death penalty news—-TEXAS

April 14


Houston group helps families grieve for slain children—-Support group's
wish is for justice and answers to long-unsolved crimes

The Houston chapter of Parents of Murdered Children meets the second
Tuesday of every month from 7 to 9 p.m. at St. Paul's United Methodist
Church, 5501 S. Main. For information, call Gilda Muskwinsky at

The Heights chapter of Parents of Murdered Children meets every third
Tuesday from 7 to 9 p.m. at 1245 Heights Blvd.

For information, call Ruth Marin-Eason at 713-392-8236.

They meet in the basement of St. Paul's United Methodist Church, in the
same room as Alcoholics Anonymous, every 2nd Tuesday.

They sit in stiff high-backed chairs, arranged in a horseshoe around a
wooden lectern, sipping coffee from styrofoam cups as sepia portraits of
Jesus look on forlornly and fluorescent lights flicker overhead.

At the April meeting of the Houston chapter of Parents of Murdered
Children earlier this month, nearly two dozen people talk about loss,
grief, anger and justice. They have sought out the only other people who
really understand what they're going through, and the only ones apart
from friends and family who really care, they say.

They share stories of homicide investigators who hardly gave them the time
of day and a justice system that has left most feeling betrayed. They
bemoan news coverage that trailed off as soon as the blood dried.

Half of them have never seen an arrest made in their cases. For them, the
story is not over.

They held a rally Sunday at the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center on West
Gray in hopes of bringing new light and leads to the unsolved slayings.

"The grief is only intensified when justice is lacking," said Andy Kahan,
director of the Mayor's Crime Victims Office.

Curtain of grief

The Houston Police Department's cold case unit has solved 57 homicides
since it formed in 2006, some of them decades old. In many of those cases,
phone calls from relatives or witnesses provided the final puzzle piece,
said Lt. Craig Williams, who heads the unit.

But more than 3,000 other cases remain unsolved.

The support group draws relatives of many of those victims, some still
reeling from slayings so fresh they haven't sunk in yet, and others for
whom losses decades earlier still hang heavy.

Some are outraged and outspoken, their emotions bubbling close to the
surface of every sentence. Others sit back in their chairs and stare ahead
without speaking, their eyes shaded from the rest of the room by a curtain
of grief.

"New members, we're happy to have you here," said Claudie Neal, who lost
her son in 1999. "Not because of the circumstances, but because we hope
you feel welcome here."

Arcinia Burley wears a red name tag at her first meeting. Her son was
killed March 17. There are no leads in the shooting that killed
22-year-old Calvin "Chris" Dillard, an apparently random attack in his
cousin's apartment complex.

Burley carries a file folder to the meeting, filled with documents on her
son's case. She calls the homicide investigators exactly once a week.
More, she thinks, might irritate them. She asks for advice from the group
on how best to handle the investigation.

She stays composed. But she is talking about details, not about her son.
When it comes time for her to introduce herself to the group, she wavers.

"My son Chris was murdered last month," she begins, before her voice
breaks. "Oh, God, I can't do this."

"You don't have to," Neal said.

'He's still with us'

Marcos Cisneros still struggles to talk about his son's death.

Sunday marked the five-year anniversary of Javier Cisneros' death and
another year that the homicide case has stalled without leads. Javier was
23 when he was found shot to death in a ditch a few blocks from his north
Houston home, his pickup idling in the street nearby.

Javier still lived with his parents at the time. They have preserved his
room the way it was: his bed, his TV, souvenirs from Astros and Rockets

"I still call it Javier's room," Cisneros said at the rally. "He's still
with us."

Cisneros acknowledges that police may never find his son's killer. They
found few clues to begin with, and each passing year makes solving the
case less likely. The detective who first investigated the case has

"If they never find who killed him," he said, "I figure God will take care
of it."

Cisneros' grief doesn't drown out his thoughts anymore, but it never shuts
off. He has largely stopped attending support meetings, although he stays
in touch with the group.

"What little I could say, helped," he said. "We went to grief counseling,
too, through the Catholic Church. We went for a year, until I thought:
That's enough."

Cisneros and his wife, Berta, plan to retire soon. They will move back to
South Texas, where they are from. While Javier was alive, they had planned
to stay in Houston because he didn't want to leave.

"Now that he's gone, there's nothing to keep us," Cisneros said.

When they go, he will bring Javier's belongings along.

"He'll still have his room, next to our room," he said. "We'll always have
him with us, wherever we go."

On Sunday, Marcos Cisneros helps inflate dozens of helium balloons
symbolizing the victims of unsolved murders. He has come to the rally from
the cemetery, where he and his wife placed flowers on their son's grave.

About 100 people take seats in the basketball court at the community
center. Most of the support group shows up, plus legions of loved ones.

Belia Alvarez brings pictures of both of the sons she has lost. One case
was solved; the other was not.

"Sometimes I think I'm already dead, or this is just a bad nightmare," she

She wants to wake up from it already, she said. But the grieving process
never really ends for murders, even when the killer goes to jail, said Meg
Crady, director of Baylor College of Medicine's Trauma and Grief Program.

"This concept of closure and justice is an ideal," she said.

Still, it's something.

Marcos and Berta Cisneros approach HPD's Williams after the rally.

"Our son's case is 5 years old," Berta said. "We called the detective a
few weeks ago, but they never called back."

"Call me tomorrow," Williams said. "I will look at it. I promise you."

Outside the building, Marcos holds his balloon in the air, then lets go.
His eyes follow it upward for a moment before his gaze falls to the

(source: Houston Chronicle)


Texas musicians take on death penalty

In Texas, home of the busiest death chamber in the Western Hemisphere, the
question is generally when, not whether, to execute condemned killers.

But 25 years after the death penalty was reinstated in Texas — and after
405 executions — a group of homegrown artists and entertainers say it's
time to take another look at capital punishment.

Spearheaded by Austin singer-songwriters Sara Hickman and Trish Murphy,
the entertainers are staging concerts and town-hall meetings around Texas,
taking advantage of an unofficial moratorium on executions to get people
talking about the issue.

The concert series has been dubbed "Music for Life," and, as the name
suggests, it's an anti-death penalty crowd on stage. But organizers will
settle for anything short of silence on an issue they say has generated an
almost stunning lack of controversy.

"The whole point is just to open up a dialogue," said Murphy, whose albums
include Crooked Mile and Rubies on the Lawn. "I don't think it's going to
be done overnight, but that's no reason not to make the effort."

Scheduling a concert in a different Texas city each month, the
artists-activists have an event set in Fort Worth at the Jefferson Freedom
Cafe in the fall.

Former death row chaplain Carroll Pickett and Kinky Friedman, the
musician-turned-writer-turned-politician, are among the speakers scheduled
to participate in some of the forums. Hickman, a folk-rock singer whose
albums include Motherlode and Shortstop, said the events sometimes spark
heated, heart-wrenching debate.

"It's definitely the hardest undertaking I've ever had, and it is very,
very emotional for me. The music is very emotional," said Hickman, who
performs a provocative song called The One, written from the perspective
of an infamous killer's mother. "I just felt called to do it."

For Friedman, who lost a bid for Texas governor in 2006, it's an
opportunity to test the waters again: If he runs for governor in 2010, he
says, he'll make abolition of the death penalty his top issue.

"No other politicians are going to steal my idea here," he said. The
former stand-up comedian said that Texans shouldn't give life-or-death
power to the same politicians who "can't build a border fence, run a post
office or evacuate New Orleans."

Executions have been on hold nationwide since September, when the U.S.
Supreme Court agreed to hear a constitutional challenge of execution by
lethal injection. Texas inmate Michael Richard was executed the same day
the court agreed to hear the case. No executions have been carried out in
the state since. At issue in the Kentucky case is whether the drugs used
can inflict excruciating pain and thus violate constitutional protections
against cruel and unusual punishment.

Robert Black, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Perry, predicted that executions
would resume after the Supreme Court's review. Perry, who has presided
over more executions than any other U.S. governor, believes that capital
punishment has been applied fairly in Texas and that most Texans support
it for heinous crimes, Black said.

"As long as he is governor, he will defend it," Black said.

(source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram)