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Sunday, April 22, 2001

It's time for Texas to pause says conservative Dallas Morning News


Death Penalty 

It's time for Texas to pause 

Dallas Morning News Editorial Board 04/22/2001 

The process takes no more than seven minutes. 

The death-bound prisoner, strapped on a gurney, is already hooked to an intravenous feed of saline solution. Upon the warden's signal, the executioner plunges into the tube a lethal dose of sodium thiopental to sedate the prisoner. This is followed by a muscle relaxant so that involuntary body functions cease, collapsing the diaphragm and lungs. The only sound is the prisoner's one or two snorts as air rushes to equalize pressure in the chest cavity. Potassium chloride is then added to stop the prisoner's heart. Then everyone waits, and a doctor is admitted to pronounce the prisoner dead. 


State executions are less grotesque than in the days when electricity was used to shock the life out of convicts, but they still are a gruesome business. Nonetheless, last year Texas found it necessary to take the lives of 39 men and one woman because they took many more than 40 lives in more brutal ways. 

But what if the state was wrong? Texas has executed 245 people since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976; 449 await execution. What if one, two, three, pick a number, did not commit the crimes alleged? 

Some argue the fact that dozens of people have been moved off Texas death row over the years proves the system of safeguards works. 

However, The Dallas Morning News believes the contrary – the close calls make one wonder how many got called right. Texas leaders are beginning to admit the system's faults. The governor this month signed a bill expediting DNA testing to clarify culpability. The Legislature looks likely to pass a proposal to improve the quality of indigent defense. The attorney general this year confessed state error in allowing a psychologist to use race as a factor in death sentencing hearings. 

Correcting these admitted wrongs may improve the judicial system in the future. But these actions won't redress all avenues of possible error. And they will only reduce the chance of future error; they will not remedy all past wrongs. 

That's why Texas needs to pause in its administration of the death penalty and take a larger look at its justice system. Measures making their way through the Legislature would allow Texans to vote for a moratorium on the death penalty while a commission on capital punishment investigates and evaluates the fairness of the death penalty's implementation. 

The system needs evaluation. Consider the recent testimony of Houston lawyer Scott Atlas before the committee. 

Mr. Atlas and nearly a dozen other lawyers at the Vinson & Elkins firm spent $2.5 million of their time to investigate the case of death row inmate Ricardo Aldape Guerra. The illegal alien, who had no previous arrests, claimed innocence in the 1982 killing of a Houston police officer. The team was able to find alleged eyewitnesses and to obtain evidence about bullet trajectories that proved not only Mr. Aldape Guerra's innocence but also strong police and prosecutor misconduct in coercing false witness testimony. 

Defendants without the pro bono services of a major law firm or the money to spend on quality defense have little hope of being saved from false charges. As a result, the poor – typically minorities – populate death row. 

That's one of the issues being considered by a commission studying the death penalty in Illinois, where last year GOP Gov. George Ryan ordered a moratorium on executions. The commission appointed by the governor includes defense and prosecuting lawyers, judges, death penalty opponents and some nonlawyers. 

Illinois Deputy Gov. Matt Bettenhausen says that public hearings have highlighted the whole issue of fairness, including disparities in charges and sentencing based on wealth as well as race. 

"You can have like cases with similar facts and one will get 40 years and another will get death," Mr. Bettenhausen states. He notes that two-thirds of the 160 Illinois death row inmates are African-American. 

The commission also has met frequently as a working group to consider errors in cases and ways to correct them. No date is set for a final report. 

The legislation being considered in Texas would require a completed review of the state judicial system by the next legislative session. This would allow some assessment of any reforms enacted this year and consideration of other reforms, such as barring the appointment of defense lawyers with state bar disciplinary problems and creating stricter procedures for use of jailhouse informant testimony. It also would allow a determination of whether the death penalty has been applied discriminatorily and whether the process for reviewing claims is fair. In Texas, 42 percent of the death row inmates are black and 22 percent are Hispanic. 

The moratorium on executions would start only if voters approved it in a referendum this November. It would expire by September 2003. 

What redress could a moratorium achieve? 

The state would not be forced to retry the outstanding death penalty cases. However, the commission might recommend that the Legislature determine the need for an independent review of cases where new evidence warrants consideration, especially given that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rarely grants claims of new evidence. 

Our state leaders and citizens should support a study commission and moratorium on executions. The cost of postponing those very final seven minutes for some prisoners would not be great, but the potential savings to the Texas conscience could be. 

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Wednesday, April 18, 2001

KPRC Channel 2 Houston Endorses Moratorium on Executions

KPRC Channel 2 Houston Endorses Moratorium

Moratorium On Executions Needed (4/18/01)
System Has Flaws

HOUSTON, 4:23 p.m. CDT April 18, 2001 -- We would like to believe that the state of Texas has never executed an innocent person. But it could happen. 
Since 1975, 95 inmates in the U.S. -- seven in Texas -- have been released from death row after being found innocent. 

Governor Perry found the need for post-conviction DNA testing so pressing that he designated legislation granting access to it an emergency. 

Besides questions of accuracy, the justice system is under fire in Austin for unfairness. Lawmakers are working on a bill to raise standards for public defenders. 

Now a senate resolution asks to set a two-year moratorium on executions while a special commission studies possible flaws in our criminal justice system. 

Channel 2 thinks this is a good idea. 
As long as we think the system has faults, we should hold off on dispensing lethal justice -- until we are sure it is not a lethal mistake. 

Copyright 2001 by Click2Houston.com. 

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Wednesday, April 04, 2001

Action Alert for Moratorium Bills; MORATORIUM RALLY, TUES APRIL 17

Date : April 4, 2001
To : Members of the Texas Moratorium Network




Legislative support for a moratorium in Texas has never been stronger.
When we talk to the legislators and their staff, they told us over and over again that they received *MANY* calls in support of the moratorium. You did that, not the coordinators, and we are grateful.
Two moratorium bills were heard in the House and Senate committee hearings this week. The combined momentum of these bills give us a real chance for a moratorium, but we have to act now. Please don't be silent during this window of opportunity.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
1. Call legislators, if you haven't done so. You can call anytime until they vote.
2. Attend Tues. April 17 Moratorium Rally in Austin.

1. CALL LEGISLATORS
There are two separate committees we need to reach. Please call as many of the following key committee members as possible. Ask House Criminal Jurisprudence members to support House Joint Resolution 56 (death penalty moratorium). Ask Senate Criminal Justice to support Senate Joint Resolution 25 (death penalty moratorium) Senate Bill 680 (death penalty study commission).
When you call, please remember to
  • Say who you are and where you're from
  • Thank them for hearing the bill
  • Mention the bill by number and say briefly what its about (i.e. "death penalty moratorium.")
  • You may tell them why you think a moratorium is necessary, but often they are only interested in counting your opinion as "for" or "against."
  • Thank them again.
 All numbers below are 512
House Criminal Jurisprudence (re House Joint Resolution 56)
Rep. Juan Hinojosa (Chair) 463-0636
Rep. Jim Dunnam (Vice Chair) 463-0508
Rep. Domingo Garcia 463-0654
Rep. Ann Kitchen 463-0700 (Austin, supports moratorium)
Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer 463-0616
Rep. Terry Keel 463-0652
Rep. John Shields 463-0658
Rep. Robert Talton 463-0460
Rep. Rick Green 463-0498
Senate Criminal Justice (Senate Joint Resolution 25 and Senate Bill 680)
Sen. Kenneth Armbrister (Chair) 463-0118
Sen. John Whitmire (Vice Chair) 463-0115
Sen. Mike Moncrief 463-0112
Sen. Steve Ogden 463-0105
Sen. Teel Bivins 463-0131
Sen. Todd Staples 463-0103
Sen. Royce West 463-0123
In addition, please contact your own Representative and Senator. You find out who they are and how to reach them at http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/fyi/fyi.htm, or by calling the Chief Clerk's Office at 463-0845.

2. ATTEND MORATORIUM RALLY, TUES APRIL 17
Mark your calendars for the Moratorium Rally on Tuesday, April 17th, at 5:30 pm in front of the Capitol. Expected speakers include exonerated death row inmates Randall Adams and Kerry Cook, as well as family members of execution victims. More details TBA.

Remember, the Texas legislature meets only once every two years, and the present session will last only another two months.

We need you to act now!

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