death penalty news—-TEXAS

March 21


Miller-El case finally ends, writing important chapter—-Though tortured,
Miller-El case served purpose

The Miller-El case what an insult to the family of slain Irving hotel
clerk Douglas Walker that the tortured search for justice in his death has
taken the name of the killer.

Blame the 22-year saga on past gamesmanship in the Dallas County district
attorney's office, which required a righteous fight to root it out.

Finally, prosecutors have accepted a guilty plea from Thomas Joe Miller-El
in which he ducks the threat of execution in return for what amounts to a
life sentence. The deal properly avoids the risk of his weaseling freedom
from a new jury. The finality is years overdue in a case of clear-cut
guilt in the savage 1985 robbery and murder of Mr. Walker, 25.

Along the way, the Supreme Court ruled in part on research by The Dallas
Morning News that racial discrimination in jury selection was

The court later found Mr. Miller-El was prosecuted when the DA's office
was "suffused with bias" in the way race was used to weed out potential

If protracting the case provided any public service, it's the embarrassing
discovery of the legacy of racism under legendary District Attorney Henry
Wade. Prosecutors once circulated written advice on stacking the odds
against a defendant. One nugget warned against "Jews, Negroes, Dagos and
Mexicans or a member of any minority race on a jury, no matter how rich or
how well educated."

It's notable that the epitaph for the Miller-El case is now written with a
black DA, Craig Watkins, in his first term. Not too long ago he might have
been secretly excluded from jury service.

Mr. Watkins has shown eagerness to ward off lapses of ethics and civility.
A new integrity unit is looking into potential cases of wrongful
convictions. That is what citizens should expect from an officeholder who
has profound power over the freedom and lives of others.

This case should remind Texans that the imposition of the death penalty
involves unacceptable risk in a system deeply flawed by racism,
gamesmanship and other weaknesses. However well-intentioned Mr. Watkins
may be, he will have successors potentially as different from him as he is
from Mr. Wade.

(source: Editorial, Dallas Morning News)