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Monday, July 26, 2010

Video of Entire Hour-Plus Long Discussion of Todd Willingham Case at Texas Forensic Science Commission Meeting July 23, 2010

Below are videos shot by Texas Moratorium Network of the entire discussion on the agenda item dealing with the Todd Willingham case at the Texas Forensic Science Commission on Friday, July 23, 2010 in Houston. The discussion lasted more than an hour. It is divided into seven parts because YouTube limits videos to ten minutes. There are also two shorter videos of Barry Scheck and Patricia Willingham Cox delivering their public comments at the end of the meeting.


October 30, 2010 at 2 PM
Texas State Capitol
Austin Texas


Texas Forensic Science Commission Discussion of Todd Willingham Case July 23, 2010 Part 1/7




Texas Forensic Science Commission Discussion of Todd Willingham Case July 23, 2010 Part 2/7




Texas Forensic Science Commission Discussion of Todd Willingham Case July 23, 2010 Part 3/7




Texas Forensic Science Commission Discussion of Todd Willingham Case July 23, 2010, Part 4/7




Texas Forensic Science Commission Discussion of Todd Willingham Case July 23, 2010, Part 5/7




Texas Forensic Science Commission Discussion of Todd Willingham Case July 23, 2010, Part 6/7





Texas Forensic Science Commission Discussion of Todd Willingham Case July 23, 2010, Part 7/7




The videos below are of comments delivered during the public comment period, which took place a couple of hours after the main discussion of the Willingham case by the Commission.


Barry Scheck Speaking to Texas Forensic Science Commission July 23, 2010





Todd Willingham's Cousin and Stepmother at Texas Forensic Science Commission Meeting July 23, 2010


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Video of Barry Scheck Speaking to Texas Forensic Science Commission

Below is a video of The Innocence Project's Barry Scheck speaking to Texas Forensic Science Commission in Houston on July 23, 2010. Video was shot by Texas Moratorium Network.

Watch the whole video to understand Barry Scheck's objections to the Commission's tentative findings. Click here to watch the video on YouTube or click here to watch it on TMN's Facebook page.

The final report is not yet complete, so the Commission could still take into account Scheck's objections.

Around the 3:35 minute is when the fireworks start after John Bradley motions to his assistant that she should tell Scheck that his time is up.



http://camerontoddwillingham.com

From the Houston Chronicle:

A commission reviewing a disputed arson finding that led to a Corsicana man's 2004 execution for the deaths of his three young children said in a preliminary report Friday that the fire investigators used flawed science but didn't commit negligence or misconduct.

Members of the state commission investigating a controversial Corsicana arson case in which three children died — and for which their father was executed — acknowledged on Friday that state and local arson investigators used "flawed science" in determining the blaze had been deliberately set.

But the Texas Forensic Science Commission panel heading the inquiry also found insufficient evidence to prove that state Deputy Fire Marshal Manuel Vasquez and Corsicana Assistant Fire Chief Douglas Fogg were negligent or guilty of misconduct in their arson work.
The investigators, they said, likely used standards accepted in Texas at the time of the fire, which erupted at the home of Cameron Todd Willingham in December 1991. Willingham went to his execution in 2004 proclaiming his innocence in the deaths of his 1-year-old twins and 2-year-old step daughter.
The tentative findings were announced at the commission's quarterly meeting in Houston.

Commissioners authorized the four-member committee to write a draft report reflecting their findings to be acted on later this summer. The panel, headed by commission Chairman John Bradley, also will solicit more information regarding the state of investigation standards in 1991. It will accept written public comments until Aug. 12.

Friday's action was the latest chapter in the contentious review of the arson investigators' work spurred by a complaint filed by the New York-based Innocence Project. The commission is not tasked with determining whether Texas might have executed an innocent man, but whether the arson investigators followed sound scientific principles.
Other reviews critical

At least three expert reviews, including a commission-financed study by Baltimore fire expert Craig Beyler, have been critical of the arson investigations. Burn patterns, multiple points of origin and other phenomenon investigators found at the scene wrongly were interpreted as signs the fire deliberately was set, the experts concluded.

Beyler, who wrote that investigators observed neither the standards of the National Fire Prevention Association, adopted shortly after the blaze, nor standards applicable at the time of the fire, was scheduled to appear before commissioners last September.

Days before the meeting, however, Gov. Rick Perry replaced the commission chairman with Bradley, district attorney in Williamson County. The session at which Beyler was scheduled to speak was canceled, and the fire expert never appeared before the body.
Friday's action spurred a heated exchange between Bradley and Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheck, who bolted from his seat to protest. Bradley repeatedly refused to yield the floor.

Family optimistic

Scheck's organization argues that the state fire marshal's office should have been aware of updated arson investigation standards and - in any event - should have advised prosecutors and the court of them when they were adopted.

The new standards went into effect in early 1992.
"It's alarming that they've missed the point of our allegations," Innocence Project policy director Stephen Saloom said. "The state fire marshal's office had a continuing duty to inform prosecutors, the court, pardons and paroles or the governor of the unreliability of the old evidence."

While national fire experts may have known in late 1991 that new standards were in the works, investigation committee members said, it's possible rank-and-file investigators did not.

Willingham's mother, Eugenia Willingham, and his cousin, Patricia Cox, who were present for Friday's session, viewed the commission's action as a positive development.

"We're cautiously optimistic," Cox said. "We're Todd's voice after death. We're going to exonerate him. We're not going away."

Eugenia Willingham said her son would have been pleased. "His wish was that we clear his name," she said. "He was innocent and prosecuted for something he didn't do. ... I hope that somewhere or other he saw what happened today."

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Video of Todd Willingham's Family at Meeting of Texas Forensic Science Commission

Texas Moratorium Network shot this video of Todd Willingham's cousin Patricia Willingham Cox speaking at the meeting of the Texas Forensic Science Commission in Houston on July 23, 2010. Click here to watch the video on YouTube. Or click here to watch it on the TMN Facebook page.



Todd's stepmother Eugenia Willingham is sitting beside Patricia while she speaks. Normally, when a family member speaks at a hearing, for instance at a committee hearing at the Legislature, the person chairing the hearing is very nice and thanks the person for coming and maybe even offers some words of comfort to them if they start crying. The chair often even says something like they know how difficult it is to speak in public at a hearing like this. We have seen that happen a lot at the Legislature, but John Bradley has absolutely no social skills or empathy, so he didn't say anything after Patricia Cox spoke or after Eugenia is asked if she wants to speak, but she declines because she is weeping. What an ass John Bradley is.

A commission reviewing a disputed arson finding that led to a Corsicana man's 2004 execution for the deaths of his three young children said in a preliminary report Friday that the fire investigators used flawed science but didn't commit negligence or misconduct.

Patricia Cox, Todd Willingham's cousin, told commission members that she appreciated the group's acknowledgment that the forensic evidence used to convict her loved one was flawed.

"Even though there may not have been any malice or intent by fire investigators about not being informed on current standards, that doesn't excuse the fact that, based on this misinformation, Cameron Todd Willingham was executed, and that can't be corrected," said a tearful Cox.

Willingham's stepmother, Eugenia Willingham, was too upset to speak during the meeting's public comment section. But during a break, she said she couldn't believe the panel's conclusion and vowed to continue fighting for her stepson's exoneration.

Both Cox and Eugenia Willingham came from their hometown of Ardmore, Okla., to attend the meeting. Two other women at the meeting held signs with photographs of Willingham that read: "No More Cover Up! Todd: Innocent and Executed!" and "Put Todd Willingham on the Agenda."

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Watch Live Video Stream of Texas Forensic Science Commission Meeting (Todd Willingham case is on the agenda)

Here is a link to the live stream of the Forensic Science Meeting.  

View the meeting agenda.


Eugenia Willingham and Patricia Willingham Cox will probably make public comments to the commission at the end of the meeting. The are pictured below with TMN's Scott Cobb.





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Rick Perry's Puppet John Bradley Tells CNN "New York Lawyers" are Politicizing Forensic Science Commission's Work

Members of Texas Moratorium Network and others are in Houston this morning to attend the meeting of the Texas Forensic Science Commission. We intend to let Rick Perry's appointed chair/puppet John Bradley know that it is Texans, not just "New York lawyers", who are concerned that our state government suffered an epic FAIL and may have executed an innocent person. We demand the investigation into the Willingham case be made the highest priority of the Commission and of the State government of Texas.

If Rick Perry had done his job properly as governor, the people of Texas would not have to be worried now that an innocent person has been executed in our names. The only person who has politicized the work of the Texas Forensic Science Commission is Texas Governor Rick Perry.

From CNN:


(CNN) -- A Texas state board is set Friday to revisit questions surrounding a controversial 2004 execution, with supporters of the man's family warning the panel is trying to bury its own critical review of the case.
Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in 2004 for a fire that killed his three daughters. Prosecutors argued that Willingham deliberately set the 1991 blaze -- but three reviews of the evidence by outside experts have found the fire should not have been ruled arson.
The last of those reports was ordered by the Texas Forensic Sciences Commission, which has been looking into Willingham's execution since 2008. But a September 2009 shake-up by Texas Gov. Rick Perry has kept that panel from reviewing the report, and the commission's new chairman has ordered a review of its operating rules. Critics say that may kill the probe.
"They are attempting permanently to keep the investigation from continuing and moving on, and I do believe it's because they don't like the direction the evidence is leading," Willingham's cousin, Pat Cox, said Thursday.
The Forensic Science Commission's chairman is now John Bradley, an Austin-area district attorney with a reputation as a staunch supporter of the death penalty. Bradley has pledged to state lawmakers that the Willingham investigation "absolutely" will continue -- but said the panel needs better rules to guide its work, and could not say when the Willingham issue would move forward.
Thursday, he told CNN that concerns of Willingham's supporters were based on "a lot of misinformation."
"I think that's being used very much as a side issue to politicize, through some New York lawyers, the work of the commission," Bradley said. "The commission has been very clear that the commission is going to address the merits of the Willingham case."
The panel meets again Friday in Houston, and one of the items on its agenda is a legal opinion arguing that the panel has "relatively narrow investigative jurisdiction." The unsigned memorandum argues that the commission's mandate covers only cases on which a state-accredited forensic laboratory worked.
But because Texas started accrediting crime labs in 2003, Cox and others who have backed the family say that would mean cases such as Willingham's and that of another inmate, Ernest Willis, would be dropped. State Sen. Rodney Ellis, who pushed for the commission's creation, calls the opinion flawed.
The Forensic Sciences Commission "was operating within the language and intent of the law when it determined that it had jurisdiction to investigate the case the first time in August 2008," Ellis said in a written statement to CNN. "Frankly, I am surprised that the commission is even questioning whether or not it has jurisdiction, since it unanimously decided -- with the attorney general's representative in the room -- to review the cases over two years ago."
Ellis, a Houston Democrat, serves as the chairman of the board of The Innocence Project -- the "New York lawyers" that have supported efforts by Willingham's stepmother and cousins to clear his name. The group advocates for prisoners it says are wrongly convicted, and Ellis said the commission's work "is too important to be bogged down in political bickering."
"Texans need the FSC to perform its work in a timely manner, so the public can once again have confidence in forensic evidence and confidence that the truly guilty are behind bars and the innocent are free," he said.
But Bradley said the commission has never decided to apply the logic of the legal opinion to the case on Friday's agenda.
Bradley was named the panel's chairman two days before the Forensic Sciences Commission was to hear from Craig Beyler, a Maryland-based fire science expert. Beyler concluded the arson finding at the heart of the Willingham case "could not be sustained," either by current standards or those in place at the time.
The Innocence Project requested the investigation after a report it commissioned reached the same conclusion. Death-penalty opponents say an impartial review of Willingham's case could lead to the unprecedented admission that the state executed an innocent man.
Perry, who signed off on Willingham's execution, is up for re-election in November, and his critics have accused him of trying to short-circuit that review. Perry has said he remains confident of the condemned man's guilt, and police in the town of Corsicana, where the fire occurred, say other evidence beyond the arson testimony Beyler criticized supports the prosecution.
Cox, a retired nurse in Ardmore, Oklahoma, told CNN that spiking the commission's investigation would be a "blatant miscarriage of justice."
"The reasonable people of this country and the state of Texas can see through what this is," she said.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Todd Willingham's Lawyer Walter Reaves on What to Expect at Friday's Meeting of the Forensic Science Commission: They will "avoid actually doing anything"

Todd Willingham's last lawyer, Walter Reaves, has written a blog post on what he expects at Friday's meeting of the Texas Forensic Science Commission in Houston:

I was going to talk about the ridiculousness about the recent memo from the Texas Forensic Science Commission. Basically, the memo says they don't have jurisdiction to do anything. They concluded that they do not have "discretion or power to investigate any and every complainant alleging professional negligence or misconduct involving a forensic science." The complaint must involve a "discipline" recognized by the DPS and accredited by DPS. In practical terms, that means they can't investigate the Cameron Todd Willingham case. Yes, I know he promised that would not happen, but anyone who actually believed him deserves what they are getting.
I decided not to talk about that decision, because by now everyone knows what to expect from the commission. Their goal - at least under the leadership of John Bradley - has been to scuttle the investigation into Willingham, and anything else that might hinder law enforcement. He has successfully done what many lawyers attempt - avoid doing anything. This new memo goes a long way to ensuring that they will not get involved in anything meaningful.

What struck me about the memo is the power DPS has to both decide what is a forensic discipline, and who gets accredited. DPS is not without its own problems, but despite those problems they apparently have the all knowing ability to determine who should or should not be accredited. It reminds of a story a someone told me about an individual who couldn't get certified as a fire investigator. He ended up establishing his own organization, and certified himself; that organization now certifies others.

DPS is an arm of law enforcement, and no matter how hard they try they cannot divorce themselves from their identity. One of the main recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences was that crime labs be separated from law enforcement. If the crime lab should be separate, then surely the authority to accredit such labs should also be separate.

Another thing that struck me, was the definition of what is a forensic discipline. If it's not a forensic discipline, then no accreditation is necessary. The legislature exempted certain things, and DPS is given authority to exempt others. There are at least two that stand out in the legislature's exemptions - latent fingerprint examination and breath tests. If those two areas don't involve forensic analysis, then what are they? Fingerprint examiners like to talk about how their "scientific" their process is. As for breath tests, the very tests are based on scientific principles. The reason for exempting them probably lies in the fear that they might not be able to overcome the strict scrutiny given to other forensic disciplines.

The commission meets next week, and no doubt will discuss this memo. My guess is that it will be repeat of the last meeting - they will spend all their time talking about what they can and cannot do, and avoid actually doing anything.
Below is the memo that Walter Reaves refers to in his blog post.


TFSC memo

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Texas Forensic Science Commission Meeting Friday in Houston; Scheck and Todd Willingham's Cousin Say Panel Must Resist Chair's Efforts at Sabotage

The Texas Forensic Science Commission has posted its agenda for its meeting in Houston on July 23, 2010 at the Doubletree Houston Intercontinental Airport, 15747 JFK Boulevard, Houston, Texas 77032 (Map and directions). The meeting starts at 9:30 AM, but is expected to last all day and the public comment period will be at the end of the meeting.

Forensic panel must resist chair's efforts at sabotage
By BARRY SCHECK and PATRICIA WILLINGHAM COX,
INNOCENCE PROJECT:

This Friday, the Texas Forensic Science Commission (TFSC) is meeting in Houston to discuss, among other things, the status of its inquiry into whether arson investigations across the state have been based for many years on outdated and discredited scientific analysis and that the Texas criminal justice system has failed to recognize this fact. The inquiry arose from two cases — those of Cameron Todd Willingham and Ernest Willis — in which arson had been found and both men were sentenced to death.

In Willis’ case, the system identified its error when Ori White, the prosecutor responsible for retrial after appeal, relying on the expertise of Dr. Gerald Hurst, realized how wrong the original arson analysis was. He promptly moved to dismiss the case, and Willis was ultimately pardoned on the grounds of actual innocence.

Cameron Todd Willingham was not so lucky. Despite asserting his innocence, he was executed in 2004 based on the same arson evidence that prosecutor White — and the arson community nationwide — had realized was scientifically baseless. Before Willingham was executed, Gov. Rick Perry ignored a plea from Hurst, the expert Ori White relied upon, that arson analysis in Willingham’s case was plainly unreliable.

Our interest in these issues is not abstract. One of us, Patricia Cox, is a cousin of Cameron Todd Willingham. The other, Barry Scheck, is co-founder of the Innocence Project, which exonerates the wrongfully convicted through DNA evidence.

In May 2006, we asked the TFSC to undertake this inquiry about arson evidence. We submitted a 48-page report from an independent panel of the nation’s leading arson investigators, which concluded that the scientific analysis used to convict Willingham was not valid. The commissioners then engaged their own national expert to review the matter, who agreed that the forensic analysis used to convict Willingham was wrong — and further, that experts who testified at Willingham’s trial should have known it was wrong at the time. Days before that expert was to present his findings, Perry removed three commissioners, including the chair, Sam Bassett, and appointed Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley as the new chair. Bradley immediately shut down the Willingham hearing.

In an op-ed on these pages last November, Bradley denied charges that his actions were politically motivated and decried those “[who] have made exaggerated claims and drawn premature conclusions about the case.” He then assured Texans that the commission’s investigation “will be completed” using a “disciplined, scientific approach.” Instead, what we have seen so far is not a review of scientific issues but a bureaucratic effort to undermine, if not end, the Willingham inquiry by rewriting the commission’s rules and its jurisdiction.

Last week, after closed meetings that may violate the Texas Open Meetings Act, Bradley sent out an unsigned legal memo instructing commissioners that they have a “relatively narrow investigative jurisdiction.”

Employing “Catch-22” logic, he claimed that commissioners lack the “discretion or power” to investigate evidence that was not from a laboratory accredited by the Department of Public Safety (DPS) — which, as it happens, did not accredit labs before 2003, years after the Willingham fire. By this reasoning, the TFSC cannot review any pre-2003 matter, such as the Houston Police Department crime lab evidence, the scandal that gave rise to its formation.
In 2008, the TFSC carefully considered the jurisdiction question, and, with assent from the Attorney General’s office, determined that the Willingham and other old cases like it are well within its authority.

And rightly so: The Willingham inquiry into the use of unreliable arson analysis is an urgent matter for more than 600 people incarcerated in Texas whose arson convictions may have been based on invalid science. If its investigation is derailed, the commissioners would be turning their backs on these potentially innocent Texans.

Rather than becoming mired in bureaucratic shell games, the commissioners should take their cue from the FBI, which, after learning that a scientific test it used for three decades to do composite bullet lead analysis was unreliable, not only stopped using this flawed science but systematically reviewed its old cases and notified prosecutors across the country when it could no longer stand behind the testimony of its own agent examiners. The same should be done in this instance.

The people of Texas deserve a justice system they can believe in. But if commissioners keep allowing Bradley to rewrite the rules and sabotage the commission’s mission, their ability to redress the forensic problems that have plagued the criminal justice system in Texas will never materialize.

Scheck is co-founder of the Innocence Project; Cox is a cousin of Cameron Todd Willingham.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Texas Set to Execute 462nd Person Since 1982; 223rd Under Governor Rick Perry

Today, July 20, 2010 Texas is set to execute Derrick Jackson. He would be the 462nd person executed in Texas since 1982 and the 223rd person since Rick Perry became governor. He would be the 15th person executed in Texas in 2010. 


Call Governor Perry and express your opposition to the death penalty 512 463-2000. Email Perry using his website contact form.
Nearly 22 years after two Houston opera singers were fatally battered and slashed inside their apartment, the man convicted of killing them is set to die Tuesday by lethal injection.
Derrick Jackson, 42, would be the 15th Texas prisoner put to death this year in Huntsville in the nation's most active death penalty state. The execution is scheduled for after 6 p.m.
A Harris County jury convicted Jackson and sentenced him to die in 1998 for the September 1988 murders of Forrest Henderson and Richard Wrotenbery, both 31 and chorus members at the Houston Grand Opera.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Monday rejected an appeal from Jackson's lawyers. They had argued prosecutors improperly withheld some evidence from Jackson's trial attorneys and raised questions about whether Jackson could be mentally impaired and therefore ineligible for execution.
Jackson was arrested in 1992 for three robberies and took a plea bargain that put him in prison for 12 years. He was in prison on those convictions when authorities began looking at him as a suspect in the 1988 slayings.
"I made some bad decisions," Jackson told The Associated Press recently from a tiny visiting cage outside death row.

From the Houston Chronicle:
Carl Wrotenbery of Fort Worth, said the impact of his son's death will "go with me to my grave."
The elder Wrotenbery, a retired library director at Fort Worth's Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said he is ambivalent about capital punishment. "When you come to the personal aspect of it, pure logic says for someone to do a crime of this nature, unprovoked — Alan was in the wrong place at the wrong time - it's hard for me to think the death penalty is unjustified."
Wrotenbery said he plans to witness the execution. "I've made my reservation," he said. "I feel like it's my duty as a father and head of the clan. I feel a responsibility to be there and see this done for other family members who, though they may have strong feelings, won't be able. I have no real desire to be there. I don't expect to feel anything different. It's just an unpleasant duty."

Crime-lab problems

Wrotenbery said the case, marked by false investigative starts and long delays, was hard on his family.
Years after Jackson's conviction, the way police handled the case was criticized by Michael Bromwich, the independent investigator hired to review operations of the department's troubled crime lab.
In his 2007 report, Brom-wich found that a technician apparently manipulated lab findings to bolster the case against detectives' prime suspect of the moment.
When an early suspect had Type O blood, Bromwich wrote, the employee neglected to report that Type B blood was found on an apartment door. Only when a charge was lodged against Jackson, who has Type B blood, was the fact added to the report.
In his death row interview, Jackson challenged those fingerprint findings and blasted a series of defense lawyers who, he said, "helped me get down to the execution chamber."
"I don't stay up at night and have nightmares," Jackson said. "I pray for myself. I hate the fact that I'm being blamed and will be killed, but it's more sadness than hate."

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Friday, July 16, 2010

The Public Has Been Offically Warned about Sharon Keller; Read Text of the Decision Available on the TMN Blog

The State Commission on Judicial Conduct has officially found that Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller has cast "public discredit on the judiciary or the administration of justice" and "did not accord Richard with access to open courts or the right to be heard according to law". They also found that Keller's conduct constitutes "willful or persistent conduct inconsistent with the proper performance of her duties as a judge".

In 2007, Texas Moratorium Network filed a judicial complaint against Keller after she said "we close at 5" on the day of the scheduled execution of Michael Richard. Today the State Commission on Judicial Conduct issued its decision and reprimanded Sharon Keller with a "Public Warning".

The people of Texas have been publically warned today that we have an ethically compromised judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals who did not accord a person about to be executed with access to open courts or the right to be heard according to law, yet she has been allowed to keep her job. Sharon Keller's actions were not in accordance with the accepted principles of right and wrong that govern the conduct of her profession as a judge. This is the worst case scenario for Texas, because now we know that the problems in the Texas death penalty system reach to Texas' highest ranking criminal appeals court, and yet the judge who closed the doors to justice remains on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

A public warning is useful, but it is not enough. Sharon Keller should be removed from office. The public warning tells us that if you seek justice in Texas, proceed with caution because Sharon Keller is the presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

The Texas Legislature can help restore integrity to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals by impeaching and removing Keller from office. We now have the findings of fact from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, so it is confirmed that Keller has brought discredit to the Texas judiciary by her misconduct hendering access to justice. It is up to the people of Texas now to take the findings of fact and act on them by seeking to remove Keller from office through their elected representatives using the impeachment process or at the ballot box in 2012 when she is up for re-election. Since Keller is not up for re-election for another two years, it is in the best interest of justice that the Legislature removes her from office.



In a post on the Texas Moratorium Network blog on October 3, 2007, we said "Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller should resign or be impeached and removed from office for her conduct regarding the execution of Michael Richard. As long as Keller is in office, the people of Texas can not be sure that justice is being done with integrity".

Texas Moratorium Network filed a complaint against Keller (pdf) with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct that was signed by about 1900 people. We delivered a copy of the complaint to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (video). We held a protest in front of her house (video). We revised our complaint to the Commission by sending them a copy of the Execution Day Procedures, which we obtained from Keller through a Public Information Request. She had first sent that document to R.G. Ratcliffe of the Houston Chronicle, but we requested she send us a copy so we could send it to the Commission. We went to the Legislature to ask legislators to sign on to a complaint or to file their own. State Rep Dutton, Olivo, Farrar and Coleman all signed one of the complaints or filed their own. We went back to the Legislature in December 2008 to ask Lon Burmam to file an impeachment resolution.


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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Ten years of a Death Penalty Moratorium in Illinois - Governor Has No Plans to Lift it

News from Illinois:

Gov. Pat Quinn would maintain Illinois’ 10-year moratorium on the death penalty while his Republican opponent, state Sen. Bill Brady, would lift it, the two candidates’ campaigns said this week.

Their comments come at the same time as the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty released the results of a poll it commissioned showing that a majority of Illinois registered voters prefer some penalty other than death for the crime of murder.

The poll also found that fewer than 40 percent of registered voters even know Illinois has a death penalty.

“We really view the results as verifying what we already knew,” said Jeremy Schroeder, executive director of the coalition. “People assume there is a slight preference (for capital punishment). That’s not reality.”

Quinn’s campaign said the governor has no “immediate plans” to lift the moratorium on executions that was put in place by then-Gov. George Ryan in 2000. Both ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Quinn have maintained it.

“Although he supports capital punishment when applied carefully and fairly, he is deeply concerned by the possibility of an innocent man or woman being executed,” campaign spokeswoman Mica Matsoff said in a statement. “He believes the current moratorium gives the state an opportunity to reflect on the issue and create safeguards to make sure that the death penalty is not being imposed improperly in Illinois.”

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Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Audio Interview with new Director of Office of Capital Writs - Brad Levenson

The Texas Tribune's Brandi Grissom has an audio interview with Brad Levenson, a deputy federal public defender in California, who will lead the first ever Texas Office of Capital Writs starting Sept. 1. His new job will require him to represent Texas death row inmates who claim their trials were botched and that they were wrongly convicted.

In one audio snippet, Levenson says he has a moral and ethical opposition to the death penalty and will work tirelessly to defend his clients on Texas death row.

Visit the Texas Tribune to hear the audio recordings.

From the Tribune:
Texas lawmakers created the office in 2009 after a series of investigative reports and studies of the criminal justice system revealed serious problems with the quality of legal representation for indigent defendants on death row. Some of the lawyers whom judges had appointed to represent capital defendants had no death row experience, some had mental illness, some had abandoned their death row clients, and some of the lawyers chosen by judges were dead.

So lawmakers created the Office of Capital Writs to provide better representation for people on death row who can't afford to pay their own lawyers to challenge their sentences. Levenson, who has extensive experience with post-conviction cases in California, has only tried one such case in Texas, which has the busiest death row in the nation. And even before he's opened his office, he must deal with a 5 percent budget cut. He'll have to hire about 10 staffers and work about a dozen cases a year with $991,000, down from what was supposed to be a $1 million budget. But Levenson said he's up for the challenge.

Levenson said Texas wasn't even on his radar screen until 2008, when his office was asked to represent Texas death row inmate Clinton Lee Young. He was convicted of murdering two Texas men in 2001, and a Midland jury sentenced him to death. But Young and his lawyers claim the prosecution withheld evidence at trial that could have helped him, and last year the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals sent his case back to the trial court. Working on that case — and traveling in the Lone Star State — piqued Levenson's interest.

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Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Shame on Those Abolitionist Groups for "Throwing Mumia Abu-Jamal Under the Bus"

We pass along the story below with great sadness. Texas Moratorium Network stands with everyone who faces an unjust sentence, including Mumia Abu-Jamal. There are other ways to build bridges to new potential supporters that do not include forsaking someone who was unjustly sentenced to death. In the recent case in Austin of David Powell, Texas Moratorium Network did not shirk our responsibility to speak out and work hard to try to stop the execution of Powell, just because the Austin Police Association was applying political pressure to ensure that the execution was carried out. Shame on those organizations who signed the memo to the WCADP.

"Throwing Mumia Abu-Jamal Under the Bus"
By Dave Lindorff

"I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong."
--Frederick Douglass

On the evening of February 25, participants at the Fourth World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Geneva, Switzerland had assembled from all over the globe for a dramatic Voices of Victims evening. It got more dramatic than they had anticipated though, when suddenly a cell phone rang and Robert R. Bryan, lead defense attorney for Mumia Abu-Jamal, jumped up on the stage to announce that his client had called him from death row in Pennsylvania.

The audience sat in rapt silence as the emcee held the phone up to the microphone. Abu-Jamal, on death row for 28 years after a widely disputed conviction for the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, greeted the delegates and then, as he has done on many occasions before, described to them the horrors of life in prison for the 20,000 people around the world who are awaiting execution.

A small group of American death penalty abolitionist leaders, led by Renny Cushing, executive director of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights, stalked out of the hall. Two members of MVFHR, however, remained in the hall: Bill Babbitt, whose brother Manny, a Vietnam vet suffering acute post-traumatic stress disorder, was executed in California; and Bill Pelke, whose grandmother was murdered by a girl whom he later befriended and helped to spare from execution. Babbitt even joined Bryan onstage during Abu-Jamal's brief address.

What neither Babbitt nor Pelke, nor Abu-Jamal and his attorney, Bryan, knew at the time was that way back in December, leaders and individual board members of several of the organizations in the US abolitionist movement had signed--without their full boards’ or their memberships’ knowledge--a “confidential” memorandum, which they then sent to the French organizers of the World Congress, stating bluntly that, “As international representatives of the US abolition movement, we cannot agree to the involvement of Abu-Jamal or his lawyers in the World Congress beyond attendance.”

Purporting to be from “the US members of the Steering Committee” of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty (though hardly an inclusive list of that committee’s membership) and titled, “Involvement of Mumia Abu-Jamal endangers the US coalition for abolition of the death penalty,” the memo claimed that the French organizers of the World Congress, Together Against the Death Penalty (ECPM), had arranged to have Abu-Jamal speak “over objection.” The memo further further asserted that the abolitionist movement in the US is trying to “cultivate” the support of the ultra-conservative and staunchly pro-death penalty Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), an organization representing some 35,000 police officers in the US that advocates the execution of Abu-Jamal and all other prisoners convicted of killing of police officers. The FOP, said the memo, has “announced a boycott of organizations and individuals who support Abu-Jamal,” and therefore anything done by the Congress to aid his cause would be “dangerously counter-productive to the abolition movement in the US.”

ThisCantBeHappening! this past week obtained a copy of that secret memorandum.

When we showed it to some other members of the boards of the organizations whose officers or individual board members had signed their names to it, responses ranged from consternation to outrage. Babbitt’s brother Manny was killed as a direct result of a corrupt law enforcement system in California that pressed for execution, even though it was clear from medical testimony that the elderly grandmother he allegedly killed actually died of shock when she discovered him breaking and entering her apartment. Left in the dark about the memo despite his being on the MVFHR board, Babbitt said, “My brother Manny’s last words to me were to always take the high road, and to me that means telling the truth and being open and transparent.” He added, regarding the content of the memo, “I think throwing Mumia under the bus is not the way to go in the abolitionist movement. You don’t make bargains with a wolf whose motive is to devour.”

Robert Meeropol, a son of Ethyl and Julius Rosenberg, who were executed as spies in 1953, is also a member of the MVFHR board. Currently traveling on behalf of the organization in Asia, he said through a staffer in the US that he did not know about the memo, and added that he still stands “fully in support of a new trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal.”

Several calls seeking a comment from Cushing or Lowenstein remain unanswered, though a staffer at the MVFHR Boston office, Susanna Sheffer, said, “This is a complicated thing. You need to understand the depth and texture of this.”

Also surprised at the memo was actor Michael Farrell, president of the California abolitionist group Death Penalty Focus. Farrell, a long-time supporter of the call for a new trial for Abu-Jamal, said he had never seen the memo, though it was signed by a member of the DPF board, attorney Elizabeth Zitrin.

Other signers of the memo were Thomas H. “Speedy” Rice of the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, Kritsin HoulĂ© of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and Juan Matos de Juan of the Puerto Rican Bar Assn.

Bryan, a veteran death penalty defense lawyer who served 10 years on the board of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty--three of them as the organization’s chair--says, “In all my years as an activist opposing the death penalty, I have never heard of any individual or group in that fight singling out anyone as an exception to our campaign to abolish capital punishment. Everyone is treated equally. To single someone out and say they don’t count is chilling. Where do you draw the line? At people accused of killing cops? At people accused of killing old ladies? People accused of killing children? Where does it stop? It’s appalling!”
Heidi Beghosian, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild, an organization that has long been in the forefront of the campaign to end the death penalty in the US, and which was not advised of the plan to circulate the memo on behalf of the US Steering Committee to the World Coalition, despite the NLG's being a member of the WCADP, roundly condemned the secret effort to silence Abu-Jamal at the March event.
“Mumia Abu-Jamal’s case is emblematic of the inherent flaws in the capital punishment system,” she said. “That he is castigated by leaders in the abolitionist movement shows precisely what is wrong with the system—it is a system enslaved to the whims and personal biases of police, prosecutor, judge, and jury. While cultivating certain voices of law enforcement may assist in efforts to achieve abolition, it should not be at the expense of exposing a case that embodies some of the most reprehensible actions on the part of the police, the district attorney and the judiciary. The powerful FOP, and their heavy-handed efforts to vilify Abu-Jamal and his supporters, should not be the barometer by which abolitionist leaders gauge their strategic priorities. Members of the abolitionist movement should be working together and not further censoring and ostracizing a death row inmate.”

What makes the American abolitionists’ petulant and manipulative behavior as expressed in the secret memo and their cynical threat to withdraw from the Congress particularly outrageous is that Abu-Jamal’s arrest, trial and appeals process has been, as Beghosian notes, a textbook case of police and prosecutor corruption, malfeasance and abuse. From the beginning, even before his arrest, Abu-Jamal’s case was poisoned by a police lust for vengeance. Although he had been shot through the lung and liver by a bullet fired from Officer Faulkner’s service revolver, and was in danger of dying of internal bleeding that was filling his lungs with blood, Abu-Jamal was left lying in a police wagon for almost half an hour before he was finally delivered to a hospital emergency room, where hospital staff and at least one police officer on the scene observed him being kicked and punched by the officers delivering him.

During the jury selection process at the beginning of his trial, the presiding judge, Albert Sabo, who as a county sheriff’s deputy was an FOP member before he was made a judge, was overheard by a second judge  and his court stenographer saying to his own court clerk, as he exited the courtroom through the jurdge’s robing room, “Yeah and I’m gonna help them fry that nigger!”

During the tortuous appeals process, both the state and federal courts have shamelessly bent their rules and violated precedents to deny Abu-Jamal the benefits of precedents that have been routinely accorded other appellants. Third Circuit Appeals Court Judge Thomas Ambro filed a stinging dissent to a decision by his two colleagues, who effectively created new law from the bench in rejecting Abu-Jamal’s well-founded Batson claim of racial bias by the prosecution during jury selection at his trail. Scarcely concealing his outrage, Judge Ambro wrote: "Our Court has previously reached the merits of Batson claims on habeas review in cases where the petitioner did not make a timely objection during jury selection--signaling that our Circuit does not have a federal contemporaneous objection rule--and I see no reason why we should not afford Abu-Jamal the courtesy of our precedents." He added, "Why we pick this case to depart from that reasoning I do not know."

Abu-Jamal himself, interviewed by phone last Friday from his cell at the super-max death row facility SCI-Greene in western Pennsylvania, blasted the attempt to silence him at the Congress, and to ostracize him from the American abolitionist movement. “They are really making deals with the devil,” he said, of claims that the US abolitionist movement was trying to gain the support of the FOP. “My instinct, being from Philadelphia, is that money was passed, though I have no evidence to prove it.” He added, “This secret action is a threat to the entire abolitionist movement. They are saying that because the opposition (to abolition) is so strong, we should not fight. If you have that attitude, why have an abolitionist movement at all?”

Abu-Jamal, whose death penalty was lifted by a federal judge in 2001, only to have the US Supreme Court remand that decision back to the Third Circuit, where it could be reimposed, and who continues, in no small part thanks to pressure from the Pennsylvania FOP, to be held in solitary confinement on death row, where he maintains his innocence, calls the signers of the memo “co-conspirators,” and says they are “naive” to believe they can win over the FOP by abandoning him to his fate.

“If the slavery abolitionists had taken this approach back in 1860,” he says, “and said okay let’s free the slaves, except those uppity ones with prices on their heads like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, we’d still have slavery today.” Abu-Jamal said it appeared that the abolitionist movement appeared to have lost its way, and said that it needed to be broadened to more closely reflect the population of the nation’s death rows. where nearly everyone is poor, and where 53% of the doomed inmates are non-white.

Jailhouse Lawyers: Prisoners Defending Prisoners v. the USAThe Angola 3: Black Panthers and the Last Slave Plantation175 Progress DriveDeath Blossoms: Reflections from a Prisoner of ConscienceThe Framing of Mumia Abu-JamalMumia: A Case for Reasonable DoubtMumia Abu-Jamal: A Case for Reasonable Doubt?Live from Death RowAll Things Censored... : Huntingdon And SCI Greene Sessions [Spoken Word]

Here is the text of the secret Memorandum to WCADP.

CONFIDENTIAL MEMORANDUM to ECPM
from the US members of the Steering Committee of the WCADP 
Involvement of Mumia Abu-Jamal endangers the US coalition for abolition of the death penalty
ECPM has unilaterally, and over objection, determined to give the Mumia Abu-Jamal case a prominent role in the upcoming 4th World Congress Against the Death Penalty, including the participation of Mr. Abu-Jamal's lawyers and his direct participation by telephone. The US members of the Steering Committee of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty do not agree to this, because it will be counter-productive to our effort to achieve abolition in our country.

The Abu-Jamal case, regardless of its merits, acts as a lightning rod that galvanizes opponents of abolition and neutralizes key constituencies in the cause of abolition. Continuing to give Abu-Jamal focused attention unnecessarily attracts our strongest opponents and alienates coalition partners at a time when we need to build alliances, not foster hatred and enmity.
While Abu-Jamal still attracts some positive attention outside of the United States, it is at a real cost to the US abolition effort. In 1999, the world's largest association of professional law enforcement officers, the Fraternal Order of Police, announced a boycott of organizations and individuals who support Abu-Jamal. Bills have been introduced in both houses of the US federal legislature condemning the naming of streets for Abu-Jamal. The result is that Abu-Jamal, rather  than abolition of the death penalty, becomes the issue and the focus of attention. That is dangerously counter-productive to the abolition movement in the US.

The voices of the Innocent, the voices of Victims and the voices of Law Enforcement are the most persuasive factors in changing public opinion and the views of decision-makers (politicians) and opinion leaders (media). Continuing to shine a spotlight on Abu-Jamal, who has had so much public exposure for so many years, threatens to alienate these three most important partnership groups.
The support of law enforcement officials is essential to achieving abolition in the United States. It is essential to the national abolition strategy of US abolition activists and attorneys, that we cultivate the voices of police, prosecutors and law enforcement experts, to support our call for an end to the death penalty. It was key in New Jersey and in New Mexico, it is fundamental to abolition throughout the US, and it will be a primary focus for 2010 and beyond. We have begun to make real progress with police officers and prosecutors speaking out against the death penalty as a failed policy.

«In a national poll released in 2009, the nation's police chiefs ranked the death penalty last in their priorities for effective crime reduction. The officers did not believe the death penalty acted as a deterrent to murder, and they rated it as one of most inefficient uses of taxpayer dollars in fighting crime .... "
Death Penalty Information Center, The Death Penalty in 2009: Year End Report, December 18,2009. If the 4th World Congress gives Abu-Jamal and his lawyers the focus and attention proposed by ECPM, the US movement for abolition will be exposed to a serious backlash that will directly damage the delicate alliances we are building with essential groups. As international representatives of the US abolition movement, we cannot agree to the involvement of Abu-Jamal or his lawyers in the World Congress beyond attendance.

For these reasons, providing Abu-Jamal the World Congress stage will require us to consider how to distance our programs in order to protect our vital alliances with our key partners and constituencies. To be effective ad- vocates within the US we must and will continue our strategic approach to abolition with our core allies and our evolving partners. Featuring Mr. Abu-Jamal's case as ECPM has proposed presents an unacceptably high risk of fracturing a developing but still fragile alliance with vitally important constituencies - constituencies that can either help our movement reach the goal of abolition or severely hinder our progress.

Elizabeth Zitrin (DPF), Renny Cushing and Kate Lowenstein (MVFHR), Speedy Rice (NACDL), Kristin Houle (TCADP), Juan Matos de Juan (PRBA)
21 December 2009

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