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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Jordan Smith Reports on Jeff Wood in Austin Chronicle

Jordan Smith of the Austin Chronicle reports in this week's issue on the case of Jeff Wood. From "Those Who Are About to Die":

Wood did not fire the fatal shot and did not participate in the robbery that preceded the Jan. 2, 1996, murder. Nonetheless, Wood was sentenced to die, based on the state's "law of parties," also known as the "conspirator liability" statute. The law provides that if two or more people agree to commit one crime but in the process commit another, each person is guilty of the crime committed – if the crime was "one that should have been anticipated." This is a more nebulous form of traditional accomplice liability (aiding and abetting) that requires the state to prove specific, individual culpability. The difference here is in intent and foresight: Accomplice liability requires intent; conspiracy requires only a finding that the crime was foreseeable.

In Wood's case, the state argued that he had planned with Reneau to rob the Texaco and therefore was responsible for Keeran's death. But it isn't at all clear that Wood was planning to rob the store. Wood told police that he'd heard Reneau talking with someone else (the store manager, Been says) about a possible robbery – the place had taken in $17,000 over Christmas, and the pair speculated that a similarly hefty stash could be expected just after New Year's Eve, since the bank holiday would mean the money would not yet have been deposited – but Wood also said he believed the talk was "bullshit in the breeze." (Family members have said that Wood did initially talk about robbing the store, along with Reneau, the store manager, and Keeran, but insisted that Wood, Keeran, and the manager all dismissed the idea.)

Critics have argued that Texas' use of the law of parties unconstitutionally broadens the field of death-eligible defendants; the death penalty, they argue, should be reserved for the most culpable and most heinous crimes. In fact, Texas is the only state that uses a conspiracy statute to make defendants eligible for the death penalty. "To pass constitutional scrutiny," Wood's attorney Scott Sullivan argued on appeal, "a sentencing statute must not only narrow the class of persons eligible for the death penalty, it must also ensure sentencing decisions are based upon an individual inquiry" of culpability. Texas' law of parties fails to do that, he wrote. The state, however, argues that the law of parties is not implicated in a decision to impose death: "The Texas capital murder scheme does not allow an individual to be put to death merely for being a party because the law-of-parties cannot be applied in answering the special issues" that jurors must answer, argued then-Bexar Co. Assistant District Attorney Lucy Cavazos. A death sentence is assessed only if jurors find that a defendant would pose a continuing threat to society and that there is no mitigating evidence that might lessen the defendant's culpability. Yet Cavazos' argument evades the fact that without the law-of-parties, defendants like Wood wouldn't be eligible for death in the first place. The courts have sided with the state.

Wood's case is similar to that of Kenneth Foster, who was sentenced to death for the 1996 murder of Michael LaHood by a companion, based on the Bexar Co. district attorney's use of the conspiracy statute. Foster was scheduled to die last year but was spared when Gov. Rick Perry accepted the recommendation of the Board of Pardons and Paroles and commuted his sentence to life in prison. "I believe the right and just decision is to commute Foster's sentence," he said. Perry did not directly implicate the law of parties in explaining his decision but did raise the issue of culpability, saying he was "concerned" that state law allowed Foster to be tried jointly with triggerman Maurecio Brown.
Jeff Wood's family and friends are holding a rally to Save Jeff Wood this Saturday, Aug 2, in San Antonio in the plaza in front of the Alamo.

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Media Advisory: Rally to Save Jeff Wood From Execution to be Held in San Antonio August 2 at Noon

Media Advisory
For immediate release: July 29, 2008

Contacts:

Terri Been B.S., M. Ed, Sister of Jeff Wood
mystrus@hotmail.com
254-371-5650

Scott Cobb, President
Texas Moratorium Network
512-689-1544
scottcobb99@gmail.com

Kristin Wood, Wife of Jeff Wood
936-259-2182
kristinoftebro@gmail.com

Scott Sullivan
Jeff Wood's Attorney
210-227-6000

Rally to Save Jeff Wood From Execution to be Held in San Antonio August 2 at Noon

A rally for Jeff Wood, who is waiting to die on Texas Death Row with an execution date of August 21st, 2008, will take place in San Antonio in front of the Alamo at noon on Saturday, August 2. Wood was sentenced to death under the "Law of Parties" for a murder he did not commit. The actual murderer was Daniel Reneau, who has already been executed by the state of Texas. Wood did not kill anyone and did not intend anyone to be killed. He did not know that Reneau would commit a murder.

What: "Save Jeff Wood" rally to stop the execution and urge clemency for Jeff Wood
Where: In front of The Alamo at 300 Alamo Plaza, San Antonio, Texas
When: Noon on Saturday August 2
Speakers Include: Terri Been, sister of Jeff Wood; Kristin Wood, wife of Wood; representatives of Texas Moratorium Network, Texas Students Against the Death Penalty, Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, Campaign to End the Death Penalty and others.

Last summer, Governor Perry commuted the death sentence of Kenneth Foster only hours before he was scheduled for execution. The Board of Pardons and Paroles had voted the day before to recommend clemency for Foster, who had been convicted under the "Law of Parties" even though he did not kill anyone. Many newspapers wrote editorials urging Perry to commute Foster's death sentence, including the Dallas Morning News, which wrote in , "Not a Killer: Kenneth Foster does not deserve execution":

"Ours is the only state in the country to apply the "law of parties" to capital cases, allowing accomplices to pay the ultimate penalty for a murder committed by another. Mr. Foster is a criminal. But he should not be put to death for a murder committed by someone else"

Now, Texas is set to execute another person who did not kill anyone but was sentenced to death under the Law of Parties.

The Coalition to Save Jeff Wood is asking the people of Texas to contact the governor and the Board of Pardons and Paroles and urge them to grant clemency to Jeff Wood, because he did not kill anyone. "Many Texans support the death penalty, but I do not believe that any reasonable person in Texas believes that a person like Jeff Wood should be executed who did not kill or intend to kill. Wood's sentence should be commuted just as Kenneth Foster's was commuted", said Scott Cobb of Texas Moratorium Network.

The cousin of Kris Keeran (the murder victim) wants to save the life of Jeff Wood.


"My cousin was the person killed by Danny, not Jeff. I say this as a family member who realized long ago Jeff had no part in my cousin's murder and he shouldn't be executed. It's insane to kill another person who did not kill Kris. The video showed Jeff took no part in it. Jeff was one of my friends growing up and someone I think deserves a chance. If he didn't kill him, why should we kill Jeff? This is ridiculous."
- Amanda Smith, Texas
June 19, 2008

Everyone - including law enforcement and prosecutors alike - agree that Jeffrey Wood did not kill anyone during the January 2, 1996 incident for which he was sentenced to death. The undisputed facts are that Kris Keeran was shot and killed by Daniel Reneau. During the episode, Jeffery Wood did not and could not have known that Reneau would murder Keeran. In fact, Wood was not even inside the store at the time of the murder.

Daniel Reneau was convicted of the murder of Kris Keeran and Reneau was executed on June 13, 2002. When the robbery took place on the morning of January 2, 1996, Wood was under the impression that Reneau was going in to the store to get "road drinks and munchies." Although it is true that Wood and Reneau had talked about robbing the store at the behest of the manager of the store, Wood backed out because he had a bad feeling about it. The robbery was supposed to take place on the 1st, but after Wood backed out, Reneau decided to go through with the robbery on the 2nd on his own initiative and made the decision to kill Kris Keeran on his own. Wood had no idea that a murder or a even a robbery was going to take place on the morning of the 2nd. Before Reneau and Wood left the house on the morning of the 2nd, Wood told Daniel Reneau to put the gun away, which he did in front of Wood, but Reneau pulled the gun out again when Wood went to the restroom.

At approximately 6:00 a.m. on Jan. 2, 1996, while Jeff Wood waited outside, Daniel Reneau entered the gas station with a gun and pointed it at Kris Keeran, the clerk standing behind the counter. Reneau ordered him to a back room. When he did not move quickly enough, Reneau fired one shot with a 22 caliber handgun that struck Keeran between the eyes. Death was almost instantaneous. Proceeding with the robbery, Reneau went into the back office and took a safe. After hearing the shot, Wood got out of the car to see what was going on. He walked by the door and looked through the glass. Then he went inside, looked over the counter and ran to the back, where Reneau was. Wood was then ordered by Reneau at gunpoint to get the surveillance video and to drive the getaway car. Earlier, Reneau had threatened to kill Wood's young daughter if anyone ever "ratted" on Reneau, so with a gun pointed at him and a man already having been shot, Wood complied with Reneau's orders.

Additional facts:

* Wood suffers from severe mental, emotional and learning disabilities. He was abused and beaten severely and repeatedly as a child. He is submissive to more dominant personalities because of the abuse during his childhood.
* At arrest Wood was forced into interrogation by the police and did not have council present. Wood was kept awake the entire time. He was refused sleep. He eventually confessed saying it was a planned robbery. He later revoked this statement. Wood was found not mentally fit to stand trial. He was admitted into a mental hospital and a couple of weeks later was found 'trial ready'.
* At trial, Wood was not satisfied with his representation. Wood asked to represent himself, but wasn't allowed to do so. The judge found him not capable of representing himself. The judge however, did not argue when Wood, in his diminished mental capacity, ordered his attorneys not to do anything during the punishment phase of his trial. The result was that Jeff had no witnesses during the punishment phase of his trial on his behalf. If his lawyers had been able to call witnesses during the penalty phase, the jury would have heard about Wood's mental problems and his abusive childhood and may not have sentenced him to death.
* The victim's father called the Governor of Texas on the day of Daniel Reneau's execution and urged the governor not to execute the person who actually killed his son, Daniel Reneau.

Visit the Save Jeff Wood website at www.savejeffwood.com for more information and to sign the petition for Jeff Wood.

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LA Times Says Abolish Death Penalty

The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board wrote in a July 28, 2008 editorial that the death penalty should be abolished:

For opponents of capital punishment -- including, emphatically, this page -- the sounder basis for its abolition lies not with the courts but with the legislatures. DNA evidence has helped illuminate cases of wrongful conviction, shattering the confidence of many onetime supporters of the death penalty. They have joined those of us who've long protested it as a moral abomination whose sanction places the United States in the ranks of the world's most disreputable nations. With or without prodding from the courts, states should abolish capital punishment and clear this nation of its stain.
Here in Texas, the Dallas Morning News and the Austin American-Statesman have also endorsed abolishing the death penalty.

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San Antonio: Rally to Save Jeff Wood Aug 2 at Noon

Rally to Save Jeff Wood August 2 in San Antonio
Noon in front of The Alamo



Jeff Wood is waiting to die on Texas Death Row with an execution date of August 21st, 2008. Jeff was charged under the Law of Parties, and was not the shooter in this crime. Jeff could not anticipate that a murder would occur.The actual shooter in this case has already been executed by the state of Texas.

When: Saturday, August 2nd, 2008 @ 12:00 pm

Where: In front of the Alamo in San Antonio

Like Kenneth Foster, Jeff Wood was convicted under the Law of Parties. Jeff has an execution date of Aug. 21, for a murder he did NOT commit!!! Come & help save Jeff from the Texas executioner! You can Help!!! The time to act is NOW!!!!

Please visit Jeff’s webpage for case information

Sign his petition

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Dallas Morning News Says Stop Execution of Medellin and Protect Texans Abroad

The DMN Editorial Board today urged that Perry stop the Aug 5 execution of Jose Medellin:

The State Department calculated that 4,456 Americans were arrested abroad in 2006, up from 3,614 in 2005. The bulk of those arrests occurred in Mexico. For an American sitting in a filthy, dark jail cell in a foreign land, it's easy to be overwhelmed by hopelessness. One thing makes the nightmare bearable: the guaranteed visit from an American consular official.

Many foreign governments permit this visit because they know that the full weight of American diplomatic pressure will come to bear on them if they do not.

Yes, Mr. Perry can flex the state's judicial muscle and show the world that Texans don't bow to the whims of some distant, obscure international court. But it would send an unequivocal message to all foreign governments – especially Mexico – that this country doesn't stand by its promises. They can justifiably point to Mr. Perry's example if they decide not to be bound by this or other important treaties in the future.

This is a heavy weight to put on one man's shoulders, but Mr. Perry, your decision could set the course for international events of far greater importance than the fate of a single, confessed killer. It's time to put the interests of this country and its citizens first and halt Mr. Medellín's execution.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Condi Rice and Attorney General Mukasey Urge Perry to Stop Execution and Protect Americans Abroad

U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice have written Governor Perry asking him to stop the execution of Jose Medellin on Aug 5 in order to protect Americans abroad. They join state Senator Rodney Ellis, who last week also asked Perry to stop the execution. You can also read the first article we wrote on this issue on BOR, "Governor Perry Endangers Texans Abroad".

From today's Dallas Morning News:

"Put simply, the United States seeks the help of the State of Texas," Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrote Texas Gov. Rick Perry in a letter released by defense attorneys.

Federal authorities are scrambling to bring the U.S. into compliance with the Vienna Convention, a treaty signed decades ago giving jurisdiction to the world court in cases concerning consular access. The world court first called for additional review for dozens of Mexican citizens condemned to die without access to their consular officials in 2004 and repeated the call in another decision July 16.

"We respectfully request that Texas take the steps necessary to give effect to the ...decision," the June letter says.

...

Concern about the impending execution and its possible ramifications is so high that a group of state department officials traveled to Texas to lobby the governor's general counsel. Some international law experts say Americans traveling abroad who are arrested may suffer if the U.S. does not abide by the treaty.

You can write Governor Perry from his website and urge him to protect Texans abroad by stopping the execution of Jose Medellin.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Senator Ellis Joins Call for Governor Perry to Stay Execution and Protect Texans Abroad

Last week, we wrote an article "Governor Perry Endangers Americans Abroad" saying that Perry should issue a stay of execution for Jose Medellin because executing him after the World Court demanded a stay "would endanger Americans traveling abroad who are arrested in another country and want to consult with the U.S. consulate, as is their right under the treaty signed by the United States. The United States must abide by the international agreements it signs, if it does not, then it loses power to protect its national interests or, in this case, to protect Americans who are detained in other countries."

Today, Senator Ellis co-authored an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle saying Perry

would do well to consider how defiance of the World Court ruling will affect the safety of Americans abroad who rely on the same treaty protections that Texas violated in these cases. Gov. Perry and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles should concur with the World Court and order a reprieve of the executions until those convictions are reviewed and reconsidered.
and
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Gov. Perry can order a temporary reprieve of execution while the Texas Legislature produces legislation allowing review and reconsideration of the convictions. Such legislation is already before the U.S. Congress. In our great democracy, passing such laws cannot be done without full debate and consideration. Given the issues at stake for all Americans, it is only right that Congress and the Texas Legislature be given the opportunity to ensure our nation lives up to the promises it made to its treaty partners.

By granting a reprieve, Gov. Perry and the Board of Pardons will enhance the reputation of Texas and the United States throughout the world.
Back during the last session of the legislature, Ellis was the only senator to vote against Jessica's Law because it expanded the death penalty to people who had not killed. He was vindicated when the Supreme Court ruled that part of Jessica's Law was unconstitutional. Now, he is speaking out again on a death penalty issue and so far he is again the only senator to do so.

It would be nice if the senator from Austin, Kirk Watson, would follow Ellis' lead and also speak out on human rights issues. Austin's senator should be a reliable leader on progressive issues, including Texas' broken death penalty system. Right now, Watson is neither a leader or a follower on the issue of human rights and the death penalty. He is invisible. As a progressive voter in Watson's district, I do not want my senator to be invisible and silent. I want him to stand up alongside Senator Ellis against Rick Perry.

At least Texas has Senator Ellis, but it is a shame that Ellis often has to stand alone. Perry would be more likely to listen to Ellis if all the Democrats in the Senate would also urge Perry to stay Medellin's execution and protect Texans abroad.

According to the International Justice Project Medellin told the police he was not a U.S. citizen:
Upon his arrest on June 29, 1993, Medellin informed the arresting officers he was born in Laredo, Mexico. He also notified Pre-trial Services for Harris County that he was not a United States citizen. Despite this, Medellin was never advised of his right to contact and seek the assistance of Mexican consular officials. As a result, Mexican consular officials were deprived of any opportunity to assist him before and during his trial.
The police did not allow him to contact the Mexican consulate or tell him that he had a right to do so. Manuel Perez Cardenas, the Consul General of Mexico in Houston, said in an affidavit that Mexico would have provided immediate assistance if consular officers had been informed of his detention.

We are not hoping that Medellin is released. People like me are hoping that his sentence is reviewed. Texas now has the option of sentencing people to Life Without Parole. That is an option that did not exist at the time of Medellin's trial. Life Without Parole is a more appropriate sentence for Medellin, especially given the fact that he did not have the assistance of the Mexican consulate before or at his original trial, as was his right under a treaty signed by the U.S.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

MVFR Sends Clemency Letter for Jeff Wood to Governor Perry and Board of Pardons and Paroles

The Executive Director of Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation has written a letter to Governor Perry and the Board of Pardons and Paroles asking that they grant clemency to Jeff Wood.

July 16, 2008

The Honorable Rick Perry
Governor, State of Texas
P.O. Box 12428
Austin, Texas 78711-2428

Ms. Rissie Owens, Chair
Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles
8610 Shoal Creek Boulevard
Austin, Texas 78757

Re: Jeffrey Wood, TDJC No. 999256

Dear Governor Perry and Chairwoman Owens:

Our organization consists of hundreds of family members of murder victims plus thousands of “Friends of MVFR”. Many of these members reside in Texas. I write as a representative of all of these good people.

We make an urgent plea for you to extend mercy to Jeff Wood by commuting his death sentence. He presently resides on Texas’ death row, with the date of 8/21 set for his execution. We do not ordinarily write to state officials in behalf of those on death rows. We only do so when we believe the circumstances are so extraordinary that it cries out for leniency. In those cases, there have usually been one, or possibly two, circumstances that might lead to commutation. In Wood’s case, there appear to be at least four such circumstances, probably more, but the four noted herein are the ones that strike us as being most important. First, he was not at all involved in the shooting, actually being outside, with no idea this tragedy might take place. This is combined with fact that there was no predetermined plan for a shooting to happen. Second, he has severe mental problems, likely stemming from abuse he suffered as a child. This is no fake, proven by fact that he was originally found unfit to stand trial and placed in a mental hospital. Third, no defense was presented at the penalty phase of the trial, since Wood, in his diminished capacity, ordered his lawyer not to assert a defense. Had a defense been presented, there is a good possibility that this letter would not even be necessary. Fourth, and this is very important to those of us who have lost loved ones to murder, is the fact that the victim’s father and cousin do not want Wood to be executed. On a very personal note, the wishes of a father are very important to me. I lost my beloved daughter to murder in the State of Georgia twenty years ago, and at that time, I asked the prosecutor to seek the longest possible prison term she could for the killer, but not seek the death penalty. She complied with my request. While the desires of the victims’ family members certainly are not controlling, they often lead prosecutors to seek capital punishment. Here, they should also be a factor to be considered in determining whether leniency is appropriate.

To summarize, in our humble opinions, this is the exact type of case where intervention is called for, a case in which the legal requirements of capital punishment have been met, but justice will be best served by intervention. Accordingly, our thousands of members and friends most respectfully request that you provide that justice.

With great thanks for your consideration of this vital matter,

Lorry W. Post
Executive Director

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

International Court of Justice Issues Provisional Measures to Prevent Imminent Violation of U.S. Treaty Obligations

PRESS RELEASE CONTACT:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Katharine Huffman: 202-360-1991

July 16, 2008

INTERNATIONAL COURT OF JUSTICE ISSUES PROVISIONAL MEASURES TO PREVENT IMMINENT VIOLATION OF U.S. TREATY OBLIGATIONS

U.S. International Relations and Safety of Americans Abroad at Risk As Execution Date Approaches

THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS – The International Court of Justice (ICJ) today determined that the United States must take “all measures necessary” to prevent the executions of José Medellín and four other Mexican nationals sentenced to death in the state of Texas. The order will remain in effect until the ICJ resolves Mexico’s request for interpretation of its 2004 Judgment in Avena and Other Mexican Nationals (Mexico v. United States of America).

The Avena case was filed by Mexico on behalf of 51 Mexican nationals who did not receive consular access upon arrest in the United States, in violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. In 2004, the ICJ issued its original decision in the case, determining that each Mexican national was entitled to a judicial hearing to ascertain whether he was harmed by the violation of his Vienna Convention rights.

Despite this binding legal obligation, the United States has failed to provide the judicial hearings mandated by the ICJ’s 2004 judgment in the vast majority of the Avena cases. José Ernesto Medellín, one of the individuals whose Vienna Convention rights were denied, is scheduled for execution in Texas on August 5th.

Attorneys for Medellín applauded the order. “We welcome the ICJ's order of provisional measures in response to Mexico’s request as a vindication of that institution’s faith in the United States’s political will and ability to enforce the Avena Judgment,” said Donald Francis Donovan of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, New York, counsel to Mexico and to Medellín. “We are confident the United States and the State of Texas will comply with the ICJ’s order and stay the August 5th execution of Mr. Medellín.”

According to international law experts, the situation has implications far beyond the individual cases at issue. Professor Sarah H. Cleveland, Louis Henkin Professor of Human and Constitutional Rights and Co-Director of the Human Rights Institute at Columbia Law School, expressed concern about how U.S. global governmental allies and business partners will view future international treaties and agreements if the United States fails to honor its international obligations.

“It is critical that the United States abide by the commitments undertaken when we signed and ratified the Vienna Convention,” said Cleveland. “The United States has relied repeatedly on the enforceability of this and other treaty obligations abroad. If we do not keep our promises to our international partners, we lose the ability to protect our own citizens abroad, and damage our nation’s reputation as a reliable player on the world stage.”

On Monday, July 14th, the U.S. Congress introduced the “Avena Case Implementation Act of 2008” in order to implement the ICJ’s Avena judgment. This legislation empowers the federal courts to hear the Vienna Convention claims of foreign nationals who were not advised of their consular rights, including the Mexican nationals named in the Avena judgment. The legislation has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee for consideration.

Today’s ICJ order came following the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Medellín v. Texas. In March of this year, the Court held that the U.S. is under a binding legal obligation to abide by an International Court of Justice ruling requiring review of the cases of Medellín and other Mexican nationals not provided with consular access. But the Supreme Court concluded that Congressional action is necessary to make the Avena Judgment enforceable in U.S. courts.

Although a bill has been introduced in the House, congressional enactment of the legislation would take longer than the few weeks remaining before the August 5th execution date. Postponement of the pending execution is critical so that Congress has adequate time to act in accordance with the Supreme Court’s decision.

“Texas should stay the pending execution not only out of respect for the ICJ – an international institution that the United States helped build and in which the U.S. has long been a participant – but also out of respect for the U.S. Congress and for the legal obligations that the United States has undertaken to its neighbor, Mexico,” said Gregory Kuykendall, an attorney and Director of the Mexican Capital Legal Assistance Program. “We would expect no less of Mexico or any other Vienna Convention signatory if the tables were turned.”

###

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Gov Perry Endangers Americans Abroad

Governor Perry, in a move that will endanger not only Texans but all Americans abroad, says that he will go ahead with an execution despite a ruling by the World Court that an upcoming Texas execution should be stayed. Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations ("Vienna Convention") requires that people detained in a foreign country be advised of their rights to contact consular officials of their own country, but a person from Mexico scheduled for execution in Huntsville on Aug 5 was not advised of his rights under the Vienna Convention.

Perry's decision will endanger Americans traveling abroad who are arrested in another country and want to consult with the U.S. consulate, as is their right under the treaty signed by the United States. The United States must abide by the international agreements it signs, if it does not, then it loses power to protect its national interests or, in this case, to protect Americans who are detained in other countries. President Bush agrees with the World Court in this case, probably because as president he recognizes his responsibilites to protect Americans abroad and to abide by treaties that this country has signed.

I lived many years abroad, so Perry's indifference to the impact his policy could have on Americans abroad strikes close to home for me. If an American traveling abroad is detained by officials in a foreign country, they should be able to contact the American embassy or consulate and receive advice on that country's legal system. However, Perry has undermined the rights of Americans traveling abroad by not protecting the rights of non-citizens in America.

If a Texan being detained by police in another country asserts their rights under the Vienna Convention, the foreign authorities could now respond, "Sorry, Rick Perry and the government of Texas does not recognize the protections of the Vienna Convention, so your request is denied."

The Vienna Convention, as are all treaties between the United States and other countries, is part of the supreme law of the United States according to the U.S. Constitution. Abiding by the ruling of the World Court would not undermine American sovereignty, it would bolster it. We are a nation of laws. The Vienna Convention is one of our laws. We should abide by it.

From the Houston Chronicle:

Texas will go ahead with the scheduled Aug. 5 execution of Houston rapist-killer Jose Medellin despite Wednesday's United Nations world court order for a stay, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Perry said.The UN's International Court of Justice's call for stays in the cases of Medellin and four other Mexican nationals awaiting execution in Texas came in response to a petition filed last month by the Mexican government.The petition sought to halt executions to allow for review of the killers' cases to determine whether denying them access to the Mexican Consulate after arrest harmed their trial defenses.The Geneva Convention stipulates that, upon request, an alien offender's national consulate must be notified of an arrest.and

International law expert Sarah Cleveland, a professor of human and constitutional rights at New York City's Columbia Law School, said in an e-mail that if the U.S. fails to act on the world court order, other countries may follow suit."This can only come back to hurt U.S. citizens when they are detained abroad," she wrote." ... When a global leader like the U.S. refuses to comply with its clear international legal obligations (and everyone agrees that this is a clear legal obligation), it undermines the willingness of other states to comply with their own obligations and it inspires them not to trust us to obey ours."
Governor Perry should ask the Board of Pardons and Paroles to recommend a stay for Medellin and he should urge Congress to pass the “Avena Case Implementation Act of 2008”. That legislation would empower the federal courts to hear the Vienna Convention claims of foreign nationals who were not advised of their consular rights, including the Mexican nationals named in the Avena judgment. The legislation has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee for consideration.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Travis DA Has 72 Hours to Hand Over Results of DNA Testing in Yogurt Shop Case

In 72 hours, we should know the results of new DNA testing in the Yogurt Shop case. The testing could exonerate the two people held in the murder of four teenaged girls.

The Austin American Statesman's Claire Osborn reports

State District Judge Mike Lynch today gave prosecutors 72 hours to turn over oral reports on DNA evidence to defense lawyers in the infamous yogurt shop murders. The state had ignored a court order from May 28 to produce the reports, said Dexter Gilford, an attorney for Michael Scott.

Scott is one of two defendants facing retrial on capital murder charges in the 1991 deaths of four teenage girls at an I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt store in North Austin. Prosecutor Efrain De La Fuente said at a pretrial hearing today that the state thought it was supposed to wait until the final written reports were ready on the DNA evidence before giving them to defense lawyers. The final reports are not yet ready, he said.

Gilford said during today’s hearing that prosecutors had known about DNA test results since the middle of April. He asked Lynch to order the state to turn over the oral DNA reports immediately but Lynch refused. Lynch said he would give prosecutors three days because he was giving the state “the benefit of the doubt” for not turning over the reports earlier.

Prosecutors had said in April that they had ordered new DNA testing of swabs taken from the body of Amy Ayers, one of the victims, in preparation for the retrial of Scott and defendant Robert Springsteen. Previously undiscovered DNA was found, according to prosecutors, and it did not come from Scott or Springsteen or two men initially charged as co-defendants: Forrest Welborn and Maurice Pierce.

A lawyer for Springsteen, Joe James Sawyer, blasted the state after today’s pretrial hearing for not letting the public know whose DNA was identified in the testing. “The silence is deafening,” Sawyer said.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

CEDP Calls on DA to Drop Charges in Yogurt Shop Case

The Campaign to End the Death Penalty is holding a press event Tuesday, July 15th at 12:30 PM at the Travis County Courthouse Plaza, off Guadalupe between 10th and 11th Streets. They are demanding that all charges be dropped against Michael Scott and Robert Springsteen in the in the Yogurt Shop Case.

The Austin Chronicle reported in an April article on the case that "a lawyer for yogurt shop defendant Robert Springsteen says that retested DNA evidence proves his client is not guilty and should be released from prison".

For more info on the case, contact CEDP at 494-0667 or cedpaustin@gmailcom.

From the CEDP email annoucing Tuesday's event:

Things are heating up in the Yogurt Shop case! As many of you may know, long time CEDP member Jeannine Scott is fighting for her husband Michael Scott, who was wrongfully imprisoned for murder in this case. Several years ago, 4 teenage girls were murdered in an Austin area yogurt shop. 8 years and dozens of false confessions later, 4 young men were indicted for the murders. With no physical evidence, Robert Springsteen was sent to death row and Michael Scott given life. Two other men were not even taken to trial. The basis of the convictions were “confessions” from Mike and Robert, which have been shown to have been coerced Although both men refused to testify against each other, each of their so-called confessions were used in the other’s trial as evidence. It is on the basis of this misuse of the “confessions” that both men had their convictions thrown out and were granted new trials.

Mike’s trial has been postponed until October while new DNA testing is done on crucial evidence from the crime scene. Recent results from that testing, as well as all prior DNA testing has fully exonerated all four men of this crime!

Jeannine Scott, wife of wrongly convicted Yogurt Shop defendant Michael Scott, has been a tireless fighter against the death penalty and has worked on behalf of so many men and women for justice over the years. With Mike’s new trial around the corner, we have a real chance to win justice and bring him home. It is our turn to do everything we can to support Jeannine now, so please come out!

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Rally to Save Jeff Wood in San Antonio August 2

We held a meeting today with the family and friends of Jeff Wood. His lawyer participated by conference call. We learned more about the severe extent of Jeff's mental disability.

We decided to hold a rally on August 2 in San Antonio to urge the Governor and the Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant clemency for Jeff. The time and location of the rally will be announced later. Mark your calendars and plan to join us in San Antonio to stop Texas from executing someone who did not kill anyone.

The death penalty is grossly out of proportion as a punishment for Jeff, since he did not kill anyone. According to its supporters, the death penalty is supposed to be reserved for the worst of the worst offenders. Jeff Wood is not even close to fitting that description. His sentence should be commuted to a term in prison. Jeff did not kill anyone. He is not a killer. Someone who did not kill should not be subject to the death penalty.

Please sign the petition for Jeff Wood.

Contact the Governor and the Board of Pardons and Paroles by clicking.

Jeff Wood was convicted under Texas' notorious Law of Parties, under which the distinction between principal actor and accomplice in a crime is abolished. The law can impose the death penalty on anybody involved in a crime where a murder occurred whether a person had anything to do with the murder or not. (Texas is the only state that applies this statute in capital cases, making it the only place in the United States where a person can be factually innocent of murder and still face the death penalty.)

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Execution Today: Carlton Akee Turner

Updated: July 10th at 7 PM, Carlton Turner has been executed.

Bob Ray Sanders, a columnist for the Fort Worth Star Telegram, took up in his column this week today's scheduled execution of Carlton Turner. Turner was one of the artists in Texas Moratorium Network's "Justice for All: Artists Reflect on the Death Penalty". His artwork is here.

Contact the Governor

Office of the Governor Main Switchboard: (512) 463-2000Office of the Governor Main Switchboard: (512) 463-2000

The case of Carlton Akee Turner, who is scheduled for the Texas death chamber Thursday evening, presents the state and its noble citizens a whole set of conundrums:

What really should be done with troubled youths who commit horrible crimes?

Do we truly care about the feelings of the victims’ families and how they view "closure"?

How should our highest criminal court deal with cases from Dallas County particularly, with its history of racism, terribly flawed investigations and what some see as true "criminal" prosecution tactics of the recent past?

At what point do the people of Texas say "enough is enough" when it comes to capital punishment, even for those who committed a crime, as Turner most certainly did?

Many of you will remember the case of the Irving teenager arrested and charged with murdering his own parents, two revered people in the community who had adopted him as an 11-month-old baby.

The news shocked North Texas, and many people were asking at the time, "How could he have done that?" That question still haunts Turner family members, many of whom want to see the young man’s life spared.

Turner, called "Akee" by family members, was born on an Indian reservation in Utah on Independence Day, 1979, according to a clemency petition filed with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles by representatives of the University of Texas School of Law Capital Punishment Clinic.

"As a child of a Native American woman and a black man, he was not accepted by his mother’s tribe," the petition said.

Carlton Turner Sr. and his wife, Tonya, and the child moved around the country because of the elder Turner’s military career. And they often visited family in Pennsylvania together.

Other family members saw a happy couple with a delightfully "cute" child — a stable household with no problems.

But, according to the petition, "While Tonya and Carlton presented the picture of a happy well adjusted family, troubles started at an early age. Akee exhibited learning and behavioral problems as early as elementary school. These continued throughout his school years. His problems were only exacerbated by his father’s strict and abusive punishments. He suffered broken fingers, cuts, bruises and a broken leg (after his father threw him to the ground when he was seven years old), and endured many trips to the hospital as a result of his father’s punishment."

Turner, 19 at the time he shot his parents, testified about the abuse and said he killed his father in self-defense. He said he didn’t know why he killed his mother.

After the shooting, he dragged their bodies to the garage, where police found them three days later after obtaining a search warrant.

The facts about the crime were presented in court and don’t really play a part in the requests for clemency, something rarely granted in Texas under any circumstance.

Maurie Levin, an attorney with the UT law school’s Capital Punishment Clinic, argues in the petition and a supplement that Turner’s sentence should be commuted to life on two grounds: Dallas County’s history (including in this case) of excluding black people from juries in capital cases, and the fact that relatives of his dead parents — also members of his family — don’t want him executed.

Turner was convicted by an all-white jury, and anecdotal evidence suggests that no black people even made it to the voir dire (or questioning) part of jury selection. Jurors who expressed reservations about capital punishment on their questionnaires, a disproportionate number being African-American, were rejected "despite the fact that they may have been legally qualified to serve," the attorney said in her supplement to the petition.

Because of the practice of excluding blacks from capital cases in Dallas County, both prosecutors and defense lawyers were complicit in this tainted procedure, the petition says. "The capital prosecution of an African American man by an all white jury from a jurisdiction with such an extensive record of discrimination in exactly that arena should cause doubts in the first instance," the petition said. "Where . . . there is evidence of a deeper level of discrimination that is, by its nature, well camouflaged, a call for a halt to Mr. Turner’s scheduled execution is compelled, at least until further investigation can be conducted."

Noting a quote from Gov. Rick Perry that we "never forget the impact felt by crime victims," the attorney points out that the "vast majority" of Tony and Carlton Turner Sr.’s family members do not want to see the couple’s son executed.

"Executions are held out as a talisman that will provide the victim with closure," said the petition. "This belief serves in part as a rationale for executions. But, in Mr. Turner’s case, an 'eye for an eye’ truly does leave a family blind, twice robbed of their own."

Affidavits from three family members were submitted with the petition.

Kelly Johnson of Philadelphia, Tonya’s brother, wrote: "I do not wish to see my sister’s only child executed. I believe in my heart that my sister would only have wanted Akee to receive the help that he needed to restore his mind to a sound state."

Tonya Turner’s first cousin and close friend, Krishell Coleman of Lawrenceville, Ga., said, "I don’t think Carlton should be executed. I don’t want him to be executed. Now that I know more of the details that led to the murders, I realize that he needs help. Killing him is just another murder. Nothing is going to bring my cousin back. Killing him will just hurt our family again, the way Tonya and Carlton’s murders did."

The Board of Pardons and Paroles should recommend that the governor commute the sentence, and Perry should heed that advice.
Bob Ray Sanders’ column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. 817-390-7775

Statewide Execution Vigils

Google Map

Huntsville - Corner of 12th Street and Avenue I (in front of the Walls Unit) at 5:00 p.m.

Austin - At the Governor's Mansion on the Lavaca St. side between 10th and 11th St. from 5:30 to 6:30 PM.

Beaumont - Diocese of Beaumont, Diocesan Pastoral Office, 703 Archie St. @ 4:00 p.m. on the day of an execution.

College Station - 6 to 7 PM on execution days, corner of Texas Avenue and University Drive.

Corpus Christi - at 6 PM in front of Incarnate Word Convent at 2910 Alameda Street

Dallas - 5:30 pm, at the SMU Women's Center, 3116 Fondren Drive

Houston - For location and to learn if a stay has been granted before you come out, call Burnham Terrell, 713/921-0948.

Lewisville - St. Philip the Apostle Catholic Church, 1897 W. Main Street. Peace & Justice Ministry conducts Vigils of Witness Against Capital Punishment at 6:00 pm on the day executions are scheduled in Texas.

McKinney - St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic Community located at 110 St. Gabriel Way. We gather the last Saturday of the month between 6:00 to 6:30 to pray for those men/women scheduled to be executed in the next month and to remember the victims, their families, and all lives touched, including us as a society.

San Antonio (Site 1) - Archdiocese of San Antonio, in the St. Joseph Chapel at the Chancery, 2718 W. Woodlawn Ave. (1 mile east of Bandera Rd.) at 11:30 a.m. on the day of execution. Broadcast on Catholic Television of San Antonio (Time-Warner cable channel 15) at 12:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on the day of execution.

San Antonio (Site 2) - Main Plaza across from Bexar County Courthouse and San Fernando Cathedral - Noon

Spring - Prayer Vigil at 6 PM on evenings of executions at St Edward Catholic Community, 2601 Spring Stuebner Rd for the murder victim, for family and friends of the murder victim, the prison guards and correctional officers, for the family of the condemn man/woman, for the man/woman to be executed and to an end to the death penalty.

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Hooman Hedayati Named Winner of Campus Progress MVP Award

Congratulations to TMN Board member and President of Texas Students Against the Death Penalty Hooman Hedayati for being named Campus Progress M.V.P. Award Winner at today's national conference in Washington, D.C.

Winners Announced for 2008 Campus Progress Awards in Student Activism, Advocacy, and Journalism

Hooman Hedayati is a senior at the University of Texas in Austin and a member of the Campus Progress Student Advisory Board, but, more importantly, he is an activist rock star. Hooman has been organizing against the death penalty since he was in high school, and helped found a statewide student organization – Texas Students Against the Death Penalty. He has used new media and video in smart and innovative ways, and has organized countless events and activities to educate the public about the death penalty and put pressure on decision-makers to ban it.

Hooman helped organize Alternative Spring Break against the Death Penalty in Austin for several years in a row. This event has been a great success – students from around the country have come to Austin to learn about the issue, get trained on skills and strategies to stop capital punishment, and organize vigils, marches, and press rallies to draw attention to the issue. The spring break has been featured on MTV, The Nation, Texas Public Radio, the Daily Texan, Houston Press, and countless other publications.

Hooman has inspired us with his passion, creativity, and depth of knowledge of student organizing. I am honored to present Hooman with the Campus Progress MVP award.
Hooman persuaded Campus Progress to organize alternative spring breaks on two additional issues this year, climate change and Iraq, in addition to the one against the death penalty. Chrissy Elles, the person who organized the climate change alternative spring break also received an award today for "Best Student Organizing of an Event, Climate Change Alternative Spring Break, UCSB"

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Saturday, July 05, 2008

Lonnie Earl Johnson Foundation

Visit the website of the Lonnie Earl Johnson Foundation to read about a case of a person wrongfully executed in Texas. - www.LEJFoundation.org.

“Exposing unlawful executions will help innocent people on death row and hold prosecuting attorneys accountable.”

~C. Christensen, Co-founder of LEJ Foundation

The LEJ foundation was created in 2008 to expose unlawful executions.

The inspiration for the LEJ Foundation came from the unjust execution by the State of Texas of Lonnie Earl Johnson, which took place on July 24, 2007. Six weeks before his death, Lonnie’s lawyer and private investigator found missing evidence contained within police reports at the Harris County District Attorney’s office that supported his claim of self-defense. His family and I were relieved beyond belief that we could now prove the DA hid exculpatory evidence that proved Lonnie was the target of two aggressors. This evidence, which revealed the aggressors’ motives, was not heard at Lonnie’s jury trial. Professor/Attorney Jim Marcus of the University of Houston in Austin, who oversaw Lonnie’s last appeal, said that if the jury had heard this evidence, Lonnie would have been found innocent or guilty of a much lesser crime.

Four days before Lonnie’s execution date, the Criminal Court of Appeals and the 5th Circuit Court said the newly discovered evidence was not new. We believed we had successfully proven that Lonnie’s constitutional rights to a fair trial were violated but the courts believed his defense attorneys had access to this information and therefore our evidence was not “newly discovered,” a criteria that had to be met in order to warrant a stay of execution.

We supplied the Judges with affidavits from every one of Lonnie’s attorneys since 1990, each stating that these police reports were not given to them. Lonnie’s defense attorneys asked in discovery for all pertinent information prior to trial and they were denied the police reports that we found 14 years later. This was a clear violation of Lonnie’s constitutional rights. Finally, the Supreme Court declined a stay without citing a reason and Lonnie was killed.

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Judge halts Bower's execution

From the Houston Chronicle:

State District Judge Jim Fallon this week withdrew the July 22 execution date for Lester Leroy Bower to consider a request from Bower's lawyers for DNA testing of cigarette butts and other items recovered from the slaying scene outside Sherman, north of Dallas.

Grayson County prosecutors are opposing the request.

Bower, now 60, is among the longest-serving prisoners on death row in Texas. He was condemned in 1984, seven months after authorities found the four victims shot execution-style inside a hangar on a ranch owned by one of the victims.

In April, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review his conviction and death sentence, clearing the way for his punishment to be carried out.

Bower has maintained his innocence in the October 1983 shooting deaths of Bob Tate, 51, a Denison building contractor; Ronald Mayes, 39, a former Sherman police officer; Philip Good, 29, a Grayson County sheriff's deputy; and Jerry Mac Brown, 52, a Sherman interior designer.

Parts of an ultralight plane missing from the hangar later were found in Bower's garage in Arlington.

Prosecutors said Bower, a college graduate who worked as a chemical salesman, killed the men while stealing the plane.

Bower initially lied to authorities about his presence at the hangar, then recanted. But he insisted when he left, the men at the ranch were alive.

Five years after his trial, a woman implicated four other men in the case, saying it was the result of a drug deal gone bad. Prosecutors have disputed that story.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Jeff Wood Gets a Facebook Group

Ben Gojer, a high school student at Carroll High School in Southlake, Texas has set up a group on Facebook called "Save Jeff Wood". He heard about Jeff's case and decided to do something. Thanks, Ben.

Anyone can join Facebook, click here to go to the Facebook group Save Jeff Wood.

From the Facebook group:

Jeff Wood's execution is scheduled for August 21, 2008. He did not kill anyone. Kenneth Foster was in a similar situation last year, and his sentence was commuted to life after 17,000 people used their voices and petitioned, called, faxed, and wrote to the Governor and the legislature. We can save Jeff from death too, but right now less than 1,500 people have signed his online petition. You can help by signing the petition and writing to the governor, the legislature, and the board of paroles. IT DOESN'T MATTER IF YOU DON'T LIVE IN TEXAS. You can still help prevent this man's execution. It's worked before. Use your voice as an American and a human being. And Spread the word! Tell everyone you know!
Sign the petition.

Write the Governor and Board of Pardons and Paroles.

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Witness Says Lester Bower is Innocent: Execution Date July 22

Witness says condemned Arlington man isn't responsible for 1983 slayings

Just a few paragraphs into the Star-Telegram story, the woman knew something was terribly wrong. A man named Lester Leroy Bower Jr. was on Death Row for the 1983 massacre of four men in a Sherman airplane hangar, she read that morning in 1989. But the woman, who asked to be identified by the pseudonym "Pearl," had reason to believe that Bower wasn’t the killer at all — that it was her ex-boyfriend and three others who had committed the crime.

The woman showed the story to her sister, the one person she had told of her suspicions about the old boyfriend.

"They’re going to put that guy to death for that," she remembers her sister saying.

"Yeah, I know," Pearl replied.

"But he didn’t do it?"

"No," Pearl said.

"You’ve got to do something," the sister said.

After a day of struggling with fears for her own life, Pearl did. The next day, she contacted Bower’s lawyers from Washington, D.C., told them her story and signed a legal affidavit attesting to it.

Now, 19 years later, information she related is at the heart of an increasingly urgent effort to save Bower’s life. On July 22, after 24 years on Texas Death Row, Bower is scheduled to die by lethal injection.

Bower’s lawyers say they have identified the four men whom Pearl alleges to be the killers, have documented their long criminal records and have confirmed other key parts of her story. In recent months, a defense investigator has also located another witness, the wife of one of alleged accomplices who said she heard the four men discussing the killings. The names of the new suspects, though known to defense lawyers, have remained sealed by court order.

"I don’t want Mr. Bower to die for something that he didn’t do," said Pearl, who broke up with her boyfriend shortly after the slayings and remains fearful of him today. Since she signed the affidavit in 1989, her identity has been concealed by court order. "I know in my heart that he didn’t do it. I just could not in my conscience sit back and just go, 'Oh well, sorry.’

"If he would have gotten life in prison, I can’t sit here and honestly say I would have done something different. Life is what, 30 years in the state of Texas? But he got the death penalty, and there’s no getting out of that."

This past week, Bower’s lawyers filed a 65-page legal motion in Sherman’s 15th state District Court detailing the scenario developed after Pearl came forward. The petition asks state Judge Jim Fallon to delay Bower’s execution, vacate his conviction and death sentence, and conduct hearings on his innocence claim.

Because of the plodding appellate system in death penalty cases — Bower’s appeal languished in federal court alone for 16 years — and the shifting nature of capital punishment law, this is the first opportunity for a Texas court to seriously consider the merits of Bower’s innocence claim, his lawyers say. When Pearl first came forward, Texas law precluded state judges from considering evidence gathered more than 30 days after a conviction. The so-called 30-day rule is no longer in effect in Texas because federal judges have ruled that such post-conviction claims need to be adjudicated by the state.

"Whatever you think about the benefits of having capital punishment, no one could possibly argue that executing an innocent man is in the interests of the state, or our society," said Anthony Roth, one of Bower’s lawyers. "Our interests as lawyers and as people should be that our government, when in doubt, should not go forward with an execution. There is ample evidence to give people reasonable doubt about whether Les committed these murders. In my view, the evidence is compelling that he didn’t."

A Grayson County prosecutor, Karla Hackett, said Wednesday that the state will vigorously contest Bower’s innocence claim. Prosecutors also oppose a defense motion to have saliva, hair fibers and cigarette butts from the crime scene tested for DNA. Bower’s lawyers hope that the analysis will link one of the men accused by Pearl to the crime.

"There’s no way there is actual innocence here," Hackett said, citing the large amount of circumstantial evidence against Bower. "DNA is not going to make all that go away. It’s another delaying tactic. It’s normal. We expect it. There’s four dead men, and all the evidence points straight to Lester Leroy Bower Jr."

The wife of victim Philip Good says she is also convinced the right man was convicted. Marlene Bushard, who has since remarried and is living in Arizona, said her husband would have turned 30 the day after his death. He left an infant son, Curtis Good, who is now 25.

As for Bower, Bushard said, "They’re just trying to draw this out."

Bushard said she plans to attend Bower’s execution.

Bower’s account

Several months before the slayings, Bower, his wife, Shari, and their two young daughters moved from Colorado to North Texas, where he took a job as a chemical salesman. Lester Bower was a former college football player and devout Baptist with no criminal history. He was also an inveterate hobbyist whose pastimes included rafting, hunting, backpacking and archery.

In the fall of 1983, he was considering another diversion, purchasing and flying an ultralight aircraft. His wife was opposed.

Shari Bower said in a recent interview that she and her husband had watched a news program about crashes and injuries associated with ultralights. "I looked at him," she said, "and pretty much said, 'Over my dead body. You played football, weigh 240 pounds and you’re talking about [an aircraft with] a lawnmower engine. I don’t think so.’ "

But Lester Bower secretly went ahead, calling Philip Good after coming across his name in a magazine ad for the ultralights. Good, in turn, planned to introduce Bower to Bob Tate, who had an ultralight for sale.

On Saturday, Oct. 8, Bower told his wife he planned to spend the day bow hunting. Instead, he drove to Tate’s B and B Ranch just outside Sherman, arriving in mid-afternoon. Bower said he paid $3,000 in cash for the aircraft, then watched Tate and Good disassemble it and strap it to his vehicle.

Bower says he then made the two-hour drive back to Mansfield, where he stashed the aircraft at a shooting range, and arrived at his Arlington home before dark.

At 8:30 p.m. that day, Tate’s wife and son discovered the bodies of the four men. Tate, 50, was a self-employed building contractor; Good was a former Sherman police officer and had begun work as a Grayson County deputy sheriff only a few days before. The other victims were Ronald Mayes, 37, a former Sherman police officer, and Jerry Brown, a 52-year-old interior designer.

Tate, Good and Brown were found wrapped in rolls of carpet inside the hangar. Mayes, who was found by the door, was apparently killed as he tried to flee. All of the victims had been shot in the head, killings described at the time as "execution-style."

The killings dominated the news for days to come, and even Shari Bower commented about the massacre to her husband a few days later. But Bower kept his secret from her and did not come forward.

Then in January, FBI agents traced Bower’s telephone calls to Good. Bower admitted making the calls. But he lied to agents, denying that he had traveled to Sherman on the day of the murders.

After a subsequent search of Bower’s home, where investigators found pieces of the ultralight with Tate’s name on it, Bower was arrested. Prosecutors later contended that theft of the aircraft was Bower’s motive for the slayings.

In a recent interview on Death Row near Livingston, Bower denied involvement in the killings, as he has from the time of his arrest. After learning of the murders, Bower said, "I realized that I had no idea about what I may have gotten myself into or what I may have literally just missed. If I came forward, what might happen about the safety of my family? Then, of course, I had not exactly been truthful with my wife, so there was a level of embarrassment there, family-wise.

"So then October rolls around, November, December and we get into January. Then all of a sudden they [FBI agents] show up. And once you kind of start a lie, it just kind of grows and it rolls along. It just consumed me. You ask, 'Why would an intelligent person do something like that?’ I find that hard to explain."

Bower did not testify during his capital murder trial in April 1984. Grayson County jurors deliberated less that two hours before convicting him on four counts of capital murder, and the next day he was sentenced to die. Bower, now 60, says he can understand how the jury reached its verdict, how his own account could be considered suspect because of the lies he told to investigators.

But the new witness has no reason to lie, he says.

"OK, don’t believe me," Bower said recently in prison. "Don’t believe anything I say. I’m not the one who has come forward and finally told exactly what happened out there."

'A dope deal that went bad’

Pearl is now 48 and raises two grandchildren because her own daughter was murdered several years ago. In the recent interview at her home, she recalled another time in her life, the summer day in 1983 at Lake Texoma when she and a friend met the men known as Lynn and Rocky. She said they were two handsome guys driving a black sports car.

In the whirlwind romance that followed, Pearl said, she quickly moved into Lynn’s home in southern Oklahoma. On the weekend of the Sherman murders, she left to visit her mother in Hillsboro, and was surprised to find Lynn sitting outside sometime after midnight on Oct. 9.

Her first thought was "he missed me so much he had come all the way down here to see me," Pearl said. "That’s how stupid I was."

Lynn was unusually agitated, insisting that Pearl immediately return with him to Oklahoma, she said. He drove until the couple passed through Dallas. As they neared Sherman, Lynn pulled off the road and told Pearl to drive, and when she took the wheel, he stretched out and hid in the back seat.

"He told me to drive straight through Sherman, don’t stop, and don’t do anything to get us stopped," Pearl recalled. "I was like, 'Why, what did you do?’

"He said they had a dope deal that went bad and they had to kill four people. I asked him, 'Who killed four people?’ He said, 'Me and Ches and Rocky.’ I assumed at the time that Bear was there, too, and of course he was."

Pearl’s story, naming the four, is also recounted in the defense motion that was filed last week.

Still, Pearl said, she was skeptical until a few days later, when for the first time she met Ches, who was the head of a drug operation that involved Lynn and the others. Pearl said she overheard Ches and Lynn talking about murders.

"[Ches’ girlfriend] and I were in the kitchen, and Ches and Lynn were in the living room and they were pretty drunk," Pearl recalled. "They had their guns out, talking about it, laughing about it. Ches thought everything was funny. He said something about, 'Did you see that guy’s eyes when he opened the door?’ or 'Did you see that guy’s face when I shot him?’

"I kept asking [the girlfriend], 'Did you hear that?’ She kept telling me, no, and that I needed to not hear it, either."

In the weeks to come, Ches also acknowledged the murders to Pearl, telling her that one of the victims "had been a cop and the killings had happened because things had gone wrong," according to the defense motion filed last week.

Pearl also said that in the weeks following the murders, Lynn was agitated and had trouble sleeping. After one nightmare he told her that he saw one of the victim’s eyes staring at him, a big tin building and shots reverberating inside it. Yet Pearl said she still wasn’t certain that any killings in Sherman had actually occurred, because she did not read newspapers or listen to radio or television news at the time.

"There was a big part of me who still wanted to believe it was all dopers talking, bragging," Pearl said last week. "But then there was another part of me that thought, 'Well, maybe they did.’ But I wasn’t going to stick around to find out. I called my mom and I told her that I needed money, that I needed to get out of there right then."

For the next five years, she says she tried to put her time with Lynn out of her mind. Then came the October morning when she read about the Sherman massacre. Until then, she said she had assumed that Lynn, Ches and the rest would have been arrested if they were guilty of the killings. For the rest of that Sunday, Pearl said she anguished over whether to come forward.

"Was my fear of Ches and Lynn bigger than my fear of not doing the right thing?" Pearl said. "I wanted to do the right thing, but not at the expense of my children. I just had to know that I could protect them and do the right thing."

Accusations in court

Eleven years after signing her affidavit, Pearl, as Witness Number One, told the same story in an appellate hearing in federal court, where Bower was contending that he had not received a sufficient legal defense.

At that same hearing in Sherman, another defense witness testified that back in 1984, after a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, Pearl had told him about Lynn’s participation in the murders. And a third witness said that about 5:30 on the evening of the massacre, she saw several men standing in front of the Tate hangar. There was also testimony from a man who said he had worked as a drug courier for Tate, one of the victims.

In the hearing, the men accused by Pearl were remembered by a former Oklahoma sheriff, Arnold Isenberg. At the time of the killings, Isenberg was a sheriff’s deputy in southern Oklahoma, and recalled that the men were under investigation for manufacturing and selling methamphetamine. Each had a dangerous reputation and "went underground for a while" after the killings in Sherman, Isenberg said. Two years later, federal Judge Richard Schell denied Bower’s appeal, saying the testimony did not prove Bower’s constitutional claim that his lawyer didn’t adequately defend him

Bower’s current lawyers, who took the case after his conviction, say authorities have only minimally investigated the alternative suspects. No state or federal investigator has contacted Pearl about her account. Current prosecutors still contend that the man who committed the murders is the one who will die next month.

"The strength of the case against this man, the lies he told the FBI investigators," said Hackett, the Grayson County prosecutor. "The fact that he made phone calls setting up the meeting with one of the victims; that the meeting happened at the time of the murders and portions of the aircraft stolen from the crime scene found at his residence, as well as a tremendous amount of other circumstantial evidence and eyewitnesses. With the strength of all that . . . the solid evidence that was there against him doesn’t go away just because someone said something in an affidavit."

In her home last week, Pearl said she has reason to believe differently. If Lester Bower is executed next month, she said, "I would feel really sad for the state of Texas."

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Hundreds Write Governor Perry Urging Clemency for Jeff Wood

Last Friday, we set a goal of reaching 1,000 people signing the petition to Save Jeff Wood over the weekend. By Monday, more than 1,300 had signed the petition and more than 300 people took the time to write a personal letter to Governor Perry and the Board of Pardons and Paroles asking for clemency for Jeff Wood.

The new goal is to have 5,000 people sign the petition and 1,000 people send letters to Perry.

Here are a few of the pleas for clemency.

Dear Governor Perry, Chairwoman Owens and Members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles,

Please give clemency to Jeff Woods and commute his death sentence. Although he acted as an accessory to the robbery, he was not the actual murderer. The death penalty is too harsh of a sentence.
Pasadena, TX

Dear Governor Perry, Chairwoman Owens and Members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles,

The Law of Parties takes no account of individual action. Jeff Wood should not die because his partner in crime made a rash and tragic decision to which Wood did not contribute and could not control. The victim's family's support of commutation speaks volumes in this instance and should be taken into account.

New Haven, CT

Dear Governor Perry, Chairwoman Owens and Members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles,

Based on the circumstances of the crime and the extent of Mr. Wood's participation in it, it seems terribly unfair to put him to death. By any argument this sort of brutal disregard for the facts is certainly unconstitutional, it qualifies as unusual punishment. Whenever the law is abused for political or emotional purposes it weakens the respect for it. Please commute Mr. Wood's sentence to more appropriately punish him for his participation in the crime.

Livonia, MI

Dear Governor Perry, Chairwoman Owens and Members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles,

If the state wants to execute a citizen who commits a brutal murder, like Daniel Reneau did, that's fine. But to execute a citizen who did not commit murder, that's just WRONG Jeff Wood did not know that Reneau was going to kill this victim, so why should Mr. Wood be killed? It's true, that Mr. Wood should not have assisted Daniel Reneau in any way, and there should be consequences for this. But those consequences should not be dealth.

It's easy to go along with an execution, when it doesn't affect you or anyone in your family. But think of Jeff Wood, who is about to soon face his death, for waiting for the shooter. but having no idea that he would be killing Kris Keeran. He should face some consequences, not not the loss of his life. To kill Jeff Woods is just wrong.

Austin, TX

Dear Governor Perry, Chairwoman Owens and Members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles,

Please grant clemency to Mr. Jeffrey Wood. No person should be executed under the Law of Parties, if they did not actually cause the death of another individual. Gov. Perry did the right thing last year when he commuted the death sentence of Kenneth Foster, who also was sentenced under the Law of Parties.

Mr. Wood was not even inside of the store when the murder occurred, and he was clearly not the actual shooter. He surely did not intend, at any point, that another individual's life be lost that day, and his should not be taken in retribution. The person who DID cause this victim's death had already been executed by the State of Texas, so whatever retributive or deterrent value there is in capital punishment has already been served by this first execution.

Thank you for your consideration.

Ithaca, NY

Dear Governor Perry, Chairwoman Owens and Members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles,

Please do not execute Jeff Woods. Although he may have made a mistake, he does not deserve the death penalty for his conduct. Justice can be done without taking this harsh measure.

San Francisco, CA


I am writing to ask that you stop the execution of Jeffrey Wood. I know that you are aware of the arguments supporting the request that you stop the execution, so I will not repeat them so that I can make one simple point:

The man who shot Kris Keeran has already been executed. I ask that you show mercy and judgment in showing the world that Texas is not a blood-thirsty state that cannot differentiate between accomplices and actual wrongdoers.

Please be merciful.

El Paso, TX

Dear Governor Perry, Chairwoman Owens and Members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles,

Executing people under the law of parties is wrong and in my opinion, a gross violation of human rights. The law is intended to be used when 2 or more people conspire to commit murder. Which may sound reasonable; however, it is being used unreasonably against people who have not conspired to commit murder.

Jeff Wood is scheduled to die in August for a murder that he did not commit nor conspire to commit. In fact, the man who actually did do the killing, has already been executed by the state of Texas.

The law of parties is a poorly written law if it allows innocent people to be executed. This law should be thrown out due to the fact that it is terrible.

DON"T EXECUTE JEFF WOOD. IT IS A VIOLATION OF LAW AND HUMAN RIGHTS

Austin, TX

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