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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Bills Filed in Texas Legislature to Abolish Death Penalty

Yesterday Rep. Harold Dutton of Houston filed HB 852, his bill to abolish the death penalty in Texas. He first filed his bill to abolish the death penalty in 2003, which was the first abolition bill filed in a long time up to that year. It was an exciting day back in 2003 when Dutton's abolition bill was heard in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. Rep Jessica Farrar has also filed a bill to abolish the death penalty (HB 819). Farrar first filed her abolition bill in 2007, following the lead of Rep Dutton who has filed an abolition bill every session since 2003.

The Texas legislators who filed or signed on as co-authors to the death penalty abolition bills in 2009 were Harold Dutton, Jessica Farrar, Terri Hodge, Marisa Marquez, Lon Burnam and Al Edwards. (Hodge and Edwards are no longer members of the Legislature in 2011).

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Video: John Bradley Takes Todd Willingham Case Discussion Behind Closed Doors

Many people and some newspapers have criticized the Texas Forensic Science Commission for carrying on much of its discussions about the Todd Willingham case behind closed doors, either when the subcommittee meets or during executive sessions of the full committee. At last Friday's meeting on Jan 21, the Commission again went behind closed doors for about an hour. When they returned they decided to seek an opinion from the Texas Attorney General about whether the Commission has jurisdiction in the Willingham case.

Here is a video of Chair John Bradley announcing the Commission will go behind closed doors to confer outside the view of the public.

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Forensic Science Commission Meeting January 21 to Assign Report on Todd Willingham Case

The Texas Forensic Science Commission will meet, Friday, January 21, 2011 in Austin. The third item on the agenda is to ""Consider Willingham/Willis case (Complaint #09-01) and assign report". The hearing starts at 9:30 AM, but we plan to be outside the building at 8:30 AM for a demonstration in support of relying on science and not politics in the case of Todd Willingham.

There is a public comment period on the agenda for this meeting. It is the last item on the agenda.



The hearing is in the Central Services Building, 1711 San Jacinto Boulevard Room 402 in Austin. We will go inside before the hearing starts. RSVP on the Facebook event page
Before his execution, Todd Willingham said, “Please don’t ever stop fighting to vindicate me.”  

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Grievance Filed Against Sharon Keller with State Bar of Texas


A civil rights group is asking the state to revoke the law license of a judge who has been a lightning rod in debates over the death penalty.
The Austin-based Texas Civil Rights Project filed a grievance Wednesday with the State Bar of Texas against Justice Sharon Keller, the presiding judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals, saying she is unfit to retain her license to practice law. Records show Keller has been licensed since graduating from SMU's law school in 1978.
The group alleges she is untrustworthy and dishonest, citing:
A review by the Texas Ethics Commission that found she failed to disclose several sources of income, as required by law.
Her refusal in 2007 to keep the court open after 5 p.m. at the request of lawyers drafting an appeal on behalf of death row inmate Michael Richard, who was executed that evening.
Statements she made in a federal lawsuit filed by Richard's widow that purportedly contradict what she told the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
Keller, who recently said she'd seek reelection in 2012, had no comment. Her lawyer, Chip Babcock, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The state Commission on Judicial Conduct, which publicly warned her after investigating her actions on the day Richards was executed, also had no comment.
In April, the Texas Ethics Commission fined Keller a record $100,000 for failing to report stock, honoraria and more than $2.4 million in real estate holdings on her 2007 and 2008 personal financial disclosure statements. Keller filed amended reports with the commission in 2009 after news reports revealed her missing holdings.
In a statement filed with the amended reports, Keller said her father made investments for her and her son without her knowledge.
In 2009, the judicial conduct commission filed misconduct charges against Keller and issued her a “public warning.” The disciplinary body said she brought discredit to the judiciary by closing the court to Richard's appeals in 2007 just hours before he was executed.
In October, a special panel of three Republican judges said the commission issued her the wrong discipline, but the panel did not set aside the commission's misconduct findings.
Richard's widow, Marsha Richard, sued Keller in federal court in Austin in 2007. Keller argued that she acted in her judicial capacity in refusing to keep the courthouse open for Michael Richard's appeal, which made her immune to a lawsuit. U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel dismissed the case in 2008.
But in front of the judicial conduct commission, Keller claimed she had acted in an administrative capacity, not in a judicial role.
“As the documents included in the grievance demonstrate, Judge Keller's statements before the federal court and her statements to the (conduct) commission were in complete contradiction of each other,” said Jim Harrington, executive director of the Texas Civil Rights Project. “The important thing is she was under oath for both.”
Marsha Richard's lawyer, Randall Kallinen, said Keller wrongly used the two hats to her advantage, and her credibility suffered.
“Judges should not be allowed to argue two opposite positions in two different tribunals to their advantage because it erodes the people's confidence in the judiciary,” Kallinen said. “It contradicts the public's perception of fairness towards all parties regardless of the party's high status.”
Read more: http://www.mysanantonio.com/default/article/Sharon-Keller-hit-with-new-grievance-966305.php#ixzz1BXt7fdf7

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Dallas Morning News: "Lawmakers in Austin need to support a moratorium"

The Dallas Morning News says in an editorial today that Texas needs a moratorium on executions. Texas Monthly endorsed a moratorium this month also. The Texas Legislature began its work in Austin on January 11. The highest priority for people interested in stopping executions in Texas should be to convince the Texas Legislature to enact a moratorium on executions.

Seeking a moratorium is the best strategy for stopping executions in Texas. It worked in Illinois, it can work in Texas.

From the Dallas Morning News today:
It's clear Texas law-enforcement officials and courts have gotten it terribly wrong at times, so much so that a moratorium is just as appropriate in Texas today as it was in Illinois in 2000.

Questions cry out for answers about whether flaws in Texas justice run so deep that the death chamber should be dismantled. This newspaper believes it's a system that cannot ever be fail-safe. While many Texans vehemently disagree, still others are conflicted over the matter. Experts and state officials must have the chance to address these issues without the death row conveyor belt moving in the background.

Lawmakers in Austin need to support a moratorium.
The full editorial can be read here.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Photos of Protest at Texas Capitol of Scheduled Execution of Cleve Foster, Who Received Last Minute Stay

Yesterday, January 11, 2011, Cleve Foster received a last minute stay of execution from the U.S. Supreme Court. By around 6:15 pm Tuesday, more than 60 people had gathered at the Texas Capitol to protest the scheduled execution when the news of a stay of execution came in a phone call from other protesters gathered outside The Walls Unit in Huntsville (Photos from Capitol).

On the same day, the Illinois Legislature voted to abolish the death penalty and sent the bill to the governor of Illinois.

Yesterday was also the first day of the 2011 Texas legislative session, during which a moratorium on executions will be one of the issues under consideration.



From the AP:

The U.S. Supreme Court gave a last-minute stay of execution Tuesday evening to a Desert Storm veteran and former Army recruiter convicted of raping and killing a Sudanese immigrant in Fort Worth in 2002.

Cleve Foster, 47, known as "Sarge" on Death Row, had eaten his final meal and was waiting to walk a few steps to the death chamber when the court's brief order was received just before 6 p.m., a prison spokesman said.

The court offered no explanation for its decision or why justices other than Justice Antonin Scalia participated. Scalia can act alone on Texas execution appeals. But he can also ask other justices to vote on whether to hear an appeal.

The order indicated that Scalia and Justice Samuel Alito dissented from the majority vote and would have allowed the execution to proceed.

When prison officials asked Foster whether he was surprised to get a reprieve, he said, "I was and I wasn't. I gave it to God a long time ago."

He also said he was gratified by support from friends, calling it "really humbling."
Foster's execution would have been the first this year in Texas.

Foster has always maintained that his co-defendant, Sheldon Ward, was responsible for fatally shooting 30-year-old Nyaneur "Mary" Pal on Feb. 13, 2002.

Ward, one of Foster's Army recruits, was also condemned for the slaying. He died of cancer last year in prison.

In their latest appeal, Foster's attorneys argued that his conviction was flawed because trial lawyers failed to arrange for a blood-spatter expert to dispute a detective's testimony that Ward couldn't have killed Pal and moved her body to where it was found all by himself. If they had presented such testimony, there was "at least a reasonable probability that the result of Mr. Foster's trial would have been different," appellate attorney Clint Broden said.

Prosecutors insisted that evidence showed that Foster actively participated in the woman's killing, offered no credible explanations, and lied and gave contradictory stories about his sexual activities with Pal. His eleventh-hour appeal "recycles the stale arguments that state and federal courts have already considered in rejecting Foster's protestations of innocence," Jonathan Mitchell, an assistant Texas solicitor general, wrote in the state's response.

Foster declined to speak with reporters in recent weeks. In 2005, he told The Associated Press that he viewed the evidence against him as prosecutors "pulling stuff out of their hat."
"I didn't do this," he said of Pal's killing.


Read more: http://www.star-telegram.com/2011/01/11/2762454/ex-recruiters-execution-for-2002.html#ixzz1AqS6rxtd

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Sharon Keller's Court of Criminal Appeals Says Hearing on Death Penalty Constitutionality Must End

From the Austin American-Statesman:
A Houston defendant cannot challenge the state’s death penalty laws as unconstitutional before his capital murder trial begins, the state’s highest court ruled today.

John Edward Green Jr., charged with robbing and killing a Houston woman in 2008, had challenged the Texas death penalty law because “its application has created a substantial risk that innocent people have been, and will be, convicted and executed.”

District Judge Kevin Fine held a Dec. 6 hearing on Green’s motion, hearing from defense experts who testified about 138 exonerations of U.S. death row inmates since 1978, including 12 in Texas.

At the urging of prosecutors, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halted the hearing the following day and requested briefings to determine if proceedings should continue.
Today, the court ruled 6-2 that Fine exceeded his authority and ordered him to dismiss Green’s challenge. Texas law does not allow judges to hold pretrial hearings on the constitutionality of a law, said the opinion by Judge Cathy Cochran.

In addition, until the death penalty statute is applied against Green, he does not have legal standing to challenge the law, the court ruled.

“One does not put the cart before the horse: a defendant has no claim of wrongful conviction or wrongful sentencing before he has even gone to trial,” Cochran wrote.

“It bears noting that no provision of the current (death penalty statute) has been held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court or this Court, although that statute has been attacked many times,” Cochran added.

Judges Tom Price and Paul Womack dissented without submitting an opinion stating their reasons. Recently retired Judge Charlie Holcomb did not participate.

Fine made national news last spring when, in response to a motion from Green’s lawyers, he declared the Texas death penalty law unconstitutional. He later rescinded that ruling and ordered the December hearing, saying he should have heard evidence before reaching such a conclusion.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Cleve "Sarge" Foster Receives Last Minute Stay of Execution from U.S. Supreme Court

Cleve Foster received a last minute stay of execution from U.S. Supreme Court today (Read court order here). More than 60 people gathered at the Texas Capitol to protest the execution rejoiced at the news received from a phone call from other protesters gathered in Huntsville.

A former Army recruiter who maintained his innocence in the rape-slaying of a woman in Fort Worth nine years ago has received a reprieve from execution Tuesday evening.

Forty-seven-year-old Cleve Foster’s lethal injection was stopped by the U.S. Supreme Court so it can further review an appeal. In the court’s brief order, Justices Antonin Scalia and Sam Alito indicated they would have allowed the punishment to proceed.

Foster has insisted a friend was responsible for fatally shooting 30-year-old Nyaneur Pal, who had fled Sudan for Texas. The friend, Sheldon Ward, one of Foster’s recruits, also was condemned for the slaying. He died of cancer last year while in prison. Foster’s lawyers said the evidence did not support his conviction.

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Illinois Legislature Votes to Abolish the Death Penalty

Breaking News: Ten years after former Gov. George Ryan placed a moratorium on the practice of capital punishment, Illinois lawmakers today voted to abolish the death penalty in the Land of Lincoln.

The Illinois State Senate followed the lead of the House and approved the bill (SB 3539) by a 32-25 margin this afternoon. The legislation, if signed by the governor of Illinois, would end the death penalty and redirect money the state pays in death row prosecution and defense
fees ($100 million in the past seven years alone) to support law enforcement training and programs for the families of murder victims. It now heads to Gov. Pat Quinn, where it faces an uncertain future.

Protest of First Texas Execution of 2011 To be Held at 5:30 PM Tuesday
January 11 at Texas Capitol in Austin


UPDATE: Cleve Foster received a last minute stay of execution from U.S. Supreme Court. More than 60 people gathered at the Texas Capitol to protest the execution rejoiced at the news received from a phone call from other protesters gathered in Huntsville.

People opposed to the death penalty will gather today, Jan 11, at the
Texas Capitol at 5:30 PM on the sidewalk at Congress and 11th for a
protest of the first Texas execution of 2011 on the day the Texas
Legislature convenes for its first day in session. Today at 6:00 PM
Cleve "Sarge" Foster is scheduled to be executed in Huntsville by the
state of Texas for a murder that his already executed co-defendant
said Foster did not commit.

Demonstrators will also be calling on the Texas Legislature to enact a
moratorium on executions and address problems in the system that put
innocent people on death row, such as in the cases of Anthony Graves
and Todd Willingham. "If the Texas legislature had enacted a
moratorium on executions in 2003, then Willingham would not have been
wrongfully executed in 2004 based on faulty forensic evidence", said
Scott Cobb, president of Texas Moratorium Network.

Groups participating in the demonstration include Texas Moratorium
Network, Campaign to End the Death Penalty - Austin chapter, Students
Against the Death Penalty and Witness to Innocence.

What: Protest of 1st Execution in Texas in 2011

Date: Tuesday, January 11

Time: 5:30 to 6:30 PM

Place: Texas Capitol on sidewalk at 11th and Congress Avenue
Austin, TX


##

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Protest First Texas Execution of 2011 Tuesday January 11 at Texas Capitol on 1st Day of Legislative Session

Join us at the Texas Capitol Tuesday, January 11, at 5:30 pm to protest the first Texas execution of 2011 and to call on the Texas Legislature to enact a moratorium on executions and address problems in the system that put innocent people on death row, such as in the cases of Anthony Graves and Todd Willingham. If Texas had enacted a moratorium on executions in 2003, then Willingham would not have been wrongfully executed in 2004 based on faulty forensic evidence.

Let us know you are coming on the Facebook event page.

If you are a Texas resident, but you cannot come to the Capitol in Austin, you can help by calling your Texas state senator and state representative and urging them to support a moratorium on executions. Go here to find out who represents you.

You can also email Governor Rick Perry, although he probably doesn't care what you say.

From the Houston Chronicle:
Former Army recruiter Cleve Foster was one of two men in Fort Worth tied to the slayings nine years ago of two women, one who had fled Sudan and the other a Texas Tech honors graduate.

Both Foster and his former roommate wound up on death row for the slaying of Nyaneur Pal, 30. He was set for lethal injection Tuesday that would make him the first convicted killer executed this year in Texas.

Foster, 47, always insisted his buddy, Sheldon Ward, acted alone in Pal's slaying.

"My old roommate — he's told them," Foster told The Associated Press. "It wasn't me."

Ward died in prison last May of cancer.

"Cleve Foster saying 'I didn't do anything,' that's bull, ... that's baloney," said Ben Leonard, a former Tarrant County assistant district attorney who prosecuted him. "The jury had no problem convicting him of murder. That case, I've never had any doubts about that case at all."

A Tarrant County jury in 2004 deliberated less than an hour and a half before convicting him.

Foster's lawyers asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the punishment, arguing his conviction was flawed because trial attorneys failed to get testimony from a blood spatter expert to counter a detective's testimony that Ward couldn't have killed and moved Pal's body by himself.

"The state of Texas is on the verge of executing an innocent man," attorney Clint Broden told the court.

Similar arguments raised in earlier appeals from Foster failed.

Foster and Ward were convicted separately. The Sudanese woman, known as Mary Pal, worked at a country club and was seen talking with the pair at a Fort Worth bar. Her body was found hours later dumped in a ditch off a Tarrant County road. She'd been shot once in the head.

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Sunday, January 09, 2011

Update: $3,573 Raised to Help Anthony Graves - an Innocent Man Exonerated from Texas Death Row

Shortly before Thanksgiving, Texas Moratorium Network delivered $3,000 to Anthony Graves that we had raised from our supporters and friends. Since then we have received additional donations for Anthony, so the new grand total of donations we have raised for him is $3,573, which includes the latest donation of $150 that we received yesterday.

Anthony has still not received any compensation from the State of Texas, but his lawyers continue to work to get him what he is owed from Texas for the 18 years he spent on Texas death row for a crime he did not commit.

Below is an an article from the Brenham Banner Press from Dec 31 with the latest news about the effort to get him compensated from Texas. At least during his time of need, generous individual people stepped forward and donated to help after his release. Thank you to everyone who has donated.

From the Brenham Banner Press:
The attorney for Anthony Graves says District Attorney Bill Parham has sabotaged attempts by Graves to receive reparations for 18 years of wrongful imprisonment.

Katherine Scardino said she is incensed that Parham refused to sign a request to change the wording on Graves’ dismissal to include the words “actual innocence,” a declaration vital to Graves’ reparation attempts.

“All he (Parham) has got to do to get this man the money he deserves is sign it,” said Scardino.

A state statute enacted last year provides $80,000 for each year of wrongful imprisonment. Graves, if his request is approved, would be eligible for more than $1.4 million.

But an obviously angry Scardino said Parham has in essence squashed Graves’ claim by refusing to amend the dismissal order signed in November by District Judge Reva Towslee Corbett.

“The real reason lies at the feet of Bill Parham and nobody else,” she said. “She (Corbett) will sign the order if Bill Parham will. It’s all his fault.”

Scardino said Parham’s refusal greatly hinders Graves’ reparation request.

“Of course it does. It’s a very simple procedure. There’s a form you fill out, a few other things that the statute requires you to submit. And if it complies with the statute, you get compensation,” she said.

Scardino said Graves’ attorneys didn’t press to include “actual innocence” on the original order because “we didn’t want to risk having the dismissal withdrawn.”

“I didn’t want him (Parham) coming back and doing something really stupid,” said Scardino.

Scardino also downplayed Parham’s role in Graves’ release, instead crediting former Harris County Assistant District Attorney Kelly Seigler, who was hired by Parham to investigate the case; and Otto Hanak, a former Texas Ranger who is now an investigator with the district attorney’s office.

Scardino said Seigler at a press conference held the day after Graves’ release used the words “actual innocence” and is willing to sign an affidavit to that effect.

Without a declaration of “innocent” in the order dismissing the case against Graves, the reparation filing “is probably going to be denied,” said Scardino.

The next step would be to ask Gov. Rick Perry to issue a full pardon for Graves, she said.

But Scardino also had harsh words for Perry, who after Graves’ release said it showed that the system “works.”

“Yeah, after 18 years it works just great,” Scardino said sarcastically. “Gov. Perry made that idiotic statement ... if we go to him for a pardon, let’s just see how well he believes that.”

Parham said Thursday that he would not sign an agreement to change the wording because there is “no definition” of actual innocence.

He also said his office is not involved in any efforts by Graves to receive reparations.

“I have nothing to do with that,” said Parham.

Several organizations have set up Internet sites in which donations can be to Graves. The Texas Moratorium Network, an organization pushing for a moratorium on capital punishment, last month delivered a $3,000 donation to Graves.

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Thursday, January 06, 2011

Experts to Testify to Forensic Science Commission Friday in Todd Willingham Case

The Texas Forensic Science Commission will devote the entire January 7, 2011 meeting to the case of Todd Willingham. They are scheduled to hear testimony from arson experts, including Craig Beyler. The hearing starts at 9:30 AM, but members of Texas Moratorium Network, Campaign to End the Death Penalty, Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement and others plan to be outside the building at 8:30 AM with signs.

The hearing is in the Central Services Building, 1711 San Jacinto Boulevard Room 402 in Austin. We will go inside before the hearing starts. RSVP on the Facebook event pageThe Innocence Project will show the meeting live on its website.
There will likely be a period devoted to receiving comments from the public. We invite members of the public to show up, bring signs and even make comments during the public comments period to let the Commission know that Texans Todd Willingham was wrongfully executed and that Texas should stop all executions through a moratorium on executions.
Before his execution, Todd Willingham said, “Please don’t ever stop fighting to vindicate me.”  
More on the meeting from the Austin American-Statesman:

The Texas Forensic Science Commission will hear from four fire investigation experts Friday as it continues to examine the science used to convict and execute Cameron Todd Willingham.
The special meeting in Austin, postponed from November, was sought by the commission’s scientists to help them answer two key questions:
  1. What was the state of fire science, and what were fire investigators expected to know, in 1991 and 1992? That’s when two investigators used now-discredited techniques to conclude that Willingham intentionally set fire to his Corsicana home, killing his three young children.
  2. What responsibility did the state fire marshal’s office have to reopen its Willingham investigation, and similar arson cases, once the agency realized scientific advancements had vastly improved the practice of arson investigation?
According to the commission, these invited experts have committed to appear Friday:
  • Assistant State Fire Marshal Ed Salazar, second in command at the office that helps investigate suspicious fires statewide. One of the office’s investigators was instrumental in the 1992 conviction of Willingham, and the office recently stood by that investigation despite criticism from every modern, outside fire investigator to re-examine its conclusions.
  • John DeHaan, one of the nation’s leading fire experts who has spent more than 35 years investigating fires. DeHaan wrote five editions of “Kirk’s Fire Investigation,” the most widely used textbook in the field, and co-wrote a companion text, “Forensic Fire Scene Reconstruction.” He is a frequent expert witness at arson trials, often testifying for the prosecution.
  • Craig Beyler, president of the International Association of Fire Safety Science, is also one of the nation’s top fire investigators. Beyler was hired by the commission to analyze the Willingham fire and wrote a 2009 report that disputed every conclusion used to rule the fire an arson.
  • Thomas Wood, a senior investigator with the Houston Fire Department. In a 2010 letter to the science commission, Wood said Willingham investigators could not be considered negligent because their arson conclusions were based on investigative standards common to that era.
The meeting begins at 9:30 a.m. in Room 402 of the Central Services Building, 1711 San Jacinto Blvd.
The Innocence Project will show the meeting live on its website.
The New York-based organization today criticized the commission’s decision not to invite two noted experts, Austin chemist Gerald Hurst and fire investigator John Lentini. Both men conducted outside examinations of the Willingham case and concluded that investigators based their arson finding on faulty science.
Hurst and Lentini testified during an October hearing before now-retired Austin District Judge Charlie Baird, who led an inquiry into whether Willingham was wrongfully executed. An appeals court halted the inquiry before Baird could issue a finding.

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Reprieve Exposes UK Company Dream Pharma as the Culprit that Exported Execution Drugs to the US

From Reprieve, Jan 6, 2011:

One man is already dead, and many more to come, as a result of pharmaceutical company Dream Pharma’s pursuit of profit; Reprieve proposes a ‘Hippocratic Oath’ for ethical pharmacies.

Dream Pharma is exposed today as the UK source of all three drugs used to execute prisoners in the US. Reprieve releases documentary proof that the Acton-based company sold the drugs to Arizona that were used in the execution of Jeffrey Landrigan on October 26th, 2010, and that will send many other prisoners to their deaths. 
Dream Pharma Ltd, of 176 Horn Lane, London W3 6PJ, is a pharmaceutical company run by Matt Alavi. It operates out of the back of a driving instructor’s office, Elgone Driving Academy, pictured right.  

Mr Alavi sold 150 vials of sodium thiopental, 180 vials of potassium chloride, and 450 vials of pancuronium bromide to the Arizona State Prison on September 28th, 2010. This was sufficient to execute at least ten prisoners, and one has already died as a result. The sodium thiopental was sold for £1,180.50, a mark-up of roughly 1000% over the normal price in the US. The State of Arizona sought permission from the state supreme court on December 28th to go forward with the next prisoners in line for execution. 
Reprieve can also reveal today that before Arizona, the State of Arkansas bought drugs from the UK, though the precise quantity is not yet known. Furthermore, as of two days ago, an additional 1,042 vials of sodium thiopental (sufficient to execute 85 prisoners) were released to California by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA), after importation from the UK. This is all thought to have been sourced from Dream Pharma, although the company has declined to confirm the fact, or produce the invoices. Various other states’ recent purchases of execution drugs from the UK remain secret. 
Reprieve has written to Dream Pharma twice, and met with Alavi once; Dream Pharma has refused all cooperation with Reprieve’s efforts to mitigate the damage caused by these sales.
Meanwhile, the government has acted with unacceptable sloth. A month after Reprieve’s original request, and only when pressed by litigation, Business Innovation and Skills Secretary Vince Cable banned the export of sodium thiopental in late November. Reprieve gave Cable notice on December 16th that a UK company had exported two other execution drugs (pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride) to the US, and called on him to impose an immediate export ban on them as well. The BIS has yet to act. Neither did the BIS apparently act on Reprieve’s request – made on December 7th – to intervene to ensure that the British drugs were not released to California by the US FDA. The FDA announcement on January 4th reveals that any intervention by Cable will now be too late.
Meanwhile, Reprieve has called upon various pharmaceutical companies to assist in the task of preventing their drugs from being used to kill people. Thus far, the response has been anaemic, suggesting that the companies' commercial interests override any legal or ethical obligations. Hameln has been the only exception, taking urgent action to ensure that its drugs would not be used for executions. In sharp contrast, Hospira has specifically stated its opposition to a ban, and has refused any assistance from Reprieve in repairing the damage done by the exportation of these drugs.
Reprieve condemns the irresponsible attitude taken by most pharmaceutical companies and calls upon them to voluntarily establish an industry Hippocratic code asserting that their drugs should be used only for the benefit of patients, not for executions.
Reprieve’s Director Clive Stafford Smith said:
“It is shocking that Britain has allowed a fly-by-night company in the back of a driving academy to export sufficient drugs to take many lives. The manner in which dangerous pharmaceuticals have been shuffled around without any controls points to a far deeper problem.
“Dream Pharma has sadly chosen a rather inappropriate name, unless it refers to Hamlet: ‘for in that sleep of death what dreams may come?’
“Our purpose is not to persecute Dream Pharma, but to ensure that they help us repair the damage that they have caused. This they resolutely refuse to do. Dream Pharma asserts that selling these drugs was no different from selling a hammer in a hardware shop. The analogy is apposite only if we include one fact: the customer told the salesman that he planned to bludgeon someone to death with it outside the store.
“Dream Pharma’s tentative assertion to the media that they did not know the drugs were to be used for executions is simply false. The three drugs they sold to the Arizona State Prison are the three drugs used for lethal injection, and the emails back and forth make it clear that they knew precisely what they were doing. Indeed, Mr Alavi made it clear to Reprieve that he favoured capital punishment. Sadly, the profit was blood money, pure and simple.
“Vince Cable has been sitting on his hands on this issue. If he is really against the death penalty, his office needs to read urgent requests for help in less than the two weeks it took here, and then act with urgency.”

Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.
Reprieve’s current casework involves representing prisoners in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, working on behalf of prisoners facing the death penalty, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’
Reprieve
PO Box 52742
London EC4P 4WS
Tel: 020 7353 4640
Fax: 020 7353 4641
Email: info@reprieve.org.uk
Website: www.reprieve.org.uk
Reprieve is a charitable company limited by guarantee; Registered Charity No. 1114900 Registered Company No. 5777831 (England) Registered Office 2-6 Cannon Street London EC4M 6YH; Patrons: Alan Bennett, Julie Christie, Martha Lane Fox, Gordon Roddick, Jon Snow, Marina Warner

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Sunday, January 02, 2011

Houston Chronicle Endorses Abolishing Texas Death Penalty

The Houston Chronicle has endorsed abolishing the death penalty in a January 1, 2011 editorial, joining other Texas newspapers such as the Dallas Morning News and Austin American-Statesman in advocating for an end to the death penalty in Texas.

From the Houston Chronicle:

The death penalty in Texas is fraught with demonstrable error, and the people of the state seem more willing to deal with that fact than their leaders.
Events of the past year have convinced us that defendants have been executed on the basis of invalid evidence. They may or may not have been guilty, but the fact that we have convicted people based on faulty evidence leads inexorably to a horrible likelihood — that we have executed innocent people. The high number of death row prisoners eventually exonerated makes a strong case that other innocent but less fortunate prisoners have been wrongfully put to death.
We don't lose sleep over the execution of guilty murderers. But the possible or probable execution of the innocent should trouble every Texan.
The freeing of Anthony Graves after 18 years in prison, many on death row, for a false murder conviction is only the most recent example of how badly the system is broken. His ordeal underlines how long the victims of wrongful death sentences must suffer in the cases where the errors are discovered before execution.
Two men, Cameron Todd Willingham, convicted of murder by arson, and Claude Jones, convicted of murder during a robbery, were executed on the basis of evidence later shown to be questionable or false.
We are heartened by figures showing that Texas and Harris County juries are sending fewer defendants to death row. Once known as the death penalty capital of the United States, Harris County has relinquished that grim title in recent years. If Texas were a nation, it would have been among the top state executioners in the world in past decades, in the company of judicial pariahs like China and Iran.
Since executions resumed in 1976, 464 have been carried out in Huntsville. Texas still led the nation in 2010 with 17 executions, more than twice the number of runner-up Ohio. This past year juries in Texas sentenced only eight people to die, while Harris County has had only two capital punishment sentences handed down.
Legal experts attribute the drop in death judgments to the availability of a life-without-parole statute passed by the Texas Legislature in 2005, and to the escalating costs to counties of the appeals process involving capital sentences. The exoneration of 11 Texas death row residents has undoubtedly made the public - and potential jury pools - more aware of the possibility that a death sentence could be an irreversible mistake.
Still, even as Texas juries show increased restraint in utilizing capital punishment, Texas elected officials - including most jurists - seem equally determined not to examine its flaws. When District Judge Kevin Fine attempted to conduct a hearing on the constitutionality of the death penalty as practiced in Texas, Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos first ordered her prosecutors to stand mute in court and then successfully appealed to theTexas Court of Criminal Appeals to halt the hearing. More than 60 people, including former Texas Gov. Mark White, have filed a brief with the high court in support of allowing the death penalty hearing to go forward.
When the state Forensic Science Commission attempted to investigate whether Willingham was executed for the murder of his three children based on faulty arson evidence, Gov. Rick Perry replaced the commission chairman and several board members. A protracted and inconclusive investigation followed. An attempt by an Austin judge to conduct a hearing on the Willingham case has also been stymied by an appeals judge, who ruled that the jurist should have recused himself.
The accumulating evidence indicates that the current application of the death penalty in Texas involves an unacceptably high risk of killing innocent people. Yet even as the evidence of false convictions and wrongful executions piles up, only the participants at the base of the Texas criminal justice system, jury members, seem to be waking up to the reality of this evil.
Some opponents have called for a moratorium on executions in Texas until new, unspecified safeguards are in place to protect the innocent. Yet it's difficult to imagine a fail-safe route to execution.
Besides, we already have the ultimate safeguard on the books: the sentence of life without parole. Spending the rest of one's days in prison is as terrifying a deterrent to most people as quick execution. By ending state-sanctioned killing, in the future when a jury makes a mistake, resurrection won't be required to remedy it.

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