Archive | death penalty

18 August 2010 ~ Comments Off

Save the Date: Austin Panel Discussion

On Tuesday, September 28th, 7 PM, at St. John’s United Methodist Church, 2140 Allandale Road, Austin there will be a panel discussion about capital punishment featuring three individuals who view it from very different and unique perspectives.

The panel members include:

Professor Rob Owen, UT Law School and Co-Director of the Capital Punishment Center. Rob has defended people facing the death penalty at every level of state and federal court system, including arguing successfully at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Reverend Sidney Hall, Senior Pastor, Trinity United Methodist Church, Austin. Rev. Hall leads a congregation that describes itself as inclusive and that is active in social justice issues.

Michael Heath, murder victim family. Michael brings a voice and perspective to the issue of capital punishment that answers the challenge, “…but what if it were your family member…?”

Please put this date on your calendar, invite  friends and plan to be with us for this interesting event.

For more info email

Continue Reading

02 August 2010 ~ 2 Comments

El Pasoans Against the Death Penalty – August 2010 Newsletter

Learn more about the El Paso TCADP chapter in their August newsletter.

The newsletter includes info on the Juan Melendez Speaking tour scheduled for September, upcoming events and more!

A link is found in the Chapter News section…

Continue Reading

30 July 2010 ~ 2 Comments

TX Forensic Science Commission Admits “Flaws” in Willingham Case

There has been a great deal of media coverage of the Texas Forensic Science Commission’s meeting last Friday, July 23, 2010, during which a subcommittee said that arson investigators in the case of Cameron Todd Willinghamused flawed science but were not negligent” in an investigation that led to his controversial 2004 execution.  According to CNN, “the panel declared that investigators were using the science available to them at the time, even though it was flawed.  The board said it would present its final report for a vote at a meeting in October.”  (CNN, “Texas state board says arson investigators used flawed science,” July 23, 2010).

According to the Dallas Morning News, “Texas Forensic Science Commission members said they believed there was insufficient evidence to establish whether investigators botched their 1991 investigation of the fire that killed Cameron Todd Willingham’s three daughters.”  This determination starkly contradicts nine fire experts who have examined the case since the original conviction and found that the evidence did not support the finding of arson.

State Senator Rodney Ellis (Houston) issued the following statement in response to the proceedings:

“I am happy to hear that the Forensic Science Commission is moving
forward on the Todd Willingham investigation, but unfortunately the
Commission is off track in terms of what it should be investigating.
It was painfully apparent that many FSC members believe that flawed
science was used in the Willingham conviction, but the FSC does not
seem interested in looking at the bigger picture: When did the State
Fire Marshal start using modern arson science and did the State Fire
Marshal commit professional negligence or misconduct when it failed to
inform the courts, prosecutors, the Board of Pardons and Parole, and
the Governor that flawed arson science had been used to convict
hundreds of defendants?…”

Here’s a sample of some of the editorials and columns that have appeared:

Dallas Morning News – “Official ‘oops’ in the Willingham case?”, July 26, 2010

Houston Chronicle – “Forensic panel must resist chair’s efforts at sabotage” by Barry Scheck and Patricia Willingham Cox, July 20, 2010

Austin American-Statesman – “Science – like death – has its limits“, July 27, 2010

Houston Chronicle, “Questions of Innocence,” July 28, 2010

Houston Chronicle, “Of science, witches and arson trials,” by Rick Casey, July 28, 2010

Read more.

Continue Reading

21 July 2010 ~ Comments Off

Retired NYC Police Investigator Voices Concerns about Death Penalty

Today’s Hartford (Connecticut) Courant features an excellent op-ed from Terrence P. Dwyer,  a retired investigator with the New York State Police, Bureau of Criminal Investigation.  In “More than Reasonable Doubt About Death Penalty” (July 21, 2010), Dwyer expresses his concerns about the risk of convicting and executing the innocent.  He also voices concern about the impact of the death penalty on murder victims’ family members.  Here’s an excerpt:

“Clearly, by keeping the death penalty in place, we run the unacceptable risk of executing the innocent. Those of us in law enforcement do our best to take the guilty off the streets, and more often than not we get it right. But in a world where mistakes are inevitable, the death penalty has no place.

With the death penalty as a statutory sentence, though, some prosecutors seek it and set in motion a never-ending legal process. This is sad to watch. Everyone in a capital trial — the prosecutors, defense attorneys, investigators and judge — knows that it will take decades before the case is resolved. But prosecutors still go for the death penalty, and victims’ families are left to endure endless trials and appeals.

Though some want to shorten the legal process in capital cases, that is not going to happen. Because of past wrongful convictions, the courts have mandated safeguards. Capital cases will always be a marathon.”

Read more from this important voice of opposition to the death penalty.

Continue Reading

02 July 2010 ~ Comments Off

The death penalty: Still arbitrary, capricious, and discriminatory

July 2 marked the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Gregg v. Georgia (1976), which upheld the newly crafted death penalty statutes of several states (including that of Texas) and paved the way for the resumption of executions. Just four years earlier, the Court had ruled in Furman v. Georgia (1972) that the death penalty system, as administered at that time, was arbitrary, capricious, and discriminatory – as random as being struck by lightning. With the Gregg decision, however, the justices reversed course and took the position that the death penalty did not offend “the evolving standards of decency which mark the progress of a maturing society.”

In reality, the death penalty is no less arbitrary or any fairer today than it was in 1972. To date, 138 individuals (including 11 in Texas) have been released from death rows nationwide due to evidence of their wrongful conviction. Although the State of Texas accounts for more than one-third of all U.S. executions since 1977, more than half of all Texas counties have not sent a single person to death row. And cases like those of Hank Skinner, Claude Jones, and Cameron Todd Willingham continue to raise doubts about the reliability of the criminal justice system – so much so that according to a national poll conducted earlier this month by Rasmussen Reports, 73% of Americans are at least “somewhat concerned” that some people may be executed for crimes they did not commit, including 40% who are “very concerned.”

These realities led the American Law Institute last fall to withdraw a section of its Model Penal Code concerned with capital punishment because of the “current intractable institutional and structural obstacles to ensuring a minimally adequate system for administering capital punishment.”

Such concerns have impacted members of the Supreme Court, as well. Retiring Justice John Paul Stevens was part of the majority in the Gregg decision. His views on the death penalty evolved tremendously over his three decades as justice, however, and he became a consistent vote in favor of narrowing the application of the death penalty and, more recently, in questioning its very utility. In 2008, Justice Stevens wrote:

“… I have relied on my own experience in reaching the conclusion that the imposition of the death penalty represents the pointless and needless extinction of life with only marginal contributions to any discernible social or public purposes.” (Baze v. Rees, April 16, 2008)

A growing number of religious leaders, murder victim family members, criminal justice professionals, elected officials, and concerned citizens in Texas have reached the same conclusion and are calling for an end to this arbitrary, capricious, and error-prone form of punishment. Texas District Attorneys are seeking the death penalty – and Texas juries are returning it – far less often. In fact, the rate of death penalty sentences handed down annually has decreased 60% over the last 6 years.

Texas has other means to punish the truly guilty and protect society without resorting to state killing. The alternative of Life in Prison without the Possibility of Parole (LWOP) enables our state to punish guilty offenders, protect society, and guard against the risk of convicting or executing the innocent. LWOP was not an available option in Texas in 1976. It is today.

Our “maturing” society does not need the death penalty, with its arbitrariness and its attendant possibilities for mistakes. It is time to do away with this fatally flawed and unnecessary punishment and repeal the death penalty.

Continue Reading

27 May 2010 ~ Comments Off

Update on Judge Fine in Houston

Here’s an update from the Houston Chronicle regarding Judge Kevin Fine. This spring, in the case of John Edward Green, Judge Fine ruled the administration of the death penalty unconstitutional due to the risk of wrongful conviction and wrongful execution. He later rescinded the ruling but scheduled a hearing on the motion. He will remain the judge on this case.
Thursday, May 27, 2010 | Copyright 2010 Houston Chronicle

DA’s effort to recuse judge in murder case rejected
By BRIAN ROGERS | Houston Chronicle

A Houston judge who declared the procedures surrounding the death
penalty unconstitutional in March, then rescinded his ruling to hear
more information, will stay on the case, a special judge has ruled.

State District Judge L.J. Gist denied the district attorney’s motion
to recuse Kevin Fine, who presides over the 177th state District

“It is the finding of this court that the totality of evidence does
not support the state’s motion to recuse Judge Fine nor that his
impartiality might be reasonably questioned,” Gist wrote.

Gist said he filed the denial Tuesday, but clerks said they had not
received it until Wednesday.

On April 1, Harris County’s District Attorney Pat Lykos asked that
Fine be recused after he ruled that the Texas capital murder statute
violates due process provisions of the U.S. Constitution.

“A reasonable person, knowing all the circumstances involved, would
harbor doubts as to the impartiality of Judge Fine,” according to
court documents filed by prosecutors.

If Fine rules the same way after hearing arguments on the issue and
his ruling survives appellate review, it will take the death penalty
off the table for John Edward Green. The 25-year-old Green is accused
in the robbery and fatal shooting of Huong Thien Nguyen, 34, on June
16, 2008.

Fine’s original ruling drew swift rebukes from Lykos, Texas Attorney
General Greg Abbott and Gov. Rick Perry.

Continue Reading

21 May 2010 ~ Comments Off

Urge Clemency for David Lee Powell

David Lee Powell, who was sentenced to death in 1978 for the murder of Austin Police Officer Ralph Ablanedo, is scheduled for execution on June 15, 2010. He has accepted responsibility for his crime and repeatedly expressed his remorse to Officer Ablanedo’s family and the law enforcement community in Austin.

In his 32 years on death row, David has been a model prisoner and has assisted his fellow inmates in numerous ways – diffusing conflicts, teaching others to read, and advocating for those with disabilities. His case starkly demonstrates the fallacy of the “future dangerousness” argument that prosecutors in Texas often use to convince jurors to sentence a defendant to death. At a resentencing hearing for David Powell in 1999, former Texas State Legislator Sissy Farenthold, Ronald Hampton, Executive Director of the National Black Police Association, and several prison guards from death row who had known David for years testified on his behalf. They all attested to his upstanding character and firmly stated that he was no longer a threat to society. David had no history of violence before or since the crime for which he was convicted and sentenced to death.

You can read more about David Lee Powell in an article that appeared this week in the Austin Chronicle (“The execution of David Powell will not serve justice”).

Please send a letter to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, urging clemency for David Lee Powell. Letters from Travis County residents are particularly valuable. You can take action through the website of Amnesty International USA or compose your own letter based on AIUSA’s Urgent Action. Here are some suggested talking points:

-Note that Mr. Powell does not pose a threat or future danger to society, according to several law enforcement officers who testified on his behalf.

-Note that the death penalty issue has changed dramatically in Texas in the last 30 years and that the number of new death sentences has declined more than 60% in recent years.

-Urge the Board to grant clemency as a way to restore the community, rather than move forward with an execution that will lead only to more pain and divisiveness.

For more information, visit

Continue Reading

29 April 2010 ~ Comments Off

Texas Executes 7th Death Row Inmate this Year

Samuel Bustamante, convicted of the 1998 fatal stabbing of a man, was put to death in Huntsville, Texas on Tuesday April 27, 2010. This execution was Texas’s 7th this year, with at least 7 more scheduled through July. So far the executions that have taken place in Texas this year total 1 less than all the other states combined.

Continue Reading