Archive | death penalty

22 April 2015 ~ Comments Off

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stays execution of Richard Vasquez

On April 21, 2015 the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halted the execution of Richard Vasquez, scheduled to take place April 23rd. In their appeal to the court, Vasquez’s attorneys contended new research on shaken baby syndrome and head injuries debunks testimony from prosecution experts at his 1999 trial. Vasquez was originally scheduled for execution on January 15, 2015, but the execution was rescheduled because the Governor was out of the state.

Read more about the ruling from the Houston Chronicle.
Read more about Richard Vasquez’s case from the Austin Chronicle.

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16 April 2015 ~ Comments Off

State of Texas executes Manuel Garza Jr.

The State of Texas carried out its sixth execution of the year on April 15, 2015. Manuel Garza Jr., 34, was put to death for the 2001 murder of 37-year-old San Antonio SWAT Officer John “Rocky” Riojas.

Garza is among the 42 individuals convicted in Bexar County who have been executed.  This puts the county, which includes San Antonio, only behind Harris and Dallas Counties when it comes to executions in Texas.  No one has been sentenced to death by a Bexar County jury since 2009.

Read more about his case from the Huffington Post and The Guardian.

We appreciate everyone who participated in vigils last night.

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13 April 2015 ~ Comments Off

State of Texas executes Kent Sprouse

The State of Texas carried out its fifth execution of the year on April 9, 2015. Kent Sprouse, 42, was put to death for the 2002 murders of a 28-year-old Texas cop and a 38-year-old gas station customer.  Sprouse is one of only two executions from Ellis county. Read more about Sprouse from the Huffington Post.

We appreciate everyone who participated in vigils.

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23 March 2015 ~ Comments Off

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Stays Execution of Randall Mays

One week ago the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halted the execution of Randall Mays, scheduled to take place on March 18th. The court agreed with Mays’ lawyers that additional review is needed to determine if Mays is mentally competent for execution.
Texas’ highest court will now give the case a deeper look before issuing an opinion or further order.

Read more about the ruling from the Austin Chronicle and the Austin American-Statesman.

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09 March 2015 ~ Comments Off

More than 550 Texas Faith Leaders Call for Abolition of the Death Penalty

Monday, March 9, 2015

CONTACT: Kristin Houlé, Executive Director, Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (TCADP)
512-441-1808 (office); 512-552-5948 (cell);

More than 550 Texas Faith Leaders Call for Abolition of the Death Penalty
Interfaith Statement of Opposition to the Death Penalty endorsed by leaders from 25 different faith traditions statewide

 Austin, Texas – Today at the State Capitol, representatives of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (TCADP) and Texas Impact gathered with faith leaders from across the state to release an Interfaith Statement of Opposition to the Death Penalty and Texas Rabbis’ and Cantors’ Statement of Opposition to the Death Penalty.

More than 550 religious and spiritual leaders statewide have endorsed the Interfaith Statement; among them, the signatories represent 25 different faith traditions, including Baptist, Buddhist, Catholic, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Reform Judaism, and United Church of Christ. More than 20 Jewish leaders in Texas endorsed the accompanying Rabbis’ Statement.

Affirming the sanctity of human life and human capacity for redemption, the statements reflect both moral and practical concerns about the death penalty rooted in diverse religious traditions. The endorsing faith leaders call on Governor Abbott, members of the 84th Texas Legislature, and other elected officials to take a closer look at the reality of capital punishment in Texas and seek alternative ways to achieve healing and justice for all those who suffer in the wake of violent crimes. They declare “We should do all we can to make sure our state’s resources are directed towards the improvement of life, not its destruction.”

The signatories on the Interfaith Statement include all active and retired Bishops of The United Methodist Church in Texas and 265 United Methodist ministers from across the state. The United Methodist Church first adopted a statement opposing the death penalty in 1956.

“According to our Social Principles, the death penalty denies the power of Christ to redeem, restore, and transform all human beings,” said Bishop Joe A. Wilson, who served as Bishop of the Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church, headquartered in Fort Worth, from 1992 to 2000, and as Bishop-in-Residence at Southwestern University in Georgetown from 2001 to 2013.  “The Church cannot accept retribution or social vengeance as a reason for taking human life.”

These statements come at a time of declining use of the death penalty both nationally and in Texas. New death sentences have dropped 80% in Texas over the last 15 years and remain isolated to just a few jurisdictions statewide. Last year the state carried out its fewest executions in nearly two decades. To date this year, three individuals have been put to death and three have received stays of execution.

Rev. Dr. Jeff Hood of Denton, who last year conducted a 200-mile pilgrimage from death row in Livingston to the State Capitol in Austin, said “It is my hope this Interfaith Statement will ignite the moral imagination of all people of faith in Texas so that we might rise up together with one courageous voice and declare the death penalty to be no more.”

Rabbi Susan Lippe of Austin said, “As Jewish leaders, we have grave concerns about the racist and arbitrary application of the death penalty and the possibility of executing an innocent person. With these statements, we declare no more executions in our name.”

The release of the Interfaith Statement occurred in conjunction with the first-ever Texas Faith Leader Advocacy Day on the Death Penalty. Participants are meeting today with legislators to deliver copies of the statement and voice their support for House Bill 1527, sponsored by State Representative Jessica Farrar (District 148 -Houston), which would repeal the death penalty in Texas. Faith leaders will urge the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee to hold a hearing on the bill.  State Rep. Jessica Farrar filed HB 1527 on February 17, 2015; she has sponsored similar legislation in every session since 2007.

“Texas Impact is proud to stand in partnership with the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty to heighten the visibility of faith-based opposition to the death penalty and persuade more elected officials and the public at large to embrace alternatives to its use,” said Rev. Tom Heger, a retired Presbyterian pastor from San Antonio and Texas Impact Board Member. “As the state’s oldest and largest statewide interfaith network, we believe faith communities play a critical role in public discussions about the future of capital punishment in our state.”

The text of the Interfaith Statement and full list of signatories, organized by region, is available at

The text of the Rabbis’ and Cantors’ Statement is available at

For more information, please contact TCADP Executive Director Kristin Houlé at, 512-441-1808 (office), or 512-552-5948 (cell).


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02 March 2015 ~ Comments Off

TCADP March 2015 Alert: Join us at the State Capitol on Monday, March 9th

In this edition:

– Scheduled executions
– Death penalty case developments
– Faith leader advocacy at the 84th Texas Legislature
– Amplify Austin
– Recap of TCADP 2015 Annual Conference
– Upcoming events

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

  • On March 11, Manuel Vasquez is scheduled to be put to death for the 1998 murder of 51-year-old Juanita Ybarra in San Antonio. His execution initially was set for August 6, 2014, but the state agreed to a stay.
  • The State of Texas is scheduled to put Randall Mays to death on March 18.  He was convicted of the fatal shootings of Sheriff’s Deputies Paul Habelt and Tony Ogburn outside his home in Henderson County in May 2007.

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

Death penalty case developments
Here are updates on several cases involving Texas death row inmates:

  • On February 23, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted Rodney Reed a stay of execution to consider new evidence that supports his innocence in the 1996 murder of Stacey Stites.  Six judges agreed to the stay, which is “pending further order of this court.”  Read more.

    When asked about the court’s decision, Governor Greg Abbott reiterated his support for what he calls “an effective death penalty in Texas.” He went on to say, “I think that this is a healthy process that the court announced what it did so we can put beyond the shadow of any doubt whatsoever that he really is guilty of the crime for which he was convicted.” Read more from KEYE-TV.

  • On February 25, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted a rare hearing to Linda Carty to review claims of prosecutorial misconduct in her case. Carty, a British citizen and native of the Caribbean island of St. Kitts, was sentenced to death for plotting the 2001 murder of her neighbor, Joana Rodriguez, in order to steal Rodriguez’s newborn baby.  According to the Houston Chronicle, “a DEA agent and two of Carty’s co-defendants allege that Harris County prosecutors crossed ethical boundaries and threatened them to ensure Carty’s conviction.”
  • Antonio Williams, who was sentenced to death in 2007 for the murders of Vincent Williams and Yolanda Styles, was found dead in his cell in the Harris County Jail on February 19.  He was back in Houston to attend hearings for his appeals. Last November, two witnesses recanted their testimony naming Williams as the shooter; the two women said they were pressured by prosecutors and investigators to lie. Williams’ death was ruled a suicide.

Faith Leader Advocacy Day and Press Conference
TCADP’s first-ever “Faith Leader Advocacy Day on the Death Penalty” will take place on Monday, March 9 at the State Capitol, in partnership with Texas Impact, the oldest and largest statewide interfaith network in Texas. TCADP and Texas Impact will hold a press conference at 11:15 AM on the South Steps of the Capitol to release an Interfaith Statement of Opposition to the Death Penalty, which has been endorsed by nearly 600 faith leaders across Texas. Participants will also meet with legislators to voice their support for House Bill 1527, which calls for abolition of the death penalty in Texas.  State Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) filed HB 1527 on February 17.

Learn more about the advocacy day and RSVP here.

We invite all TCADP supporters to participate in the press conference that morning.  Other opportunities for constituent advocacy at the 84th Texas Legislature will be announced soon as we push for a House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee hearing on HB 1527.

Amplify Austin: Help TCADP three-peat! 
Amplify Austin, a 24-hour online fundraising festival, will take place from 6 PM on March 5th to 6 PM on March 6th.  You can help us win a $1,000 bonus prize for the third year in a row by donating between 1:00 and 2:00 PM Central Time on Friday, March 6. You might consider donating at:

1:12 PM for the 12 people exonerated from Texas death row
1:19 PM for the 19 jurisdictions (18 states and the District of Columbia) that don’t allow the death penalty
1:20 PM for the 120 supporters who attended the TCADP 2015 Annual Conference
1:39 PM for the 139 countries that have abolished the death penalty in law or practice
1:50 PM for the 150 death row exonerations nationwide

Check out TCADP’s profile page and set your alarm for Friday afternoon.  Last year, we raised more than $4,000 through this event!  (Can’t contribute on Friday?  Donations anytime during the 24-hour giving period are welcome and appreciated.)

Advocates gather in Austin for TCADP 2015 Annual Conference
TCADP is grateful to everyone who participated in our 2015 Annual Conference on February 21st in Austin!  It was wonderful to see so many new faces and longtime supporters, hear our inspiring speakers, and honor our incredible award recipients. We are excited to continue our work together to draw attention to death penalty fault lines. Photos from the day will be available soon on TCADP’s Facebook page.

Upcoming events

  • TCADP’s Houston Chapter will meet on Tuesday, March 3 at 7 PM at Central Market (3815 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX 77027).  Dr. Betty Gilmore, Director of the Center for Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management at Southern Methodist University, will speak about the book that she and former death row prisoner, Nanon Williams, co-authored. The Darkest Hour: Shedding Light on the Impact of Isolation and Death Row in Texas Prisonsaddresses the widespread impact of extreme isolation experienced by thousands of incarcerated individuals in Texas prisons.
  • Dr. Sanaz Alasti, Assistant Professor in the Criminal Justice Program at Lamar University in Beaumont, will deliver the talk “The Future of the Death Penalty” on Monday, March 9 from 2:00 to 4:00 PM as part of the Phi Beta Delta – Beta Xi Colloquy.  The event will take place in the Landes Auditorium at the Galloway Business Building.
  • “A Faith Leader Conversation About the Death Penalty” with Rev. William Lawson, Pastor Emeritus of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, will take place on Tuesday, March 17 from 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church (Jones Building, Room J-204, 5501 Main Street; Houston, TX 77004).  This free event, the first in a series of conversations for faith leaders about their understanding of and response to capital punishment in Texas, is sponsored by TCADP’s Houston Chapter; brunch will be provided by the Houston Mennonite Church. Register here.
  • El Pasoans Against the Death Penalty meet on the last Tuesday of the month.  The next meeting will take place on March 31 at 7:00 PM at St. Pius X Church in the Pedro Maldonado Room (1050 North Clark Drive).

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01 December 2014 ~ Comments Off

Outpouring of support for Scott Panetti; updates on the TCADP 2015 Annual Conference; and Judge Tom Price calls for abolition

panetti profile picture-01TCADP December 2014 Alert 

In this edition:
Scheduled executions: Scott Panetti; Rodney Reed
TCADP 2015 Annual Conference: Keynote speaker, panelists, and award winners
In case you missed it: TCADP’s Fall 2014 Newsletter: Judge Tom Price calls for abolition
Upcoming events & important dates: Year-end report; Faith Leader Advocacy Day
Support TCADP

Scheduled executions
There has been an outpouring of support for Scott Panetti, a severely mentally ill man who is scheduled to be executed on Wednesday, December 3, 2014.  Those calling for clemency include the nation’s largest grassroots advocacy organization on mental illness, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI); NAMI’s Texas affiliate; Mental Health America; 10 state legislators; 8 active and retired United Methodist Bishops in Texas; former U.S. Representative Ron Paul; more than 50 Evangelical Christians; and the European Union, which represents 28 nations.  Several editorial boards from major Texas newspapers also have called for officials to stop this execution.  The petition from Vicki Panetti has generated more than 90,000 signatures (thanks to everyone who has signed and promoted the petition).

As of this writing, a sharply divided Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied Panetti a stay of execution in two separate rulings.  Read attorney statements and background information on the TCADP blog and please check our website and Twitter feed for breaking news on this case.  *Update* Attorneys for Panetti have now appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the execution.

Barring a stay, vigils will take place on Wednesday in communities throughout Texas.

Eleven executions already have been scheduled for 2015.  This includes Rodney Reed, who was convicted of killing Stacey Stites in Bastrop in 1996. Compelling evidence substantiates his claim of innocence and points to another suspect with a history of violence. Read Jordan Smith’s terrific piece, “Is Texas Getting Ready to Kill an Innocent Man?” in The Intercept.

On November 25, a judge denied Reed’s request for expanded DNA testing of evidence in his case but granted a separate motion delaying his execution date from January 15 to March 5. 2015.

TCADP 2015 Annual Conference
TCADP is delighted to announce the following keynote speaker and panelists for our 2015 Annual Conference, which will take place on Saturday, February 21, 2015 at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Austin, Texas.

Keynote speaker: Tim Cole
Tim Cole is a former district attorney with more than 20 years of experience in the courtroom. He has tried over 100 felony jury trials in North Texas, including every level of felony charge. Tim was elected to four terms as 97th District Attorney (Archer, Clay & Montague Counties; 1993 to 2006) and served as assistant district attorney in the 271st District (Wise, Jack Counties; 2010-2014). He also served as Counsel to Governor Clements in 1990 and General Counsel for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association from 1988 to 1990.

Tim’s work in high-profile cases has been written about and documented in major publications. He also wrote about his personal experience in a death penalty case, “The Death Penalty Has a Face,” which was published by Texas Monthly in March 2013.

Panel discussion: “Shifting the Ground Under the Death Penalty”
Confirmed panelists:
Jen Moreno is a Staff Attorney with the Death Penalty Clinic at UC Berkeley Law, where she has worked exclusively on challenges to lethal injection as a method of execution.  She has consulted with attorneys litigating lethal injection challenges in more than twenty jurisdictions.

Brian Stull is a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Capital Punishment Project. As trial and appellate counsel in capital cases in North Carolina, Georgia, and Texas, he has represented several clients who were wrongfully convicted, including Manuel Velez, an innocent Texas man recently released from prison (and recipient of our 2015 Courage Award), and Max Soffar, an innocent man dying of liver cancer on Texas’s death row.

Register now to attend TCADP’s 2015 Annual Conference.  Advance registration rates are available through December 31, 2014 (rates will increase on January 1st and again after February 13th). Interested in providing an information table or placing an ad in the conference program to congratulate our award recipientsDownload more information.

In case you missed it
TCADP’s Fall 2014 Newsletter
In the Fall 2014 issue of our quarterly newsletter, Seizing the Momentum, you’ll find an interview with Dorothy Van Soest, the author of Just Mercy, as well as information about a pen-pal program organized by St. Gabriel’s Ministry to the Imprisoned.  Check out photos from the dozens of events we organized this fall and read our cover story about Manuel Velez.

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Justice Tom Price calls for abolition
Last week in his dissent in the Panetti case, GOP Judge Tom Price of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals says he believes the death penalty should be abolished:

“Having spent the last forty years as a judge for the State of Texas, of which the last eighteen years have been as a judge on this Court, I have given a substantial amount of consideration to the propriety of the death penalty as a form of punishment for those who commit capital murder, and I now believe that it should be abolished.”

Read more from BuzzFeed and WOAI-AM.

Upcoming events & important dates 
Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2014: The Year in Review
TCADP’s year-end report will document the many noteworthy developments with the death penalty this year, including an in-depth look at trends in specific counties.  Look for more details later this month.  Previous reports are available online.

December 31, 2014: Last chance to make tax-deductible donations to TCADP in 2014 and to take advantage of advance registration rates for the 2015 Annual Conference

February 21, 2015TCADP 2015 Annual Conference, Austin, Texas

March 9, 2015: Faith Leader Advocacy Day on the Death Penalty.  More details will be announced soon; in the meantime, please encourage all faith leaders you know to sign the Interfaith Statement of Opposition to the Death Penalty.

Support TCADP
Between now and the end of the year, TCADP seeks to raise $20,000 so that we can continue our advocacy efforts on behalf of all Texans who oppose the death penalty. Save a stamp by making your end-of-the-year, tax-deductible donation today!

If you shop on Amazon, please consider designating TCADP as your charitable organization of choice. Amazon will donate 0.5% of the price of your eligible AmazonSmile purchases to us, as long as your account connects with TCADP.

Thank you for your support and generosity!

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03 November 2014 ~ Comments Off

Registration for TCADP’s 2015 Annual Conference now open and other updates…

In this edition of our monthly alert for November 2014:

Scheduled executions
Support clemency for Max Soffar
TCADP 2015 Annual Conference
In case you missed it
Upcoming events
Support TCADP through AmazonSmile

Scheduled executions
Outrageously, the State of Texas just set a December 3, 2014 execution date for Scott Panetti. Panetti, who has suffered from severe mental illness for more than 30 years, has a fixed delusion that Satan, working through the state, is trying to kill him for preaching the Gospel.  Read background information on his case and watch “Executing the Insane: The Case of Scott Panetti,” which includes heartbreaking interviews with several members of his family.

We will provide updates on this case as they become available.  Please contact TCADP Executive Director Kristin Houlé at or 512-441-1808 for more information.

Support clemency for Max Soffar
Imagine spending 34 years in prison – most of them on death row in Texas – for a crime you didn’t commit.  Now imagine being told by doctors that in a matter of months, maybe weeks, you will die of liver cancer.  That’s the situation facing Max Soffar, who will die behind bars before any court can exonerate him.  The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recently denied his petition for clemency, citing the absence of an execution date. Read more from Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, and join him and Sister Helen Prejean in calling on Governor Rick Perry to grant clemency to Max so that he can die at home.  Sign this petition!

TCADP 2015 Annual Conference
Registration for the TCADP 2015 Annual Conference – Death Penalty Fault Lines: A Seismic Shift in Ground – is now open!  The conference will take place on Saturday, February 21, 2015 at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Austin, Texas.  Take advantage of our advance registration rates by December 31st. (Rates will increase on January 1st and then again after February 13th).  Renew your membership or join TCADP today to receive our special member rates. Look for an announcement from us later this month regarding our panelists, keynote speaker, workshops, and award recipients.

In case you missed it
Gallup Poll finds decreasing support for death penalty among Republicans
According to the annual Gallup Poll, support for the death penalty among Republicans has dropped nine points over the last decade.  Read more about the reasons behind the decline.

Pope Francis condemns the death penalty
On October 24th, while addressing a group of members of the International Association of Penal Law, Pope Francis called on all people of good will to fight for abolition of the death penalty in “all of its forms” and for the improvement of prison conditions.  Learn more from the National Catholic Reporter.

Upcoming events

If you haven’t done so already, please vote on Tuesday, November 4th!

Texas Families for Justice Rally
On Friday, November 7th at 1:00 PM, Texas Inmate Families Association, Texas Voices for Reason and Justice, and TX CURE will host a Texas Families for Justice Rally on the South steps of the State Capitol in Austin. Add your voice to the call for criminal justice reform and stand in solidarity with hundreds of family members, formerly incarcerated individuals, and supporters from across the state.

Fair & Just Luncheon in Houston
Join us on Tuesday, November 18th for the next installment of our bi-monthly Fair & Just Lunch Series in Houston, 12:30 to 1:30 in the St. Joseph’s Room at St. Anne’s Catholic Church.  RSVP and order lunch today.  More details coming soon.

Victim Offender Mediation Training
The Institute for Restorative Justice and Restorative Dialogue seeks applicants for its upcoming Victim Offender Mediation Training.  This three-day skill-based training is designed to give participants tools to conduct victim-centered Victim Offender Mediation for low-level crimes, neighborhood and community disputes, and issues involving juveniles and young adults. The training will take place in Austin from December 4-6, 2014 and costs $300.  Download more information and the registration form.

Information about other upcoming events is available here.

Support TCADP through AmazonSmile
If you shop on Amazon, please consider sharing some of your purchase power with TCADP.  Amazon will donate 0.5% of your eligible AmazonSmile purchases to TCADP, if you designate us as your charitable organization of choice. Note:  You must log into your account through for your purchases to benefit TCADP.

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