Saturday, September 30, 2006

Hunger Strike to Occur on Texas Death Row

ATTENTION: Starvation Strike

Beginning... Oct. 8, 2006
Ending ...Jan.01, 2007

We believe the time has come to stop the mistreatment of prisoners andthe illegal application of the death penalty. The seeds of rebellion have been watered by a dictatorship type administration. This is a cause that will need the utmost commitment from everyone involved. We must form bonds that cannot be broken. Because every tactic will be utilized by the administration to discourage us. That is why we have chosen a HUNGER STRIKE as our method of protest against the system and the death
penalty. Our hearts are set on refusing to accept another morsel from an oppressive system that has no respect nor consideration for those they hold in captivity.

There are 5 of us that stand so strong in our beliefs that we are willing to sacrifice our health and well being to show others the seriousness of our predicament.

Our goals are to open the eyes of our fellow captives and society. We extend the hand of friendship to those who wish to become a part of our fight.. Anyone who wants to battle oppression and mistreatment can extend any kind of help, support, advice, grievances, protest or petition. To find out more go to

Or contact the captives below at :
Travis runnels # 999505
Steven Woods # 999427
Richard Cobb # 999467
Kevin Watts # 999456
Justin Hall # 999497

Polunsky Unit
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, Tx. 77351

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Friday, September 29, 2006

Texas gubernatorial debate next Friday, Oct 6, at 7 PM

The only debate between the Texas gubernatorial candidates is scheduled for next Friday, Oct. 6, at 7 p.m.

If you haven't yet figured out which candidate you plan to vote for this will be a chance to find out more to help you decide. More than likely, there will be a question posed to the candidates regarding the Texas death penalty. A major difference in this election and past elections for governor is that in the last two years there have been reports in the media that Texas has probably executed up to three innocent people, Ruben Cantu, Cameron Todd Willingham and Carlos De Luna. The Bexar County District Attorney is conducting an investigation into the Cantu case. So, it will be interesting to hear what the candidates say they will do if elected to make sure that Texas does not execute any more innocent people.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that

"the four candidates — Republican Gov. Rick Perry, Democrat Chris Bell, Republican-turned-independent Carole Keeton Strayhorn and independent Kinky Friedman — gave Belo Corp. exclusivity with a load of limitations.

In Belo markets (Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston), only Belo stations can carry the hourlong debate live. In other markets, TV stations can pluck it off a satellite feed. But here in Austin, only KVUE Channel 24, which is owned by Belo, can carry the debate live. Other stations can use excerpts for their newscasts, but they cannot air the entire debate or stream it on their Web sites.

Why is there exclusivity for a political debate?

“We’re putting on the debate,” says Mike Devlin, station manager for WFAA, the Belo station in Dallas. “I’m spending lots of time on this, we —- the Texas Belo stations and The Dallas Morning News — are putting it on. We’re not going to go through all this time and expense to hand over our work and investment to competitors in the marketplace.”

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Be a Sponsor of the 7th Annual March to Stop Executions

If your organization would like to be listed as a sponsor of the 7th Annual March to Stop Executions, just email us.

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, Democrats for Life, 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, Gray Panthers, peaceCenter, San Antonio, Dominican Sisters of Houston, Friends of Justice, TX CURE.

To get involved, email us Or call us at: 512-302-6715.

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Monday, September 25, 2006

Bus Tickets from Houston to Austin for March to Stop Executions on Oct 28

Bus tickets are $20.00. Call or email Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement 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. or call 713-503-2633.

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Sister of Carlos De Luna to speak at March to Stop Executions in Austin Oct 28

Rose Rhoton, sister of Carlos De Luna, will be one of the speakers at this year's March to Stop Executions on Oct 28. "If God ever gave me a second chance," Rhoton has said, "I would fight harder for Carlos."

Other speakers to be announced soon. We are also asking members of the families of Ruben Cantu and Cameron Willingham to participate in the march.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to Examine Lethal Injection Protocol

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Ex parte John Alba ordered the following:

We must consider whether a claim that the execution chemical protocol may violate the constitutional rights of the condemned is cognizable in a writ of habeas corpus. Before making the decision in this case, we invite, applicant, the State, and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to present their positions on the following question: Is a claim that the lethal-injection protocol violates the Eighth Amendment cognizable under Article 11.071 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure?

All briefs on these issues should be delivered to this Court within 60 days from the date of this order.

IT IS SO ORDERED THIS THE 20th DAY OF September, 2006.

It remains to be seen whether this order will result in a temporary halt to executions in Texas.

The more important question in Texas is not whether the method of execution is constitutional, but whether Texas has executed innocent people, such as Ruben Cantu, Carlos De Luna and Cameron Todd Willingham.

Thanks to Capital Defense Weekly for spotting this.

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March to Stop Executions planning meeting - Sept 24 at 4 PM

The next planning meeting for the 7th Annual March to Stop Executions is this Sunday, Sept 24, at 4 PM at 3210 Duval St in Austin.

October 28, 2006

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

3:30 March around mansion, down Congress Ave to Austin City Hall

Rally at Austin City Hall Plaza

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Sharon Keller outvoted 8-1 and innocent woman was released

Have you ever seen that old movie with Henry Fonda called "12 Angry Men" about a murder trial where everyone on the jury votes to convict except one person who thinks the defendant is innocent. He eventually changes everyone's minds and they vote "not guilty" unanimously. Sharon Keller tried to pull a Henry Fonda last December on the CCA in the case of Brandy Del Briggs, but she could not succeed in changing even one person's mind. It was a bit different than in the movie though. Everyone thought the person was innocent, except Keller, who could not convince one single person that she was right. Keller is running for re-election as presiding judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals against Democrat J.R. Molina.

Texans have come to expect the U.S. Supreme Court to overrule Keller and lower federal courts to overrule her, but now she is out of step with her own all-Republican court, which is increasingly turning against her. The vote in this case was 8 to 1 and she lost. Everyone else thought Briggs' conviction should be overturned, but not Keller. No one wanted to support her though. She is the presiding judge and she gets no respect on her own court. In the Republican primary last Spring, she was challenged by one of the other Republican members of her court, who said she had made the CCA a "national laughingstock".

Today, The Houston Chronicle is reporting that Brandy Del Briggs is seeking to regain custody of the child she had lost custody of after she was wrongfully convicted of murdering her other child. Briggs was exonerated and released after spending five years in prison wrongfully convicted of killing her other child. Keller was the only member of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals who voted to deny relief to Brandy Del Briggs. The vote on the court was 8-1 with Keller being the one. Forget about "12 Angry Men", this was "Rebel without a Cause" since Keller had no cause to go it alone. Everyone else voted to overturn the conviction on grounds that the "applicant's attorney failed to adequately investigate this case under the standards set out in Strickland v. Washington and Wiggins v. Smith." Keller argued in her dissent that the trial counsel was not ineffective, but that he was following a "reasonable trial strategy".

Brandy Del Briggs was released in December 2005. Harris County DA Chuck Rosenthal recently dropped charges against her because he could not prove she was guilty. The Houston Chronicle wrote an editorial arguing that she should be compensated for the five years she spent in prison:

Whatever Rosenthal's personal beliefs or intuition about the cause of baby Daniel's death, he has admitted he cannot make the case against Briggs. Unless the definition of innocence in Harris County depends on Rosenthal's unsubstantiated opinions, that makes this one-time defendant innocent and qualified for state restitution funds.
Briggs was charged with murder in the May 1999 death of her first son, Daniel Lemons. She pleaded guilty to injury to a child and was sentenced to 17 years in prison.

She denied harming 2-month-old Daniel but said her attorney told her she would receive probation if she pleaded guilty to the lesser charge. The attorney, Richard Anderson, has denied saying that.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned Briggs' conviction last December and she was released. The court cited ineffective counsel, saying her lawyer had not thoroughly investigated Daniel's medical records.

Experts who reviewed the records for her appellate attorney, Charles Portz, said a birth defect had caused a bacterial infection in the infant, who had been in and out of hospitals. They also said a breathing tube mistakenly was inserted in Daniel's stomach rather than his lungs at Lyndon B. Johnson General Hospital, depriving his brain of oxygen for at least 30 minutes.

His death originally was ruled a homicide, but Harris County Medical Examiner Luis Sanchez later changed the ruling to "undetermined," saying he found no evidence of abuse.

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

"Rallies for Reed's innocence have begun to gain popularity"

Protesters march from Capitol
David Stout
Posted: 9/14/06

Protesters gathered at the Capitol on Wednesday, petitioning the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to conduct a new trial for Texas death row inmate Rodney Reed. (Walter Reed, Rodney's father is pictured above.)

Reed was convicted for the 1996 murder of Stacey Stites after matching DNA evidence was discovered at the scene of the crime.

Yet, rallies for Reed's innocence have begun to gain popularity. The documentary "State v Reed," which took home an award at the 2006 South by Southwest Film Festival, has helped gain support from death row abolitionists across the country for Reed.

Toddlers, protesters and members of the Reed family held banners and gathered in front of the Capitol building before marching to the Court of Criminal Appeals building to deliver the petition.

"We're here to let the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals know there is a public that cares about what happens to Rodney," said Stefanie Collins, member of the national organization the Campaign to End the Death Penalty. "We just want justice for Rodney and his family."

Since Reed's conviction in 1998, several groups including the Campaign to End the Death Penalty have banded together to demand a retrial claiming that key witnesses and DNA evidence discovered at the crime scene were left out of the trial.

"We came here to plead to the [Court of Criminal Appeals] for Rodney to have a new trial and a fair trial," said Rodney's mother, Sandra Reed.

While a date for Rodney's execution has yet to have been set, 21 inmates have been executed in Texas so far this year according the Death Penalty Information Center Web site.

© Copyright 2006 The Daily Texan

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Another innocent man that Sharon Keller voted to keep in prison

In 2004, State District Judge Sharen Wilson ruled that John Michael Harvey was "actually innocent" and recommended his release. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with Judge Wilson on a vote of 5-4 and Harvey was set free, exonerated of the crime that had wrongfully kept him in prison for 12 years.

Sharon Keller was one of the four judges on the CCA who voted to keep this innocent man in prison. Keller faces the voters in November. Will she survive the vote or have Texans grown weary of her unwillingness to protect innocent people from being wrongfully incarcerated?

Read more from the Houston Chronicle on Dec 11, 2004:

John Michael Harvey missed out on a lot the past 12 years behind bars: marrying the love of his life who never believed he molested a 3-year-old girl, spending time with his parents who never doubted his innocence.

His relationship with his fiancee fell apart after he was sentenced to 40 years in prison in 1992. After draining most of their life savings to defend him, his father died of health problems in 2000, and his mother lost her battle with cancer in 2002.

Now that he has been cleared of the conviction and is finally free again, Harvey must start over. His old life is gone.

"In order for the next several years not to be contaminated and ruined, I need to put closure on it and try not to feel sorry for myself," said Harvey, 40. "I want to have future relationships and not be sad and sour. I need to get back to the man I once was."

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday upheld a lower court ruling of "actual innocence," saying Harvey had been wrongfully convicted. The alleged victim, now a teenager, had recanted.

On Friday, a sheriff's deputy drove Harvey from a prison in the Texas Panhandle to the Tarrant County Jail. He was released that evening after the appeals court received documentation that prosecutors would not seek a new trial for Harvey.

He started walking in downtown Fort Worth, carrying two small bags of belongings, but had no money and nowhere to go. His Houston attorney, Sean Buckley, picked him up Friday night, took him out for a steak dinner and drove back Saturday to Houston, where Harvey has relatives.

"This has allowed the public to see that a wrongful conviction is not as rare as they once thought it was," Buckley said.

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Monday, September 11, 2006

Houston Press likes Sharon Keller profile on MySpace

From The Houston Press

September 6, 2006
Killer Page, Your Honor!
Filed under: Spaced City
Wonder if Sharon will approve our friend request…

We love a good MySpace parody. Why, just check out ours here, and here. So we think this fake page belonging to Dallas judge Sharon Keller, who’s seeking re-election as presiding judge for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals against J.R. Molina, is pretty damn funny.

But Keller doesn’t, and complained to the now Fox-owned MySpace folks, who promptly removed it. (She’s apparently pissy about being called “Killer.”) It’s up again, for now, but chances are it will be gone by week’s end.

For anyone who has even casually followed Texas death penalty rulings, the site’s a hoot-and-a-half. Keller gained notoriety when she ruled in 1998 that convicted rapist and murderer Roy Criner couldn’t get a new trial, even though new DNA evidence refuted the original blood evidence that essentially built the case against him. (Criner was eventually pardoned by then Governor Dubya, after serving 10 years of a 99-year sentence for the rape of a 16-year-old in Montgomery County.)

And thus, the tune playing on her MySpace page is Vicky Lawrence’s cheesy – but entirely apropos – classic “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” (a song about an innocent man getting nailed by the system). Arguably the best pic in her scrolling image set is of her with a group of women, holding a big check (because nothing says politico like a big check).

Who does Judge “Killer” – who boasts 136 friends – want to meet? “Katherine Harris (some people say we look like each other), Karl Rove (some people say we think like each other). The editors of The Onion.”

Her blogs are priceless, especially the one titled “20 Hamburgers You Must Eat Before You Die.” The judge cites a piece in Esquire on the nation’s best hamburgers, one of which can be found at the judge’s dad’s Dallas joint , Keller’s Drive-In. Sez the Judge:

According to the article, “the hamburger is a symbol of everything that makes America great. Straightforward, egalitarian, substantial, and good-natured, it is also a little bloody at times”.

Isn’t that hilarious? It describes me exactly, straightforward and a little bloody. FATFLOL. I wonder if anyone I helped get executed in Texas ever made a last request of a Keller’s Drive-in burger. They should, it’s bloody good, but they probably can’t anyhow. A little known secret is that the last meal in Texas is not anything you want. It’s whatever they have in the prison kitchen that comes close to being what you want. And if you order, “Justice” as your last meal, like a smartass, well, then you just die, er I mean go to sleep, hungry.

Go eat a burger. Tell Jack, his bloody daughter sent you. ;-)

FATFLOL? Emoticons? The verdict is in. This political satire, which is sure to be nixed by Rupert Murdoch’s goons, is awesome. – Steven Devadanam

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Sunday, September 10, 2006

7th Annual March to Stop Executions - Oct 28 in Austin

Saturday, October 28th, 2006
Austin, Texas

3 PM: Meet at Texas Governor's Mansion
3:30: March around mansion, down Congress Ave to Austin City Hall
4 pm: Rally at City Hall Plaza

More details on this year's march will be announced soon.

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Friday, September 08, 2006

New Addresses for Sharon Keller on Myspace and Tagworld

The MySpace parody profile of Sharon Keller is up at a new address: The blog is at

It is also up at Tagworld:

and here:

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

MySpace replaces Sharon Keller parody profile with fake "Sharon" profile

After the article below appeared in today's Austin Chronicle, MySpace (perhaps at the request of Sharon Keller or her campaign), deleted the parody profile of Sharon Keller and, get this, replaced it with a fake "Sharon" profile at the same address . That is hilariously ironic - to delete a fake parody profile and replace it with another fake profile. Of course, Sharon has done worse, she once denied a new trial for an innocent man after DNA testing had exonerated him. She wanted to keep him in prison arguing that the victim was a slut so it was hard to say who she had sex with. In Keller's own words, "the state would have explained that the girl was promiscuous, and might have shown that she'd had sex with different people."

Sharon Keller must be pretty desperate to keep people from learning about her record, which has made the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals a "national laughingstock", as her colleague on the court Tom Price has said.

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Austin Chronicle report on Keller MySpace profile

The Austin Chronicle picked up on the Sharon Keller profile on MySpace. The profile has been deleted twice now, assumedly at the request of Judge Killer herself, but it is back up for the third time, so check it out while you can.

On MySpace, her profile is listed as Sharon Killer, a play on the name of Sharon Keller, the presiding judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals, whose reputation as a hanging judge has earned her a satirical spot on the cyber meet-and-greet circuit. A couple of anti-death penalty activists – Scott Cobb and Hooman Hedayati – crafted the cleverly penned Keller profile and blog to draw attention to the justice's "ideologically driven" record on crime and punishment. And what a record it is. One of Keller's greatest embarrassments to Texas involved her firm stance against giving prison inmate Roy Criner a new trial, even after a DNA test proved he didn't commit the rape and murder for which he was convicted and sentenced to 99 years. It took Gov. George Bush, then a candidate for president, to step in and grant Criner clemency. Keller, a Republican, is running for re-election against Democrat J.R. Molina, a trial lawyer from Tarrant County. The Keller spoof is actually making its second appearance on the site after MySpace operators deleted the first effort last week. By the time you read this, it may have been killed off a second time, but go to just for kicks and see what happens. – A.S.

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Monday, September 04, 2006

MySpace Deletes Parody of Texas "Hanging" Judge Sharon Keller

Check out the Sharon Keller profile on MySpace before Sharon Keller has it deleted again.

[Update Sept 8: MySpace deleted the Keller profile again and replaced it with a MySpace created fake "Sharon" profile to prevent the parody from being reposted at the same address. So, the new address for the parody is]

The address is As someone wrote in a posting on Burntorangereport, "Anyone interested in the Texas tradition of arbitrarily applying the death penalty and JR Molina's campaign to bring justice to Texas' highest criminal court has got to check out this hilarious blog." Read the Sharon Killer blog.

Sharon Keller is the presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. She is running for re-election against J.R. Molina. Keller was challenged in the Republican primary last March by one of the other Republican judges on the CCA – Tom Price. He said she had lost the confidence of the court and once accused her of making the CCA a "national laughingstock", according to Texas Monthly.

A few months ago, Rupert Murdoch bought Murdoch also owns Fox News. So, it is not surprising that MySpace is starting to be a total "control freak" as Kyra Phillips of CNN would say, to which Dick Cheney might respond, "yeah, big time."

A few days ago, a Sharon Keller profile on MySpace was deleted by the MySpace authorities. Apparently, someone complained to MySpace that it was not an authorized profile, but was instead a "fake profile", so MySpace canceled it. It wasn’t a fake, it was a parody. MySpace only cancels parody profiles if they get a complaint from the person being parodied/satirized, so we assume Sharon Keller emailed MySpace and complained. According to our sources, one email the complainer sent read, "Very Funny. Hope you are amusing yourself. Enjoy it while you can". Shortly afterwards, the profile was deleted by MySpace.

As you would expect a judge to know, parodies of public officials are protected free speech under the 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution. Parody and satire have long served as means of criticizing public figures and exposing political injustice. It is true that parodies against unknown people can sometimes be regulated and prohibited. For instance, a student who publishes a parody of a school teacher might be subject to punishment, because the teacher is not a public figure. However, parodies of public figures are protected free speech. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a famous parody that Hustler magazine did of Jerry Falwell back in the 80’s was constitutionally protected free speech. It had portrayed Falwell as having had a drunken sexual encounter with his mother in an outhouse. Parodies and satire directed at governmental officials in order to criticize the actions of the government are given the greatest protection under U.S. legal precedent, as seen in the Supreme Court case "New York Times Co. v. Sullivan".

Satire and parody seem to be gaining in popularity these days as forms of political discourse, especially among younger people. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report are two fake news programs that are often listed as top sources of daily news for some people. Of course, Saturday Night Live, has been presenting satirical skits of public officials for three decades. Anyone remember that old SNL skit that mocked three Texas politicians’ over-eagerness for the death penalty - Ann Richards, Jim Mattox and Mark White. The Onion and The Swift Report are other examples of satirical sites that use fake news.

The Sharon Keller profile on MySpace is a clear example of protected political speech. Anyone who reads it closely can tell that it is a satire. Just look at the name of the URL, which uses the words Sharon Killer, or does Sharon Keller call herself Sharon Killer? Maybe she does.

We suggest Sharon Killer gets over it. We hope that after the November election, Texas gets over Sharon Keller.

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Friday, September 01, 2006

Yet Another Innocent Man May Soon Walk off Texas Death Row

Anthony Graves may soon walk off Texas Death Row on his way to an exoneration. This is yet another case in which the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which is said to have become a national "laughingstock" by one of its own judges, refused to remove an innocent person from Death Row. In March, the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals overturned Graves' 1994 capital murder conviction, forcing U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent to order a new trial. Kent set a Sept. 12 deadline for Graves to be set free on bail or given a new trial. Kent refused a request Thursday by the Texas Attorney General's Office to delay the Sept. 12 deadline while an appeal of the 5th Circuit Court's ruling is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. Now, Graves' attorneys will seek to get Graves released on bail. Read an article from 2000 by CBS News on the case.

"The mere possibility that the United States Supreme Court could accept review of the decision of the Court of Appeals and reverse is not sufficiently likely to justify Graves' continued detention in contravention" of a federal rule requiring that Graves be released on bond, Kent wrote, as reported in The Houston Chronicle.

Roy Greenwood, Graves' defense attorney, has said: "They don't have any testimony putting him there. They have no physical evidence. They don't have a confession; they don't have anything."

Last statement of Robert Earl Carter before his execution on May 31, 2000

To the Davis family, I am sorry for all of the pain that I caused your family. It was me and me alone. Anthony Graves had nothing to do with it. I lied on him in court. My wife had nothing to do with it. Anthony Graves don't even know anything about it. My wife don't know anything about it. But, I hope that you can find your peace and comfort in strength in Christ Jesus alone. Like I said, I am sorry for hurting your family. And it is a shame that it had to come to this. So I hope that you don't find peace, not in my death, but in Christ. Cause He is the only one that can give you the strength that you need.
A couple of years ago, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals failed to overturn the conviction of another innocent man - Ernest Willis. A federal court had to step in and overturn his conviction. Willis walked off death row in Octber 2004 a free man, fully exonerated.

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Governor Perry could have saved an innocent person from execution

Did Governor Perry's zeal for the death penalty cause him to ignore a warning, backed up by scientific evidence, that Texas was about to execute an innocent man in 2004? Below is an excerpt from an article in The Independent that suggests the answer is yes and that Cameron Willingham, who was executed in Feb 2004, could have been exonerated just as Ernest Willis was soon to be exonerated in October 2004, if only Governor Perry had not been blinded by his unwillingness to believe that the Texas death penalty system makes mistakes. Texans support the death penalty, but do they support applying it to innocent people? Will they continue to support a governor that does not prevent the death penalty from being applied to innocent people? Read the "Report on the Peer Review of the Expert Testimony in the Cases of State of Texas v. Cameron Todd Willingham and State of Texas v. Ernest Ray Willis".

It also spells political trouble for Governor Perry as he faces an election race this November. Many of the arson panel's conclusions had been reached even before Willingham's execution, by a Cambridge-educated arson expert called Gerald Hurst, who passed on his findings to the Governor's office. As he told an investigative team from the Chicago Tribune at the time: "There's nothing to suggest to any reasonable arson investigator that this was an arson fire. It was just a fire." It does not appear, however, that Dr Hurst's findings were taken seriously by either the Governor's office or the state Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Barry Scheck, one of the two principles of the Innocence Project, who remains perhaps most famous for his role in defending O J Simpson, said he had established through open records requests that the Hurst report had indeed been properly filed before the execution.

"Neither office has any record of anyone acknowledging it, taking note of its significance, responding to it or calling any attention to it within the government," he said. "The only reasonable conclusion is that the Governor's office and the Board of Pardons and Paroles ignored scientific evidence and went through with the execution."

The prosecution, meanwhile, presented last-minute, second-hand evidence that Willingham had confessed to his estranged wife, something she later said was untrue.

Perhaps most poignant for Willingham's surviving relatives is that, at the time of execution, a similar case was going through the Texas legal system, that of Ernest Willis, who had been sentenced to death for his alleged role in setting a fatal fire in west Texas in 1987. Dr Hurst examined his case, too, found the forensic evidence similarly flawed and said he saw no evidence of arson. Willis was able to have his case reopened and dismissed. He walked out of death row a free man seven months after Willingham's execution.

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