28-year-old convicted in 2000 shooting executed
A man convicted of murder in a San Antonio robbery more than 9 years ago
was executed Tuesday evening after proclaiming his innocence.
Reginald Blanton, 28, received lethal injection for the April 2000
shooting death of Carlos Garza at the 22-year-old man's apartment.
In a brief statement after he was strapped to the Texas death chamber
gurney, Blanton insisted his execution was an injustice and he was wrongly
"Carlos was my friend," he said, looking at Garza's mother, wife and 3
sisters, who watched through a window a few feet from him. "I didn't
murder him. What's happening right now is an injustice. This doesn't solve
anything. This will not bring back Carlos."
Blanton also complained the lethal drugs that would be used on him weren't
allowed to put down dogs.
"I say I am worse off than a dog," he said. "They want to kill me for all
this. I am not the man that did this."
Then he told friends he loved them and to continue to fight.
"I will see y'all again," he said.
He was pronounced dead at 6:21 p.m., 8 minutes after the lethal drugs
"Today is the day we have all been waiting for," said one of Garza's
sisters, Sulema Balverde. "My brother Carlos Garza can finally rest in
The women held hands or wrapped their arms around each other while Blanton
spoke. Some wiped away tears.
"I miss my son dearly and have waited for this day to finally get here,"
said Irene Garza, the victim's mother.
The punishment was carried out less than 2 hours after the U.S. Supreme
Court rejected Blanton's last-day appeals.
He had always maintained his innocence but a security video submitted at
his capital murder trial showed him pawning 2 gold necklaces and a
religious medal belonging to Garza about 20 minutes after the shooting.
When he was arrested 4 days later, he was wearing more of Garza's jewelry.
Blanton's twin brother, Robert Blanton, told police his brother broke into
Garza's apartment, believing no one was home, and shot Garza when he
Prosecutors said Reginald Blanton, who was 18 at the time, took some
jewelry and left, then returned 20 minutes later to go through Garza's
place. He took about $100 in cash. The necklaces got him $79 at a pawn
A neighbor called police after seeing the broken door and spotting Garza
lying on the floor. Garza died later at a hospital.
Robert Blanton's girlfriend tipped police about the shooting. Robert
Blanton implicated his brother during questioning. Reginald Blanton argued
his brother's statement was coerced by police.
Robert Blanton wasn't charged in the case because authorities couldn't
show he was involved in the break-in or shooting, but he's now in prison,
serving a 2-year term for an unrelated drug conviction at the Huntsville
Unit, the prison where the execution was carried out.
Reginald Blanton's trial attorneys told a Bexar County jury he shouldn't
be sentenced to die, saying he had a horrible childhood with little
supervision and he could have been harmed as a fetus because his mother
was pushed down the stairs.
Witnesses testified Blanton smoked marijuana at age 11, spent time at a
juvenile boot camp and joined gangs in San Antonio to seek protection his
family didn't provide. He had previous arrests for shoplifting, weapons
possession, auto theft and marijuana possession. When he was arrested on
the capital murder charge, he had 4 bags of marijuana and a shotgun. He
was accused of assaulting an inmate while awaiting trial.
On death row, prison records show Blanton had several disciplinary
infractions, including possession of a sharpened steel shank. He also was
among death row inmates caught last year with illegal cell phones.
Blanton became the 19th inmate to be executed in Texas this year. At least
6 more lethal injections are scheduled before the end of the year,
including Khristian Oliver, 32, set to die next week for the beating death
of a Nacogdoches County man during a burglary in 1998. Blanton becomes the
442nd condemned inmate to be put to death in Texas since the state resumed
capital punishment on December 7, 1982. He is the 203rd condemned inmate
to be put to death since Rick Perry became governor in 2001.
Blanton becomes the 42nd condemned inmate to be put to death this year in
the USA and the 1178th overall since the nation resumed executions on
January 17, 1977.
On the Net: Texas Department of Criminal Justice execution schedule
(sources : Associated Press & Rick Halperin)
S.A. man set to receive death penalty; lawyers appeal to Supreme Court to
A San Antonio man will be led into the death chamber Tuesday night after
being sentenced to death.
Reginald Blanton, 28, was sentenced to death in 2001 for robbing and
killing Carlos Garza. Minutes after the murder, Blanton showed up at a
pawn shop, trying to sell gold necklaces that belonged to Garza.
If executed, Blanton will be the 19th Texas imate put to death this year.
On Monday night, Blanton's lawyers appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to
halt the execution. Blanton's lawyers argue that blacks were excluded as
potential jurors in the trial.
(source: KENS News)
Chronicle sues Perry over clemency report
The Houston Chronicle and Hearst Newspapers LLC are suing Gov. Rick Perry
in an effort to force the release of a clemency report Perry received
before denying a stay of execution to Cameron Todd Willingham.
The report is a summary and status of the case against Willingham that was
given to Perry at 11:30 a.m. on the day of Willingham's 2004 execution in
the fire deaths of his three daughters. Anti-death penalty advocates say
modern fire forensics show the blaze cannot be proven as arson.
Perry's office has refused to release the report, claiming it is a
privileged document. The clemency document was used by Perry in the
process of deciding whether to give Willingham a 30-day stay of execution.
"When it comes to human life, there is no place the governor should be
more transparent in his decision-making," said Jonathan Donnellan, an
attorney for Hearst and the Chronicle.
"It should raise eyebrows that the governor is seeking to shield
communications with his advisers as 'legal advice,' when the very idea of
executive clemency power is to make a policy decision after the legal
process has run its course," Donnellan said.
Willingham was put to death shortly after 6 p.m. on Feb. 17, 2004, just 88
minutes after the Governor's Office received an expert's report that the
fire that killed Willingham's children could not be positively attributed
to arson. It is unknown whether the report by Perry's general counsel
included any mention of the arson controversy in the Willingham case.
In a statement e-mailed to the Chronicle, Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle
said, "Todd Willingham was convicted and sentenced to death by a jury of
his peers for murdering his 3 daughters, and that conviction was upheld by
Texas courts and 9 times by federal courts including 4 times by the U.S.
Supreme Court. The governor reviewed all the facts in this case and agreed
with jury and the courts that Willingham was guilty of murdering his three
daughters. Our office has fully complied with the public information act."
The Attorney General's Office has previously ruled that the specific
documents that the Chronicle is referencing are not subject to disclosure
under the Public Information Act.
A renewed controversy over the Willingham case erupted recently when Perry
replaced members of the Texas Forensics Commission who were looking into
the case to see whether standards for arson investigations could be
improved. But their removal halted the investigation, sparking accusations
the governor was trying to cover up an investigation into whether
Willingham was innocent.
Perry cites precedents
The lawsuit contends that Chronicle reporter Lise Olsen on Aug. 31, 2009,
requested documents on the Willingham case from Perry's office. With her
permission, the Governor's Office redacted personal e-mail addresses and
then produced 883 pages of documents.
The lawsuit says the governor's attorneys never informed Olsen that they
wanted to withhold the clemency report. Nor did Perry's lawyers tell Olsen
the document was not among those delivered to her.
Perry's office responded to Olsen's e-mail by saying the documents were
similar to reports the Texas attorney general previously had ruled could
be held from public view as privileged attorney product.
The governor has said the document contains nothing that is not in the
public record, but he has refused to release it. He said the documents
were kept private in both the administrations of Govs. Ann Richards and
George W. Bush. The state archives at one point released the Bush clemency
documents when Perry's office failed to object to their being made public.
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Arson case revives Texas death penalty debate
The call came in at midmorning on a chilly Monday, 2 days before Christmas
Firefighter Ron Franks could see a dark column of smoke from 6 blocks
When he arrived, smoke and flames were rolling out of the windows and
front door of the half-century-old frame house at 1213 W. 11th St. A
shirtless man was outside.
"My babies are in there," he told Franks.
Amber, the 2-year-old, was given CPR and rushed to the hospital, where she
was pronounced dead. The lifeless bodies of the 1-year-old twins Karmon
Diane and Kameron Marie were recovered from a bedroom.
By any measure, the deaths of the three children were a tragedy that
gripped the entire town. But the next 2 weeks produced yet another
dimension that seemed incomprehensible: Cameron Todd Willingham, the
anguished father in the front yard, was accused of setting the fire and
killing his kids.
The following August, Willingham was convicted and sentenced to death.
After nine state and federal courts rejected his appeals, he was executed
by lethal injection on Feb. 17, 2004, professing his innocence in a final
> For many of Corsicana's 25,000 residents, the execution ended a dark
chapter one that began unfolding the same year that American troops were
fighting the first Persian Gulf War and Russians were celebrating the end
But the case of Cameron Todd Willingham has returned in this former
boomtown 50 miles southeast of Dallas.
9 fire experts have challenged the arson investigation that was
fundamental to the state's case against Willingham, raising the
possibility that the fire may have started accidentally. The renewed
scrutiny has received national news coverage, much of it centering on
Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who denied Willingham's late-hour bid for a
Perry, the state's longest-serving governor, has come under fire for
replacing 3 members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission just as it
was preparing to review fire expert Craig Beyler's report criticizing the
arson investigation. Perry's critics accused the Republican governor of
orchestrating the shake-up to derail the inquiry, but Perry has vigorously
defended his actions, depicting Willingham as "a monster."
The debate has also produced conflicting images of Willingham. Those who
share Perry's view feel that justice was served, describing Willingham as
a sociopath who poured accelerant on the floor of the house, who felt the
children hindered his lifestyle, who beat his wife in an unsuccessful
attempt to cause a miscarriage.
One witness recalled that Willingham bragged about the time he and a half
brother stole a dog, beat it in the head with a stick and ran over it with
a car, although Willingham later told a friend he didn't harm the animal.
"I believe he was guilty," his ex-wife said Saturday night. Stacy
Kuykendall, who now goes by her maiden name, confirmed earlier reports
that Willingham told her before his execution that he had set fire to the
house and killed the children because he knew that she was going to leave
"He was sorry for what he did," she said. "He did confess."
In a lengthy statement, Stacy Kuykendall offered one of her most detailed
accounts of the fire and its aftermath and her recollections of
"Todd set our house on fire then stood outside and watched it burn. He
knew our three daughters were inside this home taking their last breath.
He watched them die," she said. "Governor Rick Perry called Cameron Todd
Willingham a 'monster' and indeed he was."
Willingham's defenders, including other members of his family, acknowledge
that Willingham, a 10th-grade dropout from Ardmore, Okla., had a history
of scrapes with the law and had a substance abuse problem. They also
acknowledge that he and his wife had a stormy, abusive relationship and
that Willingham was sometimes unfaithful. But at the same time, they say,
he was a loving father who adored his children and would never harm them.
"He was kind of a Mr. Mom," recalls his 67-year-old stepmother, Eugenia
Willingham of Ardmore.
In letters from death row, Willingham often seemed thoughtful and
introspective, sometimes expressing himself in poetry. He never wavered in
maintaining his innocence throughout his 12-year confinement.
"Although I am imprisoned, I am more free than any soul can be," he wrote
in a 10-line verse to conclude a letter to his stepmother in 1994.
In a letter to Kuykendall in 2000, Willingham told of enduring memories of
"I still can feel them … there caress on my soul. I still know Ambers
voice, her smile, her Cool Dude saying, and how she said: I wanna hold
you! Still feel the touch of Karmon and Kameron's hands on my face, the
smoky look in their eyes when they looked at me, and how we called Karmon
Poke a Nose."
Willingham also apologized to Kuykendall "for not being the husband you
deserved or being there when you needed me most."
"There are things that need to be said and addressed," he wrote. "Some
things for closure; some for ending the chapter of our life together."
But in a profanity-laced final statement before his execution, Willingham
lashed out, telling Kuykendall, who by then had divorced him, "I hope you
rot in hell, bitch." Bound to a gurney while Kuykendall watched from a
window 8 feet away, he also attempted an obscene gesture with his hand,
strapped at the wrist, The Associated Press reported.
"The only statement I want to make is that I am an innocent man convicted
of a crime I did not commit," Willingham said. "I have been persecuted for
12 years for something I did not do. From God's dust I came and to dust I
will return so the earth shall become my throne. I gotta go, Road Dog."
John H. Jackson, a retired judge and former assistant district attorney,
led the prosecution of Willingham. As he looked back on the case over
lunch at a bustling downtown restaurant last week, he said he had no
doubts of Willingham's guilt despite the barrage of new questions.
"I was completely convinced that it was both a murder and an arson fire,"
Jackson said. "I think the death penalty opponents really do themselves a
disservice by identifying this guy as a poster child. There are a lot of
good arguments against the death penalty, but this is not one of them."
The man who opposed Jackson in 13th District Court now says that he, too,
believes Willingham was guilty.
"He started the fire and killed the kids," said Waco lawyer David Martin,
Willingham's court-appointed attorney. "His conduct was really
incriminating, and his statements were irreconcilably inconsistent."
As Willingham's legal representative, Martin said he unsuccessfully tried
to raise reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors and believes that
Willingham should have accepted a plea-bargain offer for life in prison.
Martin said he felt compelled to speak out in recent interviews, even
though he has come under intense criticism from his former client's
defenders for asserting that Willingham was guilty.
"When it began to be expressed that an innocent man had been executed, I
took an interest in responding to that, because that's just not the case,"
Martin said in an interview at his ranch near Corsicana.
Willingham and Kuykendall lived together for several years and married in
October 1991. Willingham told family members that he was determined to be
a good father. He was a competent mechanic and had been working at a
warehouse until he lost his job about a month before the fire. Kuykendall
worked at her brother's bar, Some Other Place, in nearby Angus.
They depended on Medicaid to help provide for the girls.
"Other than that, we had nothing," Willingham told officers. "We never had
got a good foothold on our life."
On Dec. 23, Kuykendall left for work in the morning Willingham recalled
the time as exactly 9:13 while he remained at home with the children.
After she pulled out of the driveway, he told police, he gave the twins a
bottle. He then went back to sleep, he said, but said he was awakened by
Amber's shouts "Daddy, Daddy!" and saw smoke pouring through the house.
Officer Jason Grant recalled Willingham telling him that he groped through
the smoke trying to find his children as burning debris fell. He finally
found a front door and escaped, he told Grant, who noticed that
Willingham's hair was singed and that he had a burn on his right shoulder.
"I couldn't get my babies out," he told another witness.
Investigators became suspicious about inconsistencies in Willingham's
account and his dispassionate behavior that to them seemed inexplicable
for a man who had lost his children. Witnesses said that despite his
frantic appearance when firefighters arrived, Willingham made no attempt
to go back inside. He said he kicked open the front door but had no burn
marks on his bare feet. He had also told officers that he went out the
"On December 23rd, 1991 I was taken to the hospital and told that my 3
daughters had died in a house fire," Stacy Kuykendall wrote in her
statement. "Cameron Todd Willingham, the girls' father, was at the
hospital alive. When I saw Todd after having been told about my daughters,
the first thing I asked him was if he could tell me why I was just told
that my babies were dead and he was still alive. Todd just looked at me
and had nothing to say.
"I had my doubts about what Todd was saying about what happened that day,"
she continued. "After Todd was arrested and told his family that he didn't
do this, I had to believe that he was telling us the truth. I was 21, just
lost all my children and now everyone expected me to believe that their
father did this.
Later, she said, "I reminded him that he had already told me that he never
attempted to go into the girl's room and try to save them, that he
actually got out of bed, told a two-year old to get out of the house and
then walked out the front door. I asked him why wouldn't an innocent man
testify on his on behalf? Todd said it was because he told different
stories about what happened that day and once you have said it you can't
take it back."
The cornerstone of the state's case was the arson investigation, which
concluded that accelerant was splashed on the floor and near the threshold
of the door, presumably to block rescue attempts.
Jackson, the prosecutor, also relied on testimony from Johnny Webb, who
was in jail in a robbery case when Willingham was behind bars on the
murder charge. Webb, who got to know Willingham while working as a jail
trusty, said Willingham told him he set the fire to conceal an injury that
his wife had inflicted on one of the children. "He said that he took some
kind of lighter fluid, squirting around the walls and the floor and set a
fire," Webb testified. "He said he had done it."
Webb has since returned to Corsicana after serving a 15-year prison term.
In a recent interview, he stood behind his testimony, which he said
subjected him to constant "torture" and recriminations from fellow
prisoners because he was branded as an informant.
Jackson said Webb at one point recanted under pressure from inmates but at
the same time reassured the former prosecutor that he had told the truth.
"I didn't lie," Webb told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "I just know what
the dude told me. My testimony was a very small part of that case."
After a two-day trial, the jury of 8 women and 4 men deliberated an hour
on Aug. 20, 1992, before finding Willingham guilty. After hearing
additional witnesses and deliberating for nearly eight hours, jurors
recommended the death penalty.
Henry Ponder, the last juror chosen, said he underwent a kind of "sorrow"
after the jury assessed the death penalty and was unable to talk about the
case for four months. But based on the evidence, "We just felt like that
was right never looked back," said the retired life insurance salesman,
Elizabeth Gilbert, a Houston playwright, got to know Willingham through
her work as a death penalty opponent participating in a pen-pal program
for inmates on death row. "I was struck by the differences" between the
man she had come to know and the "horrible person" portrayed in court,
Gilbert said. She then began looking into the case, starting with a trip
to Austin to review court records.
"It didn't look like they had much of a case," Gilbert said she ultimately
Gilbert said she was struck by Willingham's polite behavior and his skills
as a writer. After she was paralyzed in a car wreck, Willingham's letters
cheered her and helped her recover. She has also written a play based on
her conversations with the inmate.
"I just felt like this was someone who as a young man was put on a path he
had no control over," Gilbert said.
Willingham was raised by his father and stepmother, Gene and Eugenia
Willingham, and grew up in Ardmore. He was in Boy Scouts and Little League
but began sniffing paint in his midteens. Substance abuse led to
encounters with the law, including burglary and bicycle theft and a stint
in boot camp.
A younger half brother who was raised separately from Willingham is
serving a life sentence in connection with a drug-influenced killing spree
that left 4 people dead in Texas and Arkansas, authorities said. When he
was 20, Willingham got to know the half brother, Davey Crockett, when he
went to visit their biological mother in Gainesville. For a while, they
had the same circle of friends. But Willingham said he was not involved in
the crimes that sent Crockett to prison and was with Kuykendall on the
night of those murders.
Eugenia Willingham said her stepson never displayed violence around family
members and was always courteous and polite. Later, after he and
Kuykendall had the children, he talked often about his kids.
Willingham's father died of prostate cancer in 2005.
Eugenia said she has never doubted Willingham's innocence. For years, she
said, she and other relatives sought to draw attention to the case, with
little success until the Chicago Tribune published a 2004 investigative
report questioning the arson inquiry. The New York-based Innocence Project
has taken a lead role in the case, featuring daily updates on its Web
"Our family has never believed this was anything but a tragic accidental
fire resulting in the deaths of the 3 precious children," said Patricia
Cox, one of Willingham's cousins. "We see it as the loss of 4 lives not 3
because Todd was also a casualty."
(source: Baltimore Sun)
Texas Faith: Are Texans immoral for supporting the death penalty?
The storm over the Cameron Todd Willingham case has focused public
attention on the death penalty and stirred debate in the Texas governor's
race. Willingham was executed in 2004 for setting a fire that killed his 3
children. He maintained until his death that he was innocent, and evidence
in the case presents a mixed picture. Several independent experts have
challenged whether it was arson. The governor and the prosecutor are
confident he was guilty.
In Texas, more than 400 people have been executed since capital punishment
was reinstated by the Supreme Court in 1976. Ours is the busiest death
chamber in the nation – and Texans overwhelmingly back the death penalty.
Polls indicate that nearly 3/4 of Texans support capital punishment.
What is the moral dimension? Supporters say the question is not whether
the state is justified in taking a life, but when – for example, in
self-defense or in order to save someone else's life. There is the
argument of deterrence. And justice – "an eye for an eye."
Opponents make two arguments: 1) the death penalty is immoral and 2) the
death penalty is flawed because an innocent person could be put to death.
So here's the question: Is it moral to support capital punishment? Or are
Texans immoral because they support the death penalty?
The responses from our Texas Faith panelists are varied, provocative and
well worth reading amid this political and faith-based debate:
JOE CLIFFORD, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Dallas
Jesus was once asked his opinion on the death penalty when a woman was
caught in adultery, a capital offense in his day. (I've always wondered
where the man was in this story!) Jesus responded, "Go ahead and stone her
… just let the one who is without sin cast the first stone." No one
could; which is to say no one is moral enough to impose the death penalty.
Having said that, I could not tell the relatives of a murder victim they
are immoral because they support the death penalty for the person who
killed their loved one. They don't want to hear statistics about the
ineffectiveness of capital punishment in deterring crime, nor how
economics affect the equity of our system. They don't care that racism
distorts the justice system as in Texas, 12% of the population is African
American, but 40% of death row inmates are black. They don't care that
innocent people might be executed in the name of expediency. They just
want justice for their loved one. I can't say that's immoral.
However, killing the killer will not provide that justice. It cannot fill
the void created by the immoral act of murder. Rather, for all the reasons
listed above it compounds the immorality. Therefore I cannot support
DARRELL BOCK, Research Professor of New Testament Studies, Dallas
Capital punishment? Only in extremely clear cases for very grievous
crimes. If there is any doubt at all about the evidence, it should not be
instituted. Judges should be given latitude here as legal experts. The
dignity of human life is precious, which is why its application should be
limited. But disregard for human life should result in risk of losing
one's life as one who does not respect the community that requires respect
for life to function. The fact that Scripture has the category means it is
not immoral. Mass murders and other intentional violent crimes designed to
take several lives should be on that list. This is not revenge, but a form
of corporate justice. Taking multiple lives intentionally reflects a lack
of respect for human life.
DEAL HUDSON, President of Morley Publishing Group and Director of Inside
I'm not going to call anyone "immoral" because they support the death
penalty. It was only a short time ago John Paul II revised the Catholic
Church's teaching on that issue. Until that time I supported the death
penalty, but upon reading the argument in the Holy Father's "The Gospel of
Life" I was convinced that "bloodless means" should be used whenever the
common good can be protected without taking a life. I don't think the
notion of retribution is a safe one to invoke — there are too many
subjective elements. Although it is legitimate for a murderer to pay the
"price" of his or her crime, the main consideration should be protecting
others from potential harm. It seems to me that a life sentence, without
parole, fits both criteria. All states should have a true, life without
parole, sentence for first degree murder. Otherwise, states are
encouraging the use of the death penalty by prosecutors and jurors who
don't trust parole boards.
Texans are no more immoral than folks from other states, with or without a
death penalty, though I know many Texans who are proud of their purported
immorality, which they revel in.
GEOFFREY DENNIS, Rabbi Congregation Kol Ami in Flower Mound
The issue of the death penalty being immoral has come up in Jewish
tradition, but only obliquely, and ends up expressing itself through
mostly through the second issue. Given that the Torah itself imposes
capital punishment for some offenses, there have been few direct attacks
on the intrinsic morality of judicial execution. Rather, in elaborating on
the spase criminal procedures provided by the Torah, the Talmud surrounds
the issue with a flurry of witness and procedural requirements that
effectively limit, if not utterly prevent, a capital conviction. Thus, for
example, for the death penalty to be imposed, there have to be two eye
witnesses to the murder, both witnesses have to have direct, unhindered
view of the act as it is committed, and one has to offer a warning to the
perpetrator to the effect of "Hey, don't you know what you are doing is
The tension between sages on this issue is evident in a reported
discussion where Rabbi Akiba declares a court with but one execution on
its record in 70 years should be considered a "bloodthirsty court."
Another Sage laments this attitude, claiming it encourages the
proliferation of murderers among the people.
History has also had a hand in shaping Jewish attitudes. In many medieval
lands, the power of execution was taken from the jurisdiction of Jewish
courts. In modern states, also, the power of execution is reserved for
state courts. The end result is that many modern Jews now reject capital
punishment in principle as well as in practice. In the modern State of
Israel, execution is a penalty reserved for those guilty of crimes against
humanity, and has only been carried once in it's 60 year history. The run
of the mill terrorist/mass-murderer faces a life behind bars, but not
death at the hands of an Israeli court.
The Talmud understands the unique nature of capital punishment, that it is
a penalty which, wrongly administered, cannot later be corrected or
compensated. Given the now-well-documented record of false convictions in
Texas, it seems to me the moral response is to suspend all executions
until a fairer, bettered safe-guarded, radically reformed system can
created. Which, the way things go, means an end to the death penalty for
the foreseeable future.
WILLIAM LAWRENCE, Dean Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist
A brief clarification is in order. It is not precisely correct to say that
"Texans …support the death penalty," although it is almost certainly
true that a majority of Texans do and it is without question that the
controlling forces in state politics do. Let me be clear in stating that I
am a Texan who does not support the death penalty.
The problem is that two moral virtues are in conflict with each other. One
is the standard of justice which declares that the only appropriate way to
balance the evil of taking another's person's life is to have someone who
commits a murder lose his or her own life. The second is the standard of
justice which declares that the only appropriate way to be sure that
errors in judgment are correctable is to avoid making judgments that are
permanent and uncorrectable.
From the perspective of the first moral virtue, the only appropriate
punishment for one who commits murder is to kill the murderer. From the
perspective of the second moral virtue, the only appropriate way to make
absolutely sure that no one falsely accused of murder is being killed is
to use some punishment short of death.
When two moral virtues are in conflict, Christians must choose the one
that inflicts less harm. In my view, punishment short of the death penalty
inflicts less harm–to the perpetrator who may be falsely accused and to
the society that claims a right to inflict the ultimate penalty even
though its judgments may only be penultimate at best.
NITYANANDA CHANDRA DAS, Minister ISKON Hare Krishna Temple, Dallas
Everything has its proper utility, and a man who is situated in complete
knowledge of the self knows how and where to apply a thing for its proper
utility. Similarly, violence also has its utility, and how to apply
violence rests with the person in full knowledge of the eternality of the
self. Although the justice of the peace awards capital punishment to a
person condemned for murder, the justice of the peace cannot be blamed,
because he orders violence to another person according to the codes of
justice. In the Vedic scriptures it is supported that a murderer should be
condemned to death so that in his next life he will not have to suffer for
the great sin he has committed. Therefore, the government's punishment of
hanging a murderer is actually beneficial. Such a sinful person who has
murdered is better suffering in this life rather than greater sufferings
in his next lives. A surgical operation is not meant to kill the patient,
but to cure him.
Capital punishment also stands as a powerful deterrent for future
criminals. Politicians, afraid of being implicated in their own laws,
often shy away from a strong stance.
AMY MARTIN, Executive Director of Earth Rhythms and editor Moonlady Media
There is absolutely nothing in the Tao Teh Ching that supports capital
punishment. Leaders are mandated to protect the people. But once a violent
criminal is removed from society, the people are protected. The state's
job is done. Nothing else need occur but to let "wu wei," the inherent way
of nature, to take its course on the criminal until they age out and die.
If the crime warrants the most severe of punishments, isn't it far worse
to fester in jail for a lifetime? Create the possibility of atonement by
lining the jail cell with photos of the criminal's victims, or piping in
audio of the victims' survivors relating their anguish. Let's get creative
about it. Brutishness is so last millennium.
Fairness is a central value of Taoism. If Cameron Todd Willingham is
executed for arson that kills children, then why don't we execute ALL
arsonists who kill children? Why execute the bomber who kills dozens of
people, but not the serial rapist who murders a score of women? Of course,
then the state would be in the business of killing LOTS of people, much
like countries whose criminal justice systems we consider barbaric. The
decision to apply the death penalty centers at least partly on the
sympathetic worth of the victim. Why are some victims rated higher than
It doesn't logically seem that the death penalty would be a deterrent to
heinous crimes. Criminals who commit such acts consider themselves too
smart to get caught, or the crime is done while they were high on drugs or
emotions and the potential of the death penalty never crossed their minds.
If it were a deterrent, states with the death penalty would have lower
murder rates, but that's not the case.
People who support the death penalty are reacting emotionally and haven't
thought it through with the higher mind. But really, who are we to play
God? Shouldn't we be conservative in all matters that end in death? It's
not a mistake we can fix. How can we rationalize that the death penalty is
disproportionately applied to minorities, the mentally ill and poor?
Eye-for-an-eye vengeance sets up a never-ending cycle of retribution, one
that some global areas are still mired in. It sends the message that
murder for vengeance is an acceptable concept. Surely we are above all
that by now. But alas, not Texas. Lone Star comedian Ron White wryly
observed, "Other states are trying to abolish the death penalty. Mine's
putting in an express lane."
CYNTHIA RIGBY, Professor of Theology, Austin Presbyterian Theological
I know my response to this question will be controversial, but I believe
capital punishment is immoral. As a Christian believer, it is my
conviction that God is a God of justice, but that the justice of God is
grounded not in a literalistic "eye for an eye," but in God's grace and
God's mercy. (Interestingly, btw, a strong case can be made that the "eye
for an eye" rule of the Old Testament was not as much about demanding
equitable retribution for crimes that had been committed, but for
protecting the perpetrator from being OVERPENALIZED for his or her crime.
In other words, if one person puts out the eye of another, the most that
can be taken from the guilty one is an eye – not both eyes, not a leg, not
a life, but "only" an eye).
While I am tempted to launch into a lengthy theological discourse about
the relationship between justice and mercy in various New Testament texts,
let me spare everyone and instead put forward two "scenes" from my own
heritage and life that have fed my reflection on the death penalty. The
first has to do with remembering my maternal grandfather, Frederick
Goddard, whom I never knew. Goddard was a Salvation Army preacher in
Macalaster, Oklahoma, in the 1930s and 40s (long before "DNA evidence").
He died when my mom was only twelve years old. One of the ministries to
which he was most committed was sitting with prisoners who were on death
row. He frequently walked them to their deaths. And one of the most
salient memories my mother has of him is how haunted he was not only by
the deaths of these men, but by his belief that some were innocent. My
mother (who is hardly ever visibly shaken) is still visibly shaken when
she recalls the time her father announced, one evening, that a man he had
walked to the death chamber the week prior had too late been found to be
My second "scene" is from 11 years ago, shortly before the execution of
Karla Faye Tucker. You might remember that the late '90s was the time when
the "WWJD?" ("What Would Jesus Do?") movement was in full swing. In a
class I was teaching, I asked my mainly-mainliner seminary students if
they saw any value to "WWJD?," and if they thought we should do what Jesus
would do, if we were pretty clear on exactly what that was. Every student
in the class (20+, as I recall) answered, emphatically, "yes!!"
Since the biggest issue in the news that week was that Tucker was asking
for a stay of execution, I spontaneously asked: "Would JESUS execute Karla
Faye Tucker?" "No!" all the students answered. Feeling like I was on a
roll, I then asked, "Well, then: should WE execute Karla Faye Tucker?"
Silence in response to a question that I thought was a no-brainer, in
light of the conversation. Suddenly, the mood of the class shifted. My
students acted indignant; as though they had been betrayed. A senior
student shot his hand in the air, declaring that he thought it would be
"presumptuous for us to assume we could do what Jesus should do." "We need
a new question," he said: "WWJWUTD?" "What would Jesus want us to do?" he
asked, looking around at his classmates. And then he answered: "Jesus
would want us to leave forgiveness to him, and to EXECUTE Karla Faye
We took another vote, and all but 2 of my students agreed with him.
KATIE SHERROD, Independent writer/producer, Fort Worth
The Episcopal Church has consistently made clear its opposition to capital
punishment, most recently on June 20, 2001 when the Executive Council –
the body that governs the Episcopal Church between triennial General
Conventions — passed a resolution entitled "Recommitment to abolish the
death penalty." Its wording mirrored that of statements dating back to
The Episcopal Church's 1958 statement opposed capital punishment "on a
theological basis that the life of an individual is of infinite worth in
the sight of Almighty God; and the taking of such a human life falls
within the providence of Almighty God and not within the right of Man."
This position was reaffirmed at the 1969, 1979, 1991, and 2000 General
The 2001 resolution was passed in the immediate aftermath of the June 11,
2001 execution of Timothy McVeigh, the man who bombed the Federal Building
in Oklahoma City. At a time when emotions were high, the church felt it
was more important than ever to raise a voice in opposition to the death
penalty – a hugely unpopular stance at the time.
So why speak out then? Here's why: "In our baptismal covenant, we respect
the dignity of every human being, and commit ourselves to strive for
justice and peace among all people. The Church will continue to decry the
revenge of state-sanctioned homicides. We abhor the racism and economic
injustices evident in our criminal justice system."
So is it moral to support the death penalty? I do not think so and for
myself, I cannot support it. With the repeated discovery that our justice
system has sentenced innocent people to death, it is harder than ever to
justify capital punishment. Texans are at heart a fair-minded folk, and I
believe eventually the faults in our system will become so glaringly
apparent that even this state will realize the immorality of the death
BRIAN SCHMISEK, Dean School of Ministry, University of Dallas
Capital punishment rouses emotion like few other issues. For many, the
problem is not only that a person dies, but that the state itself executes
the person. As we live in a democratic republic, we the people are
executing fellow human beings. Even so, many in Texas favor the death
penalty. In this debate one side often points to the unrepentant malicious
criminal who "deserves to die" while the other side discovers the wrongly
convicted and executed.
Though the Catholic Church "does not exclude recourse to the death
penalty" it also makes clear that in today's society, "the cases in which
the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if
not practically non-existent" (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2267). In
short, lifelong imprisonment is to be preferred to execution.
Our stance on the issue says more about us than about the person being
executed. We are better people when we are showing compassion rather than
making arguments to justify killing. Instead of arguing over who deserves
to die, we would do well to argue over how to bestow compassion in a world
that desperately needs it.
DANIEL KANTER, Senior Minister First Unitarian Church of Dallas
When I was a student minister in St. Louis I used to attend vigils outside
the Potosi Prison on nights of executions. People of faith gathered with
candles and sang "Amazing Grace" in hopes of sending a message that the
death penalty is wrong and extending a global prayer of hope for us all.
The Ku Klux Klan also showed up to drink beer, to blare loud music, and to
cheer at the hour of execution. We said it was not moral to take a life
for any crime no matter how heinous because the penalty never deters
anyone bent on murder and because there are too many mistakes in the
justice system. The Klan just loved revenge. As a person of faith the
moral issue of justice is that all people have an equal chance at dignity.
The death penalty system is too flawed to uphold this. And in the end the
murder of a murderer is only momentary revenge. The best revenge is to
force the criminal to face his acts for life, do reparative work, be
forced to do some soul searching, and if not all that, to confront
unbearable isolation and the highest level of boredom. The punishment
itself is the immoral element here. We have a choice whether to stand on
the sidelines and let it continue or hold up a candle and confront
ourselves about this issue.
RIC DEXTER, Men's Division Chapter Leader, Nichiren Buddhist Soka Gakkai
There is debate within Buddhism about the taking of life. Theravadan canon
will say 'never", even in defense of your own life. Mahayana schools vary,
saying there is no justification, or self defense, the protection of
others, and even saving a criminal from bringing further bad effect upon
himself, are justification. Buddhist traditions agree, however, that a
life should never be taken to post a warning, or as a punishment, or to
satisfy a desire for vengeance.
In his dialogue with Arnold Toynbee, Daisaku Ikeda explains this saying,
"…life, as an absolute entity worthy of the deepest respect, must never
be treated as a means of achieving anything other than life itself. When
social restraint is necessary it is far better to devise a method that
does not deny life. The use of the death penalty as a warning manifests a
regrettable tendency that has long plagued human society. That tendency is
the habit of undervaluing life."
We live in a society of laws, where hopefully most of those who commit
crimes are apprehended and incarcerated. In doing so we have taken the
measures necessary for self defense and for the protection of others.
Beyond that, a determination to inflict the penalty of death is to say
that one life has value, and another does not. Buddhism teaches that all
life has value.
The question asked whether it is moral to support the death penalty, and
if those who do are immoral. I have to ask the question differently, and
each person must ask it of themselves. If I support the taking of a life,
what are my reasons?
If my most honest answer is that I think I will suffer less because
someone else has died, or that the taking a life will satisfy my thirst
for vengeance, or that causing another's death will assuage my anger, or
that the life I wish to take has no value, then my cause reflects my
lowest nature. The universal truth manifests itself through the effects of
our thoughts, words, and actions. The effects in my life will reflect
those basest energies.
I will not determine to take a life that poses no danger to myself or
others. I will not ask you to do it for me.
GERALD BRITT, Vice-president of public policy, Central Dallas Ministries
I can understand the inclination of some supporters of the death penalty.
There any number of people who have suffered terrible losses due to the
cruelty and criminality of another human being. Society has every right to
protect itself from those individuals and the probability that they may
commit crimes as heinous or worse than the ones for which they are either
incarcerated or for which it has been deemed that they worthy of capital
punishment. In doing so the state is saying that the harm inflicted on an
individual makes that person so dangerous that we can no longer risk their
living among us. That is a strong statement.
As one whose family has incurred such a loss a couple of years ago, I can
understand that inclination on a very personal level. The death of a loved
one at someone else's hands is a horrific experience for those who are
left behind. And, in our case, we know exactly who committed the murder.
However, the charge against that person doesn't rise to the level of the
death penalty, but we've made the conscious decision that we not only
wouldn't want the death penalty imposed; the circumstances are such that
we're not even seeking life imprisonment. Again, different circumstances
In other circumstances, on principle, it is extremely difficult for me to
support the death penalty. My opportunity to meet with and do some work
with Dallas County's exonerees, has shown me that it is indeed possible
for citizens to be wrongfully convicted and incarcerated. Whether it was
through shoddy police work, mistaken eyewitness identification, predatory
prosecution and misconduct, a significant portion of these men's lives
were taken away. They had a trial and were 'lawfully' convicted. Yet they
were innocent. However tragic that circumstance is (and it is indeed),
these men are getting an opportunity to rebuild their lives and
reestablish themselves in society.
But I also can't help but remember that Tim Cole, a young man wrongfully
incarcerated, died in prison and has been found innocent of the crime for
which he was imprisoned, posthumously. These facts, make it difficult for
me to believe that we have not already put to death innocent men and
women. And the fact is whether it is ten, 50 or even one – we are not
carefully reviewing the circumstances under which we are imposing let
along applying the death penalty. And that is moral issue enough to have
serious questions about it.
LARRY BETHUNE, Senior Pastor University Baptist Church, Austin
I cannot speak from other religious points of view, but from a New
Testament Christian point of view, the death penalty is immoral. It has no
place in a tradition which emphasizes grace, mercy, and healing from
violence. At the heart of the Christian message is the belief that no
person is beyond redemption in the eyes of God. Vengeance belongs to God
alone, and the justice of God is filled with mercy. The death penalty
demeans the society which uses it and the persons required to apply it.
The United States is one of the last nations to insist on practicing
capital punishment despite strong stands taken against it by several
Christian denominations. The current system is long and torturous, not
only for perpetrators but for their families and especially for the
families of victims. It is open for abuse, and it is always dangerous to
give government the power to take life. Since life imprisonment without
parole would be an equally effective means of deterrence, justice, and
prevention of repeat offense, the death penalty remains a violent form of
revenge unbecoming of a people who value human life. The death penalty is
irretrievable; there is no remedy when the state executes an innocent
person (of which there have been numerous proven cases).
The current system is broken, unequally weighted against the poor and
minorities. For all these reasons, the death penalty needs to be abolished
and judicial reform focused on the protection of life and the healing of
victims of violence.
(source: Dallas Morning News)
TV: Activists call for death penalty moratorium in Texas
Death penalty opponents Tuesday called for a moratorium on the death
penalty in Texas, as the state prepared to execute another inmate.
A San Antonio jury convicted Blanton of murder in 2001. 8 years and
several appeals later the Texas Department of Criminal Justice was ready
to execute him.
Shujaa Graham spent more than a decade on death row in California. He
helped hand-deliver a petition opposing Blanton's execution.
"It's totally, it's totally broken," Graham said. "I would tell the
governor of Texas that we need a moratorium on the death penalty and that
many people have died that are innocent — and they'll continue to die."
Graham and other activists who gathered on the steps of the Capitol
believe that Cameron Todd Willingham was one of them. They say Willingham
wasn't to blame for the fire that killed his three kids.
"Cameron Todd Willingham was a monster. This is a guy who murdered his 3
children," Perry said in early October. The governor's office re-affirmed
A spokeswoman also says the governor continues to support the death
penalty for those convicted of "the most heinous crimes."
Scott Cobb of the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement wants the state
to appoint an independent commission to thoroughly study the way Texas
carries out the death penalty.
"If you can get it wrong in one case, you can get it wrong in probably
many cases," he said.
Activists like Graham say they understand there's probably a long road
"So much has been learned over the last five or six months here in Texas.
We should really study it," Graham said.
Governor Perry was out of town Tuesday. Officials in his office say he's
meeting with Texas business leaders in New York.
(source: KVUE News)