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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Austin Protest in Support of Troy Davis, Monday, Sept 29th

Austin's chapter of the Campaign to END the Death Penalty is holding a protest Monday, September 29th in support of Georgia death-row inmate Troy Davis. Davis, who has a strong innocence claim, was granted a temporary stay by the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, less than 2 hours before his scheduled execution. The stay lasts only until September 29th, when the Supreme Court is set to consider an appeal from Davis for new evidence of innocence. If the appeal is rejected, the execution could proceed as early as that day.

Irrespective of the Supreme Court decision, Austinites will gather at 5:30 pm on Monday, September 29th at the south-side Capitol steps in support of Troy Davis.

Davis was sentenced to death in 1989 for the murder of Police Officer Mark MacPhail. There was no physical evidence and the weapon used in the crime was never found. Davis maintains his innocence and since his conviction, 7 out of 9 trial witnesses have recanted their testimony and cited police coercion in sworn affidavits. One of the two remaining witnesses, Sylvester 'Red' Coles, is the chief alternative suspect, according to the defense, against whom there is new evidence implicating him as the gunman. Nine individuals have signed affidavits implicating Coles.

Monday's Austin protest is part of a National Call to Action for Troy Davis.

The Campaign to END the Death Penalty is a grassroots organization dedicated to the abolition of capital punishment in the United States.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Kids Against the Death Penalty Creates Website, Protests Executions

Kids Against the Death Penalty was started by young relatives of Jeffrey Wood. They were a major part of the coalition to Save Jeff Wood, attending protests in San Antonio and Austin. They also walked part of the last leg of Capital X's cross country walk from New Jersey to Austin. They were there when Capital X reached the Texas governor's mansion.

Now, they have created a website for KADP.

It looks like they have been very busy, holding meetings and protesting every execution in Texas.

They have also accepted an invitation from the Houston organizers of the 9th Annual March to Stop Executions to lead the march on Oct 25 with their banner at the front.

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Sharon Keller Misconduct Investigation Nearing Completion

The State Commission on Judicial Conduct's investigation into Judge Sharon Keller is almost complete. They should be reporting on the results of the investigation soon. They launched the investigation in response to several complaints, including one that we submitted to them that was signed by more than 1,900 people who were upset by Keller's unethical behavior in closing the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals at 5pm on the night of the execution of Michael Richard. She said, "We close at 5" when told by her staff that the lawyers for Mr Richard were having computer problems and needed an extra 15 minutes to submit an appeal. Richard was executed later that night without having his final appeal considered by Texas' highest court of criminal appeals.

It has been so long since we filed the complaint that we had just about given up hope that they were going to tell us anything that was going on with the investigation, so we are happy to hear that they have been investigating and will eventually report.

Read more about what happened at www.sharonkiller.com.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Texas Man Becomes 130th Exonerated Person to Leave Death Row

The Death Penalty Information Center has added Michael Blair as the 130th person on their list of people exonerated to leave death row. He remains in prison on other charges, but he has been found innocent of the murder charge that sent him to death row.

The AP reported yesterday:

DALLAS — A North Texas court dismissed the case against the man known as "Ashley's Killer" two months after his convictions were tossed out because DNA evidence cleared him of the 1993 child slaying.

Michael Blair was convicted and sentenced to death for the molesting and strangling of 7-year-old Ashley Estell in suburban Dallas. Her body was found in a remote area of Collin County on Sept. 5, 1993, a day after she disappeared from a Plano park where her brother was playing soccer.

But recent DNA testing excluded him and in June his conviction was set aside by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The DNA evidence shows that another man, now deceased, is a plausible suspect in the girl's death, according to the Collin County District Attorney's office.

"It has been determined that this case should be dismissed in the interest of justice so that the offense charged in the indictment can be further investigated," according to a dismissal motion filed last month by prosecutors. A judge granted the dismissal motion Aug. 26.

The Dallas Morning News reported the dismissal in its Wednesday editions.

The Collin County DA's office and Plano police said they are reinvestigating the case.

Despite the ruling, Blair will remain in prison. While behind bars, he confessed and eventually pleaded guilty to sexual assaults of other children in the early 1990s. He was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences and a fourth to be served concurrently.

The girl's death prompted state lawmakers to pass tough sexual-predator measures called "Ashley's Laws" requiring longer prison terms and public registration for sex offenders.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Dallas County DA Craig Watkins may seek to halt Dallas County executions

From the Dallas Morning News:

Troubled that innocent people have been imprisoned by faulty prosecutions, District Attorney Craig Watkins said Monday that he would re-examine nearly 40 death penalty convictions and would seek to halt executions, if necessary, to give the reviews time to proceed.

Mr. Watkins told The Dallas Morning News that problems exposed by 19 DNA-based exonerations in Dallas County have convinced him he should ensure that no death row inmate is actually innocent.

Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins "It's not saying I'm putting a moratorium on the death penalty," said Mr. Watkins, whose reviews would be of all of the cases now on death row handled by his predecessors. "It's saying that maybe we should withdraw those dates and look at those cases from a new perspective to make sure that those individuals that are on death row need to be there and they need to be executed."

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Hood Gets Stay; Judge, DA Admit Affair

From The Houston Chronicle

A Texas death row inmate whose lawyers argued a secret romantic relationship between the judge and prosecutor at his trial tainted the proceedings 19 years ago won a reprieve Tuesday from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that blocked his lethal injection set for the following day.

The state's highest criminal court, however, stopped Charles Dean Hood's execution not because of the alleged affair between retired Judge Verla Sue Holland and former Collin County District Attorney Tom O'Connell, but because of what it said were "developments in the law regarding (jury) nullification instructions."

The Austin-based court, where Holland once served as a judge after her stint as a district judge in the suburban Dallas county, said it would be "prudent to reconsider the decision we issued" in previously dismissing Hood's appeal that challenged jury instructions.

At the same time, the court dismissed claims Hood's attorneys filed that he was denied a fair trial because of what would be a legally unethical relationship between Holland and O'Connell and arguments that Hood's execution set for Wednesday would twice put his life in jeopardy.

On June 17, lengthy appeals that also focused on the romantic relationship cleared the courts but Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials scrapped the execution because they ran out of time to properly carry it out as the midnight deadline approached.

The court's reprieve also came almost simultaneously as Hood's lawyers sent a letter to Gov. Rick Perry, whom they had asked for a 30-day reprieve, in which they said Holland and O'Connell "admitted under oath that they had an intimate sexual relationship for many years."

Holland was deposed earlier Tuesday under a court order Hood's attorneys won on Monday. O'Connell was deposed late Monday.

"The intimate sexual relationship between the judge and the district attorney began several years prior to the trial of Mr. Hood," lawyer Greg Wiercioch said in his letter to the governor re-emphasizing his petition for a reprieve.

"While Mr. O'Connell and Judge Holland have different recollections as to when the affair ceased containing an intimate sexual component, there is no doubt that the relationship was sexual in the years immediately leading up to the time that Judge Holland had jurisdiction over the case."

Wiercioch said the pair confirmed they kept the relationship secret.

"She never disclosed it to a single litigant or lawyer who appeared before her, and she never recused herself from hearing a single case because of her affair with the elected district attorney," the lawyer wrote. "Similarly, Mr. O'Connell never disclosed the romantic relationship to any of his adversaries nor did he recuse himself or his office from prosecuting a single case because of his affair with Judge Holland."

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Kenneth Foster Out of Isolation - Gets Contact Visit With Family

Adam Axel reports by email

For the last 12 years Kenneth Foster has been isolated in his cell for at least 22 hours per day either on death row - in solitary confinement (11 years) or for the last 1 year housed in the most restrictive unit possible at the McConnell Unit. I am happy to report that finally, after one year of having his sentence commuted he has been granted level G2 status and is in general population at the McConnell Unit. He is FINALLY allowed contact visits and he had his first today with his Grandfather. His Grandfather told me that he cannot describe in words the excitement that Kenneth had. He is also now assigned a job and is working in the kitchen. I will share more details as they arrive.

Best,

Adam

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Friday, September 05, 2008

Greg Wright's Execution Re-set for Oct 30

The Houston Chroncile reports that Greg Wright's execution has been stayed and rescheduled for Oct 30.

If you have not written the governor and Board of Pardons and Paroles asking them to commute Wright's punishment from death you can do so by clicking here.

HOUSTON — The scheduled execution next week of a homeless man convicted of taking part in the fatal stabbing of a sympathetic Dallas County woman was put off Friday until next month.

Gregory Wright, 42, faced lethal injection Tuesday for the 1997 fatal stabbing of Donna Duncan Vick at her home in DeSoto, about 15 miles south of Dallas.

The 52-year-old widow regularly ministered to the homeless and had given Wright food, shelter and money.

Wright's new date for punishment in Huntsville is Oct. 30, Dallas County assistant district attorney Mike Ware said Friday.

Bruce Anton, Wright's attorney, had sought the delay so additional DNA testing could be conducted on Wright's clothing, which prosecutors used at his trial to tie him to the woman's slaying.

A second man, John Wade Adams, also was tried for Vick's slaying and sent to death row. Wade, who was homeless and a friend of Wright's, does not have an execution date.

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Stay for Charles Hood? DMN Says Texas Attorney General Not Opposed to Stay

The Dallas Morning News says a stay may be on the horizon in the case of Charles Hood after the Texas Attorney General's office said it would file a legal brief today asking that the trial court fully review the matter, even if it means delaying the execution.

The Texas attorney general's office on Thursday took the unusual step of joining the defense in saying that death row inmate Charles Dean Hood should not die until after an investigation into an alleged romantic relationship at the time of his trial between the prosecutor and judge.

Although noting that the facts of the murders of Ronald Williamson and Tracie Lynn Wallace are not in question, Attorney General Greg Abbott wrote in a letter to Collin County District Attorney John Roach, "The impartiality of a defendant's trial and conviction must be beyond reproach."

The letter said that the attorney general's office would file a legal brief today asking that the trial court fully review the matter, even if it means delaying the execution.

"Because of the unique nature of the issues in this matter – and to protect the integrity of the Texas legal system – we will ask the court to thoroughly review the defendant's claims before the execution proceeds," the letter said.

The Hood case has drawn intense scrutiny from legal ethicists, as well as death penalty advocates and opponents who keep a close eye on the nation's busiest death chamber.

The case drew national attention in June when Mr. Hood came within hours of execution as attorneys wrangled over final appeals, including one related to the alleged romance. Though Mr. Hood was cleared for execution, his death warrant expired before the sentence could be carried out.

Attorneys stunned

Defense attorneys for Mr. Hood, who have been hammering at the wall of silence surrounding the alleged relationship, were stunned by the attorney general's action.

"I had no idea this was coming," said Greg Wiercioch. "I'm just pleased that the attorney general's office is doing the right thing in this case. I'm astounded."

Whether the unusual move will save Mr. Hood, who is set for execution Wednesday for the 1989 slayings, is unclear. The attorney general's office does not have jurisdiction in the case, but Mr. Wiercioch said the move should make it easier to obtain a stay of execution from either the governor or the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

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Stay for Greg Wright?

The Dallas Morning News Crime Blog is reporting that Greg Wright is going to receive a stay of execution. We haven't confirmed this yet.

From the DMN blog:

Convicted murderer Gregory Edward Wright and his wife Connie Wright, who he married while on death row, have reason to celebrate today. Supporters who champion his cause on a website, www.freegregwright.com, might also want to break out the champaign.

Mr. Wright was scheduled to die Tuesday. The formerly homeless crack-smoker was convicted in 1997 of robbing and fatally stabbing a religious do-gooder who took him into her home and offered him food and a place to sleep.

But his execution is to be postponed, according to an agreement that his attorney, Bruce Anton, said was reached this morning in state district court.

"We've agreed to a stay of execution for additional DNA testing," Mr. Anton said. "The judge is going to modify the execution date and reset it for a later time."

Mr. Anton said DNA tests have called into question some of the evidence that linked his client to the murder during trial. He also said his client's co-defendant, John Wade Adams, another former homeless man, has come forward from death row to claim sole responsibility for the killing.

Mr. Wright "was in the home at the time of the murder," Mr. Anton said. But "he had nothing to do with the murder..."

"The state now is arguing that, well, if he was in the home he must have had something to do with the murder," Mr. Anton said. "That's not anything that they alleged at trial. That's something that they're saying now, I suppose in an effort to salvage the conviction in some fashion."

Wright, then 32, was convicted of capital murder in the March 21, 1997, death of John Wade Adams, a 52-year-old DeSoto widow who had taken him in. Prosecutors said he stabbed her repeatedly in the neck and chest.

Afterward, according to trial testimony, he and Mr. Adams stole her Chrysler New Yorker and traded her television, VCR, microwave, color printer, weed trimmer, hand-carried radio and rifle for some crack.

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Judges, Prosecutors Urge Texas Governor To Stay Execution in Case Tainted by Affair Between DA & Judge

On Sept 10, 2008, the state of Texas is scheduled to execute Charles Dean Hood despite the fact that his trial judge and the DA who prosecuted him were having an affair at the time of Hood's trial.

Click here to urge Governor Perry to stop the execution of Charles Hood
.

Hood's lawyers say:

Today, a letter from 22 former federal and state judges and prosecutors (pdf) from Texas and across the country was delivered to Governor Perry urging him to grant a 30-day reprieve to Charles Dean Hood who is scheduled for execution on Wednesday, September 10, 2008. The former judges and prosecutors are asking the governor to grant a reprieve to allow the Texas courts to conduct a meaningful review of the allegations of a secret romantic relationship between Judge Verla Sue Holland, who presided over Mr. Hood’s 1990 capital murder trial, and former Collin County District Attorney Thomas O’Connell, who prosecuted the case.

The letter states: “We write because our long experience as jurists and law enforcement officials leads us to believe that justice cannot be served unless the courts are able to consider whether Mr. Hood’s conviction and sentence are invalid.”

Signatories to the letter include: John J. Gibbons, former Chief Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit; W.J. Michael Cody, former Attorney General of Tennessee; J. Joseph Curran, former Attorney General of Maryland; William S. Sessions, former Chief Judge, United States District Court for the Western District of Texas and former Director of the FBI; Kenneth J. Mighell, former United States Attorney, Northern District of Texas; Jay Burnett, former Criminal District Court Judge, Texas; and Sam D. Millsap, former District Attorney, Bexar County, San Antonio, Texas.

The former judges and prosecutors say that “Mr. Hood’s claim appears on its face to have substantial credibility.” In June, a former assistant district attorney who worked in the office with Mr. O’Connell filed an affidavit stating that “[i]t was common knowledge in the District Attorney’s Office, and the Collin County Bar, in general, that the District Attorney…and Judge Verla Sue Holland had a romantic relationship.” Mr. Hood’s trial attorney and a private investigator have also signed affidavits corroborating this claim.

To-date, the Texas courts have refused to consider the charges on their merits or allow an investigation before the scheduled execution. Judge Robert Dry of the 199th Judicial District Court has scheduled a hearing on Mr. Hood’s request to take investigatory depositions of Judge Holland and former District Attorney Tom O’Connell on September 12, 2008 – two days after the scheduled execution.

“It is an irrevocable wrong to send a man to his death without ever hearing this critical evidence,” the letter from the former judges and prosecutors states.

Earlier this summer, the nearly 500-member Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers and three dozen of the nation’s leading legal ethicists also called Mr. Hood’s conviction into question (pdf). They say the affair constitutes a violation of Mr. Hood’s constitutional rights and must be investigated.
Read more about the relationship in Alan Berlow's Salon.com article.

On Sunday, Aug 21, 2008, Houston Chronicle columnist Rick Casey wrote,
On June 3, Hood's lawyers obtained a sworn statement from a lawyer who had worked in the Collin County district attorney's office at the time of the trial in 1990. The former assistant DA, Matthew Goeller, said it was "common knowledge in the district attorney's office" that DA Tom O'Connell and Judge Verla Sue Holland were involved in a long-running affair.

The courts have clearly held that the constitutional right to due process includes a trial in which the judge is not, figuratively or literally, in bed with the prosecutor.
The ABA Code of Judicial Conduct provides that "A judge shall disqualify himself or herself in a proceeding in which the judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned." Where there is doubt, a judge is obliged to disclose information that lawyers might consider relevant to the question of disqualification.

The judge in Hood's case did not disclose the affair with the prosecuting attorney.

Charles Hood deserves a new trial in which the judge is not having an affair with the prosecuting attorney.

Please compose a message in your own words. Form letters are not effective.You can also express your sympathy for the familes and loved ones of Tracie Wallace and Ronald Williamson.

You can also leave Governor Perry a phone message at: 512-463-2000, fax him at 512-463-1849 (his fax line is often busy, so just keep trying) or write him at:

Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 12428
Austin, Texas 78711-2428

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Ben Woitena Exhibit in Austin Starting Sept 12

One of the artists from our art exhibit "Justice for All: Artists Reflect on the Death Penalty" is having a major exhibit at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum in Austin. The exhibit is an overview of 45 years of work by sculptor Ben Woitena. It runs September 12, 2008 through January 4, 2009. There will be an artist's talk with Ben Woitena on September 12 from 6 - 6:30pm and an opening night reception from 6:30 - 8:30.

Ben Woitena: A Retrospective (1963-2008) encompasses drawings, mixed media works, and sculptures in cast bronze, stone, various metals and wood dating from 1963 through 2008. The exhibition includes indoor and outdoor sculptures on loan by collectors and the artist, in addition to maquettes of large-scale and monumental public sculptures and photographs of them in situ. Woitena, primarily recognized for his monumental works, is represented in the collections of corporations, individuals, municipalities and museums nationally.

Here is a link to the artwork "Dead Man Walking" by Ben Woitena that was selected by our jury for the death penalty art exhibit.

Time Line, by Ben Woitena, Bush Intercontinental Airport, Houston, Texas, Terminal "E", Painted steel, stainless stell & 3M diamond grade reflective material 40x11x33 feet, 2005 (photo by Rick Gardner)

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Urgent Appeal for Clemency Letters for Greg Wright from his Wife Connie

Send a message to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles urging clemency for Greg Wright.

My name is Connie Wright; I am Gregory Wright’s wife. I come to you today to convey the heartfelt gratitude that Greg & I both feel for the outpouring of support you have all shown by signing his petition in an attempt to save his life. I have already forwarded Greg a list of those who have signed the petition and I only wish I could in turn forward you all a photograph of the look on his face when he learned of this show of overwhelming support; I can’t express enough the emotion and gratitude we both feel and a simple thank you seems nowhere near enough.

As you all know Greg has been given an execution date of September 9th in spite of his actual innocence. This has come as a great shock to us and we must now do all within our power to save his life. For this reason I come to you with the humble request for a personal letter requesting the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles grant clemency to stop this execution from taking place so that Greg has a chance to further prove his innocence.

With deepest respect and gratitude to you all,

Connie Wright

Further information about Greg can be found at http://www.freegregwright.com.

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