Archive | Harris County

06 February 2014 ~ Comments Off

State of Texas Executes Suzanne Basso

On the same day that an El Paso County jury rejected the death penalty in the capital murder trial of Christian Martinez, the State of Texas carried out its second execution of the year, putting Suzanne Basso to death  for the 1998 murder of Louis “Buddy” Musso.  Basso was convicted in 1999 in Harris County.  Prosecutors accused her of luring Musso, an intellectually disabled man,  to Texas after meeting Basso and her son, J.D. O’Malley in  New Jersey.  Five co-defendants, including O’Malley, were convicted of playing a role in the murder.

Attorneys for Suzanne Basso failed to present any mitigating evidence during the penalty phase of her trial and conducted virtually no investigation into her background. Had they done so, they would have uncovered pervasive evidence of her impoverished and abusive childhood, including sexual abuse at the hands of relatives.  The jury also did not hear about Basso’s long history of delusional thinking and mental illness.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review issues presented in a final death-day appeal (“Woman executed for 1998 murder of mentally handicapped man,” February 5, 2014).  That appeal asked the Court to review the constitutionality of Texas’ statute regarding competency to be executed.

Basso was the fifth woman to be executed in Texas since 1982 and the 14th nationwide.  There currently are seven women on death row in Texas.  You can read more about her case from the Guardian.

Seven executions have taken place to date in the United States this year.

 

 

 

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24 January 2014 ~ Comments Off

Action Alert: Stop the Execution of Suzanne Basso

The State of Texas is scheduled to put Suzanne Basso to death on February 5, 2014.  She was convicted in 1999 in Harris County of the 1998 murder of Louis “Buddy” Musso, an intellectually disabled man from New Jersey who came to Texas after meeting Basso and her son, J.D. O’Malley.  Five co-defendants, including O’Malley, were convicted of playing a role in the murder.  None of these six individuals have admitted to being the actual killer. Prosecutors alleged that Basso expected to benefit from Musso’s life insurance policies, though there is no evidence that she could have collected funds from any such policies.

Background Information
Attorneys for Suzanne Basso failed to present any mitigating evidence during the penalty phase of her trial and conducted virtually no investigation into her background. Had they done so, they would have uncovered pervasive evidence of her impoverished and abusive childhood, including sexual abuse at the hands of relatives.  The jury also did not hear about Basso’s long history of delusional thinking and mental illness.

The judge who presided over the trial denied a request by defense counsel for funds to hire Mark Cunningham, a nationally recognized mitigation expert.

Dr. Paul Shrode, an assistant medical examiner who performed the autopsy on the victim, provided inconsistent testimony as to his cause of death.  Dr. Shrode also gave unreliable testimony in a death penalty case in Ohio, which eventually resulted in a commutation by the Governor.  Earlier this year, Suzanne Basso’s attorney learned that Dr. Shrode falsified his credentials while testifying in El Paso, Texas in 2010 and was later discharged as medical examiner for El Paso County. The fact that this important information regarding a key witness against Suzanne Basso was not disclosed to her attorney is extremely disconcerting.

Take action now!
Call upon the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Rick Perry to commute the death sentence of Suzanne Basso or at least grant a 90-day reprieve to give her attorney time to pursue her claim of incompetency to be executed and investigate issues related to the inconsistent testimony of the assistant medical examiner.

Talking Points for Your Appeals to the Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Perry

  • No mitigating evidence was presented to the jury, and attorney requests for funding to conduct a mitigation investigation and hire a nationally renowned mitigation expert were denied by the judge who presided over the trial.  The jury was not able to consider evidence of her impoverished and abusive childhood, including sexual abuse at the hands of relatives.
  • Suzanne Basso has a long history of mental illness and delusional thinking, which calls into question her current competency to be executed.
  • Her attorney has requested a 90-day reprieve in order to investigate forensic issues related to the now-discredited assistant medical examiner’s testimony regarding the victim’s cause of death.

Letters/faxes to the Board must clearly reference “ATTENTION CASE Suzanne Basso #999329” and should arrive by January 31, 2014.

Contact information for Governor Perry and the Board of Pardons and Paroles (please call or send your appeals by email or fax):

Clemency Section
Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles
8610 Shoal Creek Blvd.
Austin, TX 78757-6814
Phone: (512) 406-5852
Fax: (512) 467-0945
Email: bpp-pio@tdcj.state.tx.us
Salutation: Dear Board Members

Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 12428
Austin, Texas 78711-2428
Fax: (512) 463-1849
Main number: (512) 463-2000
Information and Referral Hotline: (800) 843 5789 [for Texas callers]
Citizen’s Opinion Hotline: (800) 252-9600 [for Texas callers]
Information and Referral and Opinion Hotline: (512) 463-1782 [for Austin, Texas and out-of-state callers]
Online Contact: http://www2.governor.state.tx.us/contact
Salutation: Dear Governor Perry

 

 

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02 January 2014 ~ Comments Off

Texas Scheduled to Execute Mexican National Edgar Tamayo, Despite Violation of International Convention

The State of Texas is scheduled to execute Edgar Tamayo on January 22, 2014 for the 1994 murder of Officer Guy Gaddis of the Houston Police Department.  Tamayo, who is a Mexican national, was denied his right to seek consular assistance after his arrest, as required under article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.  Mexican authorities did not learn of his case until a week before the start of the trial and were therefore unable to provide him with adequate legal counsel. Tamayo’s court-appointed attorney failed to present substantial mitigating evidence about his abusive childhood and developmental problems, which might have impacted the jury’s decision in the sentencing phase.

As reported last month in the New York Times, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has warned Texas officials that Tamayo’s execution threatens to harm international relations and undermines the government’s ability to assist Americans who are detained abroad.  The State of Texas has executed at least six Mexican nationals despite similar diplomatic appeals relation to the violation of their rights under the Vienna Convention.  Approximately 23 foreign nationals are currently on death row in Texas.

More information about the case is available through an Urgent Action issued by Amnesty International.

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21 November 2013 ~ Comments Off

Over Two Dozen Evangelical Leaders Support New Sentencing Hearing for Duane Buck

For Immediate Release: Thursday, November 21, 2013

Contact: Laura Burstein at 202-626-6868 or 202-669-3411(c) or laura.burstein@squiresanders.com

Over Two-Dozen Evangelical Christian Leaders in Texas and Nationwide Request Mercy for Duane Buck, Urge District Attorney to Not Seek Execution Date

(Houston, TX, Thursday, November 21, 2013) – Today, 27 Evangelical Christian leaders across Texas and the United States are calling on Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson to allow a new, fair sentencing hearing for Duane Buck. Mr. Buck is an African-American man who was condemned to death after his sentencing jury was told that he was likely to be a future danger because of his race.  These Evangelical Christian leaders oppose the setting of any execution date for Mr. Buck.

“We write to respectfully request that you support a new, fair sentencing hearing for death row prisoner Duane Buck,” the letter states. “Although opinions on the death penalty vary within each of our churches, we are strongly united in our view that no death sentence should be a product of racial discrimination, as it was in Mr. Buck’s case.”

The Evangelical Christian leaders who are advocating for Mr. Buck include: Paul Basden and Jim Johnson, Pastors of Preston Trail Community Church; Chris Seay, Pastor of Ecclesia Houston; Robert Hunt, Director of Global Theological Education at Southern Methodist University; David Gushee, Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University; Gabriel Salguero, President of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition; Fisher Humphreys, Professor of Divinity, Emeritus, Samford University, and others.

Their plea comes in the wake of Wednesday’s decision by a splintered Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to dismiss Mr. Buck’s appeal.

At Mr. Buck’s 1997 capital sentencing hearing in Harris County, the trial prosecutor elicited testimony from a psychologist that Mr. Buck posed a future danger to society because he is African American. The prosecutor relied on this testimony to argue in favor of a death sentence.   The jury accepted the prosecutor’s argument, declared Mr. Buck a future danger, and sentenced him to death. Three years later, then-Texas Attorney General (now U.S. Senator) John Cornyn acknowledged that reliance on testimony connecting race to dangerousness was wholly unacceptable and promised that the Attorney General’s Office would seek new, fair sentencing hearings for seven identified defendants whose death sentences were secured through the use of such improper testimony, including Mr. Buck.  The State kept its word in every case – except for Mr. Buck’s.

The Evangelical Christian leaders join more than one hundred civil rights leaders, faith leaders, elected officials, former prosecutors and judges, a former Texas Governor, one of Mr. Buck’s trial prosecutors and a victim in the case who are also calling on Texas to keep its promise and give Mr. Buck a new, fair sentencing. In addition, over 50,000 people have signed a Change.org petition supporting fair and colorblind justice for Duane Buck.

Also today, the Southwest Regional office of the Anti-Defamation League in Houston  released the following statement:  “The Duane Edward Buck case highlights flaws in the criminal justice system and the process by which capital punishment is imposed in this state.  As an organization dedicated to securing justice and fair treatment for all, the Anti-Defamation League is concerned about these flaws, and believes that no execution should take place until they are addressed. The stakes are simply too high to allow the death penalty to be imposed when a case is tainted by appeals to bias or prejudice.” http://houston.adl.org/news/buck-case-highlights-death-penalty-flaws/

Mr. Buck was convicted of capital murder in Harris County for the shooting deaths of Debra Gardner and Kenneth Butler. A third person, Phyllis Taylor, was shot but survived. Due in part to her Christian faith, Ms. Taylor has forgiven Mr. Buck and does not wish to see him executed.

In their letter, the Evangelical Christian leaders highlight Mr. Buck’s strong Christian faith as another reason for their support:  “In addition to our concerns over racial bias in this case, we are moved by the way Christ has worked in Mr. Buck’s life and set in motion the process of redemption during his time in prison. His faith is now central to his life: he is not only committed to his own daily prayer and scripture reading, he has also led his fellow prisoners in a Bible study group he created called Christian Brothers.”

Mr. Buck’s life was spared by the U.S. Supreme Court before his scheduled execution in September 2011. Two U.S. Supreme Court justices agreed that Mr. Buck’s death sentence required review because “our criminal justice system should not tolerate” a death sentence “marred by racial overtones.”  Similarly, on Wednesday, three Texas Court of Criminal Appeals judges concluded that Mr. Buck’s case involves “a chronicle of inadequate representation at every stage of the proceedings, the integrity of which is further called into question by the admission of racist and inflammatory testimony from an expert witness at the punishment phase.”  The case is now in the hands of state officials.

The letter concludes, “We humbly call upon you and your office to allow Mr. Buck the new sentencing hearing free of racial bias that he was rightly promised.”

For more information about Mr. Buck’s case, please go to: http://www.naacpldf.org/case-issue/duane-buck-sentenced-death-because-he-black

To see a video about the racial bias in Mr. Buck’s case, please go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tD6WWN38ZGc

To speak with signatories to the letter or Mr. Buck’s attorneys, please contact Laura Burstein at 202-626-6868 (o);202-669-3411(c); or Laura.Burstein@squiresanders.com.

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20 November 2013 ~ Comments Off

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Dismisses Duane Buck Petition

Today, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied Duane Buck’s appeal for a new, fair sentencing hearing free from racial bias. With today’s decision, Texas has once again reneged on the clear and unequivocal promise made by former Texas Attorney General (now U.S. Senator) John Cornyn that Mr. Buck would not face execution based on a racially biased death sentence. Despite this promise, Mr. Buck is now at grave risk of execution in Texas.  Read the statement from his attorneys below.

Buckfinal-01The ongoing Duane Buck case is an egregious example of racial bias in the criminal justice system. In 1997, at Mr. Buck’s capital sentencing hearing for the murders of Debra Gardner and Kenneth Butler in Harris County, Texas, the trial prosecutor elicited testimony from a psychologist that Mr. Buck posed a future danger because he’s black. The prosecutor then relied on this testimony in arguing in favor of the death penalty, and the jury sentenced him to death.

At first, there was hope Texas would rectify this mistake. Three years after Duane Buck was sentenced to death, then-Texas Attorney General (now U.S. Senator) John Cornyn identified seven cases in which Texas relied on testimony linking race to future dangerousness, including Mr. Buck’s. Recognizing the error, Cornyn promised not to oppose new sentencing hearings for these seven defendants, and Texas upheld this promise in all of the cases — except for Duane Buck’s.

Now, given another chance to remedy the situation, the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals has dropped the ball again, denying Duane Buck’s appeal for a new sentencing hearing. With today’s ruling, the Harris County District Attorney’s office could seek an execution date any time, and Duane Buck’s life is at stake once more.

As might be expected, this shocking case — and its most recent development — have provoked a large outcry in Texas and across the nation, from the civil rights community, faith leaders, elected officials, former prosecutors and judges, and numerous other prominent individuals. Even one of Mr. Buck’s trial prosecutors and the surviving victim in the case have called for a new, fair sentencing hearing.

Take Action Today!

If you have not done so already, please join more than 50,000 Texans and concerned citizens nationwide and across the world in signing a petition by one of Mr. Buck’s trial prosecutors, Linda Geffen, which urges the Harris County District Attorney’s Office to agree to a new sentencing hearing and, with this latest development, to not set an execution date.

Mr. Buck’s life was spared by the U.S. Supreme Court before his September 2011 scheduled execution. Two U.S. Supreme Court justices agreed that Mr. Buck’s death sentence requires review because “our criminal justice system should not tolerate” a death sentence “marred by racial overtones.”  In today’s ruling by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, three of the nine appeals court judges joined in a dissent, as noted in the statement from attorneys below.

For more information about Mr. Buck’s case, please go to: http://www.naacpldf.org/case-issue/duane-buck-sentenced-death-because-he-black

Watch a powerful, 10-minute video about Mr. Buck’s story, “A Broken Promise in Texas: Race, the Death Penalty and the Duane Buck Case” here: http://youtu.be/tD6WWN38ZGc

Statement from Attorneys for Duane Buck in Response to Today’s Ruling by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

“We are gravely disappointed that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has dismissed Duane Buck’s appeal and failed to recognize that his death sentence is the unconstitutional product of racial discrimination. As noted by three members of the Court, ‘[t]he record in this case reveals a chronicle of inadequate representation at every stage of the proceedings, the integrity of which is further called into question by the admission of racist and inflammatory testimony from an expert witness at the punishment stage.’  These judges recognized that this outcome ‘jeopardizes both the integrity of the underlying conviction and of this Court’s judicial processes’ and deprives Mr. Buck of ‘one full and fair opportunity to present his claims.’

“With today’s decision, Texas has once again reneged on its promise to ensure that Mr. Buck would not be executed pursuant to a death sentence that was the unfair product of a prosecutorial appeal to racial bias and stereotype. ,For this reason, more than one hundred civil rights leaders, clergy of various faiths, former judges, former prosecutors, and thousands of individuals in Texas and across the world, have joined our call for a new, fair, and colorblind sentencing for Duane Buck. We now urge the Harris County District Attorney’s Office to respect these calls and refrain from seeking an execution date for Mr. Buck. We will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the important due process and equal protection issues at stake in Mr. Buck’s case, and we are hopeful that the Supreme Court will intervene to right this unequivocal wrong.”

- Attorney Kate Black, Christina Swarns, Director of the Criminal Justice Practice at NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, and Kathryn Kase, Executive Director of Texas Defender Service

November 20, 2013

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24 July 2013 ~ Comments Off

New Death Sentence Imposed in Harris County

On Friday, July  19, 2013, the jury in the capital murder trial of Obel Cruz-Garcia determined that he should be put to death for kidnapping and killing six-year old Angelo Garcia, Jr., in 1992.  Read more about the case in the Houston Chronicle.

This is the first new death sentence out of Harris County since 2011. While Dallas County leads the state in new death sentences in the past five years (8), Harris County and Tarrant County are close behind (6). Cruz-Garcia will be the 100th person convicted in Harris County currently awaiting execution on death row.  Since 1982, 118 people convicted in Harris County have been put to death.

The last death sentence imposed on a white defendant in Harris County occurred in November 2004, when serial killer Anthony Shore was sent to death row.  Since then, juries in the county have imposed death sentences on 12 African American defendants and 2 Hispanic defendants, including Obel Cruz-Garcia.  Read more about the death penalty in Texas, including troubling statistics about the racial disparities in sentencing, in our 2012 Annual Report, which includes a map of death sentences by county.

This is the sixth new sentence in Texas to date in 2013.  Juries sentenced nine men to death in 2012.

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16 May 2013 ~ Comments Off

State of Texas Executes Jeffrey Williams

On May 15, 2015, the State of Texas put Jeffrey Williams to death for the murder of plainclothes Houston police officer Troy Blando in 1999 while being arrested for stealing a car.  The U.S. Supreme Court denied his last appeal regarding a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.  Read more from the Associated Press, via the Austin American-Statesman.

It was the sixth execution to take place in Texas this year, out of twelve nationwide, and the first involving a case from Harris County since District Attorney Mike Anderson was sworn into office in January.    Texas has executed 498 people since 1982.

With the May 21 scheduled execution of Robert Pruett stayed for DNA testing, the next execution is scheduled to take place on June 12.

 

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20 March 2013 ~ Comments Off

More than 100 Prominent Leaders Call for New Sentencing Hearing for Duane Buck

Today, over 100 prominent individuals from Texas and throughout the country, including civil rights leaders, elected officials, former prosecutors and judges, past and present ABA presidents, and clergy representing seven faith denominations, released a statement urging the Harris County District Attorney to provide a new, fair sentencing hearing for Texas death row inmate Duane Buck. Former Texas Governor Mark White, one of the signatories, delivered the statement to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office in Houston this morning.  Read the Statement of Support and view the full list of 102 signatories.

In 1997, Mr. Buck was convicted of fatally shooting Debra Gardner and Kenneth Butler. During his sentencing hearing, the prosecutor elicited testimony from Dr. Walter Quijano before the jury in which he indicated that African Americans, like Mr. Buck, are more likely to commit future acts of violence. Under Texas’ death penalty statute, prosecutors must demonstrate a defendant’s “future dangerousness” and juries may impose a death sentence only if they find that the defendant poses such a future danger. In her closing argument at Mr. Buck’s sentencing, the prosecutor urged the jury to impose a death sentence and, in doing so, relied on Dr. Quijano’s testimony that Mr. Buck would be dangerous in the future. The jury followed the prosecutor’s recommendation:  it found that Mr. Buck posed a future danger and sentenced him to death.

Mr. Buck’s life was spared by the U.S. Supreme Court before his scheduled execution in September 2011. Although two U.S. Supreme Court justices agreed that Mr. Buck’s death sentence required review because “our criminal justice system should not tolerate” a death sentence “marred by racial overtones,” the case is now back in the hands of state officials.

Read today’s press release and learn more about the case of Duane Buck.

Join more than 100 local, state, and national leaders in calling for a new sentencing hearing for Duane Buck!

Another signatory to the statement, former Harris County District Attorney Linda Geffin, one of Mr. Buck’s trial prosecutors, today started an online petition on Change.org in support of a new, fair sentencing hearing for Mr. Buck.  Sign the petition now!

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