Archive | death penalty

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.


Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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 –

Continue Reading

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.


Continue Reading

22 March 2011 ~ Comments Off on Two New Death Sentences in Texas

Two New Death Sentences in Texas

To date this year, there has been at least one resentence (Brian Edwards Davis in Harris County) and two new death sentences.

  • On March 16, 2011, jurors in the case of Cortne’ Mareese Robinson sentenced him to death for the 2009 murder of 82-year-old Frank Zabokrtsky. Robinson was 18 years old at the time of the crime and is the first of three co-defendants to go on trial.  This is only the second death sentence imposed in Harrison County since 1976.
  • On March 21, 2011 jurors in Galveston County sentenced Travis Mullis to death for the sexual assault and murder of his three-month-old son Alijah.  Mullis’ attorneys presented evidence of their client’s mental disorders and history of childhood sexual abuse.


Marshall News Messenger:

Houston Chronicle:

Continue Reading

16 March 2011 ~ 1 Comment

Texas Changes Lethal Injection Protocol

Today the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) announced that it is changing the way executions are carried out in this state.  According to the Associated Press (and reported by NPR):

Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials said they plan to substitute pentobarbital for sodium thiopental in the three-drug cocktail used for lethal injections. Pentobarbital also is commonly used to euthanize animals and recently has been used for executions in Oklahoma.

TDCJ’s supply of sodium thiopental expired this month; the sole U.S.-based manufacturer of that drug, Hospira, announced earlier this year that it would no longer produce it.

Below is a statement from the attorney for Cleve Foster, who is scheduled to be executed by the State of Texas on April 5, 2011.

Statement from Attorney for Cleve Foster in Response to

Change in Texas Execution Protocol
“The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) has known since at least early January that its supply of sodium thiopental was set to expire on March 1, 2011,  and that the company from which they had always obtained the drug had stopped production. Yet it is only today, less than three weeks shy of Mr. Foster’s scheduled execution, that TDCJ has announced a decision to change the protocol by which they will execute Mr. Foster.  The timing of the decision and disclosure raises serious concerns about the haste with which they are seeking to implement this new process, and a lack of transparency by state officials. To permit less than three weeks for these matters to be vetted undermines any faith we can have in TDCJ’s concern for deliberate process, accountability, or the constitutionality of the new procedures.

“Moreover, Texas is rushing to carry out an execution using an entirely new protocol, but they refuse to fully disclose basic information, such as whether  any medical authorities were consulted regarding the incorporation of a new drug; the source of the pentobarbitol; and the training of personnel who will implement the new procedure for the first time.

“Prison officials are not medical professionals. They cannot be trusted to change a medical procedure in the dark of night without public scrutiny, especially when there is such a minimal  track record on the use of pentobarbital in lethal injections. To ensure that the new protocol comports with Texas’ constitution, we need — and Texas law requires — a deliberative process with appropriate authoritative input and public comment.  We expect our state officials to not conduct its business in secret – particularly when it concerns the ultimate act that Texas can take against one of its citizens.  The rush to execute should not trump the need to ensure that appropriate safeguards have been taken, or the far reaching implications of circumventing a deliberate process, especially when it is TDCJ that has waited until the last minute to decide on or announce the change in how it plans to carry out executions.”


Maurie Levin, Adjunct Professor, U.T. Capital Punishment Center

Contact:  512-232-7795 (o); 512-294-1540 (c)

Date:  March 16, 2011

Brief background on Cleve Foster case:

Cleve Foster was convicted and sentenced to death under Texas’ law of parties for the 2003 murder of Nyanuer “Mary” Pal.  His codefendant, Sheldon Ward, was convicted and sentenced to death as the triggerman.  Mr. Ward, who died on death row of natural causes, gave four statements asserting that Mr. Foster was not involved in Ms. Pal’s murder.   Mr. Foster was scheduled to be executed on January 11, 2011, but received a stay from the United States Supreme Court as the result of litigation raising questions about his innocence, and the ineffectiveness of appointed counsel in failing to adequately raise that issue.  The Supreme Court subsequently lifted that stay without comment on the merits and Mr. Foster is now scheduled for execution on April 5, 2011.

Continue Reading

16 February 2011 ~ 1 Comment

More than 90 Faith Leaders Call for Clemency for Timothy Adams

Today more than 90 Christian faith leaders from communities throughout Texas called on the Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Rick Perry to grant clemency to Timothy Adams.  Adams is scheduled to be executed by the State of Texas on February 22, 2011.  His family, who is also the family of the victim, Timothy Jr., has asked for mercy, noting that an execution will do nothing to repair the loss and anguish they have experienced since the time of the crime.

TCADP is deeply grateful to all of the faith leaders who joined this call for mercy.  We also wish to express our appreciation to Bishop Joe Wilson and Sister Elizabeth Riebschlaeger for their participation in today’s press conference to release the letter.

The full text of the press release, which contains excerpts from the sign-on letter, is below.  If you would like to see the letter and list of signatories, please contact Kristin Houlé at

Texas Defender Service

For Immediate Release: February 16, 2011
Contact: Laura Burstein at 202-626-6868 or 202-669-3411 or

More than 90 Christian Faith Leaders Call on Texas Parole Board and Governor Perry to Grant Clemency to Timothy Adams

Religious Leaders from Across Texas Join Victim Family Members at State Capitol to Urge for Clemency, Saying Crime was an Aberration in Veteran’s Life

Three Jurors Also Supporting Clemency for Timothy Adams

(Austin, Texas, Wednesday, February 16, 2011) Today, in the largest outpouring of faith leader support in a  Texas death penalty case in recent years, a group of ninety-one prominent religious leaders from across the state called on the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Rick Perry to grant clemency to Timothy Adams. Mr. Adams is an army veteran with no criminal history, not even an arrest, prior to the tragedy where he killed his son while planning his own suicide in 2002. His execution is scheduled for Tuesday, February 22.

Faith leaders from eight Christian denominations and from within the Unitarian Universalist community, including Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza of the Catholic Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston; Reverend Raymundo J. Pena, Bishop Emeritus of the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville; Bishop Michael Rinehart, TX-LA Gulf Coast Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Reverend Bobbi Kaye Jones, Austin District Superintendent of the United Methodist Church; and Doctor Joe S. Ratliff, Pastor of Brentwood Baptist Church, the largest African-American church in Houston, announced their support for clemency in a letter that was delivered to state officials this morning.

In their letter to the parole board and the Governor, they state: “We join the victim’s family in asking that you spare Mr. Adams from death. You have an extraordinary opportunity to show mercy to a family that has already suffered greatly and to uphold the sacredness of human life. We pray that you grant life to Timothy Adams.”

Several of the faith leaders, including Bishop Joe Wilson of the United Methodist Church and former Bishop to the Central Texas Conference, Sister Elizabeth Riebschlaeger of the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, and Reverend Lawrence L. Scott of New Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church, where the Adams family worships, attended a press conference at the Capitol Building in Austin to announce their support for clemency along with the victim’s family, including the grandmother, grandfather and aunt who are also related to Mr. Adams.

“Our family lost one child. We can’t bear to lose another. After my grandson’s death, we lived through pain worse than anyone could imagine. Nothing good will come from executing my son Tim and causing us more anguish,” said Columbus Adams, Mr. Adams’ father and a 30-year veteran of the Houston Fire Department. “We pray that God will fill Governor Perry’s heart with compassion. If not for Tim, then at least for our family.”

Three jurors from Mr. Adams’ trial have come forward to request a commutation of Mr. Adams’ death sentence to one of life. They believe they were not presented at trial with a complete picture of Mr. Adams’ character and religious background. They believe that information relating to Mr. Adams’s upbringing, deep devotion to religion, and mental state would have caused them to stick with their initial inclination, which was to spare Mr. Adams and sentence him to life in prison.

Mr. Adams is loved and supported by members of his church, work supervisors, fellow soldiers from the military, and many others.  For example:

  • Mr. Adams was raised in a Christian home and was active member of New Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Houston. His Sunday school teacher, Verlene Edmond, remembers Mr. Adams as “quiet” and “polite” as a teenager and supports a commutation of Mr. Adams’ sentence.
  • When Mr. Adams graduated from high school, he enlisted in the army and served his country.  Mr. Adams’ friend Roger West, a Sergeant First Class in the United States Army, Purple Heart recipient, and about to be deployed on his fifth tour in Iraq, said that he wishes he could have “a whole platoon of guys like Tim.” Mr. Adams was honorably discharged in 1989.
  • Mr. Adams was always a hard worker who wanted to support his young family. He worked as a security guard at Greenway Plaza in Houston. He was such a good worker that he was quickly promoted to supervisor of all security shifts. Tim’s supervisor, Diane Garcia, received “many, many positive comments and feedback on Tim’s performance.”
  • Mr. Adams was a role model to his younger siblings. Chadrick Adams, Mr. Adams’ brother, said his older brother taught him his work ethic and inspired him to earn a scholarship to and graduate from college.

From the beginning, Mr. Adams accepted responsibility for what he did. He pleaded guilty in open court and before the jury, even though he was not offered anything in return for his plea.

Mr. Adams has spent his time on death row reflecting on what he did, seeking forgiveness from his family, friends and God, and deepening his faith in Jesus Christ. He has been a model prisoner without a single disciplinary write-up on his record – not even for a minor infraction – during his eight years in prison.

Mr. Adams is not a danger to anyone and never will be. If the Governor commutes his death sentence, he will spend the rest of his life in prison.

In conclusion, the faith leaders stated that “[w]e firmly believe that Mr. Adams must be held accountable for his actions. We simply pray in doing so, we ourselves do not lose sight of the humanity and compassion that Christ calls us to.”


Mr. Adams’ clemency petition and additional background material about the case is posted at

To speak with Mr. Adams’ attorneys or family members, please contact Laura Burstein at 202-626-6868 or

Continue Reading