death penalty news—-TEXAS

Nov. 11


Death row in Texas not as cushy as California

A California defendant recently made headlines by asking for a death
sentence because conditions on death row are better than in the rest of
that state's prisons and because the chances of actually being executed in
California are slim.

According to this story from the LA Times, California's condemned have
larger cells, more telephone access, contact visits and "exclusive control
over the television, CD player or other diversions in their cells." Though
they eat breakfast and dinner in their cells, they can have lunch with
fellow inmates in the rec yard.

Not so on Texas' death row.

According to Jason Clark, spokesman for the Texas prison system, death row
inmates occupy the same size cell as most other inmates; have no access to
telephones other than speaking to their lawyers; are not allowed contact
visits; and do not have televisions in their cells. Female death row
inmates do have access to television in a day room. Both men and women may
purchase radios to use in their cells.

Male death row inmates are locked down 23 hours a day, being allowed only
solitary recreation.

And though many death row inmates do leave death row by natural causes,
commutations or re-sentencing, execution is a real possibility: the Lone
Star state leads the country in executions with 443 since capital
punishment was re-instated. California has executed 13 .

(source: Dallas Morning News)


Texas execution probe won't be 'hijacked,' chairman says

The head of a Texas agency investigating whether a faulty arson probe led
to a man's 2004 execution said Tuesday he's not a "political pawn," but
would not say when the controversial investigation will move forward.

John Bradley was named chairman of the Texas Forensic Science Commission
days before the agency was to hear from an expert who criticized the case
against Cameron Todd Willingham, who was put to death in 2004 for setting
a fire that killed his 3 daughters.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry allowed Willingham's execution to go forward, and
his replacement of the previous chairman and three other members of the
forensic panel has led to accusations that he is trying to short-circuit
the probe as he faces re-election in 2010.

Bradley told a state Senate committee that neither Perry nor any of his
aides gave him any instructions about how to do his job, and said he would
have considered that "inappropriate" if it had happened.

"I don't see myself as being someone else's political pawn, and I don't
think you've seen that I ever behaved that way," Bradley told a state
Senate committee Tuesday.

The Forensic Science Commission launched an investigation of the
Willingham case in 2008 after 2 reports by outside experts concluded that
arson investigators mistakenly concluded Willingham had set the fatal fire
in 1991. The expert hired by the commission, Craig Beyler, concluded in
August that the arson finding "could not be sustained" either by current
standards or those in place at the time.

Perry has said he remains confident of Willingham's guilt, calling him a
"monster." And authorities in Corsicana, who brought the case against
Willingham, say other evidence beyond the forensic testimony in his 1992
trial support the prosecution.

Bradley — a district attorney known as a hard-liner in capital cases —
said the commission may have overstepped its authority and needs new rules
before the probe can continue. And he warned that the commission should be
not be "hijacked" by people using it "as a forum for their personal

The 9-member panel "is not charged with debating the death penalty, not
charged with deciding whether people are guilty. And the work of the
Commission on Forensic Science will take as long as it deliberately
takes," he said.

Bradley said the Willingham investigation "absolutely" will continue. But
he would not say when it will hear from Beyler.

"If I had a set of rules I could tell you what the timetable for
commission would be," he said.

Willingham maintained his innocence in the final statement he gave before
his execution in February 2004.

His cousin, Patricia Cox, said the family was "disappointed" by Bradley's
testimony and fears his call for new rules will cause a delay that could
undermine the commission's investigation.

"This was an investigation that had gotten to its mid-level," Cox said in
a phone interview from her home in Ardmore, Oklahoma. "It had already
certainly advanced far too far, I think, to interrupt it."

One of the commission's former members told CNN in October that the
Forensic Science Commission had reached a "crucial point" in the
Willingham investigation when Perry replaced the 4 commissioners, whose
terms had expired. Cox said the shakeup has "sabotaged the commission and
its effectiveness."

(source: CNN)