The annual Amnesty International global report on human rights was just
released, challenging world leaders to apologize for 6 decades of human
rights failure and re-commit themselves to deliver concrete improvements.
Amnesty International's Report 2008, shows that 60 years after the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations,
people are still tortured or ill-treated in at least 81 countries, face
unfair trials in at least 54 countries and are not allowed to speak freely
in at least 77 countries. And sadly, the USA remains as one of the leading
execution jurisdictions in the world today.
While it is perhaps easy and expedient to higlight flashpoints like
Darfur, Iraq and Myanmar, let us not forget that the death penalty is a
human rights violation, and that Texas remains the leading execution
jurisdiction in the free world. With numerous execution dates already set
and many more yet to come, this state and country remain a major barrier
to the global advancement of human rights. Human rights begin at home; we
must begin our global responsibility by abolishing the death penaly
Rick Halperin–Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty//Amnesty
(source: Letter to the Editor, Dallas Morning News)
When it comes to capital punishment, Texas is guilty of failing to protect
'I want to say that I hold no grudges.'
These were the final words of my brother Carlos De Luna before he was
executed by the state of Texas in 1989 for a crime he did not commit. His
last words express remarkable forgiveness from an innocent man facing the
ultimate miscarriage of justice. Unfortunately, in the 19 years since his
execution, the numerous problems that led to his wrongful conviction have
never been addressed and continue to plague the Texas capital punishment
system. With executions in the state about to resume, I hope that
legislators and the courts will learn lessons from my brother's story.
Carlos was convicted, sentenced to death and executed in six short years,
despite overwhelming problems with the case. In 1983, convenience store
clerk Wanda Lopez was stabbed to death, and Carlos became a suspect when
he was found near the scene shortly after the crime took place. But the
crime had all the hallmarks of a violent felon who had a history of knife
attacks against women in the area. This individual had repeatedly bragged
to friends and family members that he committed the crime and that his
"stupid tocayo," or namesake, had taken the fall. Police and prosecutors
ignored the information and refused to look into the alternate suspect who
many in the community believe committed the crime.
Instead, prosecutors convicted my brother on the basis of faulty
eyewitness testimony and no supporting forensic evidence. The main
eyewitness told the Chicago Tribune, in the newspaper's re-investigation
of the case, that he has serious doubts about Carlos' guilt. The
identification was made while Carlos was in the backseat of a police car
and after the police told the witness they had arrested Carlos near the
scene, giving the witness a false sense of certainty that Carlos was
Unfortunately, my brother's story is not unique. Far from it. The
well-documented problems in his case are unacceptably common. The nature
of eyewitness identification, for instance, is often flawed. It plays a
role in 75 % of all DNA exonerations nationwide.
Faulty eyewitness identification was a contributing factor in another
well-documented case of the execution of an innocent person in Texas.
Ruben Cantu was a teenager from San Antonio at the time of the crime for
which he was wrongfully convicted. He was convicted by a single eyewitness
who has since recanted his testimony, saying he only identified Ruben
under tremendous pressure from police. Despite his protestations of
innocence, Ruben was executed in 2003. The judge, prosecutor, head juror
and defense attorney involved in the case now acknowledge that Ruben's
conviction and ultimate execution were a grave mistake.
In another case, Cameron "Todd" Willingham was sentenced to death on the
basis of faulty science after being convicted of setting a fire that
killed his three daughters. Supposed expert testimony was used at trial to
establish that the fire was arson. He was convicted and put to death in
2004. Four of the nation's top fire experts have since come forward and
said that his conviction was based on scientifically invalid evidence.
The problem of wrongful convictions in Texas has reached crisis
proportions (the state leads the nation in the number of DNA
exonerations), prompting a state senator to convene a hearing at the
Capitol to examine the issue. At the recent hearing, nine innocent men
stood up one by one and recounted their stories. James Giles, who spent 10
years behind bars for a rape he did not commit, remarked, "We can do
better in the justice system."
We can do better and we must. Despite the calamitous failings that their
cases speak to, the Texas Legislature has taken little action to ensure
that such tragedies don't happen again. Reforms such as improving
eyewitness identification procedures and strengthening forensic oversight
are relatively easy to implement and have helped improve the accuracy of
the criminal justice systems in other states. Additional reforms are
urgently needed to prevent ineffective counsel and prosecutorial
If a miracle happened and I was given a second chance, I would fight
harder to prove Carlos' innocence before it was too late. But the reality
is that executions are final, and there is no going back even if the truth
is uncovered years later.
By not reforming its capital punishment system, Texas will continue to
recklessly gamble with a broken system that risks the execution of more
innocent people and others who do not deserve death.
It is unconscionable for a broken system that cannot protect the innocent
to move forward with executions. I know firsthand the tragedy that
(source: Commentary, Rose Rhoton, who lives in Houston, is an advocate for
death penalty reform in Texas; Austin American-Statesman)