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.


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.
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.


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.
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 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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