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TCADP May 2017 Alert: Catch up on the latest death penalty news

In this edition of our monthly newsletter, you’ll find information about the two executions scheduled to occur in Texas in May, updates from the 85th Texas Legislature, and links to important information on the U.S. Supreme Court’s hearing of Davila v. Davis.

In this edition:
Scheduled executions: Two executions scheduled for May in Texas; FDA blocks Texas from using lethal injection drugs imported from India
In case you missed it: New report from bipartisan commission in Oklahoma supports moratorium on death penalty; Arkansas executes 4 people in 8 days; Rodricus Crawford exonerated in Louisiana; U.S. Supreme Court hears Davila v. Davis
Legislative update: 85th Texas Legislature enters final month of session
Featured event: San Antonio Chapter meeting

Quote of the month
“The death penalty is arbitrary. It is unfair. And it should have no place in the American justice system.”
Dallas Morning News Editorial, “The death penalty isn’t fair, and Arkansas’ rush to execute 8 men is latest example,” April 26, 2017

Scheduled Executions
The State of Texas is scheduled to execute two individuals this month:

  • On May 16Tilon Carter is scheduled to be executed for the robbery and murder of 89-year-old James Eldon Tomlin in April 2004 in Fort Worth. Following Carter’s sentencing in 2006, his appeals focused on the deficiency of his trial lawyers, as well as faulty jury instructions.The U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider his appeals last year.Carter was originally scheduled to be executed on February 7, 2017, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted him a stay after the trial court missed the deadline to notify the Office of Capital and Forensic Writs of the execution date. If it proceeds, Carter’s execution would be the third out of Tarrant County this year. Tarrant County accounts for 40 executions since 1982.
  • On May 24, Juan Castillo is scheduled to be put to death for the robbery and murder of 19-year-old Tommy Garcia, Jr. in December 2003 in San Antonio. During the punishment phase of his trial, Castillo fired his attorneys and represented himself; he made no final argument to the jury. In 2007, Castillo tried to appeal his sentence based on insufficient evidence, faulty testimony, and the unconstitutionality of the death penalty. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected his claims. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected similar appeals in October 2016. If it proceeds, Castillo’s execution would be the second out of Bexar County this year; there is one other individual convicted in Bexar County scheduled to be put to death. Bexar County accounts for 43 executions since 1982.

Texas accounts for four out of the ten executions nationwide thus far in 2017. At this time, there are three additional executions scheduled in Texas through July.

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

FDA blocks Texas from using lethal injection drugs imported from India
Since July 2015, the FDA has held a supply of lethal injection drugs the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) purchased from India. On April 20, 2017, the FDA ordered that the 1,000 vials of sodium thiopental must be exported or destroyed in 90 days. In its suit against the federal government, filed on April 26, TDCJ claims the FDA’s action “directly harms TDCJ.” Texas has not used sodium thiopental in an execution since 2012.

Dallas County’s first death penalty trial since 2013 ends in last-minute plea
On April 21, 2017, Justin Pharez Smith was convicted of capital murder for the 2014 deaths of three people. While the jury was determining his punishment, the prosecution and defense agreed on a plea deal sentencing Smith to life in prison without parole. According to the Dallas Morning News, “Smith pleaded guilty to two pending counts of aggravated assault and one pending count of murder…[h]e also waived all his rights to appeal those three charges or his capital murder conviction.” To date in 2017, only one individual has been sentenced to death in Texas. John Ray Falk, Jr. was sentenced to death by an Angelina County jury on March 1.

In case you missed it
New report from bipartisan commission in Oklahoma supports moratorium on death penalty
On April 24, the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission released a 294-page report supporting a continued moratorium on executions until the state addresses systemic problems in the administration of capital punishment. The 11-member bipartisan group provides more than 40 recommendations to help “ensure a fair and impartial process.” Throughout the report, the commission cites problems with forensics, innocence protection, the execution process, and the roles of prosecutors, defense counsel, the jury, and the judiciary.

Rodricus Crawford becomes nation’s 158th exoneree
On April 17, prosecutors from Caddo Parish in Louisiana dropped charges against Rodricus Crawford, making him the 158th person exonerated from death row in the United States. Crawford was sentenced to death in 2012 for allegedly murdering his infant son, despite evidence that the child died as a result of pervasive bronchopneumonia. The Louisiana Supreme Court ordered a new trial for Crawford in November 2016, citing then-District Attorney Dale Cox’s racial bias during the jury selection process.

U.S. Supreme Court considers Davila v. Davis
On April 24, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Davila v. Davis. Erick Davila was sentenced to death for the murders of Annette Stevenson and her granddaughter, Queshawn, in Fort Worth. His trial attorney objected to improper jury instructions, but the attorney who represented Davila in his direct appeal did not raise this issue; his state habeas lawyer then failed to file a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel on those grounds. The Court is considering the right to effective appellate counsel.

According to the Texas Tribune, “the court appeared to split along ideological lines.” Justice Samuel Alito expressed concern about the potential burden this case might create on the courts. ACLU Attorney Brian Stull answered that question in his recent article, “Davila Won’t Open the Flood Gates.”

Executions in Arkansas
The State of Arkansas went 12 years without one execution, until last month. In an attempt to use its lethal injection drugs before expiration, the state planned to execute 8 individuals in 11 days. Four of the individuals received stays for various reasons. Of the four individuals executed, two were put to death on the same day. Serious questions surround the execution of Kenneth Williams on April 27, which one media witness described as “disturbing.”

Legislative update
Thanks to everyone who has contacted their state legislators in support of HB 1537 and SB 597, bills to repeal the death penalty in Texas.  As the 85th Texas Legislature heads into the final weeks of the session, HB 1537 remains pending in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. SB 597 has not received a hearing in the Senate.  We are grateful to the sponsors of these bills and look forward to working with them as we continue to educate lawmakers about the realities of the Texas death penalty.

Featured Event
May 10: TCADP’s San Antonio Chapter will host its monthly meeting from 6:30PM to 7:30PM at Travis Park United Methodist Church (230 E Travis St, San Antonio, TX 78205).  All are welcome.

Contact Chris Hockman at for details.