Amnesty International chapter sponsors death penalty events
In its last days of Death Penalty Awareness Week, the SMU chapter of
Amnesty International will sponsor two events in an effort to inform
students about the atrocities of capital punishment and the death row
inmates who have suffered because of it.
Thursday evening's event, "The Truth about the Death Penalty," will
feature a question and answer panel and an art exhibit of photographs of
Texas death row inmates taken by private investigator and photographer
John Holbrook. It will also include work from artist Delia Meyer, as well
as works by some of the inmates.
On Friday night a film screening of "The Exonerated" will precede a
question and answer session from a man on which one of the movie's
characters was based: Kerry Max Cook, an innocent man convicted of capital
murder in 1977. After spending 22 years on death row, DNA testing
exonerated him from the crime.
Rick Halperin, director of the SMU Human Rights Education Program, hopes
that the 2 events – both Holbrook's photographs and Cook's presentation –
will "rehumanize" inmates to the public eye.
"Cook spent as much time on death row as the average college student has
been alive," Halperin said.
Today Cook is an anti-death penalty activist and author of his memoir
"Chasing Justice," of which he will be signing copies and selling for $15
during the film screening. Senior Savannah Engel, Human Rights Chairman
for Students for a Better Society, said that Cook's case is one of
"120 people so far have been declared innocent through DNA exoneration and
there are many more in prison," she said. "The issue we're looking at is
our court system."
Halperin said that Cook's legal case might be "the worst case of
prosecutorial misconduct in U.S. history." The human rights advocate and
SMU professor will also be a panelist at Thursday's "Truth" discussion,
where he hopes to educate the audience about injustices in the legal
system and mistreatment of inmates.
Holbrook, who used to agree with capital punishment and sarcastically
advocated the invention of "electric bleachers" for criminals, now aims to
promote ideas similar to Halperin's. The inspiration for his work
displayed at the exhibit was developed from his own experiences as a
private investigator for capital murder cases. Holbrook acquired
post-traumatic stress disorder from a case involving the rape and murder
of a teenage girl.
The crime scene photographer saw a psychologist who helped him realize
that he needed to forgive the person who committed the crime in order to
be cured of the disorder. Holbrook achieved forgiveness through
photographing the offender, and has done so now for several men and women
on death row.
"I'm trying to teach what I've learned, and communicate that truth to the
victims' families," Holbrook said.
The photographs have brought tears to inmates' eyes.
"His photos really get to the heart of what the death penalty is all
about," Halperin said. "Prosecutors and state officials want citizens to
believe that these individuals – because of what they did – became
something less than humans: monsters, garbage, disposable people. And
In addition to Holbrook's work, "The Truth about the Death Penalty" will
also display a mock electric chair constructed by Amnesty International's
chapter president, junior Brooks Oliver.
"The Truth about the Death Penalty," co-sponsored by SBS and the Dallas
Peace Center, occurs Thursday from 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. in McCord Auditorium at
306 Dallas Hall.
The film "The Exonerated" and Cook's book signing is a part of the SMU
Leadership and Community Involvement Social Justice Film Screening and
Central University Libraries. It will take place Friday from 6:30 p.m. –
9:30 p.m. in the Hughes-Trigg Commons.
For questions about the upcoming events, contact Tiana Lightfoot at
(source: Daily Campus)
Inmate to die for killing fellow prisoner
A high-ranking prison gang member whose violent history included an attack
on an inmate with a homemade spear was headed to the Texas death chamber
Thursday night for fatally injecting a fellow prisoner with an overdose of
Ricardo Ortiz would be the 2nd condemned killer executed in Texas in as
many nights and the 5th this year in the nation's most active death
Ortiz, 46, was sentenced to die for the slaying of Gerardo Garcia, 22, who
authorities said was killed at the El Paso County jail more than 11 years
ago. The slaying was in retaliation for snitching on Ortiz and so he
couldn't testify against Ortiz about bank robberies the pair were
suspected of carrying out, authorities said.
Ortiz sought to put off the execution so he could get federal money to pay
for legal representation to file a state clemency request.
The issue is under review by the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard arguments
in January in the case of Tennessee death row inmate John Harbison.
Similar appeals from other condemned inmates hoping delay their
punishments until the justices resolved the case so far have failed.
"The hope we have is that because they just argued it, they maybe have
tentatively voted on it and they're going to rule for Harbison and maybe
we get a stay," said David Dow, with the Texas Defender Service, a legal
group that represents death row inmates.
State attorneys opposed the request to the courts, contending even if
Ortiz presented a clemency petition to the governor, it likely would fail.
"The facts of his capital crime … make Ortiz the 'poster child' for
future dangerousness: his victim was a fellow inmate," the Texas Attorney
General's Office said in a court filing.
A sergeant in El Paso County Sheriff's Department described Ortiz as the
highest-ranking member of the Texas Syndicate, a well known primarily
Hispanic prison gang, in El Paso. His status made him the "tank boss" in
the jail, putting him in control of other gang members there.
Ortiz declined to speak with reporters in the weeks preceding his
execution date. He had a long criminal history that included robbery,
aggravated robbery, burglary and possessing deadly weapons in prison,
including a homemade spear used to stab a fellow inmate. Records show he
was known as "Serrucho," Spanish for "Handsaw."
"All the Texas Syndicate guys in the county jail were in the same tank and
the young man killed was one of them," Joe Rosales, the former district
attorney who prosecuted Ortiz, recalled last week. "From what we found
out, he was a prospect, somebody to be brought into the gang but was not a
full-fledged member at that time.
"We were able to persuade the jury, and we felt evidence showed, that he
felt this prospect was going to implicate him in some robberies that had
been taking place."
Defense attorneys tried to show jurors Garcia had a death wish and was
Garcia and Ortiz were allowed to see one another being interviewed by FBI
agents investigating a series of unsolved bank robberies, hoping each
would assume the other was cooperating. Neither man would budge, however,
and both were placed in the same area of the El Paso Detention Center,
where Garcia was found dead in 1997 of a heroin injection three times more
potent than the amount that could kill him.
Other jail inmates testified Ortiz obtained the drug the previous day and
injected Garcia, saying his bank robbery partner had to die for
Evidence also showed Ortiz was arrested in 1990 but never tried for in the
execution-style slayings of 2 Houston-area parolees, Anthony Rosalio
Acosta, 42, and Jimmy Lopez Rangel, 29, whose bodies were found in the
desert near Fabens, southeast of El Paso.
Ortiz's execution was scheduled for 24 hours after Virgil Martinez, 41, a
former Houston security guard, was put to death for gunning down four
people, including his ex-girlfriend and her two small children, during a
1996 shooting frenzy in Brazoria County.
Next week, condemned prisoner David Martinez is set to die Wednesday for
the 1994 slayings of his live-in girlfriend, Carolina Prado, 37, and her
son, Erik, 14, at their home in San Antonio. Both victims were fatally
beaten with a baseball bat.
(source: Associated Press)
Death penalty supporters should say this prayer
Corporate Prayer of Confession:
Forgive us, Lord. We continue to lead our nation in killing, by execution,
those you have created in your image. We know you said, "Vengeance is
Mine." But like Jonah, we know that you are full of love and mercy. You
will forgive. Our desire for revenge is too important for us to entrust it
to you. Forgive us, Lord.
Our system of justice is not perfect. We sometimes execute those who are
not guilty as we did with your Son on Calvary. We execute the young and
the mentally ill. Our desire for revenge is too important to us to let an
occasional mistake sway us. Forgive us, Lord.
We must protect society. We say the death penalty is a deterrent. Facts do
not support that. Secure prisons and life without parole will protect us,
but our desire for revenge is too important to us, so we ignore the facts.
Forgive us, Lord.
We say that it is cheaper to kill murderers than lock them up for the rest
of their lives. This is not true, but our desire for revenge is too
important to us to let facts persuade us. Forgive us, Lord.
We execute to satisfy the families of the victims. It does not bring back
their loved ones. It creates new victims. It simply reinforces the cycle
of violence. It provides closure for none. No matter. Our desire for
revenge is too important to us for reason to deter us. Forgive us, Lord.
In the end, it will be our turn to be judged, we will beseech you, Lord,
and we will pray, "Most merciful, compassionate and loving God, we have
sinned. Our desire for revenge was too important to us. Forgive us, Lord."
(source: Guest Column; Robert Gazaway is president of the
Beaumont/Southeast Texas chapter of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the
Death Penalty; the Beaumont Enterprise)
Defendant in quadruple McKinney murder takes the stand
In McKinney, capital murder defendant Raul Cortez took the stand in his
own defense this morning and repeatedly denied any involvement in the
slayings of 4 people in 2004.
"I had nothing to do with these murders," Cortez calmly testified as his
2-week-old trial draws to a close.
He is accused of the March 12, 2004 shooting deaths of Rosa Barbosa, 46;
her nephew Mark Barbosa, 25; and his friends Austin York, 18, and Matthew
Self, 17. If convicted, Cortez will be sentenced to either death or life
in prison without the possibility of parole.
Another man, Eddie Ray Williams, has also been charged with the slayings.
His trial is pending. This morning, Cortez testified that Williams came by
his house on the day of the slayings asking for money. Cortez said that he
couldn't give him anything, but offered to let Williams mow his lawn to
earn a few dollars. He said that there were some dog droppings in the
backyard and he put on some latex gloves to remove them. But Cortez said
Williams volunteered to do it so he took the gloves off and handed them to
Williams then went back in the house.
Earlier testimony at the trial has shown that a pair of latex gloves
connected to the slaying contained DNA from Cortez. After Williams
finished mowing the lawn that day, Cortez said he paid him and Williams,
who previously testified at the trial as a prosecution witness, left.
"The next time I see his face was in this courtroom," Cortez said.
(source: Dallas Morning News)