Sunday, June 11, 2006

Texas Democratic Party Platform Endorses a Moratorium on Executions

The Texas Democratic Party approved a platform at the party's state convention on Saturday, June 10, that calls for a moratorium on executions and the establishment of a statewide Office of Public Defenders for Capital Cases "to ensure that every person accused of a capital crime has equal access to well-trained trial and appellate attorneys". The capital punishment plank was drafted by TMN's Scott Cobb, who was a member of the 2006 TDP Chair's Advisory Committee on the Platform.

TMN shared a booth at the convention with Texas Students Against the Death Penalty. You can watch some video of the booth at the convention.

A well-attended meeting of the Death Penalty Reform Caucus, started in 2004 and chaired by Scott Cobb, was held at the party's state convention. The caucus heard from Delia Perez Meyer and Christina Lawson. Delia spoke about the case of her brother Louis Perez, who is on death row in Texas. The Travis County DA has agreed to retest some DNA evidence to determine if Perez was wrongfully convicted. Christina related the story of how she lost her father to murder when she was 9 years old and of the conviction and execution of her husband David Martinez, who was executed July 28, 2005.

Below is the text of the Capital Punishment plank from the TDP platform:

When capital punishment is used, Texans must be assured that it is fairly administered. Texas Democrats extend our deepest sympathies to all victims of crime and especially to the family members of murder victims, and we strongly support their rights. The current system cannot ensure that innocent or undeserving defendants are not sentenced to death.

In the modern era, Texas has executed more than 360 people – by far more than any other state in the nation. The frequency of executions and inadequacies in our criminal justice system increase the likelihood that an innocent person will be executed. Texas may have already executed at least two innocent people, according to recent major newspaper investigations into the cases of Ruben Cantu and Cameron Willingham. Ernest Willis was exonerated and released from Texas Death Row on Oct. 6, 2004 after17 years of wrongful imprisonment. In order to promote public confidence in the fairness of the Texas criminal justice system, Texas Democrats support the establishment of a Texas Capital Punishment Commission to study the Texas death penalty system and a moratorium on executions pending action on the Commission’s findings. Texas Democrats support the following specific reforms:

• Establishing a statewide Office of Public Defenders for Capital Cases to ensure that every person accused of a capital crime has equal access to well-trained trial and appellate attorneys, regardless of income, race or the county of jurisdiction.
• Allowing testing of any possibly exculpatory DNA evidence to ensure guilt or innocence before executions are carried out and allowing testing of DNA evidence after an execution to determine if an innocent person has been executed.
• Establishing procedures to determine before a trial takes place whether an accused has mental retardation, in order to be sure that Texas complies with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ban on executions of people with mental retardation.
• Banning death sentences and executions for people with mental illness.
• Requiring the Board of Pardons and Paroles to meet in person to discuss and vote on every case involving the death sentence.
• Restoring the power to the Governor to grant clemency in death penalty cases without a recommendation from the Board of Pardons and Paroles.

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