Archive | capital punishment

30 April 2013 ~ Comments Off

Legislators hear from Anthony Graves, other witnesses in favor of death penalty repeal

Late last night, starting around 10:50 PM and lasting until after midnight, the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee considered testimony on House Bill 1703, the death penalty repeal bill by State Representative Jessica Farrar.  Representatives Alma Allen and Lon Burnam co-authored the bill.

Rep. Farrar addressed three major flaws of the death penalty: the risk of wrongful convictions; the cost of maintaining it; and the lack of a deterrent effect.

There was a lively discussion among legislators after the testimony of Anthony Graves, who spent 18 years in prison – including 12 years on death row – for a crime he did not commit.  After being questioned by one legislator about why the death penalty wasn’t appropriate for those who are guilty of committing heinous crimes, Anthony responded with his own question: “How do we as human beings decide that we are going to give up on each other?”

The committee also heard from murder victim family members, religious leaders, and organizational representatives, and from Keith Brooks, the son of Charlie Brooks, the first person executed in Texas by lethal injection in 1982).  TCADP Executive Director Kristin Houle testified on behalf of the organization, telling the committee that “the death penalty is no longer the status quo in Texas.”

In addition, the committee received written testimony in support of HB 1703 from Sam Millsap, the former District Attorney of Bexar County.

The bill has been left pending in committee.

You can find more quotes from witnesses and legislators’ responses on TCADP’s Twitter feed, @TCADPdotORG, and on Facebook.  Thanks to TCADP Program Coordinator Vicki McCuistion for capturing the spirit of the hearing!

Read an account of the hearing from the Associated Press, which provides additional insight into the committee members’ responses to witness testimony, and from Houston Public Radio.

You can also watch the video here (you will need RealPlayer).

lobby corps post-hearing on hb 1703

TCADP is deeply grateful to everyone who endured the long wait for the committee hearing to begin and for HB 1703 to be called, particularly all those who testified. A huge shout out also goes to the intrepid members of the TCADP Lobby Corps who attended the hearing and stayed with us until the very end, providing critical moral support.   Thank you!!

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17 April 2013 ~ Comments Off

Texas House Committee Considers Racial Justice Act

On April 16, 2013, the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee considered House Bill 2458, which seeks to prohibit the imposition of a death sentence or execution under any judgment that was sought or obtained on the basis of race.  TCADP Executive Director Kristin Houlé testified in support of the bill in front of the committee, as did Yannis Banks, Legislative Liaison for the Texas NAACP and Cindy Eigler, Policy Specialist for the Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy.  Former Texas Governor Mark White and Linda Geffin, one of the trial prosecutors in the 1997 Harris County case of Duane Buck, provided written testimony in support of the bill, as well.

Several groups registered support for the bill, including the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers’ Association, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, Texas Fair Defense Project, the ACLU of Texas, Texas Defender Service, and the Texas Catholic Conference.  HB 2458 was left pending in the committee.

Read coverage of the committee hearing by the Associated Press and the Texas Tribune.

Pasted below is a press release about the hearing from Mr. Buck’s legal team.

For Immediate Release: April 16, 2013
Contact: Laura Burstein, 202-626-6868 (o); 202-669-3411(c); Laura.Burstein@squiresanders.com

 

Former Governor, Former Prosecutor, Civil Rights Leaders, and Other Prominent Individuals Offer Testimony in Favor of Texas Racial Justice Act 

 

Testimony: Duane Buck’s Case, Whose Sentencing Hearing Was Poisoned With Racial Discrimination, Shows That Texas Needs The Racial Justice Act

 

(Austin, TexasApril 16, 2013) Several prominent Texans submitted testimony to the House of Representatives Criminal Jurisprudence Committee today in support of the Racial Justice Act, which seeks to prohibit the imposition of a death sentence or execution under any judgment that was sought or obtained on the basis of race.  The Harris County, Texas, death penalty case of Duane Buck was cited as a clear example of how racial discrimination corrupts Texas’ death penalty system. Mr. Buck, an African American man, was condemned to death in 1997 after his sentencing jury was told that he posed a future danger because he is Black.

 

The Criminal Jurisprudence Committee is hearing testimony today on House Bill 2458, Texas Racial Justice Act, sponsored by Representative Senfronia Thompson, who represents District 141, which includes part of Harris County.

Those offering testimony in favor of the Racial Justice Act include: Mark White, Texas Governor (1983-1987); Linda Geffin, former Harris County Assistant District Attorney who served as a prosecutor in Mr. Buck’s case; and Yannis Banks, Texas NAACP Legislative Liaison.

 

“The way we determine punishment in the United States is with a fair trial and sentencing. Duane Buck did not receive that. His case, and other cases, shows how racial discrimination can infect Texas’ courtrooms. We cannot condone any form of racial discrimination in our criminal justice system and we must act to end it,” said Governor White in testimony submitted to the Committee. Governor White and more than 100 civil rights leaders, clergy, elected officials, past ABA Presidents and former judges and prosecutors delivered a letter to Harris County District Attorney Mike Anderson urging a new, fair sentencing hearing for Mr. Buck.

 

At Mr. Buck’s capital sentencing hearing in 1997, the prosecutor elicited testimony from a psychologist that Mr. Buck posed a future danger to society because he is black. The prosecutor relied on this testimony in arguing in favor of a death sentence. The jury accepted the prosecutor’s argument, determined that Mr. Buck was a future danger, and sentenced him to death. Three years later, then-Texas Attorney General (now U.S. Senator) John Cornyn acknowledgedthat reliance on testimony connecting race to dangerousness was wholly unacceptable. Attorney General Cornyn promised that his office would seek new, fair sentencing hearings for six people, including Mr. Buck, whose cases were tainted by such testimony. The State kept its word in every case – except for Mr. Buck’s.

 

“I offer my support of this legislative effort, because I believe that Texas cannot, and should not, allow considerations of race to taint the criminal justice process, particularly where the ultimate punishment is at stake,” said former Harris County Assistant District Attorney Linda Geffin, one of Mr. Buck’s trial prosecutors, in her testimony. Ms. Geffin started an online petition in support of a new, fair sentencing hearing for Mr. Buck, which has garnered more than 30,000 signatures from concerned Texans and people across the country and grows each day.

 

New research by University of Maryland Professor Ray Paternoster shows that at the time of Mr. Buck’s trial, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office was three times more likely to seek the death penalty against African-American defendants like Mr. Buck and Harris County juries were twice as likely to sentence African-American defendants like Mr. Buck to death. This important new study was cited in Mr. Buck’s appeal, which is currently pending before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

 

“Mounting research evidence, particularly from Harris County, Texas, suggests that race has played a substantial role in decisions regarding whether a case advances to a death trial and whether a death sentence is imposed,” University of Texas Professor David Kirk stated in expert testimony submitted to the Committee that did not take a position for or against the Racial Justice Act. “Dr. Paternoster’s research conforms to highly rigorous standards for statistical analyses. His conclusion – that there is strong evidence of Black-White disparities in the advancement of cases to a death trial as well as the imposition of a death sentence – is the logical, and profoundly disturbing, conclusion to be drawn from the weight of the available data.”

 

“Duane Buck’s case shows that Texas desperately needs the Racial Justice Act. His sentencing hearing was poisoned with racial discrimination and he must be given a new, fair hearing. Until the government starts treating everyone fairly and equally, no one in Texas can have confidence in the criminal justice system,” said Yannis Banks, Texas NAACP Legislative Liaison, who plans to testify in front of the Committee.

 

Mr. Buck was convicted of capital murder in Harris County for the shooting deaths of Debra Gardner and Kenneth Butler. A third person, Phyllis Taylor, was shot but survived her wound. She has forgiven Mr. Buck and does not wish to see him executed.

 

Mr. Buck’s life was spared by the U.S. Supreme Court before his scheduled execution in September 2011. Although two U.S. Supreme Court justices agreed that Mr. Buck’s death sentence required review because “our criminal justice system should not tolerate” a death sentence “marred by racial overtones,” the case is now in the hands of Texas officials.

 

Mr. Buck’s exemplary behavior while in prison demonstrates the falsity of the racially biased future dangerousness evidence used in his case: In his fifteen years on death row he has not had a single disciplinary write-up.

 

For more information about Mr. Buck’s case, please go to: http://www.naacpldf.org/case-issue/duane-buck-sentenced-death-because-he-black

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To speak with Mr. Buck’s attorneys, prominent individuals testifying in favor of the Racial Justice Act, or other experts, please contact Laura Burstein at 202-626-6868 (o); 202-669-3411(c); or Laura.Burstein@squiresanders.com

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11 April 2013 ~ Comments Off

Amnesty International Releases Worldwide Death Penalty Stats for 2012

Amnesty International has released its annual report on death sentences and executions for 2012. Worldwide, 682 people were executed this past year, compared to 680 in 2011. Sentencing fell from 1,923 death sentences in 63 countries in 2011 to 1,722 in 58 countries in 2012. Amnesty International asserts that the global trend is towards abolition, and the U.S. figures certainly give such an assertion some validity. The United States is responsible for 43 executions, essentially the same as in 2011; however, only 9 states carried out executions compared to 13 in 2011. The number of new death sentences (77) was the second lowest since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976, and only occurred in 18 of 33 states retaining the death penalty. Notably, Connecticut became the 17th state to abolish the death penalty!

Amnesty International reveals some of the world’s worst offenders, and the statistics are quite shocking.  Iraq’s execution rate almost doubled in 2012, and Iran has the second-highest number of executions worldwide (at least 314). China is responsible for more executions than the rest of the world combined. China’s death penalty data is considered a state secret and therefore, Amnesty International cannot publish credible information on the matter. However, the number of executions is assumed to be in the thousands. Some countries still use hanging, stoning, and beheading as means of execution. Eight countries sentenced people after eliciting confessions under duress. Also, five countries resumed executions in 2012: Botswana, Gambia, India, Japan, and Pakistan.

On a positive note, Latvia has become the 97th country to abolish the death penalty for all crimes. Additionally, in 2012, only 21 countries carried out executions as opposed to 28 in 2003.

Two Texas men who were executed in 2012 are specifically mentioned in the report: Yokamon Hearn and Johnathan Green. Hearn was sentenced for a murder he committed when he was 19. He was also thought to have a developmental mental disability that amounted to “mental retardation”, but was executed nonetheless. Green was the 248th prisoner executed in Texas under the governorship of Rick Perry. Green suffered from schizophrenia and often had severe delusions and auditory and visual hallucinations.  When the state motioned to lift a stay of execution, neither the US Supreme Court nor Governor Rick Perry intervened.

Amnesty International’s Death Sentences and Executions 2012 is available online at: http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/ACT50/001/2013/en/bbfea0d6-39b2-4e5f-a1ad-885a8eb5c607/act500012013en.pdf

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22 February 2013 ~ Comments Off

Texas Carries Out Its First Execution of the Year; Maryland Committee Passes Repeal

Last night, February 21, 2013, the State of Texas executed Carl Blue for the 1994 murder of his ex-girlfriend, Carmen Richards-Sanders, in Bryan.  It was the first execution to take place in Texas this year and the third nationwide. The State of Georgia also carried out an execution last night, putting Andrew Allen Cook to death for the killing of two college students, Michele Lee Cartagena, 19, and Grant Patrick Hendrickson, in 1995.

According to the Bryan-College Station Eagle, Blue’s attorney argued that jurors never heard evidence about Blue’s birth and upbringing. Blue was born prematurely at home in a two-room shack shared by 22 people to a 13-year-old mother.  The impoverished family warmed him in an oven for a week before taking him to the emergency room.  Evidence about his low intellectual functioning and limitations in adaptive skills also were left out of the trial, according to the appeal.  Read more about Blue’s childhood in the Austin Chronicle.

Blue received a new sentencing hearing five years after his conviction in Brazos County when Senator John Cornyn, then-Attorney General of Texas, admitted that six defendants, including Blue, must have new sentencing hearings because of race-based testimony in their original hearings.  A former state prison psychologist, Dr. Walter Quijano testified that the defendants in those cases would be more dangerous in the future because of their race (black or Hispanic).  Blue  was sentenced to die at a second punishment hearing in 2001.

Extensive coverage of Blue’s case is available in the Bryan-College Station Eagle, including interviews with his children and with the children of Ms. Richards-Sanders.

As both Texas and Georgia prepared to carry out executions, the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings committee voted 6-5 to send Gov. Martin O’Malley’s death penalty bill to the Senate floor.   It was the first time in decades that this key committee has allowed the bill to proceed.  The full Senate is expected to vote on the bill next week.  Read more about this exciting development in the Baltimore Sun.

 

 

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12 December 2012 ~ Comments Off

TCADP Report: Use of Death Penalty Geographically Isolated, Arbitrarily Imposed in Texas

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, December 12, 2012

CONTACT: Kristin Houlé, Executive Director
512-441-1808 (office); 512-552-5948 (cell)
khoule@tcadp.org

Use of Death Penalty Geographically Isolated, Arbitrarily Imposed in Texas,
According to New Report by TCADP

Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex led state in pursuit of the death penalty in 2012

(Austin, Texas) — More than half of all new death sentences were imposed in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex this year, while no new death sentences were imposed in Harris County for the third time in five years, according to the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty’s (TCADP) new report, Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2012: The Year in Review.

New death sentences in Texas have declined more than 75% since 2002 and remain near historic low levels in 2012.  To date this year, juries have condemned nine new individuals to death in Texas, a slight increase over 2011 and 2010, when new death sentences fell to their lowest number since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Texas’ revised death penalty statute in 1976.  The verdict in a capital murder trial in Brazos County, in which prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, has been delayed indefinitely pending a legal dispute over jury instructions.

Tarrant and Dallas Counties each accounted for two new death sentences and Johnson County accounted for one.  Dallas County now leads the state in new death sentences since 2008, accounting for nearly 20% of sentences imposed in the last five years.  Dallas County also led the state in executions, accounting for 5 of the 15 executions carried out this year.

“While most of Texas is moving away from the death penalty, the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex was a major outlier both in new death sentences and executions this year,” said Kristin Houlé, Executive Director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.  “2012 exemplified the arbitrariness that pervades the death penalty system in Texas.  Not only does it remain geographically isolated to just a few jurisdictions statewide, but it continues to be applied in a haphazard and unfair way, particularly when it comes to individuals with intellectual disabilities or severe mental illness and people of color.”

Seven of the new death row inmates in 2012 are African-American, one is Hispanic, and one is a white female.  Over the last five years, nearly 75% of death sentences in Texas have been imposed on people of color – 46% African-American and 28% Hispanic.  In Dallas County, this pattern is even more pronounced – of the eight men sentenced to death there since 2008, five are African-American and two are Hispanic.

Of the 15 men executed in Texas this year, seven were African-American, four were Hispanic, and four were white.

“Although Texas is using the death penalty less, the state still uses it disproportionately on people of color,” said Kathryn Kase, Executive Director of the Texas Defender Service.  “This is a recurring problem and Texas’ failure to fix it demonstrates how broken its capital punishment system is.”

Troubling questions also persist regarding the arbitrary determination of who receives the ultimate punishment.  Cases involving individuals with comparable backgrounds or who presented similar legal arguments received vastly different treatment by the criminal justice system this year.

As one example of this arbitrariness, several death row inmates with diagnosed severe mental illnesses were scheduled for execution this year.  The executions of Steven Staley and Marcus Druery were halted pending unresolved issues related to their mental competency, while the execution of Jonathan Green, who reportedly suffered from schizophrenia, proceeded on October 10, 2012 after significant legal wrangling.

This disparate treatment was also evident in terms of issues related to intellectual disabilities.

Two inmates with recognized intellectual disabilities received reduced sentences and were removed from death row this year: Roosevelt Smith, convicted in 2007, and Anthony Pierce, who spent more than three decades on death row.  On the other hand, Marvin Wilson was executed on August 7, 2012 despite being diagnosed with an IQ of 61, well below the threshold of 70 for mental impairment.  His case created an international uproar and starkly illustrated the woefully inadequate and unscientific standards used by the State of Texas to determine which defendants with intellectual disabilities are protected from execution.

Other highlights of Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2012: The Year in Review:

  • The State of Texas accounted for more than a third of U.S. executions this year, a smaller percentage than in the past but nearly three times as many as any other state.  Texas has executed a total of 492 people since 1982 – 253 executions have occurred during the administration of Texas Governor Rick Perry (2001 – present), more than any other governor in U.S. history.
  • Six inmates scheduled for execution in 2012 received reprieves.  In addition, three execution dates were withdrawn.
  • Death-qualified juries rejected the death penalty in the sentencing phase in four trials this year and instead opted for life in prison without the possibility of parole.  In all four cases, the jury determined that the defendant did not pose a future danger.  Over the last five years, death-qualified juries have rejected the death penalty in at least 20 capital murder trials.
  • According to research by TCADP, the Texas death row population stands at its lowest level since 1989.  As of November 16, 2012, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice counted 289 death row inmates, which includes 10 women.

“Attitudes toward the death penalty are shifting as public confidence in the ultimate punishment continues to erode,” said Houlé.  “As we approach the start of the 83rd Texas Legislature, TCADP urges concerned citizens and elected officials to confront the realities of this irreversible punishment and reconsider the efficacy and cost of the death penalty as a means of achieving justice.”

TCADP is a statewide, grassroots advocacy organization based in Austin.

Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2012: The Year in Review is available online at www.tcadp.org/TexasDeathPenaltyDevelopments2012.pdf.  Contact report author Kristin Houlé at khoule@tcadp.org to receive a copy directly via email.  See the report for tables illustrating Texas’ highest-use counties from 2008-2012, the race of defendants sentenced to death in the last five years, and additional graphs depicting recent trends.

See http://tcadp.org/2008-2012-new-death-sentences/ for a map of new death sentences by county from 2008 to 2012.

See http://tcadp.org/1976-2012-county-map/ for a map of death sentences by county from 1976 to 2012.

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07 December 2012 ~ Comments Off

Thirty Years Ago Today…

Thirty years ago today, December 7, 1982, the State of Texas officially resumed executions, putting Charlie Brooks to death for the 1976 murder of David Gregory.  That was also the nation’s first execution by lethal injection, a new method concocted by a legislator and former chief medical examiner in Oklahoma.

Reverend Carroll Pickett, who served as the chaplain at the Walls Unit in Huntsville, spent all day with Charlie Brooks and stood at the foot of the gurney as he was executed.  In his memoir, Within These Walls: Memoirs of a Death House Chaplain, he writes about the immediate aftermath of the execution:  “All that remained was an air of stunned silence – testimony to the fact that none of those who had witnessed penal history being made had really been prepared for what they had seen.”

Since 1982, the State of Texas has executed 492 people; 253 of these executions have occurred during the administration of Governor Rick Perry, more than any other governor in U.S. history.  This year, the State of Texas carried out 15 executions, a slight increase over last year and nearly three times as many as any other state in the country.

Yet Texas – along with the rest of the nation – is moving away from the death penalty.  New death sentences remain near record-low levels, and death-qualified juries have rejected this punishment in at least 18 trials in the past five years.

Use of the death penalty has been relegated to just a few jurisdictions statewide; in fact, only 11 counties in the entire state of Texas imposed new death sentences in the last two years.  These trends and other developments in 2012 appear in TCADP’s year-end report, scheduled to be released next week.

With your support, TCADP is educating Texans about the fatal flaws of our state’s death penalty system and equipping our members to serve as powerful citizen advocates for abolition.  Together, we are hastening the day that we mark the anniversary of the abolition of the death penalty in Texas.

Thank you for your support and steadfast commitment to this issue.

p.s. We had the pleasure of meeting Charlie’s son Keith in Dallas on Tuesday. Keith’s family is holding a memorial service today in Fort Worth for Charlie Brooks. The memorial will be held from 12 to 3:00 p.m. at the Riverside Community Center, 3700 Belknap Street, Fort Worth. The program will include lunch and reflections. Everyone is welcome.

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23 May 2012 ~ Comments Off

New Death Sentence Imposed in Dallas County

On May 21, 2012, a Dallas County jury determined that Roderick Harris should be sentenced to death for the murder of Alfredo Gallardo during a 2009 robbery.  According to the Dallas Morning News (“Killer of 2 Dallas brothers gets death penalty, May 21, 2012):

Harris stormed into the family’s trailer in southeast Dallas in March 2009 and demanded cash, jewelry and drugs. The family gave him what little they had — $2, a ring and a necklace. They had no drugs. During the home invasion, one of the children translated Harris’ words into Spanish because some in the family could not understand him.

Harris also is charged with killing Carlos Gallardo, the brother of Alfredo, but has not been tried for that crime.

The jury deliberated for two days before reaching the decision that Harris should receive the death penalty.  This is the first new death sentence in Dallas County since 2010. Last year, no new death sentences were imposed in Dallas County for the first time in five years.  It also was the first time in 15 years that Dallas County prosecutors seeking the death penalty did not win a capital murder conviction.

Overall, Dallas County accounts for the second-highest number of death sentences (103) and executions (47) in Texas.

This is the third new death sentence to date this year in Texas.

 

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04 May 2012 ~ Comments Off

Two New Op-Eds Call for Abolition of Death Penalty

This week, two major Texas newspapers featured op-eds calling for the abolition of the death penalty.

In the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (“‘Myth of violence’ drives capital punishment,” May 1, 2012), Reverend Bernard Kern (a new member of the TCADP Board of Directors), describes support for the death penalty as part of the “myth of redemptive violence.”    Here’s an excerpt from his op-ed:

The archaic and barbaric death penalty is still viewed by some people as a just punishment for the most heinous of crimes and as a way of curbing crime. Some even believe that their religion justifies its use. This belief rests on the foundation of what theologian and author Walter Wink calls “the myth of redemptive violence.” It is the belief that violence saves, that war brings peace and that might makes right. If God is what one turns to when all else fails, then violence certainly can function as a god.

This myth, and not Judaism or Christianity or Islam, is the dominant religion in our society today. In the case of the death penalty, it is the belief that by killing another person we are made safer. The nature of the myth is that it demands obedience. Consequently, the person who embraces this myth will tend to reject any evidence that would call it into question or prove it to be false.

Faith in the myth of redemptive violence must be seen for what it is: a false religion that must be exorcised from our hearts and minds.

Read more in the Star-Telegram.

In the San Antonio Express-News (“It’s time to abolish the death penalty,” May 3, 2012), Fred Williams cites the risk of wrongful conviction and wrongful execution, the lack of a deterrence effect, and international and national movement away from the death penalty in his call for “Texas to join with Justice Blackmun and the rest of the civilized world and do away with the bloody practice of killing people.”

Read more in the Express-News.

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