death penalty news—-TEXAS


03 September 2008

UA 240/08 – Death penalty/Legal concern

USA (Texas) Charles Dean Hood (m), white, aged 38

Charles Hood is scheduled to be executed in Texas on 10 September. He
was sentenced to death in 1990 for the murders of Ronald Williamson
and Tracie Lynn Wallace in 1989. Twenty years old at the time of the
crime, Charles Hood has been on death row for nearly 18 years.

Police found the bodies of Tracie Wallace and her boyfriend Ronald
Williamson in Williamson's home in Plano, near Dallas, on 1 November
1989. Both had been shot. Charles Hood, who had been living in the
house, was arrested in Indiana in Ronald Williamson's car. He was
brought to trial in Collin County in Texas, and after the jury
convicted him on 29 August 1990, the trial moved into a sentencing
stage, at which the prosecution presented its arguments for execution
and the defense presented mitigating evidence. As the US Supreme
Court reiterated in a Texas case in 2007, "we have long recognized
that a sentencing jury must be able to give a reasoned moral response
to a defendant's mitigating evidence – particularly that evidence
which tends to diminish his culpability – when deciding whether to
sentence him to death." (Brewer v. Quarterman).

Hood's jury heard evidence of his mental impairments and other
information about his background. In a near-fatal accident at the age
of three, Charles Hood had been run over by a truck and was
hospitalized for five months. He was left with permanent physical
injuries, and his parents noted behavioral changes too. As a child,
he developed a fear of school that was diagnosed as a phobia of being
inside buildings. The jury heard evidence that his parents
administered "whippings" during his adolescence, sometimes in an
attempt to get him to go to school. Hood had learning disabilities,
and required special education classes at school. He dropped out of
school after failing seventh grade (age 12-13 level), and he later
failed the US Army entrance examination three times. At the age of
18, his reading and math skills were assessed at falling below the
sixth grade level (age 11-12), and his language and writing skills
put at the level of an eight- or nine-year-old. At the age of 19,
Hood was described in an Indiana Department of Corrections report as
acting "like a little kid who has been maintained in a fosted [sic]
dependency situation," and was "somewhat neurotic," phobic, "very
immature emotionally," and "highly dependent." The jury also heard
evidence that a psychiatrist had concluded that Charles Hood had
significant brain impairment, causing learning disabilities, impaired
judgment and poor impulse control. He had diagnosed Hood with
"neurophysiological brain dysfunction with probable left temporal
cortical and deep temporal limbic brain dysfunction."

After hearing the sentencing phase evidence, the jurors were required
to answer two questions ("special issues"), on deliberateness and
dangerousness; firstly whether the defendant had acted deliberately
and with the reasonable expectation that the death of the victims
would result, and secondly whether there was "a probability that the
defendant would commit criminal acts of violence that would
constitute a continuing threat to society." Affirmative answers to
these questions would automatically result in a death sentence.

The Texas sentencing scheme had been ruled unconstitutional by the US
Supreme Court in 1989. In the case of death row prisoner John Penry,
the Court found that the "special issues" had given the jury nowhere
to give effect to Penry's mitigating evidence by saying "no" to the
death penalty. At the time of Charles Hood's trial, the Texas
legislature had not yet amended the capital statute to comply with
the Penry ruling, and Hood's jury was asked the same questions as
Penry's had been. As in other trials conducted in that intervening
period, the trial judge issued the jury with a "nullification"
instruction, telling the jurors that they could vote against the
death penalty if they believed it was an inappropriate punishment in
the light of any mitigating circumstances. However, the jury verdict
form did not mention mitigating evidence, only asking for answers to
the two questions, without any explanation as to how the jurors could
vote against the death penalty if they believed the answer to both
questions was "yes."

In 2004 and 2007, the US Supreme Court overturned four Texas death
sentences on questions relating to whether the juries had been
prevented by the Texas statute (before it was changed, post-Penry)
from giving effect to the mitigating evidence. In Smith v. Texas, for
example, the Supreme Court found that the nullification instruction
had not cured the constitutional violation; rather, "in essence the
jury was instructed to misrepresent its answer to one of the two
special issues" if it wanted "to take account of the mitigating
evidence". In Tennard v. Dretke, the Court held that on the
"deliberateness" question, the evidence of the defendant's low
intellectual functioning short of mental retardation had "mitigating
dimension beyond the impact it has on [his] ability to act
deliberately." On dangerousness, in Abdul-Kabir v. Quarterman the
Court ruled that the evidence of the defendant's childhood neglect
and lack of self-control "did not contradict the State's claim that
[he] was a dangerous person, but instead sought to provide an
explanation for his behavior that might reduce his moral culpability"
– that "his violent propensities were caused by factors beyond his
control." In its decision to uphold Hood's death sentence, a federal
district court noted that the mitigating evidence of Hood's mental
impairment was a "double-edged sword" because, despite reducing his
moral culpability, the jury could have decided that it increased the
probability of his future dangerousness.

In 2005, after the Supreme Court's Tennard ruling, a Texas trial
court found that the jury instructions at Hood's trial had been
constitutionally inadequate and recommended a new sentencing.
However, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected this on
procedural grounds. Hood's lawyers asked it to reconsider, including
in light of the Supreme Court's 2007 decisions, but the Court denied
this on 14 May 2008.

There have been 1,119 executions in the USA since judicial killing
resumed there in 1977, 413 of them in Texas. In late 2007, the UN
General Assembly passed a landmark resolution calling for a worldwide
moratorium on executions. Amnesty International opposes the death
penalty in all cases, unconditionally. There is no such thing as a
humane, fair, reliable or useful death penalty system (see 'The
pointless and needless extinction of life': USA should now look
beyond lethal injection issue to wider death penalty questions,

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as
possible (please include Charles Hood's prisoner number, #982, in
your appeals):

– expressing sympathy for any relatives of Ronald Williamson and
Tracie Lynn Wallace, and explaining that you are not seeking to
excuse the manner of their deaths or to downplay the suffering

– opposing the execution of Charles Hood;

– expressing concern that the jury may not have been able to give
effect to the mitigating evidence presented at the 1990 trial, as the
US Supreme Court has found in a number of cases tried before the
Texas special issues scheme was amended by the state legislature
following the Court's 1989 Penry ruling;

– noting that a Texas court found that the jury instructions at
Hood's trial were constitutionally inadequate, and that he should
have a new sentencing, but that this was overruled on procedural

– noting that executive clemency is not restricted by procedural
considerations, as a court may be;

– calling for Charles Hood to be granted clemency and for his death
sentence to be commuted.


Rissie Owens,
Presiding Officer, Board of Pardons and Paroles
Executive Clemency Section
8610 Shoal Creek Boulevard
Austin, TX 78757
Fax: 1 512 463 8120
Salutation: Dear Ms Owens

Governor Rick Perry
Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 12428
Austin, TX 78711-2428
Fax: 1 512 463 1849
Salutation: Dear Governor

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October 2008.

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