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Monday, January 29, 2007

Critical Praise for Kerry Cook's book "Chasing Justice"

A brilliant and unprecedented work, Chasing Justice is the riveting chronicle of how a smalltown murder became one of the worst cases of prosecutorial misconduct in American history—and sent the author, an innocent man, to hell for twenty-two harrowing years. Kerry Max Cook is one of the longest-tenured death-row prisoners to be freed: This is his unbelievable story and the only first hand account of its kind.



Pre-order and read more about the book on the Harper Collins website.

"Chasing Justice is captivating...It is going to break through political barriers and be a catalyst for reform.
— Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking

"I dare you to read this book. . . An inspiring human being."
— Richard Dreyfuss

"A brutal but compelling account. . . . Amazing."
— William S. Sessions, former FBI Director and federal judge

"The incredible story of this enforced visit to hell and back is a modern day version of Dante and Kafka."
— Alan Dershowitz, Harvard Law School

"Deserves a wide readership alongside John Grisham’s The Innocent Man.
— Publishers Weekly

"An inmate’s harrowing first-person account of a travesty of Texas jurisprudence."
— Kirkus Reviews

"As a Texas death row in-mate trying to prove himself innocent of a rape and murder in Tyler, KERRY MAX COOK was reminded of his fate every time another con made the death walk. CHASING JUSTICE is a hellish tour of a criminal justice system whose officers allegedly railroaded Cook for personal and political gain. The litany of professional malfeasance was sufficiently egregious to inspire the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to write, with unprecedented frankness, that “prosecutorial and police misconduct has tainted this entire matter” and that the “conviction was obtained through fraud and in violation of the law.” But the Kafka-esque courtroom episodes are small beer compared with the nightmarish conditions of Cook’s twenty-year incarceration; he was left naked in solitary confinement and victimized by prison predators. That he survived is astounding; the circumstances that finally freed him by means of DNA evidence are nearly miraculous. "
— Texas Monthly

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Kerry Cook has a new book "Chasing Justice".


Kerry Cook has a new book coming out on Feb 27th. Kerry spent 20 years on Texas death row for a crime he did not commit. You can pre-order his book on Amazon. In 2001, Kerry was TMN's "Outstanding Lobbyist" for his actions during the 2001 Texas Legislature when he was instrumental in convincing two committees to pass moratorium on executions legislation.

He is also on MySpace.


My book/memoir is scheduled to hit book stores February 27th, 2007. It is titled "Chasing Justice: My Story of Freeing Myself After Two Decades on Death Row for a Crime I Didn't Commit" By Kerry Max Cook.

"A brilliant and unprecedented work, Chasing Justice is the riveting chronicle of how a smalltown murder became one of the worst cases of prosecutorial misconduct in American history—and sent the author, an innocent man, to hell for twenty-two harrowing years. Kerry Max Cook is one of the longest-tenured death-row prisoners to be freed: This is his unbelievable story and the only first-hand account of its kind. Wrongfully convicted of killing a young woman in Texas, Cook was sentenced to death in 1978 and served two decades on death row, in a prison system so notoriously brutal and violent that in 1980 a federal court ruled that serving time in Texas's jails was "cruel and unusual punishment." As scores of men around him were executed, Cook relentlessly battled a legal system that wanted him dead; meanwhile he fought daily to survive amid unspeakable conditions and routine assaults. When an advocate and a
crusading lawyer joined his struggle in the 1990s, a series of retrials was forced. At last, in November 1996, Texas's highest appeals court threw out Cook's conviction, citing overwhelming evidence of police and prosecutorial misconduct. And finally in the spring of 1999 long-overlooked DNA evidence was tested and it linked
another man to the rape and murder for which Cook had been convicted.

Today, Cook is a free man and the proud father of a young son. A shocking look inside death row, a legal thriller, and an inspirational story of one man's ultimately triumphant fight against extreme adversity, Chasing Justice is a landmark work, written with the powerful authenticity of Cook's own hand. It will forever unsettle our view of the American justice system." My story was featured in the award-winning, long-running New York City off-Broadway play, "The Exonerated." Later, the Court TV network made it into a television movie, and premiering it on network telvision in January of 2005. I am a 2003 Senior Justice Fellow for the Open Society Institute in New York.

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Suicide by State Set for Jan 30 in Texas

Christopher Jay Swift is set for execution on Jan 30, which is this Tuesday. He is set to die for the 2003 murders of his wife and mother-in-law. Because the appeals process usually takes a number of years, death row inmates usually wait much longer before execution than Mr. Swift has. He has canceled all appeals and asked the judge to set an execution date for him. He wants to die and he wants the state of Texas to help in his suicide. He currently has no attorneys working on his behalf. In February 2006 he asked a judge to dismiss his appeal lawyers and allow him to represent himself. Then he waived any appeals.

Whether an execution takes place or not should be the decision of the justice system after all questions that could warrant a different outcome have been addressed by the courts.
Appeals of a death sentence should proceed despite the objection of a death-sentenced inmate. Executions are conducted in the name of the people, they are not conducted to satisfy the desires of an inmate, particularly one who may have mental problems and there are questions about the sanity of Swift, which could be addressed in an appeal of his case, but he won't allow any appeals to take place. His previous defense attorneys Jerry Cobb and Derek Adame argued that Mr. Swift was legally insane, calling a psychiatrist who testified that he believed Mr. Swift was schizophrenic.

The Denton Record-Chronicle reports that:

Mr. Swift wrote several letters, which appear in court files, asking for an execution date as soon as possible.

"I am writing to you one final time to plead with you to set my execution date ahead of those already scheduled," he wrote Oct. 19, 2006. "While others dread their approaching executions, I am very anxious to be executed and go to heaven to be reunited with my loved ones who understand what those on Earth cannot, i.e. the forgiving power of the Lord."
At the very least, Swift should be allowed to ask the court or the governor to stop his execution, if he changes his mind about not wanting to pursue any further appeals.

Contact Governor Perry and ask him to issue a 30-day stay for Swift

Office of the Governor Main Switchboard: (512) 463-2000 [office hours are 7:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. CST]
Office of the Governor Fax: (512) 463-1849

For anyone who wonders about stays on the day of an execution here is a number to call:
TDCJ Public information---1-936-437-1303 ----just ask if the execution is still scheduled.



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Talton threatens not to attend meetings of Criminal Jurisprudence Committee




Janet Elliott of The Houston Chronicle's Austin bureau says that Robert Talton, who was appointed to the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee may not attend its meetings, "I never asked for Criminal Jurisprudence. I don't want to be on it. I'm not going to go to a committee I don't want to be on," said Talton, who added that he will read a statement from the back microphone next week.

If Talton does not attend, that would leave only one Republican on the committee and 7 Democrats.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Texas House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence Members Appointed

We expect lots of good things from this committee, but if there are no good bills that make it out of the committee, we will only have the Democrats to blame, since there are 7 Democrats and only 2 Republicans on the committee.

Aaron Pena (D)

Vice Chair Allen Vaught (D)

CBO Debbie Riddle (R)

Terri Hodge (D)

Juan Escobar (D)

Barbara Mallory Caraway (D)

Paul Moreno (D)

Paula Pierson (D)

Robert Talton (R)

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Gallery Talk: Death Penalty Art Show



Justice for All? Artists Reflect on the Death Penalty
Gallery Talk on February 16, 2007

Mary Mikel Stump, Gallery Director of the JCM gallery at Texas State University will hold a gallery talk on the exhibition, "Justice for All?: Artists Reflect on the Death Penalty".

The talk begins at 7 PM on Feb 16. The talk will touch on issues of art and protest/dissent and include comments on works in the death penalty art show.

There is an opening night reception on Feb 10 from 7-10 PM.

Mary Mikel Stump is curating an exhibition at Texas State University's art gallery entitled "Loyal Opposition", which runs Feb 20 - Mar 27. "Loyal Opposition" will focus on issues regarding social ills: racism, immigration, justice, consumption, gay rights, animal processing, death penalty, Apartheid, politics, and war.

Pictured: artist Ahren Lutz, #770(Castillo), mixed media on canvas.


M2 Gallery
325 W. 19th Street Houston, TX 77008



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Moratorium on Executions Bill Filed in Texas House

Rep Dutton of Houston has filed a bill (HB 809) to enact a moratorium on executions and create a commission to study the administration of the death penalty in Texas.

Since the last regular session of the Legislature there have been two new cases brought to light in which it appears that an innocent person was executed by Texas: Ruben Cantu and Carlos DeLuna. A third case in which an innocent person may have been executed, Cameron Todd Willingham, was first reported on by the Chicago Tribune in November 2004.

A moratorium on executions has been endorsed by the following media outlets in Texas: Abilene Reporter-News, Austin American-Statesman, Bryan-College Station Eagle, Corpus Christi-Caller-Times, Dallas Morning News (several times), El Paso Times (only endorsed allowing voters to decide in a constitutional amendment), Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Galveston County Daily News, Houston Chronicle, KPRC Channel 2 NBC Houston, San Antonio Express News, Victoria Advocate, Wichita Falls Times Record News.

The El Paso County Commissioners Court passed a resolution calling for a moratorium last October. The Travis County Commissioners Court has also passed a moratorium resolution.

On March 13, 2007, there will be a Death Penalty Issues Lobby Day at the capitol and a rally for a moratorium on executions will be held on the South steps of the capitol.

Rep Dutton speaking in favor of a moratorium at the 2005 Death Penalty Issues Lobby Day Rally



ASB 129
State Senator Leticia Van De Putte calling for a moratorium at Death Penalty Issues Lobby Day in 2005

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Register now for the Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break

Copied from Texas Students Against the Death Penalty

Looking for something to do during spring break this year? Here's an idea: come to Austin, Texas for a week of activism and education against the death penalty as part of the 2007 Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break. The event is open to both high school and college students. Register now.

The 2007 anti-death penalty spring break, organized by Texas Students Against the Death Penalty and co-sponsored by Campus Progress, Amnesty International, Texas Moratorium Network, NCADP and other groups, is designed to to give students something more meaningful to do during their week off, rather than just spending time at the beach or sitting at home catching up on school work. This is the place to be if you want to become a part of the next generation of human rights leaders. Go to the beach to change your state of mind for a week, come here to change the world forever.

Students will participate in workshops led by experienced, knowledgeable presenters who will teach them skills that they can use to go back home and set up new anti-death penalty student organizations or improve ones that may already exist. The skills participants will learn can also be used in other issues besides the death penalty. During the week, students will immediately put what they learn into action during activities such as a Death Penalty Issues Lobby Day and a Direct Action Day. There will be opportunities to write press releases, speak in public, meet with legislators or their aides, and conceive and carry out a direct action.

"This is an historical echo to what happened in the 1960s when people came down to the South during the Civil Rights Movement to help people register to vote, what they called freedom summers. This is very similar to what was going on back then, but here the issue is the death penalty." said Scott Cobb, president of Texas Moratorium Network.


Texas leads the nation by far in number of executions. Texas performed 45 percent of all the executions in the United States in 2006. Twenty-four people were executed in Texas in 2006. There were 53 executions in the U.S. in 2006. Since the U.S Supreme Court ruling in 1976 that allowed executions to resume after a four-year period during which they were considered unconstitutional, there have been 1060 executions in the United States. Texas has performed 381 of those executions, which amounts to about 35 percent of the national total. According to the 2000 census, Texas has only 7.4 percent of the nation's entire population.

This innovative spring break was featured last year on mtvU, NPR and the front page of The Huntsville Item. MTV is planning to send their crew to Austin again this year to shoot the spring break for "The Amazing Break," an MTV show featuring alternatives to beer and beaches. Coverage by MTV and other media outlets ensures that the anti-death penalty message of the alternative spring break will reach thousands and thousands of people.

Throughout the week students will participate in workshops and have a chance to talk and eat with people that they probably never imagined they would encounter in their daily lives, such as Shujaa Graham, an African American man who spent 3 years of his life on California's death-row for a crime he did not commit or Renny Cushing, a former New Hampshire state legislator whose father was brutally murdered or Christina Lawson, whose husband was executed by the state of Texas in 2005.

Other speakers include Moresse Bickham, who was on death row when the Furman v Georgia decision was announced in 1972 abolishing the death penalty on grounds that it violated the U.S. constitution. Another ruling fours years later allowed executions to resume. Bickham was released in 1996 and at 89 is now the oldest living survivor of the Furman v Georgia decision.

Participation in the Annual Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break is an invaluable experience. Participants will come away with firsthand knowledge of the anti-death penalty movement and a new understanding of how they can affect public policy. Plus, they will an opportunity to form new friendships that could last a lifetime. During the spring break students will have plenty of free time to enjoy Austin, the Live Music Capital of the World. The famous SXSW Festival is the same week as spring break, so if anyone is interested they can attend some of the films or music events during their free time.

Thanks to contributions from Campus Progress, Resist Foundation and other groups there is no participation fee for the Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break except for those people who need housing. If you do not need housing, because you live in Austin or you are making your own housing arrangements, then your participation is free, but please register so we know how many people to expect. Participants are expected to travel to Austin at their own expense and pay for their meals and incidental expenses while in Austin. We will provide some free pizza and snacks a couple of times. Housing is available for a fee of $25. That's right. $25 for all five days. That's $5 a night. Students will stay in rooms with one or two other people at a dormitory near the University of Texas at Austin.

See you in Austin!

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Death Penalty Debate at UT-Austin - Monday Jan 29

For everyone who will be in Austin on Monday, January 29:

The Campaign to End the Death Penalty will be debating the Young Conservatives of Texas on the death penalty this coming Monday, at 7:30pm at Jester Auditorium (Jester A121A). The debate will be in the Oxford style, with alternating speakers from each side debating a resolution that the death penalty be abolished. Each side also has a "questioner" who will get to ask one or two questions of the other side, designed to point to the weaknesses in the opposing side's argument. In the middle of the debate, there will be a short break in which audience members can make comments and ask questions.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

New artwork for Houston exhibition Feb 10-18, 2007

Here is one of the new pieces that will be in the Houston exhibition of TMN's death penalty art show, "Justice for All?: Artists Reflect on the Death Penalty". The exhibition is Feb 10-18 at Houston's M2, 325 West 19th Street.

The artist is Leah Markov-Lindsey. She was chosen in 2005 for Arthouse's "New Emerging Talent" exhibition. She has also shown at Volitant Gallery on Congress Avenue in Austin.


Leah Markov-Lindsey

VIEW ALL ARTWORK
Installation shot of

Installation shot of "Memento Mori 1-12"
2006
Embroidery on fabric with coat hanger
Memento Mori Series (ongoing) Each of these embroideries describes the clothing and accessories worn by a woman at the time of death. Their bodies were found in Texas, victims of homicide and violence. They have never been identified.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Donate to the art show in Houston



Justice for All?: Artists Reflect on the Death Penalty will be exhibited in Houston at Gallery M2 from February 10 - 18, 2007 with an opening night reception at 7 PM on Feb. 10th.

There will be a gallery talk Friday, Feb 16, at 7 PM with Mary Mikel Stump, Gallery Director of the JCM gallery at Texas State University.

The Austin Chronicle says "the show is nothing short of powerful."

Gallery M2
325 W. 19th Street
Houston, Texas 77008

The show is sponsored by Texas Moratorium Network.

The exhibit first ran May 6-22, 2006 in Austin's Gallery Lombardi. It will be in Houston February 10-18 at Gallery M2.

There are 55 pieces in the show, selected by three jurors: Annette Carlozzi, senior curator at the Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Lora Reynolds of the Lora Reynolds Gallery in Austin, and Malaquias Montoya, an artist and professor of art at the University of California, Davis.

The works on exhibition were selected from more than 700 submissions from more than 300 artists from 19 countries. The show includes artists from Texas, as well as other U.S. states and Canada, France, Germany and The Netherlands. The exhibit contains mostly work by professional artists, but it also includes 13 works from people currently on Texas death row. The exhibit includes paintings, drawings, photography, sculpture, videos and installation art.

We are organizing this international, all-media, juried art show to foster the creation of new artwork on the death penalty and to encourage and enhance civic engagement and dialogue about the death penalty.

Please help us bring the art show to Houston by making a donation. We need to raise another $250 to cover all the expenses associated with bringing the exhibit to Houston. Also, if you have any food or drinks to donate to the opening night reception, please let us know.

You can donate online with a credit card or send a check made out to "Texas Moratorium Network" to:

Texas Moratorium Network
3616 Far West Blvd, Suite 117, Box 251
Austin, Texas 78731

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12th Dallas Convict Exonerated by DNA; How to Enact a Moratorium

The New York Times reports that

A 50-year-old Dallas man whose conviction of raping a boy in 1982 cost him nearly half his life in prison and on parole won a court ruling Wednesday declaring him innocent. He said he was not angry, “because the Lord has given me so much.”

The parolee, James Waller, was exonerated by DNA testing, the 12th person since 2001 whose conviction in Dallas County has been overturned long after the fact as a result of genetic evidence, lawyers said.

“Nowhere else in the nation have so many individual wrongful convictions been proven in one county in such a short span,” said Barry C. Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, the legal clinic that championed Mr. Waller’s case. In fact, Mr. Scheck said, those 12 such instances are more than have occurred anywhere else except the entire states of New York and Illinois since the nation’s first DNA exoneration, in 1989.

It was just last week that the 11th exoneration prompted The Dallas Morning News to call for a moratorium on executions. Andrew Gossett was the 11th Dallas County man granted his freedom after DNA confirmed what he had been saying for seven years: He didn't do it.

Now is the time for the new Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins to join the call for a moratorium on executions.

How to Enact a Moratorium

The Texas Legislature can enact a moratorium on executions by amending the Code of Criminal Procedure to revise the parameters around which convicting courts can set execution dates, for example by prohibiting courts from setting execution dates over the next two years, which is the time it would take for a blue ribbon commission to study the death penalty system in Texas. Under such a bill, courts could still sentence people to death during the moratorium, they just could not set any execution dates until after the moratorium. Of course, Governor Perry would have to refrain from vetoing such a bill.

Another route to a moratorium would be for the Legislature to pass a constitutional amendment that would enact a moratorium immediately upon approval by the voters in November of this year. Such a route would bypass the governor and put the decision in the hands of the voters of whether to stop executions temporarily while a commission studies the death penalty. This is the route that was endorsed by the El Paso Times in 2001 in its editorial "Let the people decide: Moratorium on executions should go to voters".

A third and far less desirable method would be to pass a constitutional amendment giving the governor the power to enact a moratorium, but such a route would require a governor willing to call a moratorium. The Texas Constitution only allows the Governor to grant one 30-day stay of execution on his own. The Governor may grant a longer stay with the written recommendation of the Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Theoretically, the Governor could ask the BPP to recommend staying each execution. This would allow a moratorium to be enacted, however it would require some cooperation between the Governor and the BPP. The Governor can not enact a moratorium acting alone under the current Texas constitution.

The judiciary could enact a moratorium on its own by not setting any execution dates, but in Texas execution dates are set by the convicting courts and they all act independently. It would be theoretically possible for all judges to voluntarily not set any execution dates for two years, although that is unlikely to happen without guidance from the Legislature and the Governor. The ideal situation would be for the Governor and the Legislature to agree that we should take a time-out on executions. Then the Legislature could pass a bill prohibiting the convicting courts from setting any execution dates for two years and the Governor could agree by not vetoing the bill.

Below is the section of the Code of Criminal Procedure that could be amended to enact a moratorium.

Sec. 8. MORATORIUM. Chapter 43.141, Code of Criminal Procedure, is amended by adding Subsection (f) to read as follows:
Art. 43.141. Scheduling of execution date; withdrawal; modification

(a) If an initial application under Article 11.071 is timely filed, the convicting court may not set an execution date before:

(1) the court of criminal appeals denies relief; or

(2) if the case is filed and set for submission, the court of criminal appeals issues a mandate.

(b) If an original application is not timely filed under Article 11.071 or good cause is not shown for an untimely application under Article 11.071, the convicting court may set an execution date.

(c) The first execution date may not be earlier than the 91st day after the date the convicting court enters the order setting the execution date. A subsequent execution date may not be earlier than the 31st day after the date the convicting court enters the order setting the execution date.

(d) The convicting court may modify or withdraw the order of the court setting a date for execution in a death penalty case if the court determines that additional proceedings are necessary on a subsequent or untimely application for a writ of habeas corpus filed under Article 11.071.

(e) If the convicting court withdraws the order of the court setting the execution date, the court shall recall the warrant of execution. If the court modifies the order of the court setting the execution date, the court shall recall the previous warrant of execution, and the clerk of the court shall issue a new warrant.

(f) The convicting court may not set an execution date that falls on or after September 1, 2007 and on or before September 1, 2009, in order to allow time for the 81st Texas Legislature to consider recommendations contained in the report of the Texas Capital Punishment Commission created by the 80th Legislature.

Below is an example of language for a proposed constitutional amendment which would enact a moratorium directly upon approval of the voters:

A JOINT RESOLUTION

proposing a constitutional amendment relating to a moratorium on
the execution of persons convicted of capital offenses.

BE IT RESOLVED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS:

SECTION 1. Section 11, Article IV, Texas Constitution, is
amended by adding Subsection (c) to read as follows:

c) The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is prohibited
from performing executions until September 1, 2009. The Governor may extend or re-establish the moratorium on executions by executive order or the 81st Legislature or a subsequent Legislature may enact a statute that extends or re-establishes the moratorium on executions established by this subsection.

SECTION 2. This proposed constitutional amendment shall be
submitted to the voters at an election to be held on November 6,
2007. The ballot shall be printed to permit voting for or against
the proposition: "The constitutional amendment establishing a
moratorium on executions of persons convicted of capital offenses”.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Dallas Morning News Calls for Moratorium on Executions

On Jan 10, the Dallas Morning News renewed its call for a halt to executions and a review of the system to ensure that innocent people are not being executed. This is at least the sixth time since 2001 that the DMN has called for a moratorium. You can read the other editorials on the TMN site, along with endorsements from every other major city newspaper in Texas. Everybody writing newspaper editorials seems to want Texas to take a time-out on executions in order to make sure we aren't executing innocent people.

The DMN says:

Last week, Andrew Gossett became the 11th Dallas County man granted his freedom after DNA confirmed what he had been saying for seven years: He didn't do it. Mr. Gossett had been sentenced to 50 years in prison for a sexual assault he did not commit.

That juries and judges are fallible is not a revelation. Human error is an inherent part of the system. Thank goodness that in the case of Mr. Gossett a terrible wrong has been corrected.

At the same time that this 46-year-old Garland man begins to rebuild his life, newspaper headlines note that January will be a particularly deadly month for Texas prisoners. The state is poised to execute five death row inmates during a 20-day stretch.

Against a backdrop of overturned convictions and DNA advances, these planned executions also should give us pause. For the condemned, evidence of an error could come too late. Lethal injections don't allow those second chances.

And while improved technology and new evidence have cleared only a tiny fraction of prisoners, those cases serve notice that even the remote possibility of a mistake is unacceptable in death penalty cases.

At least 10 other states are reviewing their capital punishment laws. Two have declared a moratorium.

But Texas has pressed on, accounting for nearly half of the executions in the country last year.

Lawmakers have dismissed our calls for a death penalty moratorium. But the frailties in the justice system that have been exposed suggest that it's time to revisit this issue.

When Mr. Gossett was set free last week, newly elected District Attorney Craig Watkins was in the courtroom. He thought it was important to tell Mr. Gossett, "We're sorry."

State officials won't have that opportunity if capital punishment is meted out incorrectly.

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Possible chair of House Criminal Justice Committee?

We won't know for sure who the new chair of the House Committee on Criminal Justice will be until the official announcement from Speaker Craddick, but there is a list going around the blogosphere posted by a conservative blogger, that is supposed to be a leaked list of the new chairs. According to this list, the new Chair of the House Committee on Criminal Justice will be Aaron Peña (D-Edinburg) .from South Texas. He was first elected to the House in 2003. Two of the three recent reports of possible cases of innocent people having been wrongfully executed were cases involving people from South Texas, Ruben Cantu from San Antonio and Carlos De Luna from Corpus Christi.

Rep Peña runs his own blog.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

MTV Coming to Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break

Register now for the 2007 Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break. It is March 12-16 in Austin. There is no participation fee for the Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break except for those people who need housing. It is being organized by Texas Students Against the Death Penalty.

MTV is planning to send a camera crew to this year's spring break. They will follow around the participants documenting their activities for a segment on MTV.

If you do not need housing, because you live in Austin or you are making your own housing arrangements, then your participation is free, but please register so we know how many people to expect.

Housing is available for a fee of $25 that covers five overnights. That's right! $25 for five nights. Where are you going to find a better housing deal? That's $5 a night. We will house participants in double rooms at a dormitory near the University of Texas at Austin. Most students will be at The Goodall Wooten, a few people will stay in a dorm near the Wooten. You will share the room with one or two other students. Participants are expected to travel to Austin at their own expense and pay for most of their meals and incidental expenses while in Austin.

Alternative Spring Breaks are designed to give students something more meaningful to do during their week off, rather than just spending time at the beach or sitting at home catching up on school work. The specific purpose of this Alternative Spring Break is to bring students to Austin for five days of anti-death penalty activism, education and entertainment.

We will provide participants with workshops that will teach them skills they can use to go back home and set up new anti-death penalty student organizations or improve ones that may already exist. The skills participants will learn can also be used in other issues besides the death penalty. Activities include a Death Penalty Issues Lobby Day and a direct action day.

Students will gain valuable training and experience in grassroots organizing, lobbying, preparing a direct action and media relations. They can apply what they learn against the death penalty or in their activities involving other issues.

Texas leads the nation by far in number of executions. Texas performed 45 percent of all the executions in the United States in 2006. Twenty-four people were executed in Texas 2006. There were 53 executions in the U.S. in 2006. Since the U.S Supreme Court ruling in 1976 that allowed executions to resume after a four-year period during which they were considered unconstitutional, there have been 1058 executions in the United States. Texas has performed 380 of those executions, which amounts to about 35 percent of the national total. According to the 2000 census, Texas has only 7.4 percent of the nation's entire population.

Although the majority of the participants will be students, this program is also a good opportunity for young people who are not students to become active. There are after all lots of young people who for various reasons don't go to college, but who want to do something against the death penalty. The events and workshops are also open to the general public of any age, although the housing is reserved for young people.

Quotes About Spring Break

"This is an historical echo to what happened in the 1960s when people came down to the South during the Civil Rights Movement to help people register to vote, what they called freedom summers. This is very similar to what was going on back then, but here the issue is the death penalty."

Scott Cobb, president Texas Moratorium Network


"I wanted to do something more meaningful during my Spring Break. I figured this would be the place where I could do that."

Chaunte Sterling, graduate of Sam Houston State University, who attended the 2005 alternative spring break in her senior year.


"We all had a simple understanding of the problems with the death penalty and after coming here, we've learned so much in detail about what goes on with capital punishment," Martellaro said. "It's just been so educational, because we all are in agreement that it is wrong and there are problems with the system, and this has been so specific, with so much information, that it really strengthened my beliefs."

Angela Martellaro, high school student from Shawnee, Kansas, who attended the 2006 alternative spring break.


"Students and youth have played a critical role in every major struggle for civil and human rights in this nation. Ending the abomination of capital punishment is the calling of this generation. Just as before, student activists will likely determine the future of this issue. You must be part of the debate and the action."

Diann Rust-Tierney, Executive Director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.


"Participants will have plenty of free time to meet new friends, see the sights of Austin, and take in a couple of SXSW events if they want to. At the same time they're having fun, they're doing something positive by taking action on one of the major human rights issues of our time"

Hooman Hedayati, sophomore at UT-Austin and president of Texas Students Against the Death Penalty, who attended alternative spring break in 2005 as a high school senior.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Carlos Granados Scheduled for Execution in Texas, January 10, 2007

Austin American Statesman Article on Granados.

Contact Governor Perry to Protest this Execution

Office of the Governor Main Switchboard: (512) 463-2000
[office hours are 7:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. CST]

Office of the Governor Fax: (512) 463-1849

For anyone who wonders about stays on the day of an execution here is a number to call:

TDCJ Public information---1-936-437-1303 ----just ask if the execution is still scheduled.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Pitts and the death penalty for 11-year-olds

If Rep Jim Pitts becomes Speaker of the Texas House, let's hope he has become a bit more mature and level-headed since 1998 when he advocated sentencing 11-year-olds to death. The Austin American-Statesman reported in an article Jan 8 on Pitts that in "1998, he drew attention for saying in the wake of school shootings in Arkansas that 11-year-olds should be subject to the death penalty. He never filed that proposal in the Legislature, instead pushing unsuccessfully for a death-penalty age of 16."

Pitts' bill to lower the age that people would be eligible for the death penalty to 16 was referred to the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence, but was never given a hearing. Pitts seemed pretty fired-up about his bill back then. He had pre-filed it on November 09, 1998 in preparation for the session that began in January 1999.  At the time, Texas law allowed executions of offenders as young as 17.

In 2005, the United States Supreme Court banned executions of anyone whose offense was committed before they turned 18. The Court ruled that executions of such youthful offenders would violate the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

It's a little scary to think that as late as 1998 there was at least one person holding office in the United States who seriously advocated sentencing 11-year-olds to death. Pitts didn't actually want to execute 11-year-olds, his idea was to let them grow up to be 17, then execute them. As the New York Times explained in an article from 1998, under Pitts' "proposal, an 11-year-old killer could be sentenced to death but would have to wait on a 'juvenile death row,' separate from the death row for older killers, until he or she turned 17."

It all seems like an idea more suited to the Middle Ages. If Pitts is elected, he should sit down and discuss the death penalty with Brian McCall, who voted for a moratorium on executions in 2001 because he was concerned about the risk of executing innocent people, even though he supports the death penalty in general. Since 2001 there have been reports that Texas may have executed three innocent people: Ruben Cantu, Cameron Todd Willingham and Carlos De Luna. One of those executions, that of Willingham, took place in 2004. If Willingham was indeed innocent, then his life could have been saved if more people had joined McCall and the 51 other House members who voted for a moratorium in 2001.

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Saturday, January 06, 2007

Texas performed 45 percent of all U.S. executions in 2006

Texas performed 45 percent of all the executions in the United States in 2006, according to the AP. Twenty-four condemned Texas killers were executed in 2006. There were 53 executions in the U.S. - seven fewer than 2005. The Texas total was up five from the previous year.

Even though Texas continues to set a blistering pace carrying out executions, the number of new death sentences imposed in Texas has dropped 65% over the last ten years, from 40 in fiscal 1996 to 14 in 2006, according to statistics compiled by the Texas Office of Court Administration. More from the AP:

Of the 38 states that allow capital punishment, only 14 carried out executions last year and just six of them conducted more than one.

Unlike Texas, where 379 inmates have been put to death since executions resumed in 1982, executions are on hold in at least 10 states where death penalty laws are under review, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington-based organization that opposes capital punishment and tracks the issue.

Two of those states, Illinois and New Jersey, have formal moratoriums. In the eight others — Arkansas, California, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, Missouri, Ohio and South Dakota — the lethal injection process is being challenged as cruel. Executions in New York are in limbo after the state's death penalty law in 2004 was declared unconstitutional.

Carlos Granados is set to die Wednesday for the 1998 stabbing of a Anthony O'Brien Jimenez. Granados' punishment would begin a series of five lethal injections over 20 days in Texas, site of the nation's first lethal injection in 1982.

The four to follow this month include Johnathan Moore, convicted of killing a San Antonio police officer, and Ronald Chambers, a Dallas man who has been on death row about 31 years, longer than any of his fellow inmates in Texas. He is one of the longest-serving condemned inmates in the country.

At least two inmates have execution dates in February, three in March.

The 24 executions last year in Texas was about average for the past decade.

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Supreme Court takes Texas case to weigh when mental illness can halt an execution

The New York Times is reporting that the U.S. Supreme Court has taken the Texas case of a schizophrenic death-row inmate in Texas to set the standard for determining when a mental illness is so severe that execution would be constitutionally impermissible.


The American Psychiatric Association expressed specific concern about the competency standard used by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the death sentence for Texas inmate Scott Panetti, in rejecting his petition for a writ of habeas corpus last May.

Panetti, convicted in Fredericksburg in 1992 of fatally shooting his in-laws in the presence of his estranged wife and their 3-year-old child, is a Navy veteran who was hospitalized 14 times for schizophrenia and other mental disorders in the decade before the crime.

A jury nonetheless found him competent to stand trial, and the judge permitted him to represent himself.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1986 that the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment bars the execution of the mentally ill. But the justices who decided that case did not settle on a definition of mental illness for the purpose of determining competency for execution.
...
The justices' decision to hear his appeal was the latest indication of the Supreme Court's concern about the administration of capital punishment. In recent years, the court declared unconstitutional the execution of mentally disabled defendants and those who committed murder before the age of 18.

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Friday, January 05, 2007

Former Death Row Inmate Poised to Go Free on Bond Pending Retrial

Jordan Smith is reporting on The Austin Chronicle blog that Anthony Graves may be set free on bond soon.

It appears that the feds have had enough of state District Judge Reva Towslee Corbett and the rest of the state prosecutorial entourage that has been fighting to keep Texas Death Row inmate Anthony Graves behind bars. On Dec. 29, U.S. Magistrate Judge John Froeschner issued a bench warrant for Graves, pulling him from Burleson Co. jail and back to federal court in Galveston for a hearing tomorrow (Jan. 5), when it appears Froeschner will order Graves free on a $50K bond pending any retrial in the capital murder case that sent Graves to prison in 1994.

Graves was convicted and sentenced to die for the 1992 murder of six people in Burleson Co. Graves has maintained his innocence and last March the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned his conviction, ruling that Burleson Co. prosecutors, led by former District Attorney Charles Sebesta, withheld crucial witness statements from the defense -- including statements made by Robert Carter, who was also convicted and executed for the crime and who implicated Graves as his accomplice before later recanting and proclaiming Graves' innocence -- possibly tainting the outcome of the trial.

On the heels of that reversal, Froeschner in the fall recommended Graves be set free pending any retrial of the case, and U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent concurred, meaning that with $5K down, Graves could walk away from prison, where he has spent 12 years on death row.

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Texas boy dies acting out Saddam Hanging

You can add a 10-year-old Harris County boy to the list of deaths caused by the Iraq War. The boy apparently watched news coverage of the mishandled execution of Saddam Hussein and accidentally hanged himself afterwards. The Houston Chronicle reports:

A 10-year-old boy who apparently was mimicking the execution of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein accidentally hanged himself on New Year's Eve, authorities said.

Webster police Lt. Tom Claunch said officers were called to an apartment in the 800 block of NASA Parkway about 7:30 p.m. on Sunday and found the boy dead.

Sergio Pelico's mother told police he had watched a report on Saddam's death on a Telemundo news broadcast before he hanged himself, Claunch said.

"It appears to be accidental," he said of the boy's death. "Our gut reaction is that he was experimenting."



The same article says that another boy in Pakistan apparently also accidentally hanged himself after also trying to act out the execution of Saddam.

That makes it about 3,000 U.S. military deaths, tens of thousands of Iraqi deaths and two boys dead from playing hanging Saddam Hussein.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Five Scheduled Executions in Texas in January 2007

There are now more people on death row in Florida (398) than in Texas (392), mostly because Texas has executed 370 people since 1982 and Florida has only executed 64. Right now, of course there is a moratorium on executions in Florida, called by Gov Jeb Bush, because of a botched execution there in December.

Meanwhile, the NY Times says "a legislative commission recommended on Tuesday that New Jersey become the first state to abolish the death penalty since states began reinstating their capital punishment laws 35 years ago. Its report found “no compelling evidence” that capital punishment serves a legitimate purpose, and increasing evidence that it “is inconsistent with evolving standards of decency.”

Executions are on hold in ten states, including Florida, California and Illinois; but in Texas the system rolls on - despite reports that Texas may have executed three innocent people. In January 2007, there are five executions scheduled in Texas. Stay tuned for the release of the next public opinion poll in Texas. It will be interesting to see if the preference for life without parole over the death penalty has increased because of the reports of innocent people being executed.


Scheduled Execution Link Last Name First Name
01/10/2007 Offender Information Granados Carlos
01/17/2007 Offender Information Moore Johnathan
01/24/2007 Offender Information Swearingen Larry
01/25/2007 Offender Information Chambers Ronald
01/30/2007 Swift Christopher

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Monday, January 01, 2007

Bush & Co. botch Saddam Hussein's Hanging

You can add the execution of Saddam Hussein to the long list of Bush Administration failures in Iraq.

The hanging of Saddam Hussein this past weekend was a rush job that deteriorated into an atmosphere reminiscent of a lynching. The Americans could have prevented the execution from becoming a farce by refusing to hand over Hussein until better preparations had been made, but instead Bush's "I wash my hands of this" approach ended up in a botched process that became another stage for sectarian vengeance that in turn will likely fuel more sectarian violence. The New York Times says the execution deteriorated "into a sectarian free-for-all that had the effect, on the video recordings, of making Mr. Hussein, a mass murderer, appear dignified and restrained, and his executioners, representing Shiites who were his principal victims, seem like bullying street thugs."

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