death penalty news—-TEXAS

March 6


Last year at this time, we were putting the final touches on "Death No
More," a special edition of our weekend editorial section that announced
our reversal of more than 100 years of support for the death penalty. As
the project manager on that section and the ongoing effort that it
launched, I have fielded a lot of questions from readers about how we made
the decision and about the issue itself.

Most questions, of course, come from people who disagree with us. Almost
immediately, I received e-mails from people asking a question familiar to
death penalty opponents: What if it were your family member who was

I'm not a robot. I'm human, and I imagine I would want revenge. But I hope
I would pray for grace and try to remember that government is not, and
should never be, in the revenge business. We should not dispense
punishment based on the wishes or emotions of those hurt by crime. If we
did, we might see beatings and canings and torture – maybe even done in
public to add some level of humiliation. Those punishments – indeed, that
entire line of thinking – exist in countries far less civilized than ours,
but, thank God, not here.

As for how we reached our editorial decision, it had a lot to do with
timing. In recent years, we agreed with Supreme Court decisions that
limited the scope of capital punishment by prohibiting executions of
minors and the mentally retarded. If these executions are unjustified, we
asked ourselves, which ones could we defend?

At the same time, the number of DNA exonerations nationwide kept growing.
The Innocence Project was freeing people falsely accused and convicted of
all kinds of crimes, and Dallas County saw more men than any other county
in the nation walk free after new facts destroyed the cases against them.
To date, 15 exonerates have been recorded in Dallas.

After months of debate (we were not unanimous) and discussion, we tried to
pick the most persuasive arguments. Recognizing that Texans demand high
standards from their government, we decided we could not support a system
of punishment that was both irreversible and imperfect.

A lot of readers have challenged us on this point. What if DNA evidence is
clear? What if there is absolutely no doubt in a case? Why scrap the whole
system just because a case here and a case there proved to be flawed?

The problem is that standards for a guilt verdict and a death sentence are
already extremely high. A jury must find beyond a reasonable doubt that
the person is guilty, and Texas juries must satisfy a complicated equation
to impose a death sentence. Then the case must withstand the appeals
process. And yet, mistakes have been made in non-death cases. Why risk
fatal error?

And there's a greater truth here: The system relies on the judgment of
people, and people are incapable of perfect judgment. Most exonerations –
and most cases – have nothing to do with DNA evidence, just the
ever-evolving standards of forensic science and the shaky and often flawed
memories of eye witnesses.

There simply is no such thing as a perfect system of justice.

Readers should know that we get questions from death penalty opponents who
believe we haven't gone far enough and have failed to decry what they
consider the inhumanity of conditions on death row. Others say we should
be more aggressive in pushing the Legislature to abolish the death
penalty. Still others say we have not chosen the best arguments.

In January, I was honored to accept, on behalf of the editorial board, the
2007 Courage Award from the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
Several coalition members told me they wished we would argue that it costs
so much more to kill an inmate than to sentence him to life in prison
without parole. Indeed, they reminded me, it was our newspaper in the
1990s that did a comprehensive study of the costs. It needs to be updated,
they argued.

Maybe they're right, but part of me is uncomfortable reducing
life-and-death decisions to dollars and cents. But we'll look into it.

In the year since we announced our opposition to the death penalty, I have
come to realize that there are a lot of thoughtful, provocative arguments
to be made on both sides. More than anything, so far, I'm glad that our
work has prompted greater discussion of the issue. After all, in most
cases, when "the people of the state of Texas" take a life, the news is
reduced to a brief mention inside the paper.

We look forward to continuing the debate.

(source: Michael Landauer is The News' assistant editorial page editor for
Community Opinions. His e-mail address is


Teenage killer takes 40 years in plea deal

1 of 2 teens charged in the 2006 killing of a longtime Dickinson merchant
will testify against the other.

That was among the primary terms of a plea agreement that will also send
Andrew "Young Money" Brown III to prison for 40 years.

Brown and Litrey Demond Turner, both 17, faced capital murder charges in
the shooting death of Phuong Lam, 55.

Late on Aug. 21, 2006, Lam was closing Storekeeper Minit Mart No. 8, 3112
Lobit Drive, for what would be the last time. 2 robbers walked up and went
after her purse, and one of them shot her once in the abdomen.

That shot proved fatal, as a PHI Air Ambulance took her from the store
Lam's family had owned and run for more than a quarter-century to an isle
hospital, where she was pronounced dead on arrival.

Police arrived within minutes, and a tip led investigators to a nearby
apartment complex. Officers arrested Brown and Turner, both 15 at the
time, after investigators said they found Lam's purse in one of the boys'

Under state law, capital murder carries only two punishments – death or
life in prison without parole.

State law prohibits the death penalty for anyone younger than 18, even for
defendants ordered to stand trial as adults – as County Court No. 3 Judge
Roy Quintanilla ordered for both Brown and Turner in March.

Attorney Greg Russell, who represents Brown, said the amount of evidence
against his client and the prospect of a life after prison were factors in
Brown's plea.

Murder, the charge to which Brown pleaded guilty Wednesday, carries a
prison term of five to 99 years and anyone convicted of that charge
becomes eligible for parole after serving half his or her sentence.

In Brown's case, that means he could receive parole in 2026, with credit
for 2 years he has been in custody awaiting trial.

"There were a lot of things that would have been problems in a trial, and
for a capital murder, life means life," Russell said. "After talking with
Andrew and his family, we agreed this would be the wisest thing to do,
because he will be eligible for parole when he's 35."

Turner's trial had been set to commence Monday. However, Bill Leathers,
Turner's attorney, said he would seek a postponement because of
Wednesday's plea and because of some new evidence in the case.

County Criminal District Attorney Kurt Sistrunk said his office last week
received results of DNA tests performed on evidence from the scene of the
crime. Leathers said he would need the postponement to have the evidence
examined independently, and Sistrunk said he would not oppose a motion to
postpone the trial.

Judge Lonnie Cox, of the 56th State District Court, said he anticipated
conducting a hearing this week, once Leathers filed his motion, to
reschedule the trial.

(source: Galveston County Daily News)