In this edition:
Scheduled executions: State of Texas set to carry out last execution of the year
Case updates: Texas juries impose three new death sentences in October; Court of Criminal Appeals grants stay to Julius Murphy
In case you missed it: National Association of Evangelicals changes course on the death penalty
TCADP 2016 Annual Conference: Register now to receive our advanced rate
Featured events: “In Remembrance” in Huntsville; member “meet and greet” in Carrollton; lighting the star in El Paso
Quote of the month
“We’re executing innocent people and calling it justice.”
– Anthony Graves to an audience in East Austin, October 29, 2015. Anthony spent 6,640 days in Texas prisons as an innocent man.
The State of Texas is scheduled to put Raphael Holiday to death on November 18, 2015. He was convicted of the arson murders of three young children in 2000 in Madison County.
The State of Texas accounts for 12 of the 25 executions nationwide this year. Four executions are scheduled for the early months of 2016.
Lethal injection developments
According to several online news services, officials with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice attempted to illegally import sodium thiopental from India this summer; prior to 2012, sodium thiopental was the first drug used in lethal injections in Texas. Officials with the Food and Drug Administration reportedly seized the shipment at the airport. Mike Ward of the Houston Chronicle writes, “The move — confirmed by Texas prison officials — marks the latest development in a growing shortage of execution drugs in the United States that has left states scrambling to find new suppliers.” Read more from BuzzFeed and the Associated Press.
Texas juries impose first death sentences of the year
After more than nine months without a death sentence in Texas, juries in three separate cases imposed the ultimate punishment in October:
- On October 7, after more than seven hours of deliberation, jurors in Brazos County sentenced Gabriel Hall to death for the murder of Edwin Sharr and attack on Linda Sharr in 2011. Hall was 18 years old at the time of the crime. County officials have estimated the cost of the trial to be as high as $2 million, with County Auditor Katie Conner calling it the most expensive trial in her tenure.
- In what one journalist questioned as perhaps the “strangest death penalty trial ever,” a jury in Smith County sentenced James Calvert to death on October 14 for murdering his ex-wife Jelena Sriraman and kidnapping their four-year-old son in 2012. Calvert was allowed to represent himself for much of the trial, during which he was prone to frequent outbursts, nonsensical questioning of witnesses, and other disruptive behavior. At one point, after his right to self-representation had been revoked, the sheriff’s department activated Calvert’s shock belt after he refused to comply with the judge’s order to stand.
- On October 20, after more than a day of deliberation, a jury in Bexar Countysentenced Mark Anthony Gonzalez to death for the 2011 murder of Bexar County Sheriff’s Sgt. Kenneth Vann. It was the first death sentence imposed in Bexar County in six years.
There currently is one trial pending in Harris County. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Johnathan Sanchez for the murders of three people in Houston in 2013. According to the Houston Chronicle, it’s the first death penalty case to reach a Harris County courtroom this year.
Court grant stay to Julius Murphy
On October 12, 2015, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted a stay of execution to Julius Murphy, pending further order from the court. Murphy was scheduled to be executed on November 3 for the 1997 robbery and shooting of Jason Erie. Attorneys argued that new evidence of prosecutorial misconduct called into question the reliability of his conviction and death sentence.
Murphy, who is African American, was 18 years old at the time of the crime. He was sentenced to death by an all-white jury. His co-defendant is serving a sentence of life in prison. Read more about this case, including a statement from attorneys.
In case you missed it
“One small step for evangelicals, one giant leap for abolition of the death penalty”
Last month, the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents 45,000 American churches, changed the position it adopted in 1973 – which was solidly in support of the death penalty – to a position that recognizes diverse viewpoints on the issue and calls for criminal justice reform. The new resolution specifically calls for the elimination of “racial and socio-economic inequities in law enforcement, prosecution and sentencing of defendants.” In a piece for the Washington Post, Shane Claiborne calls the change in course “one giant leap for abolition.”
Learn more from the Houston Chronicle and The Atlantic.
Death penalty in decline 10 years after adoption of Life in Prison Without the Possibility of Parole
In a piece published last month by The Monitor, State Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. reflects on the last 10 years during which Life in Prison Without the Possibility of Parole has been a sentencing option in Texas. He writes, “Since the option of life without parole has given juries more flexibility in recommending sentences for Texas’ criminals, we have seen significant shifts in the application of capital punishment.” Earlier this year, Senator Lucio, who represents Senate District 27, filed a bill calling for repeal of the death penalty in Texas. Read more.
TCADP 2016 Annual Conference: At the Epicenter of the Death Penalty
Online registration for the TCADP 2016 Annual Conference is now open. The conference will take place on Saturday, February 20, 2016 in Houston. Take advantage of reduced rates until December 31. More details on the conference program – and an announcement about our 2016 Award recipients – coming soon!
Austin: Former TCADP Board Member, Les Breeding, will participate in a discussion about the death penalty with Common Ground for Texans on Saturday, November 7th from 2:00 to 4:00 PM. This meeting will take place at the Yarborough Branch Library (2200 Hancock). Common Ground for Texans is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization primarily concerned with reducing the influence of money in politics, increasing access to voter participation, and engaging in civil discourse around contentious issues.
Carrollton: TCADP’s North Texas Organizer, Jason Redick, will host a “Meet and Greet” gathering for local members on Wednesday, November 18th, at 7 pm at Holy Covenant United Methodist Church (1901 E. Peters Colony Rd.). An execution vigil will take place earlier that evening at the church. All are welcome. Contact Jason at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
El Paso: El Pasoans Against the Death Penalty, a chapter of TCADP, will light the star on Franklin Mountain on Sunday, November 29th in solidarity with “Cities for Life, Cities Against the Death Penalty”, a worldwide action to celebrate life and call for abolition of the death penalty. For more information, please contact Pat Delgado at email@example.com.
Huntsville: The third annual “In Remembrance” event will take place Saturday, November 7th at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Captain Joe Byrd Cemetery from 8:30 to 11:30 AM. Hosted by the Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy, “In Remembrance” is an opportunity for people of faith to remember those who have lost their lives in Texas prisons. Following an Interfaith Prayer Service at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church, participants will have a chance to lay flowers on the 3,500 graves at the cemetery. For more information, please visit http://www.
Find details on other upcoming events here.
Thank you for standing with us as we shift the ground under the death penalty!