death penalty news—-TEXAS

May 31


Protests Planned of 200th Execution Under Texas Governor Rick Perry

On June 2, 2009, protests will be held in the U.S, Canada and Europe of
the 200th execution under Texas Governor Rick Perry, which is scheduled to
take place on that day. Since he became governor of Texas in December
2000, Perry has allowed more executions to proceed than any other governor
in U.S. history. Terry Hankins is scheduled to be the 200th person
executed under Rick Perry.

(source: PR-Inside)


200 executions in Texas under Rick Perry

On June 2, 2009, the 200th execution authorized by governor Rick Perry
will take place in Texas. Protests are scheduled from Huntsville to Paris
to denounce the death penalty situation in the southern US state.

Terry Hankins is scheduled to be executed at the Huntsville, Texas
penitentiary on June 2, 2009 at night.

Another killing by lethal injection, the execution will be the 200th
approved by Rick Perry, who succeeded George W. Bush as governor of Texas.

Texas governors do not have the final word when it comes to executions.
The law states that they can grant a 30-day stay on any execution warrant.
But longer reprieves or commutations need to be approved by the Board of
Pardons and Paroles. However, the governor can give the green light to an
execution even if the Board recommended a stay or a commutation.

Within the limited scope of his powers, Rick Perry has always gone for the
strictest application of capital punishment.

Number of death sentences halved in 5 years

Texas is thus the US state with the largest number of executions, although
the number of death sentences has gone down by 50% in the last 5 years, in
line with the national trend.

The current governor has also repeatedly defended Texas's death penalty
system, despite its many flaws.

For example, strong arguments have been made that Texas wrongfully
executed Cameron Willingham in 2004. His conviction was based on
scientific evidence that was later proven to be inaccurate. This
information was presented to Governor Perry before the scheduled execution
but did not lead to a stay.

Other death row inmates were cleared before their execution when their
innocence was proven. Yet Rick Perry insisted in January 2009: "By and
large, we have a system that is fair, that works well, that is open to
correcting errors that are made."

He has been rejecting the arguments put forward by international
abolitionists, whom he likened to 17th-century European colonists in
comments made in 2007.

Mentally ill inmates on death row

According to World Coalition member organization Texas Coalition to
Abolish the Death Penalty (TCADP), 12 inmates with strong claims of severe
mental illness have been executed since 2001. Yet the US Supreme Court
banned the execution of the mentally ill in a 2002 ruling.

TCADP and Amnesty International USA organized a special 200-minute vigil
on April 30 and have released an organizing packet to help activists
multiply activities on June 2. In addition, TCADP's international branch
is calling a protest on June 3 at 6pm on Place de la Concorde in Paris,
where the US embassy is located.

The organization also calls on citizens to write a letter of protest to
the US ambassador in their country.

(source: World Coalition Against the Death Penalty)


High-volume defense—-How many cases can a death-penalty lawyer handle?
And who's keeping track?

Recently in this space, we complained about lawyer Jerome Godinich,
chastised by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals for repeatedly missing
deadlines in federal death-penalty cases.

Godinich responded with a letter to the editor. "I am a good lawyer," he
wrote, "with a flawless record of which I am very proud. It may appear
that the hours billed are excessive for indigent clients charged with a
capital offense. However, given the possibility of death, all avenues for
relief must be explored. That takes time."

We reserve judgment on the quality of his services and the flawlessness of
his record. But we completely agree with the last part of that statement:
Death-penalty cases take time.

And we wonder where Godinich finds it. As the Chronicle's Lise Olsen
recently reported, Godinich represents an average of 360 felony clients a
year more than twice the limit of 150 per year recommended by the
National Legal Aid and Defender Association.

Godinich is hardly alone in his high-volume approach to defense law. Olsen
found that 10 of the 32 Harris County lawyers approved to represent
clients in life-or-death cases exceed that limit. Godinich led the list.
And labor-intensive death penalty cases make that felony-case workload
even more daunting.

Competent legal representation for the indigent isn't just a matter of
human rights. It's also an economic issue. Our tax dollars pay the
lawyers' bills.

We pay, too, for the extra days in jail that a client spends when an
overburdened lawyer delays a hearing to give himself time to prepare. And
thats no small cost: It's estimated that more than 1/2 of the 10,000 or so
people in the county jail are awaiting trial. (One of Godinich's clients,
Phillip Hernandez, has been stuck in jail for 18 months, insisting that
he's innocent of sexual-abuse charges. Hernandez told the Chronicle that
the lawyer has yet to visit the jail to discuss his defense.)

Would Harris County judges have offered Godinich and the other
overburdened lawyers so much work if the judges knew how many cases the
lawyers were juggling? That's hard to say. Unlike other counties, Harris
County has no central monitor who tracks the defense lawyers assigned to
indigents. No one tells judges how effective the lawyers have been in
other courts or whether they're working a staggering number of cases.

For caseloads, at least, it would be cheap and easy for judges to appoint
a court administrator to keep an eye on things. County district clerk
Loren Jackson says that if the judges make it a priority, his IT
department could quickly write software to provide the information in an
easily digestible format. "It wouldn't be built overnight," Jackson
cautions. "But we can build it in a month."

Maybe, given the numbers for Godinich and other high-volume lawyers,
judges would continue to shower cases upon them. Maybe not. But before
making their decisions, the judges need to know those numbers.

(source: Editorial, Houston Chronicle)