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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Screening and Discussion of Award-Winning Documentary “State vs Reed” Friday September 3 in Austin

Film Presents Case for Innocence of Texas Death Row Inmate Rodney Reed

The documentary film “State vs. Reed”, directed by Ryan Polomski and Frank Bustoz, will be screened at Cherrywood Coffeehouse, 1400 E. 38 ½ Street in Austin, on Friday September 3 at 8 PM. The 60-minute film documents the questionable murder conviction of Bastrop resident Rodney Reed for the 1996 murder of Stacey Stites.  Rodney Reed’s mother and brother, Sandra Reed and Rodrick Reed, will attend the screening and answer questions after the film.

“State vs. Reed” presents a shocking case of racism, police corruption and prosecutorial misconduct that serves as an indictment of the Texas death penalty system. Hidden DNA evidence and eyewitness testimony all point away from Rodney Reed and toward another suspect – former Giddings Police Officer Jimmy Fennell, who is now in prison after being convicted of an unrelated kidnapping and sexual assault. Reed’s supporters say Fennell, who was engaged to Stites, was enraged after finding out that Reed and Stites were having a romantic affair. Fennell failed two polygraph tests denying Stites’ murder. Fennell is white, as was Stites. Reed is African-American.

The directors received a SXSW Film 06 jury prize for “State vs Reed”.  Beginning in 2003, Polomski and Bustoz conducted extensive interviews with attorneys, investigators, journalists, and, during dozens of trips to Bastrop County, several of Reed's relatives. The filmmakers also traveled to Livingston, where Reed sits on death row.

“We are screening “State vs Reed” to continue a dialog with the people of Austin about the injustice of the Texas death penalty. Todd Willingham was executed in 2004 based on forensic science that the Texas Forensic Science Commission said at their last meeting was “seriously flawed”.  We do not want Rodney Reed to be the next Todd Willingham, an innocent person executed before he was able to prove his innocence. Time ran out for Todd Willingham and his family, but we do not want time to run out for Rodney Reed and his family. We invite the public to attend the screening to learn about the Rodney Reed case as well as broader issues about the injustice of the Texas death penalty”, said Scott Cobb, one of the organizers of the screening.

“This screening of “State vs Reed” will be a kick-off event for Death Penalty Free Austin’s campaign to convince the Austin City Council to pass a resolution calling for a moratorium on executions. We also want the Travis County District Attorney not to seek the death penalty in capital cases. The Texas death penalty system is riddled with problems and puts innocent people at risk of execution. Support for the death penalty may be higher in some other more conservative parts of Texas, but Austin is not like the rest of Texas. We are asking the people of Austin to reject the death penalty based on its many problems and especially because Texas has a system that cannot reliably sort out the guilty from the innocent”, said Jamie Bush of Death Penalty Free Austin.  

Admission to the screening is free.  Donations for Death Penalty Free Austin are gratefully accepted. A petition will be available at the screening for people to sign to urge the Austin City Council to pass a moratorium resolution.

Death Penalty Free Austin is a new coalition of groups and individuals in Austin working together to convince the Austin City Council to pass a resolution for a moratorium on executions. The next organizing meeting for Death Penalty Free Austin is Sept 9, contact Lily Hughes at 512 417 2241 for details and the location for the next meeting. Everyone is welcome to join Death Penalty Free Austin.

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Video of Ron Carlson Speaking to Houston Media About Death Penalty on the Day Before the Execution of Peter Cantu

Ron Carlson speaking to Houston media at a press conference on August 16, 2010, the day before Peter Cantu became the 463rd person executed by Texas since 1982.  Cantu was executed for his part in the murders of two teenage girls, Jennifer Ertman (14) and Elizabeth Peña (16), who attended Waltrip High School in Houston and were walking home alone one night in 1993. The girls were gang raped, beaten and strangled in an attack that shocked Houston and attracted national attention for its brutality. Before the press conference, flowers to remember and honor Jennifer Ertman and Elizabeth Peña were placed on their memorial at Waltrip High School (Watch Video of flowers).

Click here to watch video of Ron Carlson speaking.



Ron Carlson's sister, Deborah Ruth Carlson Davis Thornton, and Jerry Lynn Dean were murdered with a pick ax by Karla Faye Tucker and Daniel Ryan Garrett on June 13, 1983.

Both Tucker and Garrett were sentenced to death. Ron originally supported their sentences, telling the prosecutors, "I think they got what they deserved." Ron lost his stepfather and natural father within a year of Deborah's death. "You can't imagine the anger that was in this body," he says now. For many years, Ron treated his pain with alcohol and drugs, until becoming a Christian and turning his life "over to the Lord" in 1990. Ron ultimately forgave Karla and Dan and worked hard to commute their death sentences. Dan died in prison of natural causes in 1993. Despite widespread appeals on her behalf, Karla Faye Tucker was executed on February 3,1998, in Huntsville, Texas. Ron was invited by Karla to witness the execution as one of her representatives. When he did so, he become the first known victim's family member to witness an execution on behalf of the murderer.


Text of Ron Carlson's statement is below:

To the Ertman and Pena families:

I can’t say that I know how you feel concerning the loss of your loved  ones Jennifer Ertman and Elizabeth Pena. The images of those two  beautiful girls will forever be in my mind as well as the horrifying act  of their demise. What I can say is that I can relate to it due to the  fact that I have had two people murdered in my family.  On June 13th,  1983 my sister Deborah Ruth Carlson Davis Thornton was murdered by Karla  Faye Tucker and Daniel Ryan Garret. On October 17th, 1984 my father  William Gerald List was murdered by Elbert Smiley Homan.

I can  say that I understand your wants and desires for justice concerning  Peter Cantu.  I have difficulty in believing that the execution of Peter  Cantu will provide any sort of closure concerning the case.

I  can truthfully say that, since I have personally witnessed an execution.   I had hoped and prayed that I would receive closure and that would be  the end of it.

What I did learn that night was that another set of victims were created and that the cycle of violence continued.

It  is my hope that the Ertman and Pena families can find peace in their  lives. It is also my hope that the Ertman and Pena families can find it  in their hearts to forgive those who destroyed their families. If they  can do that, I believe they will find that their lives will be better  because of it.

I state this because when I forgave those who  destroyed my family, I found that I was more at peace concerning the  loss of my loved ones. We can never forget them, but we can honor them.

Two  of the men sent to death row for this gang rape and murder were  juveniles and were taken off death row in 2005 when the US Supreme Court  outlawed sentencing juvenile to death.  They were given life.  The  earth did not crumble.  Texas did not disintegrate.  The world continued  to rotate on its axis--in other words, life went on and the two  juveniles are in prison but not facing death.

We do not need the death penalty.

We do not need the state of Texas to kill people who kill to show that killing is wrong.

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Monday, August 23, 2010

SADP seeks nominations for the Youth Abolitionist of the Year Award

Students Against the Death Penalty is accepting nominations for the 2010 Youth Abolitionist of the Year Award. The Award is presented each year to a young person (or persons under the age of 25) with a deep commitment to fighting the death penalty and a proven ability to transform this commitment into effective action. The recipients should have demonstrated leadership ability, creativity, and integrity.

Nominations for the Youth Abolitionist of the Year Award may be submitted at any time by sending an email to hooman(at)texasabolition(dot)org describing in 500 worlds or less why this person merits the Youth Abolitionist of the Year Award? Deadline to submit nominations are October 10, 2010. Finalists might be asked to submit further supporting documents (letters of recommendation, articles by or about the candidate, etc.) Anyone may nominate a candidate, including members of the general public.


The winner will be announced at the 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty in Austin, Texas, October 30, 2010.

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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Video of Flowers at Waltrip Memorial for Murder Victims Jennifer Ertman and Elizabeth Peña

Two teenage girls, Jennifer Ertman (14) and Elizabeth Peña (16), who attended Waltrip High School in Houston, were walking home alone one night in 1993. The girls were gang raped, beaten and strangled in an attack that shocked Houston and attracted national attention for its brutality.

"We want to honor and remember the two young girls who were murdered, Elizabeth Peña and Jennifer Ertman, so we plan to bring some flowers donated by our members to put on the memorial to the girls that stands on the grounds of Waltrip High School in Houston", said Scott Cobb, president of Texas Moratorium Network and a graduate of Waltrip High School. The flowers were placed at the memorial on August 16, 2010.



Click here to see video of flowers at memorial at Waltrip.

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Three Judge All-Republican Review Panel Appointed to Hear Appeal of Public Warning Given To Sharon Keller

Mary Alice Robbins of Texas Lawyer is reporting that Sharon Keller will have her appeal heard by a three judge panel. We looked up the party affiliation of the three judges and no surprise, all three judges are Republicans. Also no surprise, but Keller's lawyer says “They’re all fine judges.”

From Texas Lawyer:

Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson has appointed three court of appeals justices to hear Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller’s appeal of the public warning issued to her by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. Fort Worth’s 2nd Court of Appeals Chief Justice Terrie Livingston will preside over the special court of review, which also will include 1st Court of Appeals Justice Elsa Alcala of Houston and 9th Court of Appeals Justice Charles Kreger of Beaumont, according to Jefferson’s Aug. 18 letter to those three justices. Jefferson notes in the letter that, pursuant to Texas Government Code §33.034, he selected the justices’ names by lot and assigned them to hear Inquiry Concerning Judge No. 96. Charles “Chip” Babcock, Keller’s attorney, a Jackson Walker partner in Dallas and Houston, says of the appointees, “They’re all fine judges.” Babcock says the timing of the special court’s hearing in the Keller case depends on whether the panel will conduct the review de novo or in an appellate proceeding. “I assume at some point somebody will tell us which,” he says.

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Friday, August 13, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Saturday August 21 at 3 PM: First Organizing Meeting for the 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty

The first organizing meeting to prepare for the 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty is on Saturday August 21 at the Carver Library in Austin from 3:00-4:30 pm. Please come to the organizing meeting and help us make this year’s march as great a success as last year’s! (Pictured: Death Row Exonerees Ron Keine, Shujaa Graham and Curtis McCarty at last year's march)
Everyone who wants to help organize this year’s march is welcome to attend. Last year, we had the largest turnout since 2000 and the march was covered in all the state newspapers, including a photo on the cover of the Dallas Morning News. You can see some links to media coverage of last year on the march media page. The website also has videos of some of last year’s speakers.
The march itself is scheduled for October 30 in Austin. More details to come.
The annual march is organized by several Texas anti-death penalty organizations, including the Austin chapter of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, Texas Moratorium Network, the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, Texas Students Against the Death Penalty, Texas Death Penalty Education and Resource Center, Death Penalty Free Austin, and Kids Against the Death Penalty.
Please go ahead and start asking other groups to sponsor.
11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty
First Organizing Meeting!
Saturday, August 21st at 7PM
Carver Library (click for map)
1161 Angelina Street
Austin, Texas

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Former Chair of Texas Forensic Science Commission: “Did the Fire Marshal’s Office commit professional negligence or misconduct in failing to disseminate the new fire science standards in a timely manner?"

The former chair of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, Austin lawyer Samuel Bassett, today wrote a memo to the Commission urging the panel to provide an in-depth report on the use of flawed arson science in Texas. ““Did the Fire Marshal’s Office commit professional negligence or misconduct in failing to disseminate the new fire science standards in a timely manner?” Bassett asked in a memo. in a timely manner?” Bassett asked in the memo. He also urged the Commission to meet in public instead of holding private secret meetings of the subcommittee considering the Willingham case.

Former Chair Sam Bassett's Memo to Texas Forensic Science Commission on Todd Willingham Investigation

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Friday, August 06, 2010

Photos From Inside Texas Death Row, Including a Typical Cell (Imagine Living in Such a Cell for 17 years As An Innocent Person)

Have you ever wondered what the inside of Texas Death Row looks like? Here are some photos that were obtained by a Freedom of Information request by a lawyer. They are on the blog of Thomas Whitaker, who is on Texas death row. No death row inmate has access to the internet, so his blog is run by a friend of his.


These are the living conditions for everyone on death row, including Todd Willingham when he was on death row. Ernest Willis, an innocent person released from death row several months after Willingham was executed in 2004, also lived in one of the cells at the Polunsky Unit. Willis was on Texas death row for 17 years even though he was completely innocent. None of these photos are of Willingham's or Willis's cells but they lived in cells similar to the one pictured below in their last years on death row after everyone had been moved to the Polunsky Unit in 1999 from the previous death row unit.


For a description of all 53 photos, click here.








What an empty cell looks like, and the mattresses which are provided to us . This is basically what you get from the state after you arrive. If you have any money, you can purchase items from the commissary. I know many men who have lived for decades here in rooms nearly as empty as this. I have received some flak from people who were peeved off that I spent some of the money given to me on such men, as if this was some sort of betrayal of their intentions. I can appreciate someone wanting their gift to go where it was intended…but, come on, how could I not feel for such people? Look at the emptiness of this cell and tell me I don’t have an ethical obligation to try to help in some small way.



1-Row, A-Section, A-Pod, otherwise known as DeathWatch. This is the last home for the men here living in Texas’ DR, as the final months of their lives wind down. The large doors are the cell entrances, and the small doors outlined in blue/green paint are the entrances to the pipe-chase. When you hear keys jangling about and the rusty creak of these small doors opening, you know they are about to shut off the water and institute a shake-down.




The inside of someone’s cell on DeathWatch. They picked a relatively clean cell, at least in terms of the amount of paint still on the walls. Nearly all of the paint in my cell has peeled off.


View of a home-made clothesline in a cell. This is a prime example of a TDCJ catch-22 type situation. They make an environment where is it IMPOSSIBLE not to catch a case from time to time (I’ve got two minor cases to my credit.) These clotheslines are contraband, and for having one you can be written up. It can even be classified as a “dangerous weapon.” And yet, we have to wash our clothes, somehow. Most of us use our sinks, though I have heard of men using their toilets as well. After this washing, these clothes must dry, right? This is common sense, and yet the system refuses to bother with creating a solution to this paradox, save writing cases. The massive amounts of minor cases are then collected, and eventually paraded about in front of the Clemency Board as proof that none of us are capable of rehabilitation. As if the existence of a clothesline somehow negates a persons right to live. I know you think I must be kidding, but I have known men who were denied clemency for disciplinary reasons, despite not having ever been tagged with a major case. You can see the small window I have mentioned in the past in this photograph.



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Thursday, August 05, 2010

Video from Voice of America: Death Row Inmates Tell Their Stories in Book Edited by Graduate Students

Below is a video report from Voice of America: Death Row Inmates Tell Their Stories in Book, "Voices From Texas Death Row", which was the project of a graduate class at Sam Houston State University English professor Paul Ruffin.

In a recent interview with Voice of America, a student editor, Paula Khalaf said she was deeply touched by reading the stories of men who often grew up in broken homes and who, as one inmate says, "became lost souls as children."

"I have to say I have probably changed my feelings about the death penalty," she said. "Probably, if I had to come down as either for or against it at this point, I would be against it."



The first book now has a sequel, "Texas Death Row: Reflections of a Different World".

Texas Death Row: Reflections of a Different World

Edited by Jennifer Gauntt, Julia Guthrie, Trina Kowis, H. Dave Lewis, Shana Templeton, Robert Uren, and Linda Wetzel

Following on the heels of the highly successful Upon This Chessboard of Nights and Days: Voices from Texas Death Row, which enjoyed international exposure through a Voice of America piece that appeared on television, radio, and the Internet, this sequel introduces readers once again to the world of the inmates who sit on Texas Death Row, awaiting their date with death. The first book focused exclusively on nonfiction prose and art, whereas this second book presents an even greater range of their creative expressions through fiction, poetry, and art.
Readers will be amazed to discover the level of talent that resides among these forgotten members of society who do, indeed, live in another world.
Mark Robertson
#000992

“When It’s At Your Door”

You sit, lay the tax, and wait for nothing—
another damp night in the yellow light of cheap bulbs
within the gray walls amongst men,
killers, who struggle for their lives.
“You will be laid into the earth” they say,
“Laid by men in linen clothes and white linen hats,
For the state doesn’t buy wool.”
Hmpf.
You sleep at dusk, dawn, night or day.
It doesn’t really matter.
It doesn’t matter at all.
You have the responsibilities of a rock:
just sit and wait till some force comes
and holds you sway and makes you cry,
like the cold, hard men whom I’ve seen
with tears in their eyes.
I shouldn’t be surprised.
It drives you mad. It drives you crazy,
but you cannot go insane;
the sanity is all that keeps you going,
when darkness surrounds your day.
And when the sleep does not come
you just lie there, wearily,
wondering when you’ll fly out of your body
and into the bliss of night, still wondering
if there really is a hell; a place where you’ll burn
for the pleasures procured.
So you count the tickets of sin,
the receipts of your deeds, but
you’re always in the red.
And you hear the voices prattling all the time,
some of god, some of money, some of love gone by,
and you think how stupid their conversation is.
They argue and scream, making a constant fuss,
yet if they are silent, mute and still,
then perhaps, just perhaps,
they will become just like you.
But do you really fear?
Yes, perhaps a little, as the child,
who once feared the dark room
with the open, closet door, yet as with all trips,
as with all fears in time, you learn to learn
what’s feared and what’s trite,
and you care for neither, for neither care for you,
so over you roll, slapping your pillow,
looking at the time, hoping your neighbor
does not hear, cannot hear,
the thoughts within your mind.

The editors of Texas Death Row: Reflections of a Different World were members of the Fall 2009 graduate Editing and Publishing Practicum taught by Paul Ruffin at Sam Houston State University. All are pursuing masters of arts degrees from SHSU.

Buy the book here.

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Texas Murder Victim's Wife Did Not Want DA to Seek Death Penalty, So DA Sought Life in Prison

In this Texas case, the murder victim's family did not want the death penalty and so the prosecutor did not seek it.

From KSLA:

An East Texas man has plead guilty to capital murder and will spend the rest of his life in jail.
Back in March, 34 year old Joe Don Turner killed an 86 year old man who refused to give him money.
The state intended to seek the death penalty against Turner, but after consulting with the victim's widow, they agreed to a life sentence as part of a plea deal.

From the Longview News-Journal:
Snitker's wife of 26 years Helen Snitker stood in court and said she forgave Turner for his crime, and hopes that his gift of continued life will give him time to reflect upon his actions, according to court reports. Court reports also stated Turner expressed remorse for killing Snitker, throughout the investigation.

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Wednesday, August 04, 2010

More on Greg Wright Who Was Executed in 2008; His Co-defendant Former Death Row Inmate John Adams Was Resentenced to Life This Week

Yesterday, we posted about the sentencing retrial that resulted in life in prison for John Adams, a person formerly on Texas death row. His co-defendant Gregory Wright was executed in 2008. Wright professed his innocence until his death. He said in his last words that it was John Adams who actually killed the victim. Now, Adams has been removed from death row and given life. But did Texas execute someone who did not kill anyone, namely Greg Wright? http://www.freegregwright.com.

Below is the post we made right after the 2008 execution of Greg Wright, a person who most assuredly did not kill anyone and so was wrongfully executed by Texas.

If you are outraged about the Texas Death Penalty, plan to join us in Austin on October 30, 2010 for the 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty.

The photo is of Greg Wright 15 minutes after his execution on Oct 30, 2008 in Texas. His friend Bente Hjortshøj is standing on the left. She wrote this caption to the photo:

"The first time we touched you Greg...you were still warm...you looked at peace...as though you were just sleeping and would wake up soon....it was sooooo hard to see you like this though you were finally free..this is just about 15 minutes after the execution...sooo surreal....BUT dearest Greg.....Me and Connie kept our promise to you and for that we are glad...but it was tougher than we thought.... we did it out of love and respect for you!! LOVE YA LOADS!!!!".
Bente Hjortshøj has given permission for the photo to be distributed around the internet, "me and Connie decided to publish all pictures to show the world the cruel and unusual punishment and its horrible consequences".

The photos are from her recent trip to Texas when she witnessed the execution of Greg Wright (website) on October 30, 2008.

"The truth doesn't matter," Wright said in an interview from death row a few days before his execution. He said he was stunned when his guilty verdict was announced. "I couldn't believe what was happening ... I am innocent."

Wright again proclaimed his innocence in his last statement at his execution, when asked if he had anything to say:
"Yes I do. There has been a lot of confusion on who done this. I know you all want closure. Donna had her Christianity in tact when she died. She never went to a drug house. John Adams lied. He went to the police and told them a story. He made deals and sold stuff to keep from going to prison. I left the house, and I left him there. My only act or involvement was not telling on him. John Adams is the one that killed Donna Vick. I took a polygraph and passed. John Adams never volunteered to take one. I have done everything in my power. Donna Vick helped me; she took me off the street. I was a truck driver; my CDL was still active. Donna gave me everything I could ask for. I helped her around the yard. I helped her around the house. She asked if there were anyone else to help. I am a Christian myself, so I told her about John Adams. We picked him up at a dope house. I did not know he was a career criminal. When we got to the house he was jonesin for drugs. He has to go to Dallas. I was in the bathroom when he attacked. I am deaf in one ear and I thought the T.V. was up too loud. I ran in to the bedroom. By the time I came in, when I tried to help her, with first aid, it was too late. The veins were cut on her throat. He stabbed her in her heart, and that's what killed her. I told John Adams, "turn yourself in or hit the high road." I owed him a favor because he pulled someone off my back. I was in a fight downtown. Two or three days later he turned on me. I have done everything to prove my innocence. Before you is an innocent man. I love my famly. I'll be waiting on ya'll. I'm finished talking."
The lethal injection was then started. He was pronounced dead at 6:20 p.m.

Grits For Breakfast, recently named by the ABA as one of the top 100 legal blogs, commented on Wright's last statement:
When you read the final statements of most executed offenders, at least those who choose to give them, they tend to express remorse, often apologizing to victim families, or else offering comfort to friends and family they're leaving behind. Wright's final statement was noteworthy because he defiantly maintained his innocence until the end, instead insisting that an informant who testified against him really did the deed.

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Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Retrial Ends in Life for Former Death Row Inmate; Co-Defendant Greg Wright Executed in 2008 Saying "Before you is an innocent man"

According to the Dallas Morning News, a retrial has resulted in life in prison for John Adams, a person formerly on Texas death row. The co-defendant in the case, Gregory Wright, was executed in 2008. Wright professed his innocence until his death, he said in his last words that it was John Adams who actually killed the victim. Now, Adams has been removed from death row and given life. But did Texas execute someone who did not kill anyone, namely Greg Wright? You can read more about the case at www.freegregwright.com.

Here are Greg Wright's last words:
Yes I do. There has been a lot of confusion on who done this. I know you all want closure. Donna had her Christianity in tact when she died. She never went to a drug house. John Adams lied. He went to the police and told them a story. He made deals and sold stuff to keep from going to prison. I left the house, and I left him there. My only act or involvement was not telling on him. John Adams is the one that killed Donna Vick. I took a polygraph and passed. John Adams never volunteered to take one. I have done everything in my power. Donna Vick helped me; she took me off the street. I was a truck driver; my CDL was still active. Donna gave me everything I could ask for. I helped her around the yard. I helped her around the house. She asked if there were anyone else to help. I am a Christian myself, so I told her about John Adam. We picked him up at a dope house. I did not know he was a career criminal. When we got to the house he was jonesin for drugs. He has to go to Dallas. I was in the bathroom when he attacked. I am deaf in one ear and I thought the T.V. was up too loud. I ran in to the bedroom. By the time I came in, when I tried to help her, with first aid, it was too late. The veins were cut on her throat. He stabbed her in her heart, and that's what killed her. I told John Adams, "turn yourself in or hit the high road." I owed him a favor because he pulled someone off my back. I was in a fight downtown. Two or three days later he turned on me. I have done everything to prove my innocence. Before you is an innocent man. I love my famly. I'll be waiting on ya'll. I'm finished talking.
From the DMN:
The state of Texas will not execute John Wade Adams for the 1997 murder of Donna Vick. He will serve a life sentence instead.

In a rare Sunday court session, District Judge Gracie Lewis discharged the jury that had been deliberating Adams' penalty. She ruled that the Dallas County jury was not able to make the life-or-death decision after 27 hours of deliberation over three days.

"Our prayers were answered," said Bobbie Adams Satterlee, one of a dozen family and friends who came from Louisiana and Alabama for the retrial of the penalty phase.

Adams' guilt was not at issue. He had been tried for stabbing Vick to death and found guilty of capital murder 12 years ago. The only question was whether his death penalty should stand or be reduced to life in prison.

Defense attorneys argued his punishment should be life in prison because the original trial jury did not hear evidence about Adams' abusive childhood, evidence that family members presented in a retrial that spanned the last two weeks.

Gregory Wright was also convicted of the Vick murder and was executed in 2008.

To watch Greg Wright's wife Connie speaking at the 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty in 2009 click here. She starts speaking around the 2 minute 30 second mark.

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Sunday, August 01, 2010

Paul Burka on the Todd Willingham Case

President Lyndon Johnson, speaking about the Vietnam War, once remarked to an aide, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost America.” Paul Burka, who writes for Texas Monthly, may be no Walter Cronkite (and who is these days?), but his take on the Todd Willingham case in his column on July 27 is an indication that more and more middle of the road Texans are coming around to the realization that Texas executed an innocent person.

From the BurkaBlog:
The integrity of the Texas Forensic Science Commission has been compromised ever since Rick Perry reorganized the commission, installed his longtime politically ally, Williamson County D.A. John Bradley, as chairman, and replaced other members of the commission investigating the Cameron Todd Willingham case. Willingham’s three children died in a fire that investigators said was deliberately set, and he was subsequently sentenced to death and executed. Experts who have studied the case have since concluded that arson investigators used flawed science in determining that the fire was an act of arson.

Predictably, the commission appears to be headed toward a whitewash that will absolve the arson investigators because [according to a report in the Dallas Morning News] they used outmoded standards that were common at the time in Texas….”

Let’s be very clear about what this means. If the evidence on which the conviction of Cameron Todd Willingham was based was fundamentally flawed, then the State of Texas executed an innocent man. It means that an agency of the State of Texas is going to whitewash the killing to protect Rick Perry. And it means that John Bradley and the Forensic Science Commission believe that it is just too bad if improperly trained law enforcement officers present flawed evidence to obtain a conviction in a capital murder case.

We know the truth: The evidence was flawed. If the evidence was flawed, then so was Willingham’s conviction. We can only hope that when this sad episode is over, Perry will make a public statement of regret and clear Willingham’s name with a posthumous pardon. Don’t hold your breath.

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