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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2000-2009 - Looking Back on a Decade of Marching Against the Death Penalty in Texas

As we close the door on the first decade of the 21st century, it's a good time to look back at ten years of marching against the death penalty in Texas. When the death penalty is abolished in Texas, a large reason will be because of the organizing and organizing skills learned and applied by building the multi-group, diverse coalition that works each year to organize the annual march and that also works together the rest of the year on various events and campaigns around individual cases (like Kenneth Foster, Jeff Wood, Frances Newton and others) and issues including a moratorium, the Law of Parties, innocence, abolition and more. Each October since the march was first held in 2000, people from all walks of life and all parts of Texas, the U.S. and other countries have taken a day out of their year and gathered in Austin to raise their voices together and loudly express their united opposition to the death penalty. The annual march is a coming together of activists, family members of those on death row, community leaders, exonerated prisoners and all those calling for abolition.

The annual march is organized by several Texas anti-death penalty organizations, including the Austin chapter of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, Texas Moratorium Network, the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, Texas Students Against the Death Penalty, Texas Death Penalty Education and Resource Center and Kids Against the Death Penalty.

The first march was called the “March on the Mansion” and was held on October 15, 2000. One of the original ideas for the march came in emails sent by Scott Cobb when he was studying abroad in Germany in the summer of 2000. He had read online about several members of the Austin chapter of Campaign to End the Death Penalty who had been arrested at the Governor's Mansion protesting the upcoming execution of Shaka Sankofa (Gary Graham). Scott emailed some of the CEDP members mentioned in the news article who had been arrested as well as others suggesting a march before the presidential election that November and a group of people back in Austin started organizing for the first march, which was attended by about 750 people. A picture of the first march appeared in the New York Times.
The second and third marches were called “March for a Moratorium” and were held on October 27, 2001 and October 12, 2002. In 2003, the march name changed to “March to Stop Executions”. Clarence Brandley, who had been exonerated and released from death row in 1990 after spending nine years there, spoke at the 2003 march, saying “I was always wishing and hoping that someone would just look at the evidence and the facts, because the evidence was clear that I did not commit the crime.” The “5th Annual March to Stop Executions” was on October 30, 2004. The “6th Annual March to Stop Executions” was held October 29, 2005 in conjunction with the 2005 National Conference of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, which came to Austin at the suggestion of the march organizers, who wrote an application to NCADP for them to hold the conference in Austin and organized a successful grassroots campaign to convince NCADP to come to Austin that year.
The “7th Annual March to Stop Executions”, which was sponsored by a record number of 50 organizations, was held October 28, 2006 and included family members of Carlos De Luna and Cameron Todd Willingham, who both had been the subject of separate investigations by The Chicago Tribune that concluded they were probably innocent people executed by Texas. Standing outside the gates of the Texas Governor’s Mansion with hundreds of supporters, the families of Willingham and De Luna delivered separate letters to Governor Perry asking him to stop executions and investigate the cases of Willingham and De Luna to determine if they were wrongfully executed. After DPS troopers refused to take the letters, Mary Arredondo, sister of Carlos De Luna, and Eugenia Willingham, stepmother of Todd, dropped them through the gate of the governor’s mansion and left them lying on the walkway leading to the main door.
The “8th Annual March to Stop Executions” was held in Houston on October 27. 2007. The “9th Annual March to Stop Executions” was October 25, 2008 in Houston. For the Houston marches, the Houston-based Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement were the main organizers. They held the Houston marches in one of Houston's inner-city neighborhoods and ended the marches at the S.H.A.P.E community center.
The 2009 march was the 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty and was the biggest march since 2000 and also received probably the most media coverage since 2000, including articles in every major newspaper in Texas and a large photograph on the front page of the Dallas Morning News.
Thank you to everyone who has ever attended, supported or helped organize the annual march in Texas. Because of your passion and commitment to building a more just society, the death penalty will one day be abolished in Texas.

If you read this post on Facebook and the photos below are not visible, click here to see them.
Photos from the 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty - October 24, 2009 Photo Credit Jennifer Ross.

Below are photos from the 1st March on the Mansion in 2000.


Below are photos from the 2nd March in 2001



Below are photos from the 3rd March in 2002



Below are photos from the 4th March in 2003



Below are photos from the 5th March in 2004



Below are photos from the 6th March in 2005



Below are photos from the 7th March in 2006



Below are photos from the 8th March in 2007



Below are photos from the 9th March in 2008





If you can't seen the videos below, click here to watch them on the march website.

10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty in Austin (2009)













Promotional Video for 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty (2009)

Please spread this to your friends on your social networks. If you have a blog or website you can embed it on your sites.



9th Annual March in Houston (2008)



8th Annual March in Houston (2007) Videos by StopExecutionsNow!









More 8th Annual March (2007) videos by CapnJackSorrow











6th Annual March in Austin (2005)
"A Voice from Death Row" produced by Austin filmmaker Nathan Christ



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Monday, December 28, 2009

Death Sentences Decline, Life Without Parole Sentences Rising, Creating New Kind of Condemned Person

The Houston Chronicle reports that as death sentences have decline, life without parole sentences have risen. People sentenced to life without parole are sentenced to die in prison, so they constitute a new kind of condemned person. The Texas Life Without Parole bill was passed in 2005. The author of the bill wanted to have three options in capital cases, 1) death, 2) life without parole, and 3) life with the possibility of parole after 40 years; however conservatives and Republicans refused to support the bill unless the possibility of parole after 40 years was removed from the bill. That left only two options, death and life without parole.


The article also points out that Bexar (San Antonio) and Tarrant County (Fort Worth) now send more people to death row than Harris County.



Exceprts: 

Bexar and Tarrant each sent eight newly convicted killers to death row in the four years since the law took effect, state prison data show. In the same period, larger Harris and Dallas counties sent six apiece, based on the Chronicle's analysis of Texas Department of Criminal Justice death row arrivals.
and
No one disputes Texas' life-without-parole law has had another, more measurable impact.

Welcome to ‘life row'

Already, the 4-year-old law has created a kind of “life row” — a perpetual population of convicted killers and accomplices who can never win reductions in their sentence regardless of behavior, youth , mental deficiency or other factors. This group appears to be growing faster than death row itself. Texas' death row population stands at 332, TDCJ data show. As of Nov. 30, a total of 226 inmates were serving life without parole.

Read the full article here.

JURIES DECIDED THESE NINE DESERVE TO DIE

Nine people were sentenced to death in Texas in 2009:

Jerry Martin: Walker County (tried in Leon County). Killed a 59-year-old prison guard.
Fabian Hernandez: El Paso County. Killed ex-wife and her friend.
Demontrell Miller: Smith County. Fatally beat his girlfriend's 2-year-old son.
Paul Devoe: Travis County. Murdered two women as part of a six-person, two-state homicidal rampage.
James Broadnax: Dallas County. Shot and killed two men.
Armando Leza: Bexar County. Robbed and killed a disabled woman.
Christian Olsen: Brazos County. Broke into a home and murdered a woman with a metal bar.
Erick Davila: Tarrant County. Opened fire at a birthday party, killing a 5-year-old girl and her grandmother.
Raul Cortez: Collin County. Killed a family of four in a home invasion.

Sources: Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the Death Penalty Information Center, news reports and interviews.

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Friday, December 25, 2009

David Grann's article on Todd Willingham was the "most powerful essay" of 2009


David Brooks of the New York Times says that David Grann's article on Todd Willingham was the "most powerful essay" he read all year and worthy of a Sidney Award. Read his entire article "The Sidney Awards".

Every year, I give out Sidney Awards to the best magazine essays of the year. In an age of zipless, electronic media, the idea is to celebrate (and provide online links to) long-form articles that have narrative drive and social impact.
and
The most powerful essay I read this year was David Grann’s “Trial by Fire” in The New Yorker. Grann investigated the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004 for murdering his three children by setting their house on fire.

In the first part of the essay, Grann lays out the evidence that led to Willingham’s conviction: the marks on the floor and walls that suggested that a fire accelerant had been splashed around; the distinct smoke patterns suggesting arson; the fact that Willingham was able to flee the house barefoot without burning his feet.

Then, in the rest of the essay, Grann raises grave doubts about that evidence. He tells the story of a few people who looked into the matter, found a miscarriage of justice and then had their arguments ignored as Willingham was put to death. Grann painstakingly describes how bogus science may have swayed the system to kill an innocent man, but at the core of the piece there are the complex relationships that grew up around a man convicted of burning his children. If you can still support the death penalty after reading this piece, you have stronger convictions than I do.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Death Penalty Information Center Issues Annual Report: Only Nine Death Sentences in Texas in 2009


The Death Penalty Information Center released the “The Death Penalty in 2009: Year End Report” on December 18, noting that the country is expected to finish 2009 with the fewest death sentences since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Eleven states considered abolishing the death penalty this year, a significant increase in legislative activity from previous years, as the high costs and lack of measurable benefits associated with this punishment troubled lawmakers.

“The annual number of death sentences in the U.S. has dropped for seven straight years and is 60% less than in the 1990s,” said Richard Dieter, the report’s author and DPIC’s executive director. “In the last two years, three states have abolished capital punishment and a growing number of states are asking whether it's worth keeping.  This entire decade has been marked by a declining use of the death penalty."  There were 106 death sentences in 2009 compared with a high of 328 in 1994.
New Mexico became the 15th state to abolish the death penalty, and 9 men who were sentenced to death were exonerated in 2009, the second highest number of exonerations since the death penalty was reinstated.  The total number of exonerations since 1973 has now reached 139.
(Read “The Death Penalty in 2009: Year End Report” hereDec. 18, 2009.  DPIC's press release may be read here.  See also previous DPIC Reports.


CNN has this report:



Washington (CNN) -- Use of capital punishment by states continues its steady decline, with fewer death sentences handed down in 2009 than any year since the death penalty was reinstated by the Supreme Court in 1976.

Year-end figures released Friday by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) show 11 states are now considering abolishing executions, with many legislators citing high costs associated with incarcerating and handling often decades-long appeals by death row inmates.

"The annual number of death sentences in the U.S. has dropped for seven straight years," said Richard Dieter, the report's author and DPIC's executive director. "In the last two years, three states have abolished capital punishment and a growing number of states are asking whether it's worth keeping. This entire decade has been marked by a declining use of the death penalty."

DPIC is a nonpolitical group that provides facts and analysis, while opposing capital punishment as impractical and ineffective.

There were 106 death sentences issued in 2009, compared with a high of 328 in 1994. Death sentences have dropped 63 percent since 2000, when there were 235 issued.

Fifty-two inmates were executed this year in 11 states. The last was Matthew Wrinkles on December 11 in Indiana. He was convicted of murdering his wife and two family members 15 years ago.

Late Wednesday, Georgia issued a stay of execution for Carlton Gary. Known as the "Columbus Strangler," he was convicted of murdering three women with their own stockings and was suspected of four other similar killings. He has been given more time to file further appeals.

As in previous years, Texas in 2009 led the states in executions, with 24 -- four times as many as the next-highest, Alabama. Among high-profile cases:

-- John Allen Muhammad, convicted as the so-called "Beltway Sniper," responsible for at least 10 killings in the sniper-style killings around the Washington, D.C. area and three other states in 2002. He was executed in Virginia in November.

-- Kenneth Biros, who became the first person executed in the U.S. using a single-drug lethal injection. A three-drug cocktail has been used nationwide for years by corrections officials, but no complications were reported with the new method. He was executed in Ohio on December 8.

Executions had been delayed in Ohio this fall, after the botched execution attempt of Romell Broom, which raised serious questions about the state's lethal injection procedures. Those procedures were changed but Broom remains on death row. He is appealing his sentence.

Executions are on hold in California, Maryland, Kentucky and the federal system, pending challenges to lethal injection procedures. Earlier in the year, Nebraska became the last death penalty state to formally switch over to lethal injection as the main form of capital punishment.

The legislature had abandoned electrocution, which had been the sole method, but final protocols have yet to be approved for future executions.

Nine men who had been sentenced to death were exonerated and freed in 2009, most after new DNA or other forensic testing cleared them, or raised doubts their culpability. That is the second highest total since the death penalty was reinstated 33 years ago.

In Georgia, supporters of Troy Davis have urged retesting of forensic evidence to prove his innocence in the 1989 murder of a Savannah police officer. The Supreme Court in August granted a stay and ordered a federal court to re-examine his claims. The high court said the risk of putting a potentially innocent man to death "provides adequate justification" for another evidentiary hearing.

New Mexico in March became the 15th state to abolish capital punishment, although two inmates still remain on death row there.

New Hampshire's House of Representatives voted to abolish lethal injection, which would currently affect only one inmate on the state's death row. The measure is pending in the state Senate, but the governor has vowed to veto any bill. An execution has not been conducted there in 70 years, when hanging was the preferred method.
Thirty-five states still have the death penalty.

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Monday, December 07, 2009

December 7, 1982: Texas Conducted First Execution After 18 Year Moratorium

Twenty seven years ago today, on December 7, 1982 in Huntsville, the state of Texas carried out its first execution since 1964. Charlie Brooks was the first person executed in Texas after 18 years with no executions. The death penalty had been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972 and then allowed again in a 1976 decision. Charlie Brooks was an African-American. In 1964, Texas had executed five people, all of them were African-Americans.

Since that first Texas execution in 1982, there have been a total of 447 executions in Texas, 24 this year. Executions in Huntsville had begun on February 8, 1924, when five people were executed in the state's new electric chair in one night, all five were African-Americans. From 1924 to 1964, Texas executed 361 people by electric chair - 63.4% were African-American. It took 40 years from 1924 to 1964 for the state to execute 361 people. In the 27 years since 1982, Texas has executed 447 people, so executions have increased significantly since the early to mid-20th century. 208 of those 447 executions were conducted since Rick Perry became governor in 2000.

Prior to 1924, executions had been carried out by hanging in the counties where the people were convicted.

Five executions are already scheduled in Texas for 2010, including two in January.

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Saturday, December 05, 2009

John Holbrook Interviewed by World Radio Switzerland About Death Row Photographs

Last May, TMN helped John Holbrook bring his exhibit of photos of people on Texas death row to the Texas state capitol. Now, his exhibit is on tour. Here is an interview he did on a Swiss radio station.

Texans may have a popular image of gun-loving death penalty advocates, but private investigator-turned-photographer John Holbrook is a long way from that stereotype. He believes passionately the death penalty should be abolished and is currently touring the world with his collection of photos featuring death row inmates. WRS’s Conor Lennon met with him yesterday and asked where his certainty on the issue comes from:

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

Texas Executes 24th and Last Person for 2009; Almost 50 Percent of All U.S. Executions in U.S. in 2009 Conducted by Texas

Bobby Wayne Woods, 44, was executed Thursday, December 3, 2009 in Huntsville, Texas. He was the 24th person executed in Texas in 2009, the 208th executed since Rick Perry became governor and the 447th executed in Texas since 1982. There have been, so far, 49 executions in the U.S. in 2009; Texas conducted 49 percent of those 2009 executions. There are no more executions scheduled in Texas in 2009. Five executions are already scheduled in Texas for 2010, including two in January.

From the AP:

A 44-year-old Texas man has been executed for raping and murdering an 11-year-old girl, despite his attorneys' pleas that he was too mentally impaired to qualify for capital punishment.

Bobby Wayne Woods received lethal injection Thursday evening moments after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to halt his execution. His lawyers had argued Woods was mentally impaired, making him ineligible for execution, and that previous appeals to spare Woods' life were unsuccessful because of shoddy work by his lawyer at the time.

Woods was convicted of killing Sarah Patterson. She and her 9-year-old brother were snatched from their home near Fort Worth in April 1997. Her brother was beaten and left for dead but survived to testify against Woods.

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Call Governor Perry to Protest Today's Execution of Bobby Woods in Texas

Call Texas Governor Rick Perry and leave a voice message at 512 463 1782 or email him through his website at http://governor.state.tx.us/contact to protest today's scheduled execution of Bobby Woods, whose execution should be stayed and commuted to life because of his mental retardation.

If Wood is executed, he will be the 24th person executed in 2009 in Texas and the 49th execution in Texas in 2009, which means Texas will have conducted 49 percent of all executions in the U.S. so far this year.

Read more in the article "Video from Death Row: Possibly Retarded Prisoner Faces Execution" by Renee Feltz in the Texas Observer:

The Texas State Board of Pardons and Paroles on Tuesday rejected clemency for Bobby Wayne Woods, a man who may be mentally retarded. The Texas Observer has been following his appeal because his attorney, now disqualified from handling death penalty cases, failed to provide Woods with adequate legal council. There is also evidence that Woods is not fit to be executed under a 2002 Supreme Court ruling that bans the execution of mentally retarded prisoners. The videos below were provided to the parole board, but they decided to allow the execution to go forward. His new attorney, Maurie Levin, advises that she has filed an appeal to the Supreme Court that also includes the videos as evidence of Woods' limited capacity. If the Supreme Court rejects the appeal, Woods is scheduled to die on Dec. 3.

The Observer will continue to update this site as the case develops.



EARLIER: When Texas reopens its execution chamber after a Thanksgiving break, the first man set to die may be mentally retarded. A 2002 Supreme Court ruling bans the execution of mentally retarded prisoners. But after years of being represented by a discredited attorney who ruined any chance for an appeal based on his disabilities, the fate of Bobby Wayne Woods rests with the state Board of Pardons and Paroles which can recommend clemency or a reprieve to Gov. Perry. "It's a long shot at best," Woods' attorney Maurie Levin says of the clemency request, "but I think it's very important to do."

Test scores during his childhood and incarceration show Bobby Woods has an IQ that hovers at or below 70 — the cut-off point for mental retardation. He reads at a second grade level and writes childlike letters — many of which are photocopied and presented as evidence in his clemency request. Levin asked the board to grant a 60-day reprieve so that she can produce a videotape of Woods "to adequately present a full picture of his limitations." She has sued Texas prison officials over their refusal to allow her to record such a video herself. The Texas Observer captured Woods on tape last week during an on-camera interview, and now you can watch the video that Levin wants the clemency board to see.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

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Monday, November 30, 2009

Enter Drawing to Win a Phone Call from Sister Helen Prejean

Texas Moratorium Network is having a drawing for someone to win a phone call from Sister Helen Prejean, author of "Dead Man Walking" and one of the world's leading advocates for abolishing the death penalty. Invite your friends to become a fan of the Texas Moratorium Network Facebook page and to enter the drawing, which will be held on December 15. It is free to enter.

Click here to enter the drawing.

The second place prize is a signed copy of the book "Mortal Justice: A True Story of Murder and Vindication" by Jeanette Popp and Wanda Evans, which tells the story of Jeanette's daughter Nancy's murder, the wrongful conviction of two innocent men Chris Ochoa and Richard Danziger, their eventual exoneration, the subsequent conviction of the real killer, and Jeanette's long activism against the death penalty, including a jailhouse meeting with the real killer and her successful efforts to prevent him from being sentenced to death.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Governor Perry Continues to Play Politics with Death Penalty Issue By Refusing to Accept Recommendation of BPP for Clemency for Robert Thompson

"Rick Perry continues to play politics with the death penalty. He should have accepted the recommendation of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to commute the death sentence of Robert Thompson. It would not surprise me if Rick Perry one day replaces the members of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles who voted in favor of clemency for Thompson, just like he replaced his own appointees on the Texas Forensic Science Commission in the midst of their investigation into the Todd Willingham case. Rick Perry is using the death penalty issue to endear himself to right-wing voters in the upcoming Republican primary, but his actions do not reflect the priorities of mainstream Texans who are increasingly concerned about the fairness of the Texas death penalty system", said Scott Cobb of Texas Moratorium Network.

Cobb continued, "In an Orwellian application of language repurposing, Governor Rick Perry and many of his supporters would like the public to believe that people sentenced to death under the Law of Parties are "killers", but a "killer" is "one who kills", not "one whose accomplice killed". People such as Jeff Wood and Kenneth Foster, Jr, are not killers. They never killed anyone and in a fair system of justice, they should never have received death sentences".

There is widespread support in Texas for ending the practice of sentencing people to death under the law of parties. In the last session of the Texas Legislature, the Texas House of Representatives passed a bill (HB 2267 by Terri Hodge) that would have banned executions of people convicted solely under the Law of Parties. The Law of Parties provision of HB 2267 was taken out of the bill in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee after Governor Perry threatened to veto it if the bill was sent to him in the same form that it had passed the House. The revised version, which would have only required separate trials for co-defendants in capital trials, then died in the Senate when it did not come up for a vote on the floor before the deadline.

Two family members of a person on death row who was sentenced to death under the Law of Parties issued statements regarding Rick Perry's refusal to accept the recommendation of clemency for Robert Thompson. Jeff Wood remains on death row in Texas after receiving a stay in 2008 from a federal judge.

Terri Been, whose brother Jeff Wood is on Texas death row convicted under the Law of Parties said "I must say that I was surprised to hear that the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles grew a conscious and voted in favor of clemency for Robert Thompson, since they unanimously voted for the execution of my brother, Jeff Wood, who was also convicted under the law of parties despite the fact that he is factually innocent of murder. However, I was not surprised to hear Perry didn’t jump on board the clemency train as the man has no sense of true justice. After all, it was Perry who killed House Bill 2267, which would have ended the death penalty as a sentencing option for those who never committed murder. It is a very sad day, and I grieve not only for Robert Thompson, his family and for the family of the victim killed by Thompson's accomplice, but I grieve for the lack of hope that I feel because of Governor Perry’s latest decision. To kill is wrong, but to kill someone who was not convicted of actually killing anyone is INJUSTICE in the simplest form".

Gavin Been, nephew of Jeff Wood and president of Kids Against the Death Penalty said, "KADP members mourn for Robert Thompson and for the injustice taking place in Texas today. Governor Perry strikes again by condemning another person to death who is factually innocent of murder, and we are appalled that our fellow citizens continue to turn a blind eye to Perry’s mismanagement of power. We know that Texans favor “tough on crime” laws, but we were taught that laws and punishment were supposed to be equal and fair. How is it fair that people like, Jeff Wood, or in this case Robert Thompson, who are factually innocent of murder, should face execution while there are REPEAT offenders of murder and rape in general population, who have the right to be paroled, and are given a second chance? To sentence a person to death who never committed a murder is NOT justice; it is murder itself, and Mr. Perry should be ashamed of himself for allowing another murder to take place".

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Breaking News: Board of Pardons and Paroles Recommends that Governor Perry Commutes Death Sentence of Robert Thompson

Call the Governor and leave a voice message at 512 463 1782 or email him through his website at http://governor.state.tx.us/contact. Urge him to accept the recommendation of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant Robert Thompson clemency and commute his sentence to life. The execution is currently scheduled for Thursday, November 19.


From the Houston Chronicle:

The state pardons board today recommended that Houston killer Robert Thompson's scheduled Thursday execution be commuted to life in prison after his lawyer successfully argued that he was not the triggerman in a December 1996 convenience store robbery-murder.

Gov. Rick Perry, who has only once in his tenure as chief executive voluntarily commuted a death sentence, was expected to rule on the case tonight or tomorrow.

“I'm too scared to be optimistic,” said Thompson's attorney Pat McCann, “but Perry has been receptive to law of parties cases.”

Thompson was sentenced to death in a law of parties case stemming from the slaying of Mansoor Rahim in a Dec. 5, 1996, robbery of a Braeswood Boulevard convenience store. Thompson's partner in the crime, Sammy Butler, fired the fatal shot, but was sentenced only to life in prison.

Under the state's law of parties, all participants in a crime are held fully responsible and can be assessed the death penalty.

Perry's office did not immediately respond to queries about when the governor might decide the case, but McCann said the governor's legal counsel advised him a decision likely would come tonight or tomorrow.

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Attorneys File motion Asking Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Sharon Keller be recused from any participation in Stay Request of Danielle Simpson

From the Palestine Texas Herald Press:

Late Tuesday afternoon, Simpson's attorneys David R. Dow and Katherine C. Black filed a postconviction writ of habeas corpus; a motion for a stay of execution; and a motion asking Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Sharon Keller be recused from any participation in the case.

Dow and Black are attorneys for the Texas Defender Service and their motion on Simpson's behalf alleges the judge "has made disparaging statements about TDS" in the past, which they say compromises "her ability to rule impartially in a case involving a party represented by the TDS."
From the Houston Chronicle:
A condemned prisoner who volunteered for execution but in recent weeks changed his mind hoped a court would spare him from a trip to the Texas death chamber Wednesday evening.

Danielle Simpson, 30, was set to die for the abduction-slaying of an 84-year-old east Texas woman who was weighted down with a cinder block and thrown into a river.
Simpson this year won approval from a federal court that he was competent to decide to drop his appeals. Then he reversed himself and allowed lawyers to try to save him from lethal injection.

He'd be the 22nd Texas prisoner to die this year.

Simpson told The Associated Press earlier this month from death row he was innocent, it wasn't his choice to volunteer for execution and Texas prisons were "pitiful."

He was condemned for the murder of Geraldine Davidson, a former school teacher and church organist abducted nearly 10 years ago during a burglary of her home in Palestine, about 100 miles southeast of Dallas.

Attorneys representing him argued to the federal courts Simpson is mentally impaired, incapable of deciding whether to drop his appeals and offered his repeated reversals as proof.

They also wanted permission to appeal a lower court's determination that Simpson is not mentally impaired and challenged the elimination of two black people from consideration to serve on Simpson's trial jury. Simpson is black. There were no blacks on the jury that convicted him and decided he should be put to death.
Simpson earlier sent a federal court a handwritten motion in which he said he was "tired of being in a institution that's unjust, degrading, and corrupted" and was ready to die.

A federal judge found Simpson had "a mental disease, disorder or defect" but was able to understand his legal position and competent to choose to die.

Don't let Texas execute someone without the Governor receiving phone calls or emails protesting the execution. In the past, we have done public information requests and discovered that for some executions, very few people call to protest, so it is important to call every time. They keep a tally. Call the Governor and leave a voice message at 512 463 1782 or email him through his website at http://governor.state.tx.us/contact.

Members of various groups, including Texas Moratorium Network, Students Against the Death Penalty, Campaign to the End the Death Penalty, Kids Against the Death Penalty and the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement participate in vigils and protests on the day of each execution in Texas. The protests are held in various cities, including Huntsville and Austin. The protest in Austin is at 5:30 pm on the sidewalk in front of the Texas Capitol facing Congress Avenue at 11th Street.

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Protest today's scheduled execution in Texas of Danielle Simpson

Don't let Texas execute someone without the Governor receiving phone calls or emails protesting the execution. In the past, we have done public information requests and discovered that for some executions, very few people call to protest, so it is important to call every time. They keep a tally. Call the Governor and leave a voice message at 512 463 1782 or email him through his website at http://governor.state.tx.us/contact.

From the Houston Chronicle:

A condemned prisoner who volunteered for execution but in recent weeks changed his mind hoped a court would spare him from a trip to the Texas death chamber Wednesday evening.

Danielle Simpson, 30, was set to die for the abduction-slaying of an 84-year-old east Texas woman who was weighted down with a cinder block and thrown into a river.
Simpson this year won approval from a federal court that he was competent to decide to drop his appeals. Then he reversed himself and allowed lawyers to try to save him from lethal injection.

He'd be the 22nd Texas prisoner to die this year.

Simpson told The Associated Press earlier this month from death row he was innocent, it wasn't his choice to volunteer for execution and Texas prisons were "pitiful."

He was condemned for the murder of Geraldine Davidson, a former school teacher and church organist abducted nearly 10 years ago during a burglary of her home in Palestine, about 100 miles southeast of Dallas.

Attorneys representing him argued to the federal courts Simpson is mentally impaired, incapable of deciding whether to drop his appeals and offered his repeated reversals as proof.

They also wanted permission to appeal a lower court's determination that Simpson is not mentally impaired and challenged the elimination of two black people from consideration to serve on Simpson's trial jury. Simpson is black. There were no blacks on the jury that convicted him and decided he should be put to death.
Simpson earlier sent a federal court a handwritten motion in which he said he was "tired of being in a institution that's unjust, degrading, and corrupted" and was ready to die.

A federal judge found Simpson had "a mental disease, disorder or defect" but was able to understand his legal position and competent to choose to die.

Members of various groups, including Texas Moratorium Network, Students Against the Death Penalty, Campaign to the End the Death Penalty, Kids Against the Death Penalty and the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement participate in vigils and protests on the day of each execution in Texas. The protests are held in various cities, including Huntsville and Austin. The protest in Austin is at 5:30 pm on the sidewalk in front of the Texas Capitol facing Congress Avenue at 11th Street.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Today's scheduled execution of Gerald Eldridge has been stayed

From the Houston Chronicle:
Gerald Eldridge had eaten most of his final meal of pancakes, peanut butter, baked potato and chocolate milk this afternoon when a Houston federal court stayed his execution -- just two hours before he was to be put to death.

Eldridge, 45, had been condemned for the January 1993 murders of his ex-girlfriend Cynthia Bogany, 28, and her 9-year-old daughter, Chirrisa.

Prison spokesman Jason Clark said Eldridge was talking on the telephone with a relative when he was told of the stay.

"He became very emotional," Clark said. Prison authorities were preparing to return him to death row in nearby Livingston.

U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal granted Eldridge a 90-day stay and authorized expenditure of $7,500 for further psychiatric examinations.

Eldridge’s attorney, Lee Wilson of Houston, had argued in his appeal that the killer might be seriously mentally ill and incompetent to be executed. Under state law, a person must understand that he will be executed and why before he legally can be put to death.



Gerald Cornelius Eldridge, who is mentally ill and has an IQ of 72, was scheduled for execution today but received a stay. Eldridge, 45, was sentenced to death for the 1993 shooting deaths of his former girlfriend, Cynthia Bogany and her nine-year old daughter Chirissa in Houston.



The second is a man named Danielle Simpson, sentenced to death for the murder of 84-year old Geraldine Davidson.



On Thursday, Robert Thompson is scheduled for execution. He was convicted and sentenced to death under the Law of Parties, even though it was his accomplice who fired the bullet that killed the victim. The accomplice was sentenced to life.

Call Governor Perry at 512 463 1782 to protest these executions or contact Perry by email through his website.

Members of various groups, including Texas Moratorium Network, Students Against the Death Penalty, Campaign to the End the Death Penalty, Kids Against the Death Penalty and the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement participate in vigils and protests on the day of each execution in Texas. The protests are held in various cities, including Huntsville and Austin. The protest in Austin is at 5:30 pm on the sidewalk in front of the Texas Capitol facing Congress Avenue at 11th Street.

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Three Executions in Three Days in Texas, Starting Today

Texas is set to execute three people in three days starting today, November 17.



The first is Gerald Cornelius Eldridge, who is mentally ill and has an IQ of 72. Eldridge, 45, was sentenced to death for the 1993 shooting deaths of his former girlfriend, Cynthia Bogany and her nine-year old daughter Chirissa in Houston.



The second is a man named Danielle Simpson, sentenced to death for the murder of 84-year old Geraldine Davidson.



On Thursday, Robert Thompson is scheduled for execution. He was convicted and sentenced to death under the Law of Parties, even though it was his accomplice who fired the bullet that killed the victim. The accomplice was sentenced to life.

Call Governor Perry at 512 463 1782 to protest these executions or contact Perry by email through his website.

Members of various groups, including Texas Moratorium Network, Students Against the Death Penalty, Campaign to the End the Death Penalty, Kids Against the Death Penalty and the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement participate in vigils and protests on the day of each execution in Texas. The protests are held in various cities, including Huntsville and Austin. The protest in Austin is at 5:30 pm on the sidewalk in front of the Texas Capitol facing Congress Avenue at 11th Street.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Texas Today Executed 21st Person in 2009, 205th Under Governor Rick Perry and 444th Since 1982

Yosvanis "El Cubano" Valle, 34, was executed Tuesday, November 10, 2009 in Huntsville, Texas. He was the 21st person executed in Texas in 2009, the 205th executed since Rick Perry became governor and the 444th executed in Texas since 1982.

There are three more executions scheduled in Texas next week and one in December.

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21st Execution of 2009 Today in Texas

Cuban native Yosvanis Valle, 34, is set for lethal injection this evening in Huntsville for Junco’s robbery and slaying. He would become the 21st prisoner executed this year in Texas.

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to review Valle’s case this year. His appeals exhausted, his lawyers lost a petition last week to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles asking that Valle’s death sentence be commuted to life in prison.

"Nothing else remains for us to do," attorney Roland Moore said.


Call Governor Perry at 512 463 1782 to protest this execution or contact Perry by email through his website.

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John Bradley's Use of Misinformation to Push His Political Agenda

Today, John Bradley, the new chair of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, is scheduled to testify to the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice. The question is whether Bradley's testimony to the committee or any comments he gives to the media can be trusted. Based on the statements he gave to the media during the last session of the Texas Legislature regarding the Law of Parties bill, Bradley seems to be comfortable using hyperbole if not outright propaganda-like misinformation to push his own political agenda.

In the last session of the Texas Legislature, the Texas House of Representatives passed a bill (HB 2267) that would have banned executions of people convicted solely under the Law of Parties. The Law of Parties provision of HB 2267 was taken out of the bill in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee after Governor Perry threatened to veto it if the bill was sent to him in the same form that it had passed the House. The revised version, which would have only required separate trials for co-defendants in capital trials, then died in the Senate when it did not come up for a vote on the floor before the deadline.

The reason for TMN's concern was a quote in the Austin American Statesman from Williamson County Attorney John Bradley. He said in the Austin American-Statesman: "To exempt all defendants in capital cases because they didn't pull the trigger "is irrational," said Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley. "Under that reasoning, Hitler, Osama bin Laden and Charles Manson could never get the death penalty. You have to look at the facts of each case ... whether their participation merits holding them culpable".

The problem with Bradley's comments is that people like Hitler, Manson and Osama bin Laden would not have been prosecuted under Section 7.02(b) of Texas' Law of Parties, which is the section that would have been affected by HB 2267. Furthermore, for those people who are and would continue to be prosecuted under section 7.02 (b) (again not Hitler, Manson or bin Laden), HB 2267 would still have held them culpable, it just would have limited the maximum punishment for non-killers convicted solely under that section to life in prison without parole.

HB 2267 said

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.

Bradley's statement was one of the most absurd, irresponsible comments by an elected legal professional trying to justify a political agenda that we have ever heard.

The Law of Parties in section 7.02 (b) says "If, in the attempt to carry out a conspiracy to commit one felony, another felony is committed by one of the conspirators, all conspirators are guilty of the felony actually committed, though having no intent to commit it, if the offense was committed in furtherance of the unlawful purpose and was one that should have been anticipated as a result of the carrying out of the conspiracy".

That section, together with Article 37.0711 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, allows the state to prosecute and sentence to death people who have no intent to kill and who in fact do not kill anyone, people like Kenneth Foster, Jr and Jeff Wood.

Section 7.02 (b) would not have applied to Hitler, Manson or bin Laden because those three did not conspire to commit one felony such as robbery and then someone was killed during the course of the robbery. Manson, Hitler and bin Laden conspired to commit murder, so they could have been prosecuted under other sections of the Law of Parties statute that would have remained unchanged by HB 2267. In fact, section 7.02 would have also remained unchanged under HB 2267, so people could still have been convicted under that section. They just would have received life without parole instead of death.

Law of Parties cases are very rare. There have been only 3 Law of Parties executions in Texas out of the total of 443 executions, which is less than one percent.

"Misinformation given out by an elected county attorney like John Bradley to push his political agenda is appalling. Bradley's past propaganda-like misinformation regarding the Law of Parties brings the reliability and trustworthiness of his testimony in today's hearing into question. The people of Texas should be concerned whether Bradley can be trusted to conduct an unbiased investigation into the scientific validity of the arson investigation and analysis methods used by prosecutors to convict and execute Todd Willingham", said Scott Cobb of Texas Moratorium Network.

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