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Saturday, March 31, 2007

MTV's Video of Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break

Back in 2004, when we first came up with the idea for creating a training ground for students interested in human rights and working to stop executions, we did not think that the program would become as successful as it has. Last year, it was covered on the front page of The Huntsville Item and on mtvU and this year MTV covered it on Total Request Live and The Amazing Break.

Most importantly, after four years there is now a growing group of alumni of the program who continue to be impacted by their experiences at the alternative spring break and who are beginning to impact the world themselves.

Thank you to all the young people who have given up their spring breaks to help us stop executions in Texas.

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Cathy Henderson's Lawyers Ask for Execution Delay

The Austin American Statesman reports Friday, March 30, 2007

Cathy Lynn Henderson's lawyers were in court today asking a judge in Travis County to delay her April execution to give them more time to file a final appeal.

Henderson, 50, is scheduled to be executed April 18 for killing 3-month-old Brandon Baugh in 1994 at her Pflugerville-area home.

Doctors testified at her 1995 trial that Brandon's massive skull injuries could not have been caused by an accidental fall, as Henderson claimed.

Henderson's lawyer, George A. Cumming of San Francisco, told visiting state District Judge Jon Wisser today that recently developed science on head trauma — melding the work of doctors with that of physicists and engineers — will show Brandon's death could have been an accident.

"This is new science," Cumming argued. "It is very much like the DNA equivalent in a head trauma case."

Cumming asked Wisser, who was the trial judge in the case, to vacate his execution order or to delay it by 90 days to allow him to fully develop an application for writ of habeas corpus requesting a new trial.

Wisser said he would rule Monday morning.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Join TMN's SMS text message action alert system to help stop executions in Texas

Join our SMS text message action alert system to help stop executions in Texas. This is a cutting edge system. We were early adapters. We actually started using it in 2003, way before texting really caught on.

If you join, you will receive a text message on your cell phone the day before or the day of each execution in Texas. The message gives you a phone number and reminds you to call the governor of Texas to protest the execution. In the last few years, there have been 17 to 40 executions in Texas every year, so that is how many messages you will receive each year.

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Austin Chronicle on confiscated death penalty artwork at capitol

The Austin Chronicle has a story on the art controversy at the capitol.

State Rep. Borris Miles, D-Houston took down two paintings depicting executions because he found them offensive. Scott Cobb, president of Texas Moratorium Network condemned Miles' action, "here we are in the seventh year of the 21st century and people are still confiscating artwork like it's 1955."

read more | digg story

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Perry Nears Bush's Execution Record

Vincent Gutierrez was executed in Texas Wednesday night. He was convicted of killing an Air Force officer during a carjacking 10 years ago. “He said he was sorry the situation happened, but it was unclear if he was apologizing for the fatal shooting.”

He also joked moments before dying “Where’s a stunt double when you need one?” he said.

Gutierrez was the 10th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Texas and the 389th overall since the state resumed capital punishment on December 7, 1982. Gutierrez was the 150th condemned inmate to be put to death in Texas since Rick Perry became governor in 2001; a record 152 executions were carried out during the tenure of then-Governor George W. Bush. Another execution is scheduled for Wednesday night in Texas.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Look back to 2001 when moratorium legislation passed Senate and House Committees

Back in 2001, both the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence and the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice approved measures for a moratorium on executions, primarily because of the powerful testimony from people such as Randall Adams and Kerry Cook about the risk of executing innocent people. See the news stories below.

The approval of a moratorium in the two committees in 2001 came as a complete surprise. This year, the two committees have not yet heard the moratorium issue. When hearings are scheduled, it is quite possible that we will see a repeat of 2001 because of the reports in the past two years that as many as three innocent people may have been executed in Texas: Ruben Cantu, Cameron Willingham and Carlos De Luna. Also, Ernest Willis was exonerated and released from Texas death row in 2004 after spending 17 years there for a crime he did not commit.

Paper: Houston Chronicle
Date: SUN 04/22/2001
Section: A
Page: 1
Edition: 4 STAR

State pushing fairness more in justice reform

By JANET ELLIOTT, Houston Chronicle AustinBureau
Staff

AUSTIN - After decades spent passing the toughest criminal laws and building the largest penal system in the nation, Texas lawmakers are taking a timeout.

This session, "tough on crime" talk has been replaced by discussions of reform and fairness. Instead of adding to the list of crimes for which a person can be executed, the Legislature is giving serious consideration to banning the execution of the mentally retarded and offering juries the option of sentencing capital murderers to life without parole.

Legislation to allow voters to decide whether executions should be halted for two years while the cases of the 445 individuals on death row are re-examined has made it out of committees in both the House and the Senate.

"Six months ago, had you told me we'd even be here, I wouldn't have believed it," former death-row inmate Randall Dale Adams told supporters of a death-penalty moratorium outside the Capitol last week.

In 1989, Adams was released from prison, where he spent more than a dozen years after being wrongfully convicted for the murder of a Dallas police officer. He said he is one of seven inmates in Texas and 95 nationwide who have been released from death row since 1971 after being exonerated of the crimes for which they were convicted.

Already this session, Gov. Rick Perry has signed into law a bill giving Texas inmates the right to petition a court for DNA tests using new technology that may not have been available at their trials.

The Senate has approved legislation setting minimum standards for court-appointed lawyers, for the first time kicking in state money to help pay the lawyers. The Senate also has passed bills to stop racial profiling and to provide more compensation for those who are wrongfully convicted.

The reforms may be an unintended legacy of President Bush. Bush was an ardent defender of the state's criminal justice system and presided over a record 40 executions during his last year as governor.

But his race gave a platform to critics who could point to flaws in the system such as ill-prepared lawyers appointed to represent poor defendants. The case of a lawyer who dozed during his client's capital murder trial became famous nationwide.

In 1999, Bush vetoed an indigent-defense reform bill, saying he supported the system that allowed trial judges to appoint defense attorneys. This year, Perry has expressed support for statewide standards for attorneys defending indigent clients.

Perry also has said the state should take a hard look at giving juries the option of sentencing capital murder defendants to life without parole. Bills to do that have been passed by committees in both chambers.

The House is scheduled to debate a bill Monday that would ban the execution of mentally retarded people.

"It's ironic because the changes that President Bush opposed are now coming about because of his presidential campaign," said Rep. Juan Hinojosa, a McAllen Democrat who serves as chairman of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.

"The media, the different candidates that were running at that time, the different interest groups focused on the presidential race and the criminal justice system because we are executing more people than any other state in the nation," said Hinojosa, who is carrying many of the reform bills.

"Then, all of a sudden, we have the advancements made in forensic evidence such as DNA that showed we had convicted a whole bunch of people wrongly," continued Hinojosa, a lawyer who sometimes represents criminal defendants. "So that leads to the conclusion that there is a very strong possibility that there have been some innocent people executed in our state."

Bush maintained that no innocent person was executed in the state while he was governor.

Nearly a dozen men have been freed from Texas prisons in the past three years after DNA evidence cleared them of rape and murder charges.

One of those was Christopher Ochoa, who was released in January after he was exonerated by a DNA test and other evidence. Ochoa had been coerced by an Austin police officer into falsely confessing to raping and murdering Nancy DePriest at an Austin Pizza Hut in 1988. He implicated a friend, Richard Danzinger, who also was freed this year.

Jeanette Popp, the mother of the victim, has become an activist for an execution moratorium.

"There are those who say that the system isn't broken. I challenge them to listen to my story, to Randall's story, to look us in the eye and tell us justice was done," said Popp.

"DNA made everybody sit up and pay a little bit closer attention to the process," said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston.

"Our criminal justice system is broken, and it needs to be repaired," said Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, the author of indigent-defense and hate-crime bills.

But not everyone is happy with the tinkering.

Harris County state District Judge Ted Poe said the system isn't broken. He said cases are thoroughly reviewed by state and federal judges.

"We want the judicial system to review cases," said Poe. "We don't want the Legislature to get involved in reviewing cases. That's not their area."

Advocates for crime victims also are watching some of the changes with dismay.

"This is one of the toughest sessions for victims in my memory," said William "Rusty" Hubbarth, who follows legislation for Justice for All, a Houston victims' rights group.

Chuck Noll, a prosecutor who is monitoring legislation for Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal, said the session is turning into a disaster for law enforcement.

"All the people in the Legislature heard was, `Texas is bad, Texas is bad,' " Noll said. "We as prosecutors didn't feel comfortable defending ourselves in the media, didn't respond to these charges publicly because we don't feel professionally that's our job.

"As a result, there was a drumbeat for two years about how evil Texas is and how bad the system is, with no response from anybody in law enforcement. So there's this general feeling, `Oh, gee, there must be something wrong, so let's pass all these bills to fix it.' "

Kenneth Armbrister, a conservative Democrat from Victoria who is chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, believes there is more at play than just a response to criticism from outside Texas. Armbrister said he traveled around the country last year campaigning for Bush and defending the state's criminal justice record.

"I don't mind taking that heat," said Armbrister, a former police officer.

But Armbrister said he supports the moratorium bill because legislators already have acknowledged criminal justice weaknesses by advancing the bills on DNA testing and defense lawyers. Perry even declared the DNA bill an emergency.

"It would be somewhat hypocritical for us to then say, `Oh, well, we've just passed those, but we still think everything is the way it ought to be.' You can't have it both ways," Armbrister said.

The committees run by Armbrister and Hinojosa this year have one more Democrat than Republican, a turnaround from last session, when Republicans dominated the committees. The vote in both committees on the moratorium bills broke down along party lines.




Paper: Houston Chronicle
Date: THU 04/12/2001
Section: A
Page: 1
Edition: 3 STAR

Halting state's executions may be up to voters / Initiatives on moratorium, justice review clear panel

By JANET ELLIOTT, Houston ChronicleAustin Bureau
Staff

AUSTIN - Texas voters would decide whether to halt executions for two years while the fairness of the state's criminal justice system is studied, under a resolution passed by a Senate committee Wednesday in a tight vote that fell along party lines.

The surprising 4-3 vote by the Criminal Justice Committee is the first step in a long process to get the issue of a moratorium before voters in November.

Senate Joint Resolution 25 would let Texans amend the constitution to prohibit the state from carrying out lethal injections until Sept. 2, 2003. The committee also passed Senate Bill 680, which would set up a special commission to study possible flaws in the system, including legal representation of indigent inmates, the possible innocence of death row inmates and whether race is a factor in such cases.

"By passing this committee, we have cleared one hurdle. We have many more," said Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, sponsor of the resolution and bill.

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, a member of the committee, voted for the bill.

Shapleigh said he doesn't plan to push the measure to a Senate floor debate right away. He needs time to find the 21 votes necessary to bring the measure up for floor debate, he said.

Two-thirds of the Senate and House would have to pass the proposed constitutional amendment for it to be placed on the November ballot.

Texas by far leads the nation's in executions and has 449 on death row. Last year, the state set a national record for executions when 40 people were put to death. Six have been executed this year.

Sen. Kenneth Armbrister, D-Victoria, is a former police officer and chairman of the committee. Armbrister said he supported Shapleigh's bill because of steps lawmakers have taken this year to strengthen the state's criminal justice system.

Last week, Gov. Rick Perry signed legislation that established a process for inmates to seek DNA testing that might clear them. Tuesday, the Senate passed a bill to establish standards for appointing defense lawyers to represent poor defendants.

"It would be somewhat hypocritical for us to then say, `Oh well, we've just passed those but we still think everything is the way it ought to be.' You can't have it both ways," said Armbrister.

Flaws in the state's capital punishment system were widely publicized during the presidential election and highlighted in a Houston Chronicle series in February.

The reports and other studies found capital cases involving unqualified or ill-prepared defense attorneys and even lawyers who slept through parts of a capital trial. Nearly a dozen men, including one who had spent time on death row, have been released after new DNA testing proved their innocence.

Kerry Max Cook last week told the committee that he spent 20 years in prison - 13 on death row - before testing on DNA evidence spurred his release in 1999.

"This is what I survived for," Cook said. "I'm not an abolitionist. I'm fighting for the innocent victims of the death penalty."

Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, voted against the resolution, "keeping in mind the rights of the victims and the victims' families . . . ," said spokesman Jerry Johnson.

Perry does not believe a moratorium is necessary, said spokesman Gene Acuna.

Armbrister said a popular vote also would allow Texans to express whether they still believe in the way the state administers capital punishment.

"It sets up a vehicle for Texans to ask themselves that question: Do we believe that the system we have now in place guarantees proof beyond a reasonable doubt that this individual deserves to be executed?" said Armbrister.

Religious leaders praised the vote.

"Our Texas capital punishment system is a broken legal-social system," said Bishop Michael Pfeiffer of the Diocese of San Angelo and president of the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops. "The Legislature should suspend executions while we as a state conduct a thorough examination of the system."

Dianne Clements of the Houston-based victims' rights group Justice for All, called the moratorium "a preposterous idea which has no foundation."

The bill calls for the Capital Punishment Commission to include 11 members experienced in criminal justice issues. The governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker each would appoint three members; the deans of the law schools at the University of Texas and Texas Tech University would name two others.

Similar legislation by Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, is pending in a House committee.

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Virginia Governor Vetoes 5 Death Penalty Expansion Bills

While the Texas Legislature is considering expanding the death penalty in Texas to apply to repeat child abusers, the Governor of Virginia has vetoed five death penalty expansion bills.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Gov. Timothy M. Kaine announced Monday he had vetoed five bills that would have expanded the crimes punishable by death in Virginia, the state second only to Texas in executions.

"While the nature of the offenses targeted by this legislation are very serious, I do not believe that further expansion of the death penalty is necessary to protect human life or provide for public safety needs," the Democratic governor said in a statement.

Kaine vetoed bills that would have automatically made capital crimes of killing judges or witnesses to influence a judicial outcome, and arranging murder-for-hire. Another bill would have extended eligibility for the death penalty to those who plan or arrange for others to carry out a killing.

The Republican-dominated Legislature passed all five measures with sufficient votes to override the vetoes and will have a chance to do it during a one-day reconvened session April 4.

Del. M. Kirkland Cox, a Republican, said an override effort is likely.

"Obviously, we felt like those were narrowly drawn death penalty statutes that we thought were appropriate, so we'll listen to what the governor has to say on that," Cox said at a news conference.

Kaine, the state's first Roman Catholic governor, was elected two years ago acknowledging his objection to the death penalty but pledging to carry out Virginia's existing death penalty laws.

Kaine represented death row inmates as a lawyer in private practice and based his objection on his religious teachings.

Virginia has carried out 98 executions since the death penalty was reinstated. Texas has executed 388 people in that time, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Chicago Tribune cites Texas innocence cases in call to abolish the death penalty

The Chicago Tribune published an editorial today reversing that paper's support for the death penalty and calling for the abolition of the death penalty, in part because of two Texas cases in which innocent people were likely executed, Carlos De Luna and Cameron Todd Willingham.

This newspaper has done groundbreaking reporting on cases that suggest innocent people have been executed.

Cameron Todd Willingham was put to death in Texas in 1994 for the arson murders of his three daughters. Willingham claimed he was innocent, and now several arson experts believe the case against him was built on scientifically invalid evidence. The fire that killed Willingham's children may have been an accident.

Carlos De Luna was executed in Texas in 1989 for the murder of a gas station clerk, though no forensic evidence linked him to the crime. Now evidence points to another man, Carlos Hernandez, who bragged to relatives and friends that De Luna was convicted for a murder Hernandez committed.
The editorial concludes:
The evidence of mistakes, the evidence of arbitrary decisions, the sobering knowledge that government can't provide certainty that the innocent will not be put to death--all that prompts this call for an end to capital punishment. It is time to stop killing in the people's name.

The Texas Legislature has about two months left in its current session to take action on the question of whether Texas has executed innocent people. The very real probability that innocent people have been executed in Texas should be dealt with as a statewide emergency that requires a moratorium on executions and a death penalty study commission.

The chair of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee should immediately schedule a hearing on HB 809, which would enact a two-year moratorium and create a study commission.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Clemency for Cathy Henderson (Execution Date: June 13, 2007 in Texas)


Urge Texas Governor Rick Perry to Stop the Execution of Cathy Henderson
scheduled for June 13, 2007
.

Cathy Henderson (pictured with Sr. Helen Prejean) is scheduled to be executed in Texas on June 13 for the 1994 murder of Brandon Baugh, an infant she was babysitting. Henderson would be the 12th woman put to death in the U.S. since capital punishment was reinstated. Since her arrest, Henderson has maintained that the child's death was accidental. She said that she dropped the baby, fracturing his skull, and then panicked after realizing she could not revive him. She then buried the boy's body and fled to Missouri, where authorities captured her nearly two weeks later. Henderson said that she is sorry for Brandon's death and that she feels regret every day for the pain she caused his family. She notes, "I wish there was something I could do to comfort them, and if it's going to comfort them to end my life for an accident, I hope this gives them comfort."

Henderson's spiritual advisor is Sister Helen Prejean
, well-known author of "Dead Man Walking." Sister Helen believes Brandon's death was an accident. She said that the public needs to understand that Henderson is not a monster. "It's easy to kill a monster. It's hard to kill a real human being," she noted.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Henderson's final appeal. She is seeking clemency from Texas Governor Rick Perry. View a video interview of Henderson by the Kansas City Star (Windows Media Player.

From the webpage Save Cathy Henderson

ACT NOW TO SAVE CATHY

March 2007

In February, the United States Supreme Court denied Cathy's petition for certiorari. This was a huge blow. Her lawyers are pursuing some other "longer shot" options, but if those fail it means her execution, scheduled for April 18, will proceed unless she is granted clemency.

Please help save Cathy's life by writing letters to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and the Texas Governor, Rick Perry. The Clemency Letters link provides pointers for writing such letters.

In the meantime, Cathy's lawyers and a dedicated team are working hard to find some legal means of stopping her execution.


Also from Save Cathy Henderson

Clemency letters

Governors are given a very special power over life and death. They are given the power to grant clemency to someone condemned to die. Clemency is an exercise in mercy, a power that is rarely - very rarely - exercised.

It seems mercy is out of fashion.

We need to change that, for Cathy's sake, for the sake of her daughters.

Please write a letter asking for clemency for Cathy Henderson. Write to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and to the Governor of Texas, Rick Perry.

Note that we have an updated address for letters to the Board of Pardons and Paroles. The envelope should be addressed to:

Board of Pardons and Paroles
Executive Clemency Section
8610 Shoal Creek Boulevard
Austin, TX 78757

The enclosed letter should be addressed to:

Rissie Owen
Presiding Officer
Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles & other Board Members

If addressed this way, the letter should find its way to Ms Ramirez, who handles the clemency packages. She will fax a copy to each board member.
Points for your clemency letters

Before you write, read the points below. We are very fortunate to have had advice from a former member of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles on exactly what constitutes an effective clemency letter. The same points apply when writing to the Governor.

The key thing to remember is that the goal of your letter is to save Cathy's life. This letter is not a good time to rail against the inequalities and injustices of the system - doing so will render your letter less effective.

We also recommend you read Tony Rizzo's article in the Kansas City Star, Uncommon Path to Death Row. It shows how Cathy's punishment appears out of kilter with others sentenced to death (a punishment usually reserved for the "worst of the worst"). Not to minimize Brandon's death and his parents suffering, but put in this context, the Board may find there is room for mercy.

(If you do wish to write a letter about the injustices in Cathy's case and in the Texas system, consider addressing it to the editor of one of the local papers, such as the Austin-American Statesman.)

How to write an effective clemency letter

Things to remember

* All of the members of the Parole Board will almost invariably believe that the judicial system is essentially fair and just. Therefore, they believe that Cathy has received a fair trial, has received adequate appeals, and is guilty.

When writing your letter, it does not matter whether you agree with this or not: this is what the Parole Board members believe and it is the context in which they will make their decision.

* The members of the Parole Board are appointed by the Office of the Governor. They will almost invariably reflect the views of the governor, Rick Perry.

* Most members of the Parole Board are not attorneys (currently, four of the seven members are not attorneys), so they generally are not going to consider the legal problems in a case. The members of the Parole Board do not think of their role as being a court of appeals. They view clemency letters essentially as pleas for mercy, and they will need overwhelmingly good reasons to grant that mercy.

Things to do

The bulk of your letter should focus on these points:

* Emphasize Cathy's humanity. If the Parole Board members are going to consider clemency, they need to be able to see Cathy as a human being and not as a murderer. One thing you can do is stress that Cathy is a parent with children.

* The Parole Board members want evidence that the person for whom you're requesting clemency has changed for the better. In Cathy’s case, it would be good to note that she has taken advantage of having spiritual advisors, culminating in Sister Prejean serving as her spiritual advisor.

* The Parole Board members will take into account a person’s criminal history. People with extensive criminal histories have no chance at clemency. In Cathy’s case, she had no felonies and no violent offenses in her background, so highlight this in your letter.

Things to avoid

Your letter might briefly mention the following things, but you should generally avoid them, and the focus of your letter should not be on these issues:

* Philosophical discussions about the shortcomings or the immorality of the death penalty. As far as the members of the Parole Board are concerned, the death penalty is a fact of law, and it’s not their role to change it. They have probably heard all the arguments before.

* The facts of the case. Unless there are extraordinary circumstances, the members of the Parole Board are not going to be weighing the merits of the case or Cathy's guilt or innocence. It would not be out of line, however, to discuss the perceptions of the facts. In Cathy’s case, there is no disputing that Brandon Baugh died. It can be argued, however, that it was an accident. Realize, however, that they will be inclined to believe the forensic report on the injury to Brandon’s head.

* Avoid personal attacks on the people who have been involved in the case. Again, unless there are extraordinary circumstances, the members of the Parole Board are going to be inclined to believe in the integrity of the process and the people who are a part of the process.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Alternative Spring Break on MTV


The 2007 Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break was on MTV's TRL Thursday at 3:19 Central.

A longer version is going to be aired on MTV's "The Amazing Break" on March 24, Sunday at 8 AM Eastern (7 AM Central) with repeats to follow on other dates. MTV has a page up about the spring break. Also the news special will get some repeat airings at MTV News in other time slots.

Total Request Live (commonly known as TRL) is the flagship television series on MTV that features popular music videos. TRL is MTV's prime outlet for music videos as the network continues to concentrate on reality-based programming. In addition to music videos, TRL to promote their newest works to the show's target features daily guests. The show is a popular promotion tool used by musicians, actors, and other celebritiesteen demographic.

According to Nielsen Media Research, TRL averages 451,000 viewers a day.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Roundtable Discussion on Art and Protest and Dissent

TMN's Scott Cobb will participate in a roundtable discussion at Texas State University in San Marcos on LOYAL OPPOSITION, “Art as a Vehicle for Protest and Dissent,” scheduled at 11 a.m. March 27 in JCM, Room 2121. The discussion will include several of the artists with works in the exhibit. One of the topics of discussion will be the recent controversy at the Texas Capitol when a state representative took it upon himself to remove two pieces of artwork that he deemed "extremely inappropriate and highly objectionable".

LOYAL OPPOSITION is an art exhibition of protest and dissent at the Joann Cole Mitte Art Building in Gallery I at Texas State University. It was curated by Mary Mikel Stump and contains artwork by a few artists that were also in TMN's "Justice for All?: Artists Reflect on the Death Penalty".

LOYAL OPPOSITION is comprised of 41 pieces of art, including photography, paintings and sculptures. The pieces were created by 21 emerging and mid-career artist from across the nation.

Each piece of art in the exhibit signifies a social issue concerning “Protest and Dissent,” such as racism, politics, segregation, justice and drug abuse. Works in the exhibition include the stitched cotton “WHITE FLAG” by Jack Daws, a woodcut piece entitled “Good Worker” by Daniel Gonzalez and “Freedom of Expression National Monument,” a photograph by Erika Rothenberg.

Derrick Durham, a Texas State alumni and resident of San Marcos, created the large mural outside of Gallery I for the exhibit.

“It’s important the viewer not walk away thinking that is the end game,” Durham said.
For the art to be effective in creating an impact, he said, “action must be followed.”

Mary Mikel Stump, JCM gallery director, said she appreciates the opportunity to support programs such as Common Experience. Stump traveled to several galleries and art shows across the nation to obtain pieces of art for LOYAL OPPOSITION.

“I like the characterization that each artist represents a singular voice about their particular issue,” Stump said.

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MTV 's TRL to Report on Alternative Spring Break Today

We have heard that MTV's Total Request Live is going to air a report on this year's Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break today, March 20, Tuesday, sometime between 2:30 and 3:30 PM. According to Nielsen Media Research, TRL averages 351,000 viewers a day.

They also plan to air a longer segment on the Amazing Break this Sunday at 8 AM Eastern (7 AM Central) with repeats to follow on other dates.

Check it out.

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Another Texas Execution - Charles Nealy

Another Texas execution is scheduled for today. It will be the 9th execution in the U.S. this year and 8 of them have been in Texas.

Meanwhile last Fall, the Tides Foundation gave out $182,500 to groups around the county trying to stop executions, but it did not give any money to Texas organizations, instead giving $50,000 to an anti-death penalty organization in Wisconsin, which does not even have the death penalty. No wonder Texas executions are continuing at a torid pace. The national leaders of the anti-death penalty movement would rather fight the death penalty where it doesn't even exist, rather than in Texas.

Call the Governor of Texas and tell him we need a moratorium on executions.

Contact Governor Perry to Protest Each 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.


Condemned prisoner Charles Anthony Nealy says he wasn't even in Texas on an August evening almost 10 years ago when two men were gunned down during the robbery of a convenience store just south of downtown Dallas.

"It's not me," Nealy says of a grainy videotape image from a security camera that shows one man carrying a shotgun and another with a pistol taking money from a cash register and then grabbing a bottle of wine and a couple of six-packs of cold beer. "Two kids — that's what I see. Possibly teenagers. And I wasn't one of them."

A Dallas County jury believed otherwise.

Nealy, who would be 43 later this week, faced lethal injection Tuesday evening in Huntsville for the shooting death of one of the men, store owner Jiten Bhakta, 25.

He'd be the ninth condemned inmate executed this year in the nation's most active death penalty state. Two more are set to die next week.

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Report from 2007 Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break

The 2007 Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break organized by Texas Students Against the Death Penalty and co-sponsored by Campus Progress, Texas Moratorium Network, the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Campus Progress, Equal Justice USA, Amnesty International, the ACLU, the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Journey of Hope, Victims of Texas and Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights. was a big success.

Students received valuable training and experience in grassroots organizing, lobbying, preparing a direct action and media relations. During the week, students immediately put what they learned into action during activities such as the "Day of Innocence Rally" at the Texas
capitol, when they visited members of the Texas Legislature and lobbied them on the need for a moratorium on executions. They also organized a protest in the heart of the SXSW music festival in downtown Austin during the Direct Action Day.


As a result of all their hard work throughout the week, the students generated hugely positive media coverage that helped educate the public on the issue of the death penalty. Scott Cobb, president of Texas Moratorium Network compared the week's events to past struggles for social justice by saying, "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."

Planning for the alternative spring break began last October. During the weeks leading up to the event, the students who organized the program had to solve various problems, such as finding replacements for a couple of speaker cancellations and finding cheap housing in Austin during the busy SXSW film and music festival. This year we had students coming from as far away as the UK, Mexico and Canada.

Austin was definitely the place to be during spring break 2007 for young people whose goals include becoming part of the next generation of human rights leaders. As one of the students said, "I could have gone to the beach and changed my state of mind for a week instead I came to Austin this week to change the world forever." During the spring break, students also had plenty of free time to enjoy Austin - the Live Music Capital of the World.

Texas leads the nation by far in number of executions. Texas performed 45 percent of all the executions in the United States 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 1066 executions in the United States (as of March 12, 2007). Texas performed 387 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.

During the week students had the chance to meet and talk with people who have first-hand experience with the death penalty, such as, Kerry Cook, an innocent man who spent 22 years on Texas Death Row and recently wrote a book, "Chasing Justice: My Story of Freeing Myself After 22 Years on Death Row". Shujaa Graham, an African American man who spent 3 years on California's death-row for a crime he did not commit. Moreese "Pops" Bickham, who was on death row when the Furman v Georgia decision was announced in 1972 abolishing the death penalty. He is now the oldest living survivor of the Furman v Georgia decision. George White, an innocent man who spent years in prison wrongfully convicted of killing his wife only to be finally exonerated. Christina Lawson, whose father was murdered when she was a child and whose husband, David Martinez, was executed in Texas on July 28, 2005 for a murder completely unconnected to the murder of her father as a child.

The students also got a lesson in free speech during the week when a Texas state representative took it upon himself to remove two death penalty themed artworks in an exhibition at the state capitol that had been placed as a part of the spring break. He called the artworks "extremely inappropriate and highly objectionable".

Several of the students have said that they intend to remain active in the anti-death penalty movement when they return home, including Zainab Alam of Katy, Texas, a spring breaker who spoke at the "Day of Innocence" rally and plans to start a new TSADP chapter in her school.



You can find the full schedule of this year's events at Texas Students Against the Death Penalty's website: http://www.springbreakalternative.org




















Pictures from top to bottom: 1. Students protesting the death penalty during the SXSW festival in downtown Austin. 2. Protest at the Governor's mansion. 3. Talking to Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth) during the Lobby Day. 4. Shujaa Graham listening during the "Day of Innocence Rally." 5. Kerry Cook speaking at the "Day of Innocence" rally. 6. Sam Milsap explaining the case of Ruben Cantu to the spring break students.

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Living Conditions on Death Row

POLICIES OF LEADING EXECUTION STATES

Texas • Number executed since 1976: 387

Death row population: 387

Work program: No

Contact visits: No

Group recreation: No

Group religious services: No

Television: No

Virginia

Number executed since 1976: 98

Death row population: 19

Work program: No

Contact visits: Yes

Group recreation: No

Group religious services: No

Television: Yes

Oklahoma

Number executed since 1976: 84

Death row population: 84

Work program: No

Contact visits: No

Group recreation: Yes

Group religious services: Yes, but inmates not released from cells

Television: Yes

Missouri

Number executed since 1976: 66

Death row population: 48

Work program: Yes

Contact visits: No

Group recreation: Yes

Group religious services: No

Television: Yes

The Houston Chronicle is reporting that an inmate on death row is on a hunger strike over living conditions.

LIVINGSTON — Life on death row, says Roy Lee Pippin — condemned for killing two men in a Harris County narcotics murder — is a living hell.

And unless courts spare his life, Pippin says, he plans to go to his March 29 execution on an empty stomach. He's trying to draw attention to what he considers horrendous conditions at Texas' massive, ultra-maximum-security death row.

...

By early 2000, Ellis' aging death row was closed, its population relocated to what is now called the Polunsky Unit.

In their new home, inmates were confined to 60-square-foot cells — 20 square feet smaller than the enclosure recommended by the American Correctional Association — and subjected to a reduction in privileges. No longer were they allowed to engage in group recreation sessions or attend group religious services. Officials eliminated work programs, contending that Gurule and others used their time in Ellis' garment factory to plan their escape. At Polunksy, inmates no longer could watch television, although a Dallas state representative has introduced a bill this session that would restore that privilege.

Pippin, condemned for murdering two men he thought had stolen $1.6 million from his Colombian drug bosses, yearns for the Ellis days. "We could go without handcuffs," he said. "We could work in the garment factory or go down the hall to talk to friends."

Now, Pippin's primary chance to talk to other inmates comes during solitary recreation sessions in a day room near the other cells. Theoretically, he could yell to — but not see — inmates in neighboring cells. But at death row, which is noisy 24 hours a day, Pippin can't hear. "Too much rock 'n' roll," he said of his damaged hearing.

He complains, too, of the fluorescent lighting in his cell, which he claims has damaged his vision, and of the "child-sized" portions of food. (A typical day's menu consists of three pancakes for breakfast, a 4-ounce pork cutlet for lunch and a 4-ounce hamburger patty for dinner, all accompanied by side dishes of vegetables, fruit and bread.)

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

KUT coverage of Death Penalty Panel at Texas Capitol

We have been very busy at the capitol this week. KUT has an audio report on the death penalty panel discussion at the Texas Capitol on Wednesday, March 15. The clip features George White, an innocent man who was wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife, and later exonerated. And Christina Lawson, whose father was murdered when she was nine years old.

As the Texas Legislature considers expanding the death penalty, anti-death penalty advocates were at the Capitol for an event highlighting their personal experiences with the death penalty.

— Emily Babcock
Other panelists at the event in the Capitol auditorium were Bill Pelke, whose grandmother was murdered. Pops Bickham, who at 89 is the oldest living person whose sentence was commuted from death to life as a result of the Furman v Georgia decision in 1972; Joan Cheever, who wrote the book "Back from the Dead" about the people whose sentences were commuted in 1972; and Shujaa Graham, who spent years on death row in California before being exoerated and released.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

"Day of Innocence" Rally and Testimony of Kerry Cook to Senate Criminal Justice Committee

Three innocent people who were wrongfully convicted attended today's "Day of Innocence" rally at the Texas capitol. Two of those people, Kerry Cook and Shujaa Graham, spent time on death row. The other, George White, was wrongfully sentenced to life in prison. All three were completely innocent and eventually exonerated.

Kerry Cook spent more than 20 years on Texas death row before being released and exonerated. He testified against HB8 and SB5 in today's Senate Criminal Justice Committee, asking lawmakers to address the problems in the death penalty system instead of expanding the death penalty to apply to repeat child abusers. After his testimony, an aide for Senators Deuell and Seliger followed Kerry out of the room and asked him to autograph their copies of Kerry's book, "Chasing Justice: My Story of Freeing Myself After Two Decades on Death Row for a Crime I Didn’t Commit". Kerry believes that lawmakers should reject the death penalty expansion in HB 8 and SB 5. If they do not take out the death penalty provision, then lawmakers should at least attach amendments to the bills to create an innocence commission, enact a moratorium on executions and create a commission to conduct a comprehensive review of the death penalty system in Texas.

KVUE in Austin has some excellent coverage of the day's rally and committee testimony. The link contains a video approximately two minutes long that aired on tonight's 6 PM newscast.

Kerry Cook will be speaking again at the capitol in the Auditorium tomorrow March 14, from 11 AM to 1 PM as one of the speakers on a panel that includes three innocent people who were wrongfully sentenced to either death or life in prison, two family members of murder victims, and the oldest living person (89) whose sentence was commuted from death to life as a result of the Furman v Georgia decision in 1972.

Every lawmaker who is considering voting to expand the death penalty this session should come hear the stories of these panelists.

Wednesday, March 14

11:00 AM - 1 PM: Murder Victim Family Member and Former Death Row Inmate Panel. Location: the Auditorium in the Texas State Capitol on level E1 in the Annex in room E1.004. (Across from the cafeteria).

The panel includes:

Kerry Cook, an innocent man who spent 22 years on Texas Death Row and recently wrote a book, "Chasing Justice".

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

Moreese "Pops" Bickham, who was on death row when the Furman v Georgia decision was announced in 1972 abolishing the death penalty. He is now the oldest living survivor of the Furman v Georgia decision.

Christina Lawson, who has suffered the loss of her father and her husband. Her father was murdered when she was a child and her husband, David Martinez, was executed this past summer, July 28, 2005. She has witnessed the pain from both sides: the loss of her father, the anger and hate felt towards his killer, the loss of her husband, the sorrow for his victim's family and loved ones, the loss of a Daddy for their child. She has realized through her pain, that the death penalty does not bring anyone back, it does not heal anyone... it brings back the pain of losing a loved one and destroys another innocent family.

Bill Pelke, president of Journey of Hope and Chairman of the Board of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. He authored a book entitled "Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing", which details the May 14, 1985 murder of his grandmother Ruth Pelke, a Bible teacher, by four teenage girls. Paula Cooper who was deemed to be the ringleader was sentenced to die in the electric chair by the state of Indiana. She was fifteen-years-old at the time of the murder Pelke originally support the sentence of death for Cooper, but went through a spiritual transformation in 1986 after praying for love and compassion for Paula Cooper and her family. He became involved in an international crusade on Paula's behalf and in 1989 after over 2 million people from Italy signed petitions and Pope John Paul II's request for mercy, Paula was taken off of death row and her sentence commuted to sixty years. Bill, a retired steelworker, has dedicated his life to working for abolition of the death penalty. He shares his story of forgiveness and healing, and how he came to realize that he did not need to see someone else die in order to heal from his grandmother's death.

George White: On February 27, 1985, the White family experienced first-hand the insanity and horror of murder. George and his wife Charlene were shot repeatedly by an armed robber at his place of business in Enterprise, Alabama. George held Charlene in his arms as her life slipped away. Their children, Tom and Christie, were only 12 and 5 at the time. The nightmare had just begun. Sixteen months later, George was charged with murdering his wife. Following a capital murder trial that was later described as "a mockery and a sham", George was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. His conviction was overturned in 1989 and he was released from prison, but George remained in legal limbo until 1992, when proof of his innocence was finally brought forward. Following a brief hearing the trial court ordered the charge against him forevermore dismissed. The nightmare had lasted more than seven years...had the State of Alabama had its way, George White would be a dead man today. Understanding fully how easy it is to become advocates for revenge, the White family, however, rejects the death penalty as a solution and as way of healing the wounds of their loss.

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

MTV coming to Austin for Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break

Texas Alternative Spring Break
by Sarah Samuel
March 7, 2007

MTV is coming to Austin next week to cover students as they give up their spring break to participate in a week long program concerning the death penalty.

Created in 2004 by Texas Moratorium Network, Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break will commence March 12.

“Alternative Spring Break is an excellent tool for creating awareness,” said
20-year-old Jackson Smith who attended last year’s event. “It impacts students so
they will go back with a thorough knowledge and personal understanding about the
death penalty.”

From March 12 to March 16, students will participate in media training, attend a
lobby day, engage in panel discussions, and listen to speakers such as Shujaa
Graham, an exonerated death row inmate.

After the event’s first year, Texas Moratorium Network handed over the
organization of Alternative Spring Break to Texas Students Against the Death
Penalty, a University of Texas student organization.

According to Hooman Hedayati, president of Texas Students Against the Death Penalty, the goal of the event is to educate students enough so they will not forget the issues and will go back home and affect other people.

The 24-hour college network, mtvU, covered the anti-death penalty spring break in its prior years, but this year MTV decided to include the event in its spring break series “The Amazing Break.” Ian Rowe, senior vice president of public affairs at MTV, said this decision came when they began hearing from young people and realized this cause was a grassroots movement in colleges across the country.

About 50 students from all over Texas and across the country have registered for this year’s anti-death penalty spring break, which is more than the past two-year’s attendance combined. Because the event is open to the public, many more Austin community members are expected to attend.

Registration is free, except for out-of-town students who must pay $25 for housing. Texas Students Against the Death Penalty arranged for those who need housing to stay in the Goodall Wooten dormitory near the University of Texas campus, and because of the increase in attendance, some students will stay in a hotel.

The rally on Tuesday will be on the South steps of the Capitol and the protest on Thursday will be conducted at the governor’s mansion. Students will attend workshops held at the University of Texas campus and the Texas State Travis Building. There will also be panel discussions in the Capitol’s committee rooms and a book-signing panel at UT on Wednesday.

“Students will learn life skills needed as young people to help shape a better world,” said Renny Cushing, a second-year speaker and founder of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights.

Last year’s students rode a bus to Huntsville, Texas to protest the execution of Tommie Hughes for the murder of two Dallas women during a robbery. This protest was described by several participators as the most significant part of Alternative Spring Break last year.

“It was surreal to be present at the execution,” said Smith. “The whole experience was really emotional and personal.”

“It was rewarding to see them become engaged and try to solve a problem,” said Scott Cobb, coordinator at the Texas Moratorium Network. “The bus ride to Huntsville provided a bonding experience for the students, because it opened up many conversations about the effects of the death penalty.”

Alternative Spring Break hopes to have an impact on death penalty legislation in Texas, but according to many participants, its main impact will be on the students.

“There is no other human rights oriented spring break event that I am aware of where young people are invited to come, participate, and be trained,” said Cobb.

“Alternative Spring Break has already made an impact,” said Christina Lawson, a 29-year-old woman whose husband was executed in 2005. “It informs and encourages the next generation who will influence many others.”

The Austin Alternative Spring Break 2007 episode will air March 22 as an MTV news special during the network’s show “Total Request Live.” It will then air as the first of five segments in “The Amazing Break” on Sunday, March 25.

“This was a call to action that was different and intertwined with many emotions,” said MTV producer Megan Desales. “MTV likes to show ordinary students doing amazing things that will prompt other people in the future.”

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Rep Farrar files bill to abolish death penalty in Texas

State Representative Jessica Farrar filed a bill (HB 3740) Friday to abolish the death penalty in Texas. She is the second Texas legislator to file such a bill this session. Rep Dutton has filed an abolition bill every session since 2003.

Other states also considering legislation to abolish the death penalty this year include Montana, New Mexico, Colorado, New Hampshire and New Jersey.

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Former Bexar County District Attorney Sam Milsap Opposes Hb 8

Former Bexar County District Attorney Sam Milsap published an Op-Ed in the San Antonio Express News March 7 opposing HB 8 because of its death penalty provision. Milsap  will be speaking in Austin this Monday, March 12, on the day before "Day of Innocence" and Death Penalty Issues Lobby Day. His talk is 6-7 PM in Waggener Hall on the campus of UT-Austin.


A senate version of "Jessica's Law" (SB 5 by Deuell) that also contains a death penalty provision will be heard in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee this Tuesday, March 13.


From Milsap's Op-Ed:

If House Bill 8 becomes law, the clock would be turned back to the bad old days when it was impossible to persuade a child victim or witness to testify against Dad, Uncle Bill or Mom's boyfriend.


By way of background, I am not some wild-eyed, pointy-headed liberal who is soft on crime; I am a former elected Bexar County district attorney. I was considered a national leader in the effort to develop a model for the prosecution of cases involving child sexual abuse in the mid-1980s.


With the support of the Commissioners Court, a special unit, considered at the time a model by DAs throughout the country, was created for the prosecution of those cases. Our focused effort, led by specially trained prosecutors and advocates for child victims, produced measurable - but limited - success.


What quickly became clear was that, because of their understandable fears and vulnerabilities, victims and witnesses were still reluctant to testify against perpetrators; special laws were required for the trial of cases involving child victims. For that reason, my office authored legislation that made it easier to prosecute these loathsome crimes.


As a result of the efforts of then-Sen. Cyndi Krier and Reps. Frank Tejeda and Dan Morales, that legislation, passed in 1985, has been the law in Texas for many years, eliminating some of the most serious barriers to the prosecution of these cases.


Under the best circumstances, I can tell you from experience that it is very difficult to successfully prosecute any form of child abuse. The very nature of child sex abuse makes it even more problematic.


The stigma of this odious crime subjects victims and witnesses to pressures from family members not to report or to refuse to testify. The mere fact that Dad or Uncle Bill will be convicted of a felony and may go to prison is enough to persuade most victims and witnesses not to report or testify.


If the death penalty is added to the range of punishments, perpetrators might be encouraged to murder their child victims to prevent them from reporting or testifying. At the very least, the number of legitimate child sex abuse complaints would plummet, producing a result obviously not intended by supporters of this legislation.


This bill, if passed, would be the focus of a successful appeal the first time its application produces a death sentence. There is little, if any, chance that an appellate court would sustain a statute that permits the death penalty for an offense that does not involve a murder. The U.S. Supreme Court, in Coker v. Georgia, ruled in 1977 that a death sentence for the rape of an adult woman was grossly disproportionate and excessive punishment and barred by the Eighth Amendment.


Because this legislation is so clearly unconstitutional, it is possible that even trial judges in Texas would refuse to apply it.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

"Day of Innocence" and Death Penalty Issues Lobby Day

There will be two lobby training workshops and a talk by Sam Milsap on the issue of "Innocence and the Death Penalty". The workshops and talk are, of course, open to anyone, just show up. Lobby Day is actually on Tuesday, March 13, but there are also some activities on March 12 too, so please come to one of the two training workshops and don't miss the talk by Sam Milsap on Monday.

If you have questions, email scottcobb99@gmail.com or call 512-302-6715.

Please forward this message widely. We want to make a strong presence at the capitol.

Monday, March 12 (The Day Before Lobby Day)

4:00-5:30 PM Workshop: "Influencing the Texas Legislature" with Les Breeding, former legislative director for a member of the Texas Legislature. During the workshop, participants will learn how to interact effectively with legislators or legislative aides and plan for the next day's lobby day. Waggener 101 on the UT-Austin campus.

5:30 - 6:00 PM Free food and drinks

6:00 - 7:00 PM "Innocence and The Death Penalty", a talk and question and answer discussion with Sam Milsap, former Bexar County District Attorney.
Mr Milsap prosecuted Ruben Cantu, but now believes that Cantu may have been innocent. Cantu was executed in 1993. Waggener 101 on the UT-Austin campus.

Tuesday, March 13 (Lobby Day)


9:30 AM - 11 AM, Lobby Training Workshop for anyone who missed Monday's workshop. Location: Conference room 1-104 in the W.B. Travis State Office Building (WBT on map), 17th and Congress. Parking is available either at meters along nearby streets or a short walk away at the Capitol Visitors Parking Garage at 1201 San Jacinto located between Trinity and San Jacinto Streets. Parking is free for the first two hours and $.75 for each half hour thereafter (maximum daily charge: $6.00)

9:00 AM - 11 AM Possible morning lobbying appointments for people who attended the lobby training workshop on Monday. If you live in Texas, you should find out who your state senator and representative are before you come to Austin and call them and make an appointment to visit them either for this morning or afternoon, whenever they or their staff members are available. When you call, tell them you live in their district and you are coming to Austin to visit them. If you are not a resident of Texas, don't worry, we will pair you up with someone else to go lobby.

Noon: "Day of Innocence" Rally on South Steps
of Capitol Speakers include Kerry Cook, an innocent man who spent 22 years on Texas Death Row and recently wrote a book, "Chasing Justice"; Shujaa Graham, an exonerated former death row inmate; Renny Cushing, Executive Director of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights; Martha Cotera, whose 25-year-old son Juan Javier was murdered in a carjacking and drowning in Austin in 1997; Christina Lawson, director of Victim's of Texas and daughter of a murder victim; a student speaker from the alternative spring break; state legislators; and others TBA.

1:00 PM Lunch in capitol cafeteria

Afternoon: Visits with legislators and/or their aides. Attendance at possible committee hearings

5 PM Meet in the Capitol Cafeteria to snack, socialize and exchange information about what people learned during their visits with legislative offices.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Schedule for Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break

You can still register. All events are free and open to the public, both students and non-students.

Monday, March 12

o 1- 3:00 PM Housing check-in for people who have signed up for housing. Meet at The Goodall Wooten Co-ed Dormitory, 2112 Guadalupe (Corner of 21st and Guadalupe). Most people will be staying here, however some people will be at a couple of other locations. If you can not check in by 3 PM, then just go directly to the location of the first event and you can check in to your room after the workshops.
o 3-3:30 PM -- Meet for snacks and socializing before the first speaker. Waggener 101 on the UT-Austin campus. Map
o 3:30-4 PM -- Introduction to the Alternative Spring Break by Hooman Hedayati of Texas Students Against the Death Penalty and Scott Cobb of Texas Moratorium Network. Waggener 101 on the UT-Austin campus. Map
o 4:00-5:30 PM Workshop: "Influencing the Texas Legislature" with Les Breeding, former legislative director for a member of the Texas Legislature. During the workshop, participants will learn how to interact effectively with legislators or legislative aides and plan for the next day's lobby day. Waggener 101 on the UT-Austin campus. Map
o 5:30 – 6:00 PM Free food and drinks
o 6:00 - 7:00 PM "Innocence and The Death Penalty", a talk and question and answer discussion with Sam Milsap, former Bexar County District Attorney. Mr Milsap prosecuted Ruben Cantu, but now believes that Cantu may have been innocent. Cantu was executed in 1993. Waggener 101 on the UT-Austin campus. Map
o 7 – 8 PM Sign-making and other preparation for next day's rally at the Capitol (back at Goodall Wooten)
o Evening Time on your own for enjoying Austin, including the SXSW film festival.


Tuesday, March 13 Death Penalty Issues Lobby Day
o 9:30 AM - 11 AM, Lobby Training Workshop for anyone coming to Austin just for lobby day. Location: Conference room 1-104 in the W.B. Travis State Office Building (WBT on map), 17th and Congress. Parking is available either at meters along nearby streets or a short walk away at the Capitol Visitors Parking Garage at 1201 San Jacinto located between Trinity and San Jacinto Streets. Parking is free for the first two hours and $.75 for each half hour thereafter (maximum daily charge: $6.00) Map of the Capitol Complex.
o 9:00 AM - 11 AM Possible morning lobbying appointments for people who attended the lobby training workshop on Monday. If you live in Texas, you should find out who your state senator and representative are before you come to Austin and call them and make an appointment to visit them either for this morning or afternoon, whenever they or their staff members are available. When you call, tell them you live in their district and you are coming to Austin to visit them. If you are not a resident of Texas, don't worry, we will pair you up with someone else to go lobby.
o 10 AM Start setting up for rally at capitol (Meet in the Goodall Wooten lobby)
o Noon: "Day of Innocence" Rally on South Steps of Capitol Speakers include Kerry Cook, an innocent man who spent 22 years on Texas Death Row and recently wrote a book, "Chasing Justice"; state legislators; Shujaa Graham, an exonerated former death row inmate; Renny Cushing, Executive Director of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights; Martha Cotera, whose 25-year-old son Juan Javier was murdered in a carjacking and drowning in Austin in 1997; Christina Lawson, Director of Victim's of Texas, a student speaker from the alternative spring break; Bill Pelke, chair of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and director of Journey of Hope, and others TBA.
o 1:00 PM Lunch in capitol cafeteria
o Afternoon: Visits with legislators and/or their aides. Attendance at possible committee hearings
o 5 PM Meet in the Capitol Cafeteria to snack, socialize and exchange information about what people learned during their visits with legislative offices.
o 5:30 PM "Art and Activism" Talk with Scott Cobb, who organized the art show "Justice for All?: Artists Reflect on the Death Penalty". A selection of death penalty themed artworks will be on display in level E2 of the capitol annex. We will meet on E2 for the talk and to view the artworks.
o 7 PM - Screening of RACE TO EXECUTION. The movie reveals how, beyond DNA and the issue of innocence, the shameful open secret of America's capital punishment system is a matter of race. Once a victim’s body is discovered, his or her race—and the race of the accused—deeply influence the legal process: how a crime scene is investigated and the deployment of police resources, the interrogation and arrest of major suspects, how the media portrays the crime and ultimately, the jury selection and sentencing. UTC 1.146 on the UT-Austin campus. Map.UTC is next to the PCL Library.
o Evening more time on your own for enjoying Austin



Wednesday, March 14

o 11:00 AM - 1 PM: Murder Victim Family Member and Former Death Row Inmate Panel. Location for morning and afternoon workshops: Conference room 1-104 in the W.B. Travis State Office Building (WBT on map), 17th and Congress.
o Panelists include:
+ Renny Cushing: Founder and Executive Director of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights. His father's murder in 1988 has shaped his work as an advocate for crime victims and as an opponent of capital punishment. As a victim-abolitionist Renny has been a pioneer in the effort to bridge death penalty abolition groups and the victims' rights movement.
+ 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
+ Moreese "Pops" Bickham, who was on death row when the Furman v Georgia decision was announced in 1972 abolishing the death penalty. He is now the oldest living survivor of the Furman v Georgia decision.
+ Christina Lawson, who has suffered the loss of her father and her husband. Her father was murdered when she was a child and her husband, David Martinez, was executed this past summer, July 28, 2005. She has witnessed the pain from both sides: the loss of her father, the anger and hate felt towards his killer, the loss of her husband, the sorrow for his victim's family and loved ones, the loss of a Daddy for their child. She has realized through her pain, that the death penalty does not bring anyone back, it does not heal anyone... it brings back the pain of losing a loved one and destroys another innocent family.
o 1:00 - 2 PM Lunch Break
o 2 - 3:30 PM Workshop: "Youth Media Workshop" led by Campus Progress. Conference room 1-104 in the W.B. Travis State Office Building (WBT on map), 17th and Congress.
o 3:30 - 4:30 Workshop "How to Debate the Death Penalty" led by Bryan McCann, UT's debate team coach. They are #1 in the nation. Bryan is a member of Campaign to End the Death Penalty. Conference room 1-104 in the W.B. Travis State Office Building (WBT on map), 17th and Congress.
o Break and time to get dinner
o 7 PM Book Signing and Reading/Discussion with Joan Cheever. Cheever's book "Back From The Dead" is the story of 589 former death row inmates who, through a lottery of fate, were given a second chance at life in 1972 when the death penalty was abolished; it returned to the United States four years later. UTC 1.146 on the UT-Austin campus. Map.UTC is next to the PCL Library.



Thursday, March 15: Direct Action Day

o 10AM-Noon: Skills Building Workshop: "Winning Step-By-Step: How to Organize and Win Moratorium and Abolition Resolutions at the Grassroots Level" led by Everette Catilla. This workshop will cover how to convince student governments, city councils, churches and othe:r organizations to pass resolutions. Everette works for Equal Justice USA (www.ejusa.org). EJUSA is a national leader in the movement to halt executions, providing hands-on technical assistance, grassroots organizing support, and capacity building to state and local campaigns across the country. UTC 1.146 on the UT-Austin campus. Map.UTC is next to the PCL Library.
o Noon to 1:00 PM Lunch on your own
o 1:00 - 1:50 "How to Organize and Run a Non-profit Organization". We will discuss possible activities that students can organize when they return home. The information in this workshop can be applied to running a student organization or any non-profit organization. Workshop will be led by Kristin Houlé, who until recently served as the Program Associate for Amnesty International USA's Program to Abolish the Death Penalty, based in Washington, DC. She has been involved with Amnesty International for more than 12 years and held several volunteer leadership roles (including State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator for Kentucky) before joining the staff in 2002. Kristin has been the lead organizer of AIUSA's National Weekend of Faith in Action on the Death Penalty (NWFA). In 2007, Kristin received a Soros Justice Fellowship to work on the issue of the death penalty and mental illness in Texas. UTC 1.146 on the UT-Austin campus. Map.UTC is next to the PCL Library.
o 1:50 - 2:00 Break
o 2:00 - 3:00 Mental Illness and the Death Penalty led by Kristin Houlé. UTC 1.146 on the UT-Austin campus. Map.UTC is next to the PCL Library.
o 3:00 - 6 PM Organize and Carry out a direct action (possibly at the Governor's Mansion). The type, location and message of the direct action will be decided on by the students.
o 6 PM - Petition Signature Gathering Competition: (Time and day to be determined) We will divide into teams and fan out throughout Austin to collect signatures on a petition against the death penalty. People can collect signatures at places such as where SXSW events are taking place, outside certain bookstores or other stores if they allow it, on the streets in downtown Austin and wherever else the teams want to try. The team that collects the most petition signatures (with names, addresses, email addresses and possibly phone numbers) will win a prize of $100. We will decide as a group what size the teams can be. Options are 1, 2, 3, 4, or more person teams.
o 9 PM - Meet back at Goodall Wooten for some food and discussion of the direct action as well as the entire spring break. Fill out feedback forms.


Friday, March 16: Fun Day
* This is Spring Break, so today we will have some fun and take a break after all the hard work we have done all week. Everyone is free to choose their own activities. Some things people could do are: Go swimming at Barton Springs Pool, attend a SXSW film or music event, go shopping, take a Segway tour of Austin, go jogging around Town Lake, go bike riding, visit a museum or do something else. Some of these activities cost money, so plan accordingly.
* 11 AM -- UT Campus tour for anyone interested -
Each day, they offer two student-guided walking tours of campus for prospective students and families that begin at the Main Building ("UT Tower") and cover the center of campus from the unique perspective of a current student. This is one of the best ways to get a feel for campus, and we recommend that all prospective students who are mobile sign up for the tour. Wear comfortable clothes and walking shoes, and feel free to bring your camera. You can also register for info sessions and other tours.

Saturday, March 17

o Students leave Austin Saturday if they did not leave Friday. If they are staying in the Goodall Wooten dormitory, they are welcome to sleep in the dorm Friday and leave Saturday morning.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Sam Milsap, former Bexar County DA, to speak in Austin March 12 at 6 PM

Sam Milsap, the former Bexar County DA, will speak on March 12 at the Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break. Milsap prosecuted Ruben Cantu, but now believes that Cantu may have been innocent of the crime for which he was executed in 1993.

Mr Milsap will speak from 6 - 7 PM in a room to be announced on the UT-Austin campus. The public is welcome to attend. It is free.

Mr Milsap will discuss the Cantu case and the issue of innocence and the death penalty.

There will be a "Day of Innocence" rally and Death Penalty Issues Lobby Day at the Texas capitol on Tuesday, March 13, 2007. The rally starts at noon on the South Steps of the capitol.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Honor Roll on HB 8 (Jessica's Law)

During the debate on HB 8, there were several people who valiantly tried to amend the bill to improve it or who spoke eloquently on the floor against the death penalty provision in the bill, either today or last week, including Representatives Dutton, Turner and Hodge. Special thanks to them.

Thank you also to all the 24 members who voted against HB 8, mostly because of the death penalty provision. When the U.S. Supreme Court finds the death penalty in this bill unconstitutional, these members will be able to say "told you so".

Allen; Bolton; Burnam; Castro; Cohen; Coleman; Davis, Y.; Dukes;
Dutton; Farrar; Giddings; Hernandez; Hodge; Howard, D.; McClendon; Miles;
Moreno; Naishtat; Olivo; Pickett; Puente; Rodriguez; Thompson; Turner.

A few members felt strongly enough to have their written objections recorded in the House Journal. Thank you for taking this extra step.

REASONS FOR VOTE (recorded in Journal)

Rep. Garnet Coleman's Statement:

Although the amendment to the bill improved the language of HB 8, and the intent of the bill is laudable without dispute, there is a constitutional concern about the use of the death penalty in cases where no life is taken. Though the sanction of the death penalty is available in other states, the constitutionality of using the death penalty in cases that do not include murder has not yet come before the supreme court. Louisiana is the only state to have an individual on death row for a sexual offense against a minor, and that case is currently before the courts. There remains additional concern that if the death penalty is a possible punishment for continuous sexual abuse of a young child or children, the victim may not report the offense for fear of sending a fellow family member to life imprisonment or death.

If this bill goes to a conference committee, and the use of the death penalty is removed, I will vote "yes" on HB 8 or similar legislation. However, in light of the current language and concerns as they exist in the bill s’ current form and in deference to the United States Constitution, I respectfully vote "no" on HB 8.
Rep. Borris Miles' Statement:
I commend my colleagues ’efforts to protect the youth of the State of Texas from sexual predators, but this effort goes too far. I am voting against HB 8 because I believe that it is unconstitutional to take a life when another life has not been taken. I am not negating the impact that these heinous acts have on individuals but believe that this bill will cause more harm than good. In addition to the constitutional issue, it is my belief that this legislation might prevent some witnesses from coming forward out of concern that their friend, acquaintance, or relative might be put to death.
Rep. Eddie Rodriguez' Statement:
But for the provision that allows for the death penalty for a non-murder offense, I would support this bill. Child sex offenses are heinous, evil crimes. No one in the Texas House would argue that point. But the punishment of life without the possibility of parole is a tough punishment that provides for the safety of Texas children.

Texas has never been soft on crime, particularly when child sex offenders are concerned. Current Texas law is tough: providing for a life sentence for offenders convicted of sexual assault, aggravated assault, and aggravated kidnapping if the offender has a previous sex crime conviction. These offenders are not eligible for parole until they serve 35 years in prison. Furthermore, convicted sex offenders can be mandated to participate in intense supervision, restrictions on housing, registration, and child safety zones.

That said, there are provisions of HB 8 that I support. Life sentences without
the possibility of parole is not too tough for repeat child sex offenders. I agree
with the provision that extends the statute of limitations for the prosecution of
child sex crimes to 20 years from the 18th birthday of the victim—up from 10 years. I also agree with the provision that enhances tracking of child sex offenders.

The intent of HB 8 is praiseworthy—keeping children safe and severely punishing child sex offenders. However, the implementation of the death penalty should be reserved for murderous crimes, and I believe that the United States Supreme Court would agree with me.
Now that the House has voted to expand the death penalty, it should also take the necessary steps to protect innocent people from being caught up in the expansion of the death penalty, as well of innocent people who may already be on death row, for instance by 1) voting for a moratorium bill to stop executions for two years, 2) by voting for a death penalty study commission bill to conduct a comprehensive review of the Texas death penalty, 3) voting for the creation of an innocence commission to examine cases of innocent people who have been exonerated in order to learn how to prevent future mistakes (the commission should also be empowered to investigate strong claims of innocence from people currently on death row).

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Saturday, March 03, 2007

Louisiana Supreme Court hears arguments on death penalty for child rape

The Louisiana Supreme Court heard oral arguments this past week on the constitutionality of the death sentence on the only person in the nation who has been convicted and sentenced to death for child rape. If the Louisiana Supreme Court upholds the sentence, it will of course be appealed all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. There is no indication yet, when the Louisiana Supreme Court will announce a decision. Below is an excerpt from an AP story on the hearing.

The only inmate on any U.S. death row for rape contends that his conviction should be thrown out because the Louisiana law allowing the penalty for raping a child is unconstitutional.Chief Justice Pascal Calogero took arguments and briefs under advisement after a hearing Wednesday, and did not say when the high court will rule.

The 42-year-old Harvey man was convicted in 2003 of aggravated rape of his stepdaughter; his name has been withheld from news reports to protect the girl.

She was 8 years old when she told Jefferson Parish sheriff's deputies in March 1998 that she had been raped by one of two men who had dragged her from her garage to a vacant house. Eighteen months later, she told her mother that it was her stepfather who had raped her.

The man is the only person convicted under the 1995 law, which allows the death penalty for aggravated rape of someone less than 12 years old.

He also is the only person sentenced to death for a crime other than murder since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1977 that murder was the only crime for which the death penalty was constitutional, Nick Trenticosta, a New Orleans attorney who has handled numerous death row appeals, said in 2003.

...

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that courts must consider the nation's "present judgment" toward the death penalty, Stern said. He said the small number of states with the death penalty for child rape shows it is not widely supported.

Stern also said the penalty is disproportionate to the crime. "The crime of child rape is heinous," he told the justices. "But as horrible as it is, it is not the same as murder."

Clark said the serious physical, emotional and psychological effects on the victim make child rape comparable to murder. "It's the murder of a victim's innocence," she said.

Jefferson Parish has prosecuted about a dozen people under the law, but either the defendants reached plea bargains or juries did not call for death, she said.


The fact that the Jefferson Parish has sought the death penalty against several other child rapists who did not kill their victim, but was only able in this one case to convince a jury to sentence someone to death, argues in favor of there being a national consensus against the death penalty except in cases where a killing has taken place.

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Friday, March 02, 2007

Constitional Problems with Death Penalty Provision in "Jessica Laws"

Rep Riddle has claimed that the odds of the U.S. Supreme Court finding the death penalty unconstitutional for repeat offenders who commit sexual assault against children (as proposed in HB 8) to be "one in a million". This is an absurd and apparently purposefully misleading claim.

She was told by a UT law professor during the committee hearing on HB 8 that there were severe constitutional problems with the bill, but she apparently chose to ignore that testimony.

For a discussion on the constitutional questions, here is a link to an article that lays out the constitutional problems in the issue. Below is a paragraph from the conclusion of the article:

Even without looking to international opinion, capital child-rape statutes are clearly unconstitutional. First, there is a strong national consensus against imposing the death penalty for child rape. In addition, the death penalty is a disproportionate punishment for the crime of rape, regardless of the age of the victim, because it does not cause death. Moreover, imposing the death penalty for child rape would fail to serve, and would likely inhibit, the retribution and deterrence functions of the U.S. penal system.

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Roundup of Jessica Law Blogging

From the Dallas Morning News' Capitol Letters Blog

An Agreement on Jessica's Laws?

Lawmakers have been meeting non-stop today to come to some agreement on the Jessica's Law sex offender death penalty bill that stalled in the House yesterday.

Jon English, chief of staff for Rep. Debbie Riddle, the Tomball Republican who filed the bill, said the substitute language floating around today would make the death penalty provision incredibly specific, to target only the worst repeat child sex offenders, "cut out all the hypotheticals," and safeguard against likely constitutional challenges. If the bill passes, Texas will be the sixth state to let prosecutors seek the death penalty for sex offenders.

"We misgauged how much we thought people understood this before," Mr. English said of yesterday's vote to delay the bill until Monday. "Obviously it's really hard to understand."



From Paul Burka at Texas Monthly

I thought I'd share with readers some of the talk I picked up in the Capitol today:

* Among the concerns of House members that led to the postponement of the debate on Jessica's Laws was the realization that the death penalty could apply to Catholic priests who have committed two offenses of sexual abuse.


Also from Paul Burka at Texas Monthly
Another problem was the death sentence for a second conviction for rape of a child. Actually, this created two problems. First, as critics pointed out, the law created an incentive for the predator to kill his victim. As Hartnett said, "I get death either way, whether I let her live or not." Riddle tried to argue that predators are not sophisticated enough to know this, a transparently weak response. She had obviously worked hard on this bill, and cared deeply about it, but she wasn't up to debating the legal issues. What apparently impelled Smithee to make his motion to postpone was Riddle's motion to table an amendment without offering any argument against it.

The second problem with the death penalty was its constitutionality. In 1977, in Coker v. Georgia, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that capital punishment was a disproportionate sentence for rape and therefore violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments. Nevertheless, five states have made sexual assault of a child a capital offense: Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Montana. Only one case has resulted in a death sentence, in Louisiana. That state's Supreme Court found the statute constitutional, distinguishing the case from Coker on the grounds that the latter dealt with rape of an adult victim, and sexual assault of a child was a more heinous offense that justified the death penalty. This is a questionable ruling that awaits scrutiny by the federal courts. Generally, and in Texas, capital punishment applies only to murder, and only then when the murder occurs in specific circumstances, such as during the commission of a felony, or when the victim falls into a protected class, such as a peace officer or a child under the age of six. According to testimony in the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on Riddle's bill, however, federal law allows the death penalty for treason, espionage, and trafficking in large quantities of drugs.

We cannot know how the Supreme Court will rule. However, testimony in committee by a Fort Worth prosecutor who spoke in support of the bill indicated that the Supreme Court in recent years has been narrowing, rather than expanding, the application of the death penalty. It has held that it may not be applied to offenders under 18 years of age, or to the mentally retarded, or to the mentally ill, or if there are mitigating circumstances. More significantly, the prosecutor testified that the death penalty "really doesn't help me" for practical reasons. Death penalty cases require a high quality of evidence and the absence of mitigating evidence. They are difficult and expensive to try and may involve years of appeals, and it is much easier to seek a life sentence without parole. "I have tried hundreds of cases," the prosecutor said, and I can't think of a case where I would have used it." A UT law professor testified that the Supreme Court looks for a broad national consensus in death penalty cases, which does not exist at this time in sexual assault cases. Like the prosecutor, the professor did not speak in opposition to the bill.

The bill will surely pass the House on Monday, but only after it has received the scrutiny it should have received in committee. Criminal Jurisprudence has every appearance of being a talent-poor committee. This bill was rushed to the floor. Smithee, Hartnett, et al are going to need to keep a close eye on the committee's work for the rest of the session.

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