Sunday, June 26, 2011

New York Times Gives Randall Dale Adams the Coverage He Deserves

Randall Dale Adams in 2001 Calling for a Moratorium on
Executions in Texas
On June 22, we blogged about the death of Texas death row exoneree Randall Dale Adams. Randall will be missed. He was someone who could bear personal witness about the injustice of the Texas death penalty. The power of his voice was evident in 2001 when he testified to a committee in the Texas Legislature for a moratorium bill, helping to convince the committee to vote in favor of stopping executions and studying the system.
The news of Randall's death was picked up by the AP, which said:

"Adams did such a good job of disappearing that his Oct. 30 death from a brain tumor didn't become widely known until Friday, when it was reported by the Dallas Morning News. (His former attorney) Randy Schaffer confirmed his former client's death after speaking to his family. Adams was 61."

Now, the New York Times has a long story about Randall, who died in October 2010. Condolences, memories and tributes can be left here.

June 25, 2011

Randall Adams, 61, Dies; Freed With Help of Film

Randall Dale Adams, who spent 12 years in prison before his conviction in the murder of a Dallas police officer was thrown out largely on the basis of evidence uncovered by a filmmaker, died in obscurity in October in Washington Court House, Ohio. He was 61.
Mr. Adams had chosen to live a quiet life divorced from his past, and when he died on Oct. 30, 2010, of a brain tumor, the death was reported only locally, said his lawyer, Randy Schaffer. The death was first widely reported on Friday.
The film that proved so crucial to Mr. Adams was “The Thin Blue Line,” directed by Errol Morris and released in 1988. It told a harrowing story, and it had the effect of helping to bring about Mr. Adams’s release the following year.
“We’re not talking about a cop killer who’s getting out on a technicality,” Mr. Morris said when Mr. Adams was set free. “We’re talking about an unbelievable nightmare.”
The story began on Nov. 27, 1976. Mr. Adams was walking along a Dallas street after his car had run out of gas when a teenager, David Ray Harris, came by in a stolen car and offered him a ride. The two spent the day drinking, smoking marijuana and going to a drive-in movie.
Shortly after midnight, a Dallas police officer, Robert Wood, stopped a car for a traffic violation and was shot and killed. The investigation led to Mr. Harris, who accused Mr. Adams of the murder. Other witnesses corroborated his testimony, and Mr. Adams was convicted in 1977.
Sentenced to die by lethal injection, Mr. Adams appealed the verdict, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refused to overturn it. His execution was scheduled for May 8, 1979.
Three days before the execution, the United States Supreme Court ordered a stay on the grounds that prospective jurors who had been uneasy about the death penalty were excluded during jury selection even though they had clearly said they would follow Texas law.
Gov. Bill Clements went on to commute Mr. Adams’s sentence to life in prison. With the death penalty no longer an issue, the Texas appeals court ruled there was “now no error in the case.”
In March 1985, Mr. Morris arrived in Dallas to work on a documentary about a psychiatrist whose testimony in death penalty cases was controversial. The psychiatrist contended that he could predict future criminal behavior, something the American Psychiatric Association had said was impossible.
In Dallas, Mr. Morris met Mr. Schaffer, who had been working on the case since 1982. The two began piecing together a puzzle that pointed to Mr. Harris’s guilt in the police shooting. Mr. Harris had by then accumulated a long criminal record and was on death row for an unrelated murder.
Mr. Morris and Mr. Schaffer knew from the records that Mr. Harris had bragged about killing a police officer after the shooting but had then recanted and blamed Mr. Adams, and that the pistol used in the killing had been stolen from his father.
Their own investigation revealed that three witnesses had been improperly sprung on the defense and that they had committed perjury in their testimony. Moreover, a statement that Mr. Adams signed during an interrogation was misconstrued as an admission that he had been at the scene of the crime.
With so much evidence seeming to suggest Mr. Harris’s guilt, many Texans believed prosecutors had gone after Mr. Adams and not Mr. Harris because Mr. Harris, who was 16, was too young to be executed under Texas law. In the murder of a police officer, the theory went, prosecutors almost always seek the most severe punishment.
Mr. Schaffer said Mr. Morris gained access to witnesses and others related to the case. “They forgot the script they learned for the trial,” he said. “They told the truth.”
After the movie came out in 1988, the resulting outcry prompted a judge to grant another hearing, something Mr. Schaffer had not been able to accomplish. Mr. Harris recanted his previous testimony, without confessing. In 2004, Mr. Harris was executed for the other murder.
In March 1989, the Texas appeals court ruled Mr. Adams was entitled to a new trial because of the perjured testimony. Three weeks later, he was released on his own recognizance, and two days after that the Dallas district attorney dropped all charges.
Mr. Adams lived a peripatetic life afterward, first returning to his native Ohio, then moving to upstate New York, later returning to Texas, in the Houston area, and finally settling again in Ohio. Mr. Schaffer said Mr. Adams gave speeches against the death penalty and married the sister of a man on death row. He did not know if they were still married at his death.
Mr. Adams’s mother died in December, and he is survived by at least one sister, Mr. Schaffer said.
Mr. Morris went on to make, among other films, “The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara” (2003), which won an Academy Award.
Mr. Schaffer said that if Mr. Adams were found to be wrongly convicted under today’s law in Texas, he would get $80,000 for each year of incarceration. At the time his conviction was thrown out, wrongly convicted prisoners could get a lump sum payment of $25,000 if pardoned by the governor. But Mr. Adams was ineligible for the money. He had not been pardoned; his case had been dismissed.
He also did not receive the $200 given to prisoners when they are released on parole or on the completion of their sentences, Mr. Schaffer said. Again, Mr. Adams did not qualify.

In 2001, Randall Dale Adams testified to a committees in the Texas House and Senate and told his story of how he was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to Texas death row. His testimony helped convince the committees to vote in favor of a moratorium on executions. Later in 2001, 53 members of the Texas House voted for a moratorium on the floor of the Texas House in a bill filed by Rep Harold Dutton.

This year in 2011, the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence again considered a bill for a moratorium on executions, but the committee took no action on the bill. Maybe if the committee members had been able to hear from Randall Adams they would have voted for a moratorium.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Confirmed: 2010 Death of Texas Death Row Exoneree Randall Dale Adams

Randall Dale Adams in 2001 Calling for a Moratorium on
Executions in Texas
It is now confirmed that Randall Dale Adams died October 30, 2010 in Ohio from a brain tumor at age 61. Condolences, memories and tributes can be left here.

Errol Morris tweeted yesterday on Twitter that Randall Dale Adams died in 2010. We have not yet confirmed Randall's death. Randall Adams was an innocent person wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death in Texas. He was exonerated thanks to the film "The Thin Blue Line" by filmmaker Errol Morris.

In 2001, Randall Dale Adams testified to a committees in the Texas House and Senate and told his story of how he was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to Texas death row. His testimony helped convince the committees to vote in favor of a moratorium on executions. Later in 2001, 53 members of the Texas House voted for a moratorium on the floor of the Texas House in a bill filed by Rep Harold Dutton.

This year in 2011, the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence again considered a bill for a moratorium on executions, but the committee took no action on the bill. Maybe if the committee members had been able to hear from Randall Adams they would have voted for a moratorium.

Watch the beginning of "The Thin Blue Line" the documentary by Errol Morris that led to the exoneration of Randall Dale Adams, who at the time the film came out was still on death row in Texas.

Watch Errol Morris - The Thin Blue Line in Educational & How-To  |  View More Free Videos Online at

Listen to some music by Phillip Glass composed for the film "The Thin Blue Line".

Sentenced to death in 1977 for the murder of a police officer in Dallas, Texas, Randall Dale Adams was exonerated as a result of information uncovered by film‑maker Errol Morris and presented in an acclaimed 1988 documentary, The Thin Blue Line.
Patrolman Robert Wood was shot to death during a traffic stop on November 28, 1976, by sixteen-year-old David Ray Harris, who framed Adams to avoid prosecution himself. Another factor in the wrongful conviction was the surprise — and partly perjured — testimony of three eyewitnesses whose existence had been concealed from the defense until the witnesses appeared in the courtroom. A third factor was a statement Adams signed during interrogation that the prosecution construed as an admission that he had been at the scene of the crime.
The day before the murder, Adams was walking along a Dallas street after his car had run out of gasoline. Harris happened by, driving a stolen car. He offered Adams a ride and the two wound up spending the afternoon and evening together, drinking beer, smoking marijuana, pawning various items Harris had stolen, and going to a drive-in movie theater to watch porn movies. Adams then returned to a motel where he was staying.
Shortly after midnight, Wood and his partner, Teresa Turko, spotted Harris driving a blue car with no headlights. The officers stopped the car and, as Wood approached the driver’s side, Harris shot him five times. Wood died on the spot. As the car sped off, Turko fired several shots, but missed. She did not get a license number. She seemed certain that there was only one person in the car — the driver.
Harris drove directly to his home in Vidor, 300 miles southeast of Dallas. Over the next several days, he bragged to friends that he had “offed a pig” in Dallas. When police in Vidor learned of the statements, they took Harris in for questioning. He denied having had anything to do with the murder, claiming he had said otherwise only to “impress” his friends. But when police told him that a ballistics test established that a pistol he had stolen from his father was the murder weapon, Harris changed his story. He now claimed that he had been present at the shooting, but that it had been committed by a hitchhiker he had picked up — Adams.
Adams, an Ohio native working in Dallas, was taken in for questioning. He denied any knowledge of the crime, but he did give a detailed statement describing his activities the day before the murder. Police told him he had failed a polygraph test and that Harris had passed one, but Adams remained resolute in asserting his innocence.
Although polygraph results are not admissible in Texas courts, the results provided some rationale for questioning Harris’s story. However, when a police officer is murdered, authorities usually demand the most severe possible punishment, which in Texas, and most other U.S. jurisdictions, is death. Harris was only sixteen and ineligible for the death penalty; Adams was twenty-seven and thus could be executed.
At trial before Dallas County District Court Judge Don Metcalfe and a jury, Turko testified that she had not seen the killer clearly, but that his hair was the color of Adams’s. She also said that the killer wore a coat with a fur collar. Harris had such a coat, but Adams did not.
Adams took the stand and emphatically denied having any knowledge of the crime. But then the prosecution sprang two surprises. The first was the introduction of Adams’s purported signed statement, which police and prosecutors claimed was a confession, although it said only — falsely, according to Adams — that when he was in the car with Harris, they had at one point been near the crime scene. The second was the testimony of three purported eyewitnesses whose existence had until then been unknown to the defense. One of these witnesses, Michael Randell, testified that he had driven by the scene shortly before the murder and, in the car that had been stopped by the officers, had seen two persons, one of whom he claimed was Adams. The other two witnesses, Robert and Emily Miller, had happened by at about the same time, but claimed to have seen only one person in the car — Adams.
Because the eyewitnesses were called only to rebut Adams’s testimony, prosecutors claimed that Texas law did not require them to inform the defense of their existence before they testified. The weekend after their surprise testimony, however, the defense learned that Emily Miller had initially told police that the man she had seen appeared to be Mexican or a light-skinned African American. When the defense asked to recall the Millers to testify, the prosecution claimed that the couple had left town. In fact, the Millers had only moved from one part of Dallas to another. When the defense asked to introduce Emily Miller’s statement, Judge Metcalfe would not allow it. He said it would be unfair to impeach her credibility when she was not available for further examination.
The jury quickly returned a verdict of guilty and turned to sentencing. Under Texas law, in order for Adams to be sentenced to death, the jury was required to determine, among other things, whether there was “beyond a reasonable doubt [a] probability” that he or she would commit future acts of violence. To establish that Adams met that oxymoronic criterion, the prosecution called Dr. James Grigson, a Dallas psychiatrist known as “Dr. Death,” and Dr. John Holbrook, former chief of psychiatry for the Texas Department of Corrections.
Although the American Psychiatric Association has said on several occasions that future dangerousness was impossible to predict, Grigson and Holbrook testified that Adams would be dangerous unless executed. Grigson testified similarly in more than 100 other Texas cases that ended in death sentences. After hearing the psychiatrists, Adams’s jury voted to sentence him to death. Twenty one months later, at the end of January 1979, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction and death sentence. Judge Metcalfe scheduled the execution for May 8, 1979.
Adams was only three days away from execution when U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. ordered a stay. Powell was troubled that prospective jurors with moral qualms about the death penalty had been excluded from service, even though they had clearly stated that they would follow the Texas law.
To most observers — including, initially, Dallas District Attorney Henry Wade (of Roe v. Wade fame) — the Supreme Court’s language meant that Adams was entitled to a new trial. But a few days later Wade announced that a new trial would be a waste of money. Thus, he said, he was asking Governor Bill Clements to commute Adams’s sentence to life in prison. When the governor promptly complied, Wade proclaimed that there now would be no need for a new trial. Adams, of course, thought otherwise, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with Wade. As a result of the governor’s action, said the court, “There is now no error in the case.”
In March 1985, Errol Morris arrived in Dallas to work on a documentary about Grigson — “Dr. Death.” Morris’s intent had not been to question the guilt of defendants in whose cases Grigson had testified but only to question his psychiatric conclusions. When Morris met Adams, the focus of the project changed.
Morris learned from Randy Schaffer, a volunteer Houston lawyer who had been working on the case since 1982, that Harris had not led an exemplary life after helping convict Adams. Harris had joined the Army and been stationed in Germany, where he had been convicted in a military court of a series burglaries and sent to prison in Leavenworth, Kansas. A few months after his release, Harris had been convicted in California of kidnapping, armed robbery, and related crimes.
After his release from prison in California, and five months after Morris arrived in Dallas, Harris tried to kidnap a young woman named Roxanne Lockard in Beaumont, Texas. In an effort to prevent the abduction, Lockard’s boyfriend, Mark Mays, exchanged gunfire with Harris. Mays was shot to death and Harris was wounded. For the Mays murder — a crime that would not have occurred if Dallas authorities convicted the actual killer of Officer Wood eight years earlier — Harris was sentenced to death.
Meanwhile, Morris and Schaffer discovered that Officer Turko had been hypnotized during the investigation and initially had acknowledged that she had not seen the killer — facts that the prosecution had illegally withheld from the defense. Morris and Schaffer also found that robbery charges against the daughter of eyewitness Emily Miller had been dropped after Miller agreed to identify Adams as Wood’s killer. The new information, coupled with the fact that Miller initially had described the killer as Mexican or African American, became the basis for a new trial motion.
In 1988, during a three-day hearing on the motion before Dallas District Court Judge Larry Baraka, Harris recanted. “Twelve years ago, I was a kid, you know, and I’m not a kid anymore, and I realize I’ve been responsible for a great injustice,” Harris told Baraka. “And I felt like it’s my responsibility to step forward, to be a man, to admit my part in it. And that’s why I’m trying to correct an injustice.”
On December 2, 1988, Judge Baraka recommended to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that Adams be granted a new trial, and two months later he wrote a letter to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recommending that Adams be paroled immediately. The board refused, but on March 1 the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals unanimously concurred with Baraka that Adams was entitled to a new trial. Three weeks later, Adams was released on his own recognizance, and two days after that, Dallas District Attorney John Vance, who had succeeded Wade, dropped all charges.
Harris was never tried for the murder of Officer Woods. On June 30, 2004, he was executed for the Mayes murder. — Researched by Michael L. Radelet
Bibliography: Adams v. Texas, 448 US 38 (1980); Adams v. Texas, 624 S.W.2d 568 (1981); Ex Parte Adams, 768 S.W.2d 281 (1989); Harris v. Texas, 784 S.W.2d 5 (1989); Adams, et al., Adams v. Texas, St. Martin’s Press, 1991; Radelet, et al., In Spite of Innocence, NE Univ. Press, 1992.
Further Reading: Radelet, Michael L., Hugo Adam Bedau and Constance E. Putnam, In Spite of Innocence/The Ordeal of 400 Americans Wrongly Convicted of Crimes Punishable by Death, Northeastern University Press, 1992.
Adams, Randall Dale, with William Hoffer and Marilyn Mona Hoffer, Adams v. Texas/The True Story Made Famous by the Highly Acclaimed Film The Thin Blue Line, St. Martin's Press, 1991.
Colloff, Pamela, "Only a man who came within three days of being executed for a crime he didn't commit could be as passionate an advocate for a death-penalty moratorium as Randall Dale Adams," Texas Monthly, September 2001.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Texas today executed the 470th person since 1982; sixth in 2011 and 231st under Governor Rick Perry.

Texas today executed the 470th person since 1982; sixth in 2011 and 231st under Governor Rick Perry.

From the Houston Chronicle: 

Milton Mathis was executed Tuesday evening for fatally shooting two people inside a Houston crack house in 1998, becoming the sixth death row inmate executed in Texas this year.
The lethal injection was carried out shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected appeals from his defense attorneys, who argued that Mathis was mentally impaired and therefore ineligible for execution.
Mathis, 32, was condemned for a shooting spree that killed Travis Brown III, 24, and Daniel Hibbard, 31, less than two weeks before Christmas in 1998. A 15-year-old girl, Melony Almaguer, also was shot and left paralyzed.
Almaguer, seated in a wheelchair and accompanied by her husband, was among a small group of people who watched Mathis die from behind a window at the Huntsville Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
"I never meant to hurt you," Mathis, strapped to a gurney with tubing taped to his arms, told Almaguer. "You were just at the wrong place at the wrong time."
Her husband stood with his hand on her shoulder and at one point brushed her face with his hand. They declined to speak with reporters after leaving the prison.
Mathis thanked his friends and relatives, and asked for mercy for himself and "these people carrying out this mass slaughter."
"The system has failed me," he said. "This is what you call a miscarriage of justice. Life is not supposed to end this way ... I just ask the Lord, when I knock at the gates, you just let me in."
He yawned and gasped, then began snoring as the lethal drugs began taking effect. Nine minutes later, at 6:53 p.m. CDT, he was pronounced dead.
An unsuccessful late appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals briefly delayed the punishment.
In their appeal filed Monday with the Supreme Court, his attorneys also argued that Mathis' claims of mental impairment hadn't been reviewed by any federal court because of a "procedural quagmire" and "freakish coincidence" of state and federal legal issues involving the timing of his appeals. Attorney Lee Kovarsky also argued that if Mathis was executed, he likely would have the lowest IQ of any Texas inmate put to death since the Supreme Court nine years ago barred execution of the mentally impaired.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Texas Set to Execute 469th Person Since 1982 Today and 230th Under Rick Perry

UPDATE: Execution stayed.

Texas is planning to carry out the second of its four scheduled June executions today, Wednesday June 15, when John Balentine is scheduled for execution. If the execution is not stayed, Balentine will be the fifth person executed in Texas in 2011 and the 469th person executed in Texas since 1982. He will be the 230th person executed in Texas since Rick Perry became governor.

To express your opposition to John Balentine's execution and to state your opinion on the Texas death penalty, call Governor Rick Perry at 512-463-2000.

Rick Perry is considering running for president of the United States. Perry's death penalty enthusiasm will probably be a liability for him in many parts of the country where the governor is expected to exercise his executive powers in a more responsible manner than Perry did in the case of Todd Willingham.

Balentine's execution is the first of two scheduled in Texas this week. On Thursday, the state is set to execute Lee Taylor for fatally stabbing an inmate at a state prison in 1999. At the time of the stabbing, Taylor was serving a life sentence for aggravated robbery in which an elderly man died, according to the attorney general's office.

Texas has executed more than four times as many people as any other state since the death penalty was reinstated in the United States in 1976

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Tuesday, June 07, 2011

October 22, 2011 Save the Date for the "12th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty"

2010 March to Abolish the Death Penalty
The "12th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty" will be held in Austin on October 22, 2011 at the Texas Capitol. Join the Facebook event page.  To see photos and videos of past marches visit

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 those on death row,community leaders, exonerated former death row prisoners and all those calling for abolition. The march started in Austin in 2000. In 2007 and 2008,the march was held in Houston. It came back to Austin in 2009 and 2010.

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,and Kids Against the Death Penalty.
The first march was called the “March on the Mansion”and was held on October 15,2000. The second and third marches were called “March for a Moratorium”and were held on October 27,2001 and October 12,2002. In 2003,the march name changed to “March to Stop Executions”. Clarence Brandley,who had been exonerated and released from death row in 1990 after spending nine years there,spoke at the 2003 march,saying “I was always wishing and hoping that someone would just look at the evidence and the facts,because the evidence was clear that I did not commit the crime.” The “5th Annual March to Stop Executions”was on October 30,2004. The “6th Annual March to Stop Executions”was held October 29,2005 in conjunction with the 2005 National Conference of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty,which came to Austin at the suggestion of the march organizers.
Sister of Carlos De Luna Delivers Letter
for Governor Rick Perry at 7th Annual March  in 2006
The “7th Annual March to Stop Executions”,which was sponsored by a record number of 50 organizations,was held October 28,2006 and included family members of Carlos De Luna and Cameron Todd Willingham,who both had been the subject of separate investigations by The Chicago Tribune that concluded they were probably innocent people executed by Texas. Standing outside the gates of the Texas Governor’s Mansion with hundreds of supporters,the families of Willingham and De Luna delivered separate letters to Governor Perry asking him to stop executions and investigate the cases of Willingham and De Luna to determine if they were wrongfully executed. After DPS troopers refused to take the letters,Mary Arredondo, sister of Carlos De Luna,and Eugenia Willingham,stepmother of Todd,dropped them through the gate of the governor’s mansion and left them lying on the walkway leading to the main door.
The “8th Annual March to Stop Executions”was held in Houston on October 27. 2007. The “9th Annual March to Stop Executions” was October 25,2008 in Houston. The “10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty” was October 24,2009 in Austin. The “11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty” was October 30,2010.

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