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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Video: Anti-death penalty rally at Texas Capitol draws international attention



Watch on YouTube.

The 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty was held in Austin at the Texas Capitol at 2 PM on October 30, 2010.

Special guests this year included 6 exonerated former death row prisoners Shujaa Graham, Ron Keine, Gary Drinkard, Curtis McCarty, Albert Burrell and Greg Wilhoit. Curtis spent 21 years in prison – including 19 years on death row – in Oklahoma for a crime he did not commit. Shujaa spent 3 years on death row in California for a crime he did not commit. Ron spent two years on death row in New Mexico for a crime he did not commit. Gary spent almost 6 years on death row in Alabama for a crime he did not commit. Albert spent 13 years on death row in Louisiana for a crime he did not commit. Greg spent five years on death row in Oklahoma for a crime he did not commit.

Also speaking was Ron Carlson, whose sister Deborah Ruth Carlson Davis Thornton and Jerry Lynn Dean were murdered in Houston with a pick-ax by Karla Faye Tucker and Daniel Ryan Garrett. Ron opposes the death pealty and witnessed Tucker’s execution in Huntsville at her request. Other speakers will be announced later.

Elizabeth Gilbert also spoke at the 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty at 2 PM on October 30th at the Texas Capitol in Austin. She is a Houston teacher and playwright who befriended Texas death row prisoner Todd Willingham. Her story is featured in the New Yorker article by David Grann about the case as well at the Frontline Documentary “Death by Fire”. Elizabeth actively investigated the case on her own. She became convinced of Todd’s innocence and was instrumental in helping his family find an expert fire investigator to examine his case.

Sandrine Ageorges-Skinner also spoke. She is a French national married to Hank Skinner, who is on Texas death row and is seeking to have DNA tested that could prove his innocence.
On October 13, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case of Hank Skinner to determine if he may seek testing of DNA evidence through a civil rights lawsuit. If he is not allowed to test the DNA evidence, then Texas may execute an innocent person. Hank Skinner received a stay of execution from the U.S. Supreme Court on March 25, 2010 only hours before his scheduled execution.

Bill Pelke also spoke. Bill recently authored a book entitled Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing, which details the May 14, 1985 murder of his grandmother Ruth Pelke, a Bible teacher, by four teenage girls. Paula Cooper who was deemed to be the ringleader was sentenced to die in the electric chair by the state of Indiana. She was fifteen-years-old at the time of the murder
Pelke originally support the sentence of death for Cooper, but went through a spiritual transformation in 1986 after praying for love and compassion for Paula Cooper and her family. He became involved in an international crusade on Paula's behalf and in 1989 after over 2 million people from Italy signed petitions and Pope John Paul II’s request for mercy, Paula was taken off of death row and her sentence commuted to sixty years.

Bud Welch was also a speaker. In April 1995, Bud Welch’s 23 year old daughter was killed in the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. In the months after her death, he changed from supporting the death penalty for Timothy McVeigh to taking a public stand against it. His change of heart was inspired in part by Julie Marie herself. Once, while listening to a radio report on an execution in Texas, she had turned to him and said, “Dad, that makes me sick. All those Texans are doing is teaching all the children down there to hate. The murderer did wrong, but now the government has stooped to his level.”

Bud eventually arranged to meet with Timothy McVeigh’s father, Bill. “I saw a deep pain in a father’s eye, but also an incredible love for his son.” Bud says, “I was able to tell him that I truly understood the pain that he was going through, and that he – as I – was a victim of what happened in Oklahoma City.”

Rodrick Reed, brother of Texas Death Row prisoner Rodney Reed also spoke. Rodney and his family are fighting to prove his innocence in the 1996 strangling of 19-year-old Stacey Stites in Bastrop County. Rodney’s case is a troubling mixture of prosecutorial misconduct, police corruption, poor defense, and institutional racism.

Terri Been also spoke. She is the sister of Jeff Wood, who is on Texas death row convicted under the Law of Parties for a murder committed by someone else. Jeff never killed anyone. He was sitting in a car outside of a convenience store when someone else went inside and killed someone. Jeff did not know that the other person planned to rob or kill anyone, but Jeff was sentence to death because of the Texas Law of Parties. Terri successfully lobbied the Texas House of Representatives in 2009 to pass a bill to ban the execution of people convicted under the Law of Parties. The bill passed the House, but was killed in the Texas Senate after Governor Rick Perry threatened to veto it if it was approved.

Delia Perez Meyer also spoke. She has been fighting for years to prove the innocence of and to save the life of her brother Louis Castro Perez who is on death row in Texas. Delia is a Commissioner on the Austin Human Rights Commission. She is a member of the board of directors of Texas Moratorium Network. She also works closely with the Journey of Hope … from Violence to Healing, CEDP-Austin and many other anti-death penalty organizations.

Nick Been of Kids Against the Death Penalty also spoke. KADP is an organization formed initially by nephews of Jeff Wood, a person on Texas death row convicted under the Law of Parties even though he did not kill anyone. In February 2010, members of KADP traveled as invited speakers to Geneva, Switzerland for the 4th World Congress Against the Death Penalty.

Laurence Foster, grandfather of Kenneth Foster, Jr also spoke. Kenneth's death sentence under the Law of Parties was commuted by Rick Perry in 2007.

Minister Robert Muhammad also spoke.

Brit Schulte of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty Denton chapter read a letter from Rob Will, who is on Texas death row.

“This is fast becoming one of the biggest anti-death penalty events in the country. I’ll be there“, said death row exoneree Ron Keine.

Each October since 2000, people from all walks of life and all parts of Texas, the U.S. and other countries have taken a day out of their year and gathered in Austin to raise their voices together and loudly express their opposition to the death penalty. The march is a coming together of activists, family members of people on death row, community leaders, exonerated prisoners and all those calling for repeal of the Texas death penalty.

The annual march is organized as a joint project by several Texas anti-death penalty organizations: Texas Moratorium Network, the Austin chapter of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, 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.

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Video Report of Press Conference on Day Before the 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty

On the day before the 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty, we held a press conference in the Texas Capitol.

Click here to watch the below video on YouTube.



Death penalty exonerees, their families and fellow advocates are taking a stand for capital punishment reform Saturday at the Capitol during 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty. Journey of Hope ... from Violence to Healing scheduled to participate, including death row exoneree Curtis McCarty, who spent 19 years on death row in Oklahoma.

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Video of Anthony Graves Speaking Out



Watch video on ABC13 in Houston.

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Prosecutorial Misconduct Caused Anthony Graves to Be Wrongfully Sentenced to Death

"The prosecutor who was responsible for sending  Anthony Graves, an innocent man, to death row should be prosecuted for misconduct, including official oppression or other charges. In addition, legislators should enact a moratorium on executions in the next legislative session. A moratorium is the best way to ensure that needed reforms or implemented to prevent innocent people from being sent to death row and possibly executed before they can prove their innocence", said Scott Cobb, president of Texas Moratorium Network.

From the Houston Chronicle:

Prosecutors today blasted Charles Sebesta, the former district attorney for Washington and Burleson counties, accusing him of hiding evidence and tampering, then threatening witnesses to convict Anthony Graves of capital murder in 1994.
Graves was released from jail Wednesday after spending 18 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit.
Answering questions about the release today, Kelly Siegler, a special prosecutor working for District Attorney Bill Parham, said the case was "horrible."
"Charles Sebasta handled this case in a way that could best be described as a criminal justice system’s nightmare," Siegler said. "It’s a travesty, what happened in Anthony Graves’ trial."
The 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty is this Saturday October 30 at 2 PM at the Texas Capitol in Austin.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Three days before the 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty, Anthony Graves, an innocent man has been released from Texas Death Row

Three days before the 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty this Saturday October 30 at 2 PM at the Texas Capitol in Austin, an innocent man has been released from Texas Death Row.

From the Houston Chronicle:

           A Texas inmate sentenced to die in 1994 has been released after prosecutors said today the man is innocent.
Anthony Graves was convicted of assisting Robert Earl Carter in the slaying of a grandmother, her daughter and four grandchildren in the Burleson County city of Somerville.
The dismissal comes 10 years after Carter, whose testimony convicted Graves, said in the moments before he was executed: "Anthony Graves had nothing to do with it. ... I lied on him in court."
Washington-Burleson County District Attorney Bill Parham dismissed the case after he and his team investigated the case for five months.
"He’s an innocent man," Parham said today. "There is nothing that connects Anthony Graves to this crime."
He said the dismissal was just.
"I did what I did because that’s the right thing to do, and I’m fine with it," he said.
An attorney for Graves, Jimmy Phillips, Jr. said his client was released about 5:30 p.m.
"The first place he wanted to go is to go hug his mama," Phillips said. "He is a free man and he’s home."
Kelly Siegler, a prosecutor hired to re-try Graves, agreed with Parham.
"After months of investigation and talking to every witness who’s ever been involved in this case and people who’ve never been talked to before, after looking under every rock we could find, we found not one piece of credible evidence that links Anthony Graves to the commission of this capital murder," Siegler said.
"This is not a case where the evidence went south with time or witnesses passed away or we just couldn’t make the case anymore. He is an innocent man."
In 2006, a three-judge panel from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided Graves deserved a new trial after ruling that prosecutors elicited false statements from two witnesses and withheld two statements that could have changed the minds of jurors.
The victims, Bobbie Davis, 45; her 16-year-old daughter, Nicole; and Davis’ four grandchildren, ages 4 to 9,were shot and stabbed inside Davis’ house, which was set aflame to cover the crime.
Graves had been moved from death row to the Burleson County Jail to await a new trial.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Six Innocent Death Row Exonerees to Lead the 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty Saturday Oct 30 2010 in Austin at the Texas Capitol

Media Advisory

For immediate release
October 26, 2010


www.MarchforAbolition.org

Contacts: Scott Cobb, Texas Moratorium Network 512-552-4743 

Laura Brady, Campaign to End the Death Penalty, 512-638-1048 

Six Innocent Death Row Exonerees to Lead the 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty Saturday Oct 30 2010 in Austin at the Texas Capitol

Pre-March Press Conference to Be Held on Friday October 29 at 1 PM in Speaker's Committee Room in Texas Capitol

Six innocent, exonerated former death row prisoners will lead the 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty Saturday October 30, 2010 at 2 PM in Austin at the Texas Capitol on the South Steps at 11th and Congress. The exonerees are Curtis McCartyShujaa GrahamRon KeineAlbert BurrellGreg Wilhoit and Gary Drinkard. Together they spent almost 50 years under sentences of death in various states. The exonerees are attending the march with the help of the Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing and Witness to Innocence.

A press conference will be held on the day before the march Friday October 29 at 1 PM in the Speaker's Committee Room (2W.6) in the Texas Capitol. The exonerees and other march speakers will be available at the press conference for media interviews.

Also speaking at the rally will be the penpal of Todd Willingham who first investigated his innocence: Elizabeth Gilbert, who lives in Houston. The story of Gilbert’s role in the effort to prove that Willingham was innocent was told in the recently aired episode of Frontline “Death by Fire” as well as in the 2009 article “Trial by Fire” in The New Yorker.

Todd Willingham’s mother Eugenia will deliver a pre-recorded video message to the march attendees. The video was taped on October 24 in her home in Ardmore, Oklahoma. It will be shown on a giant 12 feet by 9 feet video screen.  She is not scheduled to appear in person.

Another speaker will be Ron Carlson, whose sister Deborah Ruth Carlson Davis Thornton and Jerry Lynn Dean were murdered in Houston with a pick-ax by Karla Faye Tucker and Daniel Ryan Garrett. Ron opposes the death penalty and witnessed Tucker’s execution in Huntsville at her request. 

Scott Cobb of Texas Moratorium Network said, “Texas authorities from Governor Rick Perry to Chair John Bradley of the Texas Forensic Science Commission have done their best over the past year to delay, impede and prevent an official finding that Todd Willingham was convicted using flawed forensic science. Nevertheless, more and more Texans are now convinced that Willingham was wrongfully convicted. Former Governor Mark White said in Newsweek about Todd Willingham: “If there’s no arson, there’s no crime, and, therefore, he is innocent.” On Saturday Oct 30 in Austin, people from across Texas will gather at the Texas Capitol to say that executions in Texas should be stopped before another innocent person is executed".

Other speakers or attendees at the march who are available for media interviews include:

Terri Been of San Antonio, whose brother Jeff Wood is on Texas Death Row sentenced to death under the Law of Parties for murder even though he did not kill anyone or intend anyone to be killed. The actual killer has already been executed.

Sandra Reed, mother of Texas Death Row prisoner Rodney Reed, will also speak. Rodney and his family are fighting to prove his innocence in the 1996 strangling of 19-year-old Stacey Stites in Bastrop County.  

David Kaczynski, whose brother Ted Kaczynski is known as the Unabomber. David contacted the FBI with his suspicion that his brother might be involved in a series of bombings that caused three deaths and numerous injuries over 17 years.  David is now Executive Director of New Yorkers for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.


Bud Welch, whose 23-year old daughter, Julie, and 167 others were murdered in the Oklahoma City bombing by Timothy McVeigh that destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah building.


Sandrine Ageorges-Skinner, whose husband Hank Skinner is on Texas death row. On October 13, 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Skinner's case to determine if he may seek testing of DNA evidence through a civil rights lawsuit. If he is not allowed to test the DNA evidence, then Texas may execute an innocent person.

Bill Pelke, president of the Journey of Hope...from Violence to Healing. Bill's grandmother Ruth Pelke, a Bible teacher, was murdered in 1985 by four teenage girls. Paula Cooper who was deemed to be the ringleader was sentenced to die in the electric chair by the state of Indiana. She was fifteen-years-old at the time of the murder. Bill originally support the sentence of death for Cooper, but went through a spiritual transformation in 1986 after praying for love and compassion for Paula Cooper and her family. He became involved in an international crusade on Paula's behalf and in 1989 after over 2 million people from Italy signed petitions and Pope John Paul II’s request for mercy, Paula was taken off of death row and her sentence commuted to sixty years.

Delia Perez Meyer, whose brother Louis Castro Perez is on Texas death row, will speak and will invite family members of people on death row to come to the front of the rally to be acknowledged. 

Marietta Jaeger-Lane, whose 7 year old daughter, Susie, was kidnapped, raped and murdered. Marietta asked that the mentally ill killer be given the alternative allowed in capital cases: a mandatory life sentence instead of the death penalty. 

The annual march is organized as a joint project by several Texas anti-death penalty organizations: Texas Moratorium Network, the Austin chapter of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, 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.

For more information, visit www.MarchforAbolition.org

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Saturday, October 23, 2010

11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty - Oct 30, 2010 at the Capitol in Austin Texas

Before his execution, Todd Willingham said,“Please don’t ever stop fighting to vindicate me.” On October 30 at 2 PM, you can join the fight by attending the 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty at the Texas Capitol in Austin.

Postcard for 2010 March to Abolish the Death Penalty

The 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty will be held in Austin at the Texas Capitol at 2 PM on October 30, 2010. Contact the march organizers if you would like to volunteer or if your organization would like to be listed as a co-sponsor.

Special guests this year include 6 exonerated former death row prisoners Shujaa Graham, Ron Keine, Gary Drinkard, Curtis McCarty, Albert Burrell and Greg Wilhoit. Curtis spent 21 years in prison – including 19 years on death row – in Oklahoma for a crime he did not commit. Shujaa spent 3 years on death row in California for a crime he did not commit. Ron spent two years on death row in New Mexico for a crime he did not commit. Gary spent almost 6 years on death row in Alabama for a crime he did not commit. Albert spent 13 years on death row in Louisiana for a crime he did not commit. Greg spent five years on death row in Oklahoma for a crime he did not commit.

Also speaking will be Ron Carlson, whose sister Deborah Ruth Carlson Davis Thornton and Jerry Lynn Dean were murdered in Houston with a pick-ax by Karla Faye Tucker and Daniel Ryan Garrett. Ron opposes the death pealty and witnessed Tucker's execution in Huntsville at her request.

Elizabeth Gilbert will also speak at the 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty at 2 PM on October 30th at the Texas Capitol in Austin. She is a Houston teacher and playwright who befriended Texas death row prisoner Todd Willingham. Her story is featured in the New Yorker article by David Grann about the case as well at the Frontline Documentary "Death by Fire" (Click to watch online). Elizabeth actively investigated the case on her own. She became convinced of Todd’s innocence and was instrumental in helping his family find an expert fire investigator to examine his case.

Sandrine Ageorges-Skinner will also speak. Sandrine is a French citizen married to Hank Skinner, who is on Texas death row and is seeking to have DNA tested that could prove his innocence.

On October 13, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Hank Skinner to determine if he may seek testing of DNA evidence through a civil rights lawsuit. If he is not allowed to test the DNA evidence, then Texas may execute an innocent person.

Terri Been will speak about her brother Jeff Wood, who is on death row even though he did not kill anyone. Jeff was convicted under the Texas Law of Parties, which allows people like Jeff Wood and Kenneth Foster, Jr to have been sentenced to death even though they never killed anyone or intended anyone to be killed. Foster received a commutation to life in prison in 2007, but Wood remains on death row.

Delia Perez Meyer, whose brother Louis Castro Perez is on death row, will speak and will invite any family members of people on death row to come to the front of the rally to be acknowledged.

Other speakers will be announced later.

"This is fast becoming one of the biggest anti-death penalty events in the country. I'll be there", said death row exoneree Ron Keine.

Each October since 2000, people from all walks of life and all parts of Texas, the U.S. and other countries have taken a day out of their year and gathered in Austin to raise their voices together and loudly express their opposition to the death penalty. The march is a coming together of activists, family members of people on death row, community leaders, exonerated prisoners and all those calling for repeal of the Texas death penalty.

Last year’s march was the largest anti-death penalty rally in Texas since the first ever march in 2000. We will be joined this year by the Journey of Hope, which is an organization led by murder victim family members joined by death row family members, family members of the executed, the exonerated, and others with stories to tell, that conducts public education speaking tours and addresses alternatives to the death penalty.

The annual march is organized as a joint project by several Texas anti-death penalty organizations: Texas Moratorium Network, the Austin chapter of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, 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.

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Today Texas Set to Execute 464th Person Since 1982; 225th Under Rick Perry; 17th in 2010: Larry Wooten

Today, October 21, 2010 Texas is set to execute Larry Wooten. He would be the 464th person executed in Texas since 1982 and the 225th person since Rick Perry became governor. He would be the 17th 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.

Attend the 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty on October 30 at 2 pm at the Texas Capitol in Austin.

A northeast Texas man was set to receive a lethal injection Thursday for the slayings of an elderly couple found brutally beaten and stabbed in their home.
Larry Wooten was condemned to death for the September 1996 killings of 80-year-old Grady Alexander and his 86-year-old wife, Bessie.
The Alexanders were beaten with a cast iron skillet and a pistol, stabbed and had their throats slit and heads almost severed. Prosecutors said Wooten robbed the couple, taking their savings of $500, so he could buy cocaine.
The 51-year-old would be the 17th inmate executed this year in the nation's most active death penalty state.
Wooten said he didn't kill the couple, for whom he formerly worked doing odd jobs. He claimed he went to their home in Paris, located about 105 miles northeast of Dallas, found the bodies and fled. Wooten had at one time been married to the couple's niece.
But DNA evidence, including blood found on the Alexanders' kitchen floor and matched to Wooten, helped convict him. A pair of Wooten's pants stained with Grady Alexander's blood also were found near an area where Wooten had bought drugs around the time of the murders.
"I don't want to be executed. But Texas is going to do what they're going to do," Wooten said in an interview last month.
Wooten's attorneys said his appeals have been exhausted.
"I don't anticipate anything more being filed on his behalf," Robin Norris, Wooten's appellate attorney, said Thursday.
The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month refused to consider Wooten's appeal. On Tuesday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected a plea to commute his sentence to life in prison.
Kerye Ashmore, a former Lamar County district attorney who prosecuted the case, called Wooten a "scary guy" with a history of violence, including a prior conviction for assaulting an elderly woman after breaking into her home. He also was a person of interest in the murder of another elderly woman in Paris who was killed a couple of weeks before the Alexanders, Ashmore said.
"If you are going to have a death penalty, this is the kind of people you want to have the death penalty for," said Ashmore, now the first assistant district attorney in nearby Grayson County.
In his appeal to the Supreme Court, Wooten's attorneys argued he wouldn't have turned down a plea bargain if he knew about additional DNA evidence that didn't become available until after his trial began.
Wooten turned down a plea agreement of life in prison after DNA experts working for his trial attorneys believed the blood evidence didn't reliably connect him to the crime. But after the trial began, additional lab results showed the DNA evidence was stronger than originally thought, Wooten's appeals said.
Ashmore said he never misrepresented the strength of the DNA evidence.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in March ruled both sides are at risk in a plea offer and there's no constitutional right to a plea bargain.
In prior appeals, Wooten had claimed he should not be executed because he is mentally retarded. But his claim was denied as tests put his IQ between 77 and 84. An IQ of 70 is considered the threshold for mental impairment.

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Tonight, Oct 21 at 7 PM: Final Organizing Meeting for 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty

Tonight October 21 at 7 pm in Austin, we will have the last organizing meeting for the Oct 30th 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty. Everyone is welcome to come. This will be the final planning meeting before the event itself, although we will likely schedule a work party for one day next week to prepare materials for the march.
March Planning Meeting
Thursday, October 21 at 7PM
Friends Meeting House – in the Little House in rear of complex.
3701 East MLK, just east of E.M. Franklin Ave.
Special guests this year include 6 exonerated former death row prisoners Shujaa GrahamRon KeineGary DrinkardCurtis McCartyAlbert Burrell and Greg Wilhoit. Curtis spent 21 years in prison – including 19 years on death row – in Oklahoma for a crime he did not commit. Shujaa spent 3 years on death row in California for a crime he did not commit. Ron spent two years on death row in New Mexico for a crime he did not commit. Gary spent almost 6 years on death row in Alabama for a crime he did not commit. Albert spent 13 years on death row in Louisiana for a crime he did not commit. Greg spent five years on death row in Oklahoma for a crime he did not commit.
Also speaking will be Ron Carlson, whose sister Deborah Ruth Carlson Davis Thornton and Jerry Lynn Dean were murdered in Houston with a pick-ax by Karla Faye Tucker and Daniel Ryan Garrett. Ron opposes the death pealty and witnessed Tucker’s execution in Huntsville at her request. Other speakers will be announced later.
Elizabeth Gilbert will also speak at the 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty at 2 PM on October 30th at the Texas Capitol in Austin. She is a Houston teacher and playwright who befriended Texas death row prisoner Todd Willingham. Her story is featured in the New Yorker article by David Grann about the case as well at the Frontline Documentary “Death by Fire” (Click to watch online). Elizabeth actively investigated the case on her own. She became convinced of Todd’s innocence and was instrumental in helping his family find an expert fire investigator to examine his case.
This is fast becoming one of the biggest anti-death penalty events in the country. I’ll be there“, said death row exoneree Ron Keine.
Each October since 2000, people from all walks of life and all parts of Texas, the U.S. and other countries have taken a day out of their year and gathered in Austin to raise their voices together and loudly express their opposition to the death penalty. The march is a coming together of activists, family members of people on death row, community leaders, exonerated prisoners and all those calling for repeal of the Texas death penalty.
Last year’s march was the largest anti-death penalty rally in Texas since the first ever march in 2000. We will be joined this year by the Journey of Hope, which is an organization led by murder victim family members joined by death row family members, family members of the executed, the exonerated, and others with stories to tell, that conducts public education speaking tours and addresses alternatives to the death penalty.
Todd Willingham was an innocent person executed by Texas. The Texas Forensic Science Commission has admitted that the science used to convict Todd Willingham was “seriously flawed”.
Sharon Keller, the presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, was issued a “Public Warning” for judicial misconduct for saying “we close at 5″ on the day of a person’s execution instead of accepting an appeal from his lawyers.
There are people on death row who did not kill anyone or intend for anyone to be killed, but who were convicted under the “Law of Parties”.
The annual march is organized as a joint project by several Texas anti-death penalty organizations: Texas Moratorium Network, the Austin chapter of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, 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.


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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Todd Willingham's Friend Elizabeth Gilbert to Speak at 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty

Elizabeth Gilbert will be one of the speakers at the 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty at 2 PM on October 30th at the Texas Capitol in Austin. She is a Houston teacher and playwright who befriended Texas death row prisoner Todd Willingham. Her story is featured in the New Yorker article by David Grann about the case as well at the Frontline Documentary "Death by Fire" (Click to watch online). If it were not for Elizabeth's involvement in the case, in addition to Todd's family, Todd Willingham's innocence likely would never have come to light. Anyone who hears Elizabeth's story will know that it is indeed possible to make a difference in the world if you only take the time and make the effort.

Elizabeth actively investigated the case on her own. She became convinced of Todd’s innocence and was instrumental in helping his family find an expert fire investigator to examine his case. The investigator found no evidence for arson and sent a report to Governor Rick Perry. However, the State failed to halt Willingham’s execution in 2004. Further arson investigations have also found no evidence for arson.
Frontline has an interview on their website with Elizabeth. Below is an excerpt in which she talks about her meeting with Todd's former wife Stacy:
Can you describe your meeting with Stacy?

Stacy came in, and I felt that she was very genuine, and I think this was the first time she had really talked to anybody outside [of the official investigation]. ... But to me [she] was just like, "Oh, sure, I'll meet you; I'll tell you this is the truth." ... I told her I was a writer; I'm from Houston. I interviewed her; I taped her. And she seemed kind of reserved, nervous, just a person who had a lot of tragedy in her life.

I had heard from Todd that her mother had been murdered, and she had been there. So it seemed like her life had been filled with tragedy, ... and she seemed genuinely to feel Todd had not done this. ... She really convinced me that she felt that an injustice had been done. … She didn't feel like he was capable of doing that.

So you believe Stacy told the truth?

Yes, I really do.

Do you remember how she said it?

… She cried, and I just remember her saying, "Todd is not capable of doing that," just acknowledging that he loved his children. I sensed this very pained individual. ... After the conviction, and after Todd was on death row, Stacy decided to get a divorce. She didn't visit him on death row.
The annual march is a joint project organized by several Texas anti-death penalty organizations: Texas Moratorium Network, the Austin chapter of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, 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. Other sponsors include Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing.

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Now Online: Frontline Documentary about Todd Willingham Case "Death by Fire"

The new Frontline documentary about the Todd Willingham case, "Death by Fire" aired last night on TV and is now online. Click here to visit the Frontline website and watch the film online. It is embedded below divided into 6 parts.













Frontline also has a DVD of "Death by Fire" available for sale for $24.99.


11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty
October 30, 2010
2 PM
Austin, Texas
The Capitol (11th and Congress)

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Death Row Exoneree Gary Drinkard to Attend 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty

Gary Drinkard, an innocent man who spent almost six years on death row in Alabama, will be a special guest at the 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty on October 30 at the Texas Capitol in Austin at 2 PM. Gary was released from death row on May 25, 2001. He will join exonerees Shujaa Graham, Curtis McCarty, Ron Keine, Albert Burrell and Greg Wilhoit at the march. Gary is coming to the march courtesy of Witness to Innocence.

Gary Drinkard was sentenced to death in 1995 for the robbery and murder of a 65-year-old automotive junk dealer in Decatur, Alabama. He was assigned two court-appointed lawyers; one specialized in collections and commercial work and another represented creditors in foreclosures and bankruptcy cases. These lawyers failed to present two witnesses: physicians who would have testified that Gary’s recent back injury made committing the crime a physical impossibility. Despite being home at the time of the murders, Gary was convicted and given the death sentence.

Yet Gary maintained his innocence, barely believing his sentence. The conviction rested primarily on testimony by Gary’s half-sister and her common-law husband, both facing charges for unrelated crimes. In exchange for testifying, all the charges against Gary’s half-sister were dismissed.

“The system is broken,” he says. “I don't think the death penalty is appropriate for anyone. God is the only one who has the right to take a life.”

In 2000, two years after the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction, the state Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for a new trial based on prosecutorial misconduct. Afterwards, the Southern Center for Human Rights, working with lawyers Richard Jaffe and John Mays, won him an acquittal in 2001. The Center later presented Gary to the United States Senate Judiciary Committee in order to illustrate the urgent demand for competent lawyers for those facing the death penalty.

"The guys there are just like you and I," Gary said of those he met on death row. "People depict them as animals in a cage to be kept in chains. But they're human beings. They're decent human beings. Some made a bad mistake. But people change. Some guys down there need to be down there for a long, long time, maybe the rest of their lives. But a lot of guys down there changed and would never harm someone again.” Today, Gary lives and works in Cullman, Alabama, and is active in the movement to abolish the death penalty.

The annual march is a joint project organized by several Texas anti-death penalty organizations: Texas Moratorium Network, the Austin chapter of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, 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. Other sponsors include Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing.

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Texas Moratorium Network Blog Makes List of Top 50 Death Penalty Blogs

The website Criminal Justice Degree has created a list of the Top 50 Death Penalty Blogs. We are glad to see that the Texas Moratorium Network blog made the list. Also making the list is another TMN site, Cameron Todd Willingham - Innocent and Executed (camerontoddwillingham.com).

The list contains a special section listing leading blogs in Texas dealing with the death penalty and we are glad to see a few of our friends listed in that section and on the list of the top 50 blogs and web resources overall, including Students Against the Death Penalty, Texas Death Penalty Education and Resource Center and Execution Watch, from Houston.

Other blogs making the top 50 list include the Texas Death Penalty blog run by the Dallas Morning News, the Journey of Hope blog, the Innocence Project, Campaign to End the Death Penalty,  Death Penalty Focus (California), the Death Penalty Information Center, Sister Helen Prejean and others.

Read the full list here.

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Texas Fire Marshal Paul Maldonado to Speak at Texas Fire Marshal's Association Conference in Austin Oct 18-22; Maldonado Stands by Error-Ridden Fire Investigation Used to Convict Todd Willingham

The Texas Fire Marshal's Association is holding its 12th Annual Texas Fire Marshals' Conference Oct 18-22 in Austin at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. It will be interesting to see if any of their members will criticize State Fire Marshal Paul Maldonado for writing a letter to the Texas Forensic Science Commission standing by his agency's role in the error-filled fire investigation that led to the conviction of Todd Willingham. Maldonado is scheduled to speak Monday at 9 AM to welcome attendees and again on Thursday Oct 21 from 1-1:50 to give an update from the State Fire Marshal's Office (see the full schedule here).

The Texas Tribune reported that during the Court of Inquiry last Thursday  "(Barry) Scheck asked fire expert John Lentini to explain current fire marshal Paul Maldonado's continued support of Vasquez's investigations. "He is misinformed," Lentini said, adding that Maldonado's position "cannot be explained in terms of valid science or logic."

The Austin American-Statesman reported on Maldonado's letter on Sept 8:
The State Fire Marshal's Office stands behind its controversial conclusion that Cameron Todd Willingham started the house fire that killed his three children in 1991, contradicting arson experts and scientists who insist the agency relied on bad science in its investigation.
In a pointed letter to the Texas Forensic Science Commission , which is nearing the end of a contentious review of the Willingham arson investigation, Fire Marshal Paul Maldonado defended his agency's handling of the case that led to Willingham's execution in 2004.
In July, the commission announced a tentative finding that investigators employed "flawed science" — including now-debunked beliefs that certain fire behaviors point to arson — to conclude that Willingham intentionally set fire to his Corsicana home.
But Maldonado said his agency's investigation remains valid, even after modern, scientific arson standards are applied.
"We stand by the original investigator's report and conclusions," Maldonado said in his Aug. 20 letter to the commission. "Should any subsequent analysis be performed to test other theories and possibilities of the cause and origin of the fire, we will of course re-examine the report again."

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Death Row Exoneree Albert Burrell to Attend 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty

Albert Burrell, an innocent man who spent 13 years on death row in Louisiana, will be a special guest at the 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty on October 30 at the Texas Capitol in Austin at 2 PM. He will join exonerees Shujaa Graham, Curtis McCarty, Ron Keine, Derrick Jamison and Greg Wilhoit at the march. Albert is coming courtesy of Witness to Innocence.

After spending 13 years on death row, Albert Burrell was released from the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola on January 3, 2001, shortly after the Louisiana Attorney General dismissed charges against him and his co-defendant, Michael Graham. They had been sentenced to death in 1987 for the murder of an elderly couple. Their convictions were thrown out because of a lack of physical evidence and suspect witness testimony used at trial. Albert came within 17 days of a scheduled execution in 1996 before his attorneys won a stay. Prosecutor Dan Grady acknowledged that the case was weak and “should never have been brought to [the] grand jury” to begin with.

During the trial, prosecutors withheld key information from the defense, failed to produce any physical evidence, and relied only on witness testimony, which has since been discredited. Dismissing the charges, the attorney general's office cited a “total lack of credible evidence” and stated, “Prosecutors would deem it a breach of ethics to proceed to trial.” DNA tests later proved that blood found at the victims’ home did not belong to Albert or Michael Graham. The trial attorneys appointed to defend Albert were later disbarred for other reasons.

Upon his release, Albert was issued a denim jacket several sizes too large and a $10 check for transportation. He climbed into his stepsister Estelle's pickup truck and rode to her small ranch in East Texas. Maintaining his innocence, Albert said, "I didn't have nothing to do with that," referring to the crime.

Albert currently lives and works in Center, Texas, and since his release has been active in the movement against the death penalty with other exonerated former death row prisoners.

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.

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Friday, October 15, 2010

Video of Former Texas Governor Mark White on Todd Willingham's Innocence and Death Penalty Problems

Former Texas Governor Mark White said in Newsweek about Todd Willingham: “If there’s no arson, there’s no crime, and, therefore, he is innocent.”

Below is a video of Governor White speaking about Todd Willingham and the death penalty after he delivered the summation on behalf of Todd Willingham's family members at the Court of Inquiry in Austin on October 14, 2010.



Video by Texas Moratorium Network.

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Disgraced Sharon Keller to Run for Re-election; Gloats that She "Won" Despite Fact That Case Thrown Out on Technicality

Sharon Keller says she plans to run for re-election in 2012.

From the Dallas Morning News Editorial Board:  "the technical victory doesn't erase the commission's written conclusion that Keller had cast "public discredit on the judiciary."

From Texas Lawyer:
Breaking her silence after three years, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller says she feels "vindicated" by a special court of review's decision to vacate the State Commission on Judicial Conduct's public warning and charges against her.
Although some reporters have written that the three-justice court of review's Oct. 11 decision in In Re: Honorable Sharon Keller was only a technical victory for Keller, she doesn't see it that way.
"I won," Keller says. "People can call it what they want."
Keller, a member of the CCA since 1995 and its presiding judge since 2000, also says she will seek re-election in 2012. "I have always planned on doing that," she says.
Her judicial conduct case played out against the backdrop of debate over the death penalty. Dubbed "Sharon Killer" by some anti-death penalty activists, Keller has experienced not only the commission's investigation and prosecution of its charges against her but also critical media coverage and protests at her home.
"It's been a three-year-long ordeal," Keller says.

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Texas Book Festival Panel on Capital Punishment in America (Saturday 4-5 PM)

Witness to an Execution: Capital Punishment in America with Thomas Cahill, David R. Dow, and Robert K. Elder at the Texas Book Festival in Austin.

Date: Saturday, October 16, 2010
Time: 4:00 - 5:00
Location: C-SPAN/Book TV Tent on grounds of Texas Capitol in Austin

As the state well-known for executing the most number of prisoners, Texas is a natural for a penetrating look at capital punishment. The writers on this panel have all examined Texas’ Death Row, whether as observers or active participants in the legal process.

Jill Patterson is a Full Professor in the Creative Writing Program at Texas Tech University. Her fiction and nonfiction has appeared most recently in Texas Monthly, Colorado Review, Carolina Quarterly, and other journals. She works as case storyteller for the West Texas Regional Public Defenders Office for Capital Cases. In this capacity, she reviews court transcripts, police records, medical and education records, and interviews defendants, family members, and other witnesses in order to tell a story used for mitigation purposes during a capital trial.

Authors:
Robert K. Elder
David R. Dow
Thomas Cahill
Moderated By: Jill Patterson

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Photos from Today's Court of Inquiry on Todd Willingham

To see the photos on Flickr, click here.



68423_445198317829_534797829_5339935_3718725_nPatricia Willingham Cox, Eugenia Willingham and Former Texas Governor Mark White

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News Coverage of Today's Court of Inquiry in Todd Willingham Case

News reports of today's Court of Inquiry hearing in Todd Willingham innocence case.

The New York Times reports in Family’s Effort to Clear Name Frames Debate on Executions:

But they also say that the hearing is more than symbolic — it could cast in a new light the Lone Star State’s record on executions. And more broadly, they argue, it is a cautionary tale about the power of flawed science to sway a courtroom, and a glaring injustice that could affect debates over the fairness of the death penalty.

That debate has been framed, in part, by a 2006 opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia of the United States Supreme Court, in which he said that the dissent in a case had not cited “a single case — not one — in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit.”

Many who oppose the death penalty have taken Justice Scalia’s statement as a challenge, and argue that the Willingham case is their proof.

MyFoxAustin



KVUE



The Austin American-Statesman reports:
During an unprecedented hearing completed just before an appeals court ordered it to stop, state District Judge Charlie Baird on Thursday heard from two leading fire experts who said Cameron Todd Willingham, executed in 2004, was convicted based on faulty science.

A jury convicted Willingham in 1992 of killing his three young daughters by setting fire to his Corsicana house. Shortly before his execution, the first in a string of experts found that investigators relied on bogus science to determine that the fire was intentionally set.

"There is not a single item of evidence at that fire scene that would even suggest this was arson," said Gerald Hurst, an Austin chemist who has studied fire for decades.

Lawyers for Willingham's family petitioned Baird last month to pronounce that Willingham was wrongfully executed and to determine whether there is probable cause that state officials committed a crime in their handling of his case just before execution.

After a hearing that lasted a little more than three hours, Baird said he would make a ruling on the case at a later date.

About that same time — just before 5 p.m. — the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin ordered Baird not to take any further action in the case.
CNN said:
"Given the science that we know today," Scheck said, that testimony is "false, misleading and totally unreliable."
Fire scientist John Lentini, who reviewed the Willingham case after the execution, told Baird that some of the indicators Vasquez relied on to reach his conclusions were outdated at the time -- and nearly all were considered obsolete by the time Willingham was executed.
"A lot of people believed that back in 1991," Lentini said. "Now in 2004, nobody believed that."

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