Friday, July 28, 2006

More cases of innocents executed in Texas?

Ruben Cantu, Carlos De Luna and Cameron Willingham are three persons that many people now believe were innocent people executed in Texas. But have there been other innocent people executed in Texas? The New York Times ran an article in 2000 that mentioned several cases of people executed in Texas who may have been innocent. That article did not mention De Luna or Cantu and at the time the article was published Willingham was still alive and would not be executed until 2004. The article mentions David Spence, Odell Barnes, Troy Farris, James Lee Beathard and Jerry Lee Hogue as possibly innocent people executed in Texas. About Troy Farris, the article says:

Another member of the board (Board of Pardons and Paroles), Tom Moss, a retired federal parole officer, talked about his vote for clemency for Troy Farris, who was executed for killing a police officer. The Farris case, Mr. Moss said, was one of two cases in which he "saw something that may have indicated that they were innocent."

Cynthia Tauss, who has studied law, is also on the board. She said she "cried all day" after Texas executed Mr. Farris. "I wasn't sure he should have been given the death penalty," she said. "That's why I voted to commute." A majority of the 18-member board would have to have voted for clemency in order to make a recommendation of it to Mr. Bush.
In the Farris case, the one that caused Ms. Tauss of the parole commission to break down into tears, the Court of Criminal Appeals said there was no forensic evidence to link Mr. Farris to the crime or to support the testimony of the two key witnesses against him. But the appeals court upheld the jury's decision.

Then, in an unusual move, seven members of the state parole board voted for clemency, but 10 opposed it and one abstained. Mr. Farris was executed in January 1999.

The Times also wrote about the case of Jerry Lee Hogue, who was executed for arson-murder. Remember, it was arson that was involved in the cases of Cameron Willingham and Ernest Willis. Willingham was executed for arson-murder and Willis was exonerated after 17 years on death row for arson-murder.
This emphasis on speed hurt Jerry Lee Hogue. Although there was strong evidence, including two eyewitnesses, that he had committed the arson-murder for which he was convicted, on the eve of his scheduled execution nearly 20 years later a law enforcement official had gnawing doubts. The official, Joseph Stewart, an arson investigator in Wichita Falls, arrested a man for a different arson who it turned out had been at the arson for which Mr. Hogue had been convicted. The arsons seemed disturbingly similar, Mr. Stewart said in an interview, and he called Governor Bush's office several times, pleading for a reprieve of 30 days in order to pursue the new evidence.

"I'm not a defense lawyer, I'm a Texas peace officer," said Mr. Stewart, a death penalty supporter who has voted for Mr. Bush and has been in law enforcement since he was 21. For this reason he thought Governor Bush would listen to him. He was wrong.

Mr. Sutton said that the governor had rejected Mr. Stewart's entreaties because "the jury decision was right." The execution of Mr. Hogue on March 11, 1998, left Mr. Stewart with grave doubts about how the death penalty is administered. "Being in law enforcement, I am not against the death penalty," he said in an interview in the county building in tiny Crowell. "I had always assumed there was a good set of checks and balances. I was pretty disillusioned afterward."

Texas needs to stop executions immediately, so that the question about whether innocent people have been executed in Texas can be fully investigated.

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Saturday, July 22, 2006

Dallas District Attorney Race Involves Prosecutor from Darlie Routier Case

We saw this comment on the Dallas DA race in an email from Tom Blackwell of Dallas. Tom points out on his website that John Kerry got more votes (200,854) than George Bush (146,952) in Dallas County in 2004, so the DA race there could be competitive.

Dallas GOP DA candidate Toby Shook was the Prosecutor at the Darlie Routier murder trial. Now the A&E Cable Network is running an episode called "Mother on Death Row", that shows evidence that should have been presented to the Jury was omitted, and that one juror now thinks she is innocent. "We hear from a juror who now thinks that Darlie is innocent, the lead prosecutor and defense attorney in the case, and Darlie and her husband", says the promotional material.

Republicans are campaigning with the slogan "Throw the Shook at them." If doing
that means jurors do not see important evidence, a woman is sent to death row, and the prosecutor proceeds with a personal ego trip and the Republican nomination for DA of Dallas County - - we have some urgent business to attend to in the November General Election.

Watching this documentary - - I recall something about a principle called "reasonable doubt."

Here is the web page of the Democratic nominee, Craig Watkins, which is now "under construction"

Recall that the people of Dallas County came very close to electing Craig Watkins to this office 4 years ago...

Regards, TOM BLACKWELL, PO Box 25403, Dallas, Texas 75225

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Win Free Registration for you and a friend to Alternative Spring Break

Patrick Williams of the Dallas Observer published a story titled "Does Death Row Offer Door Prizes?" about the growing support for a moratorium on executions and the news of new voices calling for a moratorium!

Here is part of the story...

That last one comes from the Texas Moratorium Network, a statewide anti-death penalty group that says "an important new voice is about to be raised in support of a moratorium in Texas." Whose voice? That's a secret until around the end of the month, but the network is soliciting guesses on its blog about who the new supporter will be. "After the news breaks, we will post the names on our blog of the people who correctly predicted the name of the new voice. Maybe we will also post the incorrect guesses just for fun," the group writes in its newsletter.

Fun and Texas' Death Row. Yee-haw.

"We can't have a little fun?" TMN President Scott Cobb asked when Buzz gave him a ring in Austin to see if we could get a hint and the big new name. "I don't think it detracts from anything." Hopefully, Cobb says, building a little suspense will drive a few people to the group's Web site and stir up some of the flagging interest in stopping executions in a state that has put to death 369 people since 1982 and is on track to kill four more just this month. This is despite recent news reports that at least one and maybe three innocent persons were part of that tally, and despite a growing chorus among editorialists for a moratorium at least until the Texas death machine is given a thorough review.

The response to Mr. Williams' question is YES! We are teaming up with TSADP and offering one free registration for the 2007 Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break (housing included) to the first person who correctly guesses who the new voice will be. The winner can also bring a friend to spring break for free too.

Please send your guesses to hooman (at) ASAP! The winner will be determined by the timestamp on the email.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Who will be the new important voice calling for a moratorium in Texas?

TMN will soon be announcing a major development in our campaign to convince policymakers to support a moratorium on executions in Texas. An important new voice is about to be raised in support of a moratorium in Texas. The announcement could come next week.

Keep checking our website and this blog over the next couple of weeks for the announcement.

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Two Executions in Texas this Week

Take action against the execution of Mauriceo Brown on July 19
by sending an email to Governor Perry. When writing Governor Perry to express your opposition to the execution, please remember to ask him to express your sympathies to the friends and family of the victim - Michael LaHood.

Take action against the execution of Robert Anderson on July 20 by sending an email to Governor Perry. When writing Governor Perry to express your opposition to the execution, please remember to ask him to express your sympathies to the friends and family of the victim - Audra Anne Reeves.

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Friday, July 14, 2006

Voting Records of Texas Legislators on a Moratorium

In light of the recent reports in The Houston Chronicle and Chicago Tribune that Texas may have executed three innocent persons (Carlos De Luna, Cameron Willingham and Ruben Cantu), we expect there will be an increase in support for a moratorium in the Texas Legislature because even the most ardent supporters of the death penalty are not in favor of executing innocent people. For now, let's take a look back at the level of support five years ago.

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.

Among the current members of the House, there are 52 members (23 D's 29 R's) who were not members in 2001 and so have never voted on a moratorium.

There are 62 current members who were also members in 2001 and voted "No". There are 3 members who were members in 2001, but were absent or "present not voting" in 2001.

There are 33 current members (32 D's and 1 R) of the Texas Legislature who were also members in 2001 and who voted "yes" for the moratorium back then.

After the election this November, there will be some new members of the House and some of the current members will no longer be members.

Examine the data in a spreadsheet.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Paul Begala and Execution Vigils

Last night, there were 11 people at the Texas Governor's mansion protesting the execution of Derrick O'Brien. Seven of the 11 people were members of Campaign to End the Death Penalty. Good Job CEDP'ers!

Ever hear of Paul Begala? He was instrumental in the Clinton campaign in 1992 and went on to co-host CNN’s Crossfire, co-author "Take It Back" and be a political contributor to CNN’s "The Situation Room". He says in this month's Texas Monthly how he got his media start by attending an excecution vigil back in the 80's:

The first time I was on television was when Governor Bill Clements executed the first person in Texas in years. I was a University of Texas student, and I was participating in a candlelight prayer vigil in front of the Governor’s Mansion. Longtime Austin anchor Judy Maggio, who was then just a cub reporter for KVUE, happened to turn a camera on me. I probably owe her a 25 percent royalty for everything I’ve done since.

Come out to the next Execution vigil. Who knows? One day, you may be advising presidents and have a show on CNN.

Statewide Execution Vigils

Huntsville - Corner of 12th Street and Avenue I (in front of the Walls Unit) at 5:00 p.m.

Austin - At the Governor's Mansion on the Lavaca St. side between 10th and 11th St. from 5:30 to 6:30 PM.

Beaumont - Diocese of Beaumont, Diocesan Pastoral Office, 703 Archie St. @ 4:00 p.m. on the day of an execution.

College Station - 5:30 to 6 PM, east of Texas A &M campus at the corner of Walton and Texas Ave. across the street from the main entrance.

Corpus Christi - at 6 PM in front of Incarnate Word Convent at 2910 Alameda Street

Dallas - 5:30 pm, at the SMU Women's Center, 3116 Fondren Drive

Houston - St. Paul's United
Methodist Church, 5501 Main Street (corner of Binz). Parking is available in the church parking lot on Fannin.

Lewisville - St. Philip the Apostle Catholic Church, 1897 W. Main Street. Peace & Justice Ministry conducts Vigils of Witness Against Capital Punishment at 6:00 pm on the day executions are scheduled in Texas.

McKinney - St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic Community located at 110 St. Gabriel Way @ 6:00 p.m. on the day of an execution.

San Antonio (Site 1) - Archdiocese of San Antonio, in the St. Joseph Chapel at the Chancery, 2718 W. Woodlawn Ave. (1 mile east of Bandera Rd.) at 11:30 a.m. on the day of execution. Broadcast on Catholic Television of San Antonio (Time-Warner cable channel 15) at 12:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on the day of execution.

San Antonio (Site 2) - Main Plaza across from Bexar County Courthouse and San Fernando Cathedral - Noon

Spring - Prayer Vigil at 6 PM on evenings of executions at St Edward Catholic
Community, 2601 Spring Stuebner Rd for the murder victim, for family
and friends of the murder victim, the prison guards and correctional officers, for the family of the condemn man/woman, for the man/woman to be executed and to an end to the death penalty.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

TDPAM Press Advisory on Execution of Derrick O'Brien

C/O S.H.A.P.E. Community Center, 3815 Live Oak, Houston, TX 77004

July 10, 2006


Contact: Njeri Shakur 713-237-0357 or Gloria Rubac 713-503-2633



At 6:00 PM on Tuesday, July 11, in Huntsville, Texas, members of the Abolition Movement will be protesting the execution of Derrick Sean OBrien, a convicted participant in one of Houstons most well known murder cases.

O'Brien was one of six youths involved in the rape and murder of Jennifer Ertman, 14, and Elizabeth Pena, 16, on June 24, 1993. The girls were Waltrip High School students who were walking home from a pool party when they took a shortcut through a park and the 6 young men attacked them.

The Abolition Movement is opposed to all executions, regardless if the person is innocent or guilty. The state of Texas does not have the right or the moral authority to kill anyone, said activist Njeri Shakur.

As a mother of six girls, I can only extend my sympathy to the parents of Pena and Ertman. What happened to their daughters was truly a parents nightmare. But as an African in America I know first hand that the criminal justice system is fatally flawed with racism and class bias.

The Abolition Movement also stresses that the death penalty is not reversible. In just the last 19 months, newspaper reporters have uncovered that three innocent people have likely been executed by the state of Texas: Cameron Todd Willingham, Ruben Cantu, and Carlos DeLuna.

Since 1973, 123 people in 25 states have been released from death row for reasons of innocence. Eight of these exonerees were from the state of Texas.

We demand an immediate moratorium on executions in Texas. These three cases of innocence must be fully investigated. And we demand a state agency be formed to not only fully examine these cases, but the application of the death penalty in Texas. If newspaper reporters can uncover innocent people being put to death, we need a total revamping of the criminal justice system. Deluna, Cantu and Willingham were surely not the only innocent people sent to death, Shakur stated.


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Monday, July 10, 2006

TMN invited to talk at Lay Marianist Continental Assembly

TMN has been invited to be one of the presenters at the Lay Marianist Continental Assembly's death penalty networking session on Saturday, July 29, at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. We are going to be answering the question “Why a moratorium movement?” and talk about how local & faith-based organizations can organize towards a moratorium on executions.

If your organization would also like to hear a presentation on the death penalty or organizing for a moratorium, just contact us. We will be happy to send someone to speak to your group.

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"What does the Bible actually have to say about the Death Penalty?"

We encourage readers of this blog to send us guest articles. Below is our first guest article. It is by George & Marybeth Rivas.

All too often we hear the famous Biblical scripture, "An eye for an eye" quoted when referring to the death penalty. During the jury selection for a capital murder trial I attended, countless potential jurors gave the wide-eyed, innocent look with the answer of, "Because the Bible says so." when asked why they believe in the death penalty.

I checked, and just did so again, and my Bible has a New Testament in it. To my understanding, along with Jesus' miraculous birth, life, death, and resurrection, He also came to teach us mercy, forgiveness, and love. These are values, Christian or not, that we all should strive towards. The Biblical view on the death penalty intrigued me, so I asked a minister about it. Here's a condensed version (his was 10 pages) of what he had to say about it...

The first murder in the Bible occurred in Genesis 4:3-15. The story of Cain and Able. Cain never actually repented for killing Abel in cold-blood, yet God (the chief authority), only cast him out of the land that had "accepted" the blood of Abel, rather than killing him as justice demanded. In fact, God puts a "mark" on Cain as a sign for people to NOT kill Cain.

Now, Moses, one of the most beloved and revered men of the Old Testament, and who even SPOKE TO GOD, face to face (Exodus 34:10), was a murderer and fugitive, when he killed the Egyptian and fled to Midian (Exodus 2:12), yet he is a man called by God.

What about king David, whom the prophet Samuel called, "...a man after God's own heart." (1 Samuel 13:14)? King David not only committed adultery with Uriah's wife Bathsheba, impregnating her and attempted to fool Uriah to believe the child was his, but he also had his loyal soldier killed in battle.

And then there's Paul. Saul, later known as Paul, did in fact imprison and have killed many Christians simply for their BELIEF in Jesus. Yet, in Acts 9:15, Jesus Himself calls Paul, "...a chosen vessel of mine...". The entire account is in Acts 9.

In 1 Timothy 1:12-16, Paul states that he did those things out of ignorance, but that NOW, Jesus Christ would show his long-suffering (patience) with other people, by showing Paul as an example; a murder of Christians, yet now chosen by Jesus and a Christian, to carry the Gospel Of Salvation to the Gentiles. Forgiven indeed...

The point of this? Only to cause you to think and delve deeper into Scriptures concerning judgement, mercy, the law of punishment, and the law of forgiveness, AND...the death penalty.

Justice in the Bible, is not merely punishment, but rather equality. Meaning that God holds everyone to the same standard; rich or poor, powerful or weak, male or female, GOD IS FAIR, as in just, with all. He not only expects the same from us, but COMMANDS it (Deut.10:17-18 & Lev. 19:15-16). Now I address this specifically to Christians, who state that they support the death penalty BECAUSE the BIBLE says so. Yet, you will claim for yourselves that, "I am...'a new creation, old things have passed away; behold all things have become new.'" (2 Corinthians 5:17) and, "...'now there is no condemnation..." for me, since I'm in Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:1). All true, but when another person, whether innocent or guilty, is charged with a crime and taken to trial, my fellow brethen will demand the death penalty, because, "The
Bible declares it so."

I ask, are you a Jew? One who follows the letter of the law? If so, you must follow the ENTIRE letter of the law or be condemned. Homosexuality (Lev.20:10-12 & Deut. 22:22), fornication (Deut.22:20-21), disobedience to ones parents (Deut.21:18-21), working on the Sabbath (Deut.5 12-15), rape of a betrothed woman (Deut.22:25), idolatry or one who leads others to idolatry (Deut.17:2-7), mediums or those "familiar spirits" (Lev.20:27; (as well as those who say they are merely into the "occult" and the 1-900 numbers to fortune tellers, palm readers, etc.) and even cursing your parents (Lev.20:9) or God (Lev.24:10-16) are ALL punishable by death, according to the Old Testament. Think of the above "crimes" as they apply today. How many fornicators (premartial sex), "rebellious" children, adulterers or homosexuals, just to name a few, have been tried for any of these offenses as a crime deserving capital punishment in todays modern times? Rather, it has been narrowed down to specific terms for murder, for a specific class of people, that DIFFERENT STATES define as crimes where the death penalty may be exacted. And in the majority of instances, it is the poor, who cannot AFFORD to hire their own attorney, that end up tried and sentenced to death. Remember, if you claim to be in support of the death penalty, because "the Bible says so, " then you MUST follow the ENTIRE letter of the law or be accursed (Galatians 3:10-12). BUT if you make this claim, then you're NOT actually a CHRISTIAN, reread the entire third chapter of Galatians and you'll SEE why.

Now, lets see what JESUS thinks of the death penalty. In John 8:1-11, a woman caught in the very act of adultery, was brought to Jesus by religious leaders, in order to TEST Him. Jesus did not dispute that adultery was punishable by death, but merely said, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her." (v.7). No one did. Jesus said to her,
"I do not condemn you either." (v.11).

A higher law went into effect when Jesus arrived...MERCY. Beginning in Matthew 7:1-2, we are told that the measure with which we measure (judge) others, will be dealt in the same manner to us. Compare that with the story in chapter 18:23-35, of a man who owed a great amount of money (about 10 million) to his king. He could not repay it and was about to be sold, along with his wife, children and all he owned. Falling upon is knees, he begged the king for mercy. The king had compassion on him and forgave his debt. Yet, right after this merciful deed, a fellow worker ran into this man. The worker owed him a much smaller debt (about 20 dollars), the ungrateful man who had just been forgiven his debt, grabbed him by the throat and demanded his money. Now this poor fellow, fell upon his knees and begged for more time to pay off his debt. The man had the worker thrown into prison until the 20 dollar debt was paid off When the king heard this, he was angry with the man whom he'd just forgiven such a huge debt, yet this man couldn't forgive such a small one from his fellow worker? In the kings wrath, he had him put into prison until his huge debt could be paid off.

Jesus then sums it up in verse 35, that His Father in Heaven will deal with everyone of us in like manner if we do not freely forgive.

How does this apply to the death penalty? First off, Romans 3:23 states that we've ALL sinned and fall short of the Glory of God, hence, everyone owes God a debt that we can never repay. Therefore, JESUS paid off this great debt and when one cries out to God for mercy, your sins (debts) are forgiven and the BLOOD OF JESUS fully cancels out the record of those, and every future debt. But should ANOTHER fellow human being be caught in a trespass (breaking the law), you DEMAND the fullest extent of punishment to be exacted, claiming that "justice must be served," adding that the Bible supports such an attitude, "eye for an eye."

And, lest some should say, "Well, I've sinned, but have not committed MURDER. That is the ultimate crime, so it SHOULD require the ultimate punishment." , go to James 2: 10-13. As Scripture CLEARLY states, if you claim to keep the law, then you're bond to ALL of it's requirements. And, if you've sinned in what you regard as a "minor infraction," THE LAW considers you to be guilty of the WHOLE LAW (verse 10-11). Go ahead and read that again.

Matthew 9:11-13 is similar, in that when Jesus was condemned by self-righteous individuals for eating and fellowshipping with people they regarded as sinners, therefore unqualified, The Lord relied that," the well do not need a physcian but the sick do," and for them to LEARN what it means, "I DESIRE MERCY, NOT SACRIFICE."
So learn what mercy truly means because when YOU are crying out to God to have MERCY on you and your loved ones, remember, have YOU shown mercy to others?

Prisons ARE necessary. That's a fact of life in this world. But God has MUCH to say about prisoners! Please take the time to read these passages of scripture, because even YOUR well-being and salvation depend on it. How? Recall to mind what Jesus said about prisoners in Matthew 25:36-46; which are you, a "goat" or a "sheep."

Begin in Job 36:8-15, Psalms 68:6, 69:33, 107:10-16, 146:7, Isaiah 42:6-7, 61:1 and Luke 4:18-21. But Psalms 102:18-20 sums it up best, "Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord: The Lord looked down from His sanctuary on high, from Heaven He viewed the earth to hear the groans of the prisoners and release those condemned to death."

Lest any should say that these verses only apply in a "spiritual sense," reread ALL of Psalm 107 and it's evident that every affliction was physical. The rest reaffirm this, in their entire context as well. Notice that I cited Scriptures pertaining to prisoners who did NOT obey God or His commandment, which is WHY they're in prison (Job 36:8-15 & 107:10-16), and didn't use verses applying to those wo were imprisoned for DOING the will of God, such as Joseph, Daniel, Jerimiah, Peter, Paul Silas, and others. Rather, the verses up above refer to individuals who did WRONG. Yet the common theme in them all, is that GOD IS RICH IN MERCY.

It grieves my heart to hear my "older brothers and sisters" telling our Father that I don't deserve His mercy or kindness. My heart breaks when I hear you telling Him that you've always been obedient to Him and I've only wasted His good gifts. But I rejoice within myself when I hear Him say, "But it was fitting to make merry, for this brother of yours was dead and is now alive! He was lost and is now found!" (Luke 15:11-32; verse 32 cited). You see, I and many others here in prison, are your "little prodigal brothers and sisters." We wasted our Fathers goods and find ourselves in the mire of our sins. But we've "come to ourselves," REPENTED and have finally RETURNED to our Fathers House. Although we would GLADLY be accepted as servants, just to be NEAR HIM, our MERCIFUL DADDY ONLY accepts us as His own CHILDREN... But we hear your words AGAINST US and it hurts...deeply. We're all too aware of what we've done wrong. Believe me, it's always before us, here in prison And although it hurts for you to remind our Father of all we've done wrong, we love you anyways. WE'RE FAMILY, that's what we do...

One last story please...

There was a man who had never done anything wrong in his life, committing himself to serve and help his fellow man. In fact, that was his purpose for living. But he was condemned to death, simply because the authorities could not stand his words of truth and manner of life. He was arrested, beaten, mocked, and through the most civilized court system in the word at that time, he was sentenced to death. Even the judge presiding over his case KNEW this man was innocent. After being whipped and placed on the instrument of his torturous execution, one of the two condemned men near him also mocked this poor man. This unjustly condemned man looked up to Heaven and said, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34). But, we, as Christians, DO know what we are doing. And the FIRST PERSON to enter Paradise, WITH JESUS, was that OTHER CONDEMNED and dying criminal on Jesus' other side...a prisoner.

And that is what this minister had to say about the Biblical views on the death penalty. Jesus spent a night as a death row prisoner and that is where this study came from...death row. That minister, is my husband, and is on Texas death row. God uses His people, sinners and "saints" alike, for His good.

In the love of Christ,
George & Marybeth Rivas

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Saturday, July 08, 2006

Lobbying Tips from a 10 Year Veteran of the Texas House of Representatives

TMN organized a workshop in 2003 entitled “Communicating with the Legislature” given by former State Representative Sherri Greenberg of Austin. Sherri served 10 years as a member of the Texas House of Representatives, completing her final term in January 2001. She is now at the LBJ School of Public Affairs where she teaches courses in public financial management, policy development, and public administration and management. Sherri gave us lots of great tips on how to lobby. Below are some notes from her talk.

When you call your legislators, be sure to let them know that you are a constituent, if you live in their district. When you call, just say, “I live in (Senator X or Rep. Y)’s district”. If possible, when you visit bring along someone who you know already has a relationship with the legislator. (Although, if you don’t know anyone like that, go by yourself). If you do come with a group, have a plan of who is going to say what. Have a conclusion to your presentation. If the aide or legislator wants to talk about something else, talk about what they want to talk about and then get back to your priorities if possible. Don’t go solo if possible. Bring others, but not too many people. Make an appointment. If the member is not available, make an appointment with the legislative aide. Treat an appointment with the aide the same as an appointment with the actual legislator. Aides will pass on what you say to the member. Be courteous to the aide. In fact, treat the aide as if she or he is the actual legislator. Do not be disappointed if you do not get to see the actual legislator. The aide will pass on your position to the legislator. Golden Rule is “The staff = the legislator”. Don’t be rude. During the legislative sessions, direct your calls to the capitol office, not the district office.

If possible, prepare a one page list of what you want to convey, including the bill numbers if they have already been assigned, and a bullet list of reasons you support the bill or issue. Legislators and staff love bullet lists. Be as concise as possible. If you want to give them a longer document, include an executive summary that is short and concise. They don’t have a lot of time, so BE CONCISE. Leave several copies for staff.

You can also visit with committee staff separately. Call the chief clerk to meet with them. The two most important committees for death penalty issues are the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence and the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice.

Be on Time!! Follow up your visit with a letter thanking them for their time, and reiterating your main points. Don't be afraid to say that you don't know the answer to a particular question. If you say during the meeting that you can provide them with an answer later, then don’t forget to do that. Include the answer in a letter, or call the aide and let them know the answer on the phone. Always thank them for the meeting. Don’t be a pest with a lot of calls to the office. Use your common sense about that. If the opportunity presents itself, ask to walk along with the legislator to their next meeting and talk while you walk. Give your bullet list to the legislator, but also leave some for the staff.

DON’T ARGUE, ever. Discuss the issues, but don’t get in an argument about the issues, especially if the person you are talking to takes a moral position on the death penalty. Know your audience. Do some research on the legislator. Say such things as, “I certainly understand your point of view”. You must internalize respect for the validity of other peoples’ points of view. Say something like, “I have some additional information that I’d like you to consider”. Then tell them your info. You can also bring a list of names of other people who live in the legislator’s district and who support your position.

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Thursday, July 06, 2006

Write letters to the editor about Carlos De Luna case

We received a comment in a post below saying that a reader of this blog had written a letter to the Chicago Tribune thanking them for their coverage of the Carlos De Luna case. That's a great idea to write letters to the editor. Here are some links to some newspapers. For the ones in Texas, you could point out that the De Luna case and the risk of executing other innocents is a prime example of why we need a moratorium on executions:

Online form to write a letter to the editor of The Chicago Tribune

Online form to write a letter to the editor of the Austin American Statesman
P.O. Box 670, Austin, TX 78767
Fax: (512) 445-3679

Online form to write a letter to the editor of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times

Online form to write a letter to the editor of the Dallas Morning News
2726 S. Beckley
Dallas, TX 75224
Phone: (214) 977-8494
Fax: (972) 263-0456

Houston Chronicle
P.O. Box 4260
Houston, TX 77210
Phone: (713) 220-7491
Fax: (713) 220-3575

San Antonio Express-News
c/o Express-News
P.O. Box 2171
San Antonio, TX
Fax: (210) 250-3465

Please include your daytime phone
number for verification purposes only.

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Video of Nightline Report on Innocent Man Executed in Texas

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Saturday, July 01, 2006

Willingham, Cantu, De Luna = Moratorium on Executions in Texas

Reports that three innocent people may have been executed by Texas should shake the souls of every person in this state. These continuing reports of executions of innocent people indicate that we have an emergency situation in Texas. The death penalty system here is clearly not capable of sorting out the guilty from the innocent before strapping people down for their lethal injections. Texas district attorneys and judges could enact an immediate moratorium on executions by agreeing to cancel all execution dates until the next session of the Texas Legislature has an opportunity to address the crisis. Certainly the next session of the Legislature should act to suspend executions.

In 2001, committees in both the Texas House and Senate approved moratorium legislation, but in 2003 and 2005 moratorium bills died in committee. Since the last regular session of the Texas Legislature adjourned in 2005, two new cases in Texas have come to light in which innocent people were probably executed - Ruben Cantu and Carlos De Luna. Right before the 2005 session started, the case of Cameron Willingham had already been reported in the papers. Another innocent person, Ernest Willis, was exonerated and released from Texas' Death Row in Oct 2006. Even the most ardent supporters of the death penalty in the Legislature should now be willing to suspend executions in order to examine why innocent people are being sentenced to death and even executed in Texas.

Theodore M. Shaw, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, summarized the three innocence cases in The Washington Post on July 2, 2006:

Willingham was a 36-year-old father of three from Corsicana, Tex., who was executed in February 2004 for murder by arson. In December 2004, the Chicago Tribune reported that new scientific knowledge proves that the testimony by arson experts at Willingham's trial was worthless, and that there is no evidence that the fire was caused by arson. A panel of the nation's leading arson experts confirmed that conclusion in March. In a strikingly similar case, Ernest Willis, a white oilfield worker from New Mexico, was convicted on the same sort of evidence and sentenced to death for murder by arson in Pecos County, Tex., in 1987. Willis was exonerated and freed in October 2004, eight months after Willingham was put to death.

Ruben Cantu, a 26-year-old Hispanic man from San Antonio, was executed in August 1993 for a robbery-murder committed in 1985 when he was 17. The Houston Chronicle followed up on the initial exploration by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and published the results of its own investigation last November. The newspaper reported that another defendant, who pleaded guilty to participating in the crime but did not testify at Cantu's trial, has signed an affidavit swearing that Cantu was not with him that night and had no role in the murder. More important, the only witness who did testify -- a second victim, who was shot nine times but survived -- now says that police pressured him to identify Cantu as the shooter, and that he did so even though Cantu was innocent.

Last week, the Chicago Tribune (again following up on initial inquiries by the Legal Defense Fund) published a detailed reexamination of yet another case, that of Carlos DeLuna, a young Hispanic man from Corpus Christi, Tex., who was executed in December 1989 for stabbing a convenience store clerk to death in 1983. DeLuna, who was convicted on the basis of a quick on-the-scene witness identification, claimed that the killer was a man named Carlos Hernandez.

The prosecution argued that Hernandez was a "phantom." The Tribune found that Hernandez (who died in prison in 1999) was not only no phantom, but also no stranger to law enforcement. In fact, one of DeLuna's prosecutors knew Hernandez well from an earlier homicide investigation. Hernandez and DeLuna were strikingly similar in appearance but, unlike DeLuna, Hernandez had a long history of knife attacks similar to the convenience store killing and repeatedly told friends and relatives that he had committed the murder for which DeLuna was executed.


It's too late to save those men -- or the victims of other erroneous executions that have not yet come to light. But it's time to recognize that, regardless of our views on the death penalty, any future debates must proceed with the knowledge that we have put innocent people to death.

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