death penalty news—-TEXAS

Nov. 4


Reflections on a Gathering of 20 Death Row Exonerees

It was 4:00 a.m. last Friday when I set out for Conroe, Texas, home of
both the Texas state flag and death row exoneree Clarence Brandley. Three
hours later, I met Clarence outside the home of his 93-year-old mother as
the sun was rising and an unfettered horse grazed on a neighbors lawn. Due
to the current economy, Mr. Brandley's job had been cut and his Houston
home was foreclosed upon before his job was restored. He now commutes 1
hours each way to work and lives in the home where he was born and the
town where he worked as a school custodian before being wrongfully accused
of the rape and murder a high school co-ed in 1981. 9 years later, he was
exonerated. He has not received any compensation for his wrongful
imprisonment, but is still paying child support for the 9 years he was

Clarence would normally have rented a car in Conroe to attend the Witness
to Innocence (WTI) training in Austin. WTI is an organization of those
exonerated from death row. Each year, a "Tools Gathering" is held where
these men come together as a community, share experiences, teach each
other how to survive, welcome the newly exonerated and learn tools to help
spread their unique message.

But on Thursday the local car rental agency refused to accept a debit card
from Clarence. He was scheduled to represent Texas exonerees at the WTI
press conference at the state capital on Friday afternoon. Fortunately, as
Public Education Associate of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project, I was
attending the training as support staff for WTI and could make the drive
to get him to the training in time.

We went to stop at a restaurant on the way back to Austin but were
deterred from patronizing the establishment by the Confederate flags
decorating the entrance. We settled for cranberry juice from a gas

It was an inspiring moment when the press conference began. Behind the
podium stood 17 men and seated at the speakers table were Ray Krone, WTIs
Director of Communications and Training, who was exonerated by DNA in 2002
from a 1992 sentence of death; Clarence Brandley; and Juan Melendez, who
served over 17 years on Floridas death row. All together, 20 exonerees
were gathered beneath the seal of the State of Texas. Additional speakers
included Sam Millsap, former prosecutor of Bexar County, Texas; Texas
Representative Elliott Naishtat, who is introducing legislation to give
the governor the authority to enact a moratorium on executions; and the
founding Executive Director of WTI, Kurt Rosenberg. Mr. Millsap prosecuted
Ruben Cantu, who was executed in 1993. Mr. Millsap now accepts
responsibility for what he believes to be the execution of an innocent
man, and thinks the death penalty is broken and must be ended.

When our 3 days together were ending, the exonerated, their loved ones,
and staff gathered in a closing circle. We were asked to share 2 words
that represented the time in Austin. I could only say "Holy Ground," and
take off my shoes in recognition of how special the place I shared with
them was for me. Being in that room with these men and their loved ones
was a humbling experience. Their willingness to work to end the death
penalty in spite of the nightmarish memories of death row are gifts that
these exonerees give to the abolition movement. They share their
experiences in the hope that others will not have to face what they did.
It was a blessing to be allowed to spend time with each of them.

You can also watch You Tube videos of the WTI event, and read more about
the Witness to Innocence press conference, which called for a study of
capital punishment in Texas and the imposition of a moratorium on
executions in the most active killing state in America. Texas is in the
midst of executing 10 individuals in a 30-day period a moratorium cant
happen soon enough.

(source: Jack Payden-Travers; ACLU: Blog of Rights)