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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Lawyer: DNA clears yogurt shop suspects

It could be a very good year in 2009 for the two people who remain in jail in the Yogurt Shop Case of Austin. The original convictions have already been overturned because of another issue. The two sides are preparing for new trials for both Robert Springsteen and Michael Scott. The Austin American-Statesman is reporting that the lawyer for one of the accused says that DNA evidence exonerates his client and he is demanding that he be released from custody.

New DNA test results from two of the four girls killed in the 1991 Austin yogurt shop murders do not match either of the two men facing retrials in the deaths, a defense lawyer for one of the suspects said Wednesday.

Investigators have discovered DNA from unknown males in swabs taken from the bodies of sisters Sarah and Jennifer Harbison, 15 and 17, respectively, said Joe James Sawyer, who represents defendant Robert Springsteen.

"I want my client out of jail," said Sawyer, who argued that the tests exonerate Springsteen and the other defendant, Michael Scott.

The DNA from the victims also did not match that of two previous co-defendants, Sawyer said. Charges against Maurice Pierce and Forrest Welborn were dismissed.

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Why Do White Americans Support the Death Penalty?

by Joe Soss, Laura Langbein, Alan R. Metelko
Journal of Politics
Volume 65 Issue 2 , Pages 299 - 640 (May 2003)

This article explores the roots of white support for capital punishment in the United States. Our analysis addresses individual-level and contextual factors, paying particular attention to how racial attitudes and racial composition influence white support for capital punishment. Our findings suggest that white support hinges on a range of attitudes wider than prior research has indicated, including social and governmental trust and individualist and authoritarian values. Extending individual-level analyses, we also find that white responses to capital punishment are sensitive to local context. Perhaps most important, our results clarify the impact of race in two ways. First, racial prejudice emerges here as a comparatively strong predictor of white support for the death penalty. Second, black residential proximity functions to polarize white opinion along lines of racial attitude. As the black percentage of county residents rises, so too does the impact of racial prejudice on white support for capital punishment.

Why Do White Americans Support the Death Penalty?

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Dallas Morning News and Rep. Brian McCall Support a Moratorium on Executions

The Dallas Morning News is renewing its call for a moratorium on executions, which it has expressed in at least six editorials since the first one in 2001. The editorial today also mentions State Rep Brian McCall's support for a moratorium. He is from Plano, which is in the Dallas area. Brian McCall is so far the only Republican state legislator who has ever voted for a moratorium. He voted in 2001 for the bill by Rep Dutton that included a moratorium provision. That bill received more than 50 votes on the floor of the Texas House.

It was Texas Moratorium Network that first identified Rep McCall as a supporter of a moratorium in 2001. Scott Cobb and Kerry Cook were at the capitol one day in 2001 waiting for a committee hearing on one of the moratorium bills. They used the time to go around to visit with various legislators. They found McCall in the hall near the vending machines and Kerry told him his story of being an innocent person who spent 20 years on death row. McCall seemed to have already known who Kerry was and told him during their 20-minute talk that he was "with you" and supported a moratorium. He has maintained his support ever since.

Here is today's DMN Editorial:

Editorial: Death penalty moratorium needed
05:00 AM CST on Monday, December 29, 2008

The year draws to a close with Texas in its familiar No. 1 place nationally in capital punishment statistics (18 of the nation's 37 executions in 2008). It has also been a year rich with examples of why this state should stop its error-prone machinery of death.

For a change, discussion about flawed justice need not start in Dallas County, the nation's ground zero for DNA exonerations. Just to the north, Collin County illustrates how even a highly educated, affluent community can get it wildly wrong in the high-stakes gamble called capital punishment.

No murder case more nauseated North Texas than the 1993 strangulation of 7-year-old Ashley Estell after she was plucked from a Plano city park. A Collin County jury deliberated only 27 minutes before convicting serial molester Michael Blair of capital murder. It took far longer – 14 years – for the truth to fully emerge. DNA and other forensic tests undermined the case so thoroughly that a judge dismissed the conviction this summer.

In a second discredited case, evidence has never been a question. Rather, it took 18 years for the truth to emerge about an illicit sexual affair that the trial judge had been having with Collin County District Attorney Tom O'Connell, who personally asked jurors for the death sentence. The double murder conviction against Charles Dean Hood raised serious questions of corrupted ethics this summer, and the courts have yet to address it.

There is no quick or neat fix for breakdowns in justice that range from poor technology to dishonesty among officers of the court. Dozens of DNA exonerations across the state – including the nation-leading 19 in Dallas County – have demonstrated how unreliable eyewitness testimony can be. Further, statistics indicate a disturbing arbitrariness of capital punishment, varying greatly by county. Data also show that a killer is far likelier to die for killing a white person.

It's notable that a veteran state lawmaker from conservative Collin County, Plano's Brian McCall, is sufficiently concerned about the justice system that he favors a two-year moratorium on executions in Texas. Mr. McCall is a Republican with law-and-order bona fides, having authored legislation in 1994 creating the state's first criminal DNA database.

That tool has achieved its primary objective of helping law enforcement officials identify culprits and solve crimes. It has also offered new perspective on how much more reform our system of laws requires before we can be confident that fatal error will never occur in Huntsville's busy death chamber.

It's the view of this newspaper that the justice system will never be foolproof and, therefore, use of the death penalty is never justified.

Mr. McCall comes at the question differently, asserting the deterrent benefits of capital punishment and arguing at the same time for better safeguards against bias and failure.

On the need for better safeguards, this newspaper finds common ground with Mr. McCall. On the need for a hiatus in Huntsville, we hope lawmakers who convene in Austin next year will find the courage confront the issue. READ MORE about why this newspaper reversed its 100-plus years of support for the death penalty.

dallasnews.com/deathnomore

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

December 2008 Texas Moratorium Network Newsletter

Click here to read the December 2008 Texas Moratorium Network Newsletter. It will be available at that link for 30 days.

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Seven Scheduled Executions in Texas in January

Curtis Moore January 14
TDCJ Info on Curtis Moore

Jose Garcia Briseno Jan 15

Reginald Perkins Jan 22

Larry Ray Swearingen Jan 27

Virgil Martinez Jan 28

Ortiz Ricardo Jan 29


To send the Governor of Texas an email denouncing these executions, go to:

http://governor. state.tx.us/contact

You can also call and leave him a voice message:

Telephone numbers for Governor Rick Perry of Texas

* Citizen's Opinion Hotline [for Texas callers] : (800) 252-9600

* Information and Referral and Opinion Hotline [for Austin, Texas and out-of-state callers] : (512) 463-1782

* Office of the Governor Main Switchboard [office hours are 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. CST] : (512) 463-2000

* Citizen's Assistance Telecommunications Device
If you are using a telecommunication device for the deaf (TDD), call 711 to reach Relay Texas

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

Mailing Address:

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


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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Vote Now for Worst Performance by a DA in a Lead Role

The first nomination for Worst Performance by a District Attorney in a Lead Role for 2008 is:

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard.

DA Howard wasted $3 million dollars trying to get a death sentence for Brian Nichols after Nichols offered to plead guilty and accept a sentence of life without parole.

Now that Howard has wasted $3 million dollars and failed to get a death sentence, a bunch of Southern Republican legislators in Georgia are scrambling to see who will be the first to file a bill to change the requirement that a death sentence in Georgia must be a unanimous decision by the jury. No other state allows a death sentence if the jury is not unanimously in favor of death, but those Republican Georgia lawmakers are going to try to pass such a bill. It is likely to be held unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. So, on top of the $3 million that Howard wasted trying to get a death sentence for Nichols after he already agreed to life without parole, Georgia politicians are going to waste more money pursuing a likely unconstitutional change to state law.

Also nominated for Worst Performace by a District Attorney in a Lead Role is:

Former Harris County DA Chuck Rosenthal
.

On February 15, 2008, Rosenthal resigned as Harris County district attorney, following the filing of a lawsuit petitioning for his removal from office. Emails made public exposed his extramarital affair with his secretary. He was also found to be using government computers for campaigning and receiving and sending racist emails.

Rosenthal also deleted thousands of e-mails that had been subpoenaed and was fined $18,900 after a federal judge found him in contempt of court.

When he resigned Rosenthal cited judgment problems from prescription medication. In a deal with the Texas Attorney General's Office, an earlier investigation was dropped when Rosenthal resigned. Rosenthal's appointed successor said there was not sufficient evidence to charge Rosenthal with crimes.

Rosenthal, a Republican, was first elected in 2000 and presided over an office that sent more convicts to death row than any other prosecutors’ office in the nation. However, in 2008, Harris County did not send anyone to death row, including during the 45 days of 2008 when Rosenthal was still the DA but too busy defending himself from wrongdoing to concentrate on doing work.

Vote below. If you want to nominate someone else, choose "other" and write the name in the space below other.

UPDATE: So far, one person has written in the name of Rene Guerra in the "other" category.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Harris County sends nobody to death row in 2008

Rick Casey reported in his column last week in the Houston Chronicle that Harris County, where Houston is located, did not send anyone to death row in 2008:

"First I learn that Houston's air is getting cleaner.

Now I learn that we haven't sentenced a single scumbag murderer to death this entire year.

This is not the city I signed up for.

In 1999, Houston displaced Los Angeles as the smoggiest city in the nation. This year we set a record low with only 16 days exceeding federal standards for ground-level ozone, smog's main ingredient.

In 2003, the year I moved here, Houston sent nine murderers to death row.

That was 35 percent of the state's death sentences that year, an amount that is more than twice our 16.5 percent share of the state's population.

From 15 a year to zero

In 2004, we did even better, accounting for fully half of the 20 Texans who landed on death row.

Back in the 1990s, a less populous Harris County was even more prolific in sending murderers to meet their Maker — or not.

For the five years beginning in 1993, Harris County condemned more than 15 annually, contributing 39 percent of the state's migration to death row.

But this year, which for capital crime trial purposes is basically over, we've contributed precisely zero percent to the state's nation-leading cadre of dead men walking.

The Rosenthal factor?

I know what you're thinking: That's what happens when at the beginning of the year you banish the tough-on-crime likes of Chuck Rosenthal for minor indiscretions such as using his office computer for racist, romantic and obscene e-mails. (Separate e-mails, not racist, romantic and obscene all in one.)

And, oh yes, defying a federal judge's direct order by erasing a couple of thousand other e-mails that could have proved even more entertaining.

But acting District Attorney Ken Magidson declines to take either credit or blame for the county's paltry annual contribution to death row.

Magidson said he personally reviewed each capital crime to see if prosecutors could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they met "the standards set by law" for the death penalty.

Only two death-penalty cases were presented to juries. In one of them, prosecutors agreed a plea bargain of 60 years during the trial. In the other one, the defendant was acquitted, more on which below.

Statistics from the past three years agree with Magidson's suggestion that he wasn't the difference. From 2005 through 2007, Harris County condemned just seven men, or 15 percent of the Texas total.

Prosecutors throughout the state appear to be seeking the death sentence less often. This year only 16 cases have come to trial (and one currently under way).

In addition, juries appear to be showing more skepticism. One found the accused not guilty. One jury hung on the question of guilt. Four juries found the accused guilty but chose life sentences without possibility of parole.

One was the jury in the sole Harris County death penalty case — that of Juan Quintero, an illegal immigrant convicted of shooting a police officer four times in the head during a traffic stop.

"When you have a Texas jury refusing to give the death penalty to an illegal immigrant who killed a cop — if the significance of that doesn't speak volumes, nothing will, " said David Dow, an anti-death penalty activist and professor at the University of Houston Law Center.

Dow believes that Texas juries have joined the national mainstream. The recent passage in Texas of the sentence of life without parole offers some jurors a satisfying alternative to death (which is why Rosenthal and other Texas district attorneys long opposed it).

What's more, say Dow and others, with the advent of highly publicized DNA-based exonerations, jurors across the country have become more concerned about imposing the death penalty.

In August, Michael Blair was released after 14 years on Texas death row. DNA evidence cleared him of the 1993 rape of a 7-year-old girl.

Dow notes that while Texas jurors seem to have joined the rest of the nation in increasing concern about the finality of the death penalty, state officials "seem to be uniquely stubborn."

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Berkeley City Council Votes to Adopt Resolution for an End to Death Sentences in Alameda County

Last week we met with aides to two Austin City Council members and asked them to help us pass a death penalty resolution, either a moratorium or abolition resolution.

In California, there is an effort to get resolutions passed that would direct DAs not to seek death sentences. On Dec 8, the Berkeley City Council voted to adopt a Resolution for an End to Death Sentences in Alameda County. The resolution calls on the District Attorney to stop pursuing the death penalty and to focus instead on investing public resources in solving homicides, preventing violence, and expanding public safety programs.

This is a different strategy than ours in that the resolution urges the local Alameda DA not to seek death sentences, instead of urging the state legislature to adopt either a moratorium or abolition. We like that strategy and congratulate the people who worked for this success, although it might be a little too advanced for Texas.

The campaign is led by the Alameda County Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, which has a nice website.

Here is the press release announcing the victory.

This strategy probably wouldn't work in Texas, since California is somewhat more progressive than Texas on this issue. Last Spring in Travis County there was an election for DA, but only one candidate took the position of saying he would never seek any death sentences. He lost, but mainly because of a lack of funding to get his message out. The real disappointment was that none of the other three candidates would commit to taking the death penalty off the table permanently, which is a position that would be embraced by Austin voters if the Travis County DA would make the effort to educate the community on the disadvantages of seeking death sentences and the advantages of investing more public resources in solving homicides, preventing violence, and expanding public safety programs.

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Read the Maryland Commisson on Capital Punishment Report

The Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment issued its final report yesterday. You can download the 156 page report here.

From the Annapolis Capital:

"The death penalty in Maryland is not uniform … It is a happenstance of color and jurisdiction," said Benjamin Civiletti, a former U.S. attorney general and the commission chairman. "Systemically, the system does not treat one proportionately. It doesn't treat similar crimes in a similar fashion."

Among the report's findings on Maryland's death penalty:

Cases involving an African-American accused of killing a white person are 2.5 times more likely to get the death penalty than cases with a Caucasian person accused of killing someone who is also white.

Capital punishment has pronounced regional disparities. Someone in Baltimore County is almost 23 times more likely to get a death sentence than someone who committed a similar crime in Baltimore City.

Capital cases cost almost three times more than non-death penalty prosecution.

Maryland's capital cases had an 80 percent reversal rate from 1995 to 2007.

"For all of these reasons - to eliminate racial and jurisdictional bias, to reduce unnecessary costs, to lessen the misery that capital cases force victims of family members to endure, to eliminate the risk that an innocent person can be convicted - the commission strongly recommends that capital punishment be abolished in Maryland," the report says.
The Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment is a good example of how a Texas Commission on Capital Punishment should be composed. In the past, there have been proposals for a capital punishment commission in Texas, but the proposed commissions were smaller and less representative of the diversity of Texas than the commission in Maryland, which had 23 members that did represent the diversity of Maryland and included members representing the general public as well as the religious community.

Here is an excerpt from the bill that created the Maryland Commission.
(C) THE COMMISSION CONSISTS OF THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS:

(1) TWO MEMBERS OF THE SENATE OF MARYLAND, APPOINTED BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE AND REFLECTING THE BROAD DIVERSITY OF VIEWS ON CAPITAL PUNISHMENT;

(2) TWO MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE OF DELEGATES, APPOINTED BY THE SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE AND REFLECTING THE BROAD DIVERSITY OF VIEWS ON CAPITAL PUNISHMENT;

(3) THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, OR THE ATTORNEY GENERAL’S DESIGNEE;

(4) ONE FORMER MEMBER OF THE JUDICIARY, APPOINTED BY THE CHIEF JUDGE OF THE COURT OF APPEALS;

(5) THE SECRETARY OF PUBLIC SAFETY AND CORRECTIONAL SERVICES, OR THE SECRETARY’S DESIGNEE;

(6) THE STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER, OR THE STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER’S DESIGNEE;

(7) A STATE’S ATTORNEY, DESIGNATED BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE MARYLAND STATE’S ATTORNEYS’ ASSOCIATION WHO HAS PROSECUTED A DEATH PENALTY
CASE; AND

(8) THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS, APPOINTED BY THE GOVERNOR AND REFLECTING THE BROAD DIVERSITY OF VIEWS ON CAPITAL PUNISHMENT, AND THE RACIAL, ETHNIC, GENDER, AND GEOGRAPHIC DIVERSITY OF THE STATE:

(I) A REPRESENTATIVE OF THE MARYLAND CHIEFS OF POLICE ASSOCIATION;

(II) A REPRESENTATIVE OF THE MARYLAND STATE LODGE FRATERNAL ORDER OF POLICE;

(III) A CORRECTIONAL OFFICER IN A STATE PRISON;

(IV) A FORMER STATE PRISONER WHO HAS BEEN EXONERATED OF THE CRIME FOR WHICH THE INDIVIDUAL WAS INCARCERATED;

(V) THREE REPRESENTATIVES OF THE RELIGIOUS COMMUNITY; AND

(VI) SIX REPRESENTATIVES OF THE GENERAL PUBLIC, TO INCLUDE AT LEAST THREE FAMILY MEMBERS OF A MURDER VICTIM.

(D) THE GOVERNOR, THE PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE OF MARYLAND, AND THE SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF DELEGATES JOINTLY SHALL APPOINT THE CHAIR OF THE COMMISSION.

(E) THE COMMISSION SHALL HOLD PUBLIC HEARINGS.


Maryland Death Penalty Commission Final Report

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Friday, December 12, 2008

DPIC 's 2008 Report on the Death Penalty

The Death Penalty Information Center has issued its 2008 Year End Report on the Death Penalty.


Highlights from the Report

Decline in the Number of Executions and Death Sentences
  • 37 executions took place in 2008, marking a 14-year low and continuing a downward trend that began in 2000.
  • 95% of all executions occurred in the South in 2008; 49% were in one state - Texas.
  • The annual number of death sentences has dropped by 60% since the 1990s.
Innocence and Clemency
  • Four death row inmates were exonerated and four had their sentences commuted to life in prison without parole during the course of this year. The total number of exonerations since 1973 is 130.
Costs of the Death Penalty
  • A California commission reported that the state is spending $138 million per year on a death penalty system that they described as "broken" and "close to collapse."
  • A study in Maryland indicated that the state had spent $37 million for each execution when all the costs of the death penalty were included.
  • With the average time spent on death row increasing to 12.7 years in 2007, death penalty cases continue to place a significant financial burden on state budgets.
  • State supreme courts in Utah and New Mexico have warned that the death penalty would be stopped unless more funding is provided for indigent defense.
Expansion of the Death Penalty Denied
  • In June, the Supreme Court rejected the expansion of the death penalty to non-homicide crimes against individuals in Kennedy v. Louisiana.

To read the complete report, click here.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Email the Austin City Council About Death Penalty Resolution

We had a meeting today with aides to Austin City Council members Randi Shade and Lee Leffingwell to discuss our proposed resolution for a moratorium on executions. They told us they would discuss the issue with their bosses. Use this webform to send an email to all members of the Austin City Council telling them to pass a resolution calling for a moratorium. You can address your email: Dear Mayor Wynn and Members of the Austin City Council. Your one email will be sent to all council members and the mayor.

This is an issue that needs to be addressed by city councils across Texas. Local governments and local taxpayers are the most vulnerable of all levels of government and taxpayers when it comes to being held financially responsible when innocent people are wrongfully convicted. In 2003, the City of Austin paid out more than $14 million to Richard Danziger and Christopher Ochoa because the APD had coerced a false confession from Ochoa, who then implicated Danziger.

There have been 20 exonerations of innocent people in Dallas County, including 11 since the current DA, Craig Watkins, took office.

Nine people have been sent to Texas death row and later exonerated. At least three innocent people may have already been executed in Texas.

Local governments need to send a message to the Texas Legislature to address the problems in the system that can lead to innocent people being convicted and even put at risk of wrongful execution. If a person is wrongfully executed in Texas, local taxpayers may have to foot the bill for a wrongful death lawsuit. The Travis County Commissioners Court and the El Paso County Commissioners Court have already passed moratorium resolutions.

Our proposed resolution is here. Of course, we expect it to be changed before it is passed. We also presented them with a resolution to abolish the death penalty in case they wanted to choose to pass that resolution.

The Austin Human Rights Commission has already passed both a moratorium resolution and an abolition resolution on separate ocassions and has sent letters to all city council members saying that the AHRC would like the city council to address the issue with its own resolution. There were two members of the AHRC at today's meeting, Lisa Scheps and Tom Davis. Delia Meyer, a TMN board member, who is also an Austin Human Rights Commissioner, has been pushing the issue on the AHRC. Also present were Scott Cobb, Hooman Hedayati and Alison Dieter.

The ACLU-TX Central Texas Chapter has also endorsed the resolution.

Proposed 2008 Austin City Council Moratorium Resolution

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Map of Executions in the U.S in 2008



Texas performed 18 of 37 executions carried out in the U.S. in 2008. That was 48.6 percent. Ohio, which carried out two executions, was the only state outside the South to impose the death penalty in 2008. 95 percent of all 2008 executions were in the South.

Nine of the eighteen people executed in Texas in 2008 were African-American.

Six of the eighteen people executed in Texas in 2008 were white.

Three of the eighteen people executed in Texas were Hispanic.

66 percent of the people executed in Texas were Hispanic or black.

33 percent of the people executed in Texas were white.

Seven people were executed from Dallas County, the most from any county in 2008.

In 2007, Texas executed 26 people.

Executions in the United States in 2008

DATE
NUMBER
SINCE 1976
STATE
NAME
AGE
RACE
VICTIM RACE
METHOD
5/6/08 1100 GA William Earl Lynd 53 W 1 White Lethal Injection
5/21/08 1101 MS Earl Wesley Berry 49 W 1 White Lethal Injection
5/27/08 1102 VA Kevin Green 31 B 1 White Lethal Injection
6/4/08 1103 GA Curtis Osborne 37 B 2 Black Lethal Injection
6/6/08 1104 SC David Mark Hill* 48 W 1 Black/2 White Lethal Injection
6/11/08 1105 TX Karl Chamberlain 37 W 1 White Lethal Injection
6/17/08 1106 OK Terry Lyn Short 47 W 1 Asian Lethal Injection
6/20/08 1107 SC James Earl Reed* 49 B 2 Black Electrocution
6/25/08 1108 VA Robert Yarbrough 30 B 1 White Lethal Injection
7/1/08 1109 FL Mark Schwab 39 W 1 Latino Lethal Injection
7/10/08 1110 TX Carlton Akee Turner 29 B 2 Black Lethal Injection
7/10/08 1111 VA Kent Jermaine Jackson 26 B 1 White Lethal Injection
7/23/08 1112 MS Dale Leo Bishop 34 W 1 White Lethal Injection
7/23/08 1113 TX Derrick Sonnier 40 B 2 Black Lethal Injection
7/24/08 1114 VA Christopher Emmett 36 W 1 White Lethal Injection
7/31/08 1115 TX Larry Davis 40 B 1 White Lethal Injection
8/5/08 1116 TX Jose Medellin~ 33 L 1 White
1 Latina
Lethal Injection
8/7/08 1117 TX Heliberto Chi~ 29 L 1 White Lethal Injection
8/12/08 1118 TX Leon Dorsey 32 B 2 White Lethal Injection
8/14/08 1119 TX Michael Rodriguez* 45 L 1 White Lethal Injection
9/16/08 1120 GA Jack Alderman 57 W 1 White Lethal Injection
9/17/08 1121 TX William Murray 39 W 1 White Lethal Injection
9/23/08 1122 FL Richard Henyard 34 B 2 Black Lethal Injection
9/25/08 1123 OK Jessie Cummings 52 W 1 White Lethal Injection
10/14/08 1124 OH Richard Cooey 41 W 2 White Lethal Injection
10/14/08 1125 TX Alvin Kelly 57 W 1 White Lethal Injection
10/16/08 1126 TX Kevin Michael Watts 27 B 3 Asian Lethal Injection
10/21/08 1127 TX Joseph Ray Ries 29 W 1 White Lethal Injection
10/28/08 1128 TX Eric Nenno 47 W 1 White Lethal Injection
10/30/08 1129 TX Gregory Wright 42 W 1 White Lethal Injection
11/6/08 1130 TX Elkie Taylor 46 B 1 Black Lethal Injection
11/12/08 1131 TX George Whitaker 36 B 1 Black Lethal Injection
11/13/08 1132 TX Denard Manns 42 B 1 White Lethal Injection
11/19/08 1133 OH Gregory Bryant-Bey 53 B 1 White Lethal Injection
11/20/08 1134 TX Robert Hudson 45 B 1 Black Lethal Injection
11/21/08 1135 KY Marco Allen Chapman* 37 W 2 White Lethal Injection
12/5/08 1136 SC Joseph Gardner 38 B 1 White Lethal Injection


Join the "Abolish the Death Penalty Project" on Amazee.com and help us win the Amazee Bucket membership contest. We could win up to $5,000 to use against the death penalty. The project with the most members by Jan 22 wins. If we win, we plan to use one-half of any prize money we win to help needy families of people on death row travel to visit their loved ones on death row. We will use the other half of the prize money to fight against the death penalty.

First go to the project page, then you have to click on "join project" on the right hand side, then click on "register". Then to qualify as one of the members who count towards the contest, you have to upload a picture or avatar of yourself.

We were all moved by the family members who spoke at the 9th Annual March to Stop Executions in Houston, so we were thinking of how we could help them. We all know that the death penalty is reserved for the poor. There are no rich people on death row. We will use one half of any prize money we get through this contest to help family members visit their loved ones on death row. Many families have a hard time making ends meet and the extra cost of traveling long distances to visit their loved ones on death row is a great financial burden. Some of the people on death row have young children who rarely get to visit them. The other half would be used for activities during the upcoming Texas legislative session from Jan to May 2009, such as a big anti-death penalty rally at the capitol and other projects to persuade people to support abolishing the death penalty.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Photo of Greg Wright 15 Minutes After Execution

This is a photo of Greg Wright 15 minutes after his execution on Oct 30, 2008 in Texas. His friend Bente Hjortshøj is standing on the left. She wrote this caption to the photo:

"The first time we touched you Greg...you were still warm...you looked at peace...as though you were just sleeping and would wake up soon....it was sooooo hard to see you like this though you were finally free..this is just about 15 minutes after the execution...sooo surreal....BUT dearest Greg.....Me and Connie kept our promise to you and for that we are glad...but it was tougher than we thought.... we did it out of love and respect for you!! LOVE YA LOADS!!!!".
Bente Hjortshøj has given permission for the photo to be distributed around the internet, "me and Connie decided to publish all pictures to show the world the cruel and unusual punishment and its horrible consequences".

The photos are from her recent trip to Texas when she witnessed the execution of Greg Wright (website) on October 30, 2008.

"The truth doesn't matter," Wright said in an interview from death row a few days before his execution. He said he was stunned when his guilty verdict was announced. "I couldn't believe what was happening ... I am innocent."

Wright again proclaimed his innocence in his last statement at his execution, when asked if he had anything to say:
"Yes I do. There has been a lot of confusion on who done this. I know you all want closure. Donna had her Christianity in tact when she died. She never went to a drug house. John Adams lied. He went to the police and told them a story. He made deals and sold stuff to keep from going to prison. I left the house, and I left him there. My only act or involvement was not telling on him. John Adams is the one that killed Donna Vick. I took a polygraph and passed. John Adams never volunteered to take one. I have done everything in my power. Donna Vick helped me; she took me off the street. I was a truck driver; my CDL was still active. Donna gave me everything I could ask for. I helped her around the yard. I helped her around the house. She asked if there were anyone else to help. I am a Christian myself, so I told her about John Adams. We picked him up at a dope house. I did not know he was a career criminal. When we got to the house he was jonesin for drugs. He has to go to Dallas. I was in the bathroom when he attacked. I am deaf in one ear and I thought the T.V. was up too loud. I ran in to the bedroom. By the time I came in, when I tried to help her, with first aid, it was too late. The veins were cut on her throat. He stabbed her in her heart, and that's what killed her. I told John Adams, "turn yourself in or hit the high road." I owed him a favor because he pulled someone off my back. I was in a fight downtown. Two or three days later he turned on me. I have done everything to prove my innocence. Before you is an innocent man. I love my famly. I'll be waiting on ya'll. I'm finished talking."
The lethal injection was then started. He was pronounced dead at 6:20 p.m.

Grits For Breakfast, recently named by the ABA as one of the top 100 legal blogs, commented on Wright's last statement:
When you read the final statements of most executed offenders, at least those who choose to give them, they tend to express remorse, often apologizing to victim families, or else offering comfort to friends and family they're leaving behind. Wright's final statement was noteworthy because he defiantly maintained his innocence until the end, instead insisting that an informant who testified against him really did the deed.

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Amazee project of the Day: "Abolish the Death Penalty"

From the Amazee "Project of the Day" announcement for Dec 2 featured on their front page.

Put an end to the death penalty!

2 December 08 If the death penalty is just or cruel, right or wrong, has been discussed at length at least since the age of the Aufklärung (Enlightenment). For a group of Americans, the case is quite clear. The death penalty must be abolished.


Scott Cobb, who started the project Abolish the Death Penalty, is one of those Texans who stand up in the fight against the - in their eyes - inhumane punishment and who want to end it in their own home state. But, of course, this goes much further. Only 92 nations have completely stopped sentencing offenders to death, including most of Europe and the wider parts of the Americas.


Now Scott had the chance to talk about his action group on local Houston radio station KPFT, and we have the snippet (click here to listen)! He has some pretty interesting things to say, also on his use of Amazee. But most importantly, he got an opportunity to spread the word on his cause, which we support. If you feel like joining the project, please do! After all, it's Amnesty International's global action for human rights day on the 10th of December. And, last, not least, the project people want to win the Amazee bucket, which distributes 10,000 USD in January to the project with the most members. This money can then be put to good use.

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Monday, December 01, 2008

Law of Parties Reform Bill Filed in Texas Legislature

Ever since Kenneth Foster's commutation in 2007, we have been looking for a state legislator to file a bill ending the death penalty as a sentencing option for people convicted under the Law of Parties. Several state legislators wrote clemency letters on behalf of Foster and later again on behalf of Jeff Wood. Those letters criticized Texas' use of the death penalty against people who did not kill anyone but who were sentenced to death under the Law of Parties. Now, State Rep. Harold Dutton of Houston has filed HB 304, which would disallow prosecutors from seeking the death penalty in the future using the Law of Parties.

The anti-death penalty movement in Texas owes another big thank you to Rep. Dutton, who is often the first person in the Legislature to take up new criminal justice reform issues. In 2001, Dutton was the first person to file a moratorium and study commission bill. One of his moratorium bills that year made it to the floor of the Texas House and received more than 50 votes. In 2003, Dutton filed the first bill to abolish the death penalty in recent times. He has re-filed those bills each session since.

Below is the text of HB 304:

By: Dutton H.B. No. 304
A BILL TO BE ENTITLED
AN ACT
relating to the extent of a defendant's criminal responsibility for
the conduct of a co-conspirator in certain felony cases.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS:
SECTION 1. Section 1, Article 37.071, Code of Criminal
Procedure, is amended to read as follows:
Sec. 1. (a) If a defendant is found guilty in a capital
felony case in which the state does not seek the death penalty, the
judge shall sentence the defendant to life imprisonment without
parole.
(b) A defendant who is found guilty in a capital felony case
only as a party under Section 7.02(b), Penal Code, may not be
sentenced to death, and the state may not seek the death penalty in
any case in which the defendant's liability is based solely on that
section.
SECTION 2. Section 2, Article 37.0711, Code of Criminal
Procedure, is amended to read as follows:
Sec. 2. (a) If a defendant is found guilty in a case in
which the state does not seek the death penalty, the judge shall
sentence the defendant to life imprisonment.
(b) A defendant who is found guilty in a capital felony case
only as a party under Section 7.02(b), Penal Code, may not be
sentenced to death, and the state may not seek the death penalty in
any case in which the defendant's liability is based solely on that
section.
SECTION 3. The change in law made by this Act applies to a
criminal proceeding that commences on or after the effective date
of this Act. A criminal proceeding that commences before the
effective date of this Act is governed by the law in effect when the
proceeding commenced, and the former law is continued in effect for
that purpose.
SECTION 4. This Act takes effect immediately if it receives
a vote of two-thirds of all the members elected to each house, as
provided by Section 39, Article III, Texas Constitution. If this
Act does not receive the vote necessary for immediate effect, this
Act takes effect September 1, 2009.

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Live Interview on KPFT about Our Participation in Amazee.com's Membership Contest

We just did a live radio interview with KPFT in Houston about our "Abolish the Death Penalty" project on Amazee.com. It aired at 5:18 pm today, Dec 1.

Join the "Abolish the Death Penalty Project" on Amazee.com and help us win the Amazee Bucket membership contest. We could win up to $5,000 to use against the death penalty. The project with the most members by Jan 22 wins. If we win, we plan to use one-half of any prize money we win to help needy families of people on death row travel to visit their loved ones on death row. We will use the other half of the prize money to fight against the death penalty.

First visit the project page on Amazee, then you have to click on "join project" on the right hand side, then click on "register". Then to qualify as one of the members who count towards the contest, you have to upload a picture or avatar of yourself.

We were all moved by the family members who spoke at the 9th Annual March to Stop Executions in Houston, so we were thinking of how we could help them. We all know that the death penalty is reserved for the poor. There are no rich people on death row. We will use one half of any prize money we get through this contest to help family members visit their loved ones on death row. Many families have a hard time making ends meet and the extra cost of traveling long distances to visit their loved ones on death row is a great financial burden. Some of the people on death row have young children who rarely get to visit them. The other half would be used for activities during the upcoming Texas legislative session from Jan to May 2009, such as a big anti-death penalty rally at the capitol and other projects to persuade people to support abolishing the death penalty.

Thanks to Amazee for helping non-profits achieve their missions!

Here is how KPFT explains their radio station:

What is KPFT?
We're an FM radio station, situated at 90.1 on your radio. We are one of the five stations that comprise what is called the Pacifica Network, a subject we'll explain later.
Nearly 90 percent of our funding comes from individual listener-members. We have no large corporate sponsors. All too often, massive funding arrives with an agenda, not to mention all those commercials! Because of our independence from concentrated control, you can hear the difference between us and any other station in the first 10 or 15 minutes of listening. We are definitely different, and we revel in it.

The Pacifica Radio Network
In addition to being a radio station in its own right, KPFT is also an important part of the nationwide Pacifica Radio Network. Maverick broadcaster and peace activist Lewis Hill founded Pacifica Radio, in 1949. Lew Hill's dream of a truly alternative media became a reality when its flagship station, KPFA in Berkeley, went on the air as a bold, alternative challenge to the market-driven airwaves. Hill's vision created the country's first audience-supported radio station and gave birth to public broadcasting as we know it today.
Lew and Pacifica's other founders sought to create independent, noncommercial radio in the service of peace, social and racial justice, and the arts. They saw, and we see, radio as a forum to ignite the democratic spirit. For over 55 years, Pacifica has produced challenging, courageous, smart and independent programs.

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