In this edition:
Commentary: 39 years since Gregg v. Georgia
Scheduled executions: State of Texas prepared to carry out 10th execution of the year
Recent death penalty developments: New death sentences continue to decline in Texas
In case you missed it: TCADP seeks a North Texas Outreach Coordinator; prosecutor responsible for Anthony Graves’ wrongful conviction disbarred
New resources: TCADP’s updated interactive map of the death penalty by county; “Faces of Death Row” from the Texas Tribune; “The Last 40 Miles” now available online
Upcoming events: Film screenings in Austin (tonight!) and El Paso
Commentary: 39 years since Gregg v. Georgia
On this day in 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court found that new laws crafted by several states (including Texas) “promised” to make the death penalty process fairer and less arbitrary. The Court’s decision in Gregg vs. Georgia declared the death penalty constitutional and paved the way for the resumption of executions less than a year later.
Just four years earlier, the Court overturned all existing death penalty laws in the case of Furman vs. Georgia (June 29, 1972), ruling that the administration of the death penalty was arbitrary, capricious, and discriminatory. At the time, Justice Potter Stewart said death sentences were as cruel and unusual as being “struck by lightning.”
These historic decisions are particularly noteworthy in light of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling earlier this week in Glossip v. Gross, in which the majority found that Oklahoma’s use of the drug midazolam in its lethal injection protocol does not violate the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.
This ruling is at odds with recent momentum towards abolition of the death penalty. People across the political spectrum increasingly agree that the death penalty is broken beyond repair, regardless of how we carry out executions or what drugs are used.
In his dissent in Glossip, Justice Breyer, joined by Justice Ginsburg, notes that race, gender, and geography often impact the application of the death penalty, rather than the circumstances of the crime itself. This certainly has been the case in Texas, where just five counties account for 60% of new death sentences imposed over the last five years.
Justice Breyer goes on to write that America’s experience with capital punishment over the past 40 years and his 20 years on the Court have led him to believe “that the death penalty, in and of itself, now likely constitutes a legally prohibited ‘cruel and unusual punishmen[t].’” Read more from Politico.
Read the Court’s opinion, including the dissents, here.
We know that the death penalty is as arbitrary and discriminatory today as it was in 1972, and the promise of fairness that allowed for its return in 1976 has not been fulfilled. Thank you for standing with us as we continue to expose the flaws and failures of this broken, irreversible and unjust system.
The State of Texas is scheduled to carry out one execution this month:
- Clifton Williams has spent the last nine years on death row and is scheduled for execution on July 16, 2015. He was convicted of murdering 93-year-old Cecelia Schneider from Tyler in her home and stealing her purse and vehicle in 2005. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal in April 2015.
Texas accounts for 9 of the 17 executions that have occurred nationwide to date this year. At least five more people are scheduled to be executed by the end of October.
Recent death penalty developments
It has now been more than six months since jurors in Texas imposed a new death sentence. The last person sentenced to death was Eric Williams, on December 17, 2014. This is the first time in at least 20 years that the state has gone more than six months without a new death sentence. And, according to Kathryn Kase at Texas Defender Service, it’s also the longest we’ve gone in a calendar year without a new death sentence. Overall, new death sentences in Texas have declined nearly 80% since 1999. Read more from the Texas Tribune, “A Shrinking Death Row.”
Take action! Help us spread the word about the fact that no one has been sentenced to death in Texas to date this year and prosecutors and jurors are accepting alternatives to the death penalty. Submit a letter to the editor of your local newspaper with your thoughts about what this means for the future of the death penalty in Texas or the arbitrariness of its application. Please contact Kristin or Vanessa with questions on how to submit a letter.
In case you missed it
TCADP seeks North Texas Outreach Coordinator
TCADP seek a motivated and experienced individual to implement a campaign to reduce use of the death penalty in Dallas and Tarrant Counties. The North Texas Outreach Coordinator, a new part-time position based in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, will identify and engage community leaders, as well as reach out to key constituencies, decision makers, and organizational allies. Apply by August 17, 2015.
Former District Attorney disbarred
On June 12, 2015, Charles Sebesta, a 25-year practicing District Attorney of Burleson and Washington Counties, was disbarred by the State Bar of Texas after being found guilty of “professional misconduct.” Sebesta was the prosecutor behind the wrongful conviction of Anthony Graves. During Graves’ trial, he withheld critical information from the defense and allowed witnesses to give false testimony. In response to Sebesta’s disbarment, Graves said, “I have waited 20-plus years for complete justice and freedom. … No one who makes it a goal to send a man to death row without evidence — and worse, while hiding evidence of my innocence — deserves to be a lawyer in Texas.”
Anthony Graves was also recently appointed to the Houston Forensic Science Center’s Board of Directors. “Because I was wrongfully convicted, and I know how the system failed, this appointment allows me to bring a fresh perspective to the board, because I can tell you about the pitfalls,” he said.
“The Last 40 Miles” now streaming
“The Last 40 Miles” is now available online! This animated short film presents an inmate’s last journey from Livingston to Huntsville and his interactions with a compassionate guard along the way. Journalist and 2015 TCADP Media Awardwinner Alex Hannaford created “The Last 40 Miles” alongside a talented group of filmmakers. Utilizing several groundbreaking animation techniques, the award-winning film forces viewers to confront the death penalty from a unique perspective. You can rent the film for $3 for a 48-hour streaming period by downloading it on Vimeo.
Alex also recently completed a four-part series for the Texas Observer, “Letters from Death Row.“ Read the entire series.
Interactive tools provide in-depth look at the death penalty
The Texas Tribune recently released “Faces of Death Row,” an interactive list of individuals currently on death row in Texas. The list can be manipulated by years on death row, race, age, and gender. Each inmate’s conviction date, summary of crime, and county of crime are provided. The Tribunewill continue to update the list as needed.
TCADP has just updated and published its interactive map presenting the application of the death penalty by county from 1976 to date in 2015. The map includes the number of death sentences and executions for every county in Texas.
Austin: As part of the Controversy and Conversation: Difficult Dialogues Film Series, “At the Death House Door” will be screened at the Terrazas Branch of the Austin Public Library (1105 East Cesar Chavez Street, Austin, TX 78702) on Thursday, July 2nd at 7:00 PM. TCADP Board Vice President Mike Renquist will take part in a Q & A session following the film.
“At the Death House Door” is told through the eyes of Rev. Carroll Pickett, who served 15 years as the Texas death house chaplain in Huntsville. During Rev. Pickett’s remarkable career and personal journey, he witnessed over 95 executions, including the nation’s first lethal injection. After each execution, he recorded an audiotape account of his trip to the death chamber.
El Paso: There will be a screening of the film series “One For Ten” on Sunday, July 12th at 3:00 PM, at the Mother Teresa Center (2400 Yandell). A team of four traveled across the United States and interviewed ten individuals who have been freed from death row. Each of the films profiles a major issue in wrongful convictions highlighted through an individual case. This event is co-sponsored by Pax Christi El Paso and the Peace and Justice Ministry of the Diocese of El Paso.
Houston: TCADP Board President Angelle Adams will be speaking with the Houston Church of Free Thought on Sunday, July 12th at 10:30 AM. The meeting will take place at Hotel Indigo (5160 Hidalgo St, Houston, TX 77056). All are welcome.
Thank you for your commitment to ending the death penalty in Texas!