Friday, May 28, 2010

Juan Melendez, Death Row Exoneree, to Speak at "Democrats Against the Death Penalty" Caucus at Texas Democratic Party State Convention June 25-26 in Corpus Christi

Juan Melendez, an innocent man who spent more than 17 years on death row for a crime he did not commit, will be coming to Corpus Christi, Texas June 25-26 to attend the 2010 Texas Democratic Party State Convention and to speak at the meeting of "Democrats Against the Death Penalty" at 1 PM on Friday, June 25. The meeting will be in room 225 D-E of the American Bank Center. The party is expecting more than 5,000 delegates, alternates and guests to attend the state convention.

Juan is traveling to Texas with the assistance of Witness to Innocence, which is the nation’s only organization composed of, by and for exonerated death row survivors and their loved ones. These individuals are actively engaged in the struggle to end the death penalty, challenging the American public to grapple with the problem of a fatally flawed criminal justice system that sends innocent people to death row.

Members of Texas Moratorium Network started the "Democrats Against the Death Penalty" caucus in 2004. In 2008, more than 300 people attended the caucus meeting at the state convention. In 2004, the Texas Democratic Party endorsed a moratorium on executions in the party platform. In 2008, the Resolutions Committee at the state convention approved a resolution in support of abolishing the death penalty in Texas, but the resolution was not voted on by the floor of the convention before adjournment.

Raised in Puerto Rico, Juan Melendez was working in Polk County as a fruit picker before he was sentenced to death in 1984 for the 1983 killing of an Auburndale beauty salon owner named Delbert Baker. A police informant implicated Melendez and another man. The second man cut a deal with prosecutors and testified against Melendez, but 12 years later, he recanted, saying he was coerced.
Juan Roberto Melendez-Colon spent seventeen years, eight months and one day on Florida ’s death row for a crime he did not commit. Upon his exoneration and release from death row on January 3, 2002, he became the 99th death row inmate in the country to be exonerated and released since 1973. There was no physical evidence ever linking Juan Melendez to the crime and his conviction and death sentence hinged on the testimony of two questionable witnesses. Despite his innocence, Juan Melendez’s conviction and death sentence were upheld on appeal three times by the Florida Supreme Court. In September of 2000, sixteen years after Juan Melendez was convicted and sentenced to death, a long-forgotten transcript of a taped confession by the real killer, was fortuitously discovered. Ultimately, it came to light that the real killer made statements to no less than sixteen individuals either directly confessing to the murder or stating that Juan Melendez was not involved. In a seventy-two page opinion in which she overturned Juan Melendez’s conviction and death sentence and ordered a new trial, Judge Barbara Fleischer went to tremendous lengths to underscore the injustices that had been bestowed upon Juan Melendez and to show that an innocent man was on death row. She chastised the prosecutor for withholding “crucial” evidence pertaining to the credibility of the State’s two critical witnesses and she set forth in meticulous detail the “newly discovered evidence,” including numerous confessions and incriminating statements made by the real killer to friends, law enforcement officers, investigators and attorneys that substantiated the defense theory that Juan Melendez was innocent. Without admitting any wrongdoing, the State of Florida declined to pursue a new trial against Juan Melendez because one of its key witnesses had recanted and the other had died.
Upon his release from death row, without bitterness, anger or hatred towards those responsible for wrongfully convicting and sentencing him to death, Juan Melendez has traveled throughout the United States speaking to audiences about his story of supreme injustice. When he is not speaking throughout the country or abroad, he works at home in Puerto Rico in a plantain field where he counsels troubled youth who work alongside him. As a former migrant farm worker, Juan Melendez’s idol and inspiration was and continues to be Cesar Chavez.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

It's Tuesday, It Must be Time for Another Execution in Texas - Tuesday May 25 John Alba Becomes 219th Executed Person Under Rick Perry

UPDATE: May 25, 6:50 pm. John Alba has been executed.

Tuesday, May 25, Texas is scheduled to execute John Alba (TDCJ info). He has a 10th grade education.

If he is executed, Alba will be the 458th person executed in Texas since 1982 and the 219th person since Rick Perry became governor. He will be the 11th person executed in Texas in 2010. 

Use the Governor's email form to contact Perry to express your opposition to this execution. Or call Perry and leave a voice mail at 512 463 1782. If you live in Texas, call your state legislators and let them know that you support a moratorium on executions. Find out who your legislators are here

John Alba, 54, is set to die Tuesday for killing his wife nearly 19 years ago. He will be the 11th Texas inmate executed this year unless his attorneys succeed with an appeal filed Monday in state court.
The U.S. Supreme Court refused last week to hear an appeal in which Alba's attorneys argued his death sentence violated his civil rights because prosecutors emphasized the fact that Alba was Hispanic and his slain wife was white when they questioned potential jurors.
Another execution is set for next week in Texas. George Jones faces lethal injection June 2 for a fatal carjacking robbery in Dallas 17 years ago. 

Click here to join the Texas Moratorium Network Facebook page to stay current on death penalty news.

Below is an undated letter from John Alba from the website

Greetings from Texas death row

John and his daughter SabrinaLet me tell you a bit about myself: I am a 48-year-old Mexican man. I have been on Death Row (D/R) for 14-years. (I first arrived on D/R in May 8, 1992) I have 4-children, and 9-grandchildren. I have my mother, four brothers and one sister. My father died when I was 15. I never did finish school. I quit school after my father died so I could work full-time and help my family. Work was not a stranger to me, as I had worked since a young child in the cotton fields, chopping cotton and picking cotton. We were poor so all of the family had to work so we could eat and survive.I have been thinking back on these past 14-years and I am trying to remember how many men have been executed, but it's been so many that I have lost count? I know, at least, 250 men, some who were my friends, or most who I had met over the years. It was a sombre experience to be speaking to these men, knowing that in only a few days, sometimes the next day, they would be dead. Some accepted it, some didn't. One man, whose image stays in my mind, I will never forget. As they were taking him out of our wing to be executed, he stopped at my cell to tell me "good-bye". It was his eyes, his eyes were wide open with fear. I felt his fear (if that is possible to explain) it was so overwhelming. That, took place in 1997, and more than 5-years later, I still see his eyes
My days on Death Row (D/R) are spent locked away 23-hours-a-day in a 6-x-9 cell. We are allowed to recreate for one-hour each day. One shower a day. There are no TV's on Texas D/R. We are allowed to buy a small plastic radio from the prison commissary store, and that is our 'entertainment'. We are allowed to correspond with free-world people. So as one can imagine, mail-call in the evenings are our 'highlight' of the day, what we look forward to each day. We cannot receive packages from the free-world, we must buy everything we need from the prison store. We can only receive books from the publishers or website book sellers like We are allowed one (2-hour) visit every week. However, we are also allowed 2-special (4-hour) visits every month, as well - but only if our visitors are coming from over 350-miles away, which my family does not qualify.
Every 6-months, they lock down the entire prison and they search our cells and personal property. It is then that we are fed a sandwich 3-times a day. We are only allowed to shower on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. No recreation. It is hard to be locked away in prison, in a small cell, with nothing to do, nothing to occupy your time - and mind. A human mind needs to be stimulated. My cell is painted completely white, which can play havoc on ones eyes. I have had to put up magazine pictures on my walls so as to break the whiteness.
John and his grandson JohnnyMy daughter Sabrina wrote to me 2-days ago! She hopes to be coming to visit me soon - which I am looking forward to seeing her again. It has been almost 2-months since I last saw her because she recently gave birth to my youngest Grandchild, Thomas. It has been even longer since I last saw her other 3-children). But they have to go to school so I can understand. And it is a long drive (4-hours) to this prison, from their home. Children can get "cranky" on long trips! But I do love speaking to them, as they have so many questions to ask, and so much love to give. Yet, they still don't understand 'why' they cannot touch "Paw-Paw" (Grandpa) as we are always separated in the visit room by a thick glass. I too, wish I could hold them but we have to be content to press our fingers against the glass and somehow feel each other's warmth through the glass - or imagine it. My other children have had 5 kids between them, so I have 9-grandchildren total. I saw two of the youngest in December 2001. I hope to also see them again soon.

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U.S. Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Hank Skinner's Appeal

From the Texas Tribune: "We are pleased that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear Mr. Skinner's appeal," Skinner attorney Rob Owen, co-director of the University of Texas at Austin’s Capital Punishment Clinic. "That decision represents the necessary first step to our eventually obtaining the DNA testing that Mr. Skinner has long sought. We look forward to the opportunity to persuade the Court that if a state official arbitrarily denies a prisoner access to evidence for DNA testing, the prisoner should be allowed to challenge that decision in a federal civil rights lawsuit."

From Reuters:

The Supreme Court said Monday it will decide whether a Texas death row inmate can use a civil rights law to require that the state test DNA evidence he says could prove his innocence in a triple murder.

The justices agreed to hear Henry Skinner's appeal. On March 24, they granted him a stay about an hour before his scheduled execution to give them more time to decide whether to take up his case.

In an order issued Monday, the Supreme Court said it decided to rule on the issue presented by his case. Arguments are expected to be heard in the upcoming term that begins in October.

Skinner's lawyers maintain that his rights under the civil rights law were violated by authorities' refusal to grant DNA testing after his conviction.

In the United States, post-conviction DNA testing has exonerated more than 250 people, including 17 prisoners who served time on death row, according to a group called the Innocence Project.

Skinner was convicted and sentenced to death for the murders of his girlfriend and her two adult sons on New Year's Eve in 1993 in the small town of Pampa, Texas. He has always maintained his innocence.

Skinner's attorneys are seeking DNA testing of key evidence from the crime scene, including a bloody towel, two knives and a man's windbreaker, and swabs from a rape kit.

Skinner's lawyer at trial did not seek the DNA testing. His attorneys who have been handling his appeals have sought the DNA tests for 10 years, but the state has refused to grant the request.

U.S. courts rejected Skinner's request for the DNA tests on the grounds it cannot be pursued under the federal civil rights law, but must be brought under what is known as a federal habeas challenge.

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that convicted criminals do not have a constitutional right to demand that the state conduct DNA testing of evidence. But that case did not involve a death row inmate seeking to prove his innocence.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

One Nutty Comment from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and a Sane One from DA John Bradley

Monday, we wrote about the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on life without parole for juvenile offenders and how Texas was actually more progressive on that issue than the Court

Today's Rick Casey column in the Houston Chronicle, which is also about Texas being ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court on the issue of life without parole for juvenile offenders, has a couple of interesting quotes. 

One is by Justice Clarence Thomas and the other by Williamson County DA John Bradley. Thomas comes across sounding not quite of sound mind, while John "The Wolf" Bradley sheds his persona as Rick Perry's "cleaner" and actually sounds reasonable.

Casey's Thomas Quote:
In his dissent to the Supreme Court's ruling banning life without parole for juvenile offenders who do not kill, Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Antonin Scalia, wrote that life without parole “would not have offended the standards that prevailed at the founding” of our nation, and we are bound by the standards. At that time, as Justice John Paul Stevens pointed out, a 7-year-old could be sentenced to death for stealing $50.
Casey's Bradley quote:
The bill (banning LWOP for juveniles) made its way through a very difficult legislative session with surprising ease. At a Senate committee hearing it was supported not only by the ACLU, but by Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley, one of the state's most aggressive prosecutors who has made a name for himself as the controversial new chairman of the Texas Forensic Science Commission.
“I was not a big supporter of life without parole,” Bradley testified. “I think even people who commit some of the most horrible crimes need an incentive to behave (in prison) and to rehabilitate and develop over a long period of time. I think that applies even greater when that person is a juvenile.”
Casey finishes up with a nice quote of his own making:
The majority, however, continued a long-standing practice of applying evolving societal norms.
Defense lawyers are already talking about asking the Supreme Court to bar life without parole for juveniles convicted of murder.
It's not hard to imagine them arguing that if the Texas Legislature bans it, then it must be outside of societal norms.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Austin Chronicle Says "Let David Live": The execution of David Powell will not serve justice

Click here to send an email to Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg urging her to ask the judge to withdraw the June 15 execution date for David Powell.

From the Austin Chronicle:

Point Austin: Let David Live

The execution of David Powell will not serve justice

How much pain is enough to make up for irreparable harm? – David Powell
If all goes according to plan, David Lee Powell will be executed by the state of Texas, in our names, on June 15. That's the date set by state District Judge Mike Lynch at the request of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg.
This is an execution more than 32 years in the making, and the story exhibits the tortured legal history of many Texas capital cases. The 27-year-old Powell was first convicted of the May 18, 1978, murder of 26-year-old Austin Police Officer Ralph Ablanedo in September 1978. The first conviction was overturned for legal reasons that included prosecutorial misconduct; he was tried and convicted again in 1991, and retried for sentencing only in 1999. Only then was it revealed that Travis County prosecutors (among them then young Assistant D.A. Lehmberg) had concealed potentially exculpatory information from his defense, including their belief that a chief state witness, Powell's companion Sheila Meinert, had participated in Ablanedo's murder. Nevertheless, Powell was again sentenced to die and has since exhausted all of his appeals.
Unless Lehmberg should decide to withdraw the execution request or the Board of Pardons and Paroles recommends clemency to Gov. Rick Perry and he concurs – none of which is at all likely – Powell will be executed. Had he been sentenced to life imprisonment in 1978, Powell would have been eligible for parole in 20 years. After 32 years on death row, much of it in solitary confinement, Powell will have effectively endured – in our names – both a life and a death sentence. As Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer has opined, "Where a delay, measured in decades, reflects the State's own failure to comply with the Constitution's demands, the claim that time has rendered the execution inhuman is a particularly strong one."

A Changed Man

Powell's crime was locally sensational, an assault-rifle execution of a police officer during a seemingly routine traffic stop, followed by a brief chase and another shoot-out with Austin Police. Ablanedo left a wife and two children, and the prosecutor's closing argument was attended by dozens of uniformed police officers wearing mourning ribbons. Even in execution-shy Travis Coun­ty, Powell's sentence was virtually inevitable.
Although there was little doubt of Powell's guilt, there should have been considerable uncertainty about the degree of his culpability. There was the clouded issue of "deliberateness" or premeditation; expert testimony that at the time of the crime he was deeply addicted to methamphetamine and likely suffering from amphetamine psychosis – the chemical equivalent of insanity – was ignored, as was the fact that he had never previously committed violence. The Texas death penalty requires a jury's conviction of "future dangerousness" – prosecutors summoned psychiatrists nominally to determine Powell's sanity for trial, then used their testimony to assert Powell's propensity for violence.
Yet Powell had never been violent before the Ablanedo murder, and by the time of his final sentencing, in 1999, he had spent nearly a dozen years in prison without ever engaging in violence. Testimony in his defense included not only former gubernatorial candidate Sissy Farenthold and attorney general candidate David Van Os (who knew Powell as a young man) but also several prison guards who testified that he was not violent and presented no future threat. We now have 32 years of evidence that, despite that sentence, and now a dozen years of solitary confinement due to prison policy changes, Powell has presented no threat to anyone at all and has served his time as a model prisoner.
Once, there might have been doubt concerning Powell's "future dangerousness" – now there is none. When we execute Powell next month, we will be executing a different person than the one who, in an irretrievable moment of mad frenzy, committed his terrible crime. If nothing else, Powell's execution will confirm that the Texas death penalty is not about justice but revenge.

Who We're Killing

Fair-minded people can certainly hold differing beliefs about the death penalty, though in my experience the more people learn about its actual practice, the less likely they are to believe that it serves justice, certainly in any equitable way. The political stakes (especially in a sensational case like Powell's) are inevitably so high that prosecutors persistently bend the rules to get convictions. The consequent appeals strain and distort the justice system and, more cruelly, the innocent family members on all sides. Restorative justice is essentially impossible, since to avoid a death sentence the accused must not acknowledge guilt or remorse of any kind. Only when his appeals were completely exhausted was Powell able to write an eloquent letter of apology to the Ablanedo family.
"I am infinitely sorry that I killed Ralph Ablanedo," Powell wrote. "I stole from you and the world the precious and irreplaceable life of a good man."
Beyond this, Powell has been an exemplary prisoner for 32 years, teaching other inmates, consulting with experts on the Texas criminal justice system, testifying on the rights of prisoners with mental disabilities, and more. He has managed to make something useful and important of his life even in the extreme confinement of death row and the Texas prison system; to kill him now is to surrender to the nihilistic belief that there is no such thing as redemption.
But whether or not you believe that we should execute Powell, you should spend some time reviewing the background and history of his case, available at the website, including an extended video interview with Powell on death row, members of his family, and people who have known him well. The history of the Texas death penalty is a lengthy one of obscure names and dates; it's a little less abstract when you get to know the person you're going to kill. It's undeniable that Powell took a life – "I'm so so sorry for having killed Ralph Ablanedo and stolen from him everything that he might have become," he says in the interview, "and stolen everything that he was from the people that loved him." What possible good can come from adding another name, and the inevitably reverberating sorrow, to the long list of the dead?
In December of 2009, David Powell wrote the following letter to the family of Ralph Ablanedo; Ablanedo’s wife, Judy, later married Austin Police Officer Bruce Mills, who also adopted their two children .Powell's letter to the family of Ralph Abla nedo is posted with this story here.
More information about David Powell's case and suggestions for potential public action are available at

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New Website for Texas Forensic Science Commission, but still no progress on Todd Willingham Investigation

The Texas Forensic Science Commission has redesigned its website. It is still not very modern looking, so its hard to tell why they bothered. Maybe it is because they are just trying to stall the investigation into the case of Todd Willingham. Remaking their website gave them something to do for awhile besides doing the work they are supposed to be doing - investigating the faulty forensic science used to convict Willingham.

The new website says all the terms of the Commission members are set to expire on Sept 1, 2011. However, the bill (HB 1068 in 2005) that created the Commission set the terms for the two members appointed by the Attorney General to expire in even-numbered years. Those members are probably Sarah Kerrigan and Arthur Jay Eisenberg. The TFSC website says their terms expire on Sept 1, 2011, but according to HB 1068 they would seem to expire on Sept 1, 2010. The information could be a just an error, but it could be that the TFSC doesn't really know when the terms expire. 

Also, we know that Rick Perry replaced some of his appointees last year two days before the commission was set to talk about the Beyler report, but does anyone know when the Lt Governor notified his appointees (Jean Hampton, Stanley Hamilton and Garry Adams) that they were being reappointed? Their terms also supposedly expired on Sept 1, 2009. They have probably been officially reappointed, but were they reappointed before or after Rick Perry made his move to replace his own appointees? Did the Lt Governor let them stay on as holdover appointments without officially reappointing them, and then after the Perry hullabaloo in late Sept 2009, did the Lt Governor then decide to just reappoint his appointees? If so, it speaks to the political nature of Perry's decision.
(b) Each member of the commission serves a two-year term.
The term of the members appointed under Subsections (a)(1) and (2)
expires on September 1 of each odd-numbered year. The term of the
members appointed under Subsection (a)(3) expires on September 1 of
each even-numbered year.

The Commission has still not changed its policy on holding secret meetings that are closed to the public and members of the press.

The "Investigative Committee on the Willingham/Willis Case" of the Texas Forensic Science Commission is holding secret, private, closed door meetings without any public notice to discuss the Cameron Todd Willingham investigation.

Other committees of the TFSC are also being held in secret. Since the four-person Willingham/Willis committee does not form a quorum of the entire nine member Commission, it is not subject to the Open Meetings Act — which means it can legally deliberate in secret. However, the members of the Commission can vote to make all meetings public and to follow the rules of the Open Meetings Act.

Unless, the policy is changed, the public will not be privy to discussions by the four-member panel of the Commission that is responsible for scrutinizing the reliability of the arson investigation used to convict Todd Willingham.

Instead, the panel will report its conclusions to the nine-member commission, which will make the matter final.

Asked if he favored allowing the public to attend such sessions, TFSC Chair John Bradley responded, “No,”.

If you believe that all subcommittee meetings of the Texas Forensic Science Commission should be public and not private, secret closed door meetings, then please join us in writing commission Chair John Bradley and other Commission members urging them to make the meetings public and to post notices on the Commission website of when and where the subcommittee meetings will take place.

Shortly before Todd Willingham was executed in 2004 for an arson that killed his three young daughters, Texas Governor Rick Perry had received a request that he delay the execution based on an arson expert's report that evidence presented at the trial did not show that the fire had been deliberately set.

Dr. Craig Beyler, one of the nation's top arson experts, who after a search was hired by the Forensic Science Commission to investigate the case, submitted a report to the Commission in 2009 that the fire may well have not been caused by arson at all.

Secret, closed-door meetings thwart transparency and erode public confidence in the commission's work, which has already been compromised by Governor Rick Perry's abrupt dismissal of the previous chair and three other members of the TFSC two days before the Commmission was scheduled to discuss the report by Dr Craig Beyler.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Texas Executed Today its 457th Person since 1982; 218th Under Governor Rick Perry; 10th in 2010

Rogelio Cannady was executed today in Texas. He was the 457th person executed in Texas since 1982 and the 218th person since Rick Perry became governor. He was the 10th person executed in Texas in 2010. If you live in Texas, call your state legislators and let them know that you support a moratorium on executions. Find out who your legislators are here

(AP)  HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) - Condemned Texas inmate Rogelio Cannady was executed Wednesday evening for killing his cellmate while already serving two life sentences for a double murder.

Cannady, 37, from Harlingen, didn't deny fatally beating 55-year-old Leovigildo Bonal with a belt and padlock in October 1993, but he insisted the attack at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice McConnell Unit in Beeville was self defense from Bonal's sexual advances.

In the death chamber he smiled and nodded to his brother, a niece and three friends he selected to witness his death and told them repeatedly he loved them.

"I'm going to be OK," he said as they watched through a window. "Y'all take care of yourself ... May God have mercy on my soul."

As he waited for the drugs to take effect, he laughed and lifted his head from the gurney.

"I thought it was going to be harder than this," he said, grinning. "I'm going to sleep now. I can feel it. It's affecting me."

Then he began snoring.

Eight minutes later, at 6:19 p.m. CDT, he was pronounced dead. He was the 10th inmate put to death in the nation's most active death penalty state.

Cannady walked to the death chamber about 30 minutes after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal that his confession in the 1990 murders of two teenage runaways in the Rio Grande Valley was coerced, meaning Cannady should have never been imprisoned in the first place.

It was the second appeal rejected by the high court this week in his case. State attorneys said the late appeals were without merit and that questions about Cannady's confession already had been resolved.

Cannady's lawyer said the case was "clearly one that deserves more investigation."

Cannady was sentenced to two life sentences after pleading guilty to the 1990 murders of 16-year-old Ricardo Garcia of Freer and 13-year-old Ana Robles of Brownsville - both runaways from a youth home. Garcia was stabbed 13 times. Robles was raped and strangled.

Two of Garcia's brothers also witnessed Cannady's death. Cannady did not address them and the brothers declined to speak with reporters afterward.

Cannady, who was 17 at the time and one of four teenagers arrested in the case, said an investigator persuaded him to sign a confession to avoid the death sentence.

"I got scared," he said from death row. "I was afraid I'd get the death penalty. Ironically, I did."

State lawyers said Cannady swore in court that he "had not been coerced or forced into pleading guilty and that his plea was entirely free and voluntary."

John Alba, 54, faces lethal injection in Texas on Tuesday for gunning down his 28-year-old estranged wife Wendy in Allen in Collin County in 1991. 

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Texas Set to Execute Rogelio Cannady Today; Call Governor Perry at 512 463 1782

Today, May 19, Texas is scheduled to execute Rogelio Cannady (TDCJ info). He has an 8th grade education. Cannady has been sending a friend entries on a diary that his friend has been posting online at Death Watch Journal.  The entry posted on May 13th and written by Cannady in his cell on May 2 reads:
May 2nd, 2010 | Sunday
I was just speaking to my neighbor who is scheduled for execution a week before I am.  He says that it is over for him and he was asking about my thoughts of the afterlife.  Honestly speaking I have my two feet firmly set in this life and am not ready to give up on myself yet.  I entertained his conversation though because eventually death is just as certain as taxes.
 So the Afterlife…  God.  Heaven?  Nirvana?  Home.  Who can be sure where we go?  We talked about near death experiences.  He told me of having been in an auto accident and that he was medically dead for 5 minutes.  He says that he felt safe where he was and did not want to come back but was forced to.  I don’t understand why he has an ugly feeling in the pit of his stomach if he experienced such a profound calmness that he was forced from.  I told him that.  He says that he has become attached to this world again.  Of this I can understand.  I came close to being executed before and I recall the acceptance that I felt which gave me great relief in the face of death.  It was more than religion.  It was God’s will itself holding me steady.  I did not make it to the afterlife, obviously, and am really happy about that.  I can tell you about a man I met a month after my arrival on death row.  I was let out into a large recreation area among other men however next to this large recreation area was a smaller cage.  In that smaller recreation area was a man who was scheduled to be executed that night.  I walked past and he called me so I stopped to speak with him.  I had not known that he was to be executed that night.  I recall the glossy look in his eyes as he spoke of his pending death.  I thought that he was deranged when he told me that for years he had wondered about the afterlife.  He said that on this night he would finally find out.  His curiosity got a grip of me and he knew because he looked at me and said that if I wanted to know, at 6:00Pm when his execution was taking place for me to turn off my radio and to look around me for a sign.  He said if there was any way that he could communicate with me, he would.  That night I sat and concentrated on everything around me.  Nothing happened.  No screeching or sounds of chains.  No cup tipping over or the toilet flushing on it’s own.  Nothing.
If he is executed, Cannady will be the 457th person executed in Texas since 1982 and the 218th person since Rick Perry became governor. He will be the 10th person executed in Texas in 2010. 

Use the Governor's email form to contact Perry to express your opposition to this execution. Or call Perry and leave a voice mail at 512 463 1782. If you live in Texas, call your state legislators and let them know that you support a moratorium on executions. Find out who your legislators are here

Rogelio Cannady was serving a pair of life prison sentences for killing teenage sweethearts in the Rio Grande Valley when the fatal beating of his cellmate put him on death row.
Cannady, 37, was set to die Wednesday evening in Huntsville for the slaying nearly 17 years ago. He was the first inmate condemned under a state law that allowed prosecutors to seek the death penalty for inmates accused of murder. Cannady says his confession to the initial slayings had been coerced, and that the wrongful conviction led him to death row.
"I should never have been in prison to begin with," the soft-spoken Cannady said in an interview with The Associated Press.
On Monday the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal filed in February. His lawyers have another pending in the federal courts.
Cannady was condemned for the Oct. 10, 1993, killing of Leovigildo Bonal, 55, with whom he shared a cell at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice McConnell Unit in Beeville.
Records show Cannady punched Bonal, beat him with a padlock and kicked him repeatedly until he fell unconscious.
Cannady insists the older inmate — also convicted of murder — made sexual advances toward him and that the beating was in self-defense.
"I think anybody would have done the same thing, fight to protect themselves," he told The Associated Press recently from death row.
Corrections officers found Bonal on the floor of the blood-covered cell, and he died two days later.
Cannady was charged with capital murder under a 1993 law intended to ease prison violence.
He had arrived in prison about 2 1/2 years earlier, serving two life sentences, after pleading guilty to the 1990 murders of two runaways from a youth home.
Ricardo Garcia, 16, of Freer, and 13-year-old Ana Robles of Brownsville, were found dead in an irrigation canal near La Feria, about 30 miles northwest of Brownsville. Cannady was among four teenagers convicted in the slayings that left Garcia stabbed 13 times and Robles raped and strangled.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Texas Ahead of U.S. Supreme Court on Issue of Life Without Parole for Juvenile Offenders

The U.S. Supreme Court banned life without parole for juvenile offenders convicted of non homicide crimes today in a 5-4 vote. This is one criminal justice issue where Texas is ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court, because Texas has banned life without parole for juveniles even in cases in which a juvenile is convicted of a capital crime. Last session, the Texas Legislature passed and Governor Perry signed SB 839 authored by Senator Juan Hinojosa (photo) that banned juvenile offenders convicted of capital crimes from being sentenced to Life Without Parole, instead making them eligible for parole after 40 years.

More than 2,000 juveniles are serving life without parole for killing someone across the country. Those sentences are not affected by today's U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Here is what The Texas Observer reported about why Senator Hinojosa filed his bill last session: 
One of the Legislature’s leading voices on criminal justice issues has decided that teenage killers too young to face execution should also be exempt from being sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“To me it’s a matter of fairness and consistency,” said state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen. “If the U.S. Supreme Court said to Texas and all the other states, ‘You cannot give these juvenile offenders the death penalty’ [which the Supreme Court did in 2005], then I believe the state of Texas should not be sending them to prison for life without parole.”

Hinojosa, a long-serving lawmaker who sits on the Senate Criminal Justice Committee (and led the House Corrections Committee during his final years as an eight-term state representative), plans to introduce legislation this session that would cap sentences for youthful offenders convicted of capital murder at life in prison, with the possibility of parole after 40 years behind bars.

Such a sentence would be in line with non–capital punishment death sentences handed down before the 2005 Legislature’s enactment of the life-without-parole law. Hinojosa says he decided to push for the new legislation after reading a recent article in the Observer examining the effects of the law (“The Life Penalty,” Nov. 28, 2008).

That law draws no distinction between offenders who commit capital murder before turning 18 and those who kill as adults.

“I think, for someone so young, there is a chance to rehabilitate their lives,” Hinojosa said.

Four under-18 offenders are now serving life-without-parole sentences in Texas. All were sentenced before the 2007 Legislature required the state’s district courts to report demographic information on capital murder cases to the state Office of Court Administration.

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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Christian Ethics and Prisoners: "I was in prison and you visited me"

We ran across a couple of interesting articles about what Christian ethics teach about the importance of visiting people in prison. There are many people in prison who never receive visitors.

In the article, "Prisoners and Other Strangers", Jack Miles explains why Christian ethics demand we treat prisoners as we would the Lord in an excerpt from "Ethics of the Neighbor," a talk presented May 16 at The First Natalie Limonick Symposium on Jewish Civilization at UCLA's Center for Jewish Studies.
Prisoners have a special place in the Christian imagination. It matters that Jesus himself was a prisoner. To speak the language of American law enforcement, his death was a death in custody. His most influential followers, Peter and Paul, were also prisoners. They too died in custody. John the Baptist, who first acclaimed Jesus as Messiah, was beheaded in a Roman prison. Christianity is a religion founded by men in deep trouble with the law, men familiar with the inside of prisons, whose message was "the last shall be first, and the first last."

In religious ethics as formulated in our monotheistic traditions, what is owed to the neighbor is simultaneously owed to God himself. The Christian way of imagining this double duty exploits the fact that Christianity's God has appeared in human form. Thus, when doing good deeds for our fellow human beings, we as Christians seek to imagine that we are simultaneously doing them for Christ in person. Jesus taught his followers to imagine themselves hearing his voice saying, "I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you came to me," and finally: "I was in prison and you visited me" (Matthew 25:35-36).

Allow me, if I may, at this dark and shameful moment in our history, to linger over the last entry on that list: "I was in prison and you visited me." Jesus gives every item on his list twice-once in a positive formulation, for praise, and once in a negative formulation, for blame. Thus, "I was in prison and you did not visit me." Can you imagine what it is like to be in prison waiting for a visit that does not come? But let me ask an easier question: Do you know where the nearest jail is?
Read the entire article here.

We also found the site of a website of a husband and wife, Dale and Susan Recinella, who minister to people on death row and their families in Florida. The site contains many articles and a radio interview with Dale and Susan. Very interesting.

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Statewide "Public Defender for Capital Cases" Office Could Grow Out of West Texas Office

Many people have long advocated for a statewide office in Texas to defend people accused of capital crimes. The Texas Democratic Party has endorsed such an office in its party platform (PDF) since 2004. Now, Texas may soon get a Public Defender for Capital Cases office that would handle cases from 240 of Texas' 254 counties. Last session, Texas saw the creation of a statewide Office of Capital Writs to handle death penalty appeals at the state level. The proposed Public Defender for Capital Cases office would handle capital cases at the trial level the counties participate in the office.

From the Lubbock Avalance-Journal:

A Lubbock-based capital defense office might soon need a name change.

County commissioners on Monday submitted an application for a $7.65 million grant from the Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense to greatly increase the scope of the West Texas Regional Public Defender for Capital Cases.
If approved, the office that has already saved member counties in West Texas an estimated $637,000 in its two-year existence would expand drastically and become responsible for indigent capital defense statewide.
"From a nationwide perspective, it really elevates Texas' standards to show Texas is willing to provide the best possible defense they can for individuals charged with capital murder and willing to take whatever steps that requires to make sure that happens," said David Slayton, director of court administration for Lubbock County.
Slayton said the expansion would be good for Lubbock County because, as host county, it would be spearheading the state's indigent capital defense initiative.
The grant for the Public Defender for Capital Cases would fund defense for 240 of Texas' 254 counties. That's every county with a population of less than 300,000.
The office would remain headquartered in Lubbock, but would have 10 satellite offices and include a chief public defender, assistant chief public defender, 29 attorneys, 16 investigators, 23 mitigation specialists and 18 legal secretaries.
"One of the benefits I see is we'll have some consistency from office to office around the state," said Chief Public Defender Jack Stoffregen.
Stoffregen would be responsible for increasing the staff from 15 to 90 people.
The West Texas Regional Public Defender for Capital Cases currently serves 71 counties in an 85-county region.
The current grant for the West Texas office runs through 2012 and would not be affected should the new grant gain approval, Slayton said.
Stoffregen said the office has been successful so far - both in defending clients and giving peace of mind to member counties who are buying what Stoffregen characterizes as an "insurance policy."
As someone involved in capital defense for years, Stoffregen said, he is proud of what the office has done.
"Something needed to be done in Texas and this is a huge step, in my opinion, in the right direction," Stoffregen said.
County officials expect to find out in June whether the grant was approved. If so, the expansion is scheduled to begin in October.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Call Texas Governor to Protest Two Executions in Texas This Week - Wednesday and Thursday

Texas is scheduled to execute two people this week. On Wednesday, May 12, Kevin Varga (left) is set to die (TDCJ info). He has a sixth grade education.

Thursday, May 13, Billy Galloway is set to receive a lethal injection (TDCJ info).  Galloway also only completed the sixth grade in school. 

If he is executed, Varga will be the 455th person executed in Texas since 1982 and the 216th person since Rick Perry became governor. Galloway will be the 456th since 1982 and the 217th under Perry.  They will be the 8th and 9th executions in Texas in 2010. 

Use the Governor's email form to contact Perry to express your opposition to this execution. Or call Perry and leave a voice mail at 512 463 1782. If you live in Texas, call your state legislators and let them know that you support a moratorium on executions. Find out who your legislators are here

Kevin Varga and Billy Galloway (left), who shared a prison cell in South Dakota, are set to be executed in Texas for the 1998 robbery-slaying of a man during a cross-country crime spree.
Varga was scheduled for execution Wednesday evening, while Galloway was set to die 24 hours later. Both were 41 years old. The back-to-back lethal injections would be the eighth and ninth this year in the nation's busiest capital punishment state.
Robin Norris, Varga's attorney, said Tuesday the seven-member Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles unanimously rejected his request that Varga's sentence be commuted to life. A companion request for a reprieve attracted only one vote, he said. No last-day appeals were planned.
Mick Mickelsen, Galloway's lawyer, said his legal efforts also were exhausted.
Varga and Galloway and two women — one of them only 17 at the time — left Sioux Falls, S.D., on Sept. 1, 1998. Evidence showed that over the following week, they robbed and fatally beat a man in Wichita, Kan., then robbed and killed David Logie, 37, an Army officer they met at a motel bar in Greenville, east of Dallas. Logie, from Fayetteville, N.C., was in Texas on business.
The four fled in Logie's car and were arrested days later in San Antonio. The two women were picked up at a Wal-Mart parking lot in the stolen car. The two men were at a strip club.
Their Kansas victim, David McCoy, 48, of Wichita, was found wrapped in sheets in Galloway's SUV abandoned a few blocks from the hotel where he'd been killed.
Varga and Galloway had been cellmates in prison in South Dakota.
Varga, a native of Kalamazoo, Mich., served about half of a 10-year term for grand theft then was paroled in May 1998. Galloway, originally from Onondaga, N.Y., was serving time for theft, parole violation and attempted robbery. He was paroled in June 1998, three months before the spree.
"I have no misconception or doubts about what my future holds," Galloway told The Associated Press.
"I'm gone."
Varga declined an interview request from The Associated Press.

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