Ex-judge wants man off death row—-Inmate is scheduled to die this week,
but former judge serving as his attorney says sentence needs review
With Crosby murderer George Whitaker's execution just days away, state
pardons commissioners Monday will consider a former state district judge's
petition that the killer's death sentence be commuted to life in prison.
The request to spare Whitaker's life came from the killer's
court-appointed lawyer, retired state District Judge Jay Burnett. Burnett
presided over Harris County's 183rd District Court from 1986 to 1998 and
was chairman of the State Bar of Texas' Committee on the Death Penalty
from 1995 to 1998.
Whitaker, 37, was sentenced to die for the June 15, 1994, murder of
17-year-old Shakeitha Carrier. Carrier's mother, Mary Carrier, was shot
twice in the attack, and her sister Ashley, 5, was severely
pistol-whipped. His execution is scheduled for Wednesday.
Court testimony revealed the victims were relatives of Whitaker's
ex-girlfriend Catina Carrier, who had ended their relationship.
Burnett said Whitaker's sole chance to live he has exhausted all other
appeals rests on the pardons board's decision either to grant a 30-day
stay so his petition may be further studied or to recommend that Gov. Rick
Perry commute the sentence.
Except for commutations for mentally retarded or juvenile killers mandated
by the U.S. Supreme Court, Perry has spared only 1 murderer from
execution. In 2007, Perry commuted San Antonio killer Kenneth Foster's
death sentence to life in prison.
Jury not told parole rules
In his petition to pardons officials, Burnett argued that his client
unjustly was condemned because the presiding trial judge prohibited the
jury from being told that a life sentence in the case would have required
the killer to serve 40 years, day for day, before becoming eligible for
Additionally, Burnett contended Whitaker suffered poor representation
because lawyers did not present expert testimony regarding lingering
effects of a childhood head injury. Finally, Burnett told commissioners,
that, although brutal, Whitaker's crime did not meet death penalty
Prosecutors, compelled to prove a murder occurred during the commission of
another felony offense in order to obtain a death sentence, argued that
Shakeitha Carrier was shot in the head while Whitaker burglarized the
family home. Burnett countered that although Whitaker had entered the
house, he had not done so to steal anything.
In his petition, Burnett told commissioners, the pardons board bears heavy
responsibility to "do justice now."
In e-mailed comments, Burnett said trial Judge Caprice Cosper elected to
prohibit jurors from learning either through defense attorneys or in her
charge that a life sentence would have required Whitaker to serve 40
years before becoming parole eligible.
"In Whitaker's trial," Burnett said in an e-mail, "the jury was not told
anything (regarding) parole except that he was 'parolable' and like most
of our lay citizens, I am reasonably certain that they believe in the
popular myth that convicted defendants serve only short terms before being
released from prison.
"Therefore, even though Whitaker had no prior criminal record and no facts
showing a murder that was particularly heinous or atrocious. In short,
there was no reason to give a death sentence other than the jury's fear of
Prisoner to be interviewed
Burnett asked the board to interview Whitaker about the case. Texas Board
of Pardons and Paroles Chairwoman Rissie Owens said that request would be
Whitaker refused a Houston Chronicle request for an interview.
Court records indicate that Whitaker and 2 companions arrived at the
Carrier family home ostensibly to deliver personal items his former
girlfriend left at his home. Earlier, though, testimony revealed, the
mechanic told an acquaintance he planned to kill someone.
Once at the Carrier home, he twice shot his girlfriend's mother, leaving
her right hand permanently disabled. He then attacked his girlfriend's
sisters, killing one and leaving the 5-year-old with brain injuries.
Whitaker would be the 16th killer to die in Texas's Huntsville death house
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Protesting the Texas death penalty
The annual March to Stop Executions has become a place for death penalty
opponents from all over Texas to meet and connect. This year's 9th annual
march was no exception, with 150 people–a good percentage of them family
members of death row and other prisoners–marching and rallying in Houston
on October 27.
Activist Ester King opened the march by reading a statement written by
former Texas death row prisoner Kenneth Foster, who expressed his
solidarity with Georgia death row prisoner Troy Davis:
Rise up and be heard, and if needed…rise up and be FELT (there is a
difference). Rise up for Troy Davis. Rise up like it's your first and last
fight, because when we do…the last will finally be first. FIGHT!!!
The multiracial march began and ended in Houston's Third Ward.
Participating in the march were the Kids Against the Death Penalty, a
group of young people that are related to, and friends of Jeff Woods, who
is wrongly imprisoned on Texas death row. These young people, ages 10 to
14, have become very outspoken against the death penalty and brought a new
spirit to the march.
Clarence Brandley, an exonerated Texas death row prisoner, was a featured
speaker at the rally.
Many family members were present, and at one point, all the family members
gathered at the podium. Delia Perez Meyer, sister of Texas death row
prisoner Louis Castro Perez, gave a short speech on behalf of the gathered
family members. Delia said of the event:
Standing among the other family members was really an awe-inspiring and
emotional time–while it's good to see that we're not the only ones
suffering from this horrific nightmare, it was so sad to see so many
family members affected by the death and destruction that the death
penalty imposes on all of us.
We have each other to lean on, to share our stories with, to cry with, to
hope with, and to ultimately stand next to each other to hold each other
up as our loved ones are taken by this monster we call justice in Texas.
God willing, some day it will end!
(source: Socialist Worker)