Former Texas Gov. Mark White Now Doubts Death Penalty
In a recent interview on NPR, former Texas Governor Mark White discussed
his lack of faith in the ability of the legal system to reliably handle
death penalty cases, and emphasized the seriousness of handing down an
irreversible sentence to a person who may later be proven innocent. While
he was Governor, he oversaw a significant number of executions, but White
now believes that: "What I see in retrospect is that our system is not as
foolproof as I think it should be in order to carry out a punishment thats
White also stated that he has never believed in the death penalty as a
deterrent, because: "Obviously, with 400 people on death row, theres at
least 400 people up there that didnt deter."
As Amnesty International observed, Governor White's evolution on this
question is part of a national trend: "As advances in DNA and forensic
science have revealed the extent to which our criminal justice system is
prone to error, judges, jurors, the public, and even some politicians,
have begun to question the wisdom of resorting to capital punishment."
White's statements (he's a Democrat) also come at a particularly bad time
for current Governor Rick Perry, who, in the middle of a re-election
campaign, is now being scrutinized for his role in the execution of
Cameron Todd Willingham, who appears to have been innocent and wrongly put
In the past, you would only pay a political price if you didn't support
the death penalty strongly enough. But in Texas, as everywhere else in the
U.S., times have changed, and it would be quite something if the most
prolific executing Governor in modern history wound up suffering
politically because he supported the death penalty too much.
(source: Opposing Viewpoints)
'The death penalty? Shut it down!'
Electricity was in the air Oct. 24 as hundreds of people filled the south
steps of the Texas Capitol in Austin to shout loud and clear: "Todd
Willingham was innocent!"
Gathering for the 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty,
abolitionists from all over Texas, around the country, and a few from
overseas turned out in record numbers to demand that Texas Gov. Rick Perry
immediately stop all executions in Texas.
In recent months the national media has written extensively that there was
no credible evidence of arson, and therefore the 2004 execution of
Willingham was the execution of an innocent man.
Willingham's mother sent a message to the march that read: "I sincerely
appreciate the concern by everyone at today's 10th Annual March to Abolish
the Death Penalty in your efforts to gain attention to the senseless
execution of my son Todd and for his exoneration. I have received letters
of support from some of the men on death row stating that Todd's murder is
the reason the appeals court is taking more time going over their cases
and they are getting stays of execution. This won't bring Todd back, but I
take comfort in knowing that others may be freed because of him. Also
thanks for making this Todds day."
Liz Gilbert, a Houston teacher and playwright, met Willingham after she
got his name on a bus trip to Philadelphia for a Millions for Mumia Rally
in 1999. As she began to know Willingham and learn about his case, she
decided to begin her own investigation. She went to Corsicana, Texas,
where Willingham's 3 young girls were killed in a fire in their home. She
began to figure out that there was no evidence to prove arson and
contacted a fire investigator and the Innocence Project in New York.
Their investigation has now catapulted Willingham's execution into
national news and prompted a cover-up by Gov. Rick Perry, who presided
over the execution. "I am hoping to bring attention to the fact that if
only 1 innocent person was executed, that's enough," said Gilbert at the
rally. "In Todd's case, Texas executed a person who did not commit a
After the opening speaker got the protesters chanting "Todd Willingham was
innocent!" the crowd of around 500 people screamed when asked if they
remembered other innocents who had been executed like Shaka Sankofa and
There was great applause and a rousing welcome for 3 men who have been
released from death row because they were innocent. The Journey of Hope
sponsored Shujaa Graham, who was on death row at San Quentin. Curtis
McCarty did 22 years on Oklahoma death row before getting out in 2007. Ron
Cuney, sponsored by Witness to Innocence, was on New Mexico's death row in
the early 1970s and came within 90 days of execution.
'Save Reginald Blanton!'
Silence swept the crowd as Anna Terrell, the mother of Reginald Blanton,
an innocent man set for execution in just 3 days, bared her heart and soul
to all who could hear her voice.
With her voice and hands trembling with fear of the impending execution,
Terrell said, "It is kind of hard to speak because of the pain that I
feelit is my son, my life, that they want to kill on Tuesday. When you
take away a life and then later you find out he was innocenthow are you
going to bring my baby back to me? How are you going to bring him back?
You're punishing his whole family. You've already killed his father. His
father and his uncles have fought in the military for freedom, but what
kind of freedom do they give my son?
"I feel so much anger. I can't begin to tell you the life I am living,
awaiting my son's death. It is true that if you have deep pockets, you can
buy justice. My son has never stopped writing and screaming that he is
innocent. They let me visit him for the 1st time in a year yesterday, and
while we were talking, they told us the board denied a stay, refused to
stop the killing. I haven't held my son for 10 years, and now they want to
kill him, and he is innocent."
As the crowd fought back tears, they clapped their support and began an
impromptu chant of "Save Reginald Blanton!" Terrell gained strength and
loudly proclaimed, "Rick Perry, you are sitting in your ivory tower, but
you are not going to get away with this. You are going to pay for your
wrongs. You are evil and you have no right. Anyone who was selected for
anything by George Bushyou know where Bush has gotten us. Those people all
sleep together, but we can kick them out. We are dealing with no-good,
low-down suckers, and we are going to get rid of them. This is a new era
and change is coming. We're not going to stand for this anymore. We're
going to bring this killing to an end."
Moving testimony of innocence
Families of many men claiming innocence also spoke. Sandra Reed has been
publicly fighting for her son Rodney Reed for over 10 years. Regina Guidry
told the crowd that her spouse Howard was innocent and still fighting for
his life. Supporters and family of Clint Young also spoke about his case.
Connie Wright spoke almost a year after her spouse, Greg, was put to death
despite overwhelming evidence of his innocence. She moved the crowd when
she said she was willing to keep on fighting against the death penalty
despite her loss. Former Congressperson Cynthia McKinney, who stood
outside the death house to protest Wright's execution last November, sent
a message of solidarity to Connie's family and to the march.
Delia Perez-Meyer spoke for her brother Louis Castro Perez, who has strong
innocence claims, and is affectionately called "Big Lou" by his friends on
the row. Perez-Meyers is on the Austin Human Rights Commission, which has
passed a resolution calling for a halt to executions in the city of
Austin. She then asked all death-row families to come to the front, and
dozens and dozens of protesters surged to the top steps of the Capitol
with signs and banners for their loved ones.
A number of families spoke for their loved ones who were convicted under
Texas' law of parties, which condemns people to death row even if they
allegedly were only accessories to a capital crime. Terri Been spoke for
her brother, Jeff Wood, who did not kill anyone and was not even in the
store where a person was murdered. Crystal Halprin spoke for her spouse,
Randy, as did Marisol Ramirez about her spouse, Juan. Sylvia Garza came
from the Rio Grande Valley to stand up for her son, Robert. She and
Robert's sister distributed fliers about his case. Lydia Garza, also from
the Valley, spoke about her son, Humberto.
A bus took activists from the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement in
Houston to Austin. From Jazzlyn Jefferson, 7, to Joanne Broussard, 74, the
activists left the SHAPE Community Center with signs on the bus and
coolers loaded with water and soda. Broussard's son, Windell, was executed
in 2002. Jefferson's mom and grandmother were also on the bus; all 3 have
been protesting the death penalty for years. An older Palestinian
activist, Hasan, made the trip, as did Ray Hill, host of Pacifica Radio's
The Prison Show broadcast in Houston. Several death row family members
were on the bus as well.
"We hope that we will not be back for the 11th Annual March, but we will
be here until the death penalty is totally shut down," said Laura Brady of
the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, who co-chaired the rally with Scott
Cobb of the Texas Moratorium Network.
Editor's note: Reginald Blanton was legally murdered by the state of Texas
on Oct. 27.
(source: Worker's World)