To protest pre-holiday executions —-Texas activists mobilize for annual
"With the holiday season 5 weeks away, early birds are counting shopping
days. Texas is counting execution days," says Elizabeth Ann Stein,
producer of Execution Watch, a Houston radio show aired live from 6 to 7
pm on www.KPFT.org on days when executions are scheduled to take place.
"Between now and Nov. 20, the busiest death chamber in the United States
will give lethal injections to 10 men. During one 3-day period, a prisoner
will be executed each day," posted Stein on the radio shows blog at
If these executions are carried out, this will bring to 21 the Texas total
for people being put to death in 2008.
It has been 5 years since Texas executed anyone during the month of
December. In 2003 the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement called two
December executions to the attention of the public and the media. The
TDPAM stated that it was "horrifying to stand in front of the death house
and protest executions while a large holiday display flashing red and
green lights on the tall brick walls surrounding the Huntsville Prison
Unit announced, 'We Wish Your Family a Happy Holiday Season.'"
Since then, there have been no executions during or after "Thanksgiving,"
Christmas and New Year's Day.
On Oct. 25 Texas abolitionists will gather in Houston for the 9th Annual
March to End Executions. The honored guest speaker will be one of nine
people exonerated off Texas death row, Clarence Brandley.
Brandley, an African American, spent close to 10 years in Huntsville for a
crime he did not commit. When the sheriffs picked up Brandley and another
man for questioning about a murder, they told the 2 men, "One of you all's
going to pay for this. Since you're the n – – – – r, your elected,"
Since his release in 1991, Brandley continues to speak out about the
injustice of the death penalty, always commenting that if President
Clinton had passed the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act
while he was in prison, he would have been executed instead of speaking
The theme of the 9th annual march is "The Death PenaltyGuilty on All
Counts! Shut It Down." Speakers will focus on how the death penalty
targets the poor and people of color, including how innocent people are
executed through state misconduct and the Law of Parties, which allows the
death penalty to be applied to accomplices in murder cases.
The march will be led by Texas's newest abolition organization, Kids
Against the Death Penalty, formed by the family of Jeff Wood, an innocent
man sent to death row under the Law of Parties. Wood received a stay of
execution in August hours before his date with death. His large family and
supporters built a support campaign and the Texas governor granted the
stay until next spring.
Dozens of family members of those on death row will speak, some coming
from as far away as the Rio Grande Valley. Connie Wright, the wife of Greg
Wright, who is scheduled to be executed five days after the march despite
evidence of innocence, will also be featured.
Spoken word artist and Chicana activist, Dee!Colonize, will educate and
entertain the rally with her original words about capital punishment as
well as sharing the words of some poets on death row.
The SHAPE Center Council of Elders will march behind the Kids, and the
Free Radicals Marching Band will provide a lively beat to accompany the
Since executions resumed this past May after an e8-month pause while the
U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of lethal injections,
there have been 27 executions in the U.S. One hundred percent have been in
the South, including 11 in Texas, 4 in Virginia and 3 in Georgia. (source:
Gloria Rubac; The writer is a TDPAM organizer—-Workers World)
Cellphones among many prohibited items found daily in Texas
prisons—-Texas Sen. John Whitmire says tougher measures on contraband
Texas state Sen. John Whitmire, longtime chairman of the Criminal Justice
committee, has known cell phones were being smuggled into Texas prisons
for years. He's raised the issue in public hearings; hes raised it in
private meetings. Its one of the reasons the state is about to allow
inmates access to pay phones.
But nothing quite prepared Sen. Whitmire for the calls he received
recently from a murderer on death row.
"I had no idea the extent of it," he said.
He was so dismayed by his experience, in which confessed killer Richard
Tabler was so brazen he called and left messages with Mr. Whitmire's
senate staff, that he convened an emergency meeting of the criminal
justice panel to discuss the prison systems "lax attitude on contraband."
In response, prison officials began a massive lockdown and sweep of the
entire system, the first in almost a decade.
But Mr. Whitmire says much more is needed. For instance, only 22 of the
state's 112 prison units have walk through metal detectors. "This is an
opportunity," he says. "Tabler was dumb enough to call me, which now has
brought the full focus and attention of state government on the problem of
Phones are just one of countless forbidden items prison officials discover
every day even on death row where inmates are locked alone in spartan
cells 23 hours a day.
Minutes before Ponchai Wilkerson was executed in 2000, prison officials
watched in stunned disbelief as he spit out a handcuff key while strapped
to the gurney.
Another condemned man, Leon Dorsey, was routinely found with everything
from homemade weapons to alcohol during his eight years on death row,
including 25 bottles of homemade spirits during one search in the months
leading up to his August execution.
Weapons are the biggest concern for prison officials with good reason.
When inmates get their hands on weapons, death or injury usually follows.
In 1974, several inmates led by drug kingpin Fred Carrasco took 11 people
hostage and held prison officials at bay for 11 days with the help of guns
smuggled into prison in a hollowed out ham and bullets sneaked through in
a can of peaches. 2 hostages and 2 inmates died in a shootout.
Other officers and inmates have died after materials such as typewriter
rods were sharpened into knives known as shanks.
At the Texas Prison Museum, a display case includes 3 fake pistols made by
inmates planning to escape in the 1960s. The weapons are carefully crafted
out of wood to look real, but "I guarantee you if somebody pulled one of
these and stuck it at you, you'd raise your hands to the ceiling," said
director Jim Willett, a retired warden.
Alcohol, like weapons, often is not smuggled in but manufactured behind
bars. Mr. Dorsey's stash of alcohol was not, obviously, a bottle of Bud
Light," says Michelle Lyons, Texas Department of Criminal Justice
spokeswoman. "He probably filled some sort of bottle with an alcoholic
beverage it could have been any type of bottle we're talking about, a
container of baby powder or a container of lotion."
And the alcohol wouldnt be quite the tasty brew found in the free world.
Ms. Lyons recalled one inmates recipe using orange juice and peppermint
sticks. "It's drinkable," she said and it could make the imbiber drunk.
But, she added dubiously, "I don't know how tasty it is."
Mr. Willett, who worked for TDCJ for 30 years, said he always had his
staff search for alcohol, particularly around the holidays.
"Look around the Christmas, New Year's season," he said. "If you got any
sense about you, you better start checking your unit for alcohol."
Though prison officials take contraband seriously, particularly weapons
and cell phones which may be used for criminal activity, not all of it is
dangerous. Common contraband includes personal clothing, personal hygiene
items and excess food.
Not long ago, Ms. Lyons says a pet mouse was confiscated from an inmate.
"He had gone to the infirmary and said he had an ear infection and got one
of those little droppers you use, so he could feed the mouse," which he
kept in a box, she said.
More unusual was a jar of brown recluse spiders kept by another inmate.
Apparently, "He was trying to figure out a way to extract their venom,"
Ms. Lyons said. "We don't know where he got them. Dont know if he got them
outside during recreation, dont know if spider eggs were smuggled in. We
Mr. Willett said experience taught him never to underestimate the
ingenuity of people with endless hours on their hands and nowhere to go.
One of the favorite items among visitors to the museum is an intricately
crafted board game dubbed "Prisonopoly."
The game was made with cardboard, tape and colored pencils and while it
looks remarkably like its inspiration, Monopoly, the names of the game
spaces were changed to reflect prison life. Instead of going to jail, the
player goes to "ad seg" (solitary confinement); instead of starting at
"Go" the game begins at "The Walls," the unit where inmates are processed;
and the spot known as Boardwalk in the real game is labeled death row.
The board game, confiscated about 4 years ago, wasn't dangerous, Mr.
Willett said, but "you've got certain ways that inmates are legally
allowed to have things and this would not be one of them."
That's not to say officials weren't impressed.
After it was discovered, the inmate begged the warden not to destroy it.
"It took me forever to make it," he said. "Can I send it to my mother?"
The warden agreed on the condition that he make a 2nd one for the prison
He did, and Mr. Willet said after the inmate was paroled, he dropped by
the museum to admire his handiwork.
(source: Dallas Morning News)
Velez gets death sentence
A day after a Cameron County jury found Manuel Velez guilty of capital
murder, they concluded he should die for committing the crime.
The jury deliberated for a little more than 2 hours Friday afternoon
before reaching a unanimous decision that Velez should be put to death for
killing 1-year-old Angel Gabriel Moreno, his girlfriend's infant son.
State District Judge Abel Limas read the verdict to Velez, stating "the
court sentences you to death by lethal injection…may God bless you."
Velez waved once to his family as he was lead out of the courtroom.
The jury decided that Velez caused the death of baby Angel by striking him
on the head on Oct. 31, 2005, at the couple's home on Vermont Circle.
Baby Angel was declared brain dead on Nov. 1, 2005, the day of his first
birthday. He was taken off a ventilator the following day and died.
After the sentencing was handed down, special prosecutor Luis Saenz said
he had mixed feelings.
"On one hand, my victim is still dead, but on the other hand, I am
satisfied with the jury's verdict that it sends a loud message that Mr.
(Armando) Villalobos is going to use all the forces allowed to go after
people who kill our children," Saenz said.
A death penalty conviction means Velez receives an automatic appeal. His
defense attorneys, Hector Villarreal and Rene Flores will represent him
during the appeal process, Villarreal said.
"I don't agree with the jury on either the guilt-innocence (verdict) or
the punishment," Villarreal said minutes after Velez's punishment was
announced. "I appreciate how much effort, but it doesn't make it right."
Testimony in the trial revealed baby Angel had bruises, bite marks and
cigarette burns on his body plus bruising on his head.
The infant had 2 skull fractures that were determined to have been
caused seven to 14 days prior to Oct. 31, 2005, according to court
The only way baby Angel could have sustained such injuries would be from
him having been slammed up against a wall, forensic pathologist Dr. Norma
Jean Farley testified.
Baby Angel also suffered more immediate injuries on Oct. 31, 2005 that
caused him to die, according to court testimony.
Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos said recent verdicts
and punishments handed down on capital murder trials in the county show
that the community is not "pro-defendant."
"This sends a message that any cases involving children that the community
is not going to tolerate it," Villalobos said, adding that it's his
office's duty to "speak for these children that are murdered."
During the summer, Harlingen mother Melissa Lucio was also sentenced to
die for killing her 2 1/2 -year-old daughter, Mariah Alvarez, in February
The little girl died from blunt trauma to the head in 2007. She also had
bruising, bites marks on her back, and injuries to her kidneys and liver,
court testimony revealed.
Friday morning, the Velez jury heard from several witnesses for both state
prosecutors and defense attorneys.
Taking the stand was Velez's 9-year-old son, from a previous relationship,
who testified that he missed his dad and wanted him back.
Also testifying was Velez' sister, Leticia Velez, who testified that she
didn't believe Manuel Velez committed the crime of which the jury found
Leticia Velez also said she couldn't remember a May 1993 incident at the
family's home on Milpa Verde Street in which police said an intoxicated
Manuel Velez pulled his mother out of the truck and dragged her to the
The jury also heard information on Manuel Velez' previous convictions on
battery, forgery, driving while intoxicated, evading arrest and criminal
mischief dating back to the early 1990s.
All the charges were misdemeanors except the forgery charge, testified
Luis Carlos De Leon, an investigator with the Cameron County District
(source: Brownsville Herald)