death penalty news—–TEXAS

Sept. 19


Bobby Woods has been given an execution date for Oct. 23; it should be
considered serious.

(sources: TDCJ & Rick Halperin)


DA right to re-examine death penalty cases

District Attorney Craig Watkins does not want to see an innocent man
executed on his watch.

Around this unassailable goal, there is near universal agreement.

So, while the details of the district attorney's approach no doubt will be
debated, Mr. Watkins is right to go to extraordinary lengths to ensure
that Dallas County does not make a deadly error. His announcement this
week that nearly 40 death penalty convictions will be re-examined provides
additional assurances that executions will proceed only in cases that are
air tight.

A deluge of DNA exonerations in Dallas County has shaken confidence in the
judicial system, spurring serious questions about flawed photo lineups,
erroneous eyewitness testimony and prosecutorial misconduct.

The errors that have emerged offer a compelling argument for halting the
state's machinery of death. In effect, Mr. Watkins is doing just that at
least temporarily.

Admittedly, death penalty cases already must meet a higher bar as they
wind their way through the courts. But the DNA exonerations in other types
of cases understandably convinced Mr. Watkins that every effort must be
made to prevent a wrongful conviction from costing an inmate his life.

His call for a closer examination of death penalty cases should echo
across Texas and compel leaders to create a state innocence commission to
examine wrongful convictions.

While Mr. Watkins' objectives are laudable, some of his tactics have been
questionable. The district attorney sometimes seems to prefer to do his
job with cameras in tow. And this newly announced review surely will bring
more national attention and a brighter spotlight.

Some victims' families could have been spared the angst that this
re-examination will bring if the process had been launched quietly. Once
the district attorney's office identified the few if any questionable
cases, Mr. Watkins could have gone public with plans to halt those

Ultimately, though, Mr. Watkins is determined to do the right thing:
ensure that Dallas County doesn't get it wrong when a person's life is at

(source: Editorial, Dallas Morning News)


Texas exonerates death row inmate after DNA tests

A man on death row in Texas for 14 years for the murder of a young girl
has been exonerated after DNA tests, the Death Penalty Information Center
(DPIC) reported.

Michael Blair, sentenced to death for the 1993 killing of 7-year-old
Ashley Estell, had his capital murder charges dismissed in late August by
the Collin County court after hair used as evidence to convict him, was
shown to belong to somebody else.

"The Plano police department is now reinvestigating the 15-year-old case
to find the true killer," the center said in a statement.

"The DNA evidence that cleared Blair indicates that another man, now
deceased, is a plausible suspect in the girl's death."

Blair, who remains in prison for convictions in other crimes, is the 4th
person to be exonerated from death row in 2008, and brings the total
number of death row exonerations to 130 since 1973, according to an
"innocence list" compiled by the DPIC.


Texas death penalty put on trial

A Texas prosecutor plans to review some 40 pending death penalty cases,
after several recent instances in which capital convictions were
overturned, by DNA testing.

Dallas prosecutor Craig Watkins said his goal in reviewing the cases is
"to make sure that an innocent person wont be executed" in Texas, which
carries out the most executions in the United States a year.

The states most recent execution occurred on Wednesday, when convicted
murderer William Murray was put to death for the murder and rape of a
93-year-old woman.

The Stand-down Texas Project, a criminal justice watchdog group, reports
the Lone Star State, carries out more than 36 percent of all the
executions in the country.

This year so far, Texas accounts for more than 40 percent of the
executions carried out across the United States.

Watkins made his decision to review death penalty cases in Texas, after
forensic tests showed there have been 19 cases since 1991 in which
suspects convicted of capital murder were later cleared of the crimes,
once DNA genetic evidence was introduced.

"I just cant stand by if there is a possibility that someone innocent
could be executed," said Watkins.

He added exonerating falsely convicted inmates, especially those convicted
in error of capital crimes, "is my responsibility", and added he hoped
that other prosecutors around the United States would follow his example.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice said it has scheduled 10 more
executions this year, with 5 additional already on the docket for 2009.

Amnesty International (AI), in a report entitled "Lethal Injustice,"
accuses the Texas criminal justice system of "failing to meet minimum
international standards for the protection of human rights", particularly
in how it doles out the death penalty.

"AI is concerned at the low standard of legal representation afforded to
many of those facing the death penalty, the appeals courts unwillingness
to examine the fairness and constitutionality of convictions and
sentences, and at the racial manner in which the death penalty is
applied," the human rights group said in the report, which appears on its

In late August, DNA tests exonerated a man who had been on Texas death row
for 14 years for the murder of a young girl, said the Death Penalty
Information Center (DPIC).

Michael Blair, who had been sentenced to life in prison for other crimes,
will remain in prison, but will be taken off death row, and the
investigation into the 1993 murder case will be re-opened.

Blair was the 130th death row inmate to be exonerated during his lifetime
since executions resumed in the United States 3 decades ago, and the 4th
this year, said the DPIC.

(source for both: Agence France Presse)