execution Gregg vs. Georgia Texas U.S. Supreme Court

TCADP July 2016 Alert: 40 years of the “modern” death penalty era

In this edition of our monthly newsletter, you’ll find observations on the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Gregg v. Georgia, as well as a recap of important death penalty developments in the last month. You’ll also find information about scheduled executions and a new report on America’s deadliest prosecutors.

In this edition:

Commentary on the anniversary of Gregg v. Georgia: 40 years of broken promises
Scheduled executions: Texas and Georgia schedule executions for July 14
New report: America’s Deadliest Prosecutors
In case you missed it: Appeals Court Judge questions constitutionality of Texas death penalty; National Hispanic Leadership Agenda endorses abolition; another jury rejects the death penalty; the cost of wrongful convictions
Featured event: Film screening in El Paso
Support 40 years of fighting for justice

Quote of the month 
“Despite the anger I am still coping with from my mother’s death, I don’t believe in the death penalty, even for the man who killed her. That’s my conviction because of my faith. I’ve said the same thing all along – I don’t believe as human beings that we should take away someone’s life just because we have the power to do so.”

– Rev. Sharon Risher, “My mom was killed in the Charleston shooting.  Executing Dylann Roof won’t bring her back,” June 15, 2016. Her mother, Ethel Lance, and cousins Susie Jackson and Tywanza Sanders, were killed at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on June 17, 2015. Rev. Risher served as a trauma chaplain at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Texas from 2012 to March 2016.

40th anniversary of Gregg v. Georgia
July 2 marks the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Gregg v. Georgia (1976), which upheld the newly crafted death penalty statutes of several states (including Texas) and paved the way for the resumption of executions. Just four years earlier, the Court ruled in Furman v. Georgia (1972) that the death penalty system, as administered at that time, was arbitrary, capricious, and discriminatory – as random as being struck by lightning. With the Gregg decision, however, the Justices reversed course and took the position that the death penalty did not offend “the evolving standards of decency which mark the progress of a maturing society.”

Three Justices who voted with the 7-2 majority in Gregg – Justices Blackmun, Powell, and Stevens – later changed their minds and no longer believed the death penalty was constitutional. In an interview with NPR in 2010, Justice John Paul Stevens said, “I really think that the death penalty today is vastly different from the death penalty that we thought we were authorizing.”

For in-depth analysis of the Gregg decision, read “It’s Been 40 Years Since the Supreme Court Tried to Fix the Death Penalty — Here’s How It Failed” by Professor Evan Mandery, which was published by The Marshall Project earlier this year.

Scheduled executions
The State of Texas is scheduled to carry out one execution this month:

  • On July 14, Perry Williams is scheduled to be put to death for the robbery and murder of medical student Matthew Carter in Houston in 2000. Williams was 19 at the time of the crime. He has pursued several different legal strategies to appeal his conviction, including challenging the use of compounded drugs for lethal injection and claiming deficient legal assistance at trial. Last year, a federal judge in Texas ordered the withdrawal of Williams’ September 29execution date due to his lack of legal representation at the time.

The State of Texas has put six people to death in 2016. There have been 14 executions nationwide. At this time, there are six additional executions scheduled to take place in Texas, including four in August.

Attend a vigil in your community on the day of executions. Information and updates on these cases are available on our website and through Facebook and Twitter.

New report: America’s Deadliest Prosecutors
A new report from Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project identifies America’s five deadliest head prosecutors out of the thousands that have held that office in the last 40 years. It specifically names Johnny Holmes, who served as the District Attorney of Harris County, Texas from 1979 to 2000; during his tenure, his office secured at least 200 death sentences. Since 2008, by contrast, Harris County juries have sent an average of one person to death row each year. Read more.

In case you missed it
Texas Appeals Court Judge cites significant problems with the death penalty
In an opinion issued last month in the case of Julius Murphy, Judge Elsa Alcala of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals questioned whether the death penalty is being applied fairly and should still be deemed constitutional.  Citing racial disparities, excessive delays, and the risk of error, Judge Alcala later told a reporter that she believes “the public is not aware of the problems” with the death penalty.  An editorial in the Austin American-Statesman took note of the Judge’s “frank and courageous” assessment of the Texas capital punishment system. Read more.

Bell County jury rejects the death penalty
Last month, a jury in Bell County deadlocked in its deliberations on whether to sentence David Risner to death for the 2014 murder of Little River-Academy Police Chief Lee Dixon. Risner, a former police officer, was convicted of capital murder on June 6, 2016.  He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole after a two-month long trial. Over the last 18 months, juries in Texas have rejected the death penalty as many times as they have imposed it.

National Hispanic Leadership joins growing list of groups calling for the end of the death penalty
In June, the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, a bi-partisan coalition of 40 prominent Latino organizations, endorsed abolition of the death penalty, citing racial disparities in its application.  The coalition now includes the issue in its Public Policy Agenda. Learn more.

Texas Tribune: “Wrongful Convictions Have Cost Texans More Than $93 Million”
Over the past 25 years, Texas taxpayers have spent nearly $100 million on compensation for individuals who were wrongfully convicted.  The 101 men and women who received compensation collectively spent 1,000 years behind bars for crimes they did not commit. Other individuals who have been released from prison are still waiting to be declared “actually innocent” in order to be eligible for compensation.  Read more from the Texas Tribune.

Featured event
The Restorative Justice Ministry in El Paso is sponsoring a showing of the One for Ten documentary featuring 10 innocent men and women released from America’s death rows.  The film screening will take place on Thursday, July 14, at 7 pm at Christ the Savior Church, 5301 Wadsworth Av, El Paso 79924.  Discussion follows.  All are invited, free admission.  For more information, call 915 740-3962.

Support 40 years of fighting for justice
The promise of fairness that allowed for the death penalty’s return in 1976 clearly has not been fulfilled. Although the landscape has changed dramatically since the Greggdecision, we still have work to do to put an end to this cruel and unusual punishment once and for all.

As a kick-off to our summer membership campaign, we ask for your gift of $40 in commemoration of this 40-year fight for justice.

Your donation will support our efforts to reduce use of the death penalty, particularly in the counties that impose it most often, and lift up important voices of experience on the issue. All contributions to TCADP are tax deductible.

Thank you for standing with us as we advance change at the epicenter of the death penalty! Have a safe and happy 4th of July.