death penalty news—–TEXAS

Oct. 29


Shameful record of executions

Imagine being sentenced to 50 years in the state penitentiary. Then
consider how you might feel what kind of person you might have become as
you reached the halfway point of your scheduled time in prison, marking
off the calendar year 25 of being behind bars.

Now, imagine that you were innocent of the crime for which you had been

You might think that it couldn't get any worse than that, right?

Well, picture this: You're not just in a regular penitentiary cell, but on
death row and even scheduled to die for a crime you did not commit.

Horrible, nightmarish images all.

Sadly there are too many people in this country, and particularly in
Texas, who cannot only envision those and similar scenarios, but have
lived them.

Only God knows how many innocent people have been wrongly convicted,
although any one would be too many. We do know there is a growing list of
individuals who have been exonerated through DNA testing, generally coming
after the "victim" of the state already has lost many years of his life
locked away from family, friends and society as a whole.

24 ex-death row prisoners from across the country will meet Friday at the
state Capitol in Austin to call for a moratorium on executions in Texas
and for the creation of a statewide commission on wrongful convictions,
said Kurt Rosenberg, executive director of Witness to Innocence, a
Philadelphia-based organization of former death row inmates and their

Their news conference will be at 2 p.m. in the Speaker's Committee Room.

The men who will appear at the Capitol have served "a combined total of
nearly 200 years on death row for crimes they did not commit," Rosenberg
said in a statement announcing the news conference.

"Last month, Texas became 3rd in the nation in death-row exonerations when
Michael Blair was the 130th person exonerated from death row," he said.
"Blair's exoneration came on the heels of a statement by Dallas County
District Attorney Craig Watkins that he will re-examine nearly 40 death
penalty convictions and would halt executions, if necessary, to give the
reviews time to proceed."

Watkins' announcement also came in the wake of Dallas County's
record-setting number of overall exonerations 18 since 2001.

"Witness to Innocence believes the rest of the state should follow
Watkins' lead and halt executions while it studies its broken death
penalty system, which has exonerated 9 people from death row since 1987,
3rd only to Florida and Illinois in death-row exonerations," Rosenberg

More and more leaders are recognizing that we do have a broken system in
the Lone Star State.

Last summer the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals announced the creation of
a Texas Criminal Justice Integrity Unit to examine weaknesses in the
criminal justice system. And, Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson of the Texas
Supreme Court is among those calling for a statewide innocence commission.

It makes sense that while we recognize an imperfect system with weaknesses
that must be examined and corrected, there ought not to be any more
executions in Texas until those issues have been fully addressed.

The Star-Telegram is on record supporting a moratorium on executions.

I, of course, have long been on record calling for the abolition of the
death penalty in this state.

Rosenberg points out that, as of Monday, "Texas has executed 417 people
since the reinstatement of the death penalty, accounting for nearly 40 %
of all executions nationwide, including 12 so far this year.

An additional 16 executions are scheduled in Texas this fall and winter,
and in the next few weeks the state is expected to set a record of 10
executions in 30 days."

That is not a record of which we should be proud.

Instead, it ought to be a badge of shame.

(source: Column, Bob Ray Sanders–Fort Worth Star-Telegram)


Man getrs death in kids' slayings—-defnese calls no Witnesses during
sentencing phase

Convicted child killer Hector Medina said nothing after being sentenced to
die Tuesday morning. But his hands shook as he handled the headphones he
wore to listen to the Spanish interpreter sitting behind him.

Mr. Medina shot each of his children–Javier, 3, and Diana, 8 months —
twice; once in the neck and one in the head after their mother left him in
March 2007. He admitted to shooting his children in their Irving home, but
defense attorney Donna Winfield asked the jury to consider his mindset at
the time.

But one of those jurors said Mr. Medina, 29, had no valid reason for
kiling his children.

"There was no excuse for that, no matter how mad he was at his
girlfriend," juror Ron Smith said. "It wasn't his kids' fault," he said,
adding that it was even more disturbing that each child was shot in the
head and neck. "That bothered us."

Ms. Winfield did not present closing arguments or call any witnesses
during the sentencing phase of the trial, which resumed Monday after a
6-week break because a juror broke her arm.

The attorney told state District Judge Andy Chatham that when the trial
started last month, her expert witnesses were in the courthouse and ready
to testify. But she said scheduling conflicts made it impossible for them
to be in the Dallas courthrrom this week.

Judge Chatham offered to help Ms. Winfield get her witnesses here, but she
said it could not happen. When the judge ordered her to proceed anyway,
Ms. Winfield refused to call any witnesses or rest her case and was jailed
for 2 1/2 hours Monday for being in contempt of court.

Dallas County prosecutors called Ms. Winfield's actions "strategy," which
Ms. Winfield denied.

Each time Ms. Winfield was asked a question in front of the jury, she told
Judge Chatham that she could not proceed. Death penalty cases have
automatic appeals. But Dallas County prosecutor Patrick Kirlin said he
expects this jury's decision — reached in 30 minutes — to stand firm.

Felicia Oliphant, another prosecutor in this trial, reminded the jury
during closing arguments about the testimony and evidence that they heard
last month during the guilt-innocence phase of the trial.

"Revenge. Premedditation. Murder," Ms. Oliphant said as she walked in
front of the jury box. He killed Javier and Diana "to get back at the
mother of his children, because she was leaving him for good."

She reminded the jury that Mr. Medina's longtime girlfriend, Elia
Martinez-Bermudez testified that Mr. Medina used to hold her down and
force her to have sex with him. When she left him in January 2007, he
begged her to come back. And when she returned he threatened to kill her,
the children and himself if she ever left him again.

"Violence. That's his answer," Ms. Oliphant said. "He's selfish. He's
mean. And when he doesn't get what he wants, he's violent."

In March 2007, Mr. Medina borrowed a friend's gun and a box of bullets. 2
days later, Ms. Martinez-Bermudez tried to see her childrena and Mr.
Medina would not let her. Later that day, he shot Javier and Diana, then
walked into the front yard and shot himself in the neck.

As Ms. Oliphant used her closing argument Tuesday to describe the lives
the Medina children would never live, Ms. Winfield placed a comforting
hand on Mr. Medina's back.

Javier would never play soccer, learn to drive or give his mother
grandchildren, Ms. Oliphant said. And Diana, who had not yet learned to
walk, would never attend a prom or get married.

"She had a tombstone before she could talk," Ms. Oliphant said of Diana.
"Is there anything sadder than that?"

(source: Dallas Morning News)