Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Texas on Tuesday executed its 452nd person since 1982, the 213th person since Governor Rick Perry took office in 2000 and the 5th in 2010

Texas on Tuesday executed its 452nd person since 1982, the 213th person since Governor Rick Perry took office in 2000 and the 5th in 2010.

From the New York Times:
Franklin Dewayne Alix was executed Tuesday evening for fatally shooting a Houston man during a robbery.
Alix, 34, received lethal injection for the slaying of 23-year-old Eric Bridgeford, who interrupted Alix as he robbed the apartment of Bridgeford's sister. The sister also had been abducted and raped in what authorities said was part of a six-month series of crimes by Alix more than 11 years ago.
The execution was the fifth this year in Texas, the nation's busiest capital punishment state.
''I'm not the monster they painted me to be,'' Alix said from the death chamber gurney, saying he ''messed up and made poor choices.'' He denied responsibility for several rapes and said he ''did no drugs.''
''It is what it is,'' he said. ''I've got peace in my heart.''
Seven minutes later, at 6:20 p.m. CDT, he was pronounced dead.

Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

ACLU Asks Supreme Court To Review Case Of Innocent Man On Texas' Death Row

ACLU Asks Supreme Court To Review Case Of Innocent Man On Texas' Death Row

Max Soffar Never Given Opportunity To Present Evidence Pointing To His Innocence

NEW YORK - March 30 - The American Civil Liberties Union and the Texas Innocence Network (TIN) today petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the wrongful conviction of an innocent man who has sat on Texas' death row for nearly three decades.

In their petition, the ACLU and TIN argue that Max Soffar, whose conviction and death sentence in the killing of three people during an armed robbery at a Houston bowling alley in 1980 were based on a false confession, has never been given an opportunity to present evidence that points strongly to his innocence.

"The death penalty system in our country is impossible to trust when innocent people sit for decades on death row without ever being afforded a fair trial or the opportunity to present all existing evidence," said Brian Stull, staff attorney with the ACLU Capital Punishment Project. "The Supreme Court should take up this case and establish, once and for all, that when available defenses are hidden from the jury, the verdict cannot stand."

Soffar was convicted and sentenced to death in 1981, but a federal court in 2004 reversed the conviction because he was represented by incompetent lawyers who failed to show the jury that most of the details in his confession were contradicted by the account of the surviving witness and other evidence in the case. 

Soffar was tried again in 2006 and again convicted and sentenced to death. In that trial, however, the trial judge refused to allow a statement of Paul Reid confessing to the murders. Reid, formerly of Houston, now awaits execution on Tennessee's death row for committing a series of similar robbery-murders in that state. A photograph of Reid taken at his wedding nine days after the bowling alley murders strongly resembles the police's composite sketch based on the description of the crime's sole witness.

Additionally, the only correct details in Soffar's false confession were widely disseminated in media reports that the trial judge refused to allow Soffar to utilize as part of his defense. Because the trial court refused to allow Soffar to present the media reports to the jury, prosecutors were able to claim that the details in Soffar's false confession could only be known by the person responsible for the crime.

False confessions are among the leading causes of wrongful convictions, and evidence shows that people like Soffar who are impulsive, have low self esteem and who are prone to fantasy and disassociation are the most likely candidates for false confessions. Soffar had a known history of giving police officers unreliable information, and the police knew that Soffar had falsely confessed to other crimes. 

"The conviction of Max Soffar and the fact that he remains on death row exemplify all of the fundamental failures of our criminal justice system," said David Dow of TIN. "We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will examine this case and that Texas will not execute yet another innocent man."

A copy of today's petition is available online at:

Additional information about Soffar's case is available online at: 

Lawyers on the case are Stull and John Holdridge of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project and Dow and Jared Tyler of the TIN.
The ACLU conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Sphere: Related Content

UT Law School Symposium Apr 9-10: The Direction of Legislative Change and the Prospects for Legislative Abolition of the Death Penalty

From the Courthouse to the Statehouse
Date:    Friday, April 9, 2010 & Saturday, April 10, 2010
Location:        Eidman Courtroom @ UT Law
Description:     From the Courthouse to the Statehouse: Politics Reshapes Capital Punishment
Audience:        Alumni, Faculty, Staff, Students, Prospective students, Public
Sponsor:         William Wayne Justice Center
The American Death Penalty in the 21st Century:
The Direction of Legislative Change and the Prospects for Legislative Abolition
April 9-10, 2010
Friday April 9th
10:15 — 10:30 Welcoming Remarks
        Dean Larry Sager, UT School of Law
        Jordan Steiker, Professor, UT School of Law
10:30 — 12:00: National Perspective on Recent Developments
        Shari Silberstein, Executive Director, Equal Justice USA
        Dick Dieter, Executive Director, Death Penalty Information Center
        Diann Rust-Tierney, Executive Director, National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
        Moderator: Maurie Levin, UT School of Law
12:00 — 1:30: Lunch
1:30 — 3:00: Abolition Achieved : The Experiences in New Mexico, New Jersey, & New York
        Shari Silberstein, Executive Director, Equal Justice USA
        Viki Elkey, Director, New Mexico Coalition to Repeal the Death Penalty
        Jonathan Gradess , Executive Director, New York State Defender's Association
        Moderator: Jordan Steiker, UT School of Law
3:15 — 4:30: Study and Reform of the Death Penalty: Maryland & California
        Dick Dieter, Executive Director, Death Penalty Information Center
        Amy Fusting — Program Director, Maryland Citizens Against State Executions
        Gerald Uelman, Dean, Santa Clara School of Law
        Moderator: Jim Marcus, UT School of Law
Saturday April 10th
8:30 — 9:45: Reintroduction, Expansion and Administration of the Death Penalty: Georgia, Virginia & Massachusetts
        Chris Adams, Law Office of Chris Adams, Atlanta, Georgia
        Beth Panilaitis, Executive Director, Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
        Renny Cushing, New Hampshire House of Representatives; Executive Director, Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights
        Moderator: Rob Owen, UT School of Law
9:45 — 11:00 Abolition Contested: The Experiences in Colorado, Kansas & New Hampshire
        Michael Radelet, Professor, University of Colorado at Boulder
        Donna Schneweis, State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator, Amnesty International
        Renny Cushing, New Hampshire House of Representatives; Executive Director, Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights
        Moderator: Jordan Steiker, UT School of Law
11:00 — 12:15: Reform to Redress Race Discrimination: The experience in North Carolina
        Rob Owen, Professor, UT School of Law
        Ken Rose, Senior Attorney, Center for Death Penalty Litigation
        Larry Womble, State Representative, North Carolina      
        Moderator:       Maurie Levin, UT School of Law

Sphere: Related Content

Call for papers/speakers for the Social Justice and Peace Conference at The University of Texas - Pan American


“Images/Voices from the Border”
MAY 7th - 8th, 2010

Priority Deadline for Submissions are APRIL 5th, 2010

The University of Texas-Pan American Department of Criminal Justice is sponsoring an event to promote human rights, social justice and peace. The goal of this conference/exhibition is to engage the students, the community, and the faculty in a dialogue about social problems which affect our lives here on the border, physically and metaphorically. We use the concept of border loosely and may refer to the geographical borderlands and/or Gloria Anzaldua’s Mestizaje.  Not only do we want to raise social consciousness, we want to provide an avenue for discussing solutions to these problems. The purpose of this conference is to provide a safe space for dialogue and protest. Activists and campus organizations are invited to share their struggles, as well as their visions for a better future, including solutions we can implement as individuals.

The Conference/Exhibition makes a call for artwork, poetry, music, photo-documentaries, documentaries, posters, presentations and other alternative forms of artistic expression. You may submit individually or may propose a panel or roundtable. Please submit an abstract of 150 words or less. Provide the title, contact information, and affiliation if any. Please email to or 

Priority Deadline for Submissions: April 5th, 2010

Final Deadline for Submissions: April 16th, 2010

Topics may include any problem or cultural aspect related to the borderlands:
Music/Corridos/Stories of Resistance, Folk Stories, History of Injustice, Texas Rangers
Narco-Corridos, Post-colonialism, Mestizaje, Chicana Feminism, Identity issues, Sexuality, Gendered Violence, Hate crimes, Inequalities, Discrimination
Dehumanization, Exploitation, Torture, Sex Crimes and Sex Trafficking
Environmental Justice, Ocean/River Pollution, Animal Rights, Endangered Species  
Healthcare, Education, Elderly Issues, Disabilities
Economic Justice, Poverty, Class struggles, Protest Movements
Imperialism, Violation of Peace Treaties,
Religious Tolerance, Spirituality, Empowerment
Peace and Legal Discourse, Criminal Justice and Peace-Making Criminology
Militarization of the Border, Immigration, Border Wall
Political Corruption, Policing, Gangs, Border Violence, Drug Trafficking, Death Penalty
Prisons, Overcrowding, Prison Gangs, Immigration Detention Centers

For more information or special accommodations, call the Department of Criminal Justice (956) 381-3566.

Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Breaking News: Stay of Execution for Hank Skinner

We were just informed from our friends in Huntsville that the US Supreme Court has issued a stay for Hank Skinner. More details to follow!

Sphere: Related Content

Live Streaming of Protest at Texas Capitol on March 24 if Hank Skinner Does Not Get a Stay

If there is not a stay of execution for Hank Skinner today either from the Supreme Court or by Rick Perry, then there will be a protest in Austin at the Texas Capitol starting at 5:30. Call the governor at 512 463 2000 and urge him to issue a stay.

We will be at the Capitol protest with a video camera and attempt to stream video of the protest here to the Texas Moratorium Network blog. The pictures may not be perfect and it may not work at all or we may run out of battery, because we will be streaming from a smartphone using 3G over But we will give it a try. If it does not work, at least we will have tried.

Our channel on Ustream is here.

Part one

Part Two (In part two we received a phone update live from Huntsville from Gloria Rubac)

Sphere: Related Content

Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break Students Get Legislators to Write Clemency Letters for Hank Skinner

CNN is reporting that Texas lawmakers have written letters to Rick Perry urging him to stop the execution of Hank Skinner today. Last Thursday, students participating in the Anti Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break visited several offices of Texas legislators in Austin with information on Hank Skinner and asked legislators to write clemency letters for Skinner to Perry. The students visited both Senator Ellis and Representative Naishtat, both of whom are mentioned in the CNN article as having written letters.

The students were trained in how to lobby last Wednesday in a workshop held by Alison Brock chief of staff to Rep. Sylvester Turner. James Tate, one of the students, reported on the lobbying training on the Dallas Morning News blog. The next day they put into action what they learned. They had intended to lobby for a moratorium on executions, but Thursday morning the plan was changed to lobby legislators to write clemency letters for Hank Skinner.

Thank you to the students for making a difference!

Read Rep Naishtat's letter.

Read letter by Senator Ellis.

If you have not yet called Rick Perry to urge him to stay the execution of Hank Skinner so that thee DNA evidence can be tested, call now!.

Rick Perry's Phone Number 512 463 2000.

(CNN) -- Texas state lawmakers are among those calling for a last-minute reprieve for a condemned inmate who is requesting DNA testing of evidence, even as he is set to die Wednesday night.

Henry "Hank" Skinner, 47, is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection at 6 p.m. (7 p.m. ET) for the New Year's Eve 1993 murder of his live-in girlfriend, Twila Busby, and her two sons, Elwin Caler, 22, and Randy Busby, 20, in Pampa, Texas.

"Since his arrest in the early morning hours of January 1, 1994, Mr. Skinner has always and consistently maintained that he did not commit the crimes for which he was convicted," defense attorney Robert Owen wrote this month in a 30-page letter to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, seeking a 30-day reprieve of Skinner's execution.

Skinner's attorneys maintain that DNA testing of the evidence could establish his innocence and determine the real killer.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling on a stay of execution in the case Wednesday. If the high court denies Skinner's request to review the case, the decision falls to Perry, according to David Protess, a Northwestern University professor and director of the university's Medill Innocence Project, which has investigated Skinner's case.

On Monday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recommended Perry reject a reprieve for Skinner on a unanimous vote and also voted against granting Skinner's request for a commutation of his death sentence.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis and state Rep. Elliott Naishtat both sent letters to Perry on Tuesday urging him to issue the reprieve.

"It has come to my attention that there are numerous problems with Mr. Skinner's case that raise serious questions regarding the fairness of his trial and whether or not he is guilty," Ellis wrote.

Perry has received more than 8,000 letters from Skinner's advocates urging a stay, according to the Innocence Project and, whose members and supporters have sent the letters through their Web sites.

Word about the case has spread as far as France, where demonstrations are planned Wednesday at the U.S. Embassy in Paris by supporters of Skinner's French wife, Sandrine Ageorges.
Since Skinner's conviction in 1995, he "has tirelessly pursued access to the untested physical evidence," according to court documents filed with the Supreme Court in February.

That evidence includes vaginal swabs and fingernail clippings from Twila Busby, hairs found in her hand and two knives found at the scene, along with a dishtowel and a windbreaker jacket, according to the filing.

Skinner has never denied being in the home when Busby and her sons were killed. However, he maintains he was incapacitated because of the "extreme quantities of alcohol and codeine" that he had consumed earlier that evening, according to the documents.

Prosecutors maintain forensic evidence gathered at the scene and witness statements point to Skinner. A female friend of Skinner's who lived four blocks away testified at Skinner's trial that he walked to her trailer and told her that he may have kicked Twila Busby to death, although evidence did not show she had been kicked. The neighbor has since recanted parts of her testimony.

Authorities followed a blood trail from the crime scene to the female friend's trailer and found Skinner in the closet, authorities said. He was "wearing heavily blood-stained jeans and socks and bearing a gash on the palm of his right hand," according to the Texas attorney general's summary of the case.

In addition, authorities said cuts on Skinner's hand came from the knife used to stab the men. Skinner claimed he cut it on glass. Some DNA testing was done, which implicated Skinner, but not on the items he now wants tested.

"DNA testing showed that blood on the shirt Skinner was wearing at the time of his arrest was Twila's blood, and blood on Skinner's jeans was a mixture of blood from Elwin and Twila," authorities said.
However, Owen wrote in the Supreme Court filing, "the victims' injuries show that whoever murdered them must have possessed considerable strength, balance and coordination." Twila Busby was manually strangled -- so forcefully that her larynx and the hyoid bone in her throat were broken. She then was struck with an axe or pick handle 14 times, hard enough to drive fragments of her "unusually thick skull" into her brain," the court documents said.

"While attacking Ms. Busby, the perpetrator had to contend with the presence of her six-foot-six-inch, 225-pound son, Elwin Caler, who blood spatter analysis showed was in the immediate vicinity of his mother as she was being beaten," the court filing said.

"Somehow, the murderer was able to change weapons and stab Caler several times before he could fend off the attack or flee." Randy Busby was then stabbed to death in the bedroom the two brothers shared, the documents said.

Evidence presented at trial suggested that Twila Busby's uncle, Robert Donnell -- who is now deceased -- could have been the killer. At a New Year's Eve party she attended for a short time on the last night of her life, Donnell stalked her, making crude sexual remarks, according to trial testimony. A friend who drove her home from the party testified she was "fidgety and worried" and that Donnell was no longer at the party when he returned.

"The defense presented evidence that Donnell was a hot-tempered ex-con who had sexually molested a girl, grabbed a pregnant woman by the throat and kept a knife in his car," according to Owen's letter to Perry.

An expert testified at trial Skinner would have been too intoxicated to commit the crimes, and a review of the evidence suggests that Skinner might have been even more intoxicated that initially thought, Owen writes.

Media outlets in Texas have been supportive of a reprieve for Skinner. "Before sending a man to die, we need to be absolutely sure of his guilt," the Houston Chronicle wrote in an editorial Friday.

Skinner's wife, Ageorges, told Radio France Internationale in a Tuesday interview that she began writing to Skinner in 1996 and they began visiting in 2000.

"They just need to do DNA and fingerprint comparison with that other suspect that was never investigated," she said in an audio clip of the interview posted on RFI's Web site. She does not name Donnell, but said the person died in a car accident in 1997.

Recently, questions have swirled in Texas regarding the 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham for a fire that killed his three daughters. And on March 19, Perry issued a posthumous pardon to the family of Timothy Cole, who was serving a 25-year sentence for aggravated sexual assault when he died in prison from an asthma attack.

Sphere: Related Content

Call Rick Perry to Urge Stay for Hank Skinner; If no Stay Attend Protests at Texas Capitol or Huntsville


Texas State Capitol at 5:30 and at the Walls Unit in Huntsville
Wednesday, March 24th, if no stay of execution
11th and Congress in Austin

So far, no decision has been issued by the Supreme Court or Governor  Perry.  Time is running out, and Texas needs to do the right thing and  TEST THE DNA!


Governor Rick Perry

Fax: 512-463-1849

Main Phone number: 512-463-2000

Website email contact form/

Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Witness to Innocence Seeking to Hire Texas Field Organizer

Witness to Innocence, which, along with Journey of Hope, helped to send six death exonerees to our Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break last week, as well as sending three exonerees to last October's 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty, is looking to hire three new staff members.

One of the new staff positions is as a Texas Field Organizer.
We know many people in Texas who have been working years against the death penalty with many impressive achievements, including last week's alternative spring break. Maybe WTI will hire one of the experienced Texas organizers to be their Texas Field Organizer. They want the person to relocate to Austin, which just happens to be where some of the most experienced Texas anti-death penalty organizers already live.
Here is the description for the Texas position:

Job Title:    Texas Field Organizer  
Hours:     40 hours per week (frequent evening and weekend work
                                                                  required; irregular hours; extensive travel within the state of       
                                                                  Texas is required)
Benefits    Individual health insurance 
Reports to:    Executive Director   
Salary Level:    $32,000 per year
            Supervisory Responsibilities: The Texas Field Organizer may be required to supervise interns, work study students, temporary or part-time organizers, and volunteers assigned by the executive director to the states organizing program. 
            Summary: The Texas Field Organizer will be responsible for the successful operation of the Witness to Innocence (WTI) program to assist Texas anti-death penalty organizations in their efforts to reform, restrict, or repeal the death penalty and to reform the state’s criminal justice system to prevent wrongful capital convictions. 
        Responsibilities:       The Texas Field Organizer will be responsible for: 
            1. Organizing and coordinating WTI’s collaborative events and campaigns with Texas anti-death penalty and criminal justice organizations.    
            2. Organizing and coordinating all logistical details for WTI’s collaborative events and campaigns in Texas, including assisting any WTI members participating in events or campaigns in that  state. 
            3. Developing organizing and informational materials for WTI collaborative events and campaigns in Texas.  
            4. Maintaining communication with key staff members and leaders from Texas anti-death penalty and criminal justice organizations.  The Texas Field Organizer will serve as a key liaison between Texas anti-death penalty and criminal justice organizations and WTI.

            5. Keeping informed about political conditions related to the death penalty and related criminal justice issues in Texas  The Texas Field Organizer will be expected to report to the Executive Director about relevant death penalty and criminal justice-related developments in Texas. 
            6. Attending meetings and strategy sessions in Texas related to efforts to reform, restrict, or repeal the death penalty and/or reform the criminal justice system in Texas. 
Education, Experience, and Qualifications: 
    • BA in relevant field or at least three years experience in the fields of community organizing, labor organizing, issue campaign management, or political campaign management.
    • Excellent verbal and written communication skills.
    • Basic computer skills, including knowledge of and proficiency with Microsoft office programs.
    • Experience living and working in Texas will be considered a major plus.
    • Ability to speak Spanish will be considered a major plus.
    • Supervisory experience will be considered a major plus.
    • Specific experience in managing or working for a statewide issue campaign or political campaign will be considered a major plus.
    • Commitment to social justice and abolition of the death penalty is required.

Special Condition:
    • The applicant must be willing to work irregular hours, including evenings, weekends, and occasional seven-day weeks (with compensatory time off for any irregular work hours) and also be willing to engage in frequent travel within the state of Texas.  S/he must be willing to relocate to a city in Texas, preferably Austin.

To apply, please send a resume, cover letter, three references and a writing sample to: or to P.O. Box 34725, Philadelphia, PA 19101.  No telephone inquiries, please.
Witness to Innocence is seeking talented and experienced individuals for the following full-time positions:

* Speakers Bureau Coordinator
* States Field Organizer
* Texas Field Organizer
To apply, please send a resume, cover letter, three references and a writing sample or to P.O. Box 34725, Philadelphia, PA 19101.  No telephone inquiries, please. Materials  must be received by April 9, 2010.

Please see the links below to download the job descriptions for these new positions.

Sphere: Related Content

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Hold up Hank Skinner Execution for DNA Tests

Please call Gov Rick Perry at (512) 463-2000 and urge him to stop the execution of Hank Skinner on March 24, 2010 by granting a 30-day stay of execution so that DNA evidence can be tested. Call anytime day or night and leave message on voice mail.

The state's determination to execute Hank Skinner tomorrow should make even death-penalty supporters go pale.
The Skinner case
The crime: Twila Busby, 40, was beaten to death in 1993, and her grown sons Elwin Caler and Randy Busby were stabbed to death, in her Pampa home.
Incrimination: Her boyfriend, Hank Skinner, 31, a petty criminal, had blood on his shirt the next morning and was charged with capital murder.
Defense: His attorneys said he had consumed too much alcohol and drugs to do the killings, and they pointed to another possible suspect.
Untested evidence: Appellate attorneys seek DNA tests on two knives found at the scene, a bloody dishtowel, hairs in Ms. Busby's hands, her fingernail clippings, a vaginal swab and a windbreaker jacket.
Key evidence in the 1993 murder case has never undergone DNA analysis. Skinner may be guilty of a bloody triple slaying in Pampa, but every sliver of doubt must be eliminated before the state exercises its life-or-death authority.
We trust that Gov. Rick Perry agrees with that, and we urge him to use the power of his office to postpone tomorrow's planned execution as insurance against miscarriage of justice. The TexasBoard of Pardons and Paroles decided against Skinner on Monday, which means a temporary reprieve by the governor may be the last chance to buy time to carry out critical forensic tests. State courts and the prosecution have thwarted proper DNA analysis, but Perry ought to send the message that Texas settles for nothing less than absolute certainty.
If Perry is concerned about appearing soft on crime during his re-election campaign, he could cite the example of his immediate predecessor.
It was June 2000, and Gov. George W. Bush was running for president. The national media and legal community were watching intently how he handled the case of death-row inmate Ricky McGinn, facing execution in the rape and murder of his stepdaughter in Brown County. McGinn, too, sought forensic tests on evidence in the case, and Bush granted a last-hour reprieve to allow for DNA analysis that was unavailable at the time of trial.
Bush said about his decision: "Any time DNA evidence can be used in its context and be relevant as to the guilt or innocence of a person on death row, we need to use it."
As it turned out, test results backed up prosecutors in the McGinn case. Less than four months later, McGinn went to the death chamber with no questions of innocence hovering.
The Skinner appeal is more complicated; it involves credible charges of falsified trial testimony as well as post-trial evidence that allegedly points to a different suspect, a relative of the victim with a history of violence.
What's more, there was no DNA testing of a long list of physical evidence, including hair found in the one of the victim's hands and fingernail clippings, which could point to the identity of the killer.
Any responsible person asked to pass judgment on Skinner's role in the slayings would want to see the results of tests on these items. Justice for the victims demands it as well.
The governor stands with the majority of Texans in support of the death penalty, a position this newspaper does not share. We think a fallible justice system should not be in the business of extinguishing life.
Despite that difference in philosophy, there must be common ground in one regard: The finality of Texas justice should be airtight.

Sphere: Related Content

Statesman Editorial Says Hank Skinner Entitled to Delay for DNA Tests

Please call Gov Perry at (512) 463-2000 and urge him to stop the execution of Hank Skinner on March 24, 2010 by granting a 30-day stay of execution so that DNA evidence can be tested. Call anytime day or night and leave message on voice mail.

Austin American-Statesman Editorial Board:

If all goes as planned by the state of Texas, tomorrow will be the final sunrise Henry W. Skinner ever sees. Skinner, 47, is scheduled to be executed at 6 p.m. Wednesday for a brutal triple-murder committed in Pampa on New Year's Eve 1993.
We believe that even the most ardent supporters of capital punishment, confronted with the facts below, will join Skinner in asking Gov. Rick Perry for a 30-day reprieve.
In fact, the most ardent supporters of capital punishment — those most invested in making sure Texas does not execute an innocent person — are the ones who should be leading the call for the delay.
There are seven untested items that contain DNA that could be dispositive of Skinner's claim that he was falsely convicted.
The state has blocked that testing, noting that Skinner passed on a chance to have the testing done prior to his 1995 trial. That decision was made by Skinner's trial lawyer, who, noting that other DNA tests on items found at the crime scene damaged his case, didn't want further testing.
Now, Skinner — represented by the Capital Punishment Center at the University of Texas School of Law — wants Gov. Rick Perry to use his authority to delay the execution for 30 days and order the DNA testing. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, in a 7-0 vote, on Monday recommended against a commutation or reprieve.
Can there be anybody who does not see the reprieve request as a harmless one that should be granted, especially because there is Texas precedent for it?
Jurors, working with testimony including some crucial portions later recanted, convicted Skinner of killing his girlfriend Twila Busby and her sons, Elwin Caler, 22, and Randy Busby, 20, at the Pampa home the four of them shared. Circumstantial evidence offered at the trial was tainted by seeming inconsistencies, including evidence showing Skinner was so incapacitated by drugs and alcohol that it was doubtful he could have stood up, much less kill three people (including the 6-foot-6-inch, 225-pound Busby).
"Evidence developed since Mr. Skinner's trial raises the level of doubt to full-scale alarm that the jury's verdict may very well have been wrong," Skinner's lawyers told Perry in a letter dated March 11 in which they offer a compelling interpretation of facts pointing to another possible suspect — now dead — with possible motive to commit the crime.
And, Skinner's lawyers told the governor, DNA on the untested items could prove whether jurors erred.
"While Texans undoubtedly support capital punishment, they insist that it be reserved for those who are clearly guilty," the lawyers told Perry.
In December 2004, Perry granted a 30-day reprieve for Frances Newton, a death row inmate who maintained her innocence in the shooting deaths of her husband and two children. Newton claimed that retesting of gunpowder residue from the crime scene would clear her.
It did not, and Newton was killed by the state in September 2005.
In granting the Newton reprieve, Perry wrote that "Justice delayed in this case is not justice denied."
Perry is very familiar with the importance of DNA testing. He recently, as a result of DNA evidence, pardoned Tim Cole, who spent 13 years in prison for a rape the tests showed he did not commit. Sadly, as Perry noted, the pardon — the first posthumous one granted in Texas — came nine years after Cole died in prison.
Last Friday, Perry went to Fort Worth to present the pardon to Cole's family.
"It means the world to me to be here today to look you in the eye and tell you that your son is pardoned," Perry told Ruby Session, Cole's mom. "I know that nothing that anyone in this room, this state, or this world can do could restore Tim to life, but we can state clearly, with the full weight of Texas law behind us, that your son was no criminal."
By delaying the Skinner execution and ordering the DNA tests, Perry can make sure that no Texas governor ever has to apologize to Skinner's family.
We agree with former Bexar County District Attorney Sam Millsap, who, weighing in on Skinner's behalf, noted that "DNA evidence could show we've got the wrong man. ... but the state inexplicably has blocked that testing for more than a decade."
Millsap, in a column published in the Houston Chronicle, noted Skinner's lawyers also have asked federal courts to delay the execution.
"But frankly, I'd rather see Texas clean up its own house on this one," Millsap wrote. "Before we send a man to his death, shouldn't we do everything in our power to be certain of his guilt?"
It is not a rhetorical question.

Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Pictures and Videos of Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break

Our 2010 Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break was an enormous success. Thank you to all the workshop presenters, panelists, community members, organizations and students who participated, especially to the six innocent, death row exonerees (Shujaa Graham, Perry Cobb, Derrick Jamison, Ron Keine, Curtis McCarty and Juan Melendez) who spent the week sharing their stories with the next generation of anti-death penalty activists.

The alternative spring break is an excellent example of the innovative anti-death penalty organizing work being done in Texas. The organizations that are working together to do great work in Texas, such as organizing the alternative spring break, the annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty or the Lobby Days that we have  organized every legislative session since 2003, deserve greatly increased funding. If these effective Texas organizations had more funding the anti-death penalty movement in the entire nation would benefit.

The  Austin American Statesman ran an article on the rally on the last day of the spring break.

Sandrine Ageorges-Skinner's husband is scheduled to be put to death Wednesday. On Thursday, she came to Austin to join about 100 other people on the Capitol steps to protest the death penalty in Texas.
"We are in Austin, and you can do something to help him," Ageorges-Skinner said. "Human justice should not kill people."
The Justice Rally, which included marchers brandishing anti-death penalty posters and carrying a full-size coffin, was organized to try to abolish the death penalty, or at least ask for a moratorium. Since 1973, when Texas reinstituted the death penalty, the state has executed 451 inmates.

Video of TV News Report on KTBC.

Ron Carlson Delivers Powerful Remarks at Capitol Rally. Ron Carlson, whose sister Debra Ruth Carlson, along with two others, was murdered with a pick-ax by Karla Faye Tucker and Daniel Ryan Garrett, speaking at Justice Rally March 18, 2010 during Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break.

One of the students participating in the alternative spring break contributed reports as a guest blogger on the Dallas Morning News Texas Death Penalty blog. James Tate is a student at The University of Texas at Dallas. You can read his report "Alternative Spring Break: The Issue Becomes Personal" and "Alternative Spring Break: Lessons in Activism".

Yesterday was the second day of the Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break, and it was just as loaded as the first. As in most situations were there are large groups, students found their niche and relationships began to foster. Spring breakers were less nervous to ask questions and were much more eager to be a part of the process. It was interesting to take a step back and absorb fractions of conversations around the room. Some were amazed by the details of executions and the process, while others were outraged by the lack of determination and know-how by public defenders on these cases. However varied the opinions and ideals were in the room, it was evident that the light bulb had turned on. I suspect that it the real reason that we are here.
The day started off with a discussion on the religious views of the death penalty. Steven Crimaldi, National Director of Dead Man Walking Theater Project, captivated the room with a showing of the last ten minutes of the movie from which the play derived. A tearful Susan Sarandon walked behind a condemned to death inmate, played by Sean Penn. "I want the last face you see in this world to be one of love," she whispered. Mr. Crimaldi, who in his work is very close with the real-life Sister Helen Prejean, said it was essential to director Tim Robbins that the audience be aware that this criminal did indeed commit the crimes to which he was found guilty. Flashbacks to the violent rape and murders are intertwined with the execution itself, and the girl sitting next to me turned her head away more than once. This scene validated a poignant argument for those opposed to the death penalty. Even though this man participated in barbaric acts, a stranger had found compassion and love in his goodness. It was a story of humanity - of redemption and salvation. And the State chose to kill him anyways. It was certainly a way to wake up the audience.

We were introduced to Mary K. Poirier, a mitigation specialist from the McCallister Law Firm. Her job is to create a life story of the defendant to be used by the defense. It is her responsibility to paint a picture of the defendant and his or her upbringing, social and economic environment, and other factors that might have played a role in the crimes that their clients have committed. Her findings, unfortunately, are only utilized after a guilty decision has been entered and is used in the trial deciding whether the defendant will get a life sentence or the death penalty. I had a moment to speak with her after her presentation and her work has a striking similarity to that of Erin Brockovich. She is not an attorney, and she owns that, but her efforts take her in the face of danger at times and she gets closer than most to the clients. She has a background in clinical social work and finds herself on a slippery slope of befriending the defendants and their close relationships to compose her stories. The room, and myself included, were quite inspired by her character and the work with which she is involved.

The finale to our day was certainly the most eye opening thus far. We were charged with the task of collecting signatures for a moratorium on the death penalty. Myself and my two partners were hopeful. We had naively concluded that parallel to our conference was the worldwide know SXSW Festival and we were sure to capture a collection of young, liberal artists and musicians. Our mission was to collect 50 signatures on our petition and we had two hours to complete our task. So we set out to an energetic 6th Street, where smiles were abundant and laughter floated throughout the air. Our strategy was to approach our enthusiastic passer-bys with a quick "how about saving a life" tag line. Our first encounter was a young man at a bus stop whose only reply was that were were basically wasting our time and, "we can't do anything." He wasn't speaking to myself and my partners, rather he was speaking of citizens as a whole. We were little disappointed admittedly, but we pressed further. We engaged with people from all corners of the earth and our momentum picked up. We received everything from "Sure" to "I'd be happy to" to one "I love death". Ultimately our efforts paid off and we achieved our goal of 50 signatures. Unfortunately when we returned back to campus, we were told that we had only received 35 valid signatures as some had left out their address or additional contact information. We weren't disappointed however. We felt accomplished that we had broken the ice and had approached strangers with a purpose that is growing more and more personal to us. The climate is changing and I am sure that this experience will leave us forever changed.

Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Radio Interview with Hank Skinner and his Attorney Rob Owen

Texas Matters from Texas Public Radio reports on Hank Skinner case. He is scheduled for execution on March 24, 2010 and maintains his innocence. His request for DNA testing of evidence that could clear him has so far been denied.

Click here to listen to the audio, including an interview with Hank Skinner as well as his attorney Rob Owen.

Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Thursday's Schedule at Texas Capitol for Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break

9:45 - 10:45 AM Meet and greet at the Texas Capitol with everyone participating in the Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break, including the six death row exonerees. Legislators, staff members, anyone at the capitol and the general public is welcome to attend and meet the death row exonerees. Location: Room E2.1002 in the Texas Capitol.
11 AM - Press conference in Texas House Speaker's Committee Room 2W.6 at Texas Capitol (Press conference will be organized, moderated and run by students from spring break).
12:30- 2:00 Death Penalty Panel with Six Exonerated Former Death Row Inmates and Bill Pelke - President of Journey of Hope ... From Violence to Healing. Location: Committee Room E2.016 in the Texas State Capitol.
  • Shujaa Graham, who spent 3 years of his life on California's death-row for a crime he did not commit.
  • Curtis McCarty, who spent 19 years of his life on Oklahoma's death-row for a crime he did not commit.
  • Ron Keine, who spent almost two years on death row in New Mexico for a crime he did not commit.
  • Perry Cobb, who spent 8 years on death row in Illinois for a crime he did not commit.
  • Derrick Jamison, who spent 17 years on death row in Ohio for a crime he did not commit.
  • Juan Melendez spent seventeen years, eight months and one day on Florida ’s death row for a crime he did not commit.  
  • Bill Pelke, president of Journey of Hope … From Violence to Healing and former Chairman of the Board of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. Bill authored a book entitled "Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing", which details the May14, 1985 murder of his grandmother Ruth Pelke, a Bible teacher, by four teenage girls. He shares his story of forgiveness and healing, and how he came to realize that he did not need to see someone else die in order to heal from his grandmother's death. He also helps organize Journey tours nationally and abroad. Bill has traveled to over forty states and ten countries with the Journey of Hope and has told his story over 5,000 times.        
2:00 - 2:45  Break
2:45 - 3:45 PM  Screening of 17-minute film about Todd Willingham and how Rick Perry recently shook-up the Texas Forensic Science Commission, followed by a discussion with filmmaker Joshua Riehl and Liz Gilbert, the friend of Todd Willingham who first investigated his innocence and helped find a fire expert to examine the forensic evidence. Gilbert's role is explained in the article "Trial by Fire" in The New Yorker by David Grann.  Location: Committee Room E2.016 in the Texas State Capitol
3:45 - 4:45    Lobbying Visits with legislators and/or their aides.    
4:45 - 5:00   Set up for Justice Rally     
5:00 - 7:30   Justice Rally Against the Death Penalty on the South Steps of the Texas Capitol (If you get off work at 5, you can still come, just get there as soon after work as possible)
Rally Speakers include death row exonerees Shujaa Graham, Ron Keine, Perry Cobb, Juan Melendez, Derrick Jamison and Curtis McCarty; Bill Pelke, president of Journey of Hope and past chair of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty; students participating in Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break; Katie Kelly representing Clinton Young; Lily Hughes of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty; Gloria Rubac of the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement; Delia Meyer-Perez, whose brother Louis Castro Perez is on death row; Cory Session of the Innocence Project of Texas, Cory's brother, Tim Cole, was an innocent man who died while in prison and was posthumously exonerated and pardoned by Rick Perry; Regina Kelly - her story was the subject of the film "American Violet". She was unlawfully targeted and arrested on drug charges; Ron Carlson, whose sister Debra Ruth Carlson, along with two others, was murdered with a pick-ax by Karla Faye Tucker and Daniel Ryan Garrett; plus other speakers.
After Rally: Last Supper. Food and discussion of the rally as well as the entire spring break. We will go to a restaurant (everyone buys their own meal and drinks). Fill out feedback forms.

Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday's Schedule for Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break

Below is the schedule of events for the second day of the 2010 Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break, Wednesday, March 17. You may come to all the events or just individual sessions. Everyone is welcome. You do not need to register, just show up for the events. It is all free.

It starts at noon on Wednesday. The location is the Jesse H. Jones Communication Center - CMA room 3.112 on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin. CMA is on the corner of Whitis Avenue and Dean Keeton, (Google Map). The room is located on the entrance level of the building.

Noon - 1:00 Media Workshop with Vincent Villano of Campus Progress. Workshop will give tips on communicating effectively with reporters, writing press releases, organizing press conferences and other topics.
1:00 - 2:00 PM  Lobbying Workshop in preparation for next day's lobbying at capitol, with Alison Brock, Chief of Staff to Texas State Representative Sylvester Turner.  
2:00 - 2:15 Break
2:15 - 3:15  “Art and Activism” with John Holbrook, photographer of Texas death row, whose work has been exhibited in the Europe and the U.S., including at the Texas Capitol in May 2009. A selection of John's photographs and other death penalty-themed artworks will be on display. John will talk about his experiences photographing people on Texas death row and his 17 years working as a private investigator on Texas capital murder cases.
3:15 - 3:30  Break       
3:30 - 4:30 PM Campus Organizing and Coalition Building Workshop with Vincent Villano of Campus Progress. There’s so much more to working in coalition than inviting people to join you in your efforts. It’s hard work and requires skill, understanding and strategy, but the rewards for you, your partners, and your cause are endless (and fun!). Learn the importance of working in coalition, how to identify allies, how to engage non-traditional partners, where coalition building fits in with your campaign plan, and why it might be just what you need to take your issue campaign to the next level.  
4:30- 5 PM Discussion of next day's press conference, lobbying visits and rally.·
Dinner break (on your own)    
7:00 Screen Printing Workshop with Garry Spitzer of CEDP, plus sign-making session for next day's rally. Screen printing is a method of applying images to signs and t-shirts.    
Free Time to enjoy Austin

Join us March 15-19, 2010 in Austin, Texas for the award-winning Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break
Special guests will be six innocent death row exoneress: Shujaa Graham, Curtis McCarty, Ron Keine, Derrick Jamison, Perry Cobb and Juan Melendez.  They are attending alternative spring break to speak with participants about how innocent people can end up on death row. Altogether, the six exonerees attending the alternative spring break spent a total of about 65 years on death row for crimes they did not commit.

Sphere: Related Content