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Friday, January 29, 2010

Texas AG to John Bradley: Stop Violating Texas Open Meetings Act at Forensic Science Commission Meeting

John Bradley, Rick Perry's hand-picked puppet/chair of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, today tried to continue his cover up of the investigation into whether Texas used faulty forensic science to convict and execute Todd Willingham. He violated the Texas Open Meetings Act by telling a film crew they could not attend and film the meeting of the Texas Forensic Science Commission. Bradley does not understand his responsibilities enough under Texas law to act as chair of the Texas Forensic Science Commission. A county attorney should know about the Texas Open Meetings Act. He probably did know about it, but chose to violate it until the Texas Attorney General advised him to stop violating it.

UPDATE: After the attorney general's office talked with Bradley about excluding the film crew from the state agency meeting, Bradley allowed them in. Nelson says it took a couple of hours, but it appears the AG's intervention resolved the impasse.
From the Dallas Morning News' Trailblazer blog comes a report from today's meeting of the Texas Forensic Science Commission that Chair John Bradley refused to allow a documentary filmmaker from bringing a camera into the meeting at the Hotel conference room where the meeting is being held.
When the state science panel charged with examining whether the state executed an innocent man met this morning, not everybody was welcome. Chairman John Bradley barred a film crew that is producing a documentary about the death penalty in Texas. The film is being spearheaded by Austinite Reid Nelson, an international consultant who isn't active as an advocate on either side of the issue. Nelson hopes to showcase his film at Sundance and festivals around the country.
The live feed of the meeting is at http://www.innocenceproject.org/tfsc.php.

One of the photos of Todd Willingham we created for the 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty is frequently visible in the feed on a chair in front of Gloria Rubac, who drove to Harlingen from Houston for the meeting.

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Chair John Bradley Bans Documentary Film Crew from Meeting of Texas Forensic Science Commission Meeting

From the Dallas Morning News' Trailblazer blog comes a report from today's meeting of the Texas Forensic Science Commission that Chair John Bradley refused to allow a documentary filmmaker from bringing a camera into the meeting at the Hotel conference room where the meeting is being held.
When the state science panel charged with examining whether the state executed an innocent man met this morning, not everybody was welcome. Chairman John Bradley barred a film crew that is producing a documentary about the death penalty in Texas. The film is being spearheaded by Austinite Reid Nelson, an international consultant who isn't active as an advocate on either side of the issue. Nelson hopes to showcase his film at Sundance and festivals around the country.
The live feed of the meeting is at http://www.innocenceproject.org/tfsc.php.

One of the photos of Todd Willingham we created for the 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty is frequently visible in the feed on a chair in front of Gloria Rubac, who drove to Harlingen from Houston for the meeting.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Texas Tribune Reports on Another Texas Death Row Inmate Who Could be Innocent: Hank Skinner


One day before the Texas Forensic Science Commission is scheduled to meet for the first time since Governor Rick Perry replaced the chair and all of his other appointees on the commission in order to impede the investigation into the possibility that Texas used faulty arson evidence to convict and execute Todd Willingham, the Texas Tribune has published a long article entitled "Case Open" about another Texas death row inmate claiming innocence. The article ends with the teaser "Tomorrow: Journalism students to the rescue?", so apparently the Texas Tribune is planning to publish more information on the case tomorrow.

Hank Skinner is set for execution in Huntsville on February 24, 2010.
Hank Skinner is set to be executed for a 1993 murder he's always maintained he didn't commit. He wants the state to test whether his DNA matches evidence found at the scene, but prosecutors say the time to contest his conviction has come and gone. He has less than a month to change their minds.
and

Skinner’s execution date approaches as Texas faces renewed scrutiny of its famously busy death row and the science used to convict the accused. Since 1973, just 11 death row inmates have been exonerated, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, while more than 440 have been put to death. The New Yorker last year touched off a national debate about how many of those killed might have been innocent by posthumously profiling  Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004 after a jury convicted him of killing his three young children by arson in 1991. Before Willingham was executed, according to the story, the state ignored expert reports contending that the fire may have been accidental and calling the method used to prove that it was arson "junk science." A Texas Observer story earlier this month revealed that a psychologist the state has relied on to test the mental capacity of more than a dozen death row inmates used faulty methods to boost IQ scores so the men could meet the legal standard for the death penalty. And in Dallas County, maverick District Attorney Craig Watkins has launched aConviction Integrity Unit that has reviewed more than 400 cases in which DNA from the crime scene was still available to be tested and has discovered at least 15 wrongful convictions. 
In Skinner’s case, attorneys argue that prosecutors selectively used DNA testing to put a potentially innocent man on death row, and that the state is manipulating a 2001 law that allows post-conviction DNA testing to keep him on the path to the death chamber. “The case against him is not open and shut, it’s not ironclad,” says attorney Rob Owen, co-director of the University of Texas at Austin’s Capital Punishment Clinic. “And in a reasonable system, we ought to go the extra mile to rule out the possibility that he is an innocent man before going forward with the execution.”
Read the entire article on the website of the Texas Tribune.

A website with more information on Hank Skinner's case: http://www.hankskinner.org

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Why No Public Comment Period at Friday's Texas Forensic Science Commission Meeting?

The Texas Forensic Science Commission is meeting this Friday, Jan 29, in Harlingen, Texas. The agenda does not include a period for the public to comment, although the last eight scheduled meetings of the TFSC going back to August 15, 2008 have all allowed members of the public to make comments as part of the announced agenda for each meeting. After the controversy of Rick Perry replacing the old chair right before the last scheduled meeting when the commission was set to discuss the report by Dr Craig Beyler about faulty evidence in the Todd Willingham case, it does not look very good for the new chair not to include an opportunity for the public to deliver comments to the commission, so we hope it is an oversight and that a public comment period will be added to Friday's meeting.

Links to Agendas of Last Eight Meetings of TFSC (All had Public Comment Periods)



TEXAS FORENSIC SCIENCE COMMISSION - AGENDA
January 29th, 2010 - 9:30 A.M.
Courtyard Marriot
1725 W. Fillmore Avenue at Expressway 83
Harlingen, TX 78550
Telephone: (956) 412-7800 Fax: (956) 412-7889

During this meeting, the Commission may consider and take action on the following items. The Commission shall have morning breaks and a brief lunch break:

9:30 A.M. – OPENING REMARKS BY BRADLEY AND SENATOR HINOJOSA

ADOPTION OF MINUTES FROM JULY 24th, 2009 MEETING

INTRODUCTION BY EACH COMMISSIONER

PRESENTATION ON TFSC HISTORY AND DESCRIPTION OF WORK OF CHAIR SINCE LAST MEETING

DISCUSSION AND POSSIBLE ACTION ON TFSC POLICIES AND PROCEDURES

DISCUSSION AND POSSIBLE ACTION ON CREATION OF TFSC GENERAL COUNSEL POSITION

DISCUSSION AND POSSIBLE ACTION ON CREATION OF CONSULTANT POSITION FOR ONGOING TFSC PROJECTS TO STUDY FORENSIC TESTING BACKLOGS (See Senate Interim Chair No. 6)

ASSIGNMENT OF PENDING COMPLAINTS AND CASES BY CHAIR

SCHEDULE/LOCATION FOR FUTURE MEETINGS (April, July, and October)

ADJOURN

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Judge Sharon Keller shouldn't get a pass

Last weekend, the San Antonio Express News wrote an editorial saying that Sharon Keller should be removed from office. Now, the Dallas Morning News Editorial Board says that Keller should also be punished, saying she "merits an official reprimand by the commission, and we hope that's the way the last chapter is written in this judicial comedy of errors."


Read the entire editorial here.


Excerpt:

Said the special master's report: "Judge Keller certainly did not exhibit a model of open communication."
Texans deserve better out of the top criminal appeals judge, especially in light of the state's nation-leading record on capital punishment, including more than 200 executions since Keller became presiding judge in 2001. It's a grisly business and one that demands everyone be alert until the executioner's needle goes in the arm of the condemned.
Berchelmann didn't let the appellate attorneys off the hook, suggesting they should have been smart enough or experienced enough to find a last-minute workaround in light of their tardy filing. The report contends they bear "the bulk of fault," as if that calculation helps us grapple with the matter at hand – Keller's leadership on the court.
Since the Richard case, her court has written down – for the first time – procedures to be followed in the hours before an execution nears. That in itself appears to be an admission that the court fell short in the Richard affair.
The judicial commission could find that Keller's shortcomings are so egregious to justify her removal from office, but that's not the way the proceedings seem to be headed. In any case, voters will have the chance to decide the question in two years.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

San Antonio Express News Editorial Board: Remove Sharon Keller from the Bench


The San Antonio Express News Editorial Board has an editorial today urging that Sharon Keller be removed from office even though the Special Master, Judge David Berchelmann, Jr, a San Antonio Republican judge, recommended that she not be further punished beyond the public humiliation she has already suffered. Here is the key paragraph:
Keller has made the Texas judicial system a national embarrassment. She is unfit to serve as the state's highest-ranking criminal judge. Contrary to Berchelmann's finding, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct should continue to seek her removal from the bench by the Texas Supreme Court. If the commission does not, Texas voters will have the opportunity to do so in 2012.
Below is the full editorial.
The key finding in State District Judge David Berchelmann's report on Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Sharon Keller is that she “did not violate any written or unwritten rules or laws.” And in a very narrow technical sense, this finding is correct.

Keller, the presiding judge on the state's highest criminal appeals court, faces five charges of judicial misconduct for her actions involving the last-minute appeal for death row inmate Michael Wayne Richard. On Sept. 25, 2007, the date scheduled for Richard's execution, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would hear a case to determine the constitutionality of lethal injection.

Richard's attorneys contacted Keller indicating they planned to rush an appeal based on the high court's action. Yet despite that information and the news from Washington, Keller twice said she would not keep the court clerk's office open past 5 p.m. to accept the appeal.

At the time, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals did not have written procedures to handle appeals on execution days. And it was on this slender reed that Berchelmann bases his advice to the Commission on Judicial Conduct that Keller should not lose her job.

But the Texas court did have, as Berchelmann acknowledges, an oral tradition that all communications from lawyers on execution day were to be made to an assigned judge. On that day, the assigned judge was Cheryl Johnson. At the very least, Keller had a responsibility to inform Johnson about the expected appeal or refer Richard's attorneys to Johnson. She did not.

According to Berchelmann, Keller exhibited poor judgment and wasn't a “model of open communication.” But, he wrote, her inaction did not “rise to the level of willful or purposeful incompetence.” We disagree.

Richard's guilt is not at issue, nor is the fact that he ultimately would have been executed. What is at issue is Keller's judgment in allowing the state to proceed with the ultimate, irreversible sanction when she was well aware that a reasonable appeal was forthcoming, and without taking the minimally reasonable step of informing the appropriate colleague. She had an ethical responsibility to see that justice was properly served.

Keller has made the Texas judicial system a national embarrassment. She is unfit to serve as the state's highest-ranking criminal judge. Contrary to Berchelmann's finding, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct should continue to seek her removal from the bench by the Texas Supreme Court. If the commission does not, Texas voters will have the opportunity to do so in 2012.
Sign the petition to remove Judge Sharon Keller from office.


You can view the signatures by clicking here.

In addition to signing the petition, contact the State Commission on Judicial Conduct by phone or email and tell them not to let Sharon Keller off the hook. The Republican judge at her trial has recommended that she not be further punished, but the state commission can still punish her for saying "we close at 5" and refusing to accept a late appeal on the day of a person's execution.

Send an email to: seana.willing@scjc.state.tx.us.This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

In polite, professional language, tell Executive Director Ms Willing that Sharon Keller has brought discredit on the Texas judiciary and if they let Keller off the hook, the discredit will only get worse. Restore Integrity, Remove Keller, at least punish her with a formal reprimand.

http://www.scjc.state.tx.us/

Your communication to the State Commission will serve as support that Keller has discredited the Texas judiciary.

You can call, but they only answer the phone during business hours.

State Commission on Judicial Conduct • P. O. Box 12265 • Austin, TX 78711 Telephone: (512) 463-5533 • Toll Free: (877) 228-5750 • Fax: (512) 463-0511 • TDD: (800)-RELAY-TX

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Special Master has issued his Findings of Fact in the case of Judge Sharon Keller

The Special Master has issued his Findings of Fact in the case of Judge Sharon Keller. The special master is Republican Judge David Berchelmann, Jr. Keller is also a Republican.


The document can be located on the website of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct at http://www.scjc.state.tx.us/caseinfo.asp

The Commission will announce the date, time and location of the public hearing before the Commission at a later date.

Texas Moratorium Network filed a complaint against Keller with the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct in November 2007 that was signed by about 1900 people.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Texas Forensic Science Commission Agenda for Jan 29 Meeting: Rick Perry Succeeds in Covering Up Willingham Investigation Until After Primary

The Texas Forensic Science Commission has posted their agenda for the Jan 29th meeting in Harlingen, Texas. It is clear from this agenda, which mentions that the meeting after this one will be in April, that Rick Perry has successfully quashed and covered up the investigation into Texas' execution of an innocent person until after the March primary election. Perry replaced the old chair of the commission with his hand-picked puppet, John Bradley, in October, shortly before the commission was to discuss a report written by a fire expert hired by the commission to investigate the arson fires involved in the Todd Willingham and Ernest Willis cases.

It is not mentioned in the agenda whether Bradley will allow members of the public to deliver comments to the Commission at the meeting.


TEXAS FORENSIC SCIENCE COMMISSION - AGENDA
January 29th, 2010 - 9:30 A.M.
Courtyard Marriot
1725 W. Fillmore Avenue at Expressway 83
Harlingen, TX 78550
Telephone: (956) 412-7800 Fax: (956) 412-7889

During this meeting, the Commission may consider and take action on the following items. The Commission shall have morning breaks and a brief lunch break:

9:30 A.M. – OPENING REMARKS BY BRADLEY AND SENATOR HINOJOSA

ADOPTION OF MINUTES FROM JULY 24th, 2009 MEETING

INTRODUCTION BY EACH COMMISSIONER

PRESENTATION ON TFSC HISTORY AND DESCRIPTION OF WORK OF CHAIR SINCE LAST MEETING

DISCUSSION AND POSSIBLE ACTION ON TFSC POLICIES AND PROCEDURES

DISCUSSION AND POSSIBLE ACTION ON CREATION OF TFSC GENERAL COUNSEL POSITION

DISCUSSION AND POSSIBLE ACTION ON CREATION OF CONSULTANT POSITION FOR ONGOING TFSC PROJECTS TO STUDY FORENSIC TESTING BACKLOGS (See Senate Interim Chair No. 6)

ASSIGNMENT OF PENDING COMPLAINTS AND CASES BY CHAIR

SCHEDULE/LOCATION FOR FUTURE MEETINGS (April, July, and October)

ADJOURN

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Anti-Death Penalty Activists: Make a Video for this Contest Run by the State Bar of Texas

This YouTube contest run by the State Bar of Texas could be a good contest to enter for people who want to address their contest questions from a death penalty perspective. Answer one of two questions in a 30 second video: 1) Why are lawyers important to our society? or 2) How is the court system important to our society?

For instance, one obvious reason why lawyers are important is to prevent innocent people from being executed or to prevent people from being executed who were convicted and unjustly sentenced to death under the Law of Parties even though they did not themselves kill anyone.


Prizes will be awarded in three categories 1) a $500 scholarship for entrants younger than 18; 2) $500 cash for entrants 18 and older; and 3) $500 cash for the People’s Choice Award. Contestants can post their videos at www.youtube.com/group/texansonjustice. The deadline for entries is April 1. 


Image$500 scholarship for under 18 winner /  $500 cash prizes for 18 and over and the People's Choice Award

(One video from among all categories will receive a “People’s Choice” award, based on the total number of views on YouTube between January 15, 2010, and the day the State Bar submits the videos for judging.)

ImageWinners also receive an expenses-paid trip to the awards presentation in Austin in April 2010
ImageStarting Jan. 15, 2010, upload your video to our 2010 Contest Group on YouTube

Create a 30-second video
, similar to a public service announcement, that answers one of these questions:
  1. Why are lawyers important to our society?
  2. How is the court system important to our society?

This contest is open to residents of Texas and attorneys licensed to practice in Texas.

To enter:
1. Read and agree to the contest rules.
2. Make a video. Be creative!
3. Complete our online entry form starting on Jan. 15, 2010.
4. Submit/post your video to www.youtube.com/group/texansonjustice starting Jan. 15, 2010. Videos must be 30 seconds long or less. The deadline for entries is April 1, 2010.
5. Mail an original copy of your video on DVD or videotape to YouTube Contest, c/o State Bar of Texas, Attn: Judy Marchman, 1414 Colorado St., Austin TX 78701. Include your name and YouTube username on the copy.

If you are under the age of 18, be sure to submit a signed parental permission form


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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Terri Been Reports on Her Phone Call from Sister Helen Prejean that She Won in Texas Moratorium Network Drawing



Below is a report from Terri Been, the winner of Texas Moratorium Network's drawing to receive a phone call from Sister Helen Prejean. Terri received the call from Sister Helen last night. Thank you to everyone who entered the drawing and thank you especially to Sister Helen Prejean for supporting the work of Texas Moratorium Network by agreeing to make a phone call to the TMN supporter who won the drawing.

TMN held the drawing online on the TMN Facebook page, on Amazee and on the TMN blog.



Today, I received the phone call from Sister Helen Prejean that I won from the Texas Moratorium Network drawing. This really was an honor for me, and Sister Helen was as thoughtful and generous as I have heard.

When she called, she was actually on her way home from a death row visit in Louisiana. We spoke of several topics with regard to the abolition movement, and then she asked me about my brother’s case. (Jeff Wood) We also talked briefly about the efforts of the Kids Against the Death Penalty and their being asked to speak in Geneva; she then mentioned that she would also be at the 4th World Congress next month in Geneva, and looked forward to meeting us if we were able to raise the money.

Our phone conversation lasted about half an hour, but she called back a second time (while I was in class) and spoke with 7 of the KADP members separately, (who were together to protest tonight’s execution of Gary Johnson) as well as to my husband, Steven. They were all very excited to speak with her, and were thankful for the additional call, which was a surprise to us all!

She assured me that there was a reason she and I were able to connect; and I am looking forward to working/collaborating with her in the future; not only for the sake of my brother, but for all who are affected by this barbaric form of “punishment”. She is truly an inspiration, and I can not thank her enough for her time. Further, I would like to thank Scott Cobb from the Texas Moratorium Network not only for this amazing opportunity but also for being an instrumental part in the effort to save my brother’s life.

I know that together, we can, and will win the fight for abolition!

Terri Been

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Texas Executes 2nd Person in 2010, 210th Under Rick Perry and 449th Since 1982

Gary Johnson, 59, was executed today by lethal injection in Texas for the April 1986 slayings of James Hazelton, 28, and his brother-in-law, Peter Sparagana, 23.

Johnson was the second person executed in Texas in 2010 and the 449th since 1982.

Hank Skinner is the next person scheduled for execution in Texas on February 24, 2010.

TDCJ says Johnson was a former laborer with 8 years of formal education.

Johnson's attorneys went to the U.S. Supreme Court to try to keep him from becoming the second prisoner executed this year in the nation's most active capital punishment state. A clemency petition to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles was turned down last week.

From the AP:

Gary Johnson was executed Tuesday for fatally shooting a ranch foreman and another man who interrupted his burglary of a southeast Texas ranch nearly 24 years ago.
Johnson, 59, was the second inmate to receive lethal injection this year in the state that executes the most prisoners. At least six others have execution dates scheduled for the coming months.

He was condemned for the April 1986 slayings of James Hazelton, 28, and Hazelton’s brother-in-law, Peter Sparagana, 23. The two were gunned down while investigating a call from a neighbor who reported intruders had driven through a chained gate at the Triple Creek Ranch about 10 miles west of Huntsville.

Hazelton’s brother, George, was among who watched Johnson die. He stood just a few feet away and watched through a glass window. He declined to meet with reporters following the execution.

One of Johnson’s brothers, Dell, and a daughter were among witnesses in an adjacent room.
Johnson declined the warden’s offer to make a final statement.

“Just tell my family good bye,” he said. But then, his voice choking with emotion, he urged relatives to tell other family members “what they did was wrong for letting me take the fall for what they did.”

“I never done anything in my life to anybody,” he said.

Eleven minutes later, at 6:26 p.m. CST, he was pronounced dead.

It took about two years for investigators to assemble their case against Johnson, who once worked at the ranch, and his brother, Terry. The brothers became suspects after the neighbor who saw men drive into the ranch described distinctive brake lights on their truck.

Terry Johnson, 62, took a plea deal with a 99-year prison term. Gary Johnson went to trial on capital murder charges, was convicted and sentenced to death.

“This was not their first nighttime burglary,” recalled Frank Blazek, the prosecutor at Johnson’s trial. “They knew the various pastures and that was part of a pattern they had.”

Hazelton and Sparagana discovered Terry Johnson but didn’t see his brother, who opened fire with a .44-caliber Magnum pistol and shot Sparagana, according to evidence and statements from Terry Johnson. Hazelton tried to run but was caught by Gary Johnson, who once worked for him.

“He put the gun in Hazelton’s mouth,” Blazek said. “Hazelton begged for his life and people across the way, in the nearby pasture, couldn’t see all this but could hear a man begging for his life.”

Shannon Ferguson, the neighbor who called Hazelton about the suspicious truck entering the ranch, and her husband were in a pasture tending to a horse about to give birth.

She said last week she’s always “felt kind of responsible” for the two men being murdered because they wouldn’t have investigated if she hadn’t called. But Ferguson also believes if she ignored the Johnson brothers’ suspicious activity, “I think they probably would have gone on and murdered more people.”

The murder weapon was recovered at the home of another Johnson brother in Union, Mo.
Johnson declined to speak with reporters in the weeks preceding his scheduled execution. Before arriving on death row, he had no previous prison record. Trial testimony showed that in 1972, in his native Missouri, he paid $150 in restitution to a man whose dog he shot and killed. The dog’s owner was a few feet away at the time.

Blazek said investigators found the same slogan etched in concrete outside Johnson’s home and on a T-shirt he was wearing in a photograph: “Kill them all and let God sort them out.”

“It indicated a callousness about human life,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Johnson’s lawyers asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay his execution, saying he was nearly blind, in poor health and posed no danger to society if he was spared from the death chamber. The court rejected their plea.

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Call Texas Governor Perry to Protest Today's Execution of Gary Johnson

Gary Johnson, 59, is scheduled for lethal injection today, January 12, for the April 1986 slayings of James Hazelton, 28, and his brother-in-law, Peter Sparagana, 23.

TDCJ says Johnson is a former laborer with 8 years of formal education.

Johnson's attorneys went to the U.S. Supreme Court to try to keep him from becoming the second prisoner executed this year in the nation's most active capital punishment state. A clemency petition to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles was turned down last week.

If the execution is not stopped, it will be the second Texas execution of 2010. Last year, Texas executed 24 people, by far more than any other U.S. state.

Call Texas Governor Rick Perry and let him know that you oppose the death penalty. 512-463-1782 or 512-463-2000. They keep a tally of callers for and against, so be part of the historical record against. If you are shy, you can just leave a voice mail at the 463-1782 number or write an email http://www.governor.state.tx.us/contact.

From the AP:

In their appeals to the Supreme Court and to the Texas parole board, Gary Johnson's lawyers insisted the condemned prisoner was not violent, that he had lost one eye in a prison assault and was blind in another, that his health was poor and executing him would be unconstitutionally cruel.

"It would be an embarrassment to the state of Texas to execute .... Gary Johnson at this time," David Schulman, one of his attorneys, said in a petition. "He is certainly no threat to anyone."

State attorneys argued Johnson's appeal sought new rules to reassess at the time of execution his threat of future violence, rather than accept the judgment of jurors at his trial. They also contended that federal appeals courts have ruled prisoners may be put to death as long as they understand the punishment and why they're receiving it.

"Johnson's allegedly deteriorating physical health does not concern his ability to comprehend his impending execution and the reason for it," Stephen Hoffman, an assistant Texas attorney general, told the Supreme Court.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Watch Full Episode of 48 Hours on Yogurt Shop Case Murders and Wrongful Convictions

Click here to watch the full episode of 48 Hours on Yogurt Shop online.

The Statesman has this summary:

Austin’s 1991 yogurt shop murder case was featured on a CBS television show Saturday night, about ten weeks after the October dismissal of charges against Robert Springsteen and Michael Scott, both once convicted of capital murder in the case.

The show “48 Hours Mystery” chronicled elements of the 18-year-old case from the beginning and featured interviews with Springsteen, the original investigators and family members of the four teenage girls who were murdered in December 1991 at the I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt shop on West Anderson Lane.

In 1999 Springsteen and Scott each said in interviews with Austin police that they participated in the killings. Their lawyers later argued that those confessions are false and came under psychological pressure from detectives.

Perhaps the most compelling part of the CBS account was when former Austin police lead investigator John Jones said he recently reviewed the confessions in the case and does not think Scott and Springsteen are guilty.

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sharon Keller said "we close at 5" in Case in Which State's Expert Psychologist Used Junk Science to Evaluate Defendant's Mental Retardation

The Texas Observer is reporting in the article "Cracked", by Renée Feltz that the prosecution's expert psychologist used junk science to determine that the defendant in the case in which Sharon Keller slammed shut the doors of her court by saying "we close at 5" did not have mental retardation. Michael Richard, the person whom Texas executed after Sharon Keller said "we close at 5", would probably have been found to be constitutionally protected from being subject to the death penalty, if the state's expert psychologist had not used junk science to incorrectly determine that he did not have mental retardation.

The now discredited psychologist, George Denkowski, also handled 17 other Texas death penalty cases in which the people are still on Texas' death row, all of which would need to be re-evaluated, if Denkowski loses his license as a result of a hearing to be held Feb 16 in Austin.

From the Observer article:

In 2005, Brown and Denkowski tested Michael Richard, who had been sentenced to death for the 1986 rape and murder of a 53-year-old Houston woman named Marguerite Dixon. Based on test scores and school records, Brown concluded that Richard was mentally retarded, and had been all his life.

At first, Denkowski agreed that Richard was mentally retarded. As the state’s expert, he had submitted a finding that Richard had an IQ of 64 and adaptive-behavior scores that clearly showed mental retardation. His combined score was a 57, well below the 70 cutoff. But Denkowski retracted his findings after prosecutors showed him a list of books that were found in Richard’s cell, including two dictionaries. Denkowski said the dictionaries showed that Richard could read much better than he had indicated under testing. He adjusted several of Richard’s scores. When he added them up, the total score jumped from 57 to 76. In his new opinion, Denkowski concluded that Richard should no longer be considered mentally retarded.

When Brown saw the prosecution’s list of books, he met with Richard a second time to ask him about his reading abilities and clarify how he’d used the books in his cell—one of which was written in German. Denkowski had not followed up with Richard to ask about the books. Richard described to Brown how he stacked the books on top of each other and used them to sit on, since his death row cell lacked a chair.

Even so, the judge accepted Denkowski’s revised score. In September 2007, Richard was executed. Brown was appalled. “To those of us familiar with the right way to do these things, it is very apparent that what he’s doing is wrong.”
Read the entire article here.

Watch video accompanying story.

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Friday, January 08, 2010

Rick Perry will pardon Timothy Cole; Texas Governor Now Has Power to Pardon People Already Executed

Rick Perry plans to issue a posthumous pardon to Timothy Cole, who died in prison before he could prove his innocence. Now, that Perry has acknowledged and plans to use the power to grant posthumous pardons, the door is open for him or future governors to issue pardons to innocent people already executed, such as Todd Willingham, Carlos De Luna or others, if they are convinced of their innocence.

From the Houston Chronicle:

The announcement came hours after Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott cleared the way with an opinion that the governor had the legal authority to grant a posthumous pardon.
“We've been seeking justice for Tim for almost 25 years,” said Cory Session, Cole's brother. “Our whole deal was to do exactly what in many of Tim's letters he wrote: ‘I want vindication, exoneration and a full pardon.' This was the final act that he wanted.”
Cole, whose cause has been championed by state lawmakers and others, was found guilty in the 1985 rape of a Texas Tech student and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. His conviction was based in part on the victim's identification of him as her attacker and what a judge later called faulty police work and a questionable suspect lineup. The victim later fought to help clear Cole's name.
Cole died in prison in 1999, at age 39, after an asthma attack caused him to go into cardiac arrest.
Following repeated confessions by another man, Cole was cleared by DNA evidence in 2008, and a state judge exonerated him in 2009. His family pursued a pardon, but Perry had said he did not have the authority to grant one posthumously.
That changed Thursday, in what Perry called “good news.”
In response to a request for a legal opinion by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, Abbott noted that upon recommendation by the state Board of Pardons and Paroles, Perry is constitutionally entitled to grant pardons in all criminal cases, except treason and impeachment.
Below is a video of Timothy Cole's brother, Cory Session, speaking at the 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty in Austin on October 24, 2009.

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Thursday, January 07, 2010

Kenneth Mosley Executed in Texas - First Texas Execution of 2010; 448th Since 1982

Texas executed its first person of 2010 today and the 448th since 1982. The person's name was Kenneth Mosley.

Next week, Texas is set to execute Gary Johnson.

From the Houston Chronicle:

A man convicted of gunning down a Dallas-area police officer during an attempted bank robbery was put to death Thursday evening in the first execution of the year in the nation's busiest death penalty state.

Kenneth Mosley, 51, was condemned for the February 1997 slaying of David Moore, an officer in the Dallas suburb of Garland. His lethal injection was carried out after his legal appeals became exhausted.

The punishment had been stalled twice last year by technical issues and court appeals.

Mosley shook his head once when asked by a warden if he had any final statement. As the lethal drugs began taking effect, he snored a few times, then gasped slightly. Nine minutes later, at 6:16 p.m. CST, he was pronounced dead.

Moore's widow was among the people in the chamber to watch Mosley die. He did not acknowledge her presence.

Earlier this week, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles denied his request for clemency.

Texas put 24 convicted killers to death last year, accounting for nearly half of the 52 executions carried out in the U.S. Another convicted killer was scheduled to be executed in Texas next week.

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Texas Forensic Science Commission Meeting Jan 29 in South Texas

The Texas Forensic Science Commission, whose review of the controversial case of Cameron Todd Willingham was delayed when Perry replaced all of his appointees on the commission, has scheduled a Jan. 29 meeting in Harlingen.

The agenda has not been posted.

January 29th, 2010, 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Courtyard by Marriott
1725 W. Filmore Ave.
Harlingen, Texas 78550

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Call Governor Perry to Protest Today's Execution of Kenneth Mosley

Texas is set to execute Kenneth Mosley today, January 7, 2010. If the execution is not stopped, it will be the first Texas execution of 2010. Last year, Texas executed 24 people, by far more than any other U.S. state.

Call Texas Governor Rick Perry and let him know that you oppose the death penalty. 512-463-1782 or 512-463-2000. They keep a tally of callers for and against, so be part of the historical record against. If you are shy, you can just leave a voice mail at the 463-1782 number or write an email http://www.governor.state.tx.us/contact.

Below is a call to action from Amnesty International UK.

Amnesty International is calling for the execution of a man in the US state of Texas who may be brain-damaged to be stopped.

Kenneth Mosley, 51, faces execution by lethal injection in three days' time (Thursday 7 January) unless Texas governor Rick Perry intervenes. Amnesty supporters are sending 'urgent action' appeals to Governor Perry and to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Mosley was sentenced to death in 1997 after being found guilty of the murder of a police officer called David Moore in an attempted bank robbery in the city of Garland, Texas.

At his trial Mosley testified that he had not intended to shoot Moore and there were conflicting eyewitness accounts as to whether the shooting appeared intentional. Meanwhile, the trial jury was told nothing about Mosley's upbringing, which was marked by violent abuse from his father and exposure to toxic pesticides that may have seriously damaged his brain. Neither did the jury hear of his severe depression and a long history of cocaine and alcohol abuse as 'self-medication'.

After his trial two psychologists concluded that Mosley suffered from frontal lobe dysfunction. Another psychologist said he had "generalised brain impairment as well as damage to specific areas in both the right and left sides of his brain." The third expert said that the "primary cause" of his "neuro-cognitive deficits" was "his lengthy and varied exposures to toxic chemicals at a vulnerable developmental stage."

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

'Executions are always cruel and unnecessary, but for Texas to put to death a man who might be brain-damaged would be utterly unforgivable.

'Our thoughts are with the family of Officer Moore at this time but even those that support the death penalty ought to admit it's totally wrong to execute a man like Kenneth Mosley.'

'As with many other US capital cases, a jury has made a decision over Mosley's fate without hearing the full story. Governor Rick Perry should, in all conscience, stop this execution.'

Death row in the USA: some key facts

Texas is one of 35 US states to retain the death penalty

The USA has seen a fall in the number of executions in recent years, but it still executes dozens of people every year - in 2009 there were 52 executions

Kenneth Mosely is one of 342 inmates (332 men, 10 women) on death row in Texas

Since 1976 the USA has executed 1,188 people

From 1973 to the present 139 people have been released from death row in the USA on the grounds of innocence (an average of approximately three exonerations per year)

Some 3,300 prisoners remain on death row in the USA.

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Monday, January 04, 2010

Top Texas Death Penalty Stories in 2009

Two stories dominated death penalty news in Texas in 2009, Todd Willingham and Sharon Keller. We will call it a tie for top Texas death penalty story in 2009, at least according to amount of media coverage. Well, the Willingham case received more media coverage, but we still call it a tie for top story.

Other important Texas death penalty stories of 2009 in no particular order were:

the 200th execution under Governor Rick Perry;

the fact that only nine people were sentenced to death in Texas in 2009;

the approval of the Law of Parties bill in the Texas House only for it to be killed in the Senate by a veto threat from Rick Perry;

the Charles Dean Hood case, in which the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that it was ok for the judge and prosecutor to sleep together without biasing the outcome of the trial enough to warrant a retrial;

the Texas Legislature passed and Rick Perry signed into law a bill to create a new capital writs office to handle indigent habeas appeals in death penalty cases;

all charges were dropped against Robert Springsteen and Michael Toney and both were released from prison after having been sentenced to death in Texas in 2001 (Springsteen) and 1999 (Toney).

Finally in October 2009, hundreds of people converged on the Texas capitol in Austin to call for abolition of the death penalty in Texas. The 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty included the delivery of a petition to Rick Perry signed by more than 6,000 people calling for a complete investigation into the case of Todd Willingham and a moratorium on executions. The march was the largest rally against the death penalty in Texas since 2000.

Three innocent, exonerated former death row prisoners were among the special guests at the Tenth Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty October 24, 2009 at 2 PM in Austin, Texas at the Texas Capitol on the South Steps at 11th and Congress. Also attending was the penpal of Todd Willingham, Elizabeth Gilbert, who first investigated his innocence. Plus, Todd’s last lawyer Walter Reaves.

One of the most moving moments of 2009 was when the mother of Reginald Blanton spoke at a rally at the Texas Capitol on Sept 26 pleading for Rick Perry to stay the execution of her son, who maintained his innocence from his arrest until his execution on October 27. Watch video of Blanton's mother here, but be forewarned, if you have tears, prepare to shed them.



Todd Willingham - the Texas Forensic Science Commission received a report from Dr Craig Beyler, a national fire expert who examined the case of Todd Willingham and who wrote in his report that "a finding of arson could not be sustained" by a scientific analysis. The New Yorker published a 16,000-word article by David Grann that examined all the evidence in the Willingham case and found nothing that should have led to Willingham's conviction and execution. Willingham was executed in 2004. Rick Perry raised the profile of the case even higher by replacing all of his appointees to the Texas Forensic Science Commission, including the chair. The new chair, prosecutor John Bradley, canceled a meeting at which the commission was scheduled to discuss the report by Dr Craig Beyler and shut down the commission's proceedings. Rick Perry had effectively covered up the investigation of whether Texas had executed an innocent person until after the March 2010 primary election.

TMN appeared on CNN on October 2 and accused Perry of a cover-up.



Sharon Keller was charged with incompetence and misconduct by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct for saying '"we close at 5", effectively blocking the submission of an appeal in 2007 by lawyers for Michael Richard on the day of his execution, and for breaking the execution day procedures of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. A resolution to impeach Keller was introduced in the Texas House of Representatives and given a hearing by the chair of the House Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence.

Keller's trial on the SCJC charges was held in San Antonio before a special master, Judge David Berchelmann, who by the end of the year had still not issued his findings.

TMN had submitted one of the complaints against Keller to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct in 2007. The TMN complaint was signed by about 1900 people. Watch video of CNN coverage of first day of trial, including our demonstration outside the courthouse.



Local San Antonio news coverage of the trial.



Death sentences decline, but Texas still leads U.S. in executions. Only nine people were sentenced to death in Texas in 2009. Harris County sent zero people to death row in 2009. In 2008, Harris County had also sent zero people to death row. 24 people were executed in Texas in 2009. Texas conducted almost 50 percent of all executions in the U.S. in 2009.

More than 200 executions under Rick Perry.

On June 2, 2009, the 200th person was executed in Texas since Rick Perry became governor in December 2000. TMN coordinated protests in Texas and cities in Canada and Europe, including Austin, Houston, Huntsville, Montreal, Brussels, Leipzig Germany, Albuquerque and Paris France.

Video of Dr. Jerry Williams, a SFA sociology professor is a speaker at the Walls Unit protest.

Williams' sister was brutally murdered and her killer only spent 15 years in prison. He explains why he doesn't believe in execution. "I hated him. I wanted to see him die. I wanted to see him suffer in prison. And I thought justice would be done only in the way, but what I realized over time was that my hate really diminished me. It damaged me and did nothing for him," explained Williams.


Report from a Nacogdoches TV Station of a Delegation Headed to Huntsville to Protest 200th Execution Under Gov Rick Perry.



Protest held in Houston by Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement June 2, 2009 on the day of the 200th execution under Texas Governor Rick Perry.



The Law of Parties Bill

The Texas House passed a bill that would have banned executions of people convicted under the Law of Parties who did not actually kill anyone. Rep Hodge and Rep Dutton both filed Law of Parties bills in response to the cases of Kenneth Foster, Jeff Wood and other people who have been sentenced to death despite not having killed anyone. Prior to the start of the session, we had lobbied legislators looking for a sponsor for the Law of Parties bill, so we were happy when both Rep Dutton and Rep Hodge filed bills.

We held a press conference with Rep Dutton and Kenneth Foster's and Jeff Wood's family to explain the law of parties bill. Watch video of press conference TV coverage.



We held a lobby day in March during which we met with legislators about the Law of Parties bill. It was the largest lobby day against the death penalty ever held in Texas. We lobbied 90 legislative offices. People came from all over Texas to participate, including the father and grandfather of Kenneth Foster, and family members of Jeff Wood, Randy Halprin and several other families of people convicted under the Law of Parties. In addition to building support for the law of parties bill on the lobby day, we found additional legislative sponsors for a bill to abolish the death penalty and the moratorium bill.

We followed up in April with a second mini-lobby day after the law of parties bill had passed the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence. We lobbied for passage by the full House. Watch Rep Hodge urging people to call their legislators about her bill.



On May 2, there was a second rally for the law of parties bill. Watch video here.





On May 15, the bill passed the full Texas House and was renamed the "Kenneth Foster, Jr Act". We live blogged and issued a press release. After passing the House, the bill died in the senate after Governor Rick Perry threatened to veto it.

The bill died in part because of false information given out by prosecutors such as Williamson County Attorney John Bradley, who said in the Austin American-Statesman: "To exempt all defendants in capital cases because they didn’t pull the trigger “is irrational. Under that reasoning, Hitler, Osama bin Laden and Charles Manson could never get the death penalty. You have to look at the facts of each case … whether their participation merits holding them culpable".

HB 2267 said

(b) A defendant who is found guilty in a capital felony case
only as a party under Section 7.02(b), Penal Code, may not be
sentenced to death, and the state may not seek the death penalty in
any case in which the defendant's liability is based solely on that
section.

People like Hitler, Manson and Osama bin Laden would not have been prosecuted under Section 7.02(b), but prosecutors used that scare tactic to help kill the bill.

Largest Anti-Death Penalty Rally in Texas Since 2000 Held in October 2009

Protesters march to call for an end to executions
Recent remarks by Perry fuel anti-death penalty rally.
By Joshunda Sanders
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Sunday, October 25, 2009

Death penalty opponents rally at Capitol
KXAN Austin
Supporters: Innocent put to death in 2004
Published : Saturday, 24 Oct 2009, 9:03 PM CDT

Hundreds Attend Death Penalty Rally at Texas State Capitol
KVUE, October 24, 2009



Hundreds March in Austin calling for a stop to the death penalty
CBS KEYE TV News
October 24, 2009

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Sunday, January 03, 2010

Terri Been is the winner of TMN's drawing to receive a phone call from Sister Helen Prejean


We have a winner in our drawing to win a phone call from Sister Helen Prejean.

Terri Been is the winner. She will soon be receiving a personal phone call from the Nobel Prize nominated internationally-known author and anti-death penalty and human rights advocate Sister Helen Prejean.

Terri wrote on Facebook, "Yeahhhhhhh!!!!! I won the phone call from Sister Helen Prejean! I can't wait to speak with her!!!! Thanks to Scott Cobb of the Texas Moratorium Network for setting up the contest! What a once in a lifetime opportunity!!!!"

Terri's brother, Jeff Wood, is on death row in Texas, convicted under the Law of Parties even though he never killed anyone. He was outside of a store sitting in a car while his companion went inside and robbed and murdered the clerk of the store. 

Thank you very much to Sister Helen for supporting Texas Moratorium Network's efforts against the death penalty in Texas and for agreeing to take time out of her very busy schedule to speak to Terri on the phone!

We held the drawing primarily on the TMN Facebook page.

Justin DuClos of Massachusetts is the winner of the second place prize, a signed copy of the book Mortal Justice by Jeanette Popp and Wanda Evans. The book tells the story of the murder of Jeanette's daughter Nancy and Jeanette's long activism against the death penalty. Two men were wrongfully convicted of the murder and spent 12 years in prison for a crime they did not commit. When the real killer was discovered and convicted, Jeanette met with the killer in a jail in Austin Texas and told him that she did not want him to receive the death penalty.

You can learn more about Sister Helen Prejean on her websites.

http://www.sisterhelen.org

http://www.dmwplay.org

http://dmwplay.ning.com

http://www.moratoriumcampaign.org


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Saturday, January 02, 2010

New Videos by Kids Against the Death Penalty

Kids Against the Death Penalty have been working hard on new videos that they have posted on YouTube. This is the kind of hard work that was the reason they were named the 2009 Youth Abolitionists of the Year.

Click here to watch their below video entitled "Remembering the Fallen: A Reflection of the 2009 Texas Executions" on YouTube.



Here is their video on Jeff Wood.



Here is their video on the Law of Parties.




Here is their video on Darlie Routier.

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