Archive | death penalty

19 April 2010 ~ Comments Off

U.S. Supreme Court Denies Cert for Charles Hood

Today the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear arguments in the case of Charles Hood, a Texas death row inmate. This case has garnered national attention from numerous attorneys and legal ethicists because of the troubling questions it raises as to whether Hood received a fair trial.

Andrea Keilen, Director of Texas Defender Service, which represents Mr. Hood, issued the following statement:

“We are disheartened that the United States Supreme Court ruled not to hear the case of Charles Hood in which the trial judge and district attorney who prosecuted Hood engaged in a secret, long-term, extra-marital affair. This is particularly disappointing given that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to date has ignored this obvious and outrageous constitutional violation. Dozens of former state and federal prosecutors and judges and the nation’s leading legal ethicists have criticized the handling of this case by the Texas death penalty system. No one should be prosecuted for a parking ticket let alone for capital murder by the district attorney who has had a sexual affair with the judge handling the case and despite the Court’s decision today, we will continue to zealously represent Mr. Hood as we believe his case was marred by a fundamental injustice.”

According to the Dallas Morning News:

“In February, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that Hood was entitled to a new sentencing hearing — for reasons unrelated to the sexual relationship between the judge and the prosecutor. The court said the jury that sentenced him was not given proper instructions on how to consider his background when determining his punishment.”

Read more from the Dallas Morning News:

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06 April 2010 ~ Comments Off

UT Law Presents: The American Death Penalty in the 21st Century

The University of Texas School of Law’s Capital Punishment Center will host a conference on legislative developments concerning the American death penalty on April 9–10. “The American Death Penalty in the Twenty-first Century: the Direction of Legislative Change and the Prospects for Legislative Abolition” will bring together lawyers and lawmakers from around the country to talk about efforts to abolish the death penalty (New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Colorado, Kansas) as well as efforts to expand it (Georgia, Massachusetts, Virginia, New Hampshire) and reform it (North Carolina, Maryland, California).

The event is free and open to the public, with conference events beginning on Friday April 9 at 10:15 AM in the Eidman Courtroom.

The following is the conference schedule:

Friday April 9th

10:15 – 10:30 Welcoming Remarks
Dean Larry Sager, UT School of Law
Jordan Steiker, Professor, UT School of Law

10:30 – 12:00: National Perspective on Recent Developments
Shari Silberstein, Executive Director, Equal Justice USA
Dick Dieter, Executive Director, Death Penalty Information Center
Diann Rust-Tierney, Executive Director, National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
Moderator: Maurie Levin, UT School of Law

12:00 – 1:30: Lunch

1:30 – 3:00: Abolition Achieved : The Experiences in New Mexico, New Jersey, & New York Shari Silberstein, Executive Director, Equal Justice USA
Viki Elkey, Director, New Mexico Coalition to Repeal the Death Penalty
Jonathan Gradess , Executive Director, New York State Defender’s Association
Moderator: Jordan Steiker, UT School of Law

3:15 – 4:30: Study and Reform of the Death Penalty: Maryland & California
Dick Dieter, Executive Director, Death Penalty Information Center
Amy Fusting – Program Director, Maryland Citizens Against State Executions
Gerald Uelman, Dean, Santa Clara School of Law
Moderator: Jim Marcus, UT School of Law

Saturday April 10th

8:30 – 9:45: Reintroduction, Expansion and Administration of the Death Penalty: Georgia, Virginia & Massachusetts
Chris Adams, Law Office of Chris Adams, Atlanta, Georgia
Beth Panilaitis, Executive Director, Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
Renny Cushing, New Hampshire House of Representatives; Executive Director, Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights
Moderator: Rob Owen, UT School of Law

9:45 – 11:00 Abolition Contested: The Experiences in Colorado, Kansas & New Hampshire Michael Radelet, Professor, University of Colorado at Boulder
Donna Schneweis, State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator, Amnesty International
Renny Cushing, New Hampshire House of Representatives; Executive Director, Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights
Moderator: Jordan Steiker, UT School of Law

11:00 – 12:15: Reform to Redress Race Discrimination: The experience in North Carolina
Rob Owen, Professor, UT School of Law
Ken Rose, Senior Attorney, Center for Death Penalty Litigation
Larry Womble, State Representative, North Carolina
Moderator: Maurie Levin, UT School of Law

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05 April 2010 ~ Comments Off

Letter to the Editor re Hank Skinner

The following letter regarding the case of Hank Skinner appeared on Sunday, April 4, 2010 in the Amarillo Globe News:

Every time we have heard about a new execution date for Hank Skinner, we’re anxious for that day to come so our family can have some closure.

But then, he has always gotten a reprieve over the DNA testing. We are Lisa Busby’s aunt and uncle and her caretakers. Lisa Busby is Twila Busby’s daughter. She survived because she was spending New Year’s Eve 1993 with poppa and grandma when Hank Skinner killed her mother and two brothers in Pampa.

This has been happening for ten years because the Gray County district attorney will not let Skinner’s DNA be tested. Lynn Switzer does not need anyone’s permission to have the DNA tested. She spent more than $1 million in the unsuccessful Doan murder trials. There is a lab in Arizona that will do the DNA testing for free. It’s not like it’s going to cost a million taxpayers’ dollars to have closure for OUR family. Is the district attorney treating all families equally?

She could have allowed the testing a long time ago. What is the real reason she has not allowed the Hank Skinner DNA testing? We would like to know.

David Brito Garcia


Go to to read other letters and online comments.

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02 April 2010 ~ Comments Off

Hearing Scheduled in Judge Keller Conduct Case

The State Commission on Judicial Conduct has set a June 18 hearing for Judge Sharon Keller, presiding judge for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the women responsible for refusing to stay in the office after 5PM so paperwork could be filed to stay the execution of Michael Richard based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s stay of impending executions issued that same day. Keller’s refusal resulted in Richard’s execution, and since 2007 the judge’s conduct has been questioned by some as unethical.

The State Commission’s hearing will begin at 9 AM in Room 140 of the Reagan State Office Building, 105 W. 15th St (open to the public). The hearing will give Keller as well as prosecutors one last opportunity to address the Commission before they decide on a punishment for the judge. There is no state law which requires a decision within a certain time frame, however the Commission does have a variety of options on how to handle Keller’s misconduct, ranging from exonerating Keller to recommending her removal from office.
To view an Austin American Statesman article on the hearing click here.

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02 April 2010 ~ Comments Off

The Death Penalty in California

The American Civil Liberties Union issued a report on March 29, 2010 regarding the use of capital punishment in California. The report “Death Decline in 2009: Los Angeles Holds California Back as Nation Shifts to Permanent Imprisonment” found a number of startling facts regarding the death penalty in the nation’s most populous state, including the striking number of new death sentences, the benefits financially of life imprisonment and the changing face of death row to include a proportionally unequal number of Latinos.

First, the ACLU found that only a handful of counties in the state were responsible for sentencing 29 new people to death row in 2009. Compared with Texas, who issued 11 new death sentences in 2009, California is on track to becoming the new death penalty capital. The report also found that Los Angeles County was responsible for sentencing more people to death row than the entire state of Texas. L.A. County, which sentenced 13 individuals to death row, has superseded Texas’s own Harris County as the death penalty county of the world (Harris County, for the second year in a row, issued no new death sentences).
The report also touches on a number of important points regarding the cost of maintaining the death penalty in a state with over 700 current death row inmates, the inequalities with the criminal justice system regarding proper legal representation, and the unsettling number of new death sentences in the Latino population, causing concern over the fairness of the death penalty’s application.
The full report, with graphs, is available here
The ACLU’s response to their findings is available here

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30 March 2010 ~ Comments Off

Amnesty International 2009 report on the death penalty

On March 30, 2010 Amnesty International published their annual report “Death Sentence and Executions 2009″. The report covers worldwide development of the death penalty including countries that carried out executions, new death sentences, and the movement toward abolishment of the practice.
The report details the 18 countries in which executions took place in 2009. The following is the list of countries that carried out executions and the estimated number of legally killed individuals:
Bangladesh (3), Botswana (1), China (in excess of 500), Egypt (5+), Iran (388+), Iraq (120+), Japan (7), Libya (4+), Malaysia (68+), North Korea (more than 1; figure unknown), Saudi Arabia (69+), Singapore (1), Sudan (9+), Syria (8+), Thailand (2), United States of America (52), Viet Nam (9+), Yemen (30+).
As Amnesty International works to end use of the death penalty, there were a total of 2001 official new death sentences issued in 2009 in 56 countries, the largest numbers reportedly coming from Afghanistan (133+), Algeria (100+), Egypt (269+), Iraq (366+), Pakistan (276), Sri Lanka (108), and the United States (105+) with unknown figures from high sentencing regions like Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, North Korea, and China.

Amnesty International, which has supported worldwide abolition since 1977. proudly cited a number of exciting developments in the move toward universal abolishment of the death penalty. For the first time since the organization began maintaining records, not a single execution took place in Europe. Additionally, there were no reported executions in Afghanistan, Bahrain, Belarus, Indonesia, Mongolia, Pakistan, St. Kitts and Nevis, and United Arab Emirates in 2009.
Greater still, two nations, Burundi and Togo, abolished the death penalty in 2009 bringing the world total of countries to have removed capital punishment from law to 95. Worldwide, 139 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice with only 58 countries continuing to retain the punishment in their legislation.
The report details regional developments and includes a variety of maps all of which can be viewed here.

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30 March 2010 ~ Comments Off

Former Governor Mark White Speaks Out Against Hood Case

Mark White served as the state of Texas’ attorney general from 1979-1983 and as governor from 1983-1987 during which time he oversaw 19 executions. In 2009, the former governor was quoted in both the Houston Chronicle and Dallas Morning News regarding his waning support of the death penalty in light of wrongful executions and a poor criminal justice system.

On March 29, 2010 Mr. White spoke out once again, this time with the National Law Journal, regarding the trial of Charles Hood. Hood was convicted in 1990 for the murder of two individuals in Plano, TX; Hood was sentenced to death row. However the prosecuting attorney and presiding judge during Hood’s trial were having a secret affair, which was acknowledged by the former couple nearly two decades later. In 2010, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted Hood a new sentencing trial but did not address the breach of judicial fairness with the original trial.
In February 2010, former Governor White along with 20 other former judges and prosecutors petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court in support of Hood’s petition for certiorari. In the March 29 article Mr. White addresses why the High Court should grant Hood’s petition for a new trial, “with an impartial judge and ethical prosecutor”, while citing how judicial flaws like that of an unfair and unbiased trial does nothing but damage the confidence and strength of the judicial system that citizens depend on. Although the original offense occurred over two decades ago, as the former governor states, “the passage of time doesn’t make it any less of a breach. The only thing for which we can be thankful is that an execution has not already occurred.”
To read Governor White’s full article click here.

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30 March 2010 ~ Comments Off

New Death Sentence Issued in Nueces County

On March 5, 2010, a Nueces County jury sentenced Daniel Lopez to death for the 2009 murder of Corpus Christi Police Officer, Stuart Alexander.

Lopez is the second new death conviction of 2010.

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