Tuesday, May 22, 2007

San Antonio Paper Blames Aaron Peña for Death of Innocence Commission Bill, but it is not too late for him to save it

The San Antonio Express News today wrote in an editorial that the fault for the Innocence Commission bill (SB 263) dying in committee belongs to the chair of the committee, Aaron Pena. Still, it is not to late for Chairman Peña to redeem himself. He could offer an amendment to SB 909 (the TDCJ Sunset bill) to add the Innocence Commission. It takes a 2/3s majority to amend a bill on 3rd reading, meaning 100 votes, but it is worth trying to get those votes in order to prevent more innocent people from languishing in prison.

Rep. Aaron Peña, chairman of the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence, said the bill failed due to a lack of votes. Four members, including Peña, voted for it and two voted against it. The bill needed five ayes to pass.

Three House committee members — Barbara Mallory Caraway, Terri Hodge and Paul Moreno — were absent during that vote.

All three have expressed support for the bill, and it's likely they would have voted in favor of it had the hearing been held in a timely fashion, according to the bill's House sponsor, Rep. Senfronia Thompson.

The committee has had the bill since April 24. It should not have languished as it did, and that is Peña's responsibility.

An innocence commission is imperative, particularly in a state like Texas, where the death penalty is supported and applied with fervor. If there are cases where prisoners have been wrongfully executed, shouldn't there be a commission tasked with determining how?

Serious questions have arisen, for example, in the case of Ruben Cantu, a San Antonio man who was executed in 1993. The key eyewitness, Juan Moreno, has recanted his testimony. There is speculation that he was pressured into fingering Cantu after claiming Cantu was not the burglar who shot him and murdered his companion.

If Cantu was innocent, it's too late for him. But it's not too late to learn how that case may have taken a wrong turn.

It's bad enough that people are serving years in prison or possibly being executed for crimes they did not commit.

That this state doesn't care enough to determine how or why is just as appalling.

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