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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Five Death Row Exonerees to Speak at Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break March 15-19 in Austin, Texas

Derrick Jamison, an innocent man who spent 17 years on death row in Ohio will be one of the speakers at the Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break, which is March 15-19, 2010 in Austin, Texas. Derrick is attending as a member of Witness to Innocence. Derrick will join exonerees Shujaa Graham, Curtis McCarty, Ron Keine and Perry Cobb at alternative spring break to speak with participants about how innocent people can end up on death row. Altogether, the five exonerees attending the alternative spring break spent a total of almost 50 years on death row for crimes they did not commit.

The Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break March 15-19 in Austin is designed for high school and college students interested in human rights and the death penalty. All the events are also open to people of all ages who are interested in the issue. In addition to five death row exonerees, there will be many other interesting speakers, including the national director of Sister Helen Prejean's Dead Man Walking School Theatre Project, Bill Pelke of Journey of Hope, Susannah Sheffer of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights, Brian Evans from the Washington D.C. office of Amnesty International, and Elizabeth Gilbert, the friend of Todd Willingham who first brought his case to the attention of thefire expert who later sent a report to Rick Perry in support of a stay of execution.

Participants will gain valuable training and experience in grassroots organizing, lobbying, preparing a public rally and working with the media. During the week, students will immediately put what they learn into action during activities such as an Anti-Death Penalty Lobby Day with a rally at the Texas Capitol. There will be opportunities to write press releases, organize a press conference, speak in public, meet with legislators or their aides, and carry out a public rally at the capitol.


Please register at the website http://springbreakalternative.org/deathpenalty

 Derrick Jamison

derrick jamison | www.witnesstoinnocence.orgWhen James Suggs, an eyewitness to the robbery and murder of a Cincinnati bartender, was shown photo arrays of suspects by police, he identified two men—but neither of them was Derrick Jamison.  There were also multiple contradictions between physical descriptions of the perpetrators given by witnesses and Derrick’s actual appearance. This information was withheld from Jamison’s trial, and as a result, an innocent man spent nearly 20 years on Ohio’s death row for a crime he did not commit.
In February 2005, Ohio Common Pleas Judge Richard Niehaus dismissed all charges against Derrick after his conviction was overturned three years earlier. Jamison was convicted and sentenced to death in 1985 based largely on the testimony of Charles Howell, a co-defendant whose own sentence was reduced in exchange for testimony against Derrick.
Statements were withheld that contradicted Howell’s testimony, undermined the prosecution’s explanation for the death, and ultimately would have incriminated other suspects for the murder. Two federal courts ruled that the prosecution's actions denied Derrick a fair trial.
Today, Derrick is fully aware of the inequality of the criminal justice system. “There is a double standard when it comes to justice in our judicial system, especially with wrongful conviction,” he says. “If you are a minority or a low-income citizen, the pursuit of justice can be an elusive one. But if you are rich it happens overnight.”
Although his resentment towards the system is subsiding, Derrick continues to express anger about how the 17 years he spent on death row impacted his life and the lives of his family members. At the time of sentencing, he was incredibly troubled because of his unjust imprisonment. “I was very angry, furious and distraught. . . all the emotions that stir up anguish. It made me feel it was over for me. Not only did that sentence affect me, it was the demise of my mother and father.”
Derrick currently lives in Cincinnati, where he expresses daily gratitude for his release.  “In the 21 years I experienced ‘dead man walking’ I never had anything to smile about,” he says, “but on that day, I felt the smile come from within my heart. The sun shone down on me that day.”

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Campaign to Save Linda Carty From Execution in Texas

British grandmother Linda Carty was wrongfully sentenced to death by a Texan court and is now dangerously close to execution. Please watch this video about her disastrous case - and find out how you can help save her life.




How to save Linda Carty
  1. Please sign this petition NOW
  2. Follow Linda Carty's case on Facebook, Twitter or our Save Linda Petition
  3. Sign up for updates on Linda's case by mailing info@reprieve.org.uk
  4. Donate to our Urgent Appeal for Linda Carty

Who is Linda Carty?

After a catastrophically flawed trial, Linda Carty was sentenced to death in February 2002 and faces execution within months. She desperately needs your help.


Why is Linda Carty on death row?

Linda would certainly not be on death row today if she had had a decent defence lawyer at trial. Her story is a damning indictment of the Texas justice system, and exposes the perils of being poor and vulnerable in the USA.

Linda was born on 5 October 1958 on the Caribbean island of St Kitts to Anguillan parents and holds a UK dependent territory passport. She worked as a primary school teacher in St Kitts until she was 23, when she moved to the US to study.

After disastrous failures by her court-appointed lawyer, Linda was convicted of taking part in the murder of 25 year-old Joana Rodriguez.

The crime took place on 16 May 2001, when three men broke into the apartment of Rodriguez and her partner Raymundo Cabrera, demanding drugs and cash. They abducted Rodriguez and her four-day-old son, Ray, who was later found unharmed in a car, while Rodriguez had suffocated.

The prosecution’s rather implausible theory was that Linda was afraid of losing her common-law husband and thought that if she had another baby he would stay. Unable to get pregnant, they allege she had hired three men to kidnap Rodriguez and that she planned to steal the child - a baby of a different race to Linda.

Linda's court-appointed lawyer was Jerry Guerinot, whose incompetence has already led to twenty of his clients ending up on death row, more than any other defence lawyer in the US. His approach to her case was at best, slapdash, at worst, wilfully inept.

Jerry  Guerinot - the worst lawyer in the world?

Guerinot's catalogue of serious failings in Linda's case includes: failure to meet Linda until immediately before the trial, failure to inform Linda or her husband of their rights; failure to spot obvious flaws and inconsistencies in the prosecution case; failure to interview witnesses; and failure to investigate key mitigating evidence.

After her conviction, investigators from Reprieve visited St Kitts and learnt that Linda was still remembered as a passionate teacher who frequently held extra classes for children with special needs. She also taught at Sunday school, sang in a national youth choir and led a volunteer social-work group.

This information would have enabled Guerinot to present her to the jurors as a dedicated teacher and community leader – factors that might well have induced them to vote to spare her life. But although Guerinot applied to the court for funds to go to St Kitts before Linda’s trial, neither he nor his staff made the trip.

By the time the Carty family emigrated to the US in 1982, Linda had a daughter Jovelle, then two (born 10 September 1979). Shortly after Jovelle was born, Jovelle’s father emigrated to New York, leaving Linda to care for the child alone. A year after Linda moved to Houston her cousin Harriet died suddenly. Linda and Harriet were very close and Linda was devastated.

During the 80s, Linda had begun to work as a confidential informant for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), befriending suspected traffickers in order to get information and sometimes to make test purchases of drugs. Linda has always asserted her innocence, and believes that she was framed because of her work with the DEA.

In 1988 Linda was raped in a University of Houston car park. The rape resulted in a pregnancy and Linda gave birth to a baby girl (born 23 June 1989) who was given up for adoption. Linda felt a deep sense of shame and concealed the rape and the pregnancy from her family. Two months prior to giving birth, Linda’s beloved father died, Linda was distraught. Later, she found herself in an abusive relationship and was a victim of domestic violence.

Linda is now incarcerated at Mountain View Unit, one of ten women on death row in Texas.





Will Linda be killed?

Linda's case is now before the Supreme Court; this is the last chance for the legal system to save her life. The Supreme Court hears only a tiny number of cases per year.

It is time to get very worried about Linda. She needs all the support she can get.

What else can I do?

After signing the petition and sending it to your friends, you can write a letter of support to Linda at: Linda Carty, # 999406, Mountainview Unit, 2305 Ransom Rd, Gatesville, Texas 76528, USA. Letters must include a return address.

Downloads

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Vote for the Abolish the Death Penalty as an Idea for Change in America at Change.org






Texas Moratorium Network sent an email out a few days ago asking people to vote for "Abolish the Death Penalty" in the Ideas for Change contest at Change.org. 236 TMN members have voted so far, which is a little more than one-quarter of the total votes of 820 as of now. Thanks for everyone who already voted. If you have not yet voted, please do. We need another hundred votes or so to move into the top ten. The idea was started at change.org by Gilles Denizot. Nice job Gilles!

Take a moment to vote for the Abolish the Death Penalty as an Idea for Change in America at Change.org. (You will have to register atChange.org to vote.) If the idea becomes one of the top ten, Change.org will host an event in Washington, DC, where each of the 10 ideas will be presented to representatives of the media, the nonprofit community, and to relevant officials in the Obama Administration. After the announcement, Change.org will mobilize the full resources of their staff, their 1 million community members, and their extended network of bloggers to support a series of grassroots campaigns to turn each idea into reality.


This is the second annual ideas competition powered by Change.org. The first competition was launched immediately following the 2008 presidential election, during which time people submitted more than 7,500 ideas and 650,000 votes.

How it Works
Beginning January 20, 2010, individuals and organizations everywhere can (1) submit ideas for change they want to see implemented, (2) discuss these ideas with others, and (3) vote for their favorite ideas and promote them across the web.
During the first round of voting, ideas will be organized into 20 different issue-based categories. First round voting ends at 5pm ET on February 25th, at which point the three top ranked ideas in each category will advance to the second (and final) round of voting, starting March 1, 2010 . In this final round, all 60 qualifying ideas (top three in each of 20 categories) will be in open competition. The final round of voting concludes at 5pm ET on March 11th, and the 10 most popular ideas at the conclusion of voting will be named winners – the “Top 10 Ideas for Change in America.”
The Top 10 Ideas for Change in America
To formally announce the winners, Change.org will host an event in Washington, DC, whereeach of these top 10 ideas will be presented to representatives of the media, the nonprofit community, and to relevant officials in the Obama Administration. After the announcement, Change.org will mobilize the full resources of their staff, their 1 million community members, and their extended network of bloggers to support a series of grassroots campaigns to turn each idea into reality.
How to Turn this Idea into Reality?
We need to remain first and be amongst the Top 10 Ideas for Change in America on March 4th, 2010. We need to build a movement to support this idea and bring it to Washington D.C.
  • We need to VOTE NOW..
  • We need to TELL FRIENDS (click on email below).
  • We need to SHARE the idea around us, on Facebook, on Twitter, everywhere.
  • We need to POST the WIDGET on our personal webpages (find the code here, simply copy & paste it where you want it to appear).

We need to understand that it will ONLY happen if we do what we need to make it happen. And we only have until February 25th, 2010! Let’s get ready for Washington D.C.

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David Dow to Appear for Book Reading Tonight in Austin at Book People

David Dow will speak tonight at 7 PM at Book People in Austin Texas. Dow is professor of law at the University of Houston Law Center and an internationally recognized figure in the fight against the death penalty. He is the founder and director of the Texas Innocence Network. He lives in Houston, Texas.  His new book is “The Autobiography of an Execution”
  Interview from Time.com with David Dow:

Some two thirds of Americans support the death penalty, but few are forced to confront it on a daily basis. As an appellate lawyer in Texas — which leads the U.S. in executions — David Dow has represented more than 100 death-row inmates over the past two decades. In The Autobiography of an Execution, he recounts what it's like to do the job and then come home to his family and his dog. He talked to TIME about why he keeps doing the work, the problem with juries and what it's like to look murderers in the eye.
You call the capital punishment system "racist, classist, [and] unprincipled," but say you feel sympathy for people who support the death penalty. How can the two co-exist? 
On a regular basis, I'm sitting face to face with murderers. When I imagine sitting face to face with somebody who might have injured somebody I love or care about, I can imagine wanting to injure that person myself. I used to support the death penalty. [But] once I started doing the work, I became aware of the inequalities. I tell people that if you're going to commit murder, you want to be white, and you want to be wealthy — so that you can hire a first-class lawyer — and you want to kill a black person. And if [you are], the odds of your being sentenced to death are basically zero. It's one thing to say that rich people should be able to drive Ferraris and poor people should have to take the bus. It's very different to say that rich people should get treated one way by the state's criminal justice system and poor people should get treated another way. But that is the system that we have.
Was there a particularly egregious case that helped you come to that conclusion? 
It was incremental. Almost everybody I represented actually committed the murder that he was sent to death row for committing. But what I noticed is that they were committing murders that were not, in any meaningful sense, different from the thousands of other murders that occur where the person isn't on death row. You have about 15,000 homicides a year in the U.S. And you might have 60 executions. There wasn't any rhyme or reason to which crimes were resulting in executions, other than the operation of what I consider to be insidious types of prejudice and just sheer randomness.
You describe Derrick, your first client who was executed, as "a bad guy." And yet you were clearly torn up by his death. What's it like to develop a personal connection with unsavory characters? 
Most of the cases I work on are tragic, but at a very deep level they make sense to me. I understand how [the crime] happened. Most of my clients dropped out of school; they've got extensive juvenile records; they came from backgrounds of deprivation. I'm not saying that excuses their conduct. I'm simply saying that there were any number of points in the lives of my clients where I truly believe that if society had intervened more aggressively, it could have done something. In other cases, though, I don't see that at all. There wasn't any deprivation and there wasn't abuse and there wasn't poverty. Those are the cases that just make you stay awake at night.
You are pretty critical of some death penalty lawyers. Why? 
The cases that I write about are cases that I was handling 5 years ago, which means that the trials were 15 years ago. And 15 years ago, the quality of trial lawyers in Texas, and really all over the so-called Death Penalty Belt — the southeast of the U.S. — was typically abysmal. Over the last 5 years, the quality of trial lawyering has gotten vastly better. There are still a handful of bad lawyers. [But] today the problem is that there aren't any resources. You can have the world's greatest lawyer. And if the lawyer doesn't have resources [to hire experts], then it doesn't matter.
What's your opinion of the juries you've encountered? 
Juries can sentence somebody to death for the same reasons that kids in a gang will do something that they wouldn't do if they were by themselves. The group diffuses moral responsibility. I really do believe that jurors take their responsibility very seriously, particularly in a death penalty trial. But I think that being a member of a group allows individual jurors to slough off the responsibility for the decision. That diffusion of responsibility continues up until the very end: the judges on the court of appeals are one of three or one of nine. It's a system where you can't ever point to a single person and say, that person is responsible for imposing the death sentence.
What do you think is the future of capital punishment in the U.S.? 
My prediction is that we're going to get rid of it for economic reasons. We spend at least a million dollars more on a death penalty case than on a non-death penalty case. In the U.S., where we've executed 1200 people since the death penalty [was reinstated in 1976], that's $1.2 billion. I just think, gosh, with $1.2 billion, you could hire a lot of policemen. You could have a lot of educational programs inside of prisons so that when people come out of prison they know how to do something besides rob convenience stores and sell drugs. There are already counties in Texas, of all places, that have said, this is just not worth it: let's fix the schools and fill the potholes in the streets instead of squandering this money on a death penalty case. You don't need to be a bleeding heart to make that argument.


Read more: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1967233,00.html#ixzz0gLgmNSrQ

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Anti-Death Penalty Protesters Interrupt Rick Perry at Appearance in Denton

From the Denton Record-Chronicle:

Texas Gov. Rick Perry made a short stop in Denton Friday morning, during the “crush and rush” of campaigning leading up to the primary election on March 2, with early voting already under way.

Perry, a Republican seeking his third four-year term as governor, greeted more than 100 Denton County residents — most of whom were invited by Perry’s campaign through e-mail — at the Jupiter House coffee shop on the Square.

He debated against U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and GOP activist Debra Medina at the University of North Texas last month.

Frank Phillips, the county’s elections administrator, said Friday that 4,566 Denton County voters had cast ballots so far — 4,087 Republicans and 479 Democrats.

Perry said Denton County will be important for Republican candidates to win.

“Denton is a very dynamic community. … It’s a powerful GOP stronghold,” he said.

As Perry walked into Jupiter House, about a dozen protesters who were littered throughout the audience started clapping and yelling “Death row, hell no!”

The owners quickly and physically escorted the protesters out of the shop, but they continued to protest with banners on the sidewalk.

UNT student Laura Lamb, one of the organizers of the demonstration, said her fellow protesters attended the event to publicly disagree with Perry and his stance on capital punishment.

“We do not support state-sponsored murder,” Lamb said.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Prosecution Files Objections to Findings of Special Master in Sharon Keller Case: Says Keller Deserves Punishment

The Austin American-Statesman is reporting that the prosecution, representing the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, has filed a document objecting to the findings issued by the Special Master Judge David Berchelmann.

Texas Moratorium Network filed a complain against Sharon Keller in 2007 that was signed by about 1900 people. For more information on the case visit www.SharonKiller.com.

From the Statesman:

Seeking to revive their case against Judge Sharon Keller, prosecutors argued Wednesday that Keller deserves to be reprimanded or removed from office for refusing to accept a late execution-day appeal in 2007.
In documents filed Wednesday with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, which will weigh Keller’s fate, prosecutors objected to a special master’s conclusion that Keller was not to blame for failures that resulted in death row inmate Michael Richard being executed without his final appeal being heard in court.
Dismissing the findings by Special Master David Berchelmann Jr. as irrelevant and misguided, prosecutors said Keller’s conduct in Richard’s case “was clearly inconsistent with the proper performance of her duties … and cast public discredit on the judiciary.”
Keller’s lawyer, Chip Babcock, also filed objections to Berchelmann’s findings, issued last month after he heard four days of testimony in August.
Though emphatically in Keller’s favor, Berchelmann’s findings also criticized Keller for questionable judgment when she refused to keep the court clerk’s office open past 5 p.m. Richard’s lawyers had requested extra time to file an appeal based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision that morning.
Babcock urged the commission to disregard Berchelmann’s criticism as irrelevant, noting that Keller was charged with violating the code of judicial ethics and the Texas Constitution — not with exhibiting poor judgment or making questionable decisions.
“The special master explicitly found, based on a thorough and careful review of the evidence, that Judge Keller ‘did not violate any written or unwritten rules or laws,’” Babcock wrote. “The special master’s findings of fact plainly absolve Judge Keller of all of the charges leveled against her … (and) can only be read as an exoneration of her conduct.”
Babcock said he plans to file a formal response to prosecutors’ objections in the near future, and both sides will get a chance to argue their objections before the commission during an as-yet unscheduled meeting.
After that meeting, the 13-member commission will meet in private to decide whether to drop the charges, reprimand Keller or recommend her removal from office. That decision could take weeks, perhaps months, and a removal recommendation would kick off a new inquiry by a specially created seven-member panel of appellate court judges.
In Wednesday’s filings, prosecutors attacked Berchelmann’s two main conclusions:
  • That Keller violated no rule or law when she declined to accept the appeal after 5 p.m.
  • That lawyers with the Texas Defender Service, or TDS, were to blame for the missed appeal by failing to diligently prepare Richard’s court briefs and declining to pursue available options to file them with the Court of Criminal Appeals after 5 p.m.
Prosecutors argued that Berchelmann improperly portioned out blame as if he were presiding over a negligence lawsuit instead of charges of judicial misconduct.
“The issue here is not TDS’s conduct, but Judge Keller’s conduct,” prosecutors said. “Judge Keller’s conduct on Sept. 25, 2007 should be examined based on what she knew, heard, thought, said, did, decided and failed to do — and not on things that she did not know.”
Read more in print or on line tomorrow.

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Statement of the Legal Defense Team for Hank Skinner Regarding Re-Scheduling of Execution

For Immediate Release
February 17, 2009

Contact: Rob Owen, University of Texas, 512-232-9391, rowen@law.utexas.edu

STATEMENT OF THE LEGAL DEFENSE TEAM FOR HANK SKINNER REGARDING RE-SCHEDULING OF MR. SKINNER’S EXECUTION

"Today, February 17, we received notice for the first time that the judge of the convicting court yesterday withdrew Mr. Skinner’s previously scheduled February 24 execution date, apparently upholding our challenge to the previously issued warrant of execution as void under Texas law.

We are dismayed that the court chose, in the same order, to re-schedule Mr. Skinner’s execution for March 24. This unseemly haste to execute Mr. Skinner ignores the growing public concern and outcry over the unanswered questions about Mr. Skinner’s guilt. Now, more than ever, DNA testing is necessary to resolve those doubts.

Setting a March 24 execution date also means that Mr. Skinner’s pending lawsuit against the Gray County District Attorney in the United States Supreme Court, seeking the much-needed DNA testing, must now be resolved under needless and entirely artificial time pressures. Given that the District Attorney stands to benefit directly from that undue haste, it is especially disappointing that the court chose to press forward with Mr. Skinner’s execution on March 24.

In addition, there is a very serious legal question whether the trial court even has the authority to set an execution date for someone, like Mr. Skinner, whose post-conviction challenges to his conviction and death sentence have never been heard by the Texas courts.

We remain committed to obtaining the DNA testing our client says will prove his innocence, and will take every available legal step to that end."

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Hank Sinner's Execution date Has been Rescheduled for March 24th

Hank Skinner's execution date in Texas has been rescheduled from Feb 24 to March 24 because of a problem with the death warrant.

Actions for Hank Skinner:

Sign and send this online petition/email to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Write, call, fax or email your own letter to the Board of Pardons and Paroles and Texas Governor Rick Perry.  Urge them to stay the execution to allow testing of DNA. In the subject line of your emails or in any letters to the Board of Pardons and Paroles, write "Attention Case of Hank Skinner #999143"
.

Hank Skinner is scheduled to be executed in Texas on March 24 for three murders he maintains he didn't commit. Several key pieces of biological evidence from the crime scene have not been tested. DNA testing could prove Skinner's innocence or confirm his guilt, but prosecutors are opposing Skinner's appeals and seeking to execute him. 








Below is an article from the Project Director of The Medill Innocence Project .

Will Texas Soon Execute Another Innocent Man? Our Reporting Challenges Verdict As Clock Ticks

 
February 12, 2010
Texas Gov. Rick Perry is under fire for allegedly obstructing an investigation into the wrongful execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was put to death in 2004 -- despite forensic tests proving he did not murder his three young children.
 
Four years earlier, Gary Graham was carried to Texas’ death chamber defiantly proclaiming his innocence in the face of new evidence that even the murder victim’s widow called “reasonable doubt.”
Investigative stories have revealed that Ruben Cantu in 1989 and Carlos DeLuna in 1993 likely suffered the same unjust fate at the hands of Texas executioners.
 
Now the clock is ticking on another Texas death row inmate who has steadfastly maintained his innocence – with credible evidence to support his claim. The condemned man is Henry Watkins “Hank” Skinner, and much of that evidence was unearthed by the Medill Innocence Project and reported in the January 28 and 29 editions of the Texas Tribune, "Case Open" and "Case Open: The Investigation". Yet, Skinner faces death by lethal injection on February 24, less than two weeks from now.
 
Texas continues to lead the nation in executions. But will the state earn the dubious distinction of executing five innocents in two decades? Hank Skinner’s fate lies in the hands of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, Gov. Perry and the U.S. Supreme Court.
 
Here is a synopsis of the case, spotlighting the evidence developed by Medill student-journalists who traveled to Texas’ death row and to the crime scene in search of the truth. For a more detailed account, read my testimony to the Board of Pardons and Paroles, and today'sappeal by Skinner's lawyers to the Supreme Court.
 
I will continue to report about the Skinner case on this site until it reaches finality.
 
Hank Skinner, January 20, 2010.  Photograph courtesy of The Texas 
Tribune.Hank Skinner, January 20, 2010
Caleb Bryant Miller, The Texas Tribune
 
Hank Skinner, age 47, was convicted of bludgeoning to death his live-in girlfriend, Twila Busby, and fatally stabbing her two adult sons in their Pampa, Texas home on New Year's Eve of 1993. Skinner was convicted of the crimes in 1994 and sentenced to death in 1995. He is scheduled to be executed on February 24 (UPDATE: Changed to March 24).
 
The state's case against Skinner was entirely circumstantial. He has consistently professed his innocence, there was no physical evidence linking him to the murder weapons and no eyewitness or apparent motive for the crime. Skinner indisputably was in the home at the time of the murders, but claims he had passed out from mixing large quantities of alcohol and codeine. When he awoke, he stumbled to a neighbor’s residence to report the murders, according to Skinner.
 
But the neighbor, Andrea Reed, testified that Skinner made incriminating statements about the crime and ordered her not to call the police. That was enough for the jury to find him guilty, and, although Skinner had no history of violence that would remotely explain the horrific murders (his worst offense was a conviction for assault), he was sentenced to death.
 
Our investigation
 
The Medill Innocence Project first became involved in the case in the fall of 1999 when a reporter at the Associated Press in Houston raised questions about Skinner’s guilt. Eight investigative reporting students made two trips to the Panhandle town in 1999-2000 to interview sources and plow through documents. They returned with grave reservations about whether justice had been done.
 
For one thing, Andrea Reed, the state’s star witness, recanted her trial testimony in an audio-taped interview. Reed told the student-journalists that she had been intimidated by the authorities into concocting a false story against Skinner. “I did not then and do not now feel like he was physically capable of hurting anybody,” Reed said.
 
For another, toxicology tests on Skinner's blood and statements by experts revealed he would have been nearly comatose on the night of the crimes, certainly lacking the strength, balance and agility to commit the triple homicide. This finding is consistent with Reed’s observation of Skinner when he entered her home after the crime: “He was falling into the walls and stuff. He was staggering, falling into stuff,” she said in the taped interview.
 
Other residents of Pampa told the student-journalists in videotaped interviews that the more likely perpetrator was Robert Donnell, Twila's uncle. Donnell had been “hitting on” his niece at a New Year’s Eve party shortly before the slayings. Rebuffing his advances, she left the party frightened, her uncle following behind, according to the witnesses. (A close friend of Twila’s said she confided to being raped by her uncle in the past.)
 
The day after the crime, another witness claimed to have seen Donnell scrubbing the interior of his pick-up truck, removing the rubber floorboards and replacing the carpeting. Perhaps most telling, a windbreaker just like the one the uncle often wore was found at the scene – directly next to his niece’s body. The jacket was covered with human hairs and sweat.
 
Yet evidence from the windbreaker has never been scientifically tested. Moreover, prosecutors have steadfastly opposed DNA tests on two blood-stained knives, skin cells found underneath Twila’s fingernails, vaginal swabs and hairs removed from her hand – even though forensic tests on one of the hairs proved it did not come from Skinner. (The physical evidence remains sealed, but the courts have acceded to prosecutors’ demands not to conduct the tests.) In a death row interview with the student-journalists, Skinner said he was innocent and welcomed new tests on the old evidence.
 
"They have no right to kill me because I'm innocent, innocent, innocent."
Hank Skinner to the Texas Tribune, January 28, 2010.
 
Another troubling aspect of the case is the background of Skinner's trial lawyer, Harold Lee Comer. Formerly the District Attorney of Gray County, Comer had prosecuted Skinner for two offenses, theft and assault. After resigning from office and pleading guilty in a drug scandal, Comer was appointed at taxpayer's expense to represent Skinner at his capital murder trial -- without the required hearing to determine whether he had a conflict-of-interest.
 
The trial judge, a personal friend of Comer's, paid him roughly the same amount to represent Skinner as the former DA owed to the IRS. Comer failed to request DNA testing, or present compelling evidence about the alternative suspect. And, at the sentencing hearing, he failed to object to using Skinner's prior convictions -- which he had prosecuted -- to justify the death penalty.
 
When the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the claim that Skinner had been ineffectively represented by Comer, a Texas court set his execution date. In light of the cases of Cameron Todd Willingham, Gary Graham, Ruben Cantu and Carlos DeLuna, the specter of wrongful executions now hangs over Texas' system of capital punishment.
 
Will Texas next put to death a man who has steadfastly professed his innocence and whose lawyer was his legal adversary -- without even conducting DNA tests to be sure the right man will be punished for the crime?
 
Not much time will tell.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Video: David Dow on Execution of His Client Khristian Oliver and Why He Opposes Death Penalty

In the video below David Dow discusses why he wrote his new book "The Autobiography of an Execution" and why he thinks the death penalty is wrong. Selected by Barnes & Noble for their Discover Great New Writers program, THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN EXECUTION has received glowing early reviews and praise (see below for more). David also recently appeared on NPR's "Fresh Air" with Terry Gross, you can listen to the interview here.

If you can not see the embedded video, click here to watch at BookVideos.tv.





David R. Dow is professor of law at the University of Houston Law Center and an internationally recognized figure in the fight against the death penalty. He is the founder and director of the Texas Innocence Network. He lives in Houston, Texas.  His new book is “The Autobiography of an Execution” (Click to buy on Amazon) 


As a lawyer, David R. Dow has represented over 100 death row cases. Many of his clients have died. Most were guilty. Some might have been innocent. The Autobiography of an Execution is his deeply personal story about justice, death penalty, and a lawyer’s life.

It is a chronicle of a life lived at paradoxical extremes: Witnessing executions and then coming home to the loving embrace of his wife and young son, who inquire about his day. Waging moral battles on behalf of people who have committed abhorrent crimes. Fighting for life in America’s death penalty capital, within a criminal justice system full of indifferent and ineffectual judges. Racing against time on behalf of clients who have no more time. 



Upcoming Book Signings by David Dow

Monday, February 15th – Brazos Bookstore – Houston, TX
Wednesday, February 17th – Books & Books – Miami, FL
Tuesday, February 23rd – Book People – Austin, TX
Wednesday, February 24th – Barnes & Noble – San Antonio, TX
Saturday, February 27th – Politics & Prose – Washington, DC

“David Dow’s extraordinary memoir lifts the veil on the real world of representing defendants on death row. It will stay with me a long time.”
—Jeffrey Toobin, author of The Nine


“Defending the innocent is easy. David Dow fights for the questionable. He is tormented, but relentless, and takes us inside his struggle with candor and insight, shudders and all.”
—Dave Cullen, author of Columbine


“For a lot of good reasons, and some that are not so good, executions in the U.S. are carried out in private. The voters, the vast majority of whom support executions, are not allowed to see them. THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN EXECUTION is a riveting and compelling account of a Texas execution written and narrated by a lawyer in the thick of the last minute chaos. It should be read by all those who support state sponsored killing.”
—John Grisham, author of The Innocent Man


“An unsparing indictment of capital punishment in America and the legal system that enables it . . . . In this deft page-turner, Dow brings the reader into the legal world, as he and his colleagues tried nearly every legal gambit to have Quaker spared, in the days, hours and minutes before his time of execution. The author is equally skilled at evoking the personal toll created by the trial—the sleepless nights, the endless work, the neglect of a lovingly portrayed wife and son, who nevertheless sustained and inspired him. A book of uncompromising honesty and moral beauty.”
—Kirkus Reviews


“In an argument against capital punishment, Dow’s capable memoir partially gathers its steam from the emotional toll on all parties involved, especially the overworked legal aid lawyers and their desperate clients. The author, the litigation director of the Texas Defender Service and a professor at the University of Houston Law Center, respects the notion of attorney-client privilege in this handful of real-life legal outcomes, some of them quite tragic, while acknowledging executions are ‘not about the attorneys,’ but ‘about the victims of murder and sometimes their killers’ . . . In the end, Dow’s book is a sobering, gripping and candid look into the death penalty.”
—Publishers Weekly

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