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Friday, August 13, 2010

Speaking Out Against the Death Penalty While Honoring and Remembering Peter Cantu's Murder Victims Jennifer Ertman and Elizabeth Peña

Peter Cantu is scheduled for execution in Texas Tuesday  August 17. He will be the 16th person executed in Texas this year and the 224th person under Texas Governor Rick Perry. You can click here to write Governor Rick Perry to protest this execution or leave him a message at 512 463 1782.

On Monday, a few Texas Moratorium Network members will speak out against the death penalty at a press conference in Houston regarding the execution of Peter Cantu for his part in the murders of two teenage girls, Jennifer Ertman (14) and Elizabeth Peña (16), who attended Waltrip High School in Houston and were walking home alone one night in 1993. The girls were gang raped, beaten and strangled in an attack that shocked Houston and attracted national attention for its brutality. 

We want to honor and remember the two young girls who were murdered, Elizabeth Peña and Jennifer Ertman, so we plan to bring some flowers donated by our members to put on the memorial to the girls that stands on the grounds of Waltrip High School in Houston (see picture).

We will be joined at the press conference, which is Monday at 10am outside Waltrip High School in Houston, by Ron Carlson whose sister, Deborah Ruth Carlson Davis Thornton, and Jerry Lynn Dean were murdered with a pick ax by Karla Faye Tucker and Daniel Ryan Garrett on June 13, 1983. The Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement is co-sponsoring the press conference with us. Thanks to Gloria Rubac for organizing it.

The message we will deliver in Houston on Monday and Huntsville on Tuesday is not only that many Texans believe that the death penalty is unjust in all cases no matter how heinous the crime, even one as horrific as this one; but that even in cases in which the guilt of the offenders in not in question, Texas does not have the moral authority to continue executing people as long as the system puts innocent people at risk of execution, as it did in the Todd Willingham case. A state that has executed an innocent person is a state that has lost the moral authority to execute any person, including Peter Cantu.

It is far better to commute every death sentence to life in prison, than it is to operate a system that has executed even one innocent person. That is why the State of Texas is so afraid to admit that Todd Willingham was innocent. Nevertheless, it was an important step on the continuing road to his exoneration when the Texas Forensic Science Commission announced their tentative findings at their meeting in Houston on July 23 that the science used to convict Willingham was “seriously flawed”.

Peter Cantu, who is set for execution next Tuesday, was born in Austin and moved with his family to Houston when he was four and a half. He is 12 years younger than TMN’s president Scott Cobb, but Cantu attended the same Garden Oaks Elementary School and F.M. Black Middle School in Houston as Scott. However Cantu was held back three times to repeat grades and eventually got sent to an alternative school from which he dropped out, while Scott went on to graduate from the University of Texas at Austin.

TMN’s Scott Cobb is also a graduate of Waltrip High School, the same school the girls were attending in 1993. So Scott and the others from TMN will be returning to Scott’s old neighborhood to engage the community in a discussion on the death penalty and the need for a moratorium on executions. The point will be to say there is another way besides the death penalty that punishes offenders and protects society. Also if society wants to reduce gang violence there are other ways to do that besides using the death penalty, which has no deterrent effect. For instance, you can invest more in schools and raise the graduation rate.

The crime for which Peter Cantu is being executed on August 17 was committed in 1993 when he and two of his accomplices were barely 18, when two other of his accomplices were still 17, and when one was only 14.

A Justice Department report in 1999 showed substantial drops from the peak years to 1999 in the juvenile arrest rates for crimes tracked by the FBI: Murder by juveniles was down 68 percent from 1993 to 1999, to the lowest level since 1966.

This shows that sound public policies, such as after school programs, community investment and early intervention programs that are smart on crime can reduce crime by young people and can prevent people from committing serious crimes like murder and also can prevent innocent people from becoming victims of crimes.

Peter Cantu and his accomplices committed their crime in 1993 during the peak of the juvenile murder rate. Since then, policies have been implemented that have decreased crimes by juveniles. And executions by offenders younger than 18 have been banned.

If public policy can influence crime rates, then can we really execute people who committed their crimes at 18 or younger in a time before we had implemented the type of smart on crime policies that could have prevented those young people from growing up to commit serious crimes at 14, 17 and 18. A child who drops out of school is a sign of a failure of public policy. A child who becomes a criminal has been failed by society.

We should not subject a teen offender to the death penalty if we were complicit as a society in their growing up in the environment that made them into criminals when it was within our power to create the public policies that could have prevented their criminality.

Why are there so many people on death row who dropped out of school, some as early as 7th to 9th grade? We failed in our responsibility, especially in the early 90s, to create a society of equal opportunity, so we should not execute any people who committed crimes as teens because they failed because of our failures.

There were 446 murders in Houston in 1993 in a population of 1,724,327.

There were 281 murders within Houston's city limit in 2009, as of late in the day of Dec 31, 2009. The final numbers for 2009 may have been a few higher, but we don't have them right now.

There were substantially more people living in Houston in 2009 compared to 1993. As of the 2009 U.S. Census estimate, the city had a population of 2.3 million.

The Gang Reduction Program of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention was not even initiated until 2003, ten years after the gang murders of 1993 for which Cantu is being executed.

Here is a quote from a 2003 report from the U.S. Dept of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention: "Experience has shown us that gangs are, in part, a response to community dysfunction. Thus, a primary focus of OJJDP’s anti-gang initiatives is to support community efforts to provide their citizens, especially their young people, with a safe and prosocial environment in which to live and grow. Gangs often lure youth with the promise of safety, belonging, economic opportunity, and a sense of identity. OJJDP is dedicated to helping communities replace this false promise with real opportunities for our Nation’s youth."

The Houston neighborhoods in which Cantu and his accomplices grew up could certainly be described as a dysfunctional community in the late 80s and early 1990s, so how can we execute someone who became a teen criminal in that environment, when there is the alternative of life in prison without parole. 

There were six people convicted for participating in the murders of Jennifer Ertman and Elizabeth Peña. In 2006, Derrick O'Brien became the first of the gang members executed in this case. Jose Medellin was executed in 2008. Peter Cantu, O’Brien and Medellin were all 18 at the time of the murders. Two other accomplices, Efrain Perez and Raul Villarreal, who were both 17 at the time of the killings, had their death sentences commuted to life in prison in 2005 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that executing people who committed crimes under the age of 18 is banned by the U.S. Constitution’s 8th Amendment’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

Jose Medellin's brother, Vernancio, who was 14 at the time, is serving a 40-year prison term for his role in the crime.

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9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Apparently Mr. Cobb you've never had a daughter or loved one brutally murdered. So if you and your party thinks all these murdering aninals can be saved then you house them, feed them and move these aninals into your neighborhood. You and your party are some very sick people. Take a look at the crime scene pictures and see what your friend Peter Cantu is capable of and if after you can stomach it then go and tell him your soooooo sorry he's going to die. You and your party really have your freaking nerve. You need to stop talking about things you know nothing about.

Anonymous said...

As a murder victim survivor, I completely support The TMN and abolishing the death penalty. The murder of Peter Cantu will not bring back these two girls and the void that is left for these families will still remain. Murder is murder, which ever way yo slice it, and it is never the way to make things better. My brother was was taken from me when I was merely five years old. I miss him everyday. However, he wold not have wanted me to spend my entire adult life carrying around hate in my heart for his murderer. His murderer, was 18 years old and served 27 years in prison. I elected to ask for parole for this man. He is now out of prison, has a wife and a son and has become a citizen that is responsible and trust worthy. He has obtained things in his life that he did not allow my brother to. I will never forget what he has taken away from us, but I can let my brothers memory be postive by my forgiveness of him and the murder of my brother. I do not want to live in a country of revenge. I want to live in a country of understanding and forgiveness. I pray for all the families involved in this horrible crime, and I pray that there is peace in the hearts of many.

texacalibush said...

"You need to stop talking about things you know nothing about."
It's called the First Amendment, and us sickos have just as much of a right to talk about whatever we choose, just as you have your right to spew your ignorance and hostility anonymously on TMN's website.
Interestingly enough, someone speaking out against Peter Cantu's execution is a man whose sister was murdered by Karla Faye Tucker.
The thing about the death penalty is that to kill is to kill is to kill. That doesn't make sense. Nor does it deter.
True compassion and forgiveness is most proven when we find a way to forgive that which is most reprehensible. It's easy to show compassion for the stuff that's easy to show compassion for.

michael said...

"We should not kill people who kill to show that killing is wrong." What a crock. The murderer is being executed by the State to warn the rest of its citizens that if YOU murder, this will happen to you.
Get over it. Cantu is an animal who was of age when he murdered.

Elizabeth said...

I had a loved one brutally murdered by a gang of teenagers. But I still oppose capital punishment as uncivilized and contrary to the public interest. I support Mr. Cobb's efforts to end the cycle of carnage by seeking the abolition of the death penalty.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous Above, If you want to talk to some people who know what it feels like to loose a family member to murder, please visit http://www.murdervictimsfamilies.org/or http://www.mvfr.org/. These people know what it feels like. And THEY are against the death penalty. Educate yourself.

Anonymous said...

P.A.Cantu is still a monster. The devil is waiting for his soul tonight! Greetings to hell!

Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous - Why protect these people? The things they did were sick, not human. Why should they then be treated like humans. I say good riddance to them!

Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous. We as a society always seem to find excuses for these criminals. It is not a failure of society it is a failure by these criminals to understand that there are penalties for not obeying societies laws. Is the death penalty a detterent? I dont know. I do know that some crimes are so brutal and inhumane that the death penalty is deserved. This crime was one of those and these criminals should have been put to death years ago. Hopefully the victims families will be able to move on and assume a somewhat normal life again.