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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Report on 1st Planning Meeting for 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty

Last night we had the first planning meeting for this year's anti-death penalty march. The march is sponsored by several anti-death penalty groups working together as a coalition. The first decision we made was to name the event the "10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty". We also decided to hold the event on October 24 at the Capitol in Austin and to march down Congress Avenue and then return to the Capitol.


The next planning meeting is August 12 at 7.



Watch more clips of the meeting on Justin.tv


Here is some recorded video of the first meeting for the 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty. This was a test of the live streaming system on justin.tv. It worked fairly well, except the sound is a little low, so we need a better mic next time. We plan to have a live stream of the speakers at the actual march on Oct 24. There were about 15 people at the meeting, some of them were behind the camera, so they aren't in the video.


Each October since 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 opposition to the death penalty. The march started in Austin in 2000. In 2007 and 2008, the march was held in Houston. This year, it is coming back to Austin.

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 and Kids Against the Death Penalty. If your organization would like to be a co-sponsor of the 10th Annual March, contact any of the organizations listed above and let them know, so we can list you in future announcements.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

First Planning Meeting for 10th Annual March to Stop Executions Wednesday July 29

The first organizing meeting to plan the 10th Annual March to Stop Executions will be held this Wednesday in Austin. Everyone is welcome to attend. Bring your ideas to make this year's march a great success. The annual march is the time for everyone who opposes the Texas death penalty to work together and loudly raise our voices to end executions.


Date:
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Time:
7:00pm - 8:30pm
Location:
Carver Library
Street:
1161 Angelina Street
City/Town:
Austin, TX
The 10th Annual March to Stop Executions will be held in Austin on October 24, 2009. Each October since 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 opposition to the death penalty. The march started in Austin in 2000. In 2007 and 2008, the march was held in Houston. This year, it is coming back to Austin.

The photo above, which appeared in the New York Times, is from the 1st march in 2000.

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 and Kids Against the Death Penalty. If your organization would like to be a co-sponsor of the 10th Annual March, contact any of the organizations listed above and let them know, so we can list you in future announcements.

The first march was called the "March on the Mansion" and was held on October 15, 2000. 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.

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.

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Media Notices That Texas Legislature Created Office of Capital Writs

We have been wondering when the press would notice that last session the Texas Legislature created a new office to handle state habeas corpus appeals in death penalty cases. We mentioned it on the TMN blog on June 1, but none of the mainstream media wrote about it until yesterday. Now, about two months after the session ended, the San Antonio Express News published an article on it yesterday:

The law was inspired by a series of stories about Texas inmates who lost crucial appeals after court-appointed attorneys missed deadlines or filed only so-called “skeletal” writs — documents with little information often copied from other cases. It represents a significant reform for Texas, one of the only capital punishment states that lack a public defender to oversee key death row appeals known as state writs of habeas corpus.

The office, with an annual budget of about $1 million and a staff of nine, won't open soon enough to help any of the inmates whose appellate rights were squandered recently.

“Better late than never,” said Juan Castillo, one of four death row inmates whose state appeals were never filed by the San Antonio attorney assigned to represent them. “This is a start. There's a lot of cases” that have been botched.

Ellis first introduced the bill in 2007 in response to reports about how death row inmates' lawyers had mismanaged appeals. But the bill was blocked then by last-minute lobbying from Harris County's former district attorney.

In the aftermath, appellate mistakes continued. The Houston Chronicle reported earlier this year that three attorneys had repeatedly blown state or federal appellate deadlines for their death row clients, effectively surrendering their clients' rights to appeal. The Court of Criminal Appeals recently found two attorneys in contempt of court for their shoddy work, including Castillo's lawyer, Suzanne Kramer, and referred them to the State Bar of Texas for possible disciplinary action.

Kramer has not responded to repeated requests for comment.

By the 2009 legislative session, remaining opposition to establishing a state capital defense office had virtually disappeared, Ellis said. The law was approved late in the session and signed by the governor last month.

“I think that everyone agrees (death row inmates) deserve one fair shot at presenting their issues, whether they're meritorious or not,” said Andrea Marsh, executive director of the Texas Fair Defense Project. “We saw too many cases where poor state habeas representation forced people to lose appeals.”

The Office of Capital Writs will be funded by redirecting money already in the state budget: $500,000 formerly used to pay private attorneys for appeals and $494,520 from the state's Fair Defense account, already earmarked for indigent defense. Ultimately, its attorneys will likely handle most state appeals — about 10 a year, if the current pace of death sentences continues.

State writs of habeas corpus are considered the most critical step in death row appeals. It is at that stage that any innocence claim, allegation of prosecutorial misconduct, flawed trial defense or other issue involving omissions or case errors must be raised — or the arguments cannot normally be raised later in the process.
The new office will not handle cases at the trial level, which is where a lot of the shoddy lawyering takes place, but it will at least handle writs of habeas corpus. In the future, the Texas Legislature should also create a state-wide office of public defender to handle death penalty cases at the trial level.

There have been major cuts at newspapers in staff covering the legislature, so we assume those cuts contributed to the fact that there was until yesterday no major coverage of the passage of the bill that created the Office of Capital Writs.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Texas Monthly: "The Judgement of Sharon Keller"

Texas Monthly has a long article by Michael Hall in its August edition titled "The Judgement of Sharon Keller" about the presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Keller said "we close at 5" when asked by attorneys for Michael Richard in 2007 to allow them to file a late appeal for Michael Richard on the day of his scheduled execution. Keller's trial is scheduled to start August 17 in San Antonio on charges of misconduct and incompetence arising from complaints filed with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct by several groups, including Texas Moratorium Network which filed a complaint signed by about 1900 people. (For more background information visit www.sharonkiller.com.)

According to the Texas Monthly article:

The main charge was that Keller’s “failure to follow the CCA’s execution-day procedures” violated the Texas constitution (which states that a judge must not exhibit “willful or persistent conduct that is clearly inconsistent with the proper performance of his duties or casts public discredit upon the judiciary”) and the Code of Judicial Conduct (“a judge shall comply with the law and should act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary”).
“It’s going to be a donnybrook,” says Cathy Cochran in the TM article. Cochran is also a judge on Keller’s court. The article says that "Judge will testify against judge", implying that Cochran will likely testify against Keller.

The article says that when she ran for election in 1994, Keller
described herself as “pro-prosecutor,” explaining to a reporter, “I guess what pro-prosecutor means is seeing legal issues from the perspective of the state instead of the perspective of the defense.”
The article says that Keller believes in following rules and the law (although she violated the rules of her own court in her handling of the Michael Richard appeal).
In 2000 Keller ran for presiding judge. Her opponent, fellow judge Tom Price, asked, “How far to the right is this court going to be? Even Republicans want fair trials.” (Price would later say that the Criner case had made the court a “national laughingstock.”) Keller was asked in a preelection interview if she was bound to follow the law, even if it meant an unjust result. “Absolutely,” she replied. “Who is going to determine what justice is? Me? I think justice is achieved by following the law.” According to some who have worked with her, she was also answering to a higher power. “She’s extremely religious,” says a colleague. “She believes strongly that God is on her side.”
The article contains a long description of the events on the day that Keller said 'We close at 5". Click here to jump to the section of the article covering the timeline of events, many of which appear to be taken from the formal charges of the Commission on Judicial Conduct.

So what does Hall think will happen at the trial?
SOON THE JUDGE will have her own day in court, before special master Berchelmann. Her defense will rest on several things, first and most important her interpretation of the infamous phone call. She has said she thought Marty was asking specifically about the clerk’s office, which, like all state offices, closes at five and never stays open late. “It is clear that Judge Keller did not have a duty to do anything other than what she did,” her response to the CJC says, “which was to answer a question about whether the clerk’s office closes at 5:00 p.m.” In other words, Keller followed the rules—as she had always done. But Marty told the CJC that he said either “They want the court to stay open late” or “They want to hold the court open.” If Berchelmann determines that he said (and that Keller understood him to say) “court,” the special master might rule that Keller had a duty to do more than she did.
Hall thinks that Keller will blame the attorneys for Richard, especially for not contacting another judge on the CCA, but at least one other judge on the CCA does not seem to buy that excuse. Hall says he
asked Cochran if she had ever been phoned by a defense lawyer seeking to file a pleading. “Never,” she said. “I would consider it an ex parte communication. I don’t want to be put in that position. If the clerk’s office is closed, the general counsel is the normal person you go to.”
Keller is also likely to try to make General Counsel Ed Marty the fall guy.
Why did he even call Keller at home? Why not go straight to the duty judge?
In Hall's article Judge Cochran comes out looking like the CCA judge with the best ethical judgement. Hall
asked Cochran about the distinction Keller’s defense makes between “clerk’s office” and “court.” “The bottom line is, we accept anything and everything before an execution takes place,” she says. “We will do whatever it takes.” Did she have any doubt about whether she would have made it happen? “No. I can’t imagine the concept of not accepting a death penalty filing even though it’s after the clerk’s office closes. That’s what courts are for. The Supreme Court doesn’t close on death days. It would have been so easy to say, ‘Mr. Marty, tell ’em to fax it.’

“Sometimes you just do the right thing. The right thing is not to close the courthouse when someone is about to be executed.”
On the other hand Lawrence Meyers, another judge on the CCA and one who is up for re-election in 2010, defends Keller saying "Judge Keller had no more duty than anyone else." and
“I don’t know what I would have done,” says Meyers. “We’re not supposed to counsel these people on what to do. We’re under the presumption that they are highly specialized attorneys. From a technical standpoint I don’t think she did anything wrong. She didn’t do anything not prescribed by the code.”
To read the entire article by Hall, click here to go to Texas Monthly or pick up a copy of the August issue on newsstands.

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Campaign Reports for Three CCA Judges Up for Re-Election in 2010

Three incumbents on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals are up for re-election in 2010: Michael Keasler, Cheryl Johnson and Lawrence Meyers. All three are Republicans, as are all the judges on the CCA. On July 15, 2009, they reported the following amounts to the Texas Ethics Commission.

Michael Keasler Report (PDF)

Total Contributions Zero

Total Expenditures $342.58

Total Political Contributions Maintained $3,042.43

Total of all outstanding loans Zero

Lawrence Meyers Report (PDF)

Total Contributions $2,000 (He contributed $2,000 to his own campaign)

Total Expenditures $3,055.87

Total Political Contributions Maintained $1,073.30

Total of all outstanding loans $113,693.00 (He has reported this loan on every report since March 1998. He also reported expenditures in March 1998 of $107,532.00. He had a strong challenger in that year's Republican primary.)

Cheryl Johnson Judicial Candidate/ Officeholder (PDF)

Johnson reported zero contributions, zero expenditures, zero contributions maintained and zero outstanding loans in her Candidate/Officeholder account.

Friends of Cheryl Johnson (Judicial Specific-Purpose Committee) (PDF)

Johnson is the treasurer of Friends of Cheryl Johnson

Total Contributions Zero

Total Expenditures Zero

Total Political Contributions Maintained $4,054.46

Total of all outstanding loans Zero

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

999th Person Executed in U.S. By Lethal Injection

On July 14, John Fautenberry became the 999th person executed by lethal injection in the United States. Amnesty International Canada francophone in Montreal on Tuesday protested Fautenberry's execution and the upcoming 1000th lethal injection in the U.S. by reenacting a lethal injection (link to French-language news article in Le Devoir). The photo was sent to us by Charles Perroud, who also recently organized a protest in Montreal of the 200th execution under Texas Governor Rick Perry.

The 1000th execution by lethal injection in the U.S. could occur on July 21 when Ohio is set to execute Marvallous Keen. If Keen receives a stay, the next lethal injection could be of Roderick Newton in Texas on July 23.

Other than the 999 lethal injections, other execution methods used since the reintroduction of capital punishment in the U.S. in 1977 have been electrocution, gas chamber, hanging and firing squad.

In 1977, the state of Oklahoma passed legislation permitting lethal injection as a form of execution, but it was not the first state to actually use the method. The first execution of a person by lethal injection in the United States was on December 7, 1982 in Texas. That was also the world's first execution by lethal injection of a person who had been convicted of a crime and sentenced to death. (The Nazis in Germany had actually been the first government to use lethal injection. They used it as one of the methods in the T4 program to exterminate people with mental retardation, mental illness or other physical disabilities or illnesses.)

Executions in U.S. since 1977

Lethal Injections 999
Electrocution 155
Gas Chamber 11
Hanging 3
Firing Squad 2
All since 1977 1170

Read a 2007 Amnesty International report "Execution by lethal injection: A quarter century of state poisoning". Excerpt:

In lethal injection executions, prisoners are commonly injected with massive doses of three chemicals: sodium thiopental (also known by the trade name Pentothal) to induce general anaesthesia; pancuronium bromide to cause muscle paralysis, including of the diaphragm; and potassium chloride to stop the heart. Doctors have expressed concern that if inadequate levels of sodium thiopental are administered (for example, through incorrect doses of thiopental, faulty attachment of the line, or precipitation of chemicals) proper anaesthetic depth will not be achieved or the anaesthetic effect can wear off rapidly and the prisoner will experience severe pain as the lethal potassium chloride enters the veins and he or she goes into cardiac arrest. Due to the paralysis induced by pancuronium bromide, they may be unable to communicate their distress to anyone.

Such issues have led to these chemicals – used on humans as punishment – being barred from use on animals in euthanasia. The professional body representing the USA’s veterinary surgeons has argued that the use of pancuronium bromide is unacceptable for euthanasia of domestic pets.The American Veterinary Medical Association has taken the view that a mixture for euthanasia of animals by sodium pentobarbital should not include a paralysing agent and that humane killing of animals by potassium chloride requires prior establishment of surgical plane of anaesthesia characterised by "loss of response to noxious stimuli"(14) by a competent person.(15) The use of pancuronium bromide in animal euthanasia has since been banned in individual US states including Tennessee(16). In September 2003, a new law came into force in Texas prohibiting the use of pancuronium bromide in the euthanasia of cats and dogs. Texas is the US state which uses lethal injection the most frequently for humans, having executed some 400 people by this method since 1982.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Kenneth Mosley's Executon Postponed Because of Perry/Dewhurst Travel Plans

Kenneth Mosley, set for execution this week in Huntsville, has had his execution rescheduled for Sept 24, apparently because both Rick Perry and David Dewhurst will be out of Texas this Thursday. (We don't have details on where the two are traveling, but maybe someone should check the Appalachian Trail.)

A state district judge has moved Mosley's execution date to September.

The 50-year-old death row inmate had faced lethal injection Thursday for the fatal shooting of Garland police officer Michael Moore during a bank robbery 12 years ago.

A state district judge in Dallas has reset Mosley's execution for Sept. 24.

From the DMN' Crime blog:

The execution has been postponed until September 24 at the request of the Dallas County District Attorney's office.

Apparently both Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst are both scheduled to be out of the state this Thursday and one or the other is supposed to be in the state when an execution is held.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Report: "Death Penalty for Female Offenders" by Victor Streib

"Death Penalty for Female Offenders" by Victor Streib, January 1, 1973 through June 30, 2009, Issue #64, by Victor Streib,Professor of Law, Ohio Northern University.

Excerpt:


RECENT DEVELOPMENTS

(1) From 1973 through mid-2009, the leading states for sentencing women to death are Texas with nineteen, California with eighteen, Florida with seventeen, and North Carolina with sixteen.

(2) As of mid-2009, California has fifteen women on death row, and Texas has ten.

(3) Currently on death row are thirteen women who killed their husbands or boyfriends, and another eleven women who killed their children. Two other women killed both their husbands and their children. These twenty-six women account for almost half of the fifty-three women now on death row.

(4) The most recent execution of a female offender was that of Frances Newton in Texas on September 14, 2005.

(5) The most unusual recent development is the rebirth of federal death penalties for women. No women had received federal death sentences in the entire current era (beginning in 1973) until one such sentence was imposed in late 2005 and another in early 2008.

SCREENING FEMALE OFFENDERS FROM THE DEATH PENALTY

(1) Women account for about one in ten (10.0%) murder arrests;

(2) Women account for only one in forty-nine (2.0%) death sentences imposed at the trial level;

(3) Women account for only one in sixty-two (1.6%) persons presently on death row; and

(4) Women account for only one in one hundred and six (0.9%) persons actually executed in this modern era.

DEATH SENTENCES IMPOSED UPON FEMALE OFFENDERS IN CURRENT ERA

(1) A total of 165 death sentences have been imposed upon female offenders from 1973 through mid-2009. Table 1 below provides these data by individual year.

(2) These 165 death sentences for female offenders constitute just 2% of all death sentences during this time period.

(3) The annual death sentencing rate for female offenders during the last decade has averaged four per year.

"Death Penalty for Female Offenders" by Victor Streib

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Video: What happens in the final hours leading up to an execution?

The video below is from the National Geographic Channel, "What happens in the final hours leading up to an execution?". Watch the full program, Sunday July 12 at 8 PM on the National Geographic Channel.

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"Inside Death Row" - Sunday July 12, 8 PM on National Geographic Channel

Gloria Rubac of the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement notified us of a program this Sunday, July 12, on the National Geographic Channel at 8 PM. Thanks Gloria!

"The National Geographic Channel is airing a program they filmed in Huntsville and Livingston, Texas last winter. It is on a show called EXPLORER and the show is titled "Inside Death Row."

We believe the three men featured in the program are Willie Pondexter, Johnny Ray Johnson, and David Martinez. All three men are now dead, victims of the state of Texas".
The information below is from National Geographic Channel:

In most places death has no schedule, but in Huntsville, Texas, an average of 16 people per year are scheduled to be executed by lethal injection. Inside Death Row interviews three inmates as their dates of execution draw near, and follows the stories of their families and loved ones as they deal with death firsthand. This story is not one of guilt or innocence; it is about how the State of Texas carries out the death penalty as well as the men and women whom, by choice or circumstance, become players in the act of executing another human being. Lastly, it explores how the residents of Huntsville feel towards living in a town that is ground zero for capital punishment in the United States.

If you can not see the preview video embedded below, click here to watch it at the National Geographic Channel.



Visits to Death Row

By: Katy Jones, Associate Producer

The only way to communicate with death row inmates in Texas is by actual U.S. Postal Service mail. I spent a great deal of time during the planning stages of this project writing letters to death row inmates. It is odd enough to write to a stranger, out of the blue, but I was writing to strangers who were convicted of murder and condemned to die. What do you say? “Greetings from a girl sitting in a cubicle who isn’t quite sure how she feels about any of this?”

It was a lot we were asking. We were asking men who knew the date they were going to die if, without any tangible reward, they would be willing to share their story with us. We were transparent about our plans. We would be contacting everyone involved in the executions of those men who volunteered to participate. We would contact the families of the victims. We would interview wardens & correctional personnel. We would talk to their families. And we would film everything.

I watched the mailbox daily, hoping for return letters. We received them. After various exchanges, we settled on the three men in our film. When we met them in person, what was most surprising to me was how normal they appeared. It would be easier in some ways if you could come to death row and walk away knowing that all murderers were scary monsters. But they were normal, the type of guys who, without the jump suit and plexiglass, could have lived next door, or stand in line at the supermarket. These were just guys.

You couldn’t get away from the fact that these crimes were often awful. And some of the crimes, well - I once sent an email to my producer with a case history. I included the disclaimer, “If you are going home to your children, DON’T even open this case until the morning.”

We spoke with people who held strong opinions about the death penalty – both for and against it. What I walked away with – was that everyone on all sides of the issue – both for and against - were all deeply committed to justice. Everyone involved wanted to participate in a just society. And each participant – anti-death penalty lawyers, correctional officers, district attorneys, protesters, wardens, families, even inmates – every person was doing what they could to preserve the concept of justice.

The three men in our film were executed within the span of a month. One by one, after months of exchanging letters and visiting, we recorded our last interviews. We often were able to conduct an interview the day before they died. We’d say our good-byes, touch hands to the glass - the death row method of hand-shaking - and say whatever we could awkwardly think of to say. “Thank you for being part of our project” was all I could say.

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Victim's Stepmother Opposes Death Penalty in Army Murder Case

From the AP:

An Army sergeant accused of slaying his superior and another U.S. soldier in Iraq will face a court-martial and could be sentenced to death if convicted, the military said Tuesday.

Army prosecutors say Sgt. Joseph Bozicevich, 39, of Minneapolis shot his squad leader, Staff Sgt. Darris Dawson, and Sgt. Wesley Durbin on Sept. 14 at a joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol base south of Baghdad. Witnesses have said Bozicevich opened fire on the soldiers when they tried to counsel him for poor performance.
and
Dawson's stepmother, Maxine Mathis, said she was thankful the military was moving forward with the case. But she said she couldn't support the death penalty for Bozicevich.

"If they could just send him to prison, that wouldn't bother me one bit," Mathis said by phone from Pensacola, Fla. "I just feel in my heart something snapped in that man. I don't know what those young men go through over there."
For the rest of the article, click here.

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Saturday, July 04, 2009

10th Annual "March to Stop Executions" Will Be Held in Austin Texas October 24, 2009

The 10th Annual March to Stop Executions will be held in Austin on October 24, 2009. Each October since 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 opposition to the death penalty. The march started in Austin in 2000. In 2007 and 2008, the march was held in Houston. This year, it is coming back to Austin.

The photo above, which appeared in the New York Times, is from the 1st march in 2000.

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 and Texas Students Against the Death Penalty. If your organization would like to be a co-sponsor of the 10th Annual March, contact any of the organizations listed above and let them know, so we can list you in future announcements.

The first march was called the "March on the Mansion" and was held on October 15, 2000. 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.

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.

More details, such as the time and route of the march, will be announced later.

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Thursday, July 02, 2009

Conservative Reasoning Against the Death Penalty by Richard Viguerie

From Soujourners magazine, Richard A. Viguerie, one of the nation's most prominent conservatives, explains why he opposes the death penalty:

"The fact is, I don’t understand why more conservatives don’t oppose the death penalty. It is, after all, a system set up under laws established by politicians (too many of whom lack principles); enforced by prosecutors (many of whom want to become politicians—perhaps a character flaw?—and who prefer wins over justice); and adjudicated by judges (too many of whom administer personal preference rather than the law).

"Conservatives have every reason to believe the death penalty system is no different from any politicized, costly, inefficient, bureaucratic, government-run operation, which we conservatives know are rife with injustice. But here the end result is the end of someone’s life. In other words, it’s a government system that kills people.
and
The death penalty system is flawed and untrustworthy because human institutions always are. But even when guilt is certain, there are many downsides to the death penalty system. I’ve heard enough about the pain and suffering of families of victims caused by the long, drawn-out, and even intrusive legal process. Perhaps, then, it’s time for America to re-examine the death penalty system, whether it works, and whom it hurts.

"On how society would ever get to the point of abolishing the death penalty, if it were to do that, I have my conservative views. It must be done in a way consistent with our constitutional system. That means it cannot be imposed by the courts or by the federal government (except for federal cases). In my opinion, the Constitution does not grant the federal government the authority to ban the death penalty in the states. That must be left to the people’s representatives in their respective states, which also means that judges must not take it upon themselves.

"This is why I am joining my friend Jim Wallis in a coalition of liberals and conservatives calling for a national moratorium and conversation about the death penalty, so people can study, learn, think, pray if they wish, about whether or how the various state death-penalty systems should be changed. I hope you’ll join us".

Richard A. Viguerie has been called “one of the creators of the modern conservative movement” by The Nation magazine.

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Sharon Keller-Led Texas Court Upholds Rodney Reed's Death Sentence

The all-Republican Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which is led by Presiding Judge Sharon Keller, yesterday rejected the latest appeal of Rodney Reed. (Keller's own trial on charges of bias, misconduct and incompetence from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct starts August 17 in San Antonio.) The CCA in the past has declined to grant relief for other innocent people who were later released after taking their cases to federal courts, including Ernest Willis and Kerry Cook. Reed now heads to the federal level for his next appeals where, like others before him, he may find more qualified judges than those on the CCA will rule in his favor.

From the Austin American-Statesman:

The state's highest criminal court has again rejected death row inmate Rodney Reed's claims that he did not kill Stacey Stites, a 19-year-old who was raped and strangled in Bastrop County in 1996.

Reed's case now is expected to move into the federal court system for his next — and final — round of appeals before his execution can be scheduled.

Reed's latest appeal built on allegations, contained in earlier court petitions, that Stites was murdered by her then-fiancé, Jimmy Fennell, a former Georgetown and Giddings police officer who was later sentenced to 10 years in prison for kidnapping and improper sexual activity with a woman in his custody.

But the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled Wednesday that the latest allegations against Fennell did not change the case against Reed.

"The allegations of Fennell's misconduct and domestic violence do not exonerate (Reed)," the court ruled in an unanimous, unsigned opinion. "The totality of the evidence before us still supports a guilty verdict."

Reed's latest appeal included information compiled by Georgetown police during their investigation into an October 2007 incident when Fennell responded to a domestic disturbance call, drove the woman to a secluded area in his patrol car and sexually assaulted her.

According to police reports detailed in Reed's appeal, Fennell also forced a woman he met during a Georgetown traffic stop in July 2007 to have sex with him, abused his now ex-wife and stalked a Giddings woman in 1997 while working for the Giddings Police Department.

Reed's lawyers argued that the new information, coupled with earlier allegations of Fennell's misconduct, points to Fennell as Stites' killer. They also claim no jury would have convicted Reed had it known about Fennell's abusive history with women.

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

New York Times Covers Yogurt Shop Case

The New York Times today has a long article on the Yogurt Shop case, "New Evidence Opens Old Wound in 1991 Slaying of 4 Girls". Last week, Robert Springsteen and Mike Scott were released from jail on personal recognizance bonds. They both had been incarcerated more than ten years before their convictions were overturned. Springsteen had spent four years under a death sentence before his death sentence was commuted to life because the U.S. Supreme Court banned executions of juvenile offenders. A judge released them after the DA said she was not ready to begin a new trial for either of them because she can not identify whom the new DNA evidence belongs to, although it does not belong to either Scott of Springsteen or anyone else so far associated with the case.

In the Times article, the wife of Mike Scott, Jeannine, said the authorities were grasping at straws. “They have got a sinking ship,” she said, “and they are trying to figure out how to save it.”

AUSTIN, Tex. — Seventeen years have come and gone. The yogurt shop where four teenage girls were raped and murdered has been replaced with a payday loan store. No sign remains of the fire the killers set to cover their tracks; no plaque marks the place where the girls died.

Yet this city has been unable to put the horrific crime to rest. Last week, two men who were awaiting retrial for the murders walked out of jail on bond after new evidence surfaced suggesting that someone else might have taken part in the attack.

The men, Michael Scott, 35, and Robert Springsteen, 34, had been convicted in one of the slayings years ago, but an appeals court overturned the verdict, ruling that the men’s confessions were improperly used against each other.

Now the new evidence — an unknown man’s DNA found on at least one of the girls — has thrown those confessions into doubt. The district attorney’s office has tested scores of people, hunting for the mystery person.

Defense lawyers argue that the DNA belongs to the true killer and proves their contention that the confessions of the convicted men were a coerced mass of falsehoods. But the authorities say investigators may have contaminated the evidence.

The events have raised two possibilities deeply troubling to many in this city, which is home to both the state Capitol and the University of Texas. One is that two innocent men have served nine years in prison for a crime they did not commit. The other is that there might be another killer out there.

“We wanted this case to be closed, but there is this gnawing sense that perhaps it wasn’t,” said Thomas Spencer, the head of an association of ministers in Austin. “We wish we had more certainty.”
Click here to read the entire article.Here is a video of the welcome home celebration for Mike Scott.

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