Archive | death penalty

13 December 2010 ~ Comments Off

TCADP Annual Report: Only 2% of Texas Counties Imposed Death Sentences This Year

Today, December 13, 2010, the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (TCADP) released its annual report, Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2010: The Year in Review. TCADP releases this annual report each December in conjunction with the anniversary of the resumption of executions in Texas in 1982.

According to the report, death sentences in Texas have dropped more than 70% since 2003, reaching a historic low in 2010. Juries condemned eight new individuals to death in Texas in 2010, the lowest number of new death sentences since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Texas’ revised death penalty statute in 1976.  These new sentences occurred in six counties: Brazos; Dallas; Harris; Nueces; Rusk; and Travis.  This represents just 2% of all Texas counties.

Recent sentencing trends illustrate the arbitrary and biased imposition of the death penalty.  An analysis of data from 2007 to 2010 reveals that only 21 counties – 8% of the 254 counties in Texas – meted out death sentences over the last four years.  Out of a total 43 death sentences imposed statewide between 2007 and 2010, Dallas County leads with seven, followed closely by Harris County, with six new sentences.   Bexar and Travis Counties each accounted for three new death sentences since 2007.  Nearly three-fourths of all death sentences in Texas over the last four years have been imposed on people of color – 40% African American, 30% Hispanic/Latino, and 2% other.

In conjunction with the report, TCADP has produced two interactive maps highlighting new death sentences by county from 2007 to 2010 and from 1976 to 2010.  Clicking on each county reveals the total number of sentences, the number executed, the number awaiting execution, and the number exonerated.  See below for links to each map.

The number of executions also dropped in 2010.  The State of Texas executed 17 people, the lowest number since 2001.  The state remains the nation’s leading executioner, accounting for approximately 37% of U.S. executions in 2010.  The number of executions in Texas this year represents a smaller percentage of the national total than it has in recent years, however.

“Texas – along with the rest of the nation – is moving away from the death penalty,” said Kristin Houlé, Executive Director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.  “The system is broken beyond repair, and the continued decline in new death sentences shows that jurors and prosecutors in Texas are seeking other ways to address violent crime.”

Concerns about wrongful convictions and emerging evidence of wrongful executions dominated headlines this year.  On October 27, 2010 Anthony Graves walked out of the Burleson County Jail after spending 18 years in prison – including 12 years on death row – for a crime he did not commit. Prosecutors dropped all charges against Graves and declared him innocent after conducting their own investigation of the case.  His conviction was based on the testimony of Robert Carter, who was convicted and executed for the same crime in 2000 and who recanted several times, including from the gurney.  Anthony Graves is the 12th person in Texas to be wrongfully convicted and removed from death row and the 138th nationwide.

The ongoing inquiry into the case of Cameron Todd Willingham also underscored the fallibility of the system.  Willingham was executed in 2004 for setting a fire to his Corsicana home in 1991 that killed his three young daughters. The Texas Forensic Science Commission admitted “flaws” in the science used to convict him.  In January it will hold a special meeting with some of the fire experts who have examined the case since the time of conviction and concluded that there was no evidence to support the finding of arson.

In another case of “flawed” science, recent DNA testing of evidence that was used to convict and execute Claude Jones ten years ago this month revealed that the strand of hair belonged to the victim, not to Jones, as a forensic expert testified during his 1990 trial. While the DNA results do not exonerate Jones, they raise serious questions about the reliability of his conviction.

Other highlights of Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2010: The Year in Review include the following:

  • In three capital murder trials, juries rejected the death penalty and opted for a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.  Over the last three years, juries have rejected the death penalty in a dozen cases (two each in Travis and Bexar Counties).
  • Three inmates scheduled for execution in 2010 received last-minute stays; the execution date of another inmate was withdrawn.  On March 24, Henry “Hank” Skinner received a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court shortly after eating his “last meal.”  In October, the Court heard arguments to determine whether Skinner can seek access to post-conviction DNA testing through the federal Civil Rights Act.  Texas officials have refused to release key pieces of evidence gathered at the crime scene in 1993 for testing.
  • At least six inmates received reduced sentences in 2010 and were removed from the death row population, including several inmates whose death sentences were overturned because jurors did not hear mitigating evidence during their original trials.  Three other inmates died in custody, including Ronald Chambers, who spent 35 years on death row and was awaiting a fourth sentencing hearing related to the 1975 murder of Mike McMahan.
  • A nationwide shortage of the first drug used in the lethal injection protocol, sodium thiopental, led some states to postpone executions as their supplies dwindle or expire.  In November, officials with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice revealed that they had enough drugs on hand to execute 39 people, but that doses of sodium thiopental will expire in March 2011.
  • There currently are 317 people (307 men and 10 women) on death row in Texas.  Texas holds the third-largest death row population in the nation, after California (713) and Florida (393).

“2010 may go down in history as the ‘Year of Doubt,’ when case after case exposed the flaws and failures of the Texas death penalty and shook public faith in the criminal justice system to its core,” said Houlé.  “During this time of fiscal crisis, 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.”

Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2010: The Year in Review is available online at www.tcadp.org/TexasDeathPenaltyDevelopments2010.pdf .  Contact Kristin Houlé at khoule@tcadp.org to receive a copy directly via email.

See http://tcadp.org/2007-2010-new-death-sentences/ for a map of new death sentences by county from 2007 to 2010.

See http://tcadp.org/death-sentences-by-county1976-2010/ for a map of death sentences by county from 1976 to 2010.

Download a pdf version of this press release.   Obtener una copia de este anuncio.

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19 November 2010 ~ 3 Comments

National Poll Finds Changing Attitudes Toward Death Penalty

Earlier this week, the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) published the results of a national poll about Americans’ views on the death penalty.  Here are some of the key findings:

  • The poll showed growing support for alternatives to the death penalty when compared with previous polls.
  • 61% of voters would choose a punishment other than the death penalty for murder.
    • 39% would choose a sentence of life without the possibility of parole and with restitution to the victim’s family.
    • 13% would choose life with no possibility of parole.
    • 8% would choose life with the possibility of parole.
  • In states with the death penalty, 62% of voters said that it would make no difference in how they voted if a representative supported repeal of the death penalty.
  • Costs associated with the death penalty emerged as a strong concern for a majority of voters.
  • 65% of respondents said that they would favor replacing the death penalty with life without parole if the money saved were used to fund crime prevention programs.
  • Hispanic voters were among those most willing to replace the death penalty with an alternative punishment.
  • Some of the top concerns about the death penalty were: it was applied unevenly and unfairly; it subjects victims’ families to lengthy trials and years of appeals that interfere with the healing process; it risks executing the innocent.
  • Moral or religious objections to the death penalty were strong among Latino and Catholic voters.

According to Richard Dieter, Executive Director of Death Penalty Information Center, “For decades, politicians have equated being tough on crime with support for the death penalty, but this research suggests voters want their elected officials to be smart on crime, use tax dollars wisely, and fund the services they care about the most. Capital punishment is not a high priority for voters and is not the ‘third rail’ of politics.”

More information about the poll can be found at http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/pollresults.

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11 November 2010 ~ 1 Comment

Breaking News in the Case of Claude Jones

The Texas Observer is reporting today on the results of DNA testing of evidence that was used to convict and execute Claude Jones on December 7, 2000. The one-inch strand of hair was the only physical evidence that tied Jones to the crime scene and murder of liquor store owner Allen Hilzendager.  According to the Observer, the DNA results show that the hair belonged to the victim, not to Jones, as a forensic expert had testified as his trial.

Earlier this summer,  State District Judge Paul Murphy granted a motion from The Innocence Project and the Observer and ordered local prosecutors to turn over the hair sample for testing.

In his earlier reporting on the story, Dave Mann of the Observer noted that “questions about Jones’ guilt have long lingered”  and that the case against him included fuzzy eyewitness testimony and the questionable testimony of two other suspects, both of who were spared the death penalty for their testimony.

The results of this DNA testing raise yet more questions about the reliability and fairness of the Texas death penalty system.  It comes on the heels of the exoneration of Anthony Graves, who spent 18 years in person – including 12 on death row- for a crime he did not commit.  Graves is the 12th person to be exonerated from death row in Texas and the 139th nationwide.

Read the exclusive story in The Texas Observer.

Read an earlier TCADP blog post on this subject.

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03 November 2010 ~ Comments Off

More Coverage of Graves Exoneration

“I’m looking forward to the rest of my life.”

Reading those words from Anthony Graves gave me chills.   The fact that he spent 18 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit is unthinkable, and the challenges of adjusting to the free world seem daunting.  Yet by all accounts, Graves is handling his newfound freedom with the same grace and courage he demonstrated throughout his years in prison.

There’s been a great deal of media coverage in the wake of Graves’ exoneration last week:

Read an update from Pamela Colloff, whose article in the October 2010 issue of Texas Monthly shed important light on this case.

Read an account of how Graves learned he was a free man in The Bryan College Station Eagle, (“Freedom ‘heaven’ for Graves,” October 31, 2010).

An article in the Houston Chronicle, “A mother always knows,” (October 30, 2010) addresses the toll that Graves’ wrongful conviction took on his family, who stood by him throughout his ordeal.

Another interesting article in the Chronicle offers insights from three other men who used to be on Texas’ death row, “Life after death row” (October 30,2010).  Graves is now the 12th person in Texas to be exonerated from death row, and the 139th nationwide.

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Please help TCADP spread the word about the flaws and failures of our state’s death penalty system by sharing information about Anthony Graves with everyone you know!

  • Download a fact sheet on Graves for use at tabling events or other public education opportunities.
  • Post the links above on your Facebook page.
  • Submit a letter to the editor or add online comments in response to these articles.
  • Contact TCADP for more ideas!

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28 October 2010 ~ 4 Comments

Anthony Graves Exonerated and Released!!!

This just in… Anthony Graves, whose case was featured in Texas Monthly and in the TCADP 2010 Fall Newsletter, has been exonerated and released from the Burleson County Jail, where he was awating retrial.  Prosecutors dropped all charges against Graves and declared him innocent, after conducting their own investigation of the case.  Graves had been convicted solely on the testimony of Robert Carter, who also was convicted of the crime and sentenced to death.  Carter recanted many times before his execution in 2000.

Anthony Graves spent 12 years on death row and another four years in jail for a crime he did not commit.  He is the 12th person in Texas to be wrongfully convicted and released from death row.  TCADP congratulates the legal team, investigators, students and professors with the University of St. Thomas, and everyone else who worked tirelessly on this case.

Read more in the Houston Chronicle.

Additional News Coverage:

Dallas Morning News
More from Houston Chronicle
Austin American Statesman
Press Conference with ABC News

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18 October 2010 ~ Comments Off

Court of Inquiry Ruling Postponed

On October 14, 2010, State District Judge Charlie Baird convened a court of inquiry into whether Cameron Todd Willingham was wrongfully executed and whether or not state officials committed a crime in how they handled his case prior to the execution.  Despite a motion filed by Navarro County District Attorney, Lowell Thompson, asking Judge Baird to recuse himself from the case, Baird allowed the proceedings to take place, stating that, in fact, Thompson was not a party to the case and therefore the motion would not stand.

Attorneys for the Willingham family called two witnesses—John Lentini and Dr. Gerald Hurst—both of whom are among the leading fire experts in the country who have spoken out regarding the flaws in the forensic science used to convict Willingham.  The Willingham family attorneys also presented to the court their argument that the testimony from jailhouse snitch Johnny Webb was not credible on its face.

The proceedings concluded on Thursday afternoon.  Any potential ruling has been delayed, however, due to another motion filed by the Navarro County DA — this time with the 3rd Appeals Court of Austin, which granted an emergency stay giving the Willingham family attorneys until October 22 to respond.

Read more at:

“Court Blocks Ruling on Case”

http://www.star-telegram.com/2010/10/14/2548412/court-blocks-ruling-in-death-penalty.html

“Appellate Court Orders Halt to Willingham Inquiry”

http://www.statesman.com/blogs/content/shared-gen/blogs/austin/courts/entries/2010/10/14/willingham_hearing_could_begin.html

“Court of Inquiry on TX Man’s Execution Gets Underway”

http://www.heraldonline.com/2010/10/14/2532438/court-of-inquiry-in-texas-mans.html

“Austin Appeals Court Issues Stay Order in Willingham Probe”

http://corsicanadailysun.com/local/x1324604421/Austin-appeals-court-issues-stay-order-in-Willingham-probe

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12 October 2010 ~ 5 Comments

Stay of Execution: Gayland Bradford

Gayland Bradford, scheduled for execution on Thursday, October 14, has received a stay of execution from the U.S. Supreme Court.   The temporary stay, granted by Justice Antonin Scalia on October 8, will give Bradford’s attorneys time to file a full appeal.  They contend that their client is mentally deficient and that he received inadequate legal representation in some of his earlier appeals.

Read more from CNN.

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12 October 2010 ~ Comments Off

Bexar County Jury Rejects the Death Penalty

On Thursday, October 7, 2010, a Bexar County jury rejected the death penalty for Keith Evans, who was convicted of the capital murder of Mohammed “Moe” Omar during a failed robbery attempt of a convenience store in San Antonio.  Evans had admitted his guilt in the attempted robbery and murder, but testified that he had not intended to shoot and kill Mr. Omar.

This is the third case in 2010 in which a Texas jury has rejected the death penalty and opted instead for the sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.  In 2009, a Bexar County jury rejected the death penalty for Russell Knowles in a  similar case involving a botched robbery of a convenience store.

There have been six new death sentences to date in Texas in 2010.

Read more about this case in the San Antonio Express-News.

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