Texas, the Eyes of Justice Are Upon You
On October 13, we lost a resolute champion of the law, a man who left his
impact on the lives of untold numbers of Americans.
His very name made his life's work almost inevitable, a matter of destiny.
William Wayne Justice was a Federal judge for the Eastern District of
Texas. That's right, he was "Justice Justice." And he spent a
distinguished legal career making sure that everyone – no matter their
color or income or class – got a fair shake. As a former Texas lieutenant
governor put it last week, "Judge Justice dragged Texas into the 20th
century, God bless him."
Dragged it kicking and screaming, for it was Justice who ordered Texas to
integrate its public schools in 1971 – 17 years after the Supreme Court's
Brown v. Board of Education decision made separate schools for blacks and
whites unconstitutional. Texas resisted doing the right thing for as long
as it could. Many of its segregated schools for African-American children
were so poor they still had outhouses instead of indoor plumbing.
This small town lawyer appointed to the federal bench by President Lyndon
B. Johnson ordered Texas to open its public housing to everyone,
regardless of their skin color. He looked at the state's "truly shocking
conditions" in its juvenile detention system and said, repair it. He
struck down state law that permitted public schools to charge as much as a
thousand dollars tuition for the children of illegal immigrants.
And Justice demanded a top-to-bottom overhaul of Texas prisons, some of
the most brutal and corrupt in the nation. He even held the state in
contempt of court when he thought it was dragging its feet cleaning up a
system where thousands of inmates slept on the dirty bare floors of their
cellblocks and often went without medical care. The late, great Molly
Ivins said, "He brought the United States Constitution to Texas."
Some say that justice stings. William Wayne Justice certainly did – and
his detractors stung back with death threats and hate mail. Carpenters
refused to repair his house, beauty parlors denied service to his wife.
There were cross burnings and constant calls for his impeachment.
After he desegregated the schools he was offered armed guards for
protection. He turned them down and instead took lessons in self-defense.
You need to understand that while so many Texans have fought and are
fighting the good fight in the Judge Justice tradition, others believe in
the law only when it sides with them. They long for the good old days of
Judge Roy Bean, the saloonkeeper whose barroom court was known in the
frontier days as "the law west of the Pecos." His judicial philosophy was
simple: "Hang 'em first, try 'em later."
The present governor of Texas seems to be channeling Judge Bean. During
his 9 years in office, Rick Perry – "Governor Goodhair" as Ivins called
him – has presided over more than 200 executions, dwarfing the previous
record of 152 set by his predecessor in the Governor's Mansion, George W.
Bush. (The most, it is said, of any United States governor in modern
Lethal injection is practically a religious ritual in Texas. In fact,
before their sentencing verdict that will send Khristian Oliver to die in
just a couple of weeks – on November 5th, to be exact – jurors in the East
Texas town of Nacogdoches consulted the Bible and found what they were
looking for in the Book of Numbers, where it reads, "The murderer shall
surely be put to death," and, "The revenger of blood himself shall slay
the murderer." Although it was noted that referencing holy writ was an
inappropriate "external influence," 2 appeals courts upheld the jury's
sentence and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
Governor Perry will do almost anything to please the vengeful crowd in the
Coliseum with their thumbs turned down. Did we mention that next year he's
up for re-election? When it turned out recently that 5 years ago the state
may have wrongfully executed a man for a crime he didn't commit, Perry
pulled some particularly shady moves.
In February 2004, Cameron Todd Willingham was put to death for allegedly
setting a fire that killed his 3 young daughters. Governor Perry has
willfully ignored evidence from top arson investigators that the blaze was
not homicide but an accident.
Now Perry has fired the chairman and three members of the state's Forensic
Science Commission just as they were about to hear further scientific
testimony that might prove Willingham's innocence. This week, Perry told
reporters that the controversy is "nothing more than propaganda from the
anti-death penalty people across the country."
They can be short on mercy in Texas. All the more reason to mourn the loss
of Justice – William Wayne Justice. Rest in peace, your honor.
(source: Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship is senior
writer of the weekly public affairs program, "Bill Moyers Journal," which
airs Friday nights on PBS—-Truthout.org)
Candidates for governor nearly in lockstep when it comes to the death
This week, Mark White, former Texas governor and former supporter of the
death penalty, called on the state to reconsider its stance on capital
punishment. His comments came as controversy continued to swirl around the
Cameron Todd Willingham case and as the rest of the country asked the
question: Did Texas execute an innocent man?
But if there was any doubt that Texas remains strongly supportive of the
death penalty, the candidates for governor quickly dispel it. While other
candidates have questioned Perry's actions in the Willingham case, they
want to be clear: They still support the death penalty. Their views on
capital punishment range from strongly supporting the death penalty to
really strongly supporting the death penalty. A few have been so bold as
to note that they do oppose executing the wrongly convicted.
Here's a brief run-down of where 5 of the gubernatorial candidates stand:
Rick Perry: As governor, he has presided over 200 executions. Despite
significant questions about the Cameron Todd Willingham case, Perry's
belief in his guilty is unshaken. And he says that the "process works."
Kay Bailey Hutchison: She has questioned Perry's handling of the
Willingham case, saying that the governor has actually given death penalty
opponents ammunition. But she's made very clear that she's firmly in
support of capital punishment.
Tom Schieffer: He supports the death penalty but adds that if Texas
executed an innocent man, we should do something about it.
Hank Gilbert: He supports the death penalty but wants to make sure that
innocent people are not wrongly convicted.
Kinky Friedman: He says he's not against the death penalty but is against
the wrong guy getting executed.
(source: Dallas Morning News)
Today is the 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty in Austin at 2
PM at the Texas Capitol
Today, Saturday October 24, is the 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death
Penalty, where the focus will be the Todd Willingham case and other cases
involving innocent people sentenced to death. The march starts at 2 PM at
the Texas Capitol in Austin.
3 innocent, exonerated former death row prisoners will be among the
special guests today at the Tenth Annual March to Abolish the Death
Penalty. Curtis McCarty spent 19 years on death row in Oklahoma before
being exonerated and released in 2007. Shujaa Graham spent 3 years on
death row in California and Ron Keine spent almost 2 years on death row in
New Mexico, which abolished the death penalty in 2009.
Also speaking will be the penpal of Todd Willingham, Elizabeth Gilbert,
who first investigated his innocence. Todd's last lawyer Walter Reaves
will also speak. Reaves submitted information on the day of Willingham's
execution to Governor Rick Perry saying there was new evidence indicating
Willingham may be innocent and that urged Perry to stay the execution. Of
course, Perry ignored the new information and Willingham was executed on
Feb 17, 2004.
The last request of Todd Willingham to his parents was "please don't ever
stop fighting to vindicate me."
Please attend the march to support the Willingham family as they fight to
prove that Todd Willingham was innocent.
Speakers at the march include three innocent, now-exonerated death row
prisoners (Shujaa Graham, Curtis McCarty and Ron Keine), Jeff Blackburn
(Chief Counsel of the Innocence Project of Texas), Jeanette Popp (a mother
whose daughter was murdered but who asked the DA not to seek the death
penalty), Elizabeth Gilbert (the penpal of Todd Willingham who first
pushed his innocence and helped his family find a fire expert to
investigate), Walter Reaves (the last attorney for Todd Willingham, who
fought for him through the execution and continues to fight to exonerate
him), Terri Been whose brother Jeff Wood is on death row convicted under
the Law of Parties even though he did not kill anyone, and Anna Terrell
the mother of Reginald Blanton who is scheduled for execution in Texas on
Oct 27 3 days after the march, plus others to be announced.
The march starts at 2 PM on October 24 at the Texas Capitol. We will
gather at the Texas Capitol at the gates leading into the Capitol on the
sidewalk at 11th Street, march down Congress Avenue to 6th street, then
back to the South Steps of the Capitol for a rally to abolish the death
penalty. (source: Burnt Orange Report)
Rally scheduled for Corsicana man executed in 2004 in arson case
The case of a Corsicana man executed in 2004 for arson murder will be at
the center of an anti-death penalty rally today at the Texas Capitol.
Local attorney Walter M. Reaves Jr., who represented Cameron Todd
Willingham during the final part of his appeals process, planned to attend
the 10th annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty, along with four people
who were exonerated after being on death row. The event is being organized
by a number of groups that oppose the death penalty.
As part of the event, activists plan to deliver a petition to Gov. Rick
Perry that urges him to say that the 1991 fire that killed Willingham's 3
young daughters was not arson, said Scott Cobb, president of the Texas
Moratorium Network. It will also ask for Texas executions to be suspended
and for Perry to appoint an impartial body to examine the state's death
penalty system, he said.
Willingham's case, and the role Perry has played in the execution and
subsequent investigation into whether it was flawed, has been in the
national spotlight. Attention started mounting earlier this month after
Perry abruptly replaced 4 people on the 9-member Texas Forensic Science
Commission, including its chairman.
The upheaval came shortly before the commission was set to hear a report
from a fire expert hired by the panel. That expert said the arson finding
was not scientifically supported, giving further weight to those who say
the Willingham case offers the first credible proof of wrongful execution
in modern U.S. history.
Reaves said he was initially reluctant to participate in the rally because
it could detract from the facts of Willingham's individual case. He
decided to attend, however, because it is another forum to continue
pressing Willingham's case and rebut arguments from the governors office,
Also highlighted at the rally will be the cases of 4 people who spent time
on death row before being exonerated.
If Texans take time to listen to people who have wrongly faced execution,
public opinion of the practice will change, Cobb said.
"We tell the actual facts about the death penalty, and the fact is that
innocent people get convicted and get sentenced to death. And, in some
cases, they are not able to prove their innocence before they are
executed," Cobb said.
For more information about the rally or petition, go online to
(source: Waco Tribune-Herald)