death penalty news—-TEXAS

Oct. 6


Mayor Cook on guitar against Texas' death penalty

In a dark blue pin-striped suit, crisp white dress shirt, snug red tie and
shiny brown dress shoes, El Paso Mayor John Cook sure didn't look like any
folk singer.

But he slung one knee over the other, braced his guitar and belted out a
couple songs Wednesday night in Austin just as he has in five other cities
across the state, playing with a variety of musicians promoting abolition
of the death penalty in Texas.

"I don't think we, the state, should have the right to take a person's
life," Cook said in an interview before he took the outdoor stage at
Scholz Garten in Austin.

The mayor has been on a mission this year with the Music for Life Tour.
The tour, affiliated with the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death
Penalty, stopped in El Paso in April and organizers asked Cook if he'd
join them for a concert at Club 101.

"I said, 'Sure, sounds like a blast,'" Cook said.

He had such a blast that, despite his political advisers' recommendations,
he asked the organizers if he could join them on the rest of their stops.

Cook has taken his song stylings to concerts in Dallas, Arlington, Fort
Worth and Waco, appearing with musicians such as Sara Hickman and The
Austin Lounge Lizards. At Wednesday's show in Austin, humorist, author and
former gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman joined the show.

"For me, it's a moral and religious conviction," Cook said of his
opposition to the death penalty.

The chances, he said, are too great that an innocent person could be
executed. And God, he said, gives humans the right to seek punishment, not

But the death penalty has strong support in Texas, which has the most
active death chamber in the nation.

Cook, who last week announced he plans to run for re-election, knows his
position is not a politically popular one, and he said he even has lost
friends over it. But he said leaders shouldn't be phony about their

Plus, being in the shows has been fun for the mayor, who seems to relish
any opportunity to pick up his guitar and sing.

The concerts, he said, reminded him of his days in New York during the
1960s. He and his 3 brothers played all over Greenwich Village and at
high-school hootenannies.

The Music for Life concerts, though, had a more serious tone, and during
his turn on stage, Cook performed a song he composed about the Sept. 11
terrorist attacks.

He encouraged the eclectic audience gathered under the trees outside the
German pub to ask questions about the death penalty and why Texas kills
more people than any other state.

"It's your tax dollars that put that person to death," he said, "so you're
responsible for that."

Ysleta resident Gloria Espinoza said she thought it was good that Cook
would take such a strong stand against the death penalty.

Espinoza's husband of 28 years, Guadalupe Espinoza, was killed by a
neighbor nearly 12 years ago.

"He killed him cold-bloodedly," she said.

His killer, 73-year-old retired police captain Margarito Mendez, was
sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Though she still mourns for her husband, Gloria Espinoza said she wouldn't
want Mendez to be executed.

Her husband, a religious man, she said, wouldn't have wanted that either.

"It wouldn't do us any good, because my husband can't come back," Gloria
Espinoza said.

She was among the speakers when the Music for Life Tour stopped in El Paso
at Club 101.

That's where tour organizer and Austin musician Sara Hickman met Cook. The
El Paso stop, she said, was a memorable one not only because of the
singing city leader, but because of the mixed crowd that came out for the

"There was these punkers walking around and nuns co-mingling, and, to me,
well (that is) as diverse as you can get," Hickman said.

Hickman said Cook was the only one of several mayors she contacted who
agreed to get involved. Only one other mayor, she said, even responded to
her letter.

"It's not a popular subject," she said.

Having Cook on the tour, she said brought the stature of an elected
official and he brought spirituality to the shows that other Christians
could relate to.

"He's very humble, and his humility shines through," Hickman said.

The tour ended Wednesday in Austin, but Hickman said she hopes the shows
started a dialog in Texas communities.

And, she said she hoped Cook would inspire other politicians to speak out,
even if they are for the death penalty.

"It's not just a dialogue about the death penalty," she said. "It's a
dialogue about having dialogue. Why can't we talk about racism? Why can't
we talk about abortion? Why can't we talk about economics, especially
right now?"

(source: El Paso Times)