Archive | Texas

13 May 2015 ~ Comments Off on State of Texas executes Derrick Charles

State of Texas executes Derrick Charles

Last night, the State of Texas carried out its seventh execution of the year, putting Derrick Charles to death for the murders of his 15-year-old girlfriend, Myiesha Bennett, her mother Brenda Bennett, and her grandfather, Obie Lee Bennett in 2002 in Harris County.  Charles was 19 years old at the time.  According to his attorneys with the Texas Defender Service (TDS), he suffered from symptoms of severe mental illness throughout his life.

Here’s a statement from TDS upon learning the U.S. Supreme Court had denied a stay of execution in Derrick Charles’ case.

“We are disappointed with the Court’s response.  Derrick Charles has a lifelong history of severe mental illness.  While the Court has ruled that it is unconstitutional to execute the insane – those people without a rational understanding of why they are being executed – it is a hollow promise without resources and evaluation.  Derrick Charles and his deteriorating mental condition deserved that.”

— Paul Mansur, Senior Staff Attorney, Texas Defender Service, Counsel to Derrick Charles

Texas accounts for seven of the fourteen executions that have occurred nationwide to date in 2015. Two individuals are scheduled to be executed in June.

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04 May 2015 ~ Comments Off on TCADP May 2015 Alert: “The death penalty has worn out its welcome.”

TCADP May 2015 Alert: “The death penalty has worn out its welcome.”

In this edition:
-Scheduled executions: Six executions; six stays to date in 2015
-Advocacy at the 84th Texas Legislature: House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee considers testimony on abolition bill
-In the news: A District Attorney’s rationale for not seeking the death penalty plus “87 Reasons To Rethink the Death Penalty”
-In case you missed it: Recent articles from the Huffington Post on Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty and the toll the death penalty takes on those involved in executions; TCADP’s Spring 2015 newsletter
-Upcoming events: Calling all members in Houston and El Paso!

Scheduled executions
The State of Texas is scheduled to carry out one execution this month:

• Derrick Charles is scheduled to be put to death on May 12, 2015. He was convicted of killing his 15-year-old girlfriend, Myiesha Bennett, her mother Brenda Bennett, and her grandfather, Obie Lee Bennett in 2002 in Harris County. Charles was 19 years old at the time.

The State of Texas has carried out six executions to date in 2015. Two individuals scheduled to be executed last month – Robert Pruett and Richard Vasquez – received stays of execution. Six people have received stays of execution this year, although the stay granted to Lester Bower by the U.S. Supreme Court has been lifted and his execution has been rescheduled for June 3, 2015. At this time, no executions have been scheduled past June 18, 2015.

Attend a vigil in your community on the day of executions in Texas. Information and updates on cases are available on our website and through Facebook and Twitter.

Advocacy at the 84th Texas Legislature
“The death penalty has worn out its welcome.” That’s the message Anthony Graves delivered to members of the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence during his testimony last week in support of House Bill 1527. The hearing on HB 1527 – State Representative Jessica Farrar’s abolition bill – took place on Wednesday, April 29, 2015. Anthony went on to tell the committee the death penalty does not work and what happened to him and his family should concern all of us.

The committee also heard powerful testimony from these individuals and organizational representatives:

• Grant Jones, who served as the District Attorney for Nueces, Kleberg and Kenedy Counties from 1983 to 1991
• Bishop Joe A. Wilson, who served as Bishop of the Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church, headquartered in Fort Worth, from 1992 to 2000, and as Bishop-in-Residence at Southwestern University in Georgetown from 2001 to 2013
• TCADP Board Member Rev. Dr. Jeff Hood
• TCADP Lobby Corps member Rev. John Yeaman and TCADP member Alison Dieter
• Patrick Ryan, Communications Director for the Texas Catholic Conference
• Joshua Houston, General Counsel/Director of Government Affairs for Texas Impact
• TCADP Executive Director Kristin Houlé

We are grateful to Rep. Farrar and her wonderful staff for their hard work on last week’s hearing. We also extend our gratitude to all of our witnesses, to the two-dozen individuals who registered in favor of the bill, to the TCADP Board Members and Lobby Corps members who attended the hearing, and to everyone who contacted members of the House Criminal Jurisprudence to express their support for ending the death penalty in Texas.

HB 1527 was left pending. You can watch a recording of the committee hearing online at http://www.house.state.tx.us/video-audio/committee-broadcasts/84/. Scroll down until you find the listing for the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on April 29th. Testimony on HB 1527 began around 5:30 PM that day.

In the news
“In his own words: DA Alan Nash talks about the decision to not seek death for Eddie Routh”
Erath County District Attorney Alan Nash recently provided his reasons for seeking life without parole rather than the death penalty for Eddie Routh. In February, a jury convicted Routh of the murders of Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield.

Simply put, Nash did not seek the death penalty because, [he did] “not believe the higher courts will ever allow Routh to actually be executed.” Due to Routh’s mental illness and military service, Nash felt a death sentence would only be “symbolic.” He cites time as another reason: “trial in a death penalty case would have taken at least eight, likely up to 12 weeks…non-death trial—[takes] two and a half weeks.”

Nash also brings up the costs to counties during and after death penalty trials: “if a jury imposed the death penalty—the appeal process takes an average of 10 to 15 years [and] the county must foot most of the [defendant’s] attorney, psychiatrist, and other bills.” To read the piece in its entirety in the Stephenville Empire-Tribune, please visit http://bit.ly/1GUQQtA.

“87 Reasons To Rethink the Death Penalty” & “Put Yourself in the Jury Box”
On May 4, Stephanie Mencimer, writer for Mother Jones, published two companion articles highlighting information from “The Failure of Mitigation,” a study published in the Hastings Law Journal last year. Mencimer’s articles and “The Failure of Mitigation” focus on 100 recent executions and the requirement of extreme culpability. When looking at the histories, Mencimer points out, “the files are full of stories about men who were fed alcohol as toddlers, beaten brutally as children, shot at by stepfathers, abandoned by psychotic or drug-addicted parents, sexually abused… details of these cases make for painful reading, but they go a long way toward helping explain what makes someone a killer.” For the full articles, please visit http://bitly.com/1E8TSGc and http://bit.ly/1FKTymx.

In case you missed it
“America’s death row population is shrinking”
Recently the Pew Research Center released information showing positive trends for the abolition movement. Death row populations continue to drop and death sentences are decreasing nationwide.

“This Is What It Feels Like To Spend Your Life Working On Death Row”
TCADP Advisory Board Member, Rev. Carroll “Bud” Pickett, was featured in a Huffington Post article profiling four people involved in the death penalty system. Rev. Pickett explains the toll the process takes on all involved: “standing by the gurney almost 100 times, and watching innocent men killed, watching repentant men killed, and seeing the pain among families and men and my employee friends, cannot leave my memories.”

“More Conservatives Are Coming Out Against The Death Penalty”
Another recent Huffington Post article highlights the views and efforts of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty (CCADP). Marc Hyden, Coordinator for CCADP, says he often hears a similar confession from fellow conservatives: “I’ve been against the death penalty for 30 years…I just never told anyone.”

Seizing the Momentum: TCADP’s Spring 2015 Newsletter now available online
The Spring 2015 issue of our quarterly newsletter, Seizing the Momentum, is now available online. In this issue, you’ll learn about TCADP’s Faith Leader Advocacy Day and release of the Interfaith Statement of Opposition to the Death Penalty. You can also read two participants’ experiences on lobby day, meet our new board members, and find out more about our Lobby Corps members.

Upcoming Events
*Tomorrow* TCADP’s Houston Chapter will meet on Tuesday, May 5, 2015 at 7 PM at Central Market (3815 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX 77027). TCADP Executive Director Kristin Houlé will give an update on the current legislative session and discuss TCADP’s future plans. The chapter meets every other month on the 1st Tuesday of the month, starting in January.

El Pasoans Against the Death Penalty, a chapter of TCADP, meet on the last Tuesday of the month. The next meeting will take place at 7 PM on May 26, 2015 at St. Pius X Church in the Pedro Maldonado Room (1050 North Clark Drive). For more information, please contact Pat Delgado at phdelgado@hotmail.com.

Thank you for supporting TCADP!

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22 April 2015 ~ Comments Off on Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stays execution of Richard Vasquez

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stays execution of Richard Vasquez

On April 21, 2015 the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halted the execution of Richard Vasquez, scheduled to take place April 23rd. In their appeal to the court, Vasquez’s attorneys contended new research on shaken baby syndrome and head injuries debunks testimony from prosecution experts at his 1999 trial. Vasquez was originally scheduled for execution on January 15, 2015, but the execution was rescheduled because the Governor was out of the state.

Read more about the ruling from the Houston Chronicle.
Read more about Richard Vasquez’s case from the Austin Chronicle.

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16 April 2015 ~ Comments Off on State of Texas executes Manuel Garza Jr.

State of Texas executes Manuel Garza Jr.

The State of Texas carried out its sixth execution of the year on April 15, 2015. Manuel Garza Jr., 34, was put to death for the 2001 murder of 37-year-old San Antonio SWAT Officer John “Rocky” Riojas.

Garza is among the 42 individuals convicted in Bexar County who have been executed.  This puts the county, which includes San Antonio, only behind Harris and Dallas Counties when it comes to executions in Texas.  No one has been sentenced to death by a Bexar County jury since 2009.

Read more about his case from the Huffington Post and The Guardian.

We appreciate everyone who participated in vigils last night.

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13 April 2015 ~ Comments Off on State of Texas executes Kent Sprouse

State of Texas executes Kent Sprouse

The State of Texas carried out its fifth execution of the year on April 9, 2015. Kent Sprouse, 42, was put to death for the 2002 murders of a 28-year-old Texas cop and a 38-year-old gas station customer.  Sprouse is one of only two executions from Ellis county. Read more about Sprouse from the Huffington Post.

We appreciate everyone who participated in vigils.

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23 March 2015 ~ Comments Off on Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Stays Execution of Randall Mays

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Stays Execution of Randall Mays

One week ago the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halted the execution of Randall Mays, scheduled to take place on March 18th. The court agreed with Mays’ lawyers that additional review is needed to determine if Mays is mentally competent for execution.
Texas’ highest court will now give the case a deeper look before issuing an opinion or further order.

Read more about the ruling from the Austin Chronicle and the Austin American-Statesman.

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09 March 2015 ~ Comments Off on More than 550 Texas Faith Leaders Call for Abolition of the Death Penalty

More than 550 Texas Faith Leaders Call for Abolition of the Death Penalty

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, March 9, 2015

CONTACT: Kristin Houlé, Executive Director, Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (TCADP)
512-441-1808 (office); 512-552-5948 (cell); khoule@tcadp.org

More than 550 Texas Faith Leaders Call for Abolition of the Death Penalty
Interfaith Statement of Opposition to the Death Penalty endorsed by leaders from 25 different faith traditions statewide

 Austin, Texas – Today at the State Capitol, representatives of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (TCADP) and Texas Impact gathered with faith leaders from across the state to release an Interfaith Statement of Opposition to the Death Penalty and Texas Rabbis’ and Cantors’ Statement of Opposition to the Death Penalty.

More than 550 religious and spiritual leaders statewide have endorsed the Interfaith Statement; among them, the signatories represent 25 different faith traditions, including Baptist, Buddhist, Catholic, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Reform Judaism, and United Church of Christ. More than 20 Jewish leaders in Texas endorsed the accompanying Rabbis’ Statement.

Affirming the sanctity of human life and human capacity for redemption, the statements reflect both moral and practical concerns about the death penalty rooted in diverse religious traditions. The endorsing faith leaders call on Governor Abbott, members of the 84th Texas Legislature, and other elected officials to take a closer look at the reality of capital punishment in Texas and seek alternative ways to achieve healing and justice for all those who suffer in the wake of violent crimes. They declare “We should do all we can to make sure our state’s resources are directed towards the improvement of life, not its destruction.”

The signatories on the Interfaith Statement include all active and retired Bishops of The United Methodist Church in Texas and 265 United Methodist ministers from across the state. The United Methodist Church first adopted a statement opposing the death penalty in 1956.

“According to our Social Principles, the death penalty denies the power of Christ to redeem, restore, and transform all human beings,” said Bishop Joe A. Wilson, who served as Bishop of the Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church, headquartered in Fort Worth, from 1992 to 2000, and as Bishop-in-Residence at Southwestern University in Georgetown from 2001 to 2013.  “The Church cannot accept retribution or social vengeance as a reason for taking human life.”

These statements come at a time of declining use of the death penalty both nationally and in Texas. New death sentences have dropped 80% in Texas over the last 15 years and remain isolated to just a few jurisdictions statewide. Last year the state carried out its fewest executions in nearly two decades. To date this year, three individuals have been put to death and three have received stays of execution.

Rev. Dr. Jeff Hood of Denton, who last year conducted a 200-mile pilgrimage from death row in Livingston to the State Capitol in Austin, said “It is my hope this Interfaith Statement will ignite the moral imagination of all people of faith in Texas so that we might rise up together with one courageous voice and declare the death penalty to be no more.”

Rabbi Susan Lippe of Austin said, “As Jewish leaders, we have grave concerns about the racist and arbitrary application of the death penalty and the possibility of executing an innocent person. With these statements, we declare no more executions in our name.”

The release of the Interfaith Statement occurred in conjunction with the first-ever Texas Faith Leader Advocacy Day on the Death Penalty. Participants are meeting today with legislators to deliver copies of the statement and voice their support for House Bill 1527, sponsored by State Representative Jessica Farrar (District 148 -Houston), which would repeal the death penalty in Texas. Faith leaders will urge the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee to hold a hearing on the bill.  State Rep. Jessica Farrar filed HB 1527 on February 17, 2015; she has sponsored similar legislation in every session since 2007.

“Texas Impact is proud to stand in partnership with the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty to heighten the visibility of faith-based opposition to the death penalty and persuade more elected officials and the public at large to embrace alternatives to its use,” said Rev. Tom Heger, a retired Presbyterian pastor from San Antonio and Texas Impact Board Member. “As the state’s oldest and largest statewide interfaith network, we believe faith communities play a critical role in public discussions about the future of capital punishment in our state.”

The text of the Interfaith Statement and full list of signatories, organized by region, is available at http://tcadp.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Interfaith-Statement-of-Opposition-to-the-Death-Penalty-FINAL.pdf.

The text of the Rabbis’ and Cantors’ Statement is available at http://tcadp.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Rabbi-Statement-of-Opposition-to-the-Death-Penalty-FINAL.pdf

For more information, please contact TCADP Executive Director Kristin Houlé at khoule@tcadp.org, 512-441-1808 (office), or 512-552-5948 (cell).
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03 November 2014 ~ Comments Off on Registration for TCADP’s 2015 Annual Conference now open and other updates…

Registration for TCADP’s 2015 Annual Conference now open and other updates…

In this edition of our monthly alert for November 2014:

Scheduled executions
Support clemency for Max Soffar
TCADP 2015 Annual Conference
In case you missed it
Upcoming events
Support TCADP through AmazonSmile

Scheduled executions
Outrageously, the State of Texas just set a December 3, 2014 execution date for Scott Panetti. Panetti, who has suffered from severe mental illness for more than 30 years, has a fixed delusion that Satan, working through the state, is trying to kill him for preaching the Gospel.  Read background information on his case and watch “Executing the Insane: The Case of Scott Panetti,” which includes heartbreaking interviews with several members of his family.

We will provide updates on this case as they become available.  Please contact TCADP Executive Director Kristin Houlé at khoule@tcadp.org or 512-441-1808 for more information.

Support clemency for Max Soffar
Imagine spending 34 years in prison – most of them on death row in Texas – for a crime you didn’t commit.  Now imagine being told by doctors that in a matter of months, maybe weeks, you will die of liver cancer.  That’s the situation facing Max Soffar, who will die behind bars before any court can exonerate him.  The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recently denied his petition for clemency, citing the absence of an execution date. Read more from Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, and join him and Sister Helen Prejean in calling on Governor Rick Perry to grant clemency to Max so that he can die at home.  Sign this change.org petition!

TCADP 2015 Annual Conference
Registration for the TCADP 2015 Annual Conference – Death Penalty Fault Lines: A Seismic Shift in Ground – is now open!  The conference will take place on Saturday, February 21, 2015 at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Austin, Texas.  Take advantage of our advance registration rates by December 31st. (Rates will increase on January 1st and then again after February 13th).  Renew your membership or join TCADP today to receive our special member rates. Look for an announcement from us later this month regarding our panelists, keynote speaker, workshops, and award recipients.

In case you missed it
Gallup Poll finds decreasing support for death penalty among Republicans
According to the annual Gallup Poll, support for the death penalty among Republicans has dropped nine points over the last decade.  Read more about the reasons behind the decline.

Pope Francis condemns the death penalty
On October 24th, while addressing a group of members of the International Association of Penal Law, Pope Francis called on all people of good will to fight for abolition of the death penalty in “all of its forms” and for the improvement of prison conditions.  Learn more from the National Catholic Reporter.

Upcoming events

If you haven’t done so already, please vote on Tuesday, November 4th!

Texas Families for Justice Rally
On Friday, November 7th at 1:00 PM, Texas Inmate Families Association, Texas Voices for Reason and Justice, and TX CURE will host a Texas Families for Justice Rally on the South steps of the State Capitol in Austin. Add your voice to the call for criminal justice reform and stand in solidarity with hundreds of family members, formerly incarcerated individuals, and supporters from across the state.

Fair & Just Luncheon in Houston
Join us on Tuesday, November 18th for the next installment of our bi-monthly Fair & Just Lunch Series in Houston, 12:30 to 1:30 in the St. Joseph’s Room at St. Anne’s Catholic Church.  RSVP and order lunch today.  More details coming soon.

Victim Offender Mediation Training
The Institute for Restorative Justice and Restorative Dialogue seeks applicants for its upcoming Victim Offender Mediation Training.  This three-day skill-based training is designed to give participants tools to conduct victim-centered Victim Offender Mediation for low-level crimes, neighborhood and community disputes, and issues involving juveniles and young adults. The training will take place in Austin from December 46, 2014 and costs $300.  Download more information and the registration form.

Information about other upcoming events is available here.

Support TCADP through AmazonSmile
If you shop on Amazon, please consider sharing some of your purchase power with TCADP.  Amazon will donate 0.5% of your eligible AmazonSmile purchases to TCADP, if you designate us as your charitable organization of choice. Note:  You must log into your account through amazonsmile.com for your purchases to benefit TCADP.

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