death penalty news—-TEXAS

Feb. 19



Abolitionists Gather in Austin for Annual Conference; Austin musician and
others to be recognized

More than 120 anti-death penalty advocates from across Texas will gather
this Saturday, February 21, 2009 in Austin for the annual conference of
the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (TCADP). "Raising Our
Voices for Abolition" will feature keynote speaker Celeste Fitzgerald, the
Director of New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, who led
that state's successful legislative campaign to abolish the death penalty.
New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine signed the historic death penalty
abolition bill into law on December 17, 2007.

In conjunction with the conference, TCADP will honor Austin-based musician
and singer-songwriter Sara Hickman for her extraordinary contributions to
the abolition movement in Texas. In October 2007, Hickman launched a
year-long, statewide tour to benefit TCADP. The "Music for Life" tour –
which visited 12 Texas cities and covered more than 5,400 miles —
provided a forum for dialogue on the issue of capital punishment. Each
concert featured Sara and other local musicians, as well as speakers who
addressed various aspects of the death penalty. In recognition of
Hickman's generosity, Austin Mayor Will Wynn has declared February 21,
2009 "Sara Hickman Day" and 13th Street will be renamed "Sara Hickman Way"
for the day.

TCADP will present its annual Courage Award to El Paso Mayor John Cook,
who performed with Hickman when the tour visited his city and then
traveled at his own expense to participate in other concerts. Bob Ray
Sanders, the Vice President/Associate Editor and Metro columnist for the
Fort Worth Star-Telegram, will receive a Media Award for his editorials on
the death penalty.

The following individuals will receive Appreciation Awards:

– Deborah Michalewicz ofWater Valley, Texas, who provided significant
leadership in organizing a "Music for Life" concert in San Angelo;

– Steve James and Peter Gilbert of Chicago, Illinois, the directors of "At
the Death House Door," which tells the story of former Texas Death House
chaplain Reverend Carroll Pickett and profiles the case of Carlos DeLuna,
who was executed for a crime he may not have committed;

– The members of St. John's United Methodist Church in Lubbock, Texas, who
drafted and secured passage by the General Conference of the United
Methodist Church of a resolution calling for the abolition of the death
penalty in Texas.

"TCADP's Annual Conference is taking place at a time of unprecedented
legislative momentum on the death penalty issue," said Kristin Houl,
Executive Director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
"In the past week, bills to abolish the death penalty passed the New
Mexico House of Representatives and the Montana Senate; Maryland Governor
Martin O'Malley has waged a personal crusade to end the death penalty in
his state."

In the Texas Legislature, Representative Jessica Farrar has introduced
House Bill 682, which calls for the repeal of the death penalty in Texas.
TCADP urges lawmakers to call the bill to a hearing and to engage in a
fair and open debate on this important issue.

The 2009 TCADP Annual Conference will take place at the Schmidt-Jones
Family Life Center of the First United Methodist Church, 1300 Lavaca, from
9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Go to for more information. All are

(source: Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty)


Investigating Judge Keller

Sharon Keller, a Texas appellate court judge, made headlines in 2007 when
she was reported to have ordered the court clerk's office to close
promptly at 5 p.m., preventing a death-row inmate from filing an emergency
appeal. The inmate was executed. A Texas legislator is now trying to
impeach Judge Keller for dereliction of duty in that case. A legislative
inquiry is long overdue.

On Sept. 25, 2007, lawyers for Michael Richard were at work on a motion to
stay their client's execution. Earlier that day, the United States Supreme
Court announced that it would consider the constitutionality of lethal
injection. The lawyers were seeking to have Mr. Richard's execution, which
was to be by lethal injection, put off until the Supreme Court issued its

According to press accounts, Mr. Richard's lawyers called the court late
that afternoon to say they were having computer problems and requested
that the clerk's office stay open 20 minutes past its usual closing time.
According to these accounts, Judge Keller denied the request. Mr. Richard
was put to death that evening.

Judge Keller has been quoted saying that Mr. Richard's lawyers did not
give a reason for wanting the delay, and that she simply stated that the
court closes at 5 p.m.

The case prompted widespread outrage. A group of lawyers filed a complaint
with Texas's State Commission on Judicial Conduct, but more than a year
later, the commission, inexcusably, still has not taken any public action.
This week, State Representative Lon Burnam introduced an impeachment
resolution against Judge Keller, accusing her of "gross neglect of duty"
and "willful disregard for human life."

If the facts are as reported, Judge Keller should be removed from the
bench. It would show monumental callousness, as well as a fundamental
misunderstanding of justice, for a judge to think that a brief delay in
closing a court office should take precedence over a motion that raises
constitutional objections to an execution. If the facts have been
misreported, the impeachment process would allow Judge Keller to set the
record straight.

Impeaching a judge is not a step a legislature should take lightly. It is
important that judges be insulated from political pressures so they have
the independence necessary to administer justice fairly. But judges cannot
be allowed to use their extraordinary discretion to deny litigants the
fundamentals of due process. That is especially true if the stakes are
literally life or death.

(source: Editorial, New York Times)