Archive | death penalty

23 June 2011 ~ 3 Comments

Houston Chronicle Calls for Stay of Execution for Humberto Leal

Today’s Houston Chronicle features an editorial that calls for a stay of execution for Humberto Leal, in light of legislation pending in Congress that would allow federal courts to review death penalty cases involving foreign nationals who were denied the right to contact their consular offices (“Keeping our word: Scheduled Texas execution violates treaty and endangers Americans abroad,” June 23, 2011).  Here’s a long excerpt:

Americans traveling abroad are protected, whether they are aware of it or not, by a treaty called the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, ratified by about 170 countries, which guarantees them access to U.S. consular assistance if they are detained or arrested in a foreign country. In 2010, more than 6,600 Americans were arrested abroad, and more than 3,000 were incarcerated. Many of them benefited from the protections of this treaty.

But unfortunately, the U.S. has repeatedly failed to offer those same protections to foreigners on U.S. soil. The most egregious of these violations is the denial of consular assistance to foreign nationals convicted and sentenced to death. (Currently, about 100 foreign nationals are on U.S. death rows.) And in a particularly urgent case, one of those individuals whose rights were violated, a Mexican national named Humberto Leal Garcia, is scheduled to be executed on July 7 in Huntsville.

Because a bill has been introduced to bring the U.S. into compliance with the treaty, Leal’s attorneys have filed a federal petition and a motion for a stay of execution so that Leal will be alive and eligible for the remedies of this legislation when it becomes law.

There are compelling reasons why these petitions should be granted. Chief among them is the fact that this pending legislation will allow for review of cases like Leal’s, said his attorney Sandra Babcock, “where lack of consular assistance may well have made the difference between life and death. That’s why the consular access really matters.” Mexico provides top-flight legal assistance to its nationals under such circumstances.

Read the full editorial in the Chronicle.

If you haven’t done so already, please sign the petition in support of clemency for Humberto Leal:

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16 June 2011 ~ 1 Comment

Texas Death Penalty Case Updates

There have been a number of developments with death penalty cases in the last two weeks, including a new death sentence, a jury rejection of a capital murder charge, and a reduced sentence.  Here’s a recap:

  • On June 7, 2011, a Fort Bend County jury sentenced Albert
    James Turner to death for the 2009 murders of his wife Keitha Turner and his mother-in-law Betty Joe Frank.  Turner was a former prison guard and an honorably discharged Gulf War veteran.  This is the fourth new death sentence in Texas this year and the tenth such sentence out of Fort Bend County since 1976.  In 2010, Texas juries sentenced eight individuals to death, the lowest number since reinstatement of the death penalty.


  • On June 10, 2011, juries in the Dallas County case of Charles Payne rejected the charge of capital murder and instead found him guilty of murder in the shooting of police officer Senior Cpl. Norm Smith.   Because the jury found him guilty of a lesser charge than capital murder, Payne was no longer eligible for the death penalty.  According to the Dallas Morning News, “This is the 1st time since 1996 that Dallas County prosecutors seeking the death penalty have not won a capital murder conviction. In the case from that year, the jury gave the defendant a life sentence for murder.”  More than 100 people have been sentenced to death in Dallas County since 1976.

Payne claimed that he did not know that Senior Cpl. Smith was a police officer when he appeared at the door of his apartment and instead thought he was an intruder.  Jurors rejected his claim of self defense, however, and sentenced him to life in prison for the shooting.

  • According to The Daily News of Galveston County, District Attorney Jack Roady has decided not to pursue another death sentence for Gaylon George Walbey Jr. (“Teacher’s Murderer Gets Life In Prison,” June 12, 2011).   Walbey Jr had spent 16 years on death row for the 1993 murder of his former foster mother, Marionette Beyah.   By all accounts, he suffers from severe mental illness and has been diagnosed with schizophrenia.  As an editorial in The Daily News asks, “What message could a just society hope to send by executing someone like that?” (“In this case, justice was served,” June 15, 2011)

In 2009, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the state district court to conduct a new punishment hearing for Walbey after finding that his trial attorney had failed to investigate his horrific childhood and other potentially mitigating evidence.  Later that year,  Kurt Sistrunk, the Galveston County District Attorney at the time, announced his decision to seek another death sentence.   Roady, who defeated Sistrunk for the DA position in 2010, decided to end the case against Walbey after reviewing the evidence and speaking with the victim’s family.

Walbey, who was 18 at the time of the crime, will now serve a sentence of life in prison.

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01 June 2011 ~ 1 Comment

Texas 82nd Regular Legislative Session Ends, with Mixed Results

Thank you for contacting your State Representatives and Senators during the 82nd Texas Regular Legislative Session, which concluded on May 30, 2011.   It is clear from our conversations with dozens of legislative offices that TCADP members generated an unprecedented number of calls and emails this year to express their opposition to the death penalty.  Your grassroots advocacy plays a critical role in our efforts to shift the political climate on this issue!

From our perspective, the legislature took a few steps forward and (at least) one step back regarding the administration of justice in Texas.

On the positive side:

  • The House and Senate unanimously approved House Bill 215, which requires police departments to adopt written guidelines for how they conduct eyewitness identification procedures.  Mistaken eyewitness identification is the leading cause of wrongful conviction nationwide and was a factor in 38 of the 45 Texas exonerations based on DNA testing.  The bill heads to Governor Perry, who has indicated that he will sign it.
  • The legislature also approved House Bill 417, relating to claims for compensation for wrongful conviction.  Among other provisions, the bill stipulates that “a person is entitled to compensation if… the district court’s dismissal order is based on a motion to dismiss in which the state’s attorney states that no credible evidence exists that inculpates the defendant and, either in the motion or in an affidavit, the state’s attorney states that the state’s attorney believes that the defendant is actually innocent of the crime for which the person was sentenced.”  This provision addresses the case of Anthony Graves, who was denied compensation by the State Comptroller’s Office because the order releasing him did not contain the words “actual innocence.”  The bill also provides exonorees with access to health insurance through the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
  • Senate Bill 122 provides greater access to post-conviction DNA testing in cases where the evidence was not previously subjected to DNA testing or could benefit from newer testing techniques. Both SB 122 and HB 215 were recommendations from the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions.

On the disappointing side:

  • On Saturday, May 28, 2011, after some wrangling between the Senate and House of Representatives, Senate Bill 377 passed in its original form by a vote of 132 to 14 in the House, with 2 present not voting.   This bill expands the scope of the death penalty by making the murder of a child who is less than 10 years of age a capital offense.  The 14 Representatives who voted against it are: Burnam; Dutton; Farrar; Gonzalez; Gutierrez; Howard, D.; Johnson; Marquez; Miles; Muñoz; Naishtat; Oliveira; Rodriguez; and Veasey.  The bill has been sent to the Governor for his signature.

If you live in the district of one of the Representatives who voted NO on SB 377, please take a moment to call or email your legislator to thank him/her for taking a stand against this needless expansion of the death penalty.  Go to to determine contact information for your legislator or send an email to (example:

  • The legislature did not take action on the vast majority of bills related to the death penalty; it also left several other important criminal justice reforms pending.

If you have questions about other death penalty-related bills or the voting record of your legislators, please contact Kristin at or 512-441-1808.  Thanks again for responding to our calls for action during the session and, particularly, for your support for HB 819, a bill to repeal the death penalty in Texas.


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01 June 2011 ~ Comments Off on Four Texas Executions Scheduled for June

Four Texas Executions Scheduled for June

Four individuals are scheduled to be executed by the State of Texas this month.

  • Tonight, June 1, Gayland Bradford is scheduled to be executed.  Last October, he received a temporary stay from the U.S. Supreme Court.  Granted by Justice Antonin Scalia on October 8, 2010, the stay sought to give Bradford’s attorneys time to file a full appeal.  His attorneys contend that he is mentally deficient and that he received inadequate legal representation in some of his earlier appeals.  Bradford was convicted of the 1988 murder of Brian Edward Williams in Dallas.
  • On June 15, John Balentine faces execution for the 1998 killing of three teenagers in Amarillo. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit granted him a stay on September 29, 2009, the day before he was to be executed. The Court stayed the execution to determine if lower courts had properly resolved Balentine’s appeals.   He confessed after being arrested in Houston six months after the murders.  During his appeal, Balentine’s attorneys argued that his court-appointed trial lawyers were unqualified or deficient in their representation and had failed to develop mitigating evidence to show Balentine’s childhood of poverty, domestic violence, and abuse.  On November 2, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal.
  • Lee Taylor faces execution on June 16 for the 1999 murder of another offender in the Telford Unit.
  • On June 21, Milton Mathis is scheduled to be executed for the 1998 murders of Travis Brown and Daniel Hibbard in Fort Bend County.  He was 19 years old at the time of the crime.  His attorneys have provided evidence of his intellectual disabilities and argued that he meets the criteria as defined by the U.S. Supreme Court decision Atkins vs. Virginia (2002), which prohibited the death penalty for persons with mental retardation.  To date, the courts have denied his efforts to litigate his Atkins claim, ruling that his petition was time-barred.

The State of Texas has carried out three executions to date in 2011 (out of 19 nationwide).  Currently, six more executions are scheduled through September.

The execution of Cleve Foster may also be rescheduled.  Foster received a last-minute stay from the U.S. Supreme Court in April.   On May 31, 2011, the Court announced that it had lifted the stay and declined to hear arguments in the case.  Read more from the New York Times and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.


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09 May 2011 ~ Comments Off on More on Discredited Expert Testimony

More on Discredited Expert Testimony

Over the weekend, the Houston Chronicle published an editorial  calling for a review of the cases involving death row inmates who were evaluated for evidence of mental retardation by psychologist Dr. George Denkowski (“Fatal Errors,” May 7, 2011).  Last month, the state Board of Examiners of Psychologists reprimanded Denkowski for his unproven and unscientific methods and banned him from conducting future evaluations.

Yet according to the Chronicle, “… while Denkowski has been discredited and barred from testifying in such cases ever again, the men he has succeeded in keeping on death row — many of whose appeals have been on hold – could be procedurally barred from pursuing appeals unless legislative action is taken.”

A follow-up article by Mike Tolson (“Retardation issue set for 2nd round in courts,” May 9, 2011, Houston Chronicle), addresses the situation in Texas after the U.S. Supreme Court banned the application of the death penalty to persons with mental retardation (Atkins v. Virginia, 2002).  Tolson notes that the Harris County District Attorney’s Office “already is revisiting its eight cases in which Denkowski concluded that the defendant was not mentally retarded. Four others were reversed recently for other reasons.”

Read the full article.

Read the editorial.

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18 April 2011 ~ 3 Comments

Texas Psychologist Banned from Criminal Cases

Last week, the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists reprimanded psychologist George Denkowski for his unscientific testing methods in evaluating whether certain defendants in capital murder cases were intellectually disabled (and therefore ineligible for the death penalty).  As an expert witness in dozens of cases, Dr. Denkowski reportedly artificially inflated intelligence scores and deviated from the standard use of a test that evaluates adaptive behavior or life skills.  His testimony helped send at least 16 individuals to death row, 2 of whom have already been executed.

According to the Texas Tribune, “Texas defense lawyers and forensic psychologists across the nation have watched the case closely. Although Dr. Denkowski admitted no wrongdoing and defends his practice, those critical of his methods said the settlement could give those inmates still on death row an important appellate opportunity.” (“Texas Psychologist Punished in Death Penalty Cases,” April 15, 2011)

The Tribune also reports that “Other psychologists have rejected Dr. Denkowski’s methods, arguing that they have no scientific basis. The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities in its 2010 manual for classifying intellectual disability strongly cautioned against using Dr. Denkowski’s methods ‘until firmly supported by empirical evidence.'”

The U.S. Supreme Court decision Atkins v. Virginia (2002) prohibited the application of the death penalty to persons with intellectual disabilities but left it to states to determine the criteria for evaluating evidence of such disabilities.  The Texas Legislature still has not enacted statutory provisions governing the standards and procedures to be followed in these cases.  This session, the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee heard testimony on House Bill 1670 by Representative Garnet Coleman, which requires a pre-trial hearing in capital cases to determine whether the defendant has intellectual disabilities.  At least 13 inmates have been removed from Texas’ death row since 2002 in compliance with Atkins.

The State Board of Examiners banned Dr. Denkowski from conducting intellectual disability evaluations in future criminal cases and levied a fine of $5,500 against him.  In exchange, it dismissed the complaints against him and allowed him to keep his license.

Read more from the Houston Chronicle and the Associated Press.

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25 March 2011 ~ Comments Off on TCADP Odessa Chapter Hosts Successful Speaker’s Tour

TCADP Odessa Chapter Hosts Successful Speaker’s Tour

The Odessa Chapter Against the Death Penalty is responsible for death row exoneree, Juan Melendez’s two day visit to the Permian Basin.

According to Father Mark Miller, chapter leader, “He is speaking from first hand experience. I believe when people hear that, they begin to think and imagine it in a new way. So I think we only grow to have a new perspective when we are able to imagine things differently then what we may have grown up with.”

The Odessa Chapter hosted Juan Melendez for three speaking events in Odessa. The events attracted 200+ people and resulted in 3 TV interviews, 2 paper interviews, and 1 radio live interview.

Juan addressed crowds at St. Joseph Hall, the Salvador Guerrero Southside Senior Center and Blackshear Auditorium in both English and Spanish.

To schedule a similar speaker’s tour, be in touch with the TCADP office at 512.441.1808 or

Media Coverage:

Channel 2 (ABC) –
NewsWest 9 –
Odessa American –

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25 March 2011 ~ 2 Comments

Texas House Bill 819 to Receive Hearing

Friday, March 25, 2011

CONTACT: Kristin Houlé, Executive Director
512-441-1808 (office); 512-751-7009 (cell)

House Committee Set to Hear Repeal Bill

Texas one of a dozen states considering legislation to end the death penalty

(Austin, Texas) — On Tuesday, March 29, 2011 the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee will hold a public hearing on House Bill (HB) 819, which calls for the repeal of the death penalty in Texas.  The hearing will take place at the State Capitol in the John H. Reagan Building (JHR) 120 (upon final adjournment/recess of the House).

“National momentum is clearly shifting in the direction of abolition,” said State Representative Jessica Farrar, the author of HB 819, along with State Representatives Marisa Marquez and Alma Allen.  “Earlier this month, Illinois became the 16th state, and the 4th in recent years, to abandon the death penalty.  In addition, elected officials in at least 12 other states are considering repeal legislation this year. This hearing provides members of the Texas House of Representatives with the opportunity to engage in open dialogue about the flaws and failures of our state’s capital punishment system.”

Rep. Farrar first introduced this bill – which strikes the death penalty as a sentencing option from all relevant sections of the Texas Penal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure and replaces it with life in prison without the possibility of parole – in 2007.  In 2009, the Subcommittee on Capital Punishment of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee considered testimony from attorneys, religious leaders, academics, and individuals impacted directly by violent crime.  Among those scheduled to testify before the full committee this year are:

  • Chris Castillo, National Outreach Coordinator for Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation.  Chris’s mother, Pilar Castillo, was murdered in Houston in 1991; to date, no one has been held accountable for this crime.
  • Reverend Carroll Pickett, a Presbyterian minister who served as the death house chaplain at the Walls Unit in Huntsville for 15 years and accompanied 95 men to their deaths by execution.  He was present for the first U.S. execution by lethal injection, when Charlie Brooks was put to death in Texas on December 7, 1982.
  • Professor Dennis Longmire, Sam Houston State University, who will speak about the cost of the death penalty.

“During this time of fiscal crisis, the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (TCADP) urges all elected officials to take a good hard look at the death penalty system and ask whether this is a good use of tax payers’ dollars when there are alternative ways to protect society and punish those who are truly guilty,” said Kristin Houlé, TCADP Executive Director.  “We strongly endorse HB 819 and urge the members House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee to support this important legislation.”

To arrange an interview with any of the witnesses, please contact Kristin Houlé at 512-751-7009.


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