Archive | Texas

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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18 January 2016 ~ Comments Off on State of Texas set to carry out its first execution in 2016

State of Texas set to carry out its first execution in 2016

This week, the State of Texas is scheduled to carry out its first execution of the year.  On Wednesday, January 20, Richard Masterson is scheduled to be put to death for the 2001 murder of Darin Honeycutt in Houston.  According to the Houston Chronicle, during his 2002 trial, Masterson told jurors that he would be a future danger. Future dangerousness is one of two special issues jurors in Texas must consider during the punishment phase of a death penalty trial.  At various times, Masterson sought to expedite his own execution but later opted to continue his appeals.

In his coverage of recent appeals on Masterson’s behalf, Allan Turner of the Houston Chronicle writes:

…the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected a petition for Masterson that argued former Harris County assistant medical examiner Dr. Paul Shrode wrongly interpreted results of Honeycutt’s autopsy, calling a likely natural death a homicide. The appeal also asserted that Masterson’s confession to police was obtained while he was profoundly depressed as a result of withdrawal from addictive drugs.

The court rejected the petition because its claims could have been presented earlier in the appeals process but did not rule on its merits.

An additional petition – still pending – challenges 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. Another attorney for Masterson is filing appeals with federal courts.

On January 15, 2016, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles denied Masterson’s petition for clemency.

According to Fox News, Pope Francis is closely following this case.

At this time, eight additional executions are scheduled to take place in Texas through June of this year.

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01 December 2015 ~ Comments Off on TCADP December 2015 Alert: 2016 Annual Conference Updates

TCADP December 2015 Alert: 2016 Annual Conference Updates

In this edition:

TCADP 2016 Annual Conference Updates: Register by December 31st to receive our best rates

In case you missed it: New report on veterans on death row; coverage of declining death sentences in Texas; TCADP’s Fall 2015 Newsletter

Featured events: Attend a holiday party in Houston

Support TCADP: Shop AmazonSmile and remember TCADP in your year-end giving


TCADP 2016 Annual Conference: At the Epicenter of the Death Penalty
The TCADP 2016 Annual Conference Committee is delighted to share the following information about our keynote speaker, confirmed panelists,and award recipients.  Join us in Houston next February for the 2016 Annual Conference: At the Epicenter of the Death PenaltyRegister by December 31st to receive our best rates.

Keynote Speaker: Nebraska Senator Colby Coash
CCoashSenator Colby Coash was first elected to the Nebraska State Legislature in 2008 and won reelection in 2012. He represents District 27, which encompasses portions of Lincoln. Senator Coash serves as the vice-chairman of the General Affairs Committee and vice-chairman of the Judiciary Committee. As a life-long Nebraskan, he has prioritized giving a voice to vulnerable Nebraskans, especially children and people with disabilities.

In 2015 Senator Coash played a critical role in the abolition of the death penalty in Nebraska after 38 years of attempts.  He used his position as a conservative leader to convince his colleagues that the death penalty did not represent conservative values or the best interests of Nebraskans.  Said Senator Ernie Chambers, “Without Coash’s influence and fortitude we would not have been successful in this effort.”

Watch Senator Coash’s appearance on “The Daily Show” last month and join us in welcoming him to Texas!

2016 Panelists
Our morning panel discussion will focus on past and present use of the death penalty in Harris County, which alone accounts for nearly 300 death sentences and more executions than any state in the country besides Texas. Yet even in Harris County, the death penalty landscape is shifting.  Panelists will address Harris County’s notorious outlier status and also lift up the significant changes occurring there and throughout the state – and what it means for our work.

2012-04 Klineberg PhotoDr. Stephen Klineberg
Stephen Klineberg is a Professor of Sociology at Rice University and the founder of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research.  In 1982, he and his students initiated the annual Kinder Houston Area Survey, now in its 35th year of tracking the remarkable changes in the demographic patterns, economic outlooks, experiences and beliefs of Harris County residents. Read his opinion piece about Harris County residents’ views on the death penalty, published this summer in the Houston Chronicle.

 

1Hje_VUj_400x400Robert J. Smith
Rob is a Senior Fellow at the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School. He also serves as the Litigation Director for the 8th Amendment Project and is a Visiting Scholar at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law. Previously, Rob was an Assistant Professor of Law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he taught criminal law and evidence. Rob’s scholarship on the geography of the death penalty has appeared in numerous law journals and media outlets and has been cited by the United States Supreme Court.  Read some of his recent articles in Slate.

2016 Annual Award Recipients
Appreciation Awards
AA-1515 copyState Representative Alma Allen (District 131-Houston), for jointly authoring death penalty repeal bills with State Representative Jessica Farrar in multiple legislative sessions and providing leadership as a member of the House Corrections Committee.

 

 

 

execution protest 11-18-15Patricia Delgado, in gratitude for her leadership of El Pasoans Against the Death Penalty since 2012. Pat has organized countless activities to engage the public, elected officials, and religious communities in West Texas, including vigils outside the courthouse on the day of executions; workshops and film screenings; and outreach to members of El Paso’s legislative delegation.

 

KPFT 90.1 FM, Houston Pacifica Radio, for their steadfast coverage of death penalty issues, their support of local activities and the work of TCADP’s Houston Chapter, and their special programs that give voice to the voiceless, including “The Prison Show” and “Execution Watch.”

Media Award
Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 1.10.07 PMHouston Chronicle Metro Columnist Lisa Falkenberg, in recognition of her groundbreaking work on the Texas grand jury system and the role it played both in overturning the conviction of Alfred Dwayne Brown (who was later released from death row) and securing legislative reform. (She also won a Pulitzer!)

 

 

 

IMG_0473-2David P. Atwood Founder’s Award
Dominican Sisters of Houston, in gratitude for their longtime support for TCADP and commitment to abolishing the death penalty.

 

 

Read more about our award winners and join us in celebrating these extraordinary individuals and organizations at the conference luncheon!  We also invite you to congratulate the honorees by placing an ad in the conference program and/or sponsoring a table at the luncheon.

Register now to attend the TCADP 2016 Annual Conference on Saturday, February 20, 2016 in Houston.  Join us for the full day or just for the awards luncheon and keynote address.  Register by December 31st to receive our best rates and stay tuned for more announcements regarding the conference program, including our workshop sessions.


In case you missed it
Death sentences are declining, even in Harris County
In his recent article, “Why Texas county known for death sentences has given none in 2015,” Tom Dart of The Guardian examines the changing landscape in Harris County. Despite being the highest convicting and executing county in Texas, Harris County jurors have not handed down a single new sentence this year. In the article, TCADP Executive Director Kristin Houlé points out “we now have more cases this year where jurors rejected the death penalty than where they imposed it.”

The December 2015 issue of Texas Monthly also notes these trends and includes an in-depth timeline covering some of the developments that have led to decreased use of the death penalty in Texas. For even more information on this topic, check out TCADP’s updated maps depicting death sentences by county.

New report chronicles plight of veterans on death row
Last month, in conjunction with Veterans Day, the Death Penalty Information Center released a new report that chronicles the plight of some 300 veterans on death row nationwide, including many who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). TCADP Member and former Marine, Bob Michael, has read the report and notes “…so many veterans who have committed heinous crimes are subjected to death penalty convictions without a full examination of all the mitigating factors …. The gravity of a death penalty case suggests that mental health issues, and particularly PTSD issues, requires more attention from litigators, legislators, our governors, and our judges.” Read more.

Fall 2015 issue of Seizing the Momentum
The Fall 2015 issue of our quarterly newsletter, Seizing the Momentum, is now available online. In this issue, you’ll learn new information about the cost of the death penalty in Texas.  You will also find a review of the award-winning series “Rectify.” Read it now!


Featured events
Houston
TCADP’s Houston Chapter will host a holiday party and meeting on Tuesday, December 8th from 7:00 to 9:00 PM. For more information and to RSVP, email Nancy Bailey at nlbailey@earthlink.net.

Rockwall
TCADP North Texas Outreach Coordinator Jason Redick will present at the Rockwall County Democratic Men’s Group meeting on Saturday, December 5th at Napoli Italian Restaurant (407 S. Goliad Street). The meeting will begin at 12:00 PM. His presentation will provide facts about how the death penalty is applied in Texas. All are welcome to attend.


Support TCADP
Doing your holiday shopping online? Please consider using AmazonSmile to support TCADP. By selecting TCADP as your non-profit, a percentage of your purchase will support our efforts.

You can also support TCADP with your generous year-end donation. This month, the Tides Foundation will match the gifts of all first-time donors to TCADP up to $2,500! Make your year-end, tax-deductible donation by December 31, 2015.

Thank you for standing with us as we shift the ground under the death penalty!

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01 December 2015 ~ Comments Off on TCADP announces 2016 Conference Keynote Speaker, Panelists and Honorees

TCADP announces 2016 Conference Keynote Speaker, Panelists and Honorees

The TCADP 2016 Annual Conference Committee is thrilled to announce that Nebraska Senator Colby Coash will serve as our keynote speaker when we gather next February in Houston (Saturday, February 20, 2016).

CCoashColby Coash was first elected to the Nebraska State Legislature in 2008 and won reelection in 2012. He represents District 27, which encompasses  portions of Lincoln. He serves as the vice-chairman of the General Affairs Committee, vice-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, as well as on the Urban Affairs Committee, State-Tribal Relations Committee, Committee on Committees, Reference Committee, Developmental Disability Oversight Committee, Department of Correctional Services Special Investigative Committee, and the Executive Board of the Legislative Council.

As a life-long Nebraskan, Senator Coash has prioritized giving a voice to vulnerable Nebraskans, especially children and people with disabilities. He works hard to promote economic development opportunities across the state in industries that require creativity and special attention in order to grow.

His service on the Judiciary Committee gives him opportunities to lead on issues of justice. He has spearheaded efforts to assist the court system in promoting access to justice for all Nebraska citizens. Furthermore, Senator Coash works to ensure the criminal justice system maintains not only “justice,” but also good stewardship of tax payer money.

In 2015 Senator Coash played a critical role in the abolishment of the death penalty in Nebraska after 38 years of attempts. He used his position as a conservative leader to convince his colleagues that the death penalty did not represent conservative values or the best interests of Nebraskans. Said Senator Ernie Chambers, “Without Coash’s influence and fortitude we would not have been successful in this effort.”

If you missed Senator Coash’s appearance on The Daily Show last month, watch it here.

We also are delighted to announce the recipients of our 2016 Annual Awards, which will be presented at during the luncheon at the conference.

Appreciation Awards: State Representative Alma Allen; Patricia Delgado; and KPFT 90.1 FM

Media Award: Lisa Falkenberg of the Houston Chronicle

David P. Atwood Founder’s Award: Dominican Sisters of Houston

Appreciation Awards
TCADP’s Appreciation Awards are bestowed upon individuals and organizations who have made significant – often selfless – contributions towards our efforts to end the death penalty in Texas.  We are pleased to present our 2016 awards to the following:

AA-1515 copyState Representative Alma Allen jointly authored State Representative Jessica Farrar’s death penalty repeal bills in the 2011 and 2013 legislative sessions and has been a steadfast supporter on death penalty-related issues. She also has provided significant leadership as a member of the House Corrections Committee. Rep. Allen has represented District 131 (Houston) since 2004.

 

 

 

execution protest 11-18-15Patricia Delgado is one of TCADP’s most dedicated volunteers. She has provided leadership to El Pasoans Against the Death Penalty, a chapter of TCADP, since 2012 and has organized countless activities to engage the public, elected officials, and religious communities. These include bilingual prayer vigils at parishes across El Paso as well as vigils outside the courthouse downtown on the day of executions in Texas; workshops in conjunction with the Diocese of El Paso’s Restorative Justice Ministries; the Lighting of the Star on Franklin Mountain, which last year engaged more than 60 community members, including a strong youth contingent; and outreach to members of El Paso’s legislative delegation. Pat provides a monthly newsletter for El Pasoans, organizes monthly chapter meetings and film screenings, and participates in media requests. She truly is our *star* in El Paso!
(Pat, seated, with other members of El Pasoans Against the Death Penalty at a recent vigil in downtown El Paso.)

KPFT logo 2 colorKPFT 90.1 FM, Houston Pacifica Radio, is often the first media outlet to contact TCADP when there is breaking news about the death penalty and when we release our year-end report. We have participated in countless interviews with their reporters over the years and appreciate their steadfast coverage of death penalty issues. KPFT also provides support for our local activities and the work of the Houston Chapter and hosts special programs that give voice to the voiceless, including “The Prison Show” and “Execution Watch.”

Media Award
TCADP’s Media Award honors journalists and media outlets whose work has raised awareness of the flaws and failures of the death penaltyScreen Shot 2015-11-19 at 1.10.07 PM.  We are pleased to present the 2016 Media Award to Houston Chronicle Metro Columnist Lisa Falkenberg in recognition of her groundbreaking work on the Texas grand jury system and the case of Alfred Dwayne Brown.  Her columns contributed to Brown’s ultimate exoneration and propelled legislative reform earlier this year.

On June 8, 2015, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office dismissed capital murder charges against Brown, who spent the last decade on death row. His conviction was overturned in November 2015 due to evidence of prosecutorial misconduct.  Falkenberg won a Pulitzer Prize for her coverage of his case. To see her Pulitzer nomination packet, including a letter from the editors who nominated her, visit: http://www.pulitzer.org/works/2015-commentary.

David P. Atwood Founder’s Award
The David P. Atwood Founder’s Award was established by the TCADP Board of Directors in 2010 in honor of IMG_0473-2Houstonian Dave Atwood, who founded our organization more than 20 years ago.  The award honors those who have made a lifelong commitment to justice. We are pleased to present the 2016 Award to the Dominican Sisters of Houston, in gratitude for their longtime support for TCADP and involvement in our activities.

The Dominican Sisters of Houston is a Catholic community of women whose mission is “to publicly commit ourselves to study and address the crucial justice issues of our times,” including the death penalty. At the December 1997 Chapter, the sisters adopted a corporate stance against the death penalty*. This was followed by opportunities of study and advocacy. They became early members of TCADP and helped coordinate vigils on the evenings of executions.  The Sisters have hosted numerous events on the death penalty featuring murder victims’ family members and others with firsthand experience with the criminal justice system.  They also support TCADP’s Religious Outreach programs, including our Interfaith Statement of Opposition to the Death Penalty and other initiatives.

* “We stand in solidarity with the Catholic Bishops of Texas, who in their October 1997 statement on capital punishment say, ‘we implore all citizens to call on our elected officials to reject the Death Penalty and replace it with non-lethal means of punishment which are sufficient to protect society from violent offenders of human life and public order.”

Please join us in celebrating these extraordinary individuals and organizations!  We also invite you to congratulate the honorees by placing an ad in the conference program and/or sponsoring a table at the luncheon.

2016 Panelists
Our morning panel discussion will focus on past and present use of the death penalty in Harris County, which alone accounts for nearly 300 death sentences and more executions than any state in the country besides Texas. Yet even in Harris County, the death penalty landscape is shifting.  Panelists will address Harris County’s notorious outlier status and also lift up the significant changes occurring there and throughout the state – and what it means for our work.

2012-04 Klineberg PhotoDr. Stephen Klineberg
A graduate of Haverford College, with an M.A. from the University of Paris and a Ph.D. from Harvard, Stephen Klineberg is a Professor of Sociology at Rice University and the founder of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research. In 1982, he and his students initiated the annual Kinder Houston Area Survey, now in its 35th year of tracking the remarkable changes in the demographic patterns, economic outlooks, experiences and beliefs of Harris County residents. Dr. Klineberg currently serves as the Founding Director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research. Read his opinion piece about Harris County residents’ views on the death penalty, published this summer in the Houston Chronicle.

 

1Hje_VUj_400x400Robert J. Smith
Rob is a Senior Fellow at the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School. He also serves as the Litigation Director for the 8th Amendment Project and is a Visiting Scholar at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law. Before joining the CHHIRJ, Rob was an Assistant Professor of Law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he taught criminal law and evidence. Rob earned his law degree from Harvard Law School and his bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley.  His scholarship on the geography of the death penalty has appeared in numerous law journals and media outlets and has been cited by the United States Supreme Court. Read some of his recent articles for Slate.

Stay tuned for more announcements regarding the conference program, including our workshop sessions.

Register now to attend the TCADP 2016 Annual Conference on Saturday, February 20, 2016 in Houston. Join us for the full day or just for the awards luncheon and keynote address.

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19 November 2015 ~ Comments Off on State of Texas executes Raphael Holiday

State of Texas executes Raphael Holiday

Last night, November 18, the State of Texas carried out its last execution of the year, putting Raphael Holiday to death for the arson murders of three young children in 2000 in Madison County: Tierra Lynch, 7, Jasmine DuPaul, 5, and 18-month-old Justice Holiday, his daughter.

Earlier in the day, Madison County State District Judge Hal Ridley granted a motion from Holiday’s original trial lawyers and halted the execution in order to give attorneys more time to pursue additional appeals and seek clemency.  Special prosecutors in the Texas Attorney General’s Office then asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to reinstate the date.  The court overturned Judge Ridley’s ruling and ordered Holiday’s execution to proceed.

Holiday’s appointed attorneys essentially abandoned him in the months before his execution, telling  him there was nothing else they could do to help him after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his appeal.  Despite their client’s wishes, they refused to file a petition for clemency with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Learn more about the case from Brandi Grissom with the Dallas Morning News.

An earlier post about Raphael Holiday is available here.

***

The State of Texas executed 13 people this year, accounting for half of the executions in the United States in 2015.  Five executions are currently scheduled to take place in the early months of 2016.

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18 November 2015 ~ Comments Off on Judge halts today’s scheduled execution of Raphael Holiday

Judge halts today’s scheduled execution of Raphael Holiday

A state district judge has withdrawn the execution date for Raphael Holiday, who was scheduled to be put to death this evening.  It was the last execution scheduled by the State of Texas this year.

According to the Dallas Morning News, “Madison County state district Judge Hal Ridley granted a motion from Holiday’s original trial lawyers that called for a halt to the execution. The lawyers argued that additional time was needed give Holiday a meaningful chance at clemency.”

Special prosecutors in the Texas Attorney General’s Office have asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to reinstate the date: http://trailblazersblog.dallasnews.com/2015/11/execution-date-withdrawn-for-death-row-inmate-set-to-die-wednesday.html/.

Holiday was convicted of the arson murders of three young children in 2000 in Madison County: Tierra Lynch, 7, Jasmine DuPaul, 5, and 18-month-old Justice Holiday, his daughter.  Earlier this summer, after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a petition to review his case, his appointed attorneys told him there was nothing else they could do to help him.  They reportedly refused to seek clemency from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Read more about the case:

http://www.dallasnews.com/news/state/headlines/20151116-condemned-mans-lawyers-stop-helping-cite-false-hope.ece

http://www.buzzfeed.com/tasneemnashrulla/texas-set-to-execute-man-who-says-his-lawyers-have-abandoned?utm_term=.dqZlgXEdM#.vk1lDrjmd

http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/texas/article/Texas-man-set-to-die-for-fire-that-killed-3-6640036.php

***

The State of Georgia is scheduled to carry out the last U.S. execution of the year tomorrow.  A new piece by Sara Totonchi, the Executive Director of the Southern Center for Human Rights, highlights Five Things Wrong with Georgia’s Death Penalty. She writes:

Since December 2014, Georgia has executed a man whose drunk lawyer bungled the case, a man with intellectual disabilities, a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder, and a woman who planned but did not actually commit murder. These cases are no outliers; they are emblematic of a particularly harsh time in our state’s history when death sentences were handed out frequently despite substantive and procedural flaws. And they encapsulate what’s wrong with capital punishment in Georgia.

bit.ly/1MBk55n

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03 November 2015 ~ Comments Off on TCADP November 2015 Alert: Texas schedules last execution of the year

TCADP November 2015 Alert: Texas schedules last execution of the year

In this edition:

Scheduled executions: State of Texas set to carry out last execution of the year

Case updates: Texas juries impose three new death sentences in October; Court of Criminal Appeals grants stay to Julius Murphy

In case you missed it: National Association of Evangelicals changes course on the death penalty

TCADP 2016 Annual Conference: Register now to receive our advanced rate

Featured events: “In Remembrance” in Huntsville; member “meet and greet” in Carrollton; lighting the star in El Paso


Quote of the month
“We’re executing innocent people and calling it justice.”

– Anthony Graves to an audience in East Austin, October 29, 2015.  Anthony spent 6,640 days in Texas prisons as an innocent man.


Scheduled executions
The State of Texas is scheduled to put Raphael Holiday to death on November 18, 2015.  He was convicted of the arson murders of three young children in 2000 in Madison County.

The State of Texas accounts for 12 of the 25 executions nationwide this year.  Four executions are scheduled for the early months of 2016.

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.

Lethal injection developments
According to several online news services, officials with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice attempted to illegally import sodium thiopental from India this summer; prior to 2012, sodium thiopental was the first drug used in lethal injections in Texas. Officials with the Food and Drug Administration reportedly seized the shipment at the airport. Mike Ward of the Houston Chronicle writes, “The move — confirmed by Texas prison officials — marks the latest development in a growing shortage of execution drugs in the United States that has left states scrambling to find new suppliers.” Read more from BuzzFeed and the Associated Press.


Case updates
Texas juries impose first death sentences of the year 
After more than nine months without a death sentence in Texas, juries in three separate cases imposed the ultimate punishment in October:

  • On October 7, after more than seven hours of deliberation, jurors in Brazos County sentenced Gabriel Hall to death for the murder of Edwin Sharr and attack on Linda Sharr in 2011. Hall was 18 years old at the time of the crime.  County officials have estimated the cost of the trial to be as high as $2 million, with County Auditor Katie Conner calling it the most expensive trial in her tenure.
  • In what one journalist questioned as perhaps the “strangest death penalty trial ever,” a jury in Smith County sentenced James Calvert to death on October 14 for murdering his ex-wife Jelena Sriraman and kidnapping their four-year-old son in 2012.  Calvert was allowed to represent himself for much of the trial, during which he was prone to frequent outbursts, nonsensical questioning of witnesses, and other disruptive behavior.  At one point, after his right to self-representation had been revoked, the sheriff’s department activated Calvert’s shock belt after he refused to comply with the judge’s order to stand.
  • On October 20, after more than a day of deliberation, a jury in Bexar Countysentenced Mark Anthony Gonzalez to death for the 2011 murder of Bexar County Sheriff’s Sgt. Kenneth Vann.  It was the first death sentence imposed in Bexar County in six years.

There currently is one trial pending in Harris County.  Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Johnathan Sanchez for the murders of three people in Houston in 2013.  According to the Houston Chronicle, it’s the first death penalty case to reach a Harris County courtroom this year.

Court grant stay to Julius Murphy
On October 12, 2015, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted a stay of execution to Julius Murphy, pending further order from the court.  Murphy was scheduled to be executed on November 3 for the 1997 robbery and shooting of Jason Erie. Attorneys argued that new evidence of prosecutorial misconduct called into question the reliability of his conviction and death sentence.

Murphy, who is African American, was 18 years old at the time of the crime. He was sentenced to death by an all-white jury.  His co-defendant is serving a sentence of life in prison. Read more about this case, including a statement from attorneys.


In case you missed it
“One small step for evangelicals, one giant leap for abolition of the death penalty”
Last month, the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents 45,000 American churches, changed the position it adopted in 1973 – which was solidly in support of the death penalty – to a position that recognizes diverse viewpoints on the issue and calls for criminal justice reform.  The new resolution specifically calls for the elimination of “racial and socio-economic inequities in law enforcement, prosecution and sentencing of defendants.”  In a piece for the Washington Post, Shane Claiborne calls the change in course “one giant leap for abolition.”
Learn more from the Houston Chronicle and The Atlantic.

Death penalty in decline 10 years after adoption of Life in Prison Without the Possibility of Parole
In a piece published last month by The Monitor, State Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. reflects on the last 10 years during which Life in Prison Without the Possibility of Parole has been a sentencing option in Texas.  He writes, “Since the option of life without parole has given juries more flexibility in recommending sentences for Texas’ criminals, we have seen significant shifts in the application of capital punishment.”  Earlier this year, Senator Lucio, who represents Senate District 27, filed a bill calling for repeal of the death penalty in Texas.  Read more.


TCADP 2016 Annual Conference: At the Epicenter of the Death Penalty 
Online registration for the TCADP 2016 Annual Conference is now open. The conference will take place on Saturday, February 20, 2016 in Houston. Take advantage of reduced rates until December 31. More details on the conference program – and an announcement about our 2016 Award recipients – coming soon!


Featured Events
Austin: Former TCADP Board Member, Les Breeding, will participate in a discussion about the death penalty with Common Ground for Texans on Saturday, November 7th from 2:00 to 4:00 PM. This meeting will take place at the Yarborough Branch Library (2200 Hancock). Common Ground for Texans is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization primarily concerned with reducing the influence of money in politics, increasing access to voter participation, and engaging in civil discourse around contentious issues.

Carrollton: TCADP’s North Texas Organizer, Jason Redick, will host a “Meet and Greet” gathering for local members on Wednesday, November 18th, at 7 pm at Holy Covenant United Methodist Church (1901 E. Peters Colony Rd.). An execution vigil will take place earlier that evening at the church. All are welcome. Contact Jason at jason@tcadp.org for more details.

El Paso: El Pasoans Against the Death Penalty, a chapter of TCADP, will light the star on Franklin Mountain on Sunday, November 29th in solidarity with “Cities for Life, Cities Against the Death Penalty”, a worldwide action to celebrate life and call for abolition of the death penalty. For more information, please contact Pat Delgado at phdelgado@hotmail.com.

Huntsville: The third annual “In Remembrance” event will take place Saturday, November 7th at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Captain Joe Byrd Cemetery from 8:30 to 11:30 AM. Hosted by the Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy, “In Remembrance” is an opportunity for people of faith to remember those who have lost their lives in Texas prisons. Following an Interfaith Prayer Service at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church, participants will have a chance to lay flowers on the 3,500 graves at the cemetery. For more information, please visit http://www.texasinterfaithcenter.org/In-Remembrance.

Find details on other upcoming events here.

Thank you for standing with us as we shift the ground under the death penalty!

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