Archive | Texas

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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08 October 2014 ~ Comments Off on Manuel Velez, who once faced execution, is now a free man

Manuel Velez, who once faced execution, is now a free man

Today, October 8, 2014, Manuel Velez – who once faced execution by the State of Texas – was released from prison in Huntsville. He will be reunited with his family in Brownsville, including his two sons, who are now 11 and 15 years old. His freedom is a momentous outcome in a case that has endured numerous legal twists and turns over the last nine years.

Read this press release from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which represented Mr. Velez.

The case of Manuel Velez is a hallmark of everything that can go wrong in a death penalty case… incompetent legal counsel, an unreliable and unrecorded police statement, prosecutorial misconduct, shoddy science, and false testimony by an “expert” witness regarding the likelihood of future dangerousness.

But for the intervention of capital defense attorney Maurie Levin and the incredible work of the ACLU and the law firms of Carrington, Coleman, Sloman & Blumenthal, LLP, and Lewis, Roca, Rothberger LLP, Manuel Velez would still be under a sentence of death today.

Background on the case
On October 24, 2013, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the conviction of Manuel Velez, who was sentenced to death in Cameron County in 2008 for the death of one-year-old Angel Gabriel Moreno. The baby was the child of Velez’s then- girlfriend, Acela Moreno, who served five years of a ten-year sentence for her role in the baby’s tragic death.  The court agreed with a state district judge’s assessment that Mr. Velez’s defense attorneys failed to present critical medical evidence of injuries the baby sustained in the weeks and months before his death – injuries that Velez could not have caused as he was working on a construction site in Tennessee at the time.

In 2012, the court threw out Mr. Velez’s death sentence after determining that the jury heard misleading testimony from an expert witness regarding the circumstances of incarceration if Velez was sentenced to life in prison.

According to the ACLU, “Even after Velez’s conviction was overturned, and in the face of overwhelming evidence of his innocence, the State refused to dismiss the murder charge against him unless he took a plea. Velez pleaded no contest to a lesser charge of injury to a child rather than face a new trial that could be plagued by the same injustices that sent him to death row.”

Read this statement from the Death Penalty Information Center.

For more background on this case, read this compelling piece by the always-amazing Pamela Colloff, executive editor at Texas Monthly.

The case of Manuel Velez is yet one more example of the problems with the death penalty in Texas and the egregious mistakes that can occur with a system that has the power to take the life of an individual.  As our friend Juan Melendez says, “You can always release an innocent man from prison, but you can never release an innocent man from the grave.”

Read about other wrongful convictions in Texas.

TCADP congratulates the ACLU and all of the attorneys whose hard work resulted in freedom for Manuel Velez.  We wish Mr. Velez and his family the best as he begins to rebuild his life.

 

 

 

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17 September 2014 ~ Comments Off on State of Texas Executes Lisa Coleman

State of Texas Executes Lisa Coleman

The State of Texas executed Lisa Coleman this evening, September 17, 2014, after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected her request for a stay.  She was convicted a decade ago in Tarrant County in the starvation death of 9-year-old Davontae Williams. The boy’s mother, Marcella Williams, took a plea deal to avoid the death penalty and is serving a life sentence.  She will be eligible for parole in 2044.

It was the ninth execution in Texas this year, out of 30 nationwide.  Coleman was the sixth woman put to death in Texas since 1982 and the second in 2014.  Read more from the Washington Post.

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