Thirty-one years ago today, the State of Texas officially resumed executions, putting Charlie Brooks to death for the 1976 murder of David Gregory. That was also the nation’s first execution by lethal injection, a new method concocted by a legislator and former chief medical examiner in Oklahoma.
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Update as of 7:00 PM: Despite serious questions about the compounded drugs obtained by Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to stop tonight’s scheduled execution of Michael Yowell. Below is a statement from attorneys for Mr. Yowell.
The State of Texas executed Michael Yowell at 7:11 PM this evening.
Statement from Attorneys for Michael Yowell
“We are extremely disappointed that the U.S. Supreme Court has denied Michael Yowell’s appeal asking that the public and the courts have meaningful access to information about how Texas plans to put him to death. In Mr. Yowell’s case, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice did not reveal information about the drug it intended to use for his execution until one week before tonight’s scheduled execution date.
‘In carrying out Mr. Yowell’s execution, Texas intends to use compounded penobarbital, for the first time. This shift to compounded drugs is a dramatic change from prior practice – making the need for oversight – now and in the future – that much more important.
‘To permit the TDCJ to wait until the last minute to disclose such crucial information essentially shields them from any review, allowing it to make decisions about how to execute people without any accountability or transparency. Surely this is not the way we want our government to carry out its most solemn duty.”
-Maurie Levin and Bobbie Stratton, October 9, 2013
This afternoon, attorneys for Michael Yowell, who is scheduled to be executed in Texas this evening, filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court asking for a stay based on serious questions surrounding the drugs the State plans to use in tonight’s execution. Below is a statement from attorneys for Mr. Yowell.
Statement from Attorneys for Michael Yowell
“Today, we have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to ensure that our the public and the courts have meaningful access to relevant information regarding how the State of Texas plans to put to death our client, Michael Yowell. In this case, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice did not reveal information about the drug it intended to use for his execution until one week before the scheduled execution date.
‘In carrying out Mr. Yowell’s execution, the state of Texas intends to use compounded penobarbital, for the first time. This shift to compounded drugs is a dramatic change from prior practice – making the need for oversight – now and in the future – that much more important.
‘To permit the TDCJ to wait until the last minute to disclose such crucial information essentially shields them from any review, allowing it to make decisions about how to execute people without any accountability or transparency. Surely this is not the way we want our government to carry out its gravest duty.”
-Maurie Levin and Bobbie Stratton, October 9, 2013
Last month, officials with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) announced that although their current supply of pentobarbital had expired, they had no plans to change the lethal injection protocol. At the time, officials did not disclose the source of the drugs they now are using in executions in Texas.
It now has come to light that TDCJ obtained pentobarbital from a local compounding pharmacy, which has demanded its return. Please see below for a press release issued today by the attorneys for three inmates who are suing for more information and who seek to halt the October 9 scheduled execution of Michael Yowell in order to permit time for review of Texas’ last-minute change to the use of compounded drugs.
For Immediate Release: Monday, October 7, 2013
Contact: Maurie Levin, email@example.com
Bobbie Stratton or Brad Chambers of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell
Pharmacy Asks Texas to Return Drugs Intended for Use in Wednesday Execution
Civil Rights Plaintiffs Appealing Judge’s Order; Assert that TDCJ’s Promise that the purchase of execution drugs would be kept on the “down low” is additional evidence of TDCJ’s continued effort to carry out executions without transparency or accountability
(Austin, TX, Monday, October 7, 2013) A Texas compounding pharmacy that recently sold compounded pentobarbital to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) for use in executions is demanding that the state return the drugs scheduled to be used in an execution on Wednesday. An appeal with the Fifth Circuit will be filed this week asking the court to stay Michael Yowell’s execution to permit time for review of Texas’ last-minute change to the use of compounded drugs. This weekend, a letter from Woodlands Compounding Pharmacy to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice came to light in lethal injection in federal court in Arizona. The letter states in part:
“Based on the phone calls I had with Erica Minor of TDCJ regarding its request for these drugs, including statements that she made to me, it was my belief that this information would be kept on the ‘down low’ and that it was unlikely that it would be discovered that my pharmacy provided these drugs. Based on Ms. Minor’s requests, I took steps to ensure it would be private. However, the State of Texas misrepresented this fact because my name and the name of my pharmacy are posted all over the internet.”
The letter concludes: “I must demand that TDCJ immediately return the vials of compounded pentobarbital in exchange for a refund.”
The letter was sent in the midst of a civil rights lawsuit filed by Texas prisoners seeking information about the drugs TDCJ intends to use to carry out executions. The letter was only discovered when it was filed in a lethal injection action in Arizona District Court sometime on Friday. The attorneys for the inmates and for TDCJ were in Court Friday afternoon on a hearing on a request for a stay of Mr. Yowell’s scheduled execution in light of Texas’ efforts to keep information about how it intends to proceed with executions secret, and the risks inherent to compounded drugs – risks that have recently been the subject of Congressional hearings in the wake of the fungal meningitis outbreak.
Public records requests show that TDCJ has stockpiled a variety of drugs, none of which ever has been used in an execution. It was not until last Thursday that media discovered TDCJ plans to carry out upcoming executions using compounded pentobarbital purchased from Woodlands Compounding Pharmacy, located in Houston.
Maurie Levin, one of the plaintiffs’s attorneys, said, “The letter from Woodlands Pharmacy is further evidence of TDCJ’s lack of good faith, reflected both in the way they’ve gone about attempts to purchase lethal injection drugs, and in their misleading responses to requests for information about how they intend to carry out executions. Both have thwarted true access to the courts.”
Bobbie Stratton, one of the attorneys for the Plaintiffs at the Houston office of Baker Donelson said, “At the heart of this lawsuit is the basic premise that governmental agencies owe us, the public, a duty of transparency, deliberation, and accountability – especially when they are carrying out the ultimate act – the taking of a human life.”
The lawsuit at issue was filed last week by three death-sentenced prisoners in Texas. It is a civil rights lawsuit against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), asserting that TDCJ has failed to disclose, in a timely and meaningful fashion, the drugs they will use to carry out executions and that this failure violates death row inmates’ constitutional rights. The suit also alleges that known problems with compounded drugs amount to a substantial risk that inmates will suffer severe pain, or that that drug will be inadequate to accomplish an execution.
Documents revealed at the Friday hearing in federal district court Judge Hughes’ courtroom reflect that TDCJ (or Woodlands Pharmacy) asked Eagle Analytical Labs to test the compounded pentobarbital for purity. Just three months ago an FDA inspection report listed numerous problems with the Lab, including problems with sterility, contamination, validation, test protocol, and staff training. One note indicates that staff performing a certain test (bacterialendotoxin) were never training in the “principles and methodologies of the test.”
Eagle Analytical is a subsidiary of PCCA, or Professional Compounding Centers of America. PCCA supplies ingredients to compounding pharmacies, including Woodlands.
Late Saturday afternoon, Judge Hughes denied Mr. Yowell’s request for a temporary restraining order, thus allowing the execution, scheduled for Wednesday, October 9, to proceed without meaningful review of the new drugs. The Plaintiffs are appealing that order to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Thirty years ago today, December 7, 1982, the State of Texas officially resumed executions, putting Charlie Brooks to death for the 1976 murder of David Gregory. That was also the nation’s first execution by lethal injection, a new method concocted by a legislator and former chief medical examiner in Oklahoma.
Reverend Carroll Pickett, who served as the chaplain at the Walls Unit in Huntsville, spent all day with Charlie Brooks and stood at the foot of the gurney as he was executed. In his memoir, Within These Walls: Memoirs of a Death House Chaplain, he writes about the immediate aftermath of the execution: “All that remained was an air of stunned silence – testimony to the fact that none of those who had witnessed penal history being made had really been prepared for what they had seen.”
Since 1982, the State of Texas has executed 492 people; 253 of these executions have occurred during the administration of Governor Rick Perry, more than any other governor in U.S. history. This year, the State of Texas carried out 15 executions, a slight increase over last year and nearly three times as many as any other state in the country.
Yet Texas – along with the rest of the nation – is moving away from the death penalty. New death sentences remain near record-low levels, and death-qualified juries have rejected this punishment in at least 18 trials in the past five years.
Use of the death penalty has been relegated to just a few jurisdictions statewide; in fact, only 11 counties in the entire state of Texas imposed new death sentences in the last two years. These trends and other developments in 2012 appear in TCADP’s year-end report, scheduled to be released next week.
With your support, TCADP is educating Texans about the fatal flaws of our state’s death penalty system and equipping our members to serve as powerful citizen advocates for abolition. Together, we are hastening the day that we mark the anniversary of the abolition of the death penalty in Texas.
Thank you for your support and steadfast commitment to this issue.
p.s. We had the pleasure of meeting Charlie’s son Keith in Dallas on Tuesday. Keith’s family is holding a memorial service today in Fort Worth for Charlie Brooks. The memorial will be held from 12 to 3:00 p.m. at the Riverside Community Center, 3700 Belknap Street, Fort Worth. The program will include lunch and reflections. Everyone is welcome.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, December 15, 2011
CONTACT: Kristin Houlé, Executive Director
512-441-1808 (office); 512-552-5948 (cell)
State of Texas Carries Out Fewest Executions Since 1996,
According to New Report from TCADP
New Death Sentences Remain at Record-Low Level, Imposed by Just Six Counties in the State
(Austin, Texas) — Executions dropped to the lowest number since 1996 and death sentences in Texas remained at a historic low level in 2011, according to the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty’s (TCADP) new report, Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2011: The Year in Review. TCADP is an Austin-based statewide, grassroots advocacy organization.
In 2011, the State of Texas carried out 13 executions, which is 50% less than in 2007. It accounted for 30% of the national total, once again a smaller percentage than years past but still twice as many as any other state. Texas has executed a total of 477 people since 1982; 238 executions have occurred during the administration of Texas Governor Rick Perry, more than any other governor in U.S. history.
For the second year in a row, juries condemned eight new individuals to death in Texas. This remains the lowest number of new death sentences since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Texas’ revised death penalty statute in 1976. Once again, just six counties in the state of Texas accounted for the new death row inmates: Fort Bend (1); Galveston (1); Harris (3); Harrison (1); Tarrant (1); and Travis (1). This represents 2% of all Texas counties.
“Texas – along with the rest of the nation – is steadily moving away from the death penalty,” said Kristin Houlé, Executive Director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. “Use of the death penalty has been relegated to just a few jurisdictions in the state as prosecutors and jurors accept alternatives that protect society and punish those who are truly guilty. Still, longstanding concerns about the arbitrary and biased administration of the death penalty remain.”
An analysis of data from 2007 to 2011 reveals that only 23 Texas counties have imposed death sentences over the last 5 years; of these, only 10 counties have done so in the last 2 years. Out of a total 51 death sentences imposed in this time period, Harris County leads with 9; it is followed by Dallas County, with 7 new sentences since 2007, and Tarrant and Travis Counties, with 4 new sentences each. The other 19 counties imposed 1-3 sentences each. Together, these 23 counties represent just 9% of the 254 counties in Texas.
Significantly, no new death sentences were imposed in Dallas County for the first time in five years. Prosecutors sought the death penalty for Charles Payne, but the jury rejected the charge of capital murder and instead found him guilty of murder in the shooting of police officer Senior Cpl. Norm Smith. This represented the first time since 1996 that prosecutors in Dallas County did not secure a capital murder conviction in a case in which they sought the death penalty. In another Dallas case, prosecutors dropped their pursuit of the death penalty and agreed to a life sentence for Johnathan Bruce Reed after he was found guilty for a third time in the 1978 murder of Wanda Jean Wadle. Overall, Dallas County accounts for 102 death sentences since 1976.
Bexar County, which has sentenced the third highest number of people to death in Texas, has not imposed any new death sentences since 2009.
Notably, six out of the eight new death sentences were imposed on people of color, including four African Americans and two Hispanics/Latinos. Over the last five years, nearly three-fourths of all death sentences in Texas have been imposed on people of color – 41% African American, 29% Hispanic/Latino, and 2% other. In Harris County, where these patterns are even more pronounced, 12 of the last 13 defendants sentenced to death are African American and the 13th is Hispanic/Latino.
Five inmates scheduled for execution in 2011 received stays, while the execution date for another inmate was withdrawn.
- On September 15, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily stayed the execution of Duane Buck, pending a conference on his cert petition. During his trial, psychologist Walter Quijano, a witness for the defense, testified on cross-examination that the fact that Buck is African American increased the likelihood of his being dangerous in the future. Such improperly elicited, racially-based testimony by Dr. Quijano led to new sentencing hearings in six other cases where the State of Texas conceded error – but not for Duane Buck. On November 7, 2011, the Court declined to review Buck’s case.
- On November 7, 2011, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued a stay to Henry “Hank” Skinner, who was scheduled for execution on November 9. Key pieces of evidence collected at the crime scene have never been subjected to DNA testing, and for the last 10 years officials have refused to release it for analysis. The court stayed the execution to consider Skinner’s case in light of recent legislative changes to the statute related to post-conviction DNA testing. This was the second stay of execution for Skinner in two years.
Other highlights of Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2011: The Year in Review include the following:
- In one capital murder trial, the jury rejected the death penalty and opted for a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. In two other cases, death-qualified jurors convicted the defendant on a charge less than capital murder, which took the death penalty off the table. In the last four years, death-qualified juries have rejected the death penalty in at least 14 cases.
- Six inmates received reduced sentences in 2011 and were removed from the death row population, including Chelsea Richardson, one of ten women on death row.
- The State of Texas executed Humberto Leal on July 7, 2011 for the 1994 rape and murder of Adria Sauceda in San Antonio. As a Mexican national, Leal was legally entitled to seek assistance from the Mexican consulate, which could have provided him with competent legal counsel. Texas authorities failed to inform him of this right, which is afforded to Americans and foreigners who travel abroad by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.
- In July, the capital murder trial of John Edward Green, which was in its sixth week of jury selection, ended abruptly when Harris County prosecutors accepted an offer from the defense. In the deal, Green pled guilty to a lesser murder charge in exchange for a 40-year prison term; he had faced a possible death sentence if convicted. A pre-trial motion in his case prompted two days of unprecedented testimony on the risk of wrongful conviction last December.
“Recent developments have infused the public conversation about the death penalty with new energy and new urgency,” said Houlé. “Now, more than ever, we urge concerned citizens and elected officials to engage in dialogue about the realities of the death penalty system and reconsider this irreversible punishment by focusing on its local impact as an expensive, arbitrary, and error-prone public policy.”
Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2011: The Year in Review is available online at www.tcadp.org/TexasDeathPenaltyDevelopments2011.pdf. Contact Kristin Houlé at firstname.lastname@example.org to receive a copy directly via email.
See http://tcadp.org/2007-2011-new-death-sentences/ for a map of new death sentences by county from 2007 to 2011.
See http://tcadp.org/1976-2011-county-map/ for a map of death sentences by county from 1976 to 2011.
Download this press release: www.tcadp.org/2011TCADPannualreportpressrelease.pdf.
The State of Texas executed Mark Stroman last night, July 20, 2011, after a three-hour delay while courts considered a final appeal from his surviving shooting victim, Rais Bhuiyan. Stroman was pronounced dead at 8:53 p.m. He was sentenced to death for the racially-motivated killing of Vasudev Patel, an Indian of the Hindu faith who owned a gas station and convenience store in Mesquite. The murder occurred during a crime rampage by Stroman that he claims was fueled by the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City – a rampage that left two people dead and Bhuiyan severely wounded.
As reported by the Associated Press, “The execution’s brief delay was caused by appeals from Rais Bhuiyan, a Bangladesh native who said his Muslim religion allowed him to forgive Stroman. Bhuiyan, who was blinded in one eye in the shooting, insisted that state officials had prevented him from meeting with Stroman and engaging in a remediation program to learn more about his shooting spree, which also killed another man.”
This was the 8th execution carried out by the State of Texas this year, out of 28 nationwide.
In the state of Georgia, Wednesday’s execution of Andrew DeYoung was postponed as corrections officials sought to determine how to comply with a ruling from the Georgia Supreme Court to allow executions to be filmed. According to the Associated Press, “The video recording was requested by attorneys for another Georgia death row inmate who wanted evidence to show that Georgia’s reconfigured three-drug lethal injection procedure does not adequately sedate the inmate. … Experts say it would have been the first recording of an execution since 1992.”
Last night, May 3, 2011, the State of Texas carried out the execution of Cary Kerr under a new lethal injection protocol that uses pentobarbital rather than sodium thiopental as the first drug in the process. This was the third execution in Texas this year (out of 13 nationwide) but the the first using a different cocktail of drugs. Ohio and Oklahoma have carried out executions using pentobarbital, as well.
Kerr was sentenced to death in 2003 for the rape and murder of Pamela Horton in a Fort Worth suburb. He proclaimed his innocence in his last words.