TCADP June 2017 Alert: Death penalty on the decline

In this edition:
Scheduled executions and case updates: No executions will take place in Texas this month; Two individuals removed from death row
In case you missed it: Willingham prosecutor cleared of misconduct; Texas’ Third Court of Appeals ruled lethal injection providers should be known; Ralph Daniel Wright, Jr. becomes nation’s 159th exoneree; smaller counties make use of “murder insurance”
Legislative update: Regular session of the 85th Texas Legislature concludes
Calling all Catholics: National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty
Seizing the Momentum: Spring 2017 issue available now!
Featured event: San Antonio Chapter meeting
Support TCADP while you shop this summer: Bookmark AmazonSmile


Quote of the month
“Questions of life and death aren’t a game…[n]or should executions be treated like a political pawn. The CCA and the entire state of Texas need to address the death penalty with a new and serious skepticism.”

Houston Chronicle Editorial, “Deadly Games,” May 11, 2017


Scheduled executions
There are no executions scheduled to take place in Texas in June. The May 16 execution of Tilon Carter was stayed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, while the May 24 execution date for Juan Castillo was moved to September 7.

To date in 2017, the State of Texas has executed four people.  There have been 12 executions nationwide, including four in Arkansas in April. Two people have been sentenced to death in Texas thus far in 2017. There are four individuals scheduled for execution in Texas through September.

Case updates
Two men have been removed from death row in Texas in recent weeks based on evidence of their intellectual disabilities: Pedro Sosa and Robert Campbell. Respectively, Sosa and Campbell spent 32 and 25 years on death row. Learn more about their cases in our recent blog.


In case you missed it
Willingham prosecutor cleared of misconduct
On May 10, a Navarro County jury cleared former state prosecutor John Jackson of any misconduct in the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was wrongfully executed in 2004. The State Bar of Texas claimed Jackson “made false statements, concealed evidence favorable to Willingham’s defense and obstructed justice.” Much of the state’s case focused on the testimony of Johnny Webb, the jailhouse informant who was promised favorable treatment and later recanted his testimony against Willingham.

Texas 3rd Court of Appeals ruled lethal injection providers should be known
On May 25, the Texas 3rd Court of Appeals ruled that the public has a right to know who supplies the state’s execution drugs. Due to the state’s strict secrecy laws, however, the ruling might not have much effect. According to Maurie Levin, an attorney challenging the state, “it’s a significant opinion because it affirms that the reasons (the state) used to withhold the information were not appropriate.”

Ralph Daniel Wright, Jr. become nation’s 159th exoneree
On May 11, the Florida Supreme Court unanimously voted to vacate Ralph Daniel Wright, Jr.’s death sentence, making him the 159th person exonerated from death row in the United States. Wright was sentenced to death in 2014 for allegedly murdering his ex-girlfriend and son, based on purely circumstantial evidence. He is the 27th person exonerated from Florida’s death row.

Smaller counties make use of “murder insurance”
Recently, the San Antonio-Express News published the article, “’Murder insurance’ offers Texas counties a way to pay huge expense of death penalty trials,” which provides an in-depth look at the Regional Public Defender Office (RPDO). The RPDO is a “quasi-public organization” that 178 counties have opted into to defer the stifling costs of capital murder cases. Counties with a population under 300,000 can pay an annual premium to insure access to “experienced, well-paid defense lawyers.” The article outlines what can happen to smaller counties without this “murder insurance.”


Legislative update
The Regular Session of the 85th Texas Legislature concluded on Monday, May 29.  We’ll know by the end of this week whether Governor Abbott will call lawmakers back for a special session, which would focus only on specifically designated issues.  While death penalty repeal legislation did not move forward this year, we note these positive outcomes from the session:

  • Three bills that would have expanded Texas’ capital murder statute – making more crimes eligible for the death penalty – were never heard in committee
  • State Representative Donna Howard (District 48-Austin) joined HB 1537 as a co-author for the first time
  • Legislators passed House Bill 34, a comprehensive bipartisan bill aimed at preventing wrongful convictions.  It addresses such measures as the use of informant testimony, electronic recording of interrogations, and eyewitness identification protocols.  The bill is based on the recommendations of theTimothy Cole Exoneration Review Commission, which was created by the legislature in 2015.

Thanks again to the TCADP Lobby Corps and everyone who contacted lawmakers to express opposition to the death penalty. Over the coming months, we will provide ideas on how you can continue to engage with elected officials between now and the 2019 legislative session.


Calling all Catholics: National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty
Our colleagues at the Catholic Mobilizing Network have put together a pledge for Catholics to educate, advocate, and pray for the end of the death penalty. To learn more and sign the pledge, please visit https://catholicsmobilizing.org/action/pledge.


Seizing the Momentum, Summer 2017 Issue
The Spring 2017 issue of our quarterly newsletter, Seizing the Momentum, is now available. This issue includes updates on four Texas death penalty cases at the U.S. Supreme Court and TCADP’s efforts at the 85th Texas Legislature. You’ll also find a book review for Grace and Justice on Death Row: The Race Against Time and Texas to Free an Innocent Man by Brian Stolarz, who served as the keynote speaker at the TCADP 2017 Annual Conference, as well as meet our new board members and intern.  We pay tribute to four TCADP members who passed away in recent months.


Featured Event
June 14: TCADP Executive Director Kristin Houlé will join the San Antonio Chapter’s monthly meeting from 6:30PM to 7:30PM at Travis Park United Methodist Church (230 E Travis St, San Antonio, TX 78205). We’ll discuss ideas for public education events, including DreamWeek San Antonio, and other chapter activities. Contact Chris Hockman at sanantonio@tcadp.org for details.


Support TCADP while you shop on AmazonSmile
Graduations. Father’s Day. Weddings. If you’re shopping online this summer, please consider using AmazonSmile to support TCADP. By selecting TCADP as your non-profit, part of your purchase will support our efforts. Bookmark this link and support us every time you shop. Thank you!