death penalty news—-TEXAS

April 7


A state district judge in Austin today is expected to formally clear a man
who died in prison 13 years into a 25-year sentence for a rape he did not
commit, making him the 1st posthumous DNA exoneration in Texas history.

Jerry Wayne Johnson testified at a court of legal inquiry that he
committed the 1985 rape of a Texas Tech student for which Timothy Cole (in
the portrait) was convicted. State District Judge Charles Baird already
indicated after a February hearing that he would exonerate Timothy Cole,
who was convicted of a 1985 sexual assault of a Texas Tech University
student. Baird is expected to reveal the legal reasoning for his decision
during a hearing today in his Austin courtroom, lawyers from the Innocence
Project of Texas said.

Cole died in 1999 at 38 of complications from asthma.

He always maintained his innocence.

It's cold comfort to Cole's family, but at least he didn't die at the
hands of the state. Still, it will be only a matter of time before DNA
shows that the state of Texas executed an innocent man on death row. This
is why I oppose the death penalty. I cannot agree that murderers don't
deserve to pay for their crime with their life. They do. But I do not have
enough faith in human judgment to put a man to death, based on "beyond
reasonable doubt." If the state dramatically raised the bar for capital
murder cases to mandate DNA evidence as well as multiple eyewitnesses, I
would support maintaining the death penalty. But nobody's talking about
that, and I believe today's DNA exoneration of Cole is a sign of things to
come on the death penalty front.

When that day comes, what, then? Will people shrug and say, "Oh well, you
can't win 'em all"? Or will there be some serious move toward reforming
our death penalty, even if we don't abolish it?

(source: Opinion, Rod Dreher, Dallas Morning News)


Book Reviews—-A Saint on Death Row —- The life story of a young man
who transformed himself and others during his 11 years in prison.

A Saint on Death Row: The Story of Dominique Green Nan A. Talese 144 pp.,
$22 Dominique Green, a poor black man from Houston, could easily have
ended up like others executed on Texass Death Row: buried beneath a
headstone sporting nothing but an X and a date. Instead, his ashes are
buried in the shadow of a beautiful basilica in Rome.

They are there because of his ingenuity and the remarkable transformation
he brought about in his own life and the lives of others during the 11
years he spent in the most restricted section of state prison.

In A Saint on Death Row: The Story of Dominique Green, Thomas Cahill pays
poignant tribute to a young life that ended at age 30 by lethal injection,
but affected almost all who met him. After visiting Dominique in prison,
Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Greens hero, called him "a
remarkable advertisement for God."

Cahill, author of the bestselling, seven-book "Hinges of History in the
Western World" series including "How the Irish Saved Civilization" and
"The Gifts of the Jews" came to know Green well and care about him
deeply. They met through a retired judge from Chicago, Sheila Murphy, who
was working to win the young Texan's freedom.

Green died for his role in a robbery at a convenience store that resulted
in a shooting and a man's death. A white youth in the group of teens was
not charged, and a jury without any black members convicted Green,
although someone else's fingerprints were on the gun. The victim's family
believed in his innocence and opposed the execution.

Cahill's moving tale shines a sharp light on a negligent and flawed
justice system, and on a state that uses the death penalty far beyond any
other. Texas has executed at least 425 people since the penalty was
reinstated in 1976, while the next highest state, Virgina, has executed

Yet Green's story is also a stand-in for thousands, perhaps millions, of
other American youths who get into trouble because they were raised in
poor and abusive environments, and whose potential is often snuffed out.

As a small child, he was raped by a priest at his school. His mother, also
abused in her youth, became an alcoholic and drug user, and once punished
him by holding his palm over a burning flame. The youngster fled home with
his 2 smaller brothers in tow, and struggled from then on to feed, clothe,
and house them. Forced to steal in order to do so, he ended up several
times in juvenile detention, where he was raped again.

The preponderance of Green's heartrending story, however, plays out on
death row, where he fought to prove his innocence and read and read. One
of the books that changed this bright young mans life, Archbishop Tutu's
"No Future Without Forgiveness," lit a flame. He set about forgiving those
in his life who had hurt him and seeking forgiveness from others. And he
began nudging other men on Death Row to do the same.

Dominique organized football pools, lessons on the law, and encouraged the
men to contribute their innermost thoughts to a manuscript, seeking among
other goals to eliminate the racial prejudices that divided them. Excerpts
from their poems and prose reverberate with self knowledge, intelligence,
caring, and descriptive power.

As his appeals failed, Green reached out to Italy, where the death penalty
is frowned on. Sending a letter to Italian newspapers seeking help and
friendship, he won several pen pals and support from the Community of
Sant'Egidio, a Catholic religious movement active in peacebuilding around
the world. SantEgidio involved Judge Murphy, who became like a mother as
well as a lawyer to Green, while her son became his close friend.

But it was too late the Texas system and appeals courts were indifferent.
He was executed on October 26, 2004.

While Green's innocence was never established, Cahill says the most
important question is, "Did he receive a fair trial?" The narrative leaves
little doubt that answer is "no."

Given the stark power of this tragic tale, it's unfortunate that Cahill
begins his storytelling with a prologue that tends to undermine his
purpose. His description of his first impressions of Green is so glowing
that one is immediately on guard as to whether this writer was predisposed
by some leanings of his own to find a saint in a prison cell. Once the
history itself takes over, however, the young inmate's special character
comes to the fore.

Those engaged in the growing movement to end the death penalty in the
United States will find inspiration and help for their efforts from this
short but riveting book. Others will be moved and reminded that many
behind bars have much to offer if given the chance.

What stands out most, though, is the incredible price society pays for
indifference indifference to the needs of children, to flagrantly unjust
systems, and to youths, often victims of abuse themselves, who are locked
up and forgotten.

(source: Jane Lampman is the Monitor's religion reporter; Christian
Science Monitor)