Archive | death penalty

25 April 2016 ~ Comments Off on Max Soffar dies on Texas death row after 35 years in prison; strong claim of innocence

Max Soffar dies on Texas death row after 35 years in prison; strong claim of innocence

Max Soffar, who spent 35 years in prison – most of them on Texas’ death row – died of complications from liver cancer on Sunday, April 24, 2016.  He was diagnosed in the fall of 2014, when doctors told him he had only months to live.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit was scheduled to hear oral arguments in his case, including evidence that might have overturned his conviction, this week.  Soffar was 60 years old.

There was no evidence whatsoever connecting Max Soffar to the horrific murders of three people in a bowling alley in Houston in 1980.  His conviction and death sentence hinged solely on a confession he gave to police – one of three inconsistent statements he provided after three days of intense interrogation.  According to the National Registry of Wrongful Convictions, false confessions have played a role in 13% of exonerations nationwide.

Equally troubling is the fact that Max Soffar did not remotely resemble the description of the perpetrator provided by eyewitness and surviving victim Greg Garner.  Substantial evidence supporting the alternative theory of suspect Paul Dennis Reid was never considered by a jury.

Read more about his case in Texas Monthly.

Soffar’s attorneys from the ACLU and the law firm Kirkland Ellis asked the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to recommend then-Governor Rick Perry commute Soffar’s death sentence so that he could live his final days at home. Many prominent individuals, including former district attorneys, judges, faith leaders, former Texas Governor Mark White, and former FBI Director William S. Sessions supported Soffar’s clemency petition. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles denied the petition citing the absence of an execution date.

In November 2014, clergy members and ACLU representatives delivered more than 116,000 signatures on Sister Helen Prejean’s Change.org petition calling on Governor Rick Perry to allow Soffar to die at home.

Here is the press release on Soffar’s death from the ACLU:

Innocent Man Dies of Cancer on Texas Death Row Three Days Before Hearing to Clear His Name 

Max Soffar Spent 35 Years Behind Bars for Crimes He Didn’t Commit

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 25, 2016

CONTACT: Alexandra Ringe, 212-549-2582, aringe@aclu.org

LIVINGSTON, Tex. – Max Soffar died at the age of 60 yesterday from liver cancer in the prison that houses the state’s death row.

Soffar was sentenced to death in 1981. He was innocent. His death came three days before a hearing at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit that could have set aside his wrongful conviction and death sentence.

“Max was an innocent man who should have been able to die privately and peacefully at home with his wife. Instead he had to endure the horrors of terminal cancer under guards’ constant watch, a prisoner until his final breath,” said Brian Stull, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project. “Max was 24 when he succumbed to extreme pressure by police and confessed to crimes he didn’t commit. That confession should never have held up in court, yet it sent Max to death row, where he spent the rest of his life. That is a disgrace.”

Max was represented by the ACLU and the law firm Kirkland Ellis in efforts to overturn his death sentence.

“Max’s punishment for something he didn’t do shows the inherent injustice in the death penalty. Death should never be the outcome of our highly imperfect court system,” said Andrew Horne of Kirkland Ellis. “Max’s case also shows how resistant our courts are to correcting their mistakes, particularly errors in capital punishment. After decades of effort, and despite powerful evidence of innocence, we have not yet cleared Max’s name.”

“Max wasn’t executed, but the death penalty and its haphazard, unjust application stole his life. He was 60 years old when he died on death row, innocent,” said Stull. “The state of Texas was ready to kill him over nothing. He lived with that every day.”

For legal documents and other information about Max’s case, visit: https://www.aclu.org/cases/state-texas-v-max-soffar

For more information about the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project, visit: https://www.aclu.org/issues/capital-punishment

This press release is available here: https://www.aclu.org/news/innocent-man-dies-cancer-texas-death-row-three-days-hearing-clear-his-name

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22 April 2016 ~ Comments Off on Amnesty International Releases Annual Global Report on the Death Penalty

Amnesty International Releases Annual Global Report on the Death Penalty

Earlier this month, Amnesty International released its annual global report, “Death Sentences and Executions 2015.” As the name indicates, the report covers the judicial use of the death penalty throughout the world from January to December 2015.

At least 1,634 people were put to death worldwide in 2015, which 573 more executions than documented in 2014. This startling rise in executions is due to a dramatic increase from three countries: Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. It’s important to note this total does not include executions in China, where Amnesty is not able to obtain accurate information.  Amnesty projects the People’s Republic of China executed more than 1,000 people in 2015.

Despite an increase in executions, there were positive changes in 2015. Four countries abolished the death penalty: Madagascar, Fiji, Suriname, and the Republic of Congo. In total, 140 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

With 28 executions, the United States had its lowest number of executions since 1991. Amnesty notes this drop is due in part to legal challenges involving lethal injection drugs and protocols. Even with a drop in executions, the United States continues to be an outlier and remains among the top five executing countries, behind China, Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.

In terms of executions, the State of Texas is an outlier within an outlier, accounting for 13 of the 28 executions last year. If Texas were its own country, it would be among the top 10 executing jurisdictions in the world.

In 2015, the United States only had 53 new death sentences from 15 jurisdictions. This is the lowest number since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976. Although the State of Texas continues to actively carry out executions, it contributed only 3 death sentences to the 53 across the country. This decrease in death sentences indicates a positive trend for abolition in Texas and the United States.

Amnesty International’s Death Sentences and Executions 2015 is available online at: http://www.amnestyusa.org/research/reports/death-sentences-and-executions-2015.

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01 December 2015 ~ Comments Off on TCADP December 2015 Alert: 2016 Annual Conference Updates

TCADP December 2015 Alert: 2016 Annual Conference Updates

In this edition:

TCADP 2016 Annual Conference Updates: Register by December 31st to receive our best rates

In case you missed it: New report on veterans on death row; coverage of declining death sentences in Texas; TCADP’s Fall 2015 Newsletter

Featured events: Attend a holiday party in Houston

Support TCADP: Shop AmazonSmile and remember TCADP in your year-end giving


TCADP 2016 Annual Conference: At the Epicenter of the Death Penalty
The TCADP 2016 Annual Conference Committee is delighted to share the following information about our keynote speaker, confirmed panelists,and award recipients.  Join us in Houston next February for the 2016 Annual Conference: At the Epicenter of the Death PenaltyRegister by December 31st to receive our best rates.

Keynote Speaker: Nebraska Senator Colby Coash
CCoashSenator Colby Coash was first elected to the Nebraska State Legislature in 2008 and won reelection in 2012. He represents District 27, which encompasses portions of Lincoln. Senator Coash serves as the vice-chairman of the General Affairs Committee and vice-chairman of the Judiciary Committee. As a life-long Nebraskan, he has prioritized giving a voice to vulnerable Nebraskans, especially children and people with disabilities.

In 2015 Senator Coash played a critical role in the abolition of the death penalty in Nebraska after 38 years of attempts.  He used his position as a conservative leader to convince his colleagues that the death penalty did not represent conservative values or the best interests of Nebraskans.  Said Senator Ernie Chambers, “Without Coash’s influence and fortitude we would not have been successful in this effort.”

Watch Senator Coash’s appearance on “The Daily Show” last month and join us in welcoming him to Texas!

2016 Panelists
Our morning panel discussion will focus on past and present use of the death penalty in Harris County, which alone accounts for nearly 300 death sentences and more executions than any state in the country besides Texas. Yet even in Harris County, the death penalty landscape is shifting.  Panelists will address Harris County’s notorious outlier status and also lift up the significant changes occurring there and throughout the state – and what it means for our work.

2012-04 Klineberg PhotoDr. Stephen Klineberg
Stephen Klineberg is a Professor of Sociology at Rice University and the founder of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research.  In 1982, he and his students initiated the annual Kinder Houston Area Survey, now in its 35th year of tracking the remarkable changes in the demographic patterns, economic outlooks, experiences and beliefs of Harris County residents. Read his opinion piece about Harris County residents’ views on the death penalty, published this summer in the Houston Chronicle.

 

1Hje_VUj_400x400Robert J. Smith
Rob is a Senior Fellow at the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School. He also serves as the Litigation Director for the 8th Amendment Project and is a Visiting Scholar at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law. Previously, Rob was an Assistant Professor of Law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he taught criminal law and evidence. Rob’s scholarship on the geography of the death penalty has appeared in numerous law journals and media outlets and has been cited by the United States Supreme Court.  Read some of his recent articles in Slate.

2016 Annual Award Recipients
Appreciation Awards
AA-1515 copyState Representative Alma Allen (District 131-Houston), for jointly authoring death penalty repeal bills with State Representative Jessica Farrar in multiple legislative sessions and providing leadership as a member of the House Corrections Committee.

 

 

 

execution protest 11-18-15Patricia Delgado, in gratitude for her leadership of El Pasoans Against the Death Penalty since 2012. Pat has organized countless activities to engage the public, elected officials, and religious communities in West Texas, including vigils outside the courthouse on the day of executions; workshops and film screenings; and outreach to members of El Paso’s legislative delegation.

 

KPFT 90.1 FM, Houston Pacifica Radio, for their steadfast coverage of death penalty issues, their support of local activities and the work of TCADP’s Houston Chapter, and their special programs that give voice to the voiceless, including “The Prison Show” and “Execution Watch.”

Media Award
Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 1.10.07 PMHouston Chronicle Metro Columnist Lisa Falkenberg, in recognition of her groundbreaking work on the Texas grand jury system and the role it played both in overturning the conviction of Alfred Dwayne Brown (who was later released from death row) and securing legislative reform. (She also won a Pulitzer!)

 

 

 

IMG_0473-2David P. Atwood Founder’s Award
Dominican Sisters of Houston, in gratitude for their longtime support for TCADP and commitment to abolishing the death penalty.

 

 

Read more about our award winners and join us in celebrating these extraordinary individuals and organizations at the conference luncheon!  We also invite you to congratulate the honorees by placing an ad in the conference program and/or sponsoring a table at the luncheon.

Register now to attend the TCADP 2016 Annual Conference on Saturday, February 20, 2016 in Houston.  Join us for the full day or just for the awards luncheon and keynote address.  Register by December 31st to receive our best rates and stay tuned for more announcements regarding the conference program, including our workshop sessions.


In case you missed it
Death sentences are declining, even in Harris County
In his recent article, “Why Texas county known for death sentences has given none in 2015,” Tom Dart of The Guardian examines the changing landscape in Harris County. Despite being the highest convicting and executing county in Texas, Harris County jurors have not handed down a single new sentence this year. In the article, TCADP Executive Director Kristin Houlé points out “we now have more cases this year where jurors rejected the death penalty than where they imposed it.”

The December 2015 issue of Texas Monthly also notes these trends and includes an in-depth timeline covering some of the developments that have led to decreased use of the death penalty in Texas. For even more information on this topic, check out TCADP’s updated maps depicting death sentences by county.

New report chronicles plight of veterans on death row
Last month, in conjunction with Veterans Day, the Death Penalty Information Center released a new report that chronicles the plight of some 300 veterans on death row nationwide, including many who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). TCADP Member and former Marine, Bob Michael, has read the report and notes “…so many veterans who have committed heinous crimes are subjected to death penalty convictions without a full examination of all the mitigating factors …. The gravity of a death penalty case suggests that mental health issues, and particularly PTSD issues, requires more attention from litigators, legislators, our governors, and our judges.” Read more.

Fall 2015 issue of Seizing the Momentum
The Fall 2015 issue of our quarterly newsletter, Seizing the Momentum, is now available online. In this issue, you’ll learn new information about the cost of the death penalty in Texas.  You will also find a review of the award-winning series “Rectify.” Read it now!


Featured events
Houston
TCADP’s Houston Chapter will host a holiday party and meeting on Tuesday, December 8th from 7:00 to 9:00 PM. For more information and to RSVP, email Nancy Bailey at nlbailey@earthlink.net.

Rockwall
TCADP North Texas Outreach Coordinator Jason Redick will present at the Rockwall County Democratic Men’s Group meeting on Saturday, December 5th at Napoli Italian Restaurant (407 S. Goliad Street). The meeting will begin at 12:00 PM. His presentation will provide facts about how the death penalty is applied in Texas. All are welcome to attend.


Support TCADP
Doing your holiday shopping online? Please consider using AmazonSmile to support TCADP. By selecting TCADP as your non-profit, a percentage of your purchase will support our efforts.

You can also support TCADP with your generous year-end donation. This month, the Tides Foundation will match the gifts of all first-time donors to TCADP up to $2,500! Make your year-end, tax-deductible donation by December 31, 2015.

Thank you for standing with us as we shift the ground under the death penalty!

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03 November 2015 ~ Comments Off on TCADP November 2015 Alert: Texas schedules last execution of the year

TCADP November 2015 Alert: Texas schedules last execution of the year

In this edition:

Scheduled executions: State of Texas set to carry out last execution of the year

Case updates: Texas juries impose three new death sentences in October; Court of Criminal Appeals grants stay to Julius Murphy

In case you missed it: National Association of Evangelicals changes course on the death penalty

TCADP 2016 Annual Conference: Register now to receive our advanced rate

Featured events: “In Remembrance” in Huntsville; member “meet and greet” in Carrollton; lighting the star in El Paso


Quote of the month
“We’re executing innocent people and calling it justice.”

– Anthony Graves to an audience in East Austin, October 29, 2015.  Anthony spent 6,640 days in Texas prisons as an innocent man.


Scheduled executions
The State of Texas is scheduled to put Raphael Holiday to death on November 18, 2015.  He was convicted of the arson murders of three young children in 2000 in Madison County.

The State of Texas accounts for 12 of the 25 executions nationwide this year.  Four executions are scheduled for the early months of 2016.

Attend a vigil in your community on the day of executions in Texas. Information and updates on cases are available on our website and through Facebook and Twitter.

Lethal injection developments
According to several online news services, officials with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice attempted to illegally import sodium thiopental from India this summer; prior to 2012, sodium thiopental was the first drug used in lethal injections in Texas. Officials with the Food and Drug Administration reportedly seized the shipment at the airport. Mike Ward of the Houston Chronicle writes, “The move — confirmed by Texas prison officials — marks the latest development in a growing shortage of execution drugs in the United States that has left states scrambling to find new suppliers.” Read more from BuzzFeed and the Associated Press.


Case updates
Texas juries impose first death sentences of the year 
After more than nine months without a death sentence in Texas, juries in three separate cases imposed the ultimate punishment in October:

  • On October 7, after more than seven hours of deliberation, jurors in Brazos County sentenced Gabriel Hall to death for the murder of Edwin Sharr and attack on Linda Sharr in 2011. Hall was 18 years old at the time of the crime.  County officials have estimated the cost of the trial to be as high as $2 million, with County Auditor Katie Conner calling it the most expensive trial in her tenure.
  • In what one journalist questioned as perhaps the “strangest death penalty trial ever,” a jury in Smith County sentenced James Calvert to death on October 14 for murdering his ex-wife Jelena Sriraman and kidnapping their four-year-old son in 2012.  Calvert was allowed to represent himself for much of the trial, during which he was prone to frequent outbursts, nonsensical questioning of witnesses, and other disruptive behavior.  At one point, after his right to self-representation had been revoked, the sheriff’s department activated Calvert’s shock belt after he refused to comply with the judge’s order to stand.
  • On October 20, after more than a day of deliberation, a jury in Bexar Countysentenced Mark Anthony Gonzalez to death for the 2011 murder of Bexar County Sheriff’s Sgt. Kenneth Vann.  It was the first death sentence imposed in Bexar County in six years.

There currently is one trial pending in Harris County.  Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Johnathan Sanchez for the murders of three people in Houston in 2013.  According to the Houston Chronicle, it’s the first death penalty case to reach a Harris County courtroom this year.

Court grant stay to Julius Murphy
On October 12, 2015, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted a stay of execution to Julius Murphy, pending further order from the court.  Murphy was scheduled to be executed on November 3 for the 1997 robbery and shooting of Jason Erie. Attorneys argued that new evidence of prosecutorial misconduct called into question the reliability of his conviction and death sentence.

Murphy, who is African American, was 18 years old at the time of the crime. He was sentenced to death by an all-white jury.  His co-defendant is serving a sentence of life in prison. Read more about this case, including a statement from attorneys.


In case you missed it
“One small step for evangelicals, one giant leap for abolition of the death penalty”
Last month, the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents 45,000 American churches, changed the position it adopted in 1973 – which was solidly in support of the death penalty – to a position that recognizes diverse viewpoints on the issue and calls for criminal justice reform.  The new resolution specifically calls for the elimination of “racial and socio-economic inequities in law enforcement, prosecution and sentencing of defendants.”  In a piece for the Washington Post, Shane Claiborne calls the change in course “one giant leap for abolition.”
Learn more from the Houston Chronicle and The Atlantic.

Death penalty in decline 10 years after adoption of Life in Prison Without the Possibility of Parole
In a piece published last month by The Monitor, State Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. reflects on the last 10 years during which Life in Prison Without the Possibility of Parole has been a sentencing option in Texas.  He writes, “Since the option of life without parole has given juries more flexibility in recommending sentences for Texas’ criminals, we have seen significant shifts in the application of capital punishment.”  Earlier this year, Senator Lucio, who represents Senate District 27, filed a bill calling for repeal of the death penalty in Texas.  Read more.


TCADP 2016 Annual Conference: At the Epicenter of the Death Penalty 
Online registration for the TCADP 2016 Annual Conference is now open. The conference will take place on Saturday, February 20, 2016 in Houston. Take advantage of reduced rates until December 31. More details on the conference program – and an announcement about our 2016 Award recipients – coming soon!


Featured Events
Austin: Former TCADP Board Member, Les Breeding, will participate in a discussion about the death penalty with Common Ground for Texans on Saturday, November 7th from 2:00 to 4:00 PM. This meeting will take place at the Yarborough Branch Library (2200 Hancock). Common Ground for Texans is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization primarily concerned with reducing the influence of money in politics, increasing access to voter participation, and engaging in civil discourse around contentious issues.

Carrollton: TCADP’s North Texas Organizer, Jason Redick, will host a “Meet and Greet” gathering for local members on Wednesday, November 18th, at 7 pm at Holy Covenant United Methodist Church (1901 E. Peters Colony Rd.). An execution vigil will take place earlier that evening at the church. All are welcome. Contact Jason at jason@tcadp.org for more details.

El Paso: El Pasoans Against the Death Penalty, a chapter of TCADP, will light the star on Franklin Mountain on Sunday, November 29th in solidarity with “Cities for Life, Cities Against the Death Penalty”, a worldwide action to celebrate life and call for abolition of the death penalty. For more information, please contact Pat Delgado at phdelgado@hotmail.com.

Huntsville: The third annual “In Remembrance” event will take place Saturday, November 7th at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Captain Joe Byrd Cemetery from 8:30 to 11:30 AM. Hosted by the Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy, “In Remembrance” is an opportunity for people of faith to remember those who have lost their lives in Texas prisons. Following an Interfaith Prayer Service at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church, participants will have a chance to lay flowers on the 3,500 graves at the cemetery. For more information, please visit http://www.texasinterfaithcenter.org/In-Remembrance.

Find details on other upcoming events here.

Thank you for standing with us as we shift the ground under the death penalty!

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02 October 2015 ~ Comments Off on TCADP October 2015 Alert: Attend an event near you!

TCADP October 2015 Alert: Attend an event near you!

In this edition of our monthly e-newsletter, you’ll find case updates for Scott Panetti and Julius Murphy and a more information about the Pope’s call for “global abolition.” This edition also marks the opening of online registration for the 2016 TCADP Annual Conference.

In this edition:

Scheduled executions: Dallas County schedules first execution of the year; date withdrawn for Christopher Wilkins
Case updates: Developments in the cases of Scott Panetti and Julius Murphy
TCADP 2016 Annual Conference: Online registration now open; award nominations accepted until October 16
In case you missed it: Pope Francis calls for global abolition
Featured events: Join us at the State Capitol on October 23

Quote of the month
“These days, Texas is at the epicenter of a different trend: The Deep South has witnessed a sharp, sustained, and unmistakable drop in death verdicts.  So far this year Texas has not had a single new death sentence. Neither has Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Virginia.”

– Robert J. Smith, “Is Southern California the New Deep South?” (9/7/15)

Scheduled executions
The State of Texas is scheduled to execute two people this month:

  • On October 6, the State is scheduled to execute Juan Garcia for the 1998 robbery and murder of Hugo Solano in Harris County.  Joined by three accomplices, Garcia was 18 years old at the time of the crime.
  • On October 14, the State is scheduled to execute Licho Escamilla for the 2001 murder of police officer Christopher James after a fight broke out in the parking lot of a Dallas nightclub.  Officer James was working off-duty security at the venue. According to the Dallas Morning News, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rejected Escamilla’s argument that his trial attorneys did not provide evidence of his abusive childhood, ruling that the crime evidence outweighed any mitigating evidence not presented to jurors. Escamilla was 19 years old at the time of the shooting.  This is the first execution scheduled out of Dallas County this year.

The October 28 execution date for Christopher Wilkins was recently withdrawn at the request of Tarrant County prosecutors. They sought the delay after the Texas Forensic Science Commission raised new concerns about DNA statistics and the interpretation of mixed DNA evidence. Learn more from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

The State of Texas has executed 10 people in 2015, accounting for nearly half of the 21 executions nationwide to date this year.

Attend a vigil in your community on the day of executions in Texas. Information and updates on cases are available on our website and through Facebook and Twitter.

Case Updates
New filing alleges misconduct in trial of Julius Murphy
Lawyers for Julius Murphy, who has a November 3 execution date, have requested a stay from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals based on alleged prosecutorial misconduct.  Their latest filing presents new evidence that prosecutors forced false and tainted testimony from two key witnesses in Murphy’s 1998 trial in Bowie County. Read more.

Fifth Circuit considers case of Scott Panetti
On September 23, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held oral argument in the case of Scott Panetti, who has been on Texas’ death row since 1995 and has faced several execution dates despite his extensive, documented history of severe mental illness. The Fifth Circuit stayed Panetti’s execution on December 3, 2014 to further review the issues surrounding his competency.

Learn more about Panetti’s case and read an excellent editorial from the Dallas Morning News, “Execution of mentally ill man serves no greater good.”

TCADP 2016 Annual Conference: At the Epicenter of the Death Penalty
Online registration for the TCADP 2016 Annual Conference is now open! The conference will take place on Saturday, February 20, 2016 in Houston. Take advantage of reduced registration rates until December 31, 2015.

We are still accepting nominations for our annual Courage, Appreciation, and Media Awards. With these awards, we recognize organizations and individuals who have made significant and selfless contributions towards our work to end the death penalty in Texas.  All award winners will be honored at the conference. Please submit your nominations by October 16, 2015.

In case you missed it
Pope Francis reaffirms call for abolition
On September 24, during his historic visit to the United States, Pope Francis asked for “global abolishment of the death penalty” while addressing Congress. Learn more.

A Fort Worth Family Forgives
James Serrano suffered a tragic loss on June 3, 2014 when his wife, Cynthia, and their two daughters, April and Kathy, were found murdered in their Fort Worth home. The man behind the crime was April’s ex-boyfriend, Cedric McGinnis. On September 10, 2015, McGinnis plead guilty and was sentenced to life without parole.

After the plea, Serrano had this to say to McGinnis, “You got a second chance to life that my girls don’t have…turn your heart, turn your life, to the Lord. Let him guide you. That’s the only way to make it.” The rest of the Serrano family echoed his sentiments. McGinnis’ attorney, Joetta Keene, pointed out the power behind the family’s actions, “They showed all of us what forgiveness feels like.” Read the full story in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Justice Scalia “wouldn’t be surprised” if the Supreme Court ends the death penalty
During a speech at Rhodes College last week, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said four of his colleagues believe the death penalty is unconstitutional. 
In the Los Angeles Times, Scott Martelle writes: “That he ‘wouldn’t be surprised’ by a reversal of the court’s long-standing acceptance of the death penalty’s constitutionality suggests there may be some ground-shifting going on about the death penalty, which would be good news indeed.”

 

Featured Events
Austin
TCADP, along with the Texas Mercy Project of the Texas Catholic Conference, The Office of Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr., and the Catholic Mobilizing Network, is sponsoring “Journey to Mercy: Rethinking the Death Penalty in Texas” on Friday, October 23rd. The event features elected officials and policy experts.  It will take place in the Legislative Conference Center in the State Capitol (1100 Congress Ave.) from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM. The conference is free and open to the public. RSVP here.

“A Walk for Life, Hope and Mercy: Standing Against the Death Penalty,” sponsored by the Texas Mercy Project and the Catholic Mobilizing Network, will take place on Saturday, October 24th. The walk will begin at 9:00 AM at St. Austin Catholic Center (2010 University Avenue) and end at 12:00 PM at the State Capitol (1100 Congress). All are welcome to attend.

El Paso
El Pasoans Against the Death Penalty, a chapter of TCADP, meet on the last Tuesday of the month. The next meeting will take place at 7:00 PM on October 27th at St. Pius X Church in the Pedro Maldonado Room (1050 North Clark Drive). For more information, please contact Pat Delgado at phdelgado@hotmail.com.

Houston
TCADP Board President, Angelle Adams, will lead a presentation and discussion with Houston Oasis on October 4th. The event will take place at the Norris Conference Center (9990 Richmond Ave).

McKinney
Ministry to the Imprisoned & the Pro-Life Ministry will host a presentation by Chris Castillo on October 27th at St. Gabriel the Archangel (110 St. Gabriel Way) in McKinney at 7:00 PM.  After his mother’s murder in 1991, Chris became involved in prison ministry. He is currently the coordinator of chaplain volunteers for the Diocese of Beaumont’s Office of Criminal Justice Ministry.

Plano
TCADP Executive Director, Kristin Houlé, and Board Secretary, DJ Compton, will lead a presentation and discussion with Women Organizing Women Democrats on October 8th.

Find details on other upcoming events here.

Thank you for standing with us as we shift the ground under the death penalty!

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25 September 2015 ~ Comments Off on Pope Francis calls for “global abolition” during address to Congress

Pope Francis calls for “global abolition” during address to Congress

As a part of his historic tour of the United States, Pope Francis addressed Congress on Thursday, September 24. Anti-death penalty activists across the country hoped he would use his time in front of Congress to discuss ending the death penalty. Citing the Golden Rule, Pope Francis expressed his belief and support in abolition:

“This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes.”

He went on to express his support of the renewal of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty, which celebrated its tenth anniversary on July 16:

“Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty. Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.”

This is not the first time Pope Francis called for abolition. Earlier this year, he made his view on the death penalty very clear in his letter to the President of the International Commission against the death penalty, “[t]oday the death penalty is inadmissible, no matter how serious the crime committed…[i]t does not render justice to the victims, but rather fosters vengeance.”

Please visit the following links for more coverage of Pope Francis’ statement:

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03 August 2015 ~ Comments Off on TCADP’s 2015 August Alert: Death penalty continues to fall out of favor

TCADP’s 2015 August Alert: Death penalty continues to fall out of favor

In this edition:

Scheduled executions and case updates: Back-to-back executions scheduled to take place in Texas next week

In case you missed it: How one Texas death penalty case raised taxes; the latest editorial from the Dallas Morning News

Last call for applications: TCADP seeks North Texas Outreach Coordinator

Upcoming events: New episode of CNN’s “Death Row Stories” will focus on wrongful execution in Texas

Support TCADP: Become a Sustaining Member today!


Scheduled executions and case updates
The State of Texas is scheduled to execute three people this month:

  • Daniel Lopez is scheduled to be executed on August 12. He was convicted of striking and killing 20-year veteran Corpus Christi Police Department Lt. Stuart Alexander with his truck while the officer was laying down spike strips to stop Lopez’s vehicle during a high-speed chase in March 2009.  Earlier this year, the 5th Circuit Court of Criminal Appeals ruled Lopez is competent to waive his appeals. He has requested several times that the courts expedite his execution date. At least 28 individuals on death row in Texas have been put to death after deciding to forego further appeals in their cases.
  • Tracy Beatty is scheduled to be executed on August 13 for the 2003 slaying of his 62-year-old mother, Carolyn Click, in Smith County.  He would be the second person from Smith County put to death this year.
  • Bernardo Aban Tercero, a national of Nicaragua, is scheduled to be executed on August 26. He was convicted of robbing a dry cleaning store and murdering customer Robert Keith Berger in 1997 in Houston. Tercero argued the shooting was an accident. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected his appeal in 2014.

The State of Texas accounts for half of the 18 executions that have occurred nationwide to date in 2015.  At least six more executions are scheduled to take place this year.

Attend a vigil in your community on the day of executions in Texas. Information and updates on cases are available on our website and through Facebook and Twitter.

Other case updates
We learned this morning that Cathy Henderson, who spent nearly 20 years on death row in Texas, died over the weekend in a hospital in Austin.  She was convicted of capital murder in the death of three-month-old Brandon Baugh in 1994. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned Henderson’s conviction in 2012 based on scientific advances that cast doubt upon expert testimony about the baby’s cause of death.  Henderson maintained it was an accident.

The Travis County District Attorney’s Office planned to retry Henderson this fall on capital murder charges but did not intend to seek another death sentence. On June 12, however, Henderson pled guilty to murder and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.  According to the Austin American-Statesman, she could have been released in four years with credit for time served. Henderson was just two days away from being executed in 2007 when the Court of Criminal Appeals granted a stay and ordered an evidentiary hearing.

Earlier this summer we learned of the death of John Matamoros.  According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, he died of natural causes on June 12, 2015 while still on death row.  He was convicted of the murder of Edward George Goebel during a 1990 home burglary in Houston.


In case you missed it
Ron Paul’s statements ring true 
In a June opinion column, former U.S. Congressman Ron Paul called the death penalty “the ultimate corrupt, big government program.” He went on to say, “It is hard to find a more wasteful and inefficient government program than the death penalty.” To support his statements, Paul referred to a costly case in Jasper County which resulted in higher taxes. PolitiFact Texas checked the claim and found it was indeed true. Read the full report from Politifact as well as the original column from the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.

Still no new death sentences in Texas in 2015
Last week, the Dallas Morning News published an editorial, “Living without the death penalty in Texas,” regarding declining use of the death penalty in Texas.  The piece features excerpts from an interview with former District Attorney and TCADP 2015 Annual Conference keynote speaker Tim Cole.

The editorial asserts that the death penalty is falling out of favor both with juries and prosecutors and cites the growing list of wrongfully convicted men in Texas as one reason for the shift. Cost and geography also play a role, as explained by Cole: “It comes down to the call of a single elected official whose annual budget may or may not bear the expense of a murder trial.” Read the full editorial, as well as an opinion piece by Cole on this topic that appeared in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.


TCADP seeks North Texas Outreach Coordinator
TCADP is still accepting applications for our new North Texas Outreach Coordinator position.  We seek a motivated and experienced individual to develop and implement a campaign aimed at reducing use of the death penalty in Dallas and Tarrant Counties. Apply by August 17th.


Upcoming events
“Death Row Stories”
The next episode of “Death Row Stories” on CNN will focus on the case of Ruben Cantu, who was executed by the State of Texas on August 24, 1993. Cantu’s conviction was based largely on the testimony of a single eyewitness who later changed his story.  Cantu was 17 years old at the time of the crime.  (The U.S. Supreme Court didn’t prohibit the execution of juvenile offenders until 2015.) The episode is scheduled to be broadcast on Sunday, August 9th at 10pm across all time zones.  We expect to see interviews with several TCADP Advisory Board members who are intimately connected to this case.

Conferences
TCADP will participate in the following conferences this month as part of our community outreach efforts:

El Paso Meeting
The next monthly meeting of El Pasoans Against the Death Penalty will take place on Tuesday, August 25 at 7 pm in the Pedro Maldonado Room at St. Pius X Church, 1050 N. Clark.  Members will be planning fall activities, including outreach to interfaith groups and elected officials.


Support TCADP
Thanks to everyone who has contributed towards our summer fundraising campaign. We are delighted to report we have raised $2,430 towards our goal of $2,500.  Your gift today will put us over the top!

Consider taking your support to the next level by becoming a TCADP Sustaining Member.  Sustaining Members pledge an annual gift that recurs every year on the day of your choosing.

Another easy way to support TCADP is through Amazon Smile. Amazon will donate 0.5% of the price of your eligible AmazonSmile purchases to us, as long as you designate TCADP as your charitable organization of choice.  Over the last year, we’ve raised nearly $200 through this program. This covers the cost of our participation in the conferences listed above.

Thank you for standing with us as we shift the ground under the death penalty in Texas!

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02 July 2015 ~ Comments Off on TCADP’s July Alert: No death sentences in Texas in first half of the year

TCADP’s July Alert: No death sentences in Texas in first half of the year

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.


Scheduled Executions

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.

Attend a vigil in your community on the day of executions in Texas. Information and updates on cases are available on our website and through Facebook and Twitter.


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.”

For more information, please refer to articles from The Texas Tribune and the Associated Press.

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.


New resources

“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.


Upcoming events 

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!

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