Archive | death penalty

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

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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.

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29 April 2010 ~ Comments Off

Coverage of Texas Forensic Science Commission Meeting

On Friday, April 23, 2010 the Texas Forensic Science Commission met in Irving, Texas to discuss a number of cases that have been postponed since Governor Rick Perry replaced three of the commission’s members last year. One case under consideration was that of Cameron Todd Willingham. Willingham (additional coverage available here) was executed in 2004 for arson, although a number of forensic science reports have raised serious concerns regarding the evidence which led to Willingham’s death sentence and his possible wrongful execution.

Despite the commission’s meeting, substantial progress was not made on the case with newly appointed commission chairman John Bradley offering no timeline for deciding on Willingham’s case and commission member Sarah Kerrigan stating that a decision on Willingham’s case was “still in its infancy”. The sub-commission which is reviewing the file did add a fourth member on Friday- Lance Evans, a Fort-Worth criminal defense attorney.
A number of news publications have spoke out regarding the commission’s meeting:
“The Big Stall”- Texas Tribune, available here.
“More Time for Willingham”- Texas Tribune, available here.
“Forensic panel ‘just beginning’ Willingham arson inquiry”- Austin American Statesman, available here.
“Four member panel to discuss Willingham case in private”- Fort Worth Star Telegram, available here.

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22 April 2010 ~ 1 Comment

Coverage of Supreme Court denial to hear Hood’s Appeal

On Monday, April 19, 2010, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear arguments in the case of Charles Dean Hood and his 1990 death sentence which was prosecuted by a district attorney engaged in a sexual extra-martial affair with the presiding judge. Judge Verla Sue Holland presided over the trial while Tom O’Connell, then Collin County district attorney, prosecuted Hood; the couple had been involved in a secret affair for years, but did not admit to the accusations until 2008. The case has gained both national and international notoriety with extensive coverage of the Supreme Court’s decision, which was made without comment, coming forth over the course of the week.
Hood’s appeal to the Supreme Court was supported by 30 top legal ethicists and an array of high-profile judges and prosecutors, including former FBI director William Sessions and Texas’s former governor and attorney general Mark White. Although Hood was granted a re-sentencing trail in February by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, this was granted on a legal issue unrelated to the affair. Essentially, both the Texas and national Court’s refusal to acknowledge the conflict of interest in the case, has left many to question how constitutionally complying the judicial system is.
The following are links to various articles available since the Supreme Court’s decision:

Hood case not heard by U.S. Supreme Court“- Plano Courier Star

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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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