death penalty news—-TEXAS

June 4


With 90 minutes to spare, Texas death row inmate granted a reprieve

A Texas death row inmate received a reprieve from execution about 90
minutes before he could have been put to death Tuesday after lawyers
questioned the legality of the state's lethal injection procedures.

Derrick Sonnier, convicted of killing a suburban Houston woman and her
2-year-old son, would have been the 1st Texas inmate put to death in the
nation's busiest capital punishment state in nearly 9 months.

Executions had been on hold while the U.S. Supreme Court considered a
similar challenge to injection procedures in a Kentucky case.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halted the execution in October of
condemned inmate Heliberto Chi on the same issues, that lethal injection
procedures were unconstitutionally cruel. And although the Supreme Court
ruled 6 weeks ago the Kentucky injection method was constitutional and
cleared the way for executions to resume nationally, Texas' highest
criminal court hasn't ruled in the Chi case, 1 of 2 Texas capital cases
with similar claims.

"If they've got these cases up there, it really just kind of violates
basic legal principles" to hold executions, said David Dow, one of the
lawyers who filed the late appeal in Mr. Sonnier's case.

Mr. Sonnier, 40, declined to comment from a small holding cell just a few
feet from the death chamber. He was returned to death row, about 45 miles
to the east at a prison near Livingston.

"I respect the court's decision," said Roe Wilson, a Harris County
assistant district attorney who was handling Mr. Sonnier's case and sought
the execution. "This is a terrible offense. I feel for the victims'
relatives, and I hope this is an issue that is resolved soon."

It was not immediately clear how Tuesday's outcome will affect the other
13 executions scheduled in Texas in the coming months. Those include 2
from the Dallas area: Karl Chamberlain, who is set to die next week for
the 1991 rape-slaying of a Dallas woman, and Charles Hood the following
week for the 1989 slayings of 2 people in Plano.


Texas high court creates integrity unit

An appeals court in the state that leads the nation in both executions and
wrongful convictions overturned by DNA evidence said Wednesday it will
create a new integrity unit to examine and correct problems in the justice

The study group was announced by Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge
Barbara Hervey, whose court handles death penalty appeals and other
criminal cases.

Hervey will be a member of the Texas Criminal Justice Integrity Unit and
said its creation is "a call to action" for reform. Since 2001, 33 Texas
inmates have been exonerated using DNA testing, including 17 in Dallas

Key issues to be considered include:

– Improving eyewitness testimony. Experts say unreliable testimony is the
No. 1 problem in wrongful convictions.

– Reforming standards for collecting, preserving and storing evidence,
which may be needed for future testing during an appeal.

– Eliminating improper interrogations and protect against false

– Improving crime lab reliability.

– Improving the qualify of lawyers appointed to poor defendants.

One issue not listed was use of the death penalty. Of the 42 executions in
the United States last year, Texas accounted for 26. Texas has executed
405 inmates since the death penalty was reinstituted in 1982. Hervey said
the integrity unit is not a suggestion that she and the other judges on
the court believe an innocent person may have been executed in the past.
>{? While some appeals from death row cases may involve the same issues,
"I don't want to treat death row claims about innocence any different that
somebody else's claims," Hervey said.

The integrity unit could meet for the 1st time next month, Hervey said.
Some of the reforms may need an act of the Legislature.

Although all 9 members of the court are Republicans, Hervey said the
integrity unit is not a forum for a particular group or political party.

Initial members include state Sen. Rodney Ellis, a Houston Democrat who
has long advocated criminal justice reforms; district attorneys from
Dallas and El Paso; law enforcement; defense attorneys; a district judge;
and a member of Gov. Rick Perry's staff.

"We've reached a tipping point in Texas in terms of wrongful convictions,"
Ellis said. "We have to make sure the mistakes that have happened don't
continue to happen."

Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, who was elected in 2006,
said the integrity unit could put Texas at the forefront of reforms
nationally. The panel probably will discuss use of the death penalty in
the context of how to make sure someone isn't wrongfully executed.

"What safeguards can we put in place from an appeals standpoint to make
sure we've done everything before that ultimate decision is made?" Watkins

David Dow, law professor at the University of Houston and director of the
Texas Innocence Network, said two areas that must be addressed are how to
use eyewitness accounts as evidence and how to preserve evidence for
future testing.

If police discard or destroy physical evidence after trial, wrongly
convicted inmates could lose their chance at appeal if new, better tests
are developed later, Dow said.

(source for both: Associated Press)


Victims family reacts to delay

Protesters arrived outside the Texas Department of Criminal Justices Walls
Unit shortly before 2 p.m. Tuesday to rally against the execution of
Derrick Sonnier.

Sonnier, convicted of the 1991 murder of his neighbor, Melody Flowers, 27,
and her 2-year-old son, Patrick, was scheduled to become the 1st Texas
inmate to be executed since September 2007.

But the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals gave Sonnier a reprieve from
execution less than 2 hours before he would have received the lethal
injection at 6 p.m.

His lawyers questioned whether the states lethal injection procedures were

While protesters waved signs outside the Walls Unit, the victims family
members were present, but they stayed far from the group.

"He is a cancer to our family," said Celma Mcellan, sister of Melody
Flowers, of Sonnier. "We wanted to hear him appolgize for her kids and her

"We wanted to hear him say 'I'm sorry for what I did and Im sorry for the
pain I have caused y'all.' We don't even know what kind of kid Patrick
would have been. He might have been the president for all we know or the
mayor of this city.

"We don't know, he never had that chance he was only a baby. I can't
believe he's still breathing and they're not."

Gwen Price, Melody Flowers' cousin, was also devastated by the news of
Sonnier's stay.

"He had no right to go in and do what he did to her and my nephew," Price
said. "Now they're going to let him stay? We lost."

At the other end of the street, a group of protesters quietly stood or sat
on folding chairs holding up signs.

One of the 15 protesters Tuesday afternoon was David Atwood of Houston, a
member of The Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

"I've been up here quite a few times," Atwood said. "We're just here as a
protest against the death penalty. We don't think that we need it.

"There's life without parole now, and you can have a safe society without
executing people. It just doesn't make sense to do it anymore. I think
there are a lot of people even here in Huntsville who are against the
death penalty, even though you have the execution chambers here and you
have all these prisions around."

"We have 370 people on death row now, and a lot of us feel that the death
penalty is being driven now more by the politicians instead of the people,
because most people want safety but theyre not into killing people,"
Atwood said. "The majority of people would choose life without parole
instead of the death penalty, according to polls done by Stephen Klineberg
who's a professor of Sociology at Rice University."

Andre Latallade, better known nationally as Capital "X," left his home in
New Jersey and walked more than 1,700 miles to date in support of the
abolition of the death penalty.

He is the visionary behind the WALK 4 Life campaign. He was also present
for the protest.

"This is my 1st time to acutally be at an execution, but I definitely feel
I need to be here," Latallade said.

Kristin Wood, wife of death row inmate Jeff Wood, was also present during
the prostest.

Currently a Norwegian citizen, Wood splits her time between the States and
Norway, so she can fight the death penalty on her husband's behalf.

"I really feel for the victims and the victims' families," Wood said. "I
wish that these things would never happen, but it doesn't do any good, you
know. Murder doesnt justify murder.

All it does is create more victims. They want to take away a father, a
brother, a son; the whole law of parties has got to go. Over here in
Texas, they all go by 'n eye for an eye,'but how many eyes are going to
take for one pair of eyes? I don' get it."

On Feb. 3, 1998, after then-Gov. George W. Bush denied her request for
clemency, Karla Faye Tucker became the 1st woman to be executed in Texas
since the American Civil War.

Tuesday, her victim's brother, Ronald Carlson, stood outside the
courthouse protesting the death penalty.

"We as human beings do not have the right to destroy what God has
created," Carlson said. "A lot of the pro-death penalty people look to the
Old Testament, and say 'eye for an eye,' and Im like, 'that's what God
said.' But we live in the New Testament days.

"The day that Daniel Ryan Garrett got the death penalty, my words to the
prosecutor were, 'I guess they got what they deserved.' But at that point
I was for it; as time went on I had to really decide where I stood because
I found that all the anger and hatred I felt wasnt going away, it was
getting worse.

"Before all this it wasnt an issue for me; it was just news. But when it
happens in your own backyard, you have to live with in you have to

"I witnessed the execution of Karla Faye Tucker here at the Walls Unit;
she was pronounced dead at 6:45. I made that walk, and actually saw the
execution it's the real deal."

(source: Huntsville Item)


Defense testimony in police shooting trial contradicts video

Defense attorneys began presenting testimony Tuesday in the capital murder
trial of a 28-year-old man accused of fatally shooting a Dallas police

Wesley Lynn Ruiz led police on a short chase through West Dallas in March
2007 then shot Senior Cpl. Mark Nix through the car window, according to
prosecutors and police.

Defense attorney Paul Brauchle called one witness Tuesday afternoon, who
testified she saw the chase and shootout that followed.

Maria Carrera, 38, walked into her back yard, where she said she saw
police shooting at the car Mr. Ruiz had been driving. Then she said she
saw Cpl. Nix fall down and officers continued shooting.

That contradicts evidence that prosecutors Kevin Brooks and Andy Beach
have presented, including video from 2 police car dash cameras that showed
Dallas police officers firing into the car only after Cpl. Nix was shot
and fell to the ground.

If Mr. Ruiz is convicted, he faces the death penalty. Testimony is
scheduled to resume this morning.

(source: Dallas Morning News)


Texas death row inmate tries to void sentence

Attorneys for a former University of Texas student on death row for
killing an Austin police officer again asked an appeals court to throw out
his sentence.

David Lee Powell, 57, was sentenced to death 3 times for the 1978 killing
of Ralph Albanedo.

The officer had pulled over Powell's girlfriend for not having a proper
license plate on her car. Powell was a passenger in the car.

Albanedo was shot 10 times by an automatic assault weapon.

Powell's attorneys told a 3-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals Tuesday that prosecutors did not timely deliver documents in the
case. The documents showed Powell's girlfriend, Sheila Meinert, may have
tossed a hand grenade and fired during a standoff after Albanedo's

(source: Associated Press)