Pages

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.

Sphere: Related Content

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.

Sphere: Related Content

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

Sphere: Related Content

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

Sphere: Related Content

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.

Sphere: Related Content

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

Sphere: Related Content

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.

Sphere: Related Content

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.

Sphere: Related Content

"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!' "

Sphere: Related Content

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.

Sphere: Related Content

Texas inmate kills himself hours before execution

LIVINGSTON — Condemned prisoner Michael Dewayne Johnson committed suicide early today in his death-row cell, less than 18 hours before he was scheduled to be executed, a prison official said.

Johnson slashed his throat with a makeshift blade fashioned from a small piece of metal attached to a wooden stick, said Michelle Lyons, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in Huntsville.

Prison guards had been checking on Johnson's welfare every 15 minutes, as is customary, when they found him unresponsive in a pool of blood in his cell, Lyons said. He was transported to a hospital in nearby Livingston, where he was pronounced dead, Lyons said.

There are some reports that he wrote on his cell in his own blood, "I didn't do it."

For information on Michael Johnson see http://www.adelante.com/michaeljohnson/index.html.

Sphere: Related Content

Monday, October 16, 2006

Sharon Keller was landlord to a strip club

We have written before about the poor judgement that Sharon Keller has shown as presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Check out the article below from The Dallas Observer in 1999. Seems poor judgement was part of her business life too.

After the article below appeared in 1999, Keller changed the name of her company that leased the property to the strip club from Sharon Batjer, Inc to Northwest JJJ and her elderly mother was made president of the re-named company. Did she retain an interest in the ownership of the renamed company, which continued to lease property to the strip club? We don't know, someone should ask her. While they are at it, they should ask her how many lap dances does she think had to be done in the club for the owner to pay her the monthy rent all those years the strip club was in operation.

Conservative Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Sharon Keller is landlord to a North Dallas topless bar

http://www.dallasobserver.com/Issues/1999-11-18/news/news.html

By Thomas Korosec
The Dallas Observer
Article Published Nov 18, 1999

A titty bar, $200 worth of beer and tequila shots, and a conservative Republican judge: a combo more volatile than atomic fission. The question is, Will the Texas GOP go thermonuclear when it learns one of its highest-ranking jurists, Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Sharon Keller, owns the building and property housing the Doll's House, a Dallas topless joint?

Keller's connection to the low-end strip bar emerged earlier this month when Flower Mound attorney S. Rafe Foreman asked that she be barred from hearing the appeal of one of his criminal clients because Foreman had sued the judge's property company in an unrelated case. Last year, Foreman filed suit against Keller's company, Sharon Batjer Inc., on behalf of a 16-year-old whose car was hit by a drunken driver who allegedly had consumed $200 worth of tequila shots and beer at the Doll's House one night in November 1997. Batjer is Keller's former husband's name, and corporate and court records say she is president and majority shareholder in the company.

Foreman dropped Keller's company from the suit and reached an out-of-court settlement with the bar's owners, Dimitri Papathanasiou and Solinka Inc., earlier this year, court records show.

Keller, reached Friday in her court office in Austin, said Foreman's motion in the criminal case linking her to the bar was filed solely "to discredit me...I don't think it does."

The judge says she was "not particularly familiar" with the leasing of the property to the Doll's House. "Let me say it this way," Keller says. "I own a considerable amount of property. For the most part I am unfamiliar with the details of ownership and leasing and tenants and all that stuff. I did not know I owned that particular property. I don't know what my lease and tenant contracts are."

Sharon Batjer Inc., which was incorporated in 1985, owns only one piece of real estate in Dallas County, appraisal district records show. It's the Doll's House property at 6509 E. Northwest Highway, near its intersection with Abrams Road. It's valued on tax rolls at $1.3 million.

When asked how that constitutes widespread holdings with which she was unfamiliar, Keller replied: "That company is not my only asset." Keller says she is familiar with the fact that the bar is at that location, two doors down from her family's long-established business, Keller's drive-in hamburger stand.

The subject of complaints from neighborhood groups over the years, the bar was the source of 17 police calls in the 12 months ending October 31, police records show. Police say one rape, two assaults, and four thefts were included in those statistics.

"Wow," Keller replied when told of those numbers. "I didn't know that." She says she doesn't plan to do anything in response to her ownership of the bar property becoming public. She says it is a legal business.

The outing of Keller's strip-bar interest was done through an anonymous mailing that reached the Dallas Observer last week. Keller called the distribution of the court papers a clear case of politics and accused Foreman of filing them for political purposes -- a charge Foreman denies. "I don't anticipate this will be a problem," Keller says. "I think people will see it as just an example of dirty politics."

Keller has laid the groundwork for a run at the position of presiding judge on the appeals court, which rules on all Texas death-penalty cases and sits as the state's highest court on criminal matters. (See "Dissed robes," page 15.) Keller, a former prosecutor who won a first term in 1994, must run next year to retain a seat on the court.

"I'm disappointed this is being distributed," Foreman says. "My client [in the initial civil suit] is a kid, and I haven't wanted his identity revealed. My sole motivation is the protection of my client in the criminal case before the appeals court. You don't want to have your client judged by someone you've sued."

Last year, Foreman brought a $4.5 million suit on behalf of Blair Marcus McAnally, a 16-year-old who sustained two broken legs and a broken arm in a collision the suit claimed was caused by James Key. The suit alleged that Key drank a large amount of tequila and beer at the Doll's House the night he ran his car into McAnally's and that the bar continued to serve him after he was obviously intoxicated.

Foreman said that after he learned Keller's company had no control over operations of the bar, he dropped it from the lawsuit. He said the bar's lease with Keller's company, which was redone earlier this year, helped demonstrate that there was no control. "The lease isn't based on a percentage of table dances or drinks sold. It's for a flat amount of money," Foreman says.

Key's insurance company paid $20,000 in damages early this year, and Foreman reached a confidential out-of-court settlement with the bar's owners. Subsequently, Foreman began representing Timothy Paul Duke in a drunken driving case that landed in the appeals court in Austin. Keller removed herself from hearing Duke's appeal on October 28, but said it was unlikely she would have heard that case anyway.

When he learned Keller owned the bar property, Foreman says, "I couldn't believe it. This is one of the most right-wing, conservative judges...Yes, it shocked me." Foreman says he found the Doll's House to be so forbidding, his private detective refused to go in.

Keller has a reputation as a pro-prosecution judge who has broken with the appeals court majority in several cases in which she refused to overturn death sentences. In 1996, for instance, the court majority cited prosecutorial misconduct dating back 20 years and ordered a new trial for Kerry Max Cook, who was accused of a 1977 murder of a Tyler secretary. (See "Innocence lost," The Dallas Oberver, July 15 and July 22.) Keller was one of three judges on the nine-member panel who voted to uphold Cook's conviction.

Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, October 14, 2006

March to Stop Executions planning meeting - Oct 15 at 2 PM

We are having a march planning meeting Sunday Oct 15. The meeting time is 2 PM.

The address is:

1600 Wiskersham Ln #3084
Austin, TX 78741

It's at University Commons Apartments off Riverside and Pleasant Valley. Yellow
buildings. The apartment is on the 3rd floor of Building U #3084.

Mapquest

Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Best Death Row Documentary: 'State vs. Reed'

The Austin Chronicle Best of Austin 2006 Critics Picks include:

Best Death Row Documentary: Ryan Polomski and Frank Bustoz's 'State vs. Reed'

Looking for a new project, these two filmmakers couldn't have imagined the attention their award-winning documentary would garner, nor the focus it placed on its star, Rodney Reed. State vs. Reed lays out the the shaky circumstances surrounding Reed's death-row conviction nine years ago, creating momentum for a new trial. The film will air locally next month, Tues., Nov. 7 and Sun., Nov. 12 on KLRU.
A Hand Made Production, 2505 E. Kent St., 417-2685; Digital Light and Sound, 4700 Staggerbush Rd #428, 535-7470; Oso Negro Productions, 907 E. 49th St., 743-9790; KLRU, 2504-B Whitis, 471-4811 imdb.com/title/tt808479/combined; www.dlightsound.com; www.klru.org

Read more on Rodney Reed at www.freerodneyreed.org.

State Vs. Rodney Reed trailer

Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

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


Here is some exciting news. We have found an art gallery in Houston to exhibit our death penalty art show: "Justice for All: Artists Reflect on the Death Penalty".

The show is going to be at M2 Gallery February 10-18. There will be an opening night reception on February 10.

Sphere: Related Content

Monday, October 09, 2006

Brother of Ruben Cantu to attend 7th Annual March to Stop Executions

Bennie Cantu, brother of Ruben Cantu, who was an innocent person executed by Texas in 1993, is coming to the 7th Annual March to Stop Executions on Oct 28 in Austin.

Other speakers and special guests include: Rose Rhoton, sister of Carlos De Luna, an innocent person executed by Texas. "If God ever gave me a second chance," Rhoton has said, "I would fight harder for Carlos." Darby Tillis, who was exonerated from death row in Illinois. Sandra Reed, mother of an innocent man still on death row in Texas. Sandrine Ageorges from France. Other speakers to be announced soon.

Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, October 07, 2006

National Black Police Association Endorses "March to Stop Executions"

The National Black Police Association has endorsed the 7th Annual March to Stop Executions.

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 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, S.H.A.P.E. Center (Houston), National Black Police Association, Catholics Against Capital Punishment, Austin Center for Peace and Justice, Equal Justice USA.

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

Sphere: Related Content

Friday, October 06, 2006

Brunch on Morning of 7th Annual March to Stop Executions - Oct 28

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
mindnigh


#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, contact Inside Books at 512-647-4803,
insidebooksproject@yahoo.

Sphere: Related Content