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Friday, December 31, 2010

Dallas Morning News Editorial Board Names a Moratorium on Executions a Top Priority in 2011

The Dallas Morning News Editorial Board has named a moratorium on executions and a study commission one of their major goals of 2011. We welcome their help. A moratorium on executions is the best strategy for stopping executions in Texas.

From the DMN Editorial:

Editorial: Our agenda for 2011

01:22 PM CST on Thursday, December 30, 2010
Texas legislators gather in Austin in nine days. If ever there were a year for progress on some of this newspaper's goals for our city, region and state, this is it. We warned last year that the price continues to grow for the state and city as our leaders keep kicking major problems down the road. Texas and Dallas have a chance to find solutions this year. In fact, 2011 is the year for our leaders (and wannabes) to stand and deliver. You may recall the 1980s movie by that title, the one about crusading school principal Jaime Escalante. We see no reason the same couldn't be said for our legislators, council members and school trustees – and their constituents. Enough kicking the can. Stand and deliver.
Get it right on criminal justice
The goals
• Revamp rules for eyewitness evidence.
• Require digital recording of interrogations.
• Examine the appeals and pardons procedures.
• Create a reliable forensic science commission.
• Halt executions and appoint a panel to recommend changes to Texas' use of the death penalty.
The plan
Some of the sensible reforms that could have kept innocent people out of prison failed in the 2009 session to procedural motions. But after a year in which human error was exposed in the high-profile Anthony Graves case – on top of a foundation of doubt from years of DNA exonerations – the need for justice reform is too big to ignore.
That's why we will call on legislators to revamp and make uniform rules for dealing with eyewitness evidence. This most unreliable form of evidence cannot be left to the shaky methods of untrained investigators. We also will keep pushing the Legislature to mandate digital recording and archiving of interrogations. Likewise, legislators need to require that even confessions are verified by other evidence.
As they pursue those goals, lawmakers must examine the appeals and pardons process so the truth has a chance of coming to light. Texas' appeals process is myopically focused on legal maneuvers, leaving little room for claims of actual innocence.
Austin also needs to create a post-conviction forensic science commission with a sense of public purpose, unlike the current one, which is prone to political hijacking.
Finally, we will press legislators to halt executions in Texas and create a blue-ribbon panel of experts to make recommendations about the future of the nation's busiest death chamber.
Where other states have acted boldly, Texas has averted its eyes. That should change in 2011.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Austin American-Statesman Year in Pictures Includes Photo of Protest of David Powell's Execution

The Austin-American Statesman has a slide show containing their staff's best photographic work of 2010 covering major stories. Included in the slide show is a photo of one of the demonstrations we held at the Texas Capitol to bring attention to the case (the photo appears at minute 4:53 in the slide show). The Austin-American Statesman agreed with us writing in an editorial that life without parole would be a fairer sentence for Powell.

We spent considerable time working with his supporters and lawyers last summer trying to stop the execution of David Powell, who posed no future danger to anyone and whose sentence should have been commuted to life in prison. Click here to watch news coverage of the press conference we organized with Powell's family, friends and lawyers. Powell was an asset inside the prison walls whose behavior and interactions with other inmates contributed to creating a less violent, more humane environment on death row.




As his execution date approached, Powell apologized to Ralph Ablanedo's family, writing a four-page letter dated Dec. 31 in which he took responsibility for "the evil I have done."
He also granted a May interview with the Austin American-Statesman — after years of declining to sit with reporters — in which he also apologized to the residents of Austin.
"Thirty-two years ago, I was responsible for an enormously evil act, and it must have affected most or all people who lived in Austin and their level of comfort, the way they saw themselves and their neighbors," he said. "And no apology I could give would be powerful enough to express my regret for that.
"But every person is more than the worst thing they have ever done, and I am no exception."


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Thursday, December 16, 2010

death row exoneree Clarence Brandley advocates for a moratorium on executions

Clarence Brandley at 9th Annual March to Stop Executions
in Houston in 2008.
In a guest column today for the Houston Chronicle, Texas death row exoneree Clarence Brandley advocates for a moratorium on executions: "Unless we halt all executions and thoroughly review our broken capital punishment system, we will continue to convict — and possibly execute - innocent people".

From the Chronicle:

When Pat Lykos ran for the office of Harris County District Attorney, she promised that there would be a new day in the criminal justice system. However, she recently proved that she's just another part of the same good ol' boy system that wrongfully sentenced me to death.
I spent nine years, five months, and 23 days in prison, most of them on death row waiting for my date with the executioner. I went through two trials and received several execution dates before I was found to be innocent of the murder of Cheryl Ferguson, a 16-year-old high school student in Conroe. My story is similar to the stories of 137 other exonerated death-row prisoners across the country, including 12 Texans who were found to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt before their exonerations.
I was one of the two suspects taken in for questioning in connection with Cheryl Ferguson's murder. The deputy looked at both of us, saying, "One of you two is going to hang for this," before pointing at me. He said, "Since you're the n——-, you're elected."
In my first trial I faced an all-white jury. One juror refused to convict, causing a hung jury. He was met with a constant barrage of harassment and threats after the trial ended, ridiculed for being a "n——- lover." It took a second all-white jury to finally convict and sentence me to death in 1981. A year later it was revealed that the majority of the murder investigation's physical evidence had mysteriously disappeared while under police control. Witnesses also recanted their testimony, and my attorneys found out that investigators had coerced their stories. Finally, when the blatant racism of my first two trials was discovered, the FBI decided to intervene.
Since my exoneration nearly 20 years ago, I've been waiting for a simple apology from the state of Texas.
Last week, Harris County state District Judge Kevin Fine began a historic hearing on a pretrial motion to declare the Texas death penalty statute unconstitutional as applied because of a substantial risk that innocent people have been, and will continue to be, sentenced to death and even executed. However, in a rare move, Lykos ordered the prosecutors to not participate and "stand mute" during the legal proceedings. They later successfully petitioned theTexas Court of Criminal Appeals to halt the hearing.
A thorough review of Texas' death penalty system is long overdue. Lykos is obviously apprehensive about the facts being presented in this hearing. She must know that they will show how easy it is to be wrongfully convicted.
For every nine people executed in the United States since the death penalty was reinstated, one person has been exonerated. The most recent death-row exoneration was Anthony Graves, who was released in October after spending 18 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
I was one of the lucky ones. No one knows how many of the more than 300 people awaiting execution on Texas' death row are innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted. Even more disturbing, despite what Gov. Rick Perry and former Gov. George W. Bush might claim, no one can definitively say how many of the 464 people executed in Texas since 1982 were innocent. Some, like Cameron Todd Willingham, Carlos DeLuna and Claude Jones, did not get an adequate opportunity to prove their possible innocence. Unless we halt all executions and thoroughly review our broken capital punishment system, we will continue to convict — and possibly execute - innocent people.
Brandley is an exonerated death-row prisoner and a member of Witness to Innocence, a national organization of death row survivors and their loved ones. He lives in Conroe.


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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Texas 2010 Death Penalty Numbers: 17 executions; 8 New Death Sentences

As we first reported a few weeks ago, the number of new death sentences is continuing the decline that it has been following in the past several years. In 2010, eight people have been sentenced to death in Texas, which is one fewer than in 2009. 50 percent of the people sentenced to death in Texas in 2010 are African-Americans and a total of 62.5 percent are people of color, 37.5 percent are white.

One reason for fewer death sentences in recent years is that juries are more reluctant to sentence people to death because they have heard of so many cases of innocent people being exonerated (most recently Anthony Graves) and other problems in the system, so they prefer the alternative of life without parole. Prosecutors are also seeking death much less than in years past because they know how expensive it is to seek a death sentence and they know that juries are increasingly more inclined to choose life in prison over death. State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, the author of Texas' life-without-parole law, has said prosecutors are trying to blame LWOP for their troubles getting Texans to trust a scandal-ridden system, but Lucio has said "it isn't life without parole that has weakened the death penalty. It is a growing lack of belief that our system is fair."

Texas Still Leads in Number of Executions in 2010

Texas still leads the nation in number of executions, with about 38 percent of all executions carried out in the U.S. in 2010. 

In 2010, five people in Texas received stays of execution. Among the five was Hank Skinner, who received two stays of execution (one was a cerical error made by the convicting court in setting the execution date, the other was a major issue from the U.S.Supreme Court)

Inmates added to Texas death row, by year: 
  • 1974---8
  • 1975---17
  • 1976---23
  • 1977---23
  • 1978---39
  • 1979---21
  • 1980---23
  • 1981---22
  • 1982---28
  • 1983---21
  • 1984---21
  • 1985---33
  • 1986---40
  • 1987---35
  • 1988---32
  • 1989---31
  • 1990---28
  • 1991---29
  • 1992---31
  • 1993---34
  • 1994---42
  • 1995---43
  • 1996---37
  • 1997---35
  • 1998---43
  • 1999---47
  • 2000---28
  • 2001---30
  • 2002---35
  • 2003---28
  • 2004---25
  • 2005---15
  • 2006---11
  • 2007---15
  • 2008---9
  • 2009---9
  • 2010 --8 (As of December 13, 2010)

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Friday, December 10, 2010

A Moratorium on Executions is the Best Strategy to Protect Innocent People from the Texas Death Penalty

The Dallas Morning News renews its call for a moratorium on executions in an editorial today. The editorial comes on the same day that Texas Monthly has endorsed a moratorium.

Seeking a moratorium is the best strategy for stopping executions in Texas and saving innocent people currently on death row from possible wrongful execution.

From the Dallas Morning News:

a responsible, comprehensive debate needs to take place among the state's best legal minds, lawmakers and thought leaders. This newspaper has consistently called on the Legislature to impose a moratorium on executions to allow for that rigorous analysis. The call for a moratorium has been joined by Texas Monthly magazine, whose senior editor Pamela Colloff has documented the detestable fraud in the Graves case.
Texans should stand mute no longer on this madness.

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Texas Monthly Endorses a Moratorium on Executions

In the January 2011 issue, Texas Monthly endorses a moratorium on executions:
IT’S TIME TO HALT EXECUTIONS IN Texas. The flaws in our death penalty system have become too obvious to ignore any longer. Five times in the past seven years we’ve learned about a person wrongly convicted and taken off death row or a person convicted on bogus forensic science—and executed. It’s clear: Until the day comes when we are able to guarantee that our system will never put innocent men and women to death, we can’t continue to use a form of punishment that is irreversible. It’s time for Texas to put a moratorium on capital punishment.
This is a law-and-order state, and most citizens support executing murderers. But what about executing people who haven’t done anything wrong? The new Legislature that convenes this month is the most conservative in history, with 22 freshman lawmakers, many of them tea party–inspired folks who promised their constituents that they were going to Austin to grapple with the tyranny of the government. On the campaign trail, these men and women railed against the ineptitude and interference of government in general, about the way the state tramples on the lives of its citizens. “Don’t tread on me!” they cried. Fine, then. Let’s look at recent history, which has offered some appalling examples of the state’s treading all over its citizens.
In the summer of 2008, Michael Blair, who was convicted of a Plano murder in 1994 based on hair-comparison analysis, was taken off death row following a series of DNA tests that showed he was not guilty of the crime. One year later, a nationwide controversy erupted over the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, a Corsicana man who was convicted in 1992 and executed twelve years later for setting a fire that killed his children. No fewer than seven subsequent reports revealed that Willingham’s conviction was based on forensic science that amounted to little more than folklore. The case bore a striking similarity to that of Ernest Willis, who spent seventeen years on death row for setting a deadly house fire in Iraan before he was exonerated and set free, in 2004. This past November, the Innocence Project and the Texas Observer announced the results of an investigation into the case of Claude Jones, who was convicted of murdering a liquor store owner in 1989 and executed in 2000. Like Blair, Jones had been convicted largely based on the analysis of hair—in Jones’s case a single strand found at the crime scene. But DNA testing on the hair showed that it wasn’t his at all.
Finally there’s the case of Anthony Graves, which we wrote about in tremendous detail back in October and have followed up on this month (see “Innocence Found”). Graves was convicted of a brutal 1992 murder and sentenced to death. There was no evidence to connect him to the crime, no plausible motive, and the only person who could place him at the scene was the crime’s actual perpetrator, Robert Carter, who was executed in 2000 and who had repeatedly recanted his testimony and proclaimed Graves’s innocence. Nonetheless, Graves spent eighteen years behind bars—twelve of them on death row—and was about to face a retrial next month when Burleson County district attorney Bill Parham abruptly set him free. To summarize: Agents of the state grabbed a completely innocent man out of his mother’s apartment, prosecuted him for capital murder, and kept him locked away for almost two decades.
What can we learn from Graves’s ordeal? Governor Rick Perry, campaigning in Lubbock two days later, was asked by a reporter about the case. “I think we have a justice system that is working, and he’s a good example,” Perry said. “I think our system works well; it goes through many layers of observation and appeal, et cetera. So I think our system is working.”
In fact, the Graves case proves the exact opposite. Graves was failed every step of the way by the system—or, to be more precise, by imperfect humans working in a flawed system. He, like so many other wrongly convicted death row inmates, had inexperienced trial attorneys who were no match for a powerful prosecutor. He was also failed by the judges on the state appellate courts; the Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest of Perry’s fail-safe layers of appeal, turned him down three times.
Mostly, however, Graves was failed by Charles Sebesta, the district attorney in Burleson County at the time of his arrest. State law directs DAs “not to convict, but to see that justice is done.” But early on Sebesta and the investigators working the case developed a theory that Carter could not have committed the crime alone, and they settled on Graves as his accomplice. The night before Carter was set to testify at Graves’s trial, he told the DA, “I did it all myself, Mr. Sebesta.” But nothing was going to keep the DA from winning. After discussing it with Sebesta, Carter testified at trial the next day that Graves was a murderer.
The system that Perry says is working would never have discovered this shocking detail had it not been for an offhand comment that Sebesta made in a Geraldo Rivera documentary in 2000, six years after the DA had sent Graves to death row. On the show, Sebesta let slip that Carter had told him he had acted alone. That comment was evidence of a conversation that Graves’s defense attorneys said Sebesta had never revealed before. Springing into action, Graves’s new appellate lawyers got to work writing a federal appeal, which led a federal court to overturn the murder conviction in 2006 and order the state to retry Graves or set him free. But for Sebesta’s comment, Graves would almost certainly be dead by now. Does it need to be said that a system reliant on Geraldo Rivera is a system that needs work?
“Charles Sebesta handled this case in a way that would best be described as a criminal justice system’s nightmare,” special prosecutor Kelly Siegler told reporters after Graves was released. “It’s a travesty.” But his case is not an aberration. We know of several other Texas death penalty cases where the very qualities we value in our prosecutors—ambition, relentlessness—led them to refuse to be skeptical of shaky witnesses, to refuse to admit error, to push on at all costs. Randall Dale Adams was convicted of killing a Dallas police officer and sent to death row in 1977. He was released in 1989, after his accuser confessed to the crime himself and a higher court stated that the prosecutors had “knowingly used perjured testimony.” Kerry Max Cook was convicted of killing a woman in Tyler in 1977. He was released in 1997 and his conviction reversed; the Court of Criminal Appeals found that the state had hidden critical evidence. And then there’s Ernest Willis, who was pumped so full of antipsychotic medicine during his trial that he appeared to jurors as a blank-eyed maniac—a fact the prosecutor made great use of at trial.
And these are just the cases we know of. Are there other wrongfully imprisoned people sitting on death row right now whose stories will never come out? Before you answer that question, think about what went into saving Graves. Nicole Cásarez, a professor at the University of St. Thomas, in Houston, and a dozen of her students spent thousands of hours poring over the case and interviewing people. Graves also had the benefit of good, experienced lawyers and journalists who worked hard to explain his case. And Graves wasn’t the only one with outside help: Just about every single exoneree who has walked off death row has done so in spite of the system, not because of it. The confession that led to Adams’s release was propelled by a documentary film; Cook has a New Jersey prison ministry to thank for his freedom; Willis was lucky enough to wind up with a New York lawyer whose firm spent more than $5 million on his case. Without these benefits, Graves, Adams, Cook, Willis—all of whom are innocent men—would likely have been put to death. And, needless to say, the vast majority of the men on death row will never be so lucky as to have a high-priced lawyer or a filmmaker or a posse of journalism students working on their behalf.
So what’s to be done? First of all, let’s admit, finally, that we have a problem. Second, we have to halt all executions: We can’t allow a process so flawed to continue doling out the ultimate punishment. Finally, we need to examine the system from top to bottom with a sharp, skeptical eye. Consider forensic science. As late as 2009, investigators from the attorney general’s office were trying to work the Graves case using the services of Keith Pikett, a deputy from Fort Bend County who said his bloodhounds could pick the smells of criminals out of scent lineups. Pikett wore out his welcome with law enforcement after sending at least five people to prison for crimes they didn’t commit. This didn’t happen in the dark ages before DNA. This happened in the past few years.
As the Graves case makes clear, we need to pay attention to the conduct of our district attorneys. They’re usually among the most powerful people in any county, and at present there are hardly any criminal or civil penalties for prosecutors who engage in misconduct. We need to create real incentives for our DAs to seek justice instead of convictions. This won’t be easy. Sebesta still claims he did nothing wrong—as did the men who prosecuted Adams, Cook, and Willis. They were the good guys fighting the good fight, and if sometimes they got zealous, well, who can blame them? They’re only human.
Which brings us to the heart of the problem. Can the criminal justice system, a system conceived and operated by humans, ever be completely free of error? The common theme in the cases of Graves, Willis, Cook, and Adams (and Willingham and Jones) is clear: People make mistakes, and so do the institutions they work for. We know this intuitively. We see it every day, when, say, the postman mistakenly delivers our neighbor’s mail or when officials at a football game screw up a call. We can afford these kinds of mistakes. We walk the letter next door. We scream at the TV. But it’s different when we’re dealing with capital punishment. We can afford the mistaken holding penalty. We can’t afford the mistaken death penalty. It’s time to halt executions in Texas.

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Thursday, December 09, 2010

"You guys in AZ are life-savers," says California to Arizona After Receiving Lethal Injection Drugs to Execute Person

"You guys in AZ are life-savers," Scott Kernan, California's undersecretary for Corrections and Rehabilitation said in an email to his Arizona counterpart Charles Flanagan after taking delivery from him of a small amount of the knock-out drug sodium thiopental. "Buy you a beer next time I get that way."  
Scott Kernan was arrested in 2009 for suspicion of drunk drivingKernan started work for the agency in 1983 as a correctional officer and later worked as a warden.
Read more at The Independent.

Go here to read a bunch of emails from California prison officials to various places around the US and abroad trying to get a supply of lethal injection drugs. At one point, they complain about Texas not sharing its supply of drugs. The emails were obtained by the ACLU of Northern California through a public information request.

From the ACLUNC website:

On November 17, 2010, the ACLU-NC filed a suit under the California Public Records Act to demand records from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) about its recent acquisition of sodium thiopental, a controlled substance used as part of California’s lethal injection protocol for executing death row inmates. 

On December 8, 2010 the ACLU-NC received documents from the CDCR, which we have scanned and provided here in batches of about 50 pages.  All documents are posted as received from the CDCR, in the order received, with the following exceptions:

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Emails of California Prison Officials Documenting Search for Supply of Lethal Injection Drugs

Go here to read a bunch of emails from California prison officials to various places around the US and abroad trying to get a supply of lethal injection drugs. At one point, they complain about Texas not sharing its supply of drugs. The emails were obtained by the ACLU of Northern California through a public information request.

From the ACLUNC website:

On November 17, 2010, the ACLU-NC filed a suit under the California Public Records Act to demand records from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) about its recent acquisition of sodium thiopental, a controlled substance used as part of California’s lethal injection protocol for executing death row inmates. 


On December 8, 2010 the ACLU-NC received documents from the CDCR, which we have scanned and provided here in batches of about 50 pages.  All documents are posted as received from the CDCR, in the order received, with the following exceptions:

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TDCJ Document Detailing Execution Procedure Used in Texas

The below "Execution Procedure" document from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is dated 2008. We do not know if there have been any changes adopted since then.

Execution Procedure TDCJ 2008

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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halts Houston hearing on constitutionality of death penalty

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decided tonight to halt a Houston hearing about the death penalty.

A second day of testimony in the hearing was held today. Lawyers for accused killer John Green argue that Texas executes innocent people and does not follow the constitution. Lawyers for the District Attorney's Office say arguments against the use of the death penalty in other cases should not apply to green's case.

The appeals court wants both sides to submit legal briefs with their stated positions within the next 15 days.

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Prosecutors "Stand Mute" at Death Penalty Trial in Houston

We can now add muteness to the list of flaws in the Texas death penalty. Most Texans probably like to think they stand tall when the chips are down, but Texas prosecutors are choosing to stand mute, and are playing games when a man is on trial for his life in a Houston courtroom.

The Houston Chronicle reports,
Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos on Monday ordered prosecutors in her office to "stand mute" during a rare hearing to determine whether the death penalty in Texas is unconstitutional.

The last-ditch strategy to end state District Judge Kevin Fine's judicial inquiry into the procedures surrounding the state's death penalty statute makes an observer out of the largest district attorney's office in Texas.

The hearing, stemming from a death penalty case before Fine's court, began Monday and is expected to last two weeks.

"It's arrogant, and it's contemptuous for the state to decide to not participate when they're trying to put my client to death," defense lawyer Casey Keirnan said in court.
Prosecutor Alan Curry told Fine he was ordered to answer that he is to remain mute instead of objecting, cross-examining or putting on witnesses at the hearing.
"I'm not allowing you to not participate," Fine said.

Curry said he and other prosecutors will remain seated at counsel tables, but that they will not speak.

Fine could have held the office in contempt for the move. Instead of deadlocking the proceedings, Fine allowed prosecutors to listen without objection to testimony from anti-death penalty experts, legal scholars and investigators.

Death penalty opponents and courthouse observers turned out in droves early Monday because the hearing is believed to be the first time a court will consider the constitutionality of the Texas death penalty in the context of analyzing whether there is a substantial risk of convicting the innocent.
Yesterday, Texas Moratorium Network attended the first day of the hearing in Houston on the constitutionality of the Texas death penalty as applied. TMN participated in a demonstration outside the courthouse along with friends from Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, Witness to Innocence and Mexicanos en Accion.

Watch video from KHOU.



Watch Video from KHTV.

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Monday, December 06, 2010

Schedule of Witnesses to Testify at Hearing on Constitutionality of Texas Death Penalty

Texas Moratorium Network just returned from day one of the hearing in Judge Kevin Fine's courtroom in Houston on the constitutionality of the Texas death penalty. When we were there, we got a list of scheduled witnesses over the next two weeks.









December 6
Richard Dieter, Death Penalty Information Center
Sandra Thompson, Timothy Cole Advisory Panel member, expert on inadequate discovery
Brian Benken , Prosecution case against John green (defense investigator)
Jim Willis, Prosecution case against John green (defense investigator)

December 7
Brandon Garrett, Law expert on role of eyewitnesses, informants and junk science in wrongful convictions.
Alexandra Natapoff, Expert on snitches

December 8, 9 and perhaps 10
Todd Willingham and Claude Jones witnesses

December 10
Wanda Foglia, Capital Jury Project researcher - expert on risk factor of death qualification of jurors and on distortion of guilt-innocence determination by premature penalty deliberation

December 13
Jennifer Dysart, Eyewitness expert
Jim Marcus, Expert on Texas capital habeas corpus

December 14
Christina Swarns, Histroy of Harris County DA office and race-based jury selection-drawing on documents obtained in other litigation
Sam Sommers, Jury researcher- effects of non-diversity in juries on accuracy of decision making.

December 15
Simon Cole, NAS report and junk science (in general); fingerprint comparison in particular
Sam Gross, Expert-researcher on wrongful convictions

December 16
Bryan Stevenson, Expert on best practices for rooting out race-based jury selection by prosecutors
Rob Owen, Counsel for Ernest Willis
Maurie Levin, Expert on Texas capital clemency procedure
Mark White, former governor of Texas on th eneed for certainty in capital convictions

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Friday, December 03, 2010

New Article by Texas Monthly's Pamela Colloff on How Texas Wrongfully Convicted Anthony Graves

Anthony Graves and supporters after he was given $3,000 in
donations collected by Texas Moratorium Network.
Texas Monthly's Pamela Colloff has written a follow-up article, "Innocence Found", to her article in October "Innocence Lost", which came out shortly before Anthony Graves was released after 18 years in prison facing a death sentence for a crime he did not commit. Now that Anthony is out, she tells the story in the new article about how the new prosecutors, primarily Kelly Siegler, came to understand he was innocent. It also includes an account of Anthony's last hours in jail and how he got the word that day that he was walking out a free man.
Read the entire article here.

It is a long article, but here are a couple of excerpts from the article:
shortly after four o’clock, when the jail supervisor appeared outside his cell. Without explanation, the jailer unlocked the cell door and ordered Graves to follow him. Graves was allowed to walk without handcuffs. Bewildered, he was led to an interrogation room, where he saw that Cásarez and her co-counsel Jimmy Phillips Jr. were waiting. He was surprised, since they rarely visited unannounced.

Cásarez took his hands in hers and stared at him intently. “Remember you telling me that God is good?” she began. Years earlier, he had told her a story about how, on the day he learned that his conviction had been overturned, he had wanted to scream and shout, but he was mindful of being surrounded by men who still had execution dates. So instead he had looked up to the ceiling of his cell and said simply, “God is good.”

Graves nodded, studying her face for a clue as to what was going on.

“God is good,” Cásarez said, struggling to maintain her composure. “All charges have been dropped.”

He looked at her, dumbfounded.

“You’re free,” she said more emphatically. “You’re going home.”

“Are you playing with me?” he whispered.

Cásarez shook her head. “It’s over,” she said. “It’s finally over.”

On the table beside her was a dismissal order from the court filed at 3:57 p.m. that stated, “We have found no credible evidence which inculpates this defendant.” The decision to drop all charges had come so suddenly that the defense team had only learned the news earlier that afternoon. As Graves leaned against Cásarez, he broke down.

They stood together and cried for a long time. “Hey,” Cásarez said finally, smiling at the irony of what she was about to suggest. “Let’s get out of here.”
and
That Siegler—known for having been one of the most aggressive prosecutors in Harris County, which has sent more people to the death chamber than any other county in the nation—had backed away from a capital murder case had the entire Houston defense bar talking. And so on a brisk November morning one week after the press conference, I visited her at her well-appointed Memorial home to find out what, exactly, had happened. Scattered across her dining room table, where we sat and talked, were yellow legal pads filled with her voluminous notes on the case. “I got sworn in as special prosecutor in February 2010, and I brought nineteen banker’s boxes full of documents home from Brenham to read,” she told me. (Most rural counties rely on special prosecutors to try death penalty cases because of their complexity; prior to Siegler, the case had been handled by special prosecutor Patrick Batchelor and lawyers at the attorney general’s office.) As she had sifted through nearly two decades’ worth of court papers—a task that took her six weeks—she had become increasingly puzzled. The Texas Rangers’ reports, she noted, focused almost exclusively on Carter. And their investigation had not uncovered any discernible motive for Graves.
“Common sense tells you that a person doesn’t stab babies unless he’s really mad about something, and Graves didn’t know the Davises,” she said. “It didn’t make sense.” She was particularly struck by the absence of physical evidence. “Why wasn’t Graves burned too?” she said, referring to Carter’s extensive injuries. “If he stabbed six people, why didn’t he have any cuts or marks? Why was there no blood on his clothes or in his car?” Siegler told me she had still been operating under the assumption that Graves was guilty, but she knew that she would need new information—such as a piece of evidence that could undergo DNA testing—to make her case.
For more than three hours that morning, Siegler led me through the transcript ofThe State of Texas v. Anthony Charles Graves, pointing out where she was troubled by Sebesta’s tactics. “This is from a pretrial hearing on July 22, 1994,” she said, ticking off the volume and page number in the court record. Dressed casually in jeans, the 48-year-old career prosecutor, who was narrowly defeated in 2008 for Harris County DA, delivered her comments with the same focused intensity of a good trial lawyer during closing arguments. “Sebesta says, ‘We want to put the court on notice that there is a strong indication that this defendant, Anthony Graves, may have been involved in the yogurt shop murders in Austin, Texas,’ ” she said, arching her eyebrows in incredulity. “Sebesta is accusing him of participating in another capital murder—and with what evidence?” she said. (No one else has ever suggested that Graves had anything to do with the infamous 1991 quadruple homicide.)
Later, she pointed to a moment during the trial when Sebesta announced outside the presence of the jury that Graves’s girlfriend, Yolanda Mathis—the defense’s most important alibi witness—had become a suspect herself. The Rangers who originally investigated the case told Siegler that, in fact, Mathis had never been a suspect. Still, Sebesta asked the judge to warn Mathis of her rights before she took the stand. “If someone needs to be warned of their rights in a criminal trial, they can’t be called to testify,” Siegler explained. “Sebesta knew what a good witness she was—he had heard her grand jury testimony—and he didn’t want the jury hearing what she had to say.” His gamble worked: Yolanda, who became hysterical, left the courthouse. “Then he had the nerve in final arguments to say, ‘Where’s Yolanda?’ ” said Siegler. “And the jury never knew why she didn’t show up.”
Siegler’s concerns mounted, she told me, as she realized that the trial strategy she had initially counted on was doomed. “My plan had been to find enough evidence to indict Theresa Carter again, and then flip her,” she said, referring to Robert Carter’s wife, Cookie, who had been charged in the Davis murders and held in the county jail but never brought to trial. “But the more I read, the more I realized that we didn’t have anything on Theresa Carter. I couldn’t figure out how she’d been indicted.”
Siegler made a lengthy list on legal pad paper—her “to-dos,” as she called them—of everyone who needed to be interviewed, from former cell mates of Graves’s to people who had not been contacted since the 1992 investigation. She wanted to see what information shook out, if any, that she might be able to take to trial. In the process, she would need to conduct a wholesale reinvestigation of the case. That Graves was in fact innocent did not sink in until later. “My thinking went from ‘We’re going to get this ready for trial’ to ‘Whoa, this is going to be hard to get ready for trial’ to ‘Okay, can we even go to trial?’ ” she said.
In April, Siegler had to shift her focus to another death penalty case she was handling for Burleson County. The Myron Douglas Phillips case, which was slated to go to trial in July, would occupy the rest of her spring and summer. When she saw Parham and Hanak at a pretrial hearing, she warned them of what she had found. “Guys, I’ve read everything on Graves, and we have big problems,” she said.
ON SEPTEMBER 27 SIEGLER SAT DOWN with Graves’s attorneys for their extraordinary face-to-face meeting. During the wide-ranging discussion, which spanned two hours, Siegler focused her attention on Cásarez, asking her detailed questions about her research: What was the name of the polygraph examiner who had administered a test to Carter on the eve of his testimony at Graves’s trial? Exactly when did the Jack in the Box clerk see Graves on the night of the crime? Had she ever spoken with Cookie’s cell mate? Initially, Siegler told me, she had discounted Cásarez and her undergraduate journalism students at the University of St. Thomas, in Houston. “I thought they were exaggerating the facts because they were rabid anti–death penalty people who had an agenda,” she said. “But we wouldn’t have gotten to this point if not for their work. As we did our investigation, we found that they were dead-on. Every aspect of the case fell apart when it was critically examined.”

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Thursday, December 02, 2010

Text of Motion to Declare Texas' Death Penalty Unconstitutional (Hearing set for Monday, Dec 6)

Motion to Declare Texas Death Penalty Unconstitutional as Applied

A hearing on the constitutionality of the Texas death penalty will be held in Judge Kevin Fine's courtroom in Houston on Monday, December 6, at 9 AM. Read more at the Texas Tribune.

If you live in Houston or can be there, there will be a demonstration against the Texas death penalty outside the courthouse at 8 AM on Monday (RSVP on the Facebook event page) We will go inside for the hearing at 9 AM.

Location: Harris County Criminal Justice Center
               1201 Franklin, 19th Floor
               Houston, Texas  77002

Texas' use of capital punishment will undergo legal scrutiny at this hearing. Evidence and arguments will likely be presented that there is substantial risk that the state's death penalty law does not adequately protect against the execution of an innocent person.

John Edward Green, Jr., the defendant in Texas v. Green, is charged in the fatal shooting of a 34-year-old Houston woman during a 2008 robbery. Green’s defense attorneys will argue that a number of factors in Texas' death penalty system increase the risk of wrongful executions in Texas, including a lack of safeguards to protect against mistaken eyewitness identification, faulty forensic evidence, incompetent lawyers at the appellate level, failures to guard against false confessions and a history of racial discrimination in jury selection.

Events are building in Texas that are similar to events in Illinois that led to a moratorium on executions there in 2000. In 1999, Illinois created a couple of commissions to study the death penalty, the Task Force on the Death Penalty was created by the Illinois legislature and the Illinois Supreme Court established a study committee on the death penalty. Then in 2000, a moratorium was declared in Illinois and the governor established the Commission on Capital Punishment to study flaws in the administration of the Illinois death penalty and recommend reform.

The Texas Legislature should also enact a moratorium on executions in the upcoming session and create a commission to study the death penalty.



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Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Hearing on Constitutionality of Texas Death Penalty - Monday Dec. 6 in Houston Judge Fine's Courtroom

A hearing on the constitutionality of the Texas death penalty will be held in Judge Kevin Fine's courtroom in Houston on Monday, December 6, at 9 AM. If you live in Houston or can be there, there will be a demonstration against the Texas death penalty outside the courthouse at 8 AM on Monday (RSVP on the Facebook event page) We will go inside for the hearing at 9 AM.

Location: Harris County Criminal Justice Center
               1201 Franklin, 19th Floor
               Houston, Texas  77002

Texas' use of capital punishment will undergo legal scrutiny at this hearing. Evidence and arguments will likely be presented that there is substantial risk that the state's death penalty law does not adequately protect against the execution of an innocent person.

John Edward Green, Jr., the defendant in Texas v. Green, is charged in the fatal shooting of a 34-year-old Houston woman during a 2008 robbery. Green’s defense attorneys will argue that a number of factors in Texas' death penalty system increase the risk of wrongful executions in Texas, including a lack of safeguards to protect against mistaken eyewitness identification, faulty forensic evidence, incompetent lawyers at the appellate level, failures to guard against false confessions and a history of racial discrimination in jury selection.

State District Judge Kevin Fine of the 177th Criminal Court in Harris County (Houston) set the hearing for Dec. 6 as part of a pretrial motion in which two defense attorneys for a Houston man facing a possible death sentence asked that Texas' death penalty statute be declared unconstitutional.

In March, on a motion filed by attorneys for John Edward Green Jr. (facing death for the 2008 robbery and murder of Huong Thien Nguyen in Houston), Fine ruled that capital punishment as practiced in Texas is unconstitutional for failing to adequately protect the innocent. Fine quickly rescinded that original order, but he has granted Green's attorneys the right to a hearing on the matter. Green's attorney Casey Keirnan told the Associated Press that he expects the hearing could last up to two weeks and that death penalty experts from around the country will likely testify. "I think everybody in the United States would agree that the possibility exists" that an innocent person has already been executed, he said.

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