Archive | June, 2011

10 June 2011 ~ 6 Comments

More on Humberto Leal, Violation of Vienna Convention

The Huffington Post features a blog from Sandra Babcock, the attorney for Texas death row inmate Humberto Leal (“Texas Execution Could Risk Americans’ Safety Abroad,”  June 9, 2011).  Leal faces a July 7 execution date, in spite of the fact that he was denied the right to contact the Mexican consul upon his arrest –  a right afforded to him by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.  In her post, Babcock writes:

Without the assistance of the Mexican consulate, Humberto Leal
received disgracefully inadequate legal representation. One of his trial attorneys has been reprimanded or suspended from the practice of law on multiple occasions as a result of ethical violations. Mr. Leal was convicted on the basis of junk ‘bite mark’ science, since discredited by the National Academy of Sciences, and patently unreliable forensic evidence. Although the prosecution’s case was reed thin, his defense failed to effectively challenge any of this evidence. During his sentencing hearing, which lasted only a single day, Mr. Leal’s attorneys failed to present any of the profoundly mitigating evidence that later came to light with the assistance of the Mexican government.

Read the full post.

Please take action today!  Sign a petition in support of clemency for Humberto Leal:
http://www.thepetitionsite.com/2/save-humberto-leal/

Learn more about his case at www.humbertoleal.org.

More about his clemency appeal at http://tcadp.org/get-involved/stop-executions/

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09 June 2011 ~ Comments Off

Houston Chronicle Editorial on Milton Mathis

Today’s Houston Chronicle includes an editorial on the case of Milton Mathis, who is scheduled to be executed by the State of Texas on June 21, despite overwhelming evidence of his mental retardation (“Let’s avoid a travesty: Court must act swiftly before Texas executes a mentally retarded individual,” June 9, 2011).

As the Chronicle notes, “because of an unfortunate convergence of Texas procedure and federal judicial error, coupled with a state court that gave short shrift to his mental retardation claims, Mathis is close to losing his life. …”, even though the U.S. Supreme Court prohibited the death penalty for persons with mental retardation back in 2002 (Atkins v. Virginia).

Mathis’s attorneys have asked the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to allow a review of the federal merits of his claim of mental retardation, and to stay the execution to allow considerations to proceed deliberately. They delivered a clemency petition to the office of Governor Rick Perry last week.

Mathis was convicted of the 1998 murders of Travis Brown and Daniel Hibbard in Fort Bend County.  He was 19 years old at the time of the crime.

Read the Chronicle’s editorial.

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07 June 2011 ~ Comments Off

Diplomats, Military Leaders, and Law Enforcement Urge Clemency for Humberto Leal

Today, attorneys for Humberto Leal Garcia filed a clemency petition with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Rick Perry, requesting a stay of his July 7 execution date. The petition states that Mr. Leal would not have been convicted and sentenced to death if the United States had complied with treaty obligations to notify the Mexican consulate after his 1994 arrest for capital murder.

This case has national and international implications and is receiving support from former U.S. diplomats, retired military leaders, former judges and prosecutors, and the leading organizations that represent Americans abroad.  These individuals issued a press release today calling for clemency for Leal and a stay of his execution pending legislation that will be introduced soon in Congress.  Read the full text of the release below.

Please visit www.humbertoleal.org to access the clemency petition, letters of support, and case background.

Sign a petition in support of clemency at:
http://www.thepetitionsite.com/2/save-humberto-leal/

Read more about this case in the San Antonio Current and TIME Magazine.

Press Release
For Immediate Release: June 7, 2011
Contact: Laura Burstein at
202-626-6868 (o); 202-669-3411 (c) or lburstein@ssd.com
Clemency Petition, Letters of Support and Case Background are at: www.HumbertoLeal.org

Former U.S. Diplomats, Retired Military Leaders, Judges, Prosecutors, & Americans Abroad Urge TX Governor to Grant Clemency to Humberto Leal


Clemency Petition Filed Today: Denial of Consular Rights Led to Death Sentence in Case of Mexican National

(Austin, TX; June 7, 2011) Attorneys for Humberto Leal Garcia today filed a clemency petition with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Rick Perry, requesting a stay of his July 7 execution date. The petition states that Mr. Leal would not have been convicted and sentenced to death if the United States had complied with treaty obligations to notify the Mexican consulate after his 1994 arrest for capital murder.

Congress is poised to introduce legislation to remedy the violation of Mr. Leal’s rights under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, which allows individuals facing prosecution in a foreign country to have early and ongoing contact with their consular representatives.

Prominent bipartisan groups, including former U.S. diplomats, retired military leaders, former judges and prosecutors, and organizations representing Americans abroad, have come forward to urge the Texas Governor and Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant a stay of execution to allow time for Congress to remedy the violations in Mr. Leal’s case. In their letters, these diverse groups express concern that if Mr. Leal is executed despite the Vienna Convention violations, other nations will be emboldened to violate the consular rights of U.S. citizens arrested in foreign countries.

“For Texas to proceed with [Leal’s] execution prior to full compliance with these treaty obligations would endanger the interests of American citizens and the United States around the world,” states John B. Bellinger, III, former Legal Advisor for the Department of State during the second term of the Bush Administration, in a letter signed by a group of former ambassadors and State Department officials that was delivered to Governor Perry today.

“Improving U.S. enforcement of its consular notification and access legal obligations will help protect American citizens detained abroad, including U.S. military personnel and their families stationed overseas,” write retired military leaders supporting clemency for Mr. Leal, including Brigadier General James P. Cullen, Colonel Lawrence B. Wilkerson, and Rear Admiral Don Guter. “We urge you to support those who are serving our country overseas by granting a reprieve in this case while Congress acts to meet our international responsibilities.”

In 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) held that Mr. Leal must have a hearing to determine if he was harmed by the United States’ violation of the Vienna Convention. The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously agreed that the United States is obligated to comply with the ICJ decision, but that Congress must act to implement the Court’s decision. Both the Bush and Obama administrations have sought to enforce the decision, and in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision the Government has supported federal legislation to provide hearings for Mr. Leal and other Mexican nationals denied their consular rights.

“If Mr. Leal had been provided consular assistance, he would not have been convicted, let alone sentenced to death. With consular access, Mr. Leal would have had competent lawyers and expert assistance that would have transformed the quality of his defense,” said Sandra L. Babcock, Clinical Professor of Law at Northwestern University School of Law and attorney for Mr. Leal.

Mexican consulates have a history of monitoring capital trial proceedings and securing competent lawyers for their citizens facing the death penalty in the U.S. If the government of Mexico had been informed of Mr. Leal’s arrest, he would have been provided with highly qualified and experienced legal counsel, as well as funding for necessary experts and investigators.

The court-appointed lawyers Mr. Leal received were inexperienced and ineffective. One of them was suspended from the practice of law twice for failing to adequately represent clients and publicly reprimanded on two other occasions.

The state’s case relied on antiquated and flawed DNA testing. Modern DNA testing may show that Mr. Leal is innocent of the crime. Yet, the state is refusing to allow the testing to proceed. A case is pending in federal court to compel Texas to release evidence so that it may be subjected to new DNA testing.

In addition, the state relied on “bite mark” evidence that is now universally recognized as inconclusive junk science. A recent scientific study revealed a 63% false positive rate when attempting to use bite mark evidence to establish identity. Indeed, several men have recently been exonerated after so-called “bite mark experts” linked them to the crime. Mr. Leal’s lawyers failed to challenge both the bite mark and faulty DNA evidence.

Moreover, Mr. Leal’s lawyers failed to present powerful mitigating evidence at the sentencing phase of trial. As a result, the jury that sentenced Mr. Leal to death did so without the opportunity to hear about his struggle to overcome learning disabilities and brain damage. Nor did they learn that between the ages of ten and eleven, Humberto was subjected to terrifying acts of sexual abuse by his parish priest, abuse that caused severe and lasting psychological damage.

This and other significant mitigating evidence came to light only after the Mexican consulate got involved in his case.

###

To speak with Mr. Leal’s attorney, Professor Sandra L. Babcock, or one of the prominent supporters, please contact Laura Burstein at (202) 626-6868 or lburstein@ssd.com. Please visit www.HumbertoLeal.org to access the clemency petition, letters of support, and additional documents and information.



 

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02 June 2011 ~ Comments Off

June Alert: Executions, News and Events

In this alert:
Scheduled Executions
News and Events
Calendar

Scheduled Executions

Four individuals are scheduled to be executed by the State of Texas this month:
 
June 1: Gayland Bradford
June 15: John Balentine
June 16: Lee Taylor
June 21: Milton Mathis

Read more about these cases and attend a vigil in your area.   Please check tcadp.org for updates.

News and Events

Texas 82nd Regular Legislative Session Ends with Mixed Results
Thank you for contacting your State Representatives and Senators during the 82nd Texas Regular Legislative Session, which concluded on May 30, 2011 (a special session has been called to address several key pieces of legislation, though none related to criminal justice).  This year, TCADP members generated an unprecedented number of calls and emails to legislators to express their opposition to the death penalty. Your grassroots advocacy plays a critical role in our efforts to shift the political climate on this issue!

On the positive side, the legislature passed several important criminal justice reform measures and improved the process for individuals who have been wrongfully convicted to obtain compensation. On the disappointing side, Senate Bill 377, which expands the scope of the death penalty, passed on one of the last days of the session. Read more about legislative progress and missteps regarding the administration of justice in Texas
 
Join TCADP at a Sine Die Party, Thursday, June 2 – 5:00-8:00pm, Scholz Garden, Austin

Bexar County Death Penalty Activist Training

We have a great opportunity coming up!  Natasha Minsker from the Northern California ACLU, who runs their county level organizing campaigns, has agreed to come to Texas to co-facilitate a community activist training for the Bexar County Campaign.

WHEN: Saturday, June 11th from 10am-2pm (FREE LUNCH!)
WHERE: San Antonio (location to be announced)
WHO: This training is open to everyone, whether you are a seasoned death penalty activist or new to the movement.
WHY: Bexar County has the third highest death sentencing rate in all of Texas. We believe this doesn’t reflect our values as a community, and it is bad public policy wasting tax payer dollars. Come learn about TCADP’s Bexar County Campaign and learn how you can get involved!
WHAT: Strategy session, guest speaker and workshops on messaging, outreach, and more!
 
EL Paso Chapter Summer Film Festival
EPADP will show a series of death penalty-themed movies for our monthly meetings in June, July and August. This will be a great time to come and watch a film with family and friends in air conditioning, and have some popcorn too! The schedule of films to be shown is below. Location for the films is the Juan Diego Room in the Ministry Center of St Pius X Catholic Church, 1050 N Clark St. Doors open at 6:00 p.m. and films start at 6:10 p.m.  Events will last no later than 7:45 p.m.
  • Monday, June 20th – Juan Melendez: 6446, a documentary about Juan’s wrongful conviction and 17+ years on death row. It will be followed by a question and answer session with Juan Melendez himself!
  • Monday, July 18th – At the Death House Door, a documentary that looks at the death penalty in the state of Texas through the eyes of Reverend Carroll Pickett. He served 15 years as the death house chaplain to the infamous “Walls” prison unit in Huntsville. Eventually, he became opposed to the death penalty, which started with the troubling case of Carlos De Luna, a man Reverend Pickett thought was innocent.
  • Monday, August 15th – Inside Death Row, a National Geographic documentary about life on death row from the perspectives of the death row inmates, prison staff, families, last meal chef, attorneys and others.
Also, we hope to show a documentary at a large venue in El Paso sometime this summer. Our goal is to share our death penalty repeal message with a wider audience, and hopefully recruit more new members. We’ll let you know if we are able to make that happen. Stay tuned because we will need volunteers to assist with this event.  Contact Karen at elpaso@tcadp.org for more information.

Seeking Religious Voices on the Death Penalty in Texas

TCADP’s interfaith clergy sign-on letter is now available to be completed online. The page includes an online form and a link to the print document – http://tcadp.org/interfaith-sign-on-letter/

To actively support TCADP’s Religious Outreach efforts, please be in touch with Vicki at info@tcadp.org.
 
Violent Crime Rate Drops Nationwide
 
According to new data from the FBI (and reported in the New York Times), “the number of violent crimes in the United States dropped significantly last year, to what appeared to be the lowest rate in nearly 40 years, a development that was considered puzzling partly because it ran counter to the prevailing expectation that crime would increase during a recession” (“Steady Decline in Major Crime Baffles Experts,” May 24, 2011) Read more from the Times.
 
Hot Fun in the Summer Time
 
TCADP is seeking opportunities to have information tables at summer events to further our goal of educating the public on the death penalty and recruiting new members. If you know of a festival, street fair, civic event or similar happening, please contact Vicki at info@tcadp.org or 512-441-1808.

TCADP is on Facebook

“Like TCADP” on Facebook today and receive daily status updates on breaking news and events.  It is an easy way to stay in touch and up to date on what is happening across the state.

Share it with your friends to help grow our movement!

Calendar

June
1 Scheduled Execution – Gayland Bradford
2 Progressive Sine Die Party 5:00-8:00pm, Scholz Garden, Austin
4 EPADP – El Paso Chapter participates in NAMI Walk
9-10 Southwest Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, Corpus Christi*
11 PrideFest San Antonio*
11 Death Penalty Activist Trainining – San Antonio
15 Scheduled Execution – John Balentine
16 Scheduled Execution – Lee Taylor
16-18 Rio Grande Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, San Antonio*
20 El Paso Film Showing – Juan Melendez: 6446
21 Scheduled Execution – Milton Mathis
25 Houston Pride Festival*
28-July 2: Starvin’ for Justice, the annual Fast and Vigil to Abolition the Death Penalty at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, DC. See http://www.abolition.org/fastandvigil/index.html for details
 
To see the TCADP calendar, go to http://tcadp.org/get-involved/calendar/.

*Please contact info@tcadp.org if you would like to help with these tabling opportunities.

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01 June 2011 ~ 1 Comment

Texas 82nd Regular Legislative Session Ends, with Mixed Results

Thank you for contacting your State Representatives and Senators during the 82nd Texas Regular Legislative Session, which concluded on May 30, 2011.   It is clear from our conversations with dozens of legislative offices that TCADP members generated an unprecedented number of calls and emails this year to express their opposition to the death penalty.  Your grassroots advocacy plays a critical role in our efforts to shift the political climate on this issue!

From our perspective, the legislature took a few steps forward and (at least) one step back regarding the administration of justice in Texas.

On the positive side:

  • The House and Senate unanimously approved House Bill 215, which requires police departments to adopt written guidelines for how they conduct eyewitness identification procedures.  Mistaken eyewitness identification is the leading cause of wrongful conviction nationwide and was a factor in 38 of the 45 Texas exonerations based on DNA testing.  The bill heads to Governor Perry, who has indicated that he will sign it.
  • The legislature also approved House Bill 417, relating to claims for compensation for wrongful conviction.  Among other provisions, the bill stipulates that “a person is entitled to compensation if… the district court’s dismissal order is based on a motion to dismiss in which the state’s attorney states that no credible evidence exists that inculpates the defendant and, either in the motion or in an affidavit, the state’s attorney states that the state’s attorney believes that the defendant is actually innocent of the crime for which the person was sentenced.”  This provision addresses the case of Anthony Graves, who was denied compensation by the State Comptroller’s Office because the order releasing him did not contain the words “actual innocence.”  The bill also provides exonorees with access to health insurance through the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
  • Senate Bill 122 provides greater access to post-conviction DNA testing in cases where the evidence was not previously subjected to DNA testing or could benefit from newer testing techniques. Both SB 122 and HB 215 were recommendations from the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions.

On the disappointing side:

  • On Saturday, May 28, 2011, after some wrangling between the Senate and House of Representatives, Senate Bill 377 passed in its original form by a vote of 132 to 14 in the House, with 2 present not voting.   This bill expands the scope of the death penalty by making the murder of a child who is less than 10 years of age a capital offense.  The 14 Representatives who voted against it are: Burnam; Dutton; Farrar; Gonzalez; Gutierrez; Howard, D.; Johnson; Marquez; Miles; Muñoz; Naishtat; Oliveira; Rodriguez; and Veasey.  The bill has been sent to the Governor for his signature.

If you live in the district of one of the Representatives who voted NO on SB 377, please take a moment to call or email your legislator to thank him/her for taking a stand against this needless expansion of the death penalty.  Go to http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/Home.aspx to determine contact information for your legislator or send an email to firstname.lastname@house.state.tx.us (example: jane.doe@house.state.tx.us).

  • The legislature did not take action on the vast majority of bills related to the death penalty; it also left several other important criminal justice reforms pending.

If you have questions about other death penalty-related bills or the voting record of your legislators, please contact Kristin at khoule@tcadp.org or 512-441-1808.  Thanks again for responding to our calls for action during the session and, particularly, for your support for HB 819, a bill to repeal the death penalty in Texas.

 

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01 June 2011 ~ Comments Off

Four Texas Executions Scheduled for June

Four individuals are scheduled to be executed by the State of Texas this month.

  • Tonight, June 1, Gayland Bradford is scheduled to be executed.  Last October, he received a temporary stay from the U.S. Supreme Court.  Granted by Justice Antonin Scalia on October 8, 2010, the stay sought to give Bradford’s attorneys time to file a full appeal.  His attorneys contend that he is mentally deficient and that he received inadequate legal representation in some of his earlier appeals.  Bradford was convicted of the 1988 murder of Brian Edward Williams in Dallas.
  • On June 15, John Balentine faces execution for the 1998 killing of three teenagers in Amarillo. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit granted him a stay on September 29, 2009, the day before he was to be executed. The Court stayed the execution to determine if lower courts had properly resolved Balentine’s appeals.   He confessed after being arrested in Houston six months after the murders.  During his appeal, Balentine’s attorneys argued that his court-appointed trial lawyers were unqualified or deficient in their representation and had failed to develop mitigating evidence to show Balentine’s childhood of poverty, domestic violence, and abuse.  On November 2, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal.
  • Lee Taylor faces execution on June 16 for the 1999 murder of another offender in the Telford Unit.
  • On June 21, Milton Mathis is scheduled to be executed for the 1998 murders of Travis Brown and Daniel Hibbard in Fort Bend County.  He was 19 years old at the time of the crime.  His attorneys have provided evidence of his intellectual disabilities and argued that he meets the criteria as defined by the U.S. Supreme Court decision Atkins vs. Virginia (2002), which prohibited the death penalty for persons with mental retardation.  To date, the courts have denied his efforts to litigate his Atkins claim, ruling that his petition was time-barred.

The State of Texas has carried out three executions to date in 2011 (out of 19 nationwide).  Currently, six more executions are scheduled through September.

The execution of Cleve Foster may also be rescheduled.  Foster received a last-minute stay from the U.S. Supreme Court in April.   On May 31, 2011, the Court announced that it had lifted the stay and declined to hear arguments in the case.  Read more from the New York Times and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

 

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