Archive | Texas

25 April 2016 ~ Comments Off on Max Soffar dies on Texas death row after 35 years in prison; strong claim of innocence

Max Soffar dies on Texas death row after 35 years in prison; strong claim of innocence

Max Soffar, who spent 35 years in prison – most of them on Texas’ death row – died of complications from liver cancer on Sunday, April 24, 2016.  He was diagnosed in the fall of 2014, when doctors told him he had only months to live.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit was scheduled to hear oral arguments in his case, including evidence that might have overturned his conviction, this week.  Soffar was 60 years old.

There was no evidence whatsoever connecting Max Soffar to the horrific murders of three people in a bowling alley in Houston in 1980.  His conviction and death sentence hinged solely on a confession he gave to police – one of three inconsistent statements he provided after three days of intense interrogation.  According to the National Registry of Wrongful Convictions, false confessions have played a role in 13% of exonerations nationwide.

Equally troubling is the fact that Max Soffar did not remotely resemble the description of the perpetrator provided by eyewitness and surviving victim Greg Garner.  Substantial evidence supporting the alternative theory of suspect Paul Dennis Reid was never considered by a jury.

Read more about his case in Texas Monthly.

Soffar’s attorneys from the ACLU and the law firm Kirkland Ellis asked the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to recommend then-Governor Rick Perry commute Soffar’s death sentence so that he could live his final days at home. Many prominent individuals, including former district attorneys, judges, faith leaders, former Texas Governor Mark White, and former FBI Director William S. Sessions supported Soffar’s clemency petition. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles denied the petition citing the absence of an execution date.

In November 2014, clergy members and ACLU representatives delivered more than 116,000 signatures on Sister Helen Prejean’s Change.org petition calling on Governor Rick Perry to allow Soffar to die at home.

Here is the press release on Soffar’s death from the ACLU:

Innocent Man Dies of Cancer on Texas Death Row Three Days Before Hearing to Clear His Name 

Max Soffar Spent 35 Years Behind Bars for Crimes He Didn’t Commit

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 25, 2016

CONTACT: Alexandra Ringe, 212-549-2582, aringe@aclu.org

LIVINGSTON, Tex. – Max Soffar died at the age of 60 yesterday from liver cancer in the prison that houses the state’s death row.

Soffar was sentenced to death in 1981. He was innocent. His death came three days before a hearing at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit that could have set aside his wrongful conviction and death sentence.

“Max was an innocent man who should have been able to die privately and peacefully at home with his wife. Instead he had to endure the horrors of terminal cancer under guards’ constant watch, a prisoner until his final breath,” said Brian Stull, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project. “Max was 24 when he succumbed to extreme pressure by police and confessed to crimes he didn’t commit. That confession should never have held up in court, yet it sent Max to death row, where he spent the rest of his life. That is a disgrace.”

Max was represented by the ACLU and the law firm Kirkland Ellis in efforts to overturn his death sentence.

“Max’s punishment for something he didn’t do shows the inherent injustice in the death penalty. Death should never be the outcome of our highly imperfect court system,” said Andrew Horne of Kirkland Ellis. “Max’s case also shows how resistant our courts are to correcting their mistakes, particularly errors in capital punishment. After decades of effort, and despite powerful evidence of innocence, we have not yet cleared Max’s name.”

“Max wasn’t executed, but the death penalty and its haphazard, unjust application stole his life. He was 60 years old when he died on death row, innocent,” said Stull. “The state of Texas was ready to kill him over nothing. He lived with that every day.”

For legal documents and other information about Max’s case, visit: https://www.aclu.org/cases/state-texas-v-max-soffar

For more information about the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project, visit: https://www.aclu.org/issues/capital-punishment

This press release is available here: https://www.aclu.org/news/innocent-man-dies-cancer-texas-death-row-three-days-hearing-clear-his-name

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08 April 2016 ~ Comments Off on State of Texas executes Pablo Vasquez

State of Texas executes Pablo Vasquez

The State of Texas executed Pablo Vasquez on Wednesday, April 6, 2016. He was convicted of killing 12-year-old David Cardenas in 1998 in Donna, Texas (Hidalgo County). Vasquez was 20 years old at the time of the crime.

Vasquez was the the sixth person executed in Texas this year.  To date, there have been 11 executions total nationwide.  At this time, there are seven additional executions scheduled to take place in Texas through October 2016.

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06 April 2016 ~ Comments Off on State of Texas scheduled to execute Pablo Vasquez

State of Texas scheduled to execute Pablo Vasquez

Tonight, the State of Texas is scheduled to execute Pablo Vasquez . He was convicted of killing 12-year-old David Cardenas in 1998 in Donna, Texas (Hidalgo County). Vasquez was 20 years old at the time of the crime. His attorney claims he suffers from severe mental illness. An appeal on other grounds is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

If it proceeds, this will the sixth execution in Texas this year.  To date, there have been 10 executions total nationwide.  At this time, there are  at least six additional executions scheduled to take place in Texas through August 2016.

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10 March 2016 ~ Comments Off on State of Texas Executes Coy Wesbrook

State of Texas Executes Coy Wesbrook

Last night, the State of Texas carried out its fourth execution of the year, putting Coy Wesbrook to death for the murders of his ex-wife, Gloria Coons, and Antonio Cruz in 1997 in Channelview (Harris County).  Wesbrook killed three other people during the same incident.  According to Reuters, the execution was delayed by about two hours because of a last-minute appeal.

Wesbrook was the eighth person to executed by lethal injection in the United States this year. Of the 535 executions in Texas since 1982, 126 involved cases out of Harris County, which includes Houston.

Two additional executions are scheduled to take place in Texas this month.

 

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09 March 2016 ~ Comments Off on State of Texas scheduled to execute Coy Wesbrook

State of Texas scheduled to execute Coy Wesbrook

Tonight the State of Texas is scheduled to carry out its fourth execution of the year.  Coy Wesbrook – who goes by the nickname “Elvis” – was sentenced to death for the murders of his ex-wife, Gloria Coons, and Antonio Cruz in 1997 in Channelview (Harris County).  He killed three other people that night, as well.

According to his attorneys, no legal appeals are pending. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected Wesbrook’s clemency petition by a vote of 7-0 earlier this week.  Read more about his case in the Houston Press.

If it proceeds, Wesbrook’s execution will the be eighth lethal injection in the United States this year. Of the 534 executions in Texas since 1982, 125 involved cases out of Harris County, which includes Houston.

Two other individuals – Adam Ward and John Battaglia – have execution dates this month in Texas.  All other executions scheduled to occur in March elsewhere in the United States have been stayed for various reasons.

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17 February 2016 ~ Comments Off on State of Texas executes Gustavo Garcia

State of Texas executes Gustavo Garcia

Last night, February 16, 2016, the State of Texas put Gustavo Garcia to death for the robbery and murder of Craig Turski in Plano (Collin County) in 1990. Garcia, who was 18 years old at the time of the crime, spent more than 24 years on death row.  According to the Texas Tribune, his only personal witness was his spiritual advisor.  From the Tribune:

Garcia received a new sentencing hearing in 2000 after then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn discovered that psychologist Walter Quijano, who testified at Garcia’s original sentencing trial, had claimed in testimony that Hispanics were more likely to pose a future danger to society, according to court documents. Quijano said he came to that belief because Hispanics were overrepresented in the prison population.

Read more from the Texas Tribune.

Garcia was the third person to be executed in Texas in 2016.  Three executions are scheduled to take place next month.

 

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28 January 2016 ~ Comments Off on State of Texas executes James Freeman

State of Texas executes James Freeman

Last night, January 27,  the State of Texas executed James Freeman for the murder of Game Warden Justin Hurst after a police chase in 2007 in Wharton County. His 2008 trial was the first death penalty case in Wharton since 1979 and he was the first person from the county to be executed.

Freeman’s lawyers argued that their client did not have a history of violence and did not pose a “future danger”, the first issue jurors in Texas capital murder trials must answer when considering whether to impose the death penalty.

According to the Texas Tribune, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review his case on January 11 and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected his petition for clemency earlier in the week.

Freeman was the second person to be executed in Texas this year.  A total of four executions have taken place in the United States in 2016.

At this time, there are eight executions scheduled to take place in Texas through July 2016.

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21 January 2016 ~ Comments Off on State of Texas executes Richard Masterson

State of Texas executes Richard Masterson

The State of Texas carried out its first execution of the year last night, putting Richard Masterson to death by lethal injection for the 2001 murder of Darin Honeycutt in Houston.

According to the Texas Tribune, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court both denied last-minute requests for stays of execution.  One of those appeals challenged the constitutionality of a new Texas law that protects the identity of any person or entity providing the drugs used in lethal injections.  The law was passed by the 84th Texas Legislature and went into effect on September 1, 2015.

Other appeals challenged the testimony of medical examiner, Paul Shrode, who conducted an autopsy of Mr. Honeycutt and declared his cause of death to be strangulation.  Attorney Gregory Gardner argued that Honeycutt died of a heart attack.

From the Tribune:

In the same year as Honeycutt’s death, Shrode was written up by the Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office for wrongly determining a cause of death. In 2010, he was fired from his position as El Paso County chief medical examiner after a death row inmate in Ohio was granted clemency due to issues related to Shrode’s testimony in the case.

These incidents and the fact that the state did not reveal them to Masterson, Gardner argued, was cause for a stay and hearing. The request was denied by the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday afternoon, allowing the execution to move forward.

Pope Francis was following this case and expressed his sorrow upon learning of Masterson’s execution.

At this time, eight additional executions are scheduled to take place in Texas through July. On January 27, James Freeman is scheduled to be put to death for the murder of Game Warden Justin Hurst after a police chase in 2007 in Wharton County. His 2008 trial was the first death penalty case in Wharton since 1979.

 

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