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Friday, December 29, 2006

Hunger Strike to begin again on Texas Death Row

Mulligan
By Carlton A Turner
As stated in a previous article of mine, I and several others are initiating another ‘Hunger strike’ and participating in other protest activities starting January 1, 2007. On a personal level a few things have changed. This time I have a goal set on the length of time I plan to protest. My hunger strike is set to last until I am no longer able to function without medical assistance. Other activities are stated to continue until at least a semblance of humanity is attained in our environment and the abolishment of the death penalty is aggressively pursued and legislation pushed proactively towards these means. The intensity of these protests will vary with the tactics completed. That is my chronological goal, but let me explain the good of protesting itself...
My immediate goal of protesting is to raise the level of awareness and dedication to the abolishment of the death penalty (our cause). This goal applies to individuals on the inside and outside of the Polunsky Unit. I would never go so far as to say that people don’t care or won’t do anything. However, I will say that it is my opinion that we could all do more... far more! This includes me. I do not dismiss the actions of those who have applied time, efforts and finances into our cause, because everyone who has participated in these actions has a level of dedication not to be disrespected and these same people kept our cause alive. Their work is undoubtedly appreciated! Yet evidently it’s going to take more and I’d like to address this with all consideration for what has already been done for our cause.


Read the rest of the article....

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Death Penalty Art Show in Houston Feb 10-18, 2007


Online gallery of artwork

The death penalty art show will be exhibited in Houston at Gallery M2 from February 10 - 18, 2007 with an opening night reception at 7 PM on the 10th. There will be a gallery talk Friday, Feb 16, at 7 PM with Mary Mikel Stump, Gallery Director of the JCM gallery at Texas State University.

The Austin Chronicle says "the show is nothing short of powerful."

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Speaker's race in Texas; Republican Challenger Supports Moratorium

Every newspaper in Texas is reporting, including the Houston Chronicle, that

"State Rep. Brian McCall, R-Plano, is expected to formally announce his candidacy against Craddick as early as the middle of this week, several lawmakers said Saturday.

McCall has a reputation of getting along with different factions. If elected, he is expected to bring a more even-handed approach to the role, allowing members to vote the interests of their districts, rather than succumb to the dictates of the speaker."

McCall is the only Republican in the Texas Legislature who has ever voted in favor of a moratorium. He voted "yes" in 2001 on HB 1328, filed by Rep Dutton, which would have established a 2-year moratorium on executions. The bill received 52 votes on the floor of the House.

One day during the 2001 session, Kerry Cook and TMN's Scott Cobb ran into Rep Brian McCall in the halls of the Texas Legislature near the vending machines and Kerry convinced Rep McCall to endorse a moratorium. Cook spent twenty years on death row before being released and exonerated. McCall remains the only Republican in the Texas Legislature who has endorsed a moratorium on executions. In 2003, we recontacted Rep McCall to ask if he had changed his mind on the need for a moratorium and he told us that he is "still with you".

Whoever wins the speakership, we expect that support for a moratorium will continue to grow among Texas legislators because of the reports that have surfaced in the last two years that at least three people executed by Texas may have been innocent: Ruben Cantu, Cameron Todd Willingham and Carlos De Luna.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Former Texas Death Row inmate may be paroled in January

The Houston Chronicle is reporting that "a former death-row inmate awaiting retrial on capital murder charges will remain in jail for at least two more weeks despite bail set by a federal judge here, according to a federal appeals court.

Anthony Graves, who the Texas Innocence Network says is innocent, must remain in the Burleson County Jail until Jan. 4 before he can post bail with the federal court in Galveston, according to a ruling issued late Monday by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals."

If Graves is acquitted at his retrial, as is highly likely, then he will become the first Texas death row inmate to be exonerated since Ernest Willis in 2004.

Texas policymakers need to recognize three facts. 1) there are innocent people, such as Graves, who are still caught up in the system, and some are still on death row 2) innocent people, such as Ernest Willis, have recently been exonerated and 3) innocent people have already been executed in Texas, including Cantu, Willingham and De Luna.

It is past time for Texas to enact a moratorium and stop executions before more innocent people suffer.

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Lethal Injection Problems Have Occurred in Texas too

Last week, moratoriums in Florida and California were imposed because of problems with lethal injections. Below are some examples in Texas of some executions where problems occurred. Of course in Texas the most pressing problem with the lethal injection protocol is that innocent people have been given lethal injections. Ruben Cantu, Cameron Todd Willingham and Carlos De Luna are not listed below, but they also belong on any list of botched Texas executions. There is no bigger way to botch an execution than executing an innocent person.

The list below is excerpted from a longer list of botched executions nationwide that was compiled by Michael L. Radelet. The list is not intended to be a comprehensive catalogue of botched executions, but simply a listing of examples that are well-known.

1. March 13, 1985. Texas. Stephen Peter Morin. Lethal Injection. Because of Morin's history of drug abuse, the execution technicians were forced to probe both of Morin's arms and one of his legs with needles for nearly 45 minutes before they found a suitable vein.

2. August 20, 1986. Texas. Randy Woolls. Lethal Injection. A drug addict, Woolls helped the execution technicians find a useable vein for the execution.

3. June 24, 1987. Texas. Elliot Rod Johnson. Lethal Injection. Because of collapsed veins, it took nearly an hour to complete the execution.

4. December 13, 1988. Texas. Raymond Landry. Lethal Injection. Pronounced dead 40 minutes after being strapped to the execution gurney and 24 minutes after the drugs first started flowing into his arms. Two minutes after the drugs were administered, the syringe came out of Landry's vein, spraying the deadly chemicals across the room toward witnesses. The curtain separating the witnesses from the inmate was then pulled, and not reopened for fourteen minutes while the execution team reinserted the catheter into the vein. Witnesses reported "at least one groan." A spokesman for the Texas Department of Correction, Charles Brown (sic), said, "There was something of a delay in the execution because of what officials called a 'blowout.' The syringe came out of the vein, and the warden ordered the (execution) team to reinsert the catheter into the vein."

5. May 24, 1989. Texas. Stephen McCoy. Lethal Injection. He had such a violent physical reaction to the drugs (heaving chest, gasping, choking, back arching off the gurney, etc.) that one of the witnesses (male) fainted, crashing into and knocking over another witness. Houston attorney Karen Zellars, who represented McCoy and witnessed the execution, thought the fainting would catalyze a chain reaction. The Texas Attorney General admitted the inmate "seemed to have a somewhat stronger reaction," adding "The drugs might have been administered in a heavier dose or more rapidly."

6. April 23, 1992. Texas. Billy Wayne White. Lethal Injection. White was pronounced dead some 47 minutes after being strapped to the execution gurney. The delay was caused by difficulty finding a vein; White had a long history of heroin abuse. During the execution, White attempted to assist the authorities in finding a suitable vein.

7. May 7, 1992. Texas. Justin Lee May. Lethal Injection. May had an unusually violent reaction to the lethal drugs. According to one reporter who witnessed the execution, May "gasped, coughed and reared against his heavy leather restraints, coughing once again before his body froze ..." Associated Press reporter Michael Graczyk wrote, "Compared to other recent executions in Texas, May's reaction was more violent. He went into a coughing spasm, groaned and gasped, lifted his head from the death chamber gurney and would have arched his back if he had not been belted down. After he stopped breathing, his eyes and mouth remained open."

8. April 23, 1998. Texas. Joseph Cannon. Lethal Injection. It took two attempts to complete the execution. After making his final statement, the execution process began. A vein in Cannon's arm collapsed and the needle popped out. Seeing this, Cannon lay back, closed his eyes, and exclaimed to the witnesses, "It's come undone." Officials then pulled a curtain to block the view of the witnesses, reopening it fifteen minutes later when a weeping Cannon made a second final statement and the execution process resumed.

9. August 26, 1998. Texas. Genaro Ruiz Camacho. Lethal Injection. The execution was delayed approximately two hours due, in part, to problems finding suitable veins in Camacho's arms.

10. December 7, 2000. Texas. Claude Jones. Jones was a former intravenous drug abuser. His execution was delayed 30 minutes while the execution "team" struggled to insert an IV into a vein. He had been a longtime intravenous drug user. One member of the execution team commented, "They had to stick him about five times. They finally put it in his leg." Wrote Jim Willett, the warden of the Walls Unit and the man responsible for conducting the execution, "The medical team could not find a vein. Now I was really beginning to worry. If you can't stick a vein then a cut-down has to be performed. I have never seen one and would just as soon go through the rest of my career the same way. Just when I was really getting worried, one of the medical people hit a vein in the left leg. Inside calf to be exact. The executioner had warned me not to panic as it was going to take a while to get the fluids in the body of the inmate tonight because he was going to push the drugs through very slowly. Finally, the drug took effect and Jones took his last breath."

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Moratoriums imposed today in Florida and California

The AP is reporting that "Gov. Jeb Bush suspended all executions in Florida after a medical examiner said Friday that prison officials botched the insertion of the needles when a convicted killer was put to death earlier this week.

Separately, a federal judge in California imposed a moratorium on executions in the nation's most populous state, declaring that the state's method of lethal injection runs the risk of violating the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment."

The moratoriums in these two states are based on problems with the method of lethal injection. Texas executes many more people than any other state, so there is a strong probability of botched executions in Texas too. However, the bigger problem in Texas is that innocent people are at a high risk of execution in Texas. Recently, there have been credible reports that three innocent people were executed in Texas, Ruben Cantu, Cameron Todd Willingham and Carlos De Luna.

The next session of the Texas Legislature, which gets underway in January, should enact emergency legislation to halt executions in Texas, so that we can ensure that no more innocent people are executed in Texas.

Rep. Harold Dutton of Houston is expected to file legislation that would enact a moratorium and create a commission to study capital punishment in Texas.

Robert Black, spokesman for Gov. Rick Perry, said, "Perry has no plans to announce a moratorium on the death penalty and executions," Black said Friday. "He believes it is administered fairly, justly and in accordance with the law."

Perry was re-elected in November with 39 percent of the vote.

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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Murder victim's mother takes unlikely stance

Grace Maalouf, of Baylor University's The Lariat, wrote a story this week focusing on Jeanette Popp, whose daughter was murdered in 1988 in Austin. Jeanette pressured the Travis County DA not to seek the death penalty against her daughter's killer.

Popp's daughter was murdered in Austin in 1988, but during the trial of her daughter's killer, Popp was strongly against the death penalty.

Two men were wrongfully convicted for her daughter's murder and spent 12 years in prison, she said.

"Had they been given the death penalty, they surely would have been executed," Popp said. "And what does that make us? That makes us murderers, just like the people we're killing."

So when her daughter's murderer was convicted in 2001, she begged him to take a plea bargain.

"He told me he would rather die than spend the rest of his life in a Texas prison," Popp said.

So she said she went public with her appeals.

"I asked people to call the district attorney's office and demand that they take the death penalty off the table, and they did," Popp said.

She said the offender got two consecutive life sentences, which was what she wanted.

"I wanted him punished, but without punishing his loved ones," Popp said.

Popp said the support of family and friends kept her from turning her grief into anger. But she also said her religious beliefs were the biggest factor in healing after the murder.

"My faith in God helped get me through this," Popp said.

Popp, who is Catholic, said her religious beliefs also contribute to her views on the death penalty. But not everyone shares those views.

...

Popp said her religious objection is to human unnaturally taking any life.

"We have no right to take human life," Popp said. "No one gave us that right. That's God's right."

"I don't care if it's the man that murdered my daughter, a drunk driver, abortion, whatever. We have no business doling out the final punishment."

Not everyone agrees with her stance on the death penalty, though, including some family members, Popp said. But Popp hasn't let that stop her from turning her pain into a passion.

"I've been an activist for six years now, and I'm very proud of what I do," Popp said.

She said she and others who share her vision have worked hard to influence the state and local governments.

Popp also pointed out the change in sentencing options for jurors.

In June of 2005, Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill giving juries the option of sentencing capital offenders to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

"Before, if it was a person who had committed a murder, the only choice (the jury) had was life in prison - which gives them the possibility of parole - or execute them," Popp said.

She said she thinks the new option represents important progress.

"I believe you will see less and less execution as jurors are given that choice," Popp said.

Popp said the possibility of innocent people being executed is one of the biggest objections she has to the death penalty.

"The death penalty is such a final thing," Popp said. "And with over 100 people exonerated from death rows because they were there for crimes they didn't commit, we're making mistakes. And if we're making mistakes, we don't need to be in the business of killing people."

Popp believes life in prison without the possibility of parole is the best answer sentencing options because any potential mistakes won't be final. With the death penalty, she said, all the punishment creates is more victims.

"Everybody we execute has a mother, a father, a husband, children, people who love them," Popp said. "And you're victimizing those people, because you're murdering their child like that man murdered my child."

"I would not put another mother through that pain for anything."

From 2001 to 2004, Popp served as chairwoman of the Texas Moratorium Network.

"Our goal is to create a moratorium on executions in Texas along with a study commission that would look into the problems of the administration of the death penalty," said Scott Cobb, president of the organization.

"We work with different organizations that are interested in criminal justice reform, as well as churches and faith-based groups," Cobb said.

He said the group currently has about 10,000 members trying to influence the Texas legislature and local governments to pass moratorium resolutions temporarily suspending use of the death penalty.

The organization also supports an office of statewide defenders of capital punishment cases to handle cases of people from when they're arrested throughout the appeals process, Cobb said.

"A lot of people executed received the death penalty where they really should have been punished with a lesser punishment like life without parole," Cobb said. "And in some cases they were completely innocent and there would have been a different outcome had they had better representation."

Popp said she now views what she does as an effort to honor her daughter.

"Neither one of us believed in death penalty," Popp said. "I hope what I do honors her memory."

"Because I would much rather honor her in that way than to murder in her name."

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Results of Public Information Act request regarding letters to Perry left at Governor's Mansion by families of innocent men



We received a response today to the Public Information Act request that we submitted to Governor Perry asking what happened to the two letters that were left for him by the families of Carlos De Luna and Cameron Todd Willingham at the governor's mansion on the day of the 7th Annual March to Stop Executions. The response from Governor Perry's office said the two letters were received and sent to the constituent services office. We also requested that they send us any responses that Perry had sent to the families, but they said that no response had been sent. At least, we know that they received the letters and didn't just throw them in the trash. They are now part of the historical record at the Texas Governor's office.

Here is a previous post about the delivery:

Choking back tears and accompanied by 300 supporters standing outside the gates of the Texas Governor's Mansion, the sister of Carlos De Luna delivered a letter to Gov Perry on October 28, 2006 asking him to stop executions and investigate the case of her brother to determine if he was wrongfully executed. Mary Arredondo slipped the letter, along with a copy of an article from the Chicago Tribune that concluded that her brother was innocent, through the bars of the front gate of the mansion and left it lying on the walkway leading to the front door of the mansion. A DPS trooper on duty refused to take the letter, so Mary left it on the walkway. The action was part of the 7th Annual March to Stop Executions.

The 300 supporters standing beside Mary Arredondo carried signs saying, “THE DEATH PENALTY SYSTEM IS BROKEN" on the top of the signs and different slogans at the bottom listing various problems with the Texas death penalty system that can lead to innocent people being executed, including "NO STATEWIDE PUBLIC DEFENDER SERVICE", "PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT", "NO INDEPENDENT COMMISSION TO REVIEW THE SYSTEM" and other problems.

After delivering the letter, Mary joined the crowd in a march to Austin City Hall for a rally against the death penalty.


The Honorable Rick Perry
Governor of Texas
Austin, Texas

October 28, 2006

Dear Governor Perry,

My name is Mary Arredondo. Carlos De Luna was my brother. He was an innocent person executed by Texas on December 7, 1989. I have come to the Texas Governor’s Mansion today to personally deliver this letter to you. It is too late to save my brother’s life, but it is not too late to take steps to prevent other innocent people from being executed. I am writing to ask that you provide the leadership to make sure that Texas never executes another innocent person.

My brother claimed his innocence from the time of his arrest until his execution. He named another man as the real killer. The Chicago Tribune has recently published the results of their investigation that concluded that my brother was the victim of a case of mistaken identity and the most likely killer was a man named Carlos Hernandez. Hernandez's relatives and friends have recounted how he repeatedly bragged that my brother went to Death Row for a murder Hernandez committed. I am enclosing a copy of the Tribune article for you to read.

Please look into my brother’s case and ask the District Attorney in Corpus Christi to reopen the investigation into the crime for which my brother was wrongfully executed.

I also ask you to support a moratorium on executions and to create a special blue ribbon commission to study the administration of the death penalty in Texas in order to prevent other innocent people from being executed and to propose reforms to ensure the fair and accurate administration of the death penalty in Texas. In addition, I ask you to support an Innocence Commission that would be charged with investigating claims of innocence from people before they are executed and cases of people that have been wrongfully executed, as well as cases of innocent people who have been exonerated in order to determine what went wrong in the system that resulted in an innocent person being convicted.

There are other reforms that will help prevent innocent people from being convicted and executed, such as establishing a statewide Office of Public Defenders for Capital Cases and increasing the amount of money paid to attorneys representing indigent defendants and the amount of money available to them to conduct investigations. Of course, the best way to prevent innocent people from being executed is to end the use of the death penalty and instead sentence people convicted of capital crimes to life without the possibility of parole.

Thank you for reading my letter. I hope that you will do whatever is necessary to prevent other innocent people from suffering the fate of my brother.

Yours sincerely,

Mary Arredondo



The Honorable Rick Perry
Governor of Texas
Austin, Texas

October 28, 2006

Dear Governor Perry,

We are the family of Cameron Todd Willingham. Our names are Eugenia Willingham, Trina Willingham Quinton and Joshua Easley. Todd was an innocent person executed by Texas on February 17, 2004. We have come to Austin today from Ardmore, Oklahoma to stand outside the Texas Governor’s Mansion and attempt to deliver this letter to you in person, because we want to make sure that you know about Todd’s innocence and to urge you to stop executions in Texas and determine why innocent people are being executed in Texas.

Todd was not the only innocent person who has been executed in Texas. There have been reports in the media that Ruben Cantu and Carlos De Luna were also innocent people who were executed in Texas. It is too late to save Todd’s life or the lives of Ruben Cantu or Carlos De Luna, but it is not too late to save other innocent people from being executed. We are here today to urge you to be the leader that Texas needs in order to make sure that Texas never executes another innocent person. There is a crisis in Texas regarding the death penalty and we ask you to address the crisis. Because the public can no longer be certain that Texas is not executing innocent people, we urge you to stop all executions.

Strapped to a gurney in Texas' death chamber, just moments from his execution for setting a fire that killed his three daughters, our son/uncle, Todd Willingham, declared his innocence one last time, saying "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 is now dead and can no longer speak for himself, so we have come to Austin to speak for him.

Before Todd’s execution, you were given a report from a prominent fire scientist questioning the conviction, but you did not stop the execution. The author of the report, Gerald Hurst, has said, "There's nothing to suggest to any reasonable arson investigator that this was an arson fire. It was just a fire."

Another report issued in 2006 by a panel of national arson experts brought together by the Innocence Project concluded that the fire that killed Todd’s three daughters was an accident. The report says that Todd’s case is very similar to the case of Ernest Willis, who was convicted of arson murder and sentenced to death in 1987. Willis served 17 years in prison before he was exonerated in 2004 – the same year Todd was executed. The report says that neither of the fires which Todd and Ernest Willis were convicted of setting were arson. The report notes that the evidence and forensic analysis in the Willingham and Willis cases "were the same," and that "each and every one" of the forensic interpretations that state experts made in both men's trials have been proven scientifically invalid. In other words, Todd was executed based on “junk science”.

Please look into our son/uncle’s case and ask the District Attorney in Corsicana to reopen the investigation into the crime for which my brother was wrongfully executed. You should also establish an Innocence Commission in the next session of the Texas Legislature that could investigate my brother’s case, as well as other cases of possible wrongful executions, such as Ruben Cantu and Carlos De Luna.

Please ensure that no other family suffers the tragedy of seeing one of their loved ones wrongfully executed. Please enact a moratorium on executions and create a special blue ribbon commission to study the administration of the death penalty in Texas. Texas also needs a statewide Office of Public Defenders for Capital Cases. Such an office will go a long way towards preventing innocent people from being executed. A moratorium will ensure that no other innocent people are executed while the system is being studied and reforms implemented.

We look forward to hearing from you and we pledge to work with you to ensure that executions of innocent people are stopped.

Yours sincerely,

Eugenia Willingham
Stepmother of Cameron Todd Willingham who raised him from the age of 13 months


Trina Willingham Quinton
Niece of Cameron Todd Willingham


Joshua Easley
Nephew of Cameron Todd Willingham

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Monday, November 27, 2006

2007 March to Stop Executions to be in Houston

We had a conference call tonight with the groups that work on the annual March to Stop Executions and decided unanimously to hold next year's "8th Annual March to Stop Executions" in Houston instead of Austin where it has been the last seven years. More people have been executed from Houston than any other city in the U.S. If Harris County, which contains Houston, were a state, it would rank third behind Texas and Virginia in number of executions.

The date for next year's march in Houston is October 27, 2007, which is the last weekend in October.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Andy Kahan attacks freedom of speech on MySpace

Dave Maass of the San Antonio Current writes in this week's edition about Andy Kahan's assault on people exercising their freedom of speech on MySpace.

Is No Myspace Sacred?

Houston's victims-rights official appoints himself morality sheriff, deputizes FOX News to run death-row activists out of e-town.

It ain't easy being against the death penalty. The Governor-writing, the cross-country journeys, the heartbreak and frustration, and threatening phone calls - all just to keep a human being alive. Now anti-death-penalty activists are facing the threat of their own deletion from the system.

By system, I mean Myspace.com, the social-networking site that has added a whole new layer of communication and interconnection to modern society. Two months ago, Andy Kahan, the Houston Mayor's director of Crime-Victim Services, logged on to Myspace to hunt for villains. He struck gold: Myspace hosted profiles and blogs supposedly for serial killers Richard "Night Stalker" Ramirez and David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz, mass murderers Charles Manson and his female disciples Squeaky Fromme and Susan Atkins.

... click here to read the entire article

Myspace's official response to Kahan and FOX's demands was "Unless you violate the terms of service or break the law, we don't step in the middle of free expression. There's a lot on our site we don't approve of in terms of taste or ideas, but it's not our role to be censors."

Kahan's not going to give up. It took two years to beat eBay, he said. He told FOX he'd consider lobbying for legislation.

That may not be necessary. FOX's parent company, News Corp., bought Myspace.com for $580 million in July 2005, and this week the company's chairman, Rupert Murdoch, gave in to pressure to cancel a two-part interview with O.J. Simpson to promote his kinda-confessional, If I Did It. Of course, in O.J.'s case, it wasn't news so much as it was promotion and profit, since he would've been interviewed by his publisher at ReganBooks, an imprint of FOX's sister publishing house, HarperCollins. Murdoch also cancelled the book's publication.

For me, as a journalist, there's another issue at stake. In the last year I have used Myspace as a first point of contact in about one-third of my articles, especially those involving the friends and family of death-row inmates. If Kahan's successful, it will not only sever a vital communication link, it will set an unacceptable precedent. My concern is there will be nothing to stop Kahan from harassing internet providers until they ban anti-death-penalty websites, and it will encourage other self-appointed morality police to petition Myspace to censor anything else controversial.

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Saturday, November 18, 2006

Two reforms Texas needs

The Austin American-Statesman had a couple of good ideas this month. They published an editorial saying Texas should abolish the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and another editorial saying Texas should create a statewide office of public defenders for capital murder cases, saying "there should be bipartisan concern over Texas' broken system. Proper writs eliminate doubt regarding a defendant's guilt and can free those who are innocent. That is not happening in many instances for Texas death row inmates."

They argued that the CCA should be abolished and its caseload transferred to the Texas Supreme Court, because the CCA "has failed in its obligation to ensure that the condemned received competent legal help." Other reasons to get rid of the CCA:

Generally, the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court is widely respected. But the Court of Criminal Appeals — also composed of nine elected GOP judges — has embarrassed the state with a series of bad rulings, many of them regarding the death penalty. Recently, the conservative leaning U.S. Supreme Court signaled its frustration with Texas' criminal appeals court when it agreed to hear three Texas death penalty cases in its next term.

By now, many Texans know about some of the rulings that made national news, including the infamous sleeping lawyer case. In that case, the criminal appeals court judges saw nothing wrong with a defense lawyer who slept through key portions of his client's capital murder trial.

The same court said OK to prosecutors who hid evidence from defense lawyers in several capital murder cases involving indigent defendants.

And it gave thumbs up to racial gerrymandering of a jury by Dallas prosecutors years ago in another capital murder case.

This week, we learned about more disturbing practices that probably are costing people their lives. For years, the court has permitted lawyers to submit sloppy, erroneous and inferior work in death penalty appeals. In a system in which almost anything passes as a writ of habeas corpus to appeal a death sentence, it is very possible that innocent people have been — and will be — put to death.


Rumor has it that a legislator is planning to file a bill that if passed would create a statewide office of public offenders, but so far we have not yet heard of anyone planning any legislation to abolish the Court of Criminal Appeals, but filing of new bills has only just begun.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

"A Day in My Life On Death Row" by George Rivas

Marybeth Rivas, whom we met in-person for the first time at the recent 7th Annual March to Stop Executions, sent us this article written by George Rivas about his life on death row.

Sleep is a luxury here and is not often found in more than a couple of hour blocks at a time. I am used to this though. When I first entered the"system" through General Population, or GP as it's termed, I learned quickly to condition myself to less sleep and guarded sleep. The doors were open most of the time, like you see in the movies, therefore, at any time you could be killed in your sleep...it happens.

It's safer, in that respect, here on death row. The doors are always closed, believe me, and they are solid steel. There are slots in them for meals to be passd through, our handcuffs to be put on and taken off, and for guards to look in and check on us whenever they want to. They are also a blessing at times because it allows us to yell through them to other inmates in the area. Solitude can be overwhelming, especially when living in a place the size of a closet.. It can get to some, sometimes enough to push them over the edge. But it's those same steel doors that make sleep, here on death row, next to impossible. They, and all doors seperating sections, are on an electrical track. The slamming open and closed of these steel doors literally cause the walls to shake and the noise it creates can only be compared to as what you would hear in a dungeon.

I awake everyday about 2:30 am. Actually, I'm awoken by the slamming of the steel doors that the guards walk through on their rounds. I'm used to it. Can't fall back to sleep, and besides, chow will be served in about half an hour, so no use trying.

I am thinking of my wife and our great visit last night. She looked beautiful (as always), and I smile as I think of her in those jeans. More, I pray and thank the Lord for her...

Soon chow rolls around. It's a big cart that can feed a large number of us before it returns to the kitchen to refill. Chances are, food will not be warm coming off of it. Most of us have "hot pots" that we reheat our food in. Today it's stale pancakes again, so I only get the milk. I'll save it for later in the day though, to put in my coffee. Maybe I can fall back to sleep, I think and lay back down. No, it's useless now. I'd fallen asleep around 11:30 pm, so I really need the zzz's. Oh, well...

I doze off around 6 am, but showers are run about that time on Sundays, since there is no recreation being run today. When they come to your door, you go then or you do not go. I wring out my towel--which I'd left soaking in detergent for the night-- and get ready for my shower. Like I said, you get one chance and only one chance to go. The guards open the small slot in my door and I turn around, then bend down to have the'cuffs put on. The door is opened and I am taken to the shower. The process is repeated to take the 'cuffs off (slot in the steel shower door too) and I take a 10 minute shower. We do not choose our shower temperature, it's been scolding hot and it's been freezing cold before, but today it feels good. Going through the handcuffing routine again, I am brought back to my cell.

I listen to the radio, which I'm thankful to have. It keeps me connected to the world outside through news, music, and I love to listen to daily sermons. Alot of people think we have t.v.'s in here and computers, that just isn't so. There are many here who cannot afford a radio and like I said before, solitude can be overwhelming. After I listen for a bit, I then begin my morning prayers, but I'm tired, so I don't read any Scriptures this morning. My wife is spending the night in town, so we'll see each other again tomorrow (Monday) before she drives the 4-plus hours drive back to her family's home. It's pretty tough on her, but she never complains. My heart goes out to her, more than I can ever express in words...
I wonder if she can feel the love-thoughts I'm sending her way this morning? I'm looking at her picture as I begin to nod off.

Lunch shows up about an hour later, and I'm pretty groggy as I get my tray-- bean burritos with beans, rice, and corn. I pray over it and begin to eat. The corn tastes sour? A neighbor upstairs begins to holler at the guards that the food is spoiled. Great. I'm just about done eating (not the corn though), and I just shake my head. Several other people yell out the same thing, so a sargent eventually shows up to see what the problem is. Typically, he just smells the food then says he'll go talk to the kitchen boss, and get back to us. No holding my breath! I'm brushing my teeth when he returns to say that the boss said there was nothing wrong with the food. Bull. As groggy as I was when I ate, even I could tell that there was something wrong. But, none of them care. If it means more work, i.e.; having to refeed the whole pod (84 inmates), they'll just ignore us and whatever our problems are. I expected it, especially with this particular sargent, so after cleaning up, I just lay down.

This time I do fall asleep, though the constant slamming of the steel doors keeps waking me, even though I 've got ear plugs pressed deeply into my ears. But I am used to this too. There's almost always someone yelling from one cell to another too. We are all living under the same shadow of death here. I never know if it will be the last time talking to a person because he may get a date before I'm moved near him again. I, and a handful of us, are moved every week to another cell. Often by the time I'm moved back in a certain area again, some will have been moved to the pod for people with dates for execution, but sometimes their already--Gone. On an execution day, we all share this heavyness that's within us and in the air. We get to know a different side of each other that people out there do not get to see. We all have hopes and fears, strengths and weaknesses, the desire to live and the desire to die. Yes, you read that correctly. We all yearn to live, but sometimes the daily living conditions wears us out until there's no fight left

I'm awoken again at last chow ( you call it "supper" or "dinner"), but I'm not feeling too well, so I refuse my tray. Just feeling bloated and my head feels hot. I pray that I'm not ill, and lay down for a bit more. I get up after a while and heat up some water for a cup of coffee. Then sit down to write a letter to my wife. I smile just thinking about her, and give thanks to the Lord again for her.

She'll be here in the morning, so I've got to get some real rest, I don't want her to see the circles under my eyes and end up worring for nothing. I don't really want to tell her of the food poisoning, but she'll find out anyways. I can't keep secrets from her, as insignificant as they may be. She's my soul-mate, so I won't lie to her. I finish writing to her in the middle of the night, brush my teeth, then lay it down for the night. It's after 1 am, so I'm going to try and get a couple of hours in before chow shows up at 3 am (more or less). I'll probably doze off praying when they show up with breakfast. I hope it's not pancakes again, cuz I'm kinda hungry now.

I guess it's been a good day... no fires were started (they cause smoke) and no one near me was gassed. Both the smoke and the gas can fill your cell even though it's not your fire or your not the one being gassed. How? Those little slots in the steel doors that I said was sometimes a blessing, well this would be an instance when they aren't. When the gas or smoke fills your cell you have two repreives. One, soak a towel with water and wring it out, then put it over your face, or two, if it's real bad, place the wet towel over your head with your head down in the toilet (yep, you always want to keep your toilet clean; it doubles as your clothes washer too). When there are no gassings or smoke filling the pods, there's a smell that difficult to explain. When I was captured and brought back into the "system" he first thing that 'hit' me was the smell. It's a smell that I think could be described as a mixture of a hospital (cleaning supplies), basement (damp and musty), and some other smell that I can't place. It's just always there. One more thing that I hear that people think we have while in here is A/C. Nope.

And let me tell ya, it can reach 120* in the cell, on a hot day in summer, especially if your cell's window, which are long, narrow slats of thick, unopenable glass, faces the sun. I use my fan. I use it alot.

I think I'll be able to fall asleep now. And I smile as I drift off, because I know that my wife is nearby and I'll see her sweet face in the morning. With that in mind, I drift off...

...I wake up at 2:30 am. The slamming of the steel doors has brought me out of a pleasent dream of my wife. We were kissing... sighs.
Oh, yeah. Pancakes again. Oh, well.

---George Rivas

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Saturday, November 11, 2006

"State vs. Reed" - full version of award-winning documentary now online

"State vs. Reed" is a 60 minute documentary that explores an explosive capital murder trial in Texas that has resulted in a questionable death penalty conviction of Bastrop, Texas' Rodney Reed. Thank you to the filmmakers, Frank Bustoz and Ryan Polomski, for making this important film available online. Thanks to the Texas Students Against the Death Penalty blog and Hooman Hedayati for the heads up. The Austin chapter of Campaign to End the Death Penalty has been working with the Reed family for years to prove Rodney's innocence.



Reed, a then-28 year-old black male with a minor criminal record, was convicted in 1998 of the murder of Stacey Stites, a 19 year-old finacee' of a local police officer named Jimmy Fennell. Read more about the film in this Austin Chronicle article. Though Fennell was the primary suspect for over a year who failed two polygraph examinations, Reed was eventually arrested after DNA found on the victim was connected to him. Reed claims that he and the victim, who was Caucasian, shared a consensual sexual affair for over 6 months and that an encounter the night before would account for the finding of his DNA as well as a possible motive for the real killer. "State vs. Reed" dives into this complex and potentially benchmark case that still rattles the citizens of this small Central Texas town. By talking to those who knew best -- friends of the victim and family of the defendent, investigators, lawyers, journalists and Reed himself, on Texas' notorious Death Row -- the award winning documentary reveals a case fraught with open questions and unusual coincidences. Ultimately, the documentary reveals the mistake-prone system that sentences men and woman to death in the state of Texas at a rate incomparable around the world.

Filmmakers Frank Bustoz and Ryan Polomski are first-time feature filmmakers, though have worked in the medium in central Texas for years. Previously, they have worked on the internationally screened short documentary, "Hecho a Mano: Tres Historias de Guatemala". "State vs. Reed" premiered at the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival where it won the Lone Star States Audience Award. It has since been screened multiple times in the central Texas area, including the Kerrville Community Center in Bastrop, the Bastrop Public Access Channel (for seven straight nights), the George Washing Carver Museum and Cultural Center in east Austin, and as part of the Amnesty Interntional Film Festival on the University of Texas campus.

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Friday, November 10, 2006

Changes to Texas House after Election

One of the big changes in the upcoming Texas legislative session impacting death penalty reform legislation will be that State Rep Terry Keel will no longer be chair of the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence, as he has been since 2003. Keel blocked many criminal justice reform bills from getting out of his committee the last two sessions. In the election last week, the seat previously held by Keel was won by a Democrat, Valinda Bolton. Keel had not sought re-election to the House in order to run for a place on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. He lost in the Republican primary. No one knows yet who will be the new chair of the Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence, but whoever chairs the committee will probably be more open-minded to reform than Keel.

Democrats picked up five seats in the Texas House in last week's election, plus in December 2006 they had won another seat in a special election. In 2003, the party split in the Texas House was 88 Republicans and 62 Democrats. In January 2007, there will likely be 81 Republicans and 69 Democrats (there is still one seat vacant after last week's election because of the death of one candidate, but that seat is likely to remain Republican).

The election results have brought up the possibility that the House will elect a new speaker to replace Tom Craddick, who has irritated many people with his autocratic style. At this point, Craddick looks likely to retain his post, but there will likely be an attempt to replace him. Rep. Jessica Farrar, a Houston Democrat, has asked the Texas Ethics Commission to determine whether some lobbyists are violating a law that prevents people who want to be speaker from using bribery to win the post. She says some lobbyists are pressuring lawmakers to support Craddick for another term and threatening retribution if they don't.

In 2001, there was a vote on a moratorium on executions on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives. The bill was HB 1328 by Rep Harold Dutton. 52 House members voted in favor of a moratorium back then, including one Republican. 91 voted "No" on the moratorium bill. 1 person was recorded as "present not voting" and there were six absent members. A couple of the Democrats who voted "No", probably did so on procedural grounds and were in fact in favor of a moratorium.

In the newly elected Legislature that will take office in January 2007, there will be 69 members (32 D's 37 R's) who were not members in 2001 and so have never voted on a moratorium.

There will be 50 members who were also members in 2001 and voted "No". There are 2 members who were members in 2001, but were absent in 2001 when the vote took place.

There will be 29 members (28 D's and 1 R) of the Texas Legislature who were also members in 2001 and who voted "yes" for the moratorium back then.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

379th person executed today in Texas since 1982

Texas executed a man on Wednesday by lethal injection for the 1992 murder of a man whom he shot dead during a car hijacking outside a Houston shopping center.

Willie Shannon, 33, was convicted of the slaying of Benjamin Garza who was waiting for his wife and children in his car when he was attacked.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice said Shannon, who was then 19 years old, entered the passenger side of the car and shot Garza in the head after a brief struggle.

He was later apprehended after being spotted driving the stolen vehicle. Police said he had raped a maid at a nearby hotel just 10 minutes before the slaying and carjacking.

In his last statement while strapped to the gurney, Shannon said he had not meant to kill Garza.

"I took a father, it wasn't my fault, it was an accident ... God knows the truth," he said.

Shannon had no last meal request.

Shannon was the 24th person executed in Texas this year and the 379th put to death in the state since it resumed capital punishment in 1982.

Texas, which has executed more people both this year and in the 20 years since the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a national death penalty ban, has one more execution scheduled this year.

© Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.

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Defense Attorney Wins Dallas DA Election

Democrats have turned the tide in Dallas County, rejecting a high-profile GOP candidate for district attorney, kicking incumbent county judge Margaret Keliher to the curb and choosing dozens of Democrats for judicial posts.

CRAIG WATKINS won the DA race in Dallas County.

Age: 38

Professional background: Worked as a municipal prosecutor and public defender before starting a private law practice. Also owns a real estate title company and previously owned a bail bond company.

Party: Democrat

Political experience: Ran unsuccessfully for district attorney in 2002.

Hometown: Graduate of Carter High School in Dallas. Now lives in DeSoto.

On the campaign trial, Mr. Watkins, a defense attorney who has never prosecuted a felony case, wears his relative lack of prosecutorial experience as a badge of honor. He promises to shake up the office with progressive criminal justice ideas.

“The difference between the two of us is, not only am I running against the guy standing next to me, but I’m running against the system that has failed us,” he said in a fall campaign appearance.

Mr. Watkins’ “Smart on Crime” message includes a promise to give low-level offenders second chances to avoid prison through diversion programs. He also would lobby for better education funding and rehabilitation for convicts.

“Our role is more than just prosecuting criminals,” he said. “Our role should also be prevention and addressing why people commit crime. I will not just sit back and wait for someone to commit a crime.”

Mr. Shook’s “Community Oriented Proactive Prosecution Plan” would have prosecutors working closely with police and community members to focus on root causes of crime in neighborhoods.

Mr. Shook said his prosecutors also would help police target hardcore criminals who are responsible for a disproportionately high percentage of crime. He said he also would be an advocate for more funding for special courts and diversion programs for drug offenders and the mentally ill.

“It’s more of a philosophy,” Mr. Shook said. “More than waiting for crime to happen, we go after crime.”

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Friday, November 03, 2006

Chris Bell for Governor

Many people have asked what we think of the current gubernatorial candidates. The election is this Tuesday. There are five candidates on the ballot for governor, so the winner may only need about 38 percent of the vote to win the election. We hope Chris Bell wins the election.

On Friday, August 11, we met with the Democratic nominee for governor, Chris Bell, in his campaign headquarters in Austin. We discussed the problems in the death penalty system for an entire hour. Some of the topics we covered were the cases of Ruben Cantu, Cameron Todd Willingham and Carlos De Luna. There have been reports in the media that all three of them were probably innocent of the crimes for which they were executed by Texas.

Chris expressed strong concern that innocent people could be at risk of execution in Texas. He said he would like to see an Innocence Commission created in the next session of the Texas Legislature.

We then asked him if he supported a moratorium on executions and if were the governor, if he would sign a moratorium bill if it came to his desk. He said, "Yes, I would".

We think Chris Bell should be the next governor of Texas. He supports capital punishment, as do the vast majority of Texas voters. He also understands that there are problems in the Texas system of capital punishment. We expect that if he wins the election on Tuesday and becomes Governor, he will keep his word and sign a moratorium bill, if one is passed by the Texas Legislature.

Some of you may wonder why not support Kinky Friedman. Like Bell, Kinky supports capital punishment, but also supports a moratorium. Part of the answer is that Kinky has no chance of winning. He is running fourth in the polls, ahead of only the Libertarian candidate. The best chance to enact a moratorium during the next four years is to elect Chris Bell governor. Kinky also has some strange positions on other issues that make it difficult for many people to support him. For instance, Kinky has said he would support declaring martial law in border cities to control immigration. That's a little over the top.

Chris Bell is also the best candidate for voters concerned about the education system in Texas. If you have ever looked over the backgrounds of people executed in Texas, one thing that jumps out at you is that so many of them dropped out of school - often as early as the 8th or 9th grade. Chris Bell's education proposals would probably reduce the drop out rate. Reducing the number of drop outs would reduce the number of people who end up in the prison system for violent crimes.

While you are at the polls, don't forget to vote for J.R. Molina in his race against Sharon Keller for presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Under Keller, the CCA has become a "national laughingstock", according to one of the other judges on the CCA.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Audio and Pictures from 7th Annual March to Stop Executions

Here is a link to an audio report from Houston Indy Media on the march.
It contains comments from Eugenia Willingham and Mary Arredondo.

They also have some pictures up.

Execution of the innocent is the focus of 7th Annual Texas March to End the Death Penalty

by Renee Feltz Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2006 at 2:16 PM
reneefeltz@gmail.com
Hundreds of Texans took to the streets of the state capital this weekend to call attention to three death row prisoners who were executed, and later found to be innocent. Renee Feltz reports:

audio: MP3 at 3.6 MB




Mothers like Sandra Reed delivered powerful speeches in support of their children. Reed, the mother of Rodney Reed, spoke about her son and his case, the injustices of the system, and her determination to get him out of death row.

Rally at gates of Governor's Mansion

After DPS troopers refused to take her letter for Rick Perry, Mary Arredondo, sister of Carlos De Luna, dropped it through the gate of the governor's mansion.

Above photos from the 7th Annual March to Stop Executions
by Gislaine



Eugenia Willingham, mother of Todd Willingham and Joshua Easley, nephew of Todd Willingham

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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

More on passage of El Paso County Moratorium Resolution

The El Paso Times has a longer article in today's paper regarding the moratorium resolution. It points out that District Attorney Jaime Esparza sent someone to plead with the Commissioners Court not to pass the moratorium resolution, but the commissioners ignored his argument and passed it anyway. A few years ago, the Commissioners Court passed a similar moratorium resolution, but one week after it passed Esparza got them to reverse it. This time it looks like it will not be reversed. The big difference this time may have been the three cases of innocent people being executed that have come to light in the past two years: Ruben Cantu in San Antonio, Cameron Todd Willingham in Corsicana and Carlos De Luna in Corpus Christi. The crisis in the Texas death penalty system has reached epic proportions. People are willing to support a moratorium now, because they want to be sure that innocent people are not at risk of execution.

Powerful testimony from a former death-row inmate and the several family members of murder victims about justice gone awry and forgiveness preceded the El Paso County Commissioners Court's 4-1 vote Monday for a resolution against the death penalty.

The vote made El Paso County the second Texas county behind Austin's Travis County to endorse the resolution, which actually calls for a moratorium on executions until a commission studies the administration of the death penalty.

Carmen Velasquez told how her brother, Raymond, became a probation officer and was tortured and murdered at the age of 34 in 1990.

"It has taken me decades to realize there is no peace in someone else's death," she said.

Juan Roberto Melendez, 65, said he spent nearly 18 years in hellish conditions on Florida's death row before a copy of another man's confession to the crime was found in the prosecutor's files, where it had been for a year before Melendez was sentenced to die.

"It happens all the time," he said of prosecutorial misconduct.

El Pasoan John Tures, husband of Carol Tures, who has campaigned for a moratorium for years, read a supporting letter from former Bexar County District Attorney Sam Milsap. He said he used to be a strong supporter of capital punishment but turned against it after learning than an executed man he convicted was innocent.

District Attorney Jaime Esparza's first assistant, Marcos Lizarraga, pleaded with commissioners to not approve the measure, saying it stands little chance of broad approval in Texas but will put doubt in the minds of El Paso jurors in murder cases.

"I'm worried that with this resolution, people will think what we do as part of our job is wrong," he said.

And while the resolution calls for a moratorium on executions, Lizarraga said, Commissioners Court would actually be taking a stand against the death penalty for the worst crimes.

Commissioner Larry Medina told Lizarraga he was right.

"The state has no business in the revenge business," Medina said.

Commissioner Miguel TerĂ¡n said part of the problem is that money buys justice and more money buys more justice.

"We live in a racist society that condemns people on the basis of the color of their skin," he said.

County Judge Dolores Briones said she supported the resolution because she is pro-choice on abortion, while Commissioner Dan Haggerty said he would oppose it because he is pro-life.

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Monday, October 30, 2006

El Paso Commissioners Court passes death penalty moratorium resolution

Congratulations to Carol Tures and El Pasoans Against the Death Penalty. Carol told me that Juan Melendez was there to testify and that they also read a letter from Sam Milsap. This should greatly increase our chances of similar successes in San Antonio, Austin and other places.

Commissioners pass death penalty resolution (1:06 p.m.)
David Crowder / El Paso Times
Article Launched:10/30/2006 01:08:13 PM MST

El Paso County Commissioners Court today approved a resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty in Texas.

The resolution passed four to one with Miguel Teran, Larry Medina, Betti Flores and Dolores Briones voting in favor of the resolution. Dan Haggerty opposed it.

A similar resoultion was presented years ago and was passed by Commissioners Court before District Attorney Jaime Esparza at that same meeting went back to the Commissioners Court and convinced them to rescind the resolution.

Travis County has adopted a similar resolution.

In other action, it appears that the proposal to alter the method of appointments to Thomason Hospital's board will be deleted from agenda and no action taken.

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Family of Innocent Man Deliver Letter to Governor's Mansion Asking for Investigation and Moratorium on Executions

Accompanied by 300 supporters standing outside the gates of the Texas Governor's Mansion Saturday October 28, the family of Cameron Todd Willingham delivered a letter to Gov Perry asking him to stop executions and investigate the case of Cameron Todd Willingham to determine if he was wrongfully executed. Willlingham's stepmother, Eugenia Willingham, slipped the letter, along with a copy of an article from the Chicago Tribune that concluded that her son was innocent, through the bars of the front gate of the mansion and left it lying on the walkway leading to the front door of the mansion. They had asked a DPS trooper on duty to take the letter, but the officer refused to accept it. The action was part of the 7th Annual March to Stop Executions.

The 300 supporters standing beside the Willingham family carried signs saying, “THE DEATH PENALTY SYSTEM IS BROKEN" on the top of the signs and different slogans at the bottom listing various problems with the Texas death penalty system that can lead to innocent people being executed, including "NO STATEWIDE PUBLIC DEFENDER SERVICE", "PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT", "NO INDEPENDENT COMMISSION TO REVIEW THE SYSTEM" and other problems.

After delivering the letter, the Willingham family joined the crowd in a march to Austin City Hall for a rally against the death penalty.


The Honorable Rick Perry
Governor of Texas
Austin, Texas

October 28, 2006

Dear Governor Perry,

We are the family of Cameron Todd Willingham. Our names are Eugenia Willingham, Trina Willingham Quinton and Joshua Easley. Todd was an innocent person executed by Texas on February 17, 2004. We have come to Austin today from Ardmore, Oklahoma to stand outside the Texas Governor’s Mansion and attempt to deliver this letter to you in person, because we want to make sure that you know about Todd’s innocence and to urge you to stop executions in Texas and determine why innocent people are being executed in Texas.

Todd was not the only innocent person who has been executed in Texas. There have been reports in the media that Ruben Cantu and Carlos De Luna were also innocent people who were executed in Texas. It is too late to save Todd’s life or the lives of Ruben Cantu or Carlos De Luna, but it is not too late to save other innocent people from being executed. We are here today to urge you to be the leader that Texas needs in order to make sure that Texas never executes another innocent person. There is a crisis in Texas regarding the death penalty and we ask you to address the crisis. Because the public can no longer be certain that Texas is not executing innocent people, we urge you to stop all executions.

Strapped to a gurney in Texas' death chamber, just moments from his execution for setting a fire that killed his three daughters, our son/uncle, Todd Willingham, declared his innocence one last time, saying "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 is now dead and can no longer speak for himself, so we have come to Austin to speak for him.

Before Todd’s execution, you were given a report from a prominent fire scientist questioning the conviction, but you did not stop the execution. The author of the report, Gerald Hurst, has said, "There's nothing to suggest to any reasonable arson investigator that this was an arson fire. It was just a fire."

Another report issued in 2006 by a panel of national arson experts brought together by the Innocence Project concluded that the fire that killed Todd’s three daughters was an accident. The report says that Todd’s case is very similar to the case of Ernest Willis, who was convicted of arson murder and sentenced to death in 1987. Willis served 17 years in prison before he was exonerated in 2004 – the same year Todd was executed. The report says that neither of the fires which Todd and Ernest Willis were convicted of setting were arson. The report notes that the evidence and forensic analysis in the Willingham and Willis cases "were the same," and that "each and every one" of the forensic interpretations that state experts made in both men's trials have been proven scientifically invalid. In other words, Todd was executed based on “junk science”.

Please look into our son/uncle’s case and ask the District Attorney in Corsicana to reopen the investigation into the crime for which my brother was wrongfully executed. You should also establish an Innocence Commission in the next session of the Texas Legislature that could investigate my brother’s case, as well as other cases of possible wrongful executions, such as Ruben Cantu and Carlos De Luna.

Please ensure that no other family suffers the tragedy of seeing one of their loved ones wrongfully executed. Please enact a moratorium on executions and create a special blue ribbon commission to study the administration of the death penalty in Texas. Texas also needs a statewide Office of Public Defenders for Capital Cases. Such an office will go a long way towards preventing innocent people from being executed. A moratorium will ensure that no other innocent people are executed while the system is being studied and reforms implemented.

We look forward to hearing from you and we pledge to work with you to ensure that executions of innocent people are stopped.

Yours sincerely,

Eugenia Willingham
Stepmother of Cameron Todd Willingham who raised him from the age of 13 months


Trina Willingham Quinton
Niece of Cameron Todd Willingham


Joshua Easley
Nephew of Cameron Todd Willingham

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Text of Letter Delivered to Governor's Mansion for Rick Perry by Carlos De Luna's Sister during 7th Annual March to Stop Executions

Choking back tears and accompanied by 300 supporters standing outside the gates of the Texas Governor's Mansion, the sister of Carlos De Luna delivered a letter to Gov Perry on October 28, 2006 asking him to stop executions and investigate the case of her brother to determine if he was wrongfully executed. Mary Arredondo slipped the letter, along with a copy of an article from the Chicago Tribune that concluded that her brother was innocent, through the bars of the front gate of the mansion and left it lying on the walkway leading to the front door of the mansion. A DPS trooper on duty refused to take the letter, so Mary left it on the walkway. The action was part of the 7th Annual March to Stop Executions.

The 300 supporters standing beside Mary Arredondo carried signs saying, “THE DEATH PENALTY SYSTEM IS BROKEN" on the top of the signs and different slogans at the bottom listing various problems with the Texas death penalty system that can lead to innocent people being executed, including "NO STATEWIDE PUBLIC DEFENDER SERVICE", "PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT", "NO INDEPENDENT COMMISSION TO REVIEW THE SYSTEM" and other problems.

After delivering the letter, Mary joined the crowd in a march to Austin City Hall for a rally against the death penalty.


The Honorable Rick Perry
Governor of Texas
Austin, Texas

October 28, 2006

Dear Governor Perry,

My name is Mary Arredondo. Carlos De Luna was my brother. He was an innocent person executed by Texas on December 7, 1989. I have come to the Texas Governor’s Mansion today to personally deliver this letter to you. It is too late to save my brother’s life, but it is not too late to take steps to prevent other innocent people from being executed. I am writing to ask that you provide the leadership to make sure that Texas never executes another innocent person.

My brother claimed his innocence from the time of his arrest until his execution. He named another man as the real killer. The Chicago Tribune has recently published the results of their investigation that concluded that my brother was the victim of a case of mistaken identity and the most likely killer was a man named Carlos Hernandez. Hernandez's relatives and friends have recounted how he repeatedly bragged that my brother went to Death Row for a murder Hernandez committed. I am enclosing a copy of the Tribune article for you to read.

Please look into my brother’s case and ask the District Attorney in Corpus Christi to reopen the investigation into the crime for which my brother was wrongfully executed.

I also ask you to support a moratorium on executions and to create a special blue ribbon commission to study the administration of the death penalty in Texas in order to prevent other innocent people from being executed and to propose reforms to ensure the fair and accurate administration of the death penalty in Texas. In addition, I ask you to support an Innocence Commission that would be charged with investigating claims of innocence from people before they are executed and cases of people that have been wrongfully executed, as well as cases of innocent people who have been exonerated in order to determine what went wrong in the system that resulted in an innocent person being convicted.

There are other reforms that will help prevent innocent people from being convicted and executed, such as establishing a statewide Office of Public Defenders for Capital Cases and increasing the amount of money paid to attorneys representing indigent defendants and the amount of money available to them to conduct investigations. Of course, the best way to prevent innocent people from being executed is to end the use of the death penalty and instead sentence people convicted of capital crimes to life without the possibility of parole.

Thank you for reading my letter. I hope that you will do whatever is necessary to prevent other innocent people from suffering the fate of my brother.

Yours sincerely,

Mary Arredondo

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

Austin American-Statesman publishes series on failures of Texas habeas corpus appeals process

The Austin American Statesman has poked its head out from under the rock where it normally lives and is publishing a two-day, multi-article series by Chuck Lindell on the failures in the Texas habeas corpus appeals process. The series has one article that concludes that "by failing to ensure quality death penalty appeals, Texas risks a backlash from the U.S. Supreme Court that could put its capital punishment system in jeopardy".

In the same edition of the Statesman in which the series begins, Sunday Oct 29, 2006, the Statesman endorses all the state-wide Republican candidates in non-judicial races. Then the Statesman tries to ram its choices down voters' throats by saying, "this ballot is so long, you might want to clip this and take it with you to the polls". No thanks, American-Statesman, Texas needs a change in leadership, so we won't be following your irresponsible endorsement recommendations.

By endorsing Rick Perry, the Statesman is ensuring that the problems in the death penalty system will continue and that innocent people will continue to be at risk of execution.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

7th Annual March to Stop Executions - Oct 28 2006


7th Annual March to Stop Executions
"Innocent People Have Been Executed"
Saturday, October 28th, 2006
Austin, Texas


10 AM - 3 PM Brunch by Inside Books Project (300 Allen Street) $5 All you can eat, kids free (more info on brunch below)

Noon - Press conference with speakers from march, including family members of Cameron Todd Willingham (602 West 7th Street) call 512-689-1544 for more info

1:00 - 1:30 PM Prayer Service at University Catholic Center (2010 University Ave at 21st Street)

3 PM Meet at Texas Governor's Mansion (between 10th & 11th Streets on Lavaca)

3:30 March down Congress Ave to Austin City Hall Plaza for a Rally Against the Death Penalty

We encourage everyone to make signs and banners and bring them to the march.

Speakers and special guests include: Five members of the family of Cameron Todd Willingham, an innocent person executed by Texas. A family member of Ruben Cantu, another innocent person executed by Texas. Darby Tillis, who was exonerated from death row in Illinois. Sandra Reed, mother of Rodney Reed, an innocent man still on death row in Texas. Sandrine Ageorges from France. Jeanette Popp, mother of a murder victim. Howard Guidry. Other speakers to be announced soon.

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 our voices together and loudly express our opposition to the death penalty.

Get on the Bus From Houston: Bus tickets are $20.00. The bus leaves the SHAPE Harambee Building Sat morning at 10 AM and will pick up at Macy's at Memorial City Mall on the way out of town at 10:30 AM. The bus will return to Houston by 9 PM. Call or email TDPAM in Houston to reserve a seat or buy a ticket for a student, a senior or a person on fixed income who wants to go. AbolitionMovement@hotmail.com or call 713-503-2633.

Flyers for download: Main Flyer and a Houston Flyer (with bus info)


Join us in Austin on Oct. 28th to demand a Stop to All Executions!



The march is organized by people from many different groups working together as the March to Stop Executions Coalition. If your organization wants to be listed as a sponsor of the march, please let us know. The 7th Annual March to Stop Executions Coalition includes:

Campaign to End the Death Penalty, Texas
Moratorium Network
, Texas Death Penalty Abolition
Movement
, Texas
Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
, Committee to Free Frances Newton, Inside Books Project, Texas Students Against the Death Penalty, Texas Death Penalty Education and Resource Center, National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Citizens United for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, Journey of Hope, International Socialist Organization, Capital of Texas Democrats For Life (CTDFL), Democrats For Life of Texas (DFLT), Death Penalty Reform Caucus of the Texas Democratic Party, Victims of Texas, Amnesty International, Texans for Peace, Austin Mennonite Church, CodePink Austin, El Pasoans Against the Death Penalty, Students Against the Death Penalty (the national group), Libertarian Longhorns, Catholic Longhorns for Life, the Social Justice Committee of the University Catholic Center, Howard Guidry Justice Committee, The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Friends Meeting of Austin, The Texas Civil Rights Project,
National Black Law Students Association, American Civil Liberties Union - Central Texas Chapter, American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, Gray Panthers, peaceCenter, San Antonio, Dominican Sisters of Houston, Friends of Justice, TX CURE, S.H.A.P.E. Center (Houston), National Black Police Association, Catholics Against Capital Punishment, Austin Center for Peace and Justice, Equal Justice USA, Houston Peace Forum, PFLAG Houston (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), Community Involvement Committee of First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston, University of Texas at Austin Chapter of Amnesty International, Civilians Down, Social Action Committee of Congregation Beth Israel, Houston Peace and Justice Center, The Austin Chronicle, Resistencia Bookstore

To become a sponsor or get involved, email us at: admin@texasmoratorium.org.
Or call us at: 512-302-6715.

Please Support the March by Donating Online to the Special March Account.

You can also donate offline by sending a check to:

Texas Death Penalty Education and Resource Center

3616 Far West Blvd, Suite 117, Box 251

Austin, Texas 78731


Donations to the march through TDPERC, a 501 (c) (3), are tax-deductible


All-You-Can-Eat Pancake Brunch and Book Sale Blow-Out

Attend the Brunch, then head to the Governor's Mansion for the March to Stop Executions

Saturday, October 28

10:00 am - 3:00 pm

at the Rhizome Collective, 300 Allen Street

3 blocks South of Seventh & 4 blocks east of Pleasant Valley

$5 for adults, kids eat free

Or, skip the brunch and hit the booksale for free.

Ample Parking, with convenient buslines to downtown:


#4 - Bus Link

stops 3 blocks from the Rhizome Collective & 2 blocks from the
Governor's Mansion

busses every 40 minutes until 6:00, then once every hour until nearly
mindnight

#17 - Bus Link

stops 4 blocks from the Rhizome Collective & at the Capitol

busses every 25 minutes until 7, then once every hour until nearly 11

#100 - Bus Link

Stops 7 blocks from the Rhizome Collective & 3 blocks from the
Governor's Mansion

busses once every 40 minutes until 10

Silver Dillo - Bus Link

tops 4 blocks from the Rhizome Collective& 5 blocks from the
Governor's Mansion

busses every 30 minutes until nearly 6

For more information on the brunch, contact Inside Books at 512-647-4803,
insidebooksproject@yahoo.com

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Austin Chronicle endorses opponent of Sharon Keller

The Austin Chronicle endorses J.R. Molina, the Democratic candidate running against Judge Sharon Keller for Presiding Judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

J.R. Molina
Fort Worth attorney Molina, who has run previously for this court, has lengthy experience as both a prosecutor and a criminal-defense attorney and would bring balance as well as social diversity to the court, which sorely needs it. He has pointed out in the past that criminal appeals court judges too often impose their own law-and-order political priorities on life-and-death decisions, and he can be counted on to bring a fresh and experienced perspective to a court that has been fairly described as the worst in Texas.

And if there were no other reason to vote for Molina, ridding the court of incumbent Judge Sharon "Hang 'Em High" Keller would be more than enough. For too long, Keller has been a disgrace to the court, and indeed to fair criminal justice in Texas. "She keeps going to the right as far as she can," noted one observer – not a left-wing or even Democratic critic, but Keller's Republican opponent in the spring primary. Keller is notorious, even among her colleagues, for arbitrarily bending the law to sustain convictions no matter how unjust. It's past time Texas voters sent her packing.

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Record number of organizations sponsor 7th annual March to Stop Executions

A record number of organizations have signed on as sponsors of the 7th Annual March to Stop Executions on October 28, 2006.

The march is organized by people from many different groups working together as the March to Stop Executions Coalition. If your organization wants to be listed as a sponsor of the march, please let us know. The 7th Annual March to Stop Executions Coaliton includes:

Campaign to End the Death Penalty, Texas Moratorium Network, Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Committee to Free Frances Newton, Inside Books Project, Texas Students Against the Death Penalty, Texas Death Penalty Education and Resource Center, National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Citizens United for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, Journey of Hope, International Socialist Organization, Capital of Texas Democrats For Life (CTDFL), Democrats For Life of Texas (DFLT), Death Penalty Reform Caucus of the Texas Democratic Party, Victims of Texas, Amnesty International, Texans for Peace, Austin Mennonite Church, CodePink Austin, El Pasoans Against the Death Penalty, Students Against the Death Penalty (the national group), Libertarian Longhorns, Catholic Longhorns for Life, the Social Justice Committee of the University Catholic Center, Howard Guidry Justice Committee, The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Friends Meeting of Austin, The Texas Civil Rights Project, National Black Law Students Association, American Civil Liberties Union - Central Texas Chapter, American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, Gray Panthers, peaceCenter, San Antonio, Dominican Sisters of Houston, Friends of Justice, TX CURE, S.H.A.P.E. Center (Houston), National Black Police Association, Catholics Against Capital Punishment, Austin Center for Peace and Justice, Equal Justice USA, Houston Peace Forum, PFLAG Houston (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), Community Involvement Committee of First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston, University of Texas at Austin Chapter of Amnesty International, Civilians Down, Social Action Committee of Congregation Beth Israel, Houston Peace and Justice Center, The Austin Chronicle, Resistencia Bookstore

To become a sponsor or get involved, email us at: admin@texasmoratorium.org Or call us at: 512-302-6715.

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"I didn't shoot him": Message written in blood on cell wall

The article below in the Austin American-Statesman clarifies what Michael Johnson wrote on the cell wall in his blood before dying: "I didn't shoot him". Johnson had said earlier that his accomplice David Vest, who received an eight-year prison term in a plea bargain and testified against Johnson, was the killer. Vest was freed in September 2003 after completing his sentence.

Execution-bound convict commits suicide
McLennan County killer slashes neck and arm arteries hours before scheduled execution.
By Mike Ward

AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Story link

Friday, October 20, 2006

Condemned McLennan County killer Michael Dewayne Johnson committed suicide early Thursday in his death row cell less than 16 hours before his scheduled execution, prison officials said.

Left behind was a message scrawled in blood on the cell wall: "I didn't shoot him."

Authorities said Johnson, 29, apparently used a metal blade or razor to cut his right jugular vein and an artery inside his left elbow about 2:45 a.m. at the Polunsky Unit outside Livingston, east of Huntsville.

At the time, one official said, a nurse was nearby, treating another prisoner, but life-saving efforts proved futile because Johnson lost so much blood so quickly. The official asked not to be identified because of agency policy against speaking to the media and because an investigation into the death is ongoing.

"There was a tremendous amount of blood, very quickly, everywhere," the official said.

The initial investigation indicated that Johnson likely slit his arm first, wrote the message on the wall and then cut his throat.

Johnson was taken to a Livingston hospital, where doctors pronounced him dead at 3:40 a.m. An autopsy was scheduled as part of the investigation, officials said.

Prison officials said Johnson left several suicide notes. Officials withheld the contents as part of the continuing investigation.

Michelle Lyons, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in Huntsville, said Johnson was scheduled to be executed shortly after 6 p.m. Thursday for the Sept. 10, 1995, shooting death of Jeff Wetterman, a 27-year-old convenience store clerk in Lorena, near Waco.

Wetterman was shot in the face with a 9 mm pistol after he helped Johnson and another man, identified by prison officials as David Vest, fill their vehicle with gas, a prison report shows.

Although the report posted on the prison system's Web site identifies Johnson as the shooter in the attack, his brother, Jack, took issue with that in an e-mail message to the American-Statesman. He said the killer was Vest.

Vest blamed the shooting on Johnson, took an eight-year prison term in a plea bargain and testified against his friend. Vest was freed in September 2003 after completing his sentence, Lyons said.

Lyons said convicts facing execution are placed on a "death watch," in which they are checked every 15 minutes, within 36 hours of the sentence being carried out. Johnson had been observed by guards about 2:30 a.m., just before he was to be served breakfast, according to Lyons.

"He had visits with his family (on Wednesday) and was scheduled to have another four hours with them today," she said Thursday. "There was no indication he might try this."

Investigators were attempting to determine how Johnson got the blade or razor in his cell. Shaving razors are checked out to convicts and then retrieved by guards, under prison policy. Cells of death row inmates are searched when they are moved to a special wing after being assigned an execution date, and their cells are routinely searched for contraband every 72 hours, although officials were unsure when Johnson's cell was last searched.

Johnson is at least the seventh condemned man in Texas to take his own life since death row reopened in 1974, but no other prisoner has killed himself so close to his scheduled execution time. On Dec. 8, 1999, inmate David Long was executed two days after he tried to overdose on prescription medication.

Lyons said officials could recall no suicide on death row so close to an execution date.

Johnson would have been the 22nd Texas inmate executed this year.

In an interview with The Associated Press two weeks ago, Johnson said he remained optimistic.

"You never know what the courts are going to do," he said.

Johnson, who was 18 at the time of the shooting, insisted it was Vest who had gunned down Wetterman after the pair, in a stolen car, fled the store on Interstate 35 because they didn't have the $24 to pay for their gas.

"I never even saw the dude," Johnson said. Vest "jumped back into the car and we took off. He hollered: 'Go! Go! Go!' "

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

"I didn't do it.": Last words written in blood on walls?

The article below says that Johnson wrote on the wall of his cell in blood, but does not say what the words were. We have heard from one source that the words were: "I didn't do it."

Oct. 19, 2006, 6:38PM
Texas inmate kills himself hours before execution

By staff and wire reports
Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle

Facing lethal injection later in the day, condemned Texas prisoner Michael Dewayne Johnson beat the executioner to it today, fatally slashing his throat and arm in his death row cell just over 15 hours before he was scheduled to die.

Johnson, 29, was found in a pool of blood and unresponsive at 2:45 a.m. by officers making routine checks on him every 15 minutes at the Polunsky Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Fifteen minutes earlier, he was talking to prison staff and awaiting breakfast.

"He had used some sort of metal blade or razor to cut his right jugular vein and an artery inside his right elbow," prison system spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said. "He had made no indications that he was contemplating suicide."

Words written in blood were on the wall of his cell, but prison officials declined to disclose the nature of the writing because Johnson's death remained under investigation, Lyons said.

Johnson was taken to a hospital in Livingston, a few miles away, where he was pronounced dead about an hour after he was found.

He had been set to die after 6 p.m. Thursday for the 1995 slaying of Jeff Wetterman, 27, gunned down at his family-run gasoline station and convenience store in Lorena, just south of Waco.

On learning of the suicide, Bill Wetterman Jr., the victim's brother, said he felt the state had been cheated out of justice. "We've waited 11 years for this,'' he said of the scheduled execution. "It should have happened sooner.''

Johnson is at least the seventh condemned man in Texas to take his own life since death row reopened in 1974, but no other prisoner has killed himself so close to his scheduled execution time. On Dec. 8, 1999, inmate David Long was executed two days after he tried to overdose on prescription medication.

Authorities were not immediately certain where he would have obtained the piece of metal that had been attached to a small wooden stick, which Lyons described as resembling a Popsicle stick.

It also was unclear whether the metal was a razor blade or a metal piece that had been sharpened. Some inmates are allowed to shave but must check out a razor and return it to a corrections officer when they are finished, Lyons said.

Besides the routine 15-minute checks that begin for inmates 36 hours before their scheduled execution, officers on death row in Texas also routinely search the inmate's cell every 72 hours for contraband.

An appeal to block the punishment was in the U.S. Supreme Court, where Johnson's lawyer Greg White was asking justices to reconsider their rejection last week of an earlier appeal. White also said he had worked until 2 a.m. on another round of last-day appeals and had notified state and federal appeals courts they would be filed early Thursday.

"No point in filing that stuff," White said. "It's just sitting in a chair in my office."

White also said he had no indication that Johnson was despondent.

"I've never seen him not in good spirits," the lawyer said. "I'm not trained in those things, but just from a common person's standpoint, we just never had conversation that he was near the end and 'I'm doomed' and any of that kind of stuff."

Crawford Long, an assistant district attorney in McLennan County who prosecuted Johnson, said he also was surprised.

"We were prepared to be handling a last-minute filing with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals," Long said.

Johnson would have been the 22nd Texas inmate executed this year. The total is the highest in the nation among states with capital punishment.

As part of the usual procedure, he would have been taken about midday today from the Polunsky Unit, where the inmate population includes the state's now 380 condemned men, to the Huntsville Unit's death chamber, about 45 miles to the west.

In an interview with The Associated Press two weeks ago, Johnson said he remained optimistic.

"You never know what the courts are going to do," he said.

Johnson, who as 18 at the time, insisted it was a companion, David Vest, who had gunned down Wetterman in September 1995 after the pair, in a stolen car, fled the store on Interstate 35 about 12 miles south of Waco because they didn't have the $24 to pay for their gas.

"I never even saw the dude," Johnson said. "(Vest) jumped back into the car and we took off. He hollered: 'Go! Go! Go!'"

Vest blamed the shooting on Johnson, took an eight-year prison term in a plea bargain and testified against his friend. Vest is now free.

Johnson was involved with other teenagers in what authorities said was a stolen car ring in Balch Springs, near Dallas, when he was arrested for the Wetterman slaying. At the time of the shooting, he was in a stolen Cadillac. The 9 mm pistol used in the shooting also was stolen.

Johnson and Vest were heading to Corpus Christi for a day at the beach to celebrate Vest's 17th birthday. With fuel low, and without cash, they pulled into the Lorena Fastime store on the Interstate 35 frontage road about 12 miles south of Waco. It was the practice at the store to help motorists with their fuel purchase.

"I guess Johnson was afraid if they drove off he'd get the license number and then police would be looking for them,'' said Crawford Long, an assistant district attorney in McLennan County. "They didn't have money to pay for the gas, and he just shot him in the head and killed him.''

A friend testified at Johnson's trial that Johnson told him he shot Wetterman after Vest said, "Shoot!" Vest said he had uttered a similar-sounding expletive when he saw Wetterman come out to help them and knowing they didn't have the $24 to pay for the gasoline.

"I've never signed a statement, never signed any confession," Johnson said.

Vest, in his confession, admitted to the shooting. At Johnson's trial, he testified his companion was the shooter. Vest's confession improperly was suppressed by prosecutors using ``trickery and deceit'' and knowlingly using false evidence to deprive Johnson of a fair trial, Johnson attorney Greg White said in his Supreme Court appeal.

"What he's trying to do is really ridiculous," Long said. "We indicted Vest as if he was the shooter. We indicted both of them that way. And Vest signed a stipulation of evidence that the indictment was correct.

"Now his defense attorney is trying to say Vest was admitting to the crime and being the shooter. It's simply not true." Long also denied hiding the Vest confession, saying it was introduced to the trial judge and filed as part of the court record.

"He unquestionably was guilty," Long said. "He had made admissions to a number of people."

Four other Texas inmates are scheduled to die over the next month.

———

Chronicle reporter Allan Turner contributed to this report.

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