sharon Keller, who was first elected to the
      Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 1994,
      is now its presiding judge.

      In 1998, Judge Keller wrote the opinion rejecting a new trial for Roy Criner, a mentally retarded man convicted of rape and murder, even though DNA tests after his trial showed that it was not his semen in the victim.

      “We can’t give new trials to everyone who establishes, after conviction, that they might be innocent,” she later told the television news program “Frontline.” “We would have no finality in the criminal justice system, and finality is important.”

      Gov. George W. Bush eventually pardoned Mr. Criner.

      To Judge Keller’s detractors, the Criner decision highlighted what they see as her strong and habitual bias for the prosecution. Many Texas defense lawyers describe her as a law-and-order zealot who rejects most appeals out of hand.

      Her defenders argue that she has been fair and impartial, though unabashedly conservative, in her interpretation of the law.

      Now, Judge Keller is again defending her actions, this time in a judicial misconduct case that could end her career.

      Seventeen months ago, lawyers for a man facing execution sought extra time to file a last-minute appeal. Judge Keller refused to delay the closing of her clerk’s office past 5 p.m., even though late filings are common on the day of a scheduled execution. The man, Michael Richard, was put to death by lethal injection a few hours later.

      Based on that case, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct last month charged Judge Keller with incompetence, violating her duties and casting public discredit on the judiciary. Judge Keller, who was first elected chief judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 2000, faces a public trial and could be forced off the bench.

      Her lawyer insists that she did nothing wrong and that she was being blamed for the mistakes of the defendant’s lawyers and court staff.

      Judge Keller, whose current term runs through 2012, rarely grants interviews and did not respond to requests for comment. But others are taking up her cause.

      “Sharon is a hard worker,” said Dan Hagood, a defense lawyer and longtime friend from Dallas who served as her campaign treasurer when she ran for election to the court in 1994.

      “She never complains, never explains.”

      Judge Keller, 55, has always kept her own counsel; her colleagues at the court have given her the nickname Mother Superior because of her reserved and diligent demeanor and her devout Roman Catholic faith.

      Friends say she is witty and well read, an engaging conversationalist in one-on-one encounters over cocktails, but the quietest one at the table at weekly card games with fellow alumni of Rice University.

      What some consider rigid heartlessness in her legal opinions, others admire as calm confidence and the strength of her convictions.

      “She doesn’t have a callous bone in her body,” said Knox Fitzpatrick, a lawyer who works with her on the state’s Task Force on Indigent Defense. “She has the highest standard of ethics; she is the ideal judge. Emotions have nothing to do with it: She follows the law, she looks at the facts and makes a dispassionate opinion.”

      But Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, described Judge Keller as “unhearing.”

      “She’s just totally shut down on capital cases,” Mr. Harrington said. “It’s one thing to take a hard line in terms of punishments and convictions. It’s another to not be receptive to the idea that people are entitled to an appeal, that there may be error in this system.”

      Supporters point out, however, that under Judge Keller’s leadership as chairwoman of the task force, Texas has expanded the number of public defender offices to 15, from 7; increased the number of people represented by about 38 percent; and raised state spending on the program to almost $60 million, from $19 million.

      People also say they admire how Judge Keller has raised her son as a single mother and how close she is with her extended family, which financed the bulk of her campaign to join the court.

      Judge Keller had graduated from Rice with a degree in philosophy when her father, the founder of a Dallas chain of hamburger and beer drive-ins, encouraged her to study law, which she did at Southern Methodist University.

      After a brief stint as a defense lawyer, she joined the Dallas district attorney’s office in 1987 and became a star of the appellate division.

      In 1994, she campaigned for an opening on the Court of Criminal Appeals, describing herself as “pro-prosecution.” She was elected along with a number of conservative Republican female justices, the same year that Mr. Bush ousted Ann Richards as governor.

      Within a few years, the nine-member Court of Criminal Appeals had flipped from being all Democrats to all Republicans. And the rate of reversal of death penalty cases plummeted.

      “I think she epitomizes what a judge should be: a fair and impartial umpire,” said Mr. Hagood, the Dallas defense lawyer.

      But Charlie Baird, a Democrat who was voted off the Court of Criminal Appeals in 1998, said bitterly that Judge Keller remained true to her campaign promises.

      “It was always one-sided to her, and her side was the state always wins,” Mr. Baird said.

      “She was always advancing a purely political agenda on behalf of far-right Republicans.”

      Now Judge Keller is being forced to explain her actions of Sept. 25, 2007, the day Mr. Richard was executed.

      According to the judicial conduct commission’s notice of formal proceedings, Mr. Richard, who had confessed to the rape and fatal shooting of a nurse in 1986, was scheduled to be executed at 6 p.m. Earlier that day, his lawyers were busy drafting filings based on his mental capacity when the United States Supreme Court announced that it would hear arguments considering the constitutionality of lethal injections.

      Mr. Richard’s lawyers switched tactics to take advantage of the development.

      As 5 p.m. approached, lawyers with the nonprofit Texas Defender Service were having computer problems. They called the court and asked for a few extra minutes to file.

      Judge Keller had gone home early that afternoon to meet a repairman, and the court counsel, Edward Marty, reached her by telephone to ask if they could keep the clerk’s office open.

      A week later, in an interview with The Austin American-Statesman, Judge Keller offered her account of what had happened.

      “I got a phone call shortly before 5 and was told the defendant had asked us to stay open,” she said. “They did not tell us they had computer failure. And given the late request, and with no reason given, I just said, ‘We close at 5.’ I didn’t really think of it as a decision so much as a statement.”

      Another judge was waiting at the court for after-hours pleadings in the case but was never notified of the communications from the defense, as required by court policy, the commission concluded. Mr. Richard was executed at 8:20 p.m.

      Judge Keller’s lawyer, Charles L. Babcock, said that many people shared in a failure of communication that day and that her role was minor.

      “Hindsight being 20/20, I think Judge Keller is certainly sorry that the system broke down,” Mr. Babcock said. “As far as her overt actions, I don’t think she feels she did anything wrong. Nor do I.”

      Mixed Opinions of a Judge Accused of Misconduct


      March 4, 2009

      Lots of death penalty talk in state legislatures ... while Texas keeps up record execution pace

      I am having a hard time keeping up with all the death penalty reform legislation making its way through statehouses these days, but here are headlines that seem to capture some of the latest highlights:

      From the Baltimore Sun here, "Senate endorses 'compromise' on death penalty repeal"
      From the Hartford Courant here, "Lawmakers revisit death penalty"
      From the Kansas City Star here, "Kansas death penalty bill on hold"
      From the Reno Gazette Journal here, "Bill puts death penalty on hold"

      It is not clear that all of this legislative activity will likely change the basic realities of death penalty administration in the United States because few of the states talking seriously about reform have a robust capital case docket or death row. Still, the fact that so many legislators in so many states now feel comfortable talking about reform or repeal serves as another sign of the changing capital times.

      Meanwhile, as this AP article details, Texas is about to execute another inmate tonight:

      The convicted killer of a Houston man gunned down during a botched burglary was headed to the Texas death chamber Wednesday evening. Kenneth Wayne Morris, whose 38th birthday was Wednesday, was condemned for the 1991 fatal shooting of James Adams, 63....

      Morris would be the 10th condemned murderer executed in Texas this year and the second in as many nights to receive lethal injection in the nation's most active death penalty state.... Two more executions are set for next week in Texas.

      Texas is on a record pace to break its own modern record for the number of executions in one state in one year.

      Texas keeps up record execution pace


      Death penalty change sought

      Feb. 27, 2009

      State Rep. Harold Dutton Jr., D-Houston, is calling on the Legislature to abolish the so-called "law of parties," which allows prosecutors to seek the death penalty against defendants who play sometimes minor roles in capital murder cases.

      The unique statute holds that each participant in a capital crime can be held equally responsible.

      In any other state, the person who actually killed another person might be eligible for execution, but the driver or other participants might not be.

      Dutton's House Bill 304 would prohibit the application of the death penalty unless the defendant had direct involvement in the killing. Dutton said at least 12 people have been executed in Texas under the "law of parties."

      (source: Austin American-Statesman)


      02/27/09

      High costs figure into death penalty debate, but Texas holds firm

      Death penalty opponents across the country are using the plight of strained state budgets as an added reason to abolish the final sanction.

      The argument appears to be gaining traction in some states but not in Texas, the nation's leading death penalty state.

      "I don't think it's driving the effort in Texas the same way we're witnessing in other states," said Kristin Houl, executive director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

      Legislators in eight states are considering abolition bills, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, and the issue of money has been raised in all of those discussions.

      The cost of the death penalty includes not just the cost of high-security incarceration and the execution itself, but years of appeals. The issue of expense has been raised before but "resonates a lot more" because of the fiscal crisis, Dieter said.

      But "that doesn't mean it's the only issue people are considering."

      State Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, co-author of an abolition bill, said the cost issue is not his primary concern. "We're doing this on moral grounds," he said.

      But he believes capital punishment is "not worth what it costs. Our money could be better spent in the correctional system."

      He doesn't expect the cost issue to change many minds because, he said, state policymakers are more interested in vengeance.

      "It disappoints me that the very people that will talk about, 'We need to be rational and look at the cost-benefit analysis of everything we want to do,' are pandering to an emotion," he said. "And it's a bad emotion."

      Dieter said numerous studies show "the bottom line is, it's costly," but death penalty advocates are not convinced. They say such studies don't take into account the deterrence effect of the death penalty or the money saved through plea agreements spurred by fear of the death penalty.

      And even if capital punishment is more costly, expense "should not be the primary factor," said Dudley Sharp, who monitors death penalty legislation. "It's like saying, 'Incarceration costs more than probation, so we should get rid of incarceration and only probate people.' It's ridiculous."

      The primary reasons to retain the death penalty have nothing to do with cost, he said. "First is, it's just and deserved, and the 2nd is that it helps protect us. And so those 2 things take precedent over cost savings."

      (source: Dallas Morning News)


      02/27/09

      Condemned Inmate: Prison Officials Won't Let Guards Speak Out

      Willie Pondexter has spent nearly 15 years on death row. Now some of the people charged with guarding him would like to help save his life, if they can get the chance.

      Pondexter is scheduled for execution on Tuesday, 2 days before his 35th birthday. His attorneys have filed a last-minute civil rights lawsuit on his behalf, arguing that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the Polk County Sheriffs Office (death row is in Polk County) have intimidated prison guards to keep them from speaking publicly on Pondexter's behalf.

      The intimidation allegedly includes a bizarre incident in January in which the Polk County Sheriff's Department detained two legal interns working on Pondexters behalf for several hours after they had tried to interview a prison guard.

      Pondexter's attorneys are seeking a stay of execution for 120 days. They want more time to collect testimonials from prison guards at death row in Livingston about Pondexter's reformation in hopes to winning clemency and commuting his sentence to life in prison. A federal district judge turned down the lawsuit, and earlier today, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the case without comment. His legal team will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

      "The Polk County sheriff's department and TDCJ officials ensure that corrections officers are not going to cooperate with lawyers of death row inmates," said David Dow of the Houston-based Texas Defender Service, which represents Pondexter and filed the civil rights suit on his behalf.

      "They've created an environment of intimidation."

      Pondexter was sentenced to death for taking part in the 1993 killing of 85-year-old Martha Lennox in the northeast Texas town of Clarksville.

      Pondexter, then 19, and James Lee Henderson broke into Lennoxs home, shot her in the head and made off with $18, according to state records.

      Pondexter's guilt is not in doubt. In their case for clemency, his attorneys have contended that Pondexter has changed in his years in prison from a violent young gang member into a peaceful, responsible adult. Many condemned prisoners have made this argument. What makes Pondexter different is that prison guards on death row are vouching for him.

      Pondexter has endured almost half his life on death row. The correctional officers in the Polunsky Unit are the people who perhaps know him best. At least half a dozen of them told Pondexter they didnt want to see him executed and that they would speak up on his behalf.

      Last fall, after Pondexters execution date had been set, Dow and his legal team set out to talk with correctional officers who knew Pondexter. Hardly any were willing to talk for fear of retaliation. "Those prison guards that we have reason to believe would give affidavits that Pondexter is not dangerous, that hes fully rehabilitated, that theres no reason to execute him--they have been prevented from talking to us and we have been prevented from interviewing them," Dow says.

      Lloyd Coker, the only corrections officer who did speak with the legal team, told Kate Black, an attorney with the Texas Defender Service, that "Willie Pondexter has never posed any threat within the prison, even when given the opportunity, " according to an affidavit Black filed with the federal lawsuit. "I have seen some guys on death row who are extremely dangerous, and some of them I believe ought to be executed. Willie Pondexter isn't one of those people..he could safely live out his days in a structured environment. In fact, if Willie Pondexter were out here in the free world, I would be willing to give him a job working on my property."

      Although Coker spoke with Pondexter's attorneys, he told them he was too scared to sign any documents advocating for clemency for fear he would incur retaliation. "If people are not talking, it is probably because they are scared to lose their jobs or scared of being written up," Coker told Black, according to her affidavit. "And I likely wouldn't talk to you about another inmate either. But Willie Pondexter is one of the few inmates I'd be willing to speak up for. ... I would really hate to see him go."

      Michelle Lyons, a TDCJ spokesperson, told the Observer that the department has no policy forbidding correctional officers from speaking with attorneys or filing affidavits. "I cant imagine what the disciplinary action would be," she said. TDCJ does forbid guards from forming personal relationships or friendships with inmates because it can compromise security. "That being said, an affidavit saying an inmate hasn't had disciplinary problems would be allowed," Lyons said.

      Dow believes that TDCJ doesn't want its guards urging clemency for death row inmates. "It's pretty clear that there is an unwritten policy," he said. "We have people who have told us as much that guards are discouraged, if not forbidden from cooperating with lawyers like us, that other guards who have cooperated have been retaliated against."

      Ron McAndrewa prison consultant and former longtime warden and correctional officer in Florida who has filed a letter with the Board of Pardons and Parole supporting Pondexter's clemencysaid the code of silence among prison guards is well known. "They're very, very afraid to speak," said McAndrew, who in 1998 spent time studying the Texas system while overseeing Florida's switch to lethal injection from the electric chair. "It's not about being written up, it's retaliation in general." He said guards would risk being passed over for promotions, losing their jobs or incurring stiffer punishment for minor infractions.

      On Jan. 17, 2 Harvard Law School students, who were interning with Texas defender Service, were detained in East Texas by the Polk County deputies for several hours. The reason for their detention wasn't clear, but the law students had been trying to interview prison guards about Pondexter.

      Dow suspects one of the guards called the Polunsky Unit, which called the sheriffs department. When the students were pulled over, Deputy Terry White radioed in that he had found "the suspects," said one of the students, Ariel Rothstein, when reached by phone in Boston.

      No charges were filed, though the students were issued a warning for "criminal trespass." When they were finally released, deputies told the students they would likely be arrested if they tried to visit prison guards, and to contact the sheriff's office the next time they returned to Polk County. "It became pretty clear after they threatened us twice not to go back to the property that it was definitely a warning," Rothstein said. "It was a very strong warning never to go back or else."

      "I've never heard of anything remotely like this," said Dow, who's worked on numerous death penalty cases in Polk County. "We've never trained anyone on how to deal with being detained by law enforcement officers for legal conduct."

      Chief Deputy Byron Lyons with the Polk County Sheriffs Department said the department couldnt comment on the incident because of the pending lawsuit.

      Meanwhile, Dow hopes the Supreme Court will grant Pondexter a stay.

      Without testimony from the guards, he says, Pondexter can't make a strong case for clemency, which violates his due process rights.

      "[TDCJ] understand[s] that it puts pressure on the Board of Pardons and Paroles as well as the governor's office when you have guards who are saying that somebody who's been on death row for 15 years is not dangerous. If the reason that we as a state decided to execute this guy is because he's dangerous, then we've made a mistake. I don't think TDCJ wants their guards participating in that conversation."

      (source: The Texas Observer)


      Texas Legislature
      Bills By Subject
      General Subject Index: Crimes--Capital Punishment
      81st Legislature Regular Session
      Report Date: 2/25/2009

      Number of Bills: 24
      HB 111 Author: Pena
      Last Action: 02/12/2009 H Referred to Criminal Jurisprudence Caption: Relating to the joint or separate prosecution of a capital felony charged against two or more defendants.

      HB 297 Author: Dutton
      Last Action: 02/17/2009 H Referred to Criminal Jurisprudence
      Caption: Relating to the abolition of the death penalty.

      HB 298 Author: Dutton
      Last Action: 02/17/2009 H Referred to Criminal Jurisprudence
      Caption: Relating to the admissibility of certain evidence in capital cases in which the state seeks the death penalty.

      HB 304 Author: Dutton
      Last Action: 02/17/2009 H Referred to Criminal Jurisprudence
      Caption: Relating to the extent of a defendant's criminal responsibility for the conduct of a co-conspirator in certain felony cases.

      HB 682 Author: Farrar
      Last Action: 02/18/2009 H Referred to Criminal Jurisprudence
      Caption: Relating to abolishing the death penalty.

      HB 788 Author: Thompson | Burnam
      Last Action: 02/19/2009 H Referred to Criminal Jurisprudence
      Caption: Relating to the creation of a commission to investigate and prevent wrongful convictions.

      HB 825 Author: Hochberg
      Last Action: 02/23/2009 H Referred to Criminal Jurisprudence
      Caption: Relating to prohibiting deferred adjudication community supervision for a defendant convicted of murder.

      HB 877 Author: Naishtat
      Last Action: 02/23/2009 H Referred to Criminal Jurisprudence
      Caption: Relating to the creation of a commission to study capital punishment in Texas.

      HB 913 Author: Dutton
      Last Action: 02/23/2009 H Referred to Criminal Jurisprudence
      Caption: Relating to the creation of a commission to study capital punishment in Texas and to a moratorium on executions.

      HB 916 Author: Dutton
      Last Action: 02/23/2009 H Referred to Criminal Jurisprudence
      Caption: Relating to standards for judicial review of certain writs of habeas corpus in capital cases.

      HB 921 Author: Dutton
      Last Action: 02/23/2009 H Referred to Criminal Jurisprudence
      Caption: Relating to jury selection in capital cases.

      HB 938 Author: Dutton
      Last Action: 02/23/2009 H Referred to Criminal Jurisprudence
      Caption: Relating to the admissibility of certain confessions in capital cases.

      HB 1148 Author: Thompson
      Last Action: 02/09/2009 H Filed
      Caption: Relating to the authority of the governor to grant one or more reprieves in a capital case.

      HB 1152 Author: Thompson
      Last Action: 02/09/2009 H Filed
      Caption: Relating to the applicability of the death penalty to a capital offense committed by a person with mental retardation.

      HJR 24 Author: Naishtat
      Last Action: 11/10/2008 H Filed
      Caption: Proposing a constitutional amendment relating to a moratorium on the execution of persons convicted of capital offenses.

      HJR 58 Author: Thompson
      Last Action: 02/09/2009 H Filed
      Caption: Proposing a constitutional amendment authorizing the governor to grant one or more reprieves in a capital case.

      HR 480 Author: Burnam
      Last Action: 02/23/2009 H Referred to Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence
      Caption: Creating a Special Committee on Impeachment to consider the impeachment of Judge Sharon Keller of the Court of Criminal Appeals for gross neglect of duty and conducting her official duties with willful disregard for human life.

      SB 115 Author: Ellis
      Last Action: 02/10/2009 S Referred to Criminal Justice
      Caption: Relating to the creation of a commission to investigate and prevent wrongful convictions.

      SB 165 Author: Ellis
      Last Action: 02/10/2009 S Referred to Criminal Justice
      Caption: Relating to an annual report and analysis by the Office of Court Administration regarding cases involving the trial of a capital offense.

      SB 167 Author: Ellis
      Last Action: 02/10/2009 S Referred to Criminal Justice
      Caption: Relating to the applicability of the death penalty to a capital offense committed by a person with mental retardation.

      SB 169 Author: Ellis
      Last Action: 02/10/2009 S Referred to Criminal Justice
      Caption: Relating to the authority of the governor to grant one or more reprieves in a capital case.

      SB 426 Author: Shapleigh
      Last Action: 02/17/2009 S Referred to Criminal Justice
      Caption: Relating to the electronic filing of documents for capital cases in the court of criminal appeals.

      SB 839 Author: Hinojosa
      Last Action: 02/13/2009 S Filed
      Caption: Relating to the punishment for a capital felony committed by a juvenile whose case is transferred to criminal court.

      SJR 7 Author: Ellis
      Last Action: 11/10/2008 S Filed
      Caption: Proposing a constitutional amendment authorizing the governor to grant one or more reprieves in a capital case.


      Feb. 24, 2009

      Death penalty opponents speak out in favor of bill

      Proponents for ending the death penalty in Texas spoke out Tuesday in support of a bill that would limit the reach of the punishment. State Representative Harold Dutton of Northeast Houston wants to limit who can be sentenced to die for a crime. His concern centers around the Texas Law of Parties which allows the courts to sentence someone to the death penalty even when they don't kill another person or intend to kill another person.

      Dutton says under this rule at least 12 people -- possibly as many as 20 -- have been executed.

      "Somewhere in the 80's we had a person who was given the death penalty who didn't kill the person and had no intention to kill but they were on death row. The person who actually did the killing had actually been released from prison. That is absolutely unacceptable, " Dutton said.

      Several family members spoke out in favor of the bill, including the family of Kenneth Foster who was set to die for a shooting death committed by another man. He was within days of being executed when a judge decided he shouldn't be put to death.

      People in favor of the Law of Parties argue criminals that don't kill can be just as responsible for not stopping a death.

      Dutton's bill is currently in committee. It is unclear if there is enough support for it to pass.

      (source: KVUE News)


      Feb. 23, 2009

      Death row inmate's lawyers claim client being harassed

      The Texas Defender Service is launching an unusual effort on behalf of Willie Pondexter, who was convicted of killing Martha Lennox, 85, in Clarksville in 1993.

      Pondexter is slated to die next week and TDS is claiming correctional officers on death row are being intimidated into not talking about whether Pondexter has changed for the better in the last 15 years and deserves clemency.

      Court documents also claim 2 Harvard law students who attempted to interview officers were detained by the sheriff in Polk County, (home to death row), and warned not to come back.

      Perhaps one of the oddest claims in the mountain of paper work is that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is harassing Pondexter by searching his cell and "knowing Mr. Pondexter to be especially concerned about hygiene, removed his sheets, wiped them across the floor and walls and replaced them on his bed, a practice they had never engaged in during Mr. Pondexter's 14 years of residence on death row."

      (source: Dallas Morning News)


      Death House Warden Suspended For Argument After Execution

      By Stephen Dean
      POSTED: January 30, 2009

      HUNTSVILLE, Texas -- The senior warden who oversees all executions in the nation's busiest death house has been suspended for his comments following an execution, Local 2 Investigates reported Friday.

      Senior Warden C. Thomas O'Reilly, leader of the Huntsville Unit prison, will serve a two-day suspension without pay next week. After that, he will be on probation for three months.

      O'Reilly is being punished for using profanity during an argument with other Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials, including his superiors, after they had all gathered for the execution of Reginald Perkins. Perkins was condemned for the 2000 strangulation of his Fort Worth mother-in-law. He was pronounced dead at 6:24 p.m. on Jan. 22.

      TDCJ spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said the argument happened six minutes after Perkins was pronounced dead, after the officials had left the death house in the Huntsville Unit.

      One person who was involved in the argument told Local 2 Investigates that the argument had nothing to do with the execution, but he declined to characterize what sparked the harsh words.

      The Huntsville Unit was formerly named the Walls Unit, since it is surrounded by huge brick walls in downtown Huntsville. Prior to their execution, condemned inmates are housed on Texas Death Row, which is miles away in Livingston.

      O'Reilly is responsible for giving the final order to administer lethal drugs as inmates are strapped to the gurney. The inmate is given the chance to issue a final statement and a prison official of lower rank then advises the warden inside the execution chamber. The final words that most inmates hear are, "Warden, you may proceed."

      Death House Warden Suspended For Argument After Execution


      EDITORIAL

      U.S. Court stops execution that Texas courts wouldn't

      Experts believe condemned man Swearingen could not have committed the murder.

      January 27, 2009

      Once again, a federal court has had to intervene to prevent Texas from executing a death row inmate whose conviction is in doubt.

      The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday issued a reprieve to Larry Swearingen, whose execution by lethal injection was scheduled for today.

      And once again, Texas courts and officials did nothing to prevent a possible miscarriage of ultimate justice.

      The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals had denied Swearingen's petition to hear new information from pathologists who reviewed the case.

      Nor did Gov. Rick Perry issue a reprieve.

      And Texas Attorney General Abbott opposed Swearingen's appeal to the 5th Circuit, which ruled that Swearingen's petition could be heard by a federal district court.

      Expert scientific analysis strongly indicates Swearingen might not have committed the 1998 murder of college student Melissa Trotter, 19.

      Based on a report by four pathologists, Swearingen's attorney appealed to the state criminal appeals court, the governor's office, the federal appeals court and the U.S. Supreme Court asking for a stay of execution to review the information.

      One of those pathologists with a new interpretation of the case is former Harris County Chief Medical Examiner Joye Carter, who performed the autopsy on the victim. Carter says her original estimate of the time of death was wrong, as do several other professionals.

      This case is about timing.

      Trotter was last seen leaving the Montgomery County Community College campus in Conroe with Swearingen on Dec. 8, 1998. Her body was found in Sam Houston National Forest near Conroe on Jan. 2, 1999. She had been strangled, and a portion of her panty hose was found around her neck.

      Swearingen was a good bet for the crime. He was twice accused of rape and had been seen with Trotter the day she disappeared. There was other circumstantial evidence implicating Swearingen, too. But if he had killed Trotter and left her in the national forest on Dec. 8 or soon after, the body would have been badly decomposed.

      Instead it was quite well preserved.

      Pathologists, including Carter, say the body could not have been in the forest more than 14 days and likely was there as few as four days before it was discovered.

      If true, that means Swearingen could not have killed Trotter and left her body in the woods because he had been in jail since Dec. 11 on outstanding traffic warrants.

      The science behind the claim that Trotter's body had not been in the forest for more than two weeks is strong. It is based on proven rates of organ decomposition, on insect infestation and other well-tested factors that pathologists use to determine times of death.

      This expert analysis presented a strong argument to delay Swearingen's execution until the information can be evaluated. Had the jury heard these scientific facts during Swearingen's trial, it might have rendered a verdict of not guilty.

      Despite that, neither the state appeals court, the attorney general nor the governor did anything to prevent the execution of a possibly innocent man.

      The lack of interest in fairness and justice by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in capital cases continues to baffle, frustrate and infuriate.

      U.S. Court stops execution


      01/26/09

      The Death Penalty: Executing the Innocent

      The U.S Supreme Court has held that it does not violate the U.S. Constitution to execute the innocent, so long as the condemned received a "fair trial."


      Read full story Here:


      College student killer get reprieve

      By MICHAEL GRACZYK
      Associated Press Writer © 2009 The Associated Press
      Jan. 26, 2009

      HUNTSVILLE, Texas — A federal appeals court has stopped this week's scheduled execution of a man condemned for abducting, raping and strangling a 19-year-old suburban Houston woman 10 years ago.

      Larry Swearingen, 37, faced lethal injection Tuesday evening for the death of Melissa Trotter, whose body was found Jan. 2, 1999, in the Sam Houston National Forest south of Huntsville. The discovery came 25 days after she was last seen leaving the library at Montgomery College near Conroe.

      The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued the reprieve Monday after Swearingen's attorneys raised questions about the timing of Trotter's death. Swearingen insisted he couldn't have killed Trotter because he was in jail for outstanding traffic warrants when newly evaluated forensic evidence indicates the woman's body was dumped in the woods not far from his home.

      College student killer get reprieve


      01/26/09

      Man Wrongfully Executed

      Today we also make broader reference yet again to that vexed matter, capital punishment.

      As we proceed, note well that certain new information we have concerns a celebrated case; that of Jose Ernesto Medellin Rojas.

      This man was killed by state authorities in Texas.

      Now we also know that in its unanimous ruling this Monday past, the ICJ, also known as the World Court, found "that the United States of America has breached the obligation incumbent upon it under the Order indicating provisional measures of 16 July 2008, in the case of Mr. Jose Ernesto Medellin Rojas."

      Now we note that, following the 2004 order by the World Court that new hearings be held for the 51 Mexicans on death row who claimed their consular rights had been violated, the Bush administration ordered Texas and the other states with such prisoners to comply with the order.

      We can also indicate that while serving the appearance of abiding by the ICJ ruling, the practical effect of Bush's order was to delay any ruling by the US Supreme Court on the issue and stall precedent being set on consular rights.

      In March 2005, the Bush administration then withdrew from the optional protocol to the VCCR. This meant that while remaining a signer to the Convention, the US would refuse to submit to international law to enforce it.

      Clearly, this stratagem signaled the Bush's administration intent to flout the 2004 order, which found its ultimate expression in the execution of Jose Medellin without determining whether the denial of his consular rights had impaired his defense.

      This was wrong as wrong can be.

      Today our hope is that Barack Obama's regime will be one that respects and honors international treaties and relevant laws.

      Evidently, our commentary this time around has to do with that Mexican man who was executed by state authorities in Texas; this despite the fact that an appeal had been lodged with the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

      In this regard, it is to be noted that the Court in question has ruled that the United States breached the court's order and violated an international treaty when a Mexican national was executed last year in Texas.

      Evidently, both federal and state governments in the United States thought it expedient to flout and disregard relevant international laws.

      Complicit in this we find the United States Supreme Court.

      As egregious is the fact that what is here illuminated happens to be official American flouting of an international convention governing foreign consular relations and the death penalty.

      As we now know, Jos Medelln, who has been on death row for 14 years, was barely 18 years old at the time of the crime (two co-defendants who were 17 subsequently had their death sentences commuted after the US Supreme Court outlawed the death penalty for under-18-year- olds in 2005).

      Crucially, we note that he was never advised by Texas authorities of his right as a detained foreign national to seek consular assistance, as required under article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR).

      We are also convinced that because of this treaty violation, Jos Medelln was deprived of the extensive assistance that Mexico provides for the defense of its citizens facing capital charges in the USA.

      Evidently, we reference and comment on this one truly sorrowful case of but one Mexican man; this one wrongfully executed by the state of Texas.

      There is also an argument to the effect that the United States Supreme Court by way of crucial omission may have also been complicit in this act of death-dealing.

      Indeed, the Mexican Consulate did not learn about the case until nearly 4 years after Jos Medellns arrest, by which time his trial and the initial appeal affirming his conviction and death sentence had already been concluded.

      And for sure, it is also quite interesting to note that, "Medellin was executed less than three week's after the ICJ ordered the US to stay the imminent executions of five Mexicans on death row in Texas.

      In that ruling, the World Court ordered that the US should "take all measures necessary to ensure [they] are not executed pending judgment ... unless and until these five Mexican nationals receive review and reconsideration [of their sentences].

      As we have been advised, the issue in these cases was US violation of Article 36 of the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR), which mandates that local authorities inform all detained foreigners "without delay" of their right to have their consulate notified of their detention. Washington ratified the VCCR in 1969, along with an optional protocol giving the ICJ jurisdiction over the convention.

      Crucially, note that the United States did in the matter involving Jos Medelln find a way of killing him; albeit without legal sanction.

      This they did by finding a way of wiggling out of what seemed its iron-clad responsibility to uphold and obey relevant international law.

      (source: The Bahama Journal)


      01/26/09

      Lethal Injection in Texas: A Three-fer Week Scheduled

      On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of next week Texas plans 3 lethal injections in a row. And in each case, there are troubling questions.

      On Tuesday, Larry Swearingen is scheduled to be executed for a crime that probably took place while he was in jail. Scott Henson reviews the facts at Grits for Breakfast.

      * * * On Wednesday, Virgil Martinez is scheduled to be killed for shooting to death an ex-girlfriend, her friend, and two children. An awful crime. But Martinez was arrested at a mental hospital where he had admitted himself for hearing voices ordering him to kill, and jurors were never told that he suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE). The Brazosport Facts published a good overview of the Martinez case in 2006.

      According to federal court records accessed by the Texas Civil Rights Review, a magistrate judge concluded in 2005, and a federal district judge agreed in 2006, that the trial attorney for Martinez could have made better use of medical evidence about TLE and "post-seizure aggression."

      The federal documents further indicate that Martinez did exhibit "bizarre and at times violent behavior" during his time at a mental hospital.

      But in 2007 a federal appeals panel argued that the trial attorney for Martinez was justified in not telling jurors that the defendant had a condition that could cause "savage and uncontrolled" aggressiveness. Such information, along with other facts about his history of aggression and jealousy, might persuade the jury that a death penalty would be most appropriate.

      The appeals panel agreed with the magistrate and district judge that the lawyer did not understand the difference between violence during a seizure and "post-seizure" aggression. But, giving strict attention to the question that was put to them, the appeals panel refused to label this failure as a mark of attorney incompetence.

      So it may still be the case that "post-seizure" aggression is a medical condition that affects Martinez, and which affected him at the time of the four killings. Setting aside the question about whether his lawyer was competent in selecting a defense strategy under the circumstances of the trial, the appeals record has produced a fact that is significant.

      Perhaps we can still expect a stay in this case.


      01/26/09

      Inmate will die for lethally injecting a cellmate with a triple dose of heroin

      On Thursday, Ricardo Ortiz is scheduled to be killed by lethal injection because he was convicted of lethally injecting a cellmate with a triple dose of heroin.

      The official account posted by Texas prison authorities says that Ortiz and two other cellmates cooked up three doses of heroin in an El Paso cell and that Ortiz injected all three doses into the victim who died of an overdose.

      The Texas Attorney General adds that Ortiz committed the crime in order to prevent his cellmate "from testifying against him" about some bank robberies.

      So here is what Texas officials tell us: they held a prisoner in an El Paso cell with someone who could testify against him. They allowed 3 doses of heroin into the cell, didn't smell it while it was cooking, and didn't notice a thing until the next cell count revealed a dead prisoner.

      Are Texas authorities so into lethal injections that they'd set up the ideal conditions for one and then use their own malpractice as a foundation to practice another?

      (source: Axis of Logic)


      CRIME & PUNISHMENT

      Four pathologists back death row inmate's innocence claim

      Swearingen, slated to die Tuesday in college student's 1998 murder, was in jail at time, 4 now say.

      By Chuck Lindell
      AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
      January 24, 2009

      Four forensic pathologists agree that Larry Swearingen, set to be executed Tuesday, could not have committed the 1998 murder that sent him to death row.

      The four include the medical examiner whose testimony helped secure Swearingen's guilty verdict. That medical examiner now says college student Melissa Trotter's curiously preserved body could not have lain in the East Texas woods for more than 14 days — and probably was there for a much shorter time.

      The results mean Swearingen was in jail when the 19-year-old' s body was left behind, the pathologists say.

      "It's just scientifically impossible for him to have killed the girl and thrown her into the woods," said James Rytting, Swearingen's appellate lawyer. "It's guilt by imagination."

      Prosecutors disagree, saying compelling evidence ties Swearingen to the crime, including a match between the panty hose leg found around Trotter's neck and the stocking remnant found in a trash dump next to Swearingen's mobile home. Also, hair and fibers show Trotter had been in Swearingen's truck and mobile home in Willis, about 40 miles north of Houston.

      But in court briefs seeking to keep Swearingen's execution on track, prosecutors do not attack the conclusions by the four pathologists beyond labeling them "opinion evidence based on experts' second-hand review of others' work and photographs."

      One of those pathologists, however, did Trotter's autopsy.

      In her original report, Dr. Joye Carter determined that Trotter's strangled body had lain in the Sam Houston National Forest outside Conroe for 25 days — coinciding exactly with the date of Trotter's disappearance from Montgomery County Community College, Dec. 8, 1998.

      Witnesses said Trotter left the campus library that day with Swearingen, whom she met two days earlier.

      The timing was important because Swearingen had been in jail since Dec. 11 on outstanding traffic warrants.

      But faced with conclusions from other pathologists that her 25-day time of death defied scientific analysis and common sense, Carter recanted her findings in a 2007 affidavit. "Ms. Trotter's body was left in the woods within two weeks of the date of discovery" on Jan. 2, 1999, she wrote.

      Reassessment of Trotter's autopsy began late in Swearingen's appeals process when a defense pathologist noticed that Carter found an intact spleen and pancreas.

      Both organs liquefy quickly after death, prompting a more thorough review:

      • Five recently discovered slides of heart, lung and nerve tissue from Trotter's autopsy revealed intact nuclei and red blood cells, said Dr. Lloyd White, Tarrant County deputy medical examiner.

      Red blood cells break down within hours, and nuclei in heart cells break down within days, White said.

      Also, levels of bacteria indicated the body had not been frozen or preserved, he said.

      White's conclusion: Trotter had been dead for two or three days before her discovery.

      • Trotter's mucosa — fragile tissue in the stomach and intestines that quickly disintegrates after death — was intact, noted Dr. Glenn Larkin, a North Carolina pathologist.

      The condition of the mucosa indicates with "medical certainty" that Trotter had been in the forest for less than 10 days and more likely three or four days, Larkin concluded.

      • Trotter weighed 109 pounds at a doctor's visit shortly before she disappeared, but her body weighed 105 pounds, a 4 percent decline. Larkin concluded that a body will lose up to 90 percent of its weight in less than 25 days under temperatures endured by Trotter's body: average highs of 62 and lows of around 40.

      • Unlike a body left outside for 25 days, Trotter's showed no sign of bloating or perforated intestines. Her clothes were unsoiled and slipped easily from her body during the autopsy. There was limited scavenging by animals in a forest inhabited by feral pigs, vultures and raccoons.

      "The following forensic conclusion is therefore not reasonably debatable amongst competent forensic pathologists: Without question, Mr. Swearingen was not the person who left Ms. Trotter's body in the Sam Houston National Forest," Larkin said in an affidavit.

      Thus far, only the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has seen the opinions from the four forensic pathologists.

      The state's highest criminal court, however, did not rule or comment on the information. Instead, the court dismissed Swearingen's petition for violating state laws that limit death row inmates to one petition for a writ of habeas corpus unless lawyers uncover information that was not available when the first appeal was filed.

      The appeals court has yet to rule on a stay of execution motion that repeats the forensic conclusions.

      The opinions from the forensic pathologists also were included in a plea to Gov. Rick Perry to issue a 30-day execution reprieve.

      Swearingen also has two federal petitions pending based on the forensic information. He is asking the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for permission to bring the findings to a U.S. District Court for review, and he is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.

      Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has opposed both requests, saying Swearingen has not met federal requirements to pursue an innocence claim and is, in fact, not innocent.

      Swearingen has presented no new DNA or indisputable evidence undermining his conviction, only expert opinion that could be challenged under cross-examination if presented at trial, Abbott said in briefs.

      In addition, Abbott said, the prosecution' s case against Swearingen was convincing: He was the last person seen with Trotter, whose autopsied stomach contained potatoes, which she ate for lunch the day she disappeared. The panty hose link Swearingen to the crime, and Swearingen wrote a letter from jail — in Spanish to divert police attention to another man — that presented a plausible narrative for the killing.

      Swearingen's lawyer, joined by the Innocence Project in New York, says he believes he has met the legal definition for an innocence claim: that it is unlikely a reasonable juror would convict him in light of the new evidence.

      "Someone else had that girl's body, dead or alive, and threw her in the forest. And that someone wasn't Larry," Rytting said.

      Swearingen would be the fourth Texan executed this year.

      clindell@statesman.com; 912-2569

      Find this article at:
      Four pathologists back death row inmate's innocence claim


      Jan. 14, 2009

      Nation's 1st execution of 2009 Wednesday in Texas

      Even a defense lawyer for convicted murderer Curtis Moore acknowledged the horrific nature of the 3 slayings that convinced a jury to send Moore to death row.

      "Facts-wise, it was difficult because of the nature of how the killings happened and the fact the bodies were burned," George Gallagher recalled. "You have an uphill battle."

      Moore, 40, was set for lethal injection Wednesday evening. His execution, the 1st of the year in the United States, would be the 1st of 6 scheduled for this month in Texas, the nation's most active death penalty state.

      Moore's appeals in the courts were exhausted. On Monday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected a clemency request that cited his possible mental retardation as reason to spare him.

      Moore already made one