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Friday, May 31, 2002

Family, clergy plea for commutation for Napoleon Beazley


By JIM VERTUNO, Associated Press Writer


AUSTIN - Napoleon Beazley's parents and more than two dozen central Texas 
clergy members pleaded Thursday for Gov. Rick Perry and state officials to 
commute Beazley's death sentence to life in prison because he was 17 when he 
shot a Tyler businessman in 1994.

"I think he deserves to live," said Beazley's mother, Rena Beazley. Her son 
is scheduled to die by lethal injection Tuesday. Beazley has acknowledged 
his guilt and has apologized to the victim's family.

"It's not a question of whether he was there or not," Rena Beazley said. 
"It's the question of whether he is a menace to society and he isn't."

Under Texas law, Perry can grant a 30-day reprieve from execution, but can't 
order a commutation without the recommendation of the state Board of Pardons 
and Paroles. The board voted 10-6 last year against commuting the sentence.

The board can review the case again. Perry spokesman Gene Acuna said the 
governor would not comment.

Beazley's case has received international scrutiny from critics of Texas' 
capital punishment system.

Defense attorneys argue the execution would violate international law and 
have questioned whether race played a role. Beazley is black and his victim 
was white. He was convicted by an all-white jury.

Prosecutors say that Texas law, in which a 17-year-old is considered an 
adult, takes precedence over an international treaty.

The case also includes some interesting twists.

The victim, 63-year-old John Luttig, was the father of a federal judge. The 
East Texas judge who sentenced Beazley to die wrote to Perry last year 
urging Beazley's life be spared.

A group of 18 Democratic legislators and Houston County District Attorney 
Cindy Garner, who calls herself a strong advocate of the death penalty, also 
have written Perry urging commutation.

Beazley avoided the death chamber in August when the Texas Court of Criminal 
Appeals issued a stay of execution just hours before he was to die. The stay 
was lifted last month and the new execution date was set.

Beazley, now 25, was a high school class president and star athlete at the 
time of the 1994 murder of John Luttig, 63. The victim's son, J. Michael 
Luttig, is a judge on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.

The clergy members attending the new conference at the state Capitol 
presented a letter supporting Beazley's case from retired Anglican 
Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa to Gerald Garrett, chairman of the 
parole board.

"I find it incomprehensible that the death penalty should be imposed upon a 
person who was a child when the offense occurred," Tutu wrote.

Beazley's attorney, Walter Long, said he has filed a motion with U.S. 
Supreme Court seeking to stop the execution.

Having worked several death row cases in Texas, including infamous pick-axe 
killer Karla Faye Tucker who was executed in 1998, Long sounded pessimistic 
about Beazley's chances for a commutation in the nation's leading death 
penalty state.

"In Texas, it's like holding out against hope," he said.

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