TCADP July 2018 Alert: Taking responsibility

In this edition

Scheduled execution: The State of Texas seeks to put Chris Young to death despite evidence of his rehabilitation and opposition to the execution by the victim’s son
Case updates: Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refuses to acknowledge Bobby Moore’s intellectual disabilities; federal court allows appeals in case of Andre Thomas to move forward
New resources: How imposing the death penalty impacts jurors; “True Conviction” now available in iTunes and Amazon
In case you missed it: Support for the death penalty in Texas drops 10 points; Texas major party platforms take opposite positions on the death penalty; addressing the consequences of prosecutorial misconduct and judicial “rubber stamping”; gubernatorial veto in New Hampshire
TCADP staff changes: Thank you, Vanessa!
Invest in justice: It’s been 42 years since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the death penalty


Quote of the month
We’re quick to throw things away. I’m truly sorry for the crime I committed. There’s nothing I can do to bring back Mr. Hash Patel. If I knew taking my life would do that, I’d volunteer for it without any complaints.

But that’s not going to do it. I can teach others to think about their actions. I’m sure I can stop something like this from happening again.”

– Chris Young, “Death Row Saved My Life”


Scheduled execution
The State of Texas seeks to execute Christopher Young on July 17, 2018. Young was sentenced to death in San Antonio in 2006 for killing 55-year-old Hasmukhbhai Patel during a robbery of Mr. Patel’s business in 2004.  Mr. Patel’s son, Mitesh, does not want Young to be killed.

Crishelle Young’s plea to spare her father from execution.

petition for Chris Young and share it with your networks (the petition is rapidly approaching 20,000 signatures!).  We also encourage you to contact the Board of Pardons and Paroles directly to urge them to recommend clemency: email BPP_Clemency@tdcj.texas.gov or call (512) 406-5852. Visit our website for more information and guidance for contacting the board.

The State of Texas has put seven individuals to death this year, accounting for more than half of the executions nationwide. This matches the total number of executions the state carried out in 2017. There are currently seven additional executions scheduled to take place in Texas through December.

Juries in Texas have sentenced three individuals to death in 2017. 

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


Case updates
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refuses to exempt Bobby Moore from the death penalty
Despite the consensus of prominent Texans across the political spectrum, religious institutions and faith leaders, intellectual disability organizations, medical organizations, and leaders of the legal profession that he should be exempt from the death penalty based on evidence of his intellectual disabilities, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled against Bobby Moore on June 6, 2018. Five judges determined that Moore “failed to show adaptive deficits sufficient to support a diagnosis of intellectual disability.”

<bigFederal court allows case of severely mentally ill man to move forward
On June 5, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit considered the case of Andre Thomas, a profoundly mentally ill man who killed his ex-wife and two young children in 2004 and, on two separate occasions, gouged out his own eyes. Two days after hearing arguments on a range of issues, the three-judge panel ruled to allow Thomas’ attorneys to move forward with appeals that his trial lawyers were ineffective and his jury was racially biased.


New resources
How does sentencing someone to death impact jurors?
Another extraordinary documentary film will air on PBS this month: “Lindy Lou, Juror Number 2″ features a woman who served on a capital jury in Mississippi some 20 years ago.  The jury’s decision to sentence the defendant to death had a profound impact on her. In the film, she attempts to track down other jurors to discuss their experience in the aftermath of the trial.

words of the filmmaker, this documentary “is not about the murderer or the murders themselves, nor is it about the victims or the investigators. It is about us, about our moral responsibility when the state gives the people the power to decide about someone’s life.”

Lindy Lou will air on PBS stations nationwide on Monday, July 16.  Check your local listings for details (look for “POV” in the PBS schedule).

The impact of determining life or death also was conveyed recently by a woman who served on a capital jury in Pennsylvania.  In an opinion piece published in the York Daily Record, Elizabeth Enfield writes:

In 10 days, I went from an hour of ‘CSI’ to real life. I went from restful dreams to restless nights. I went from ignorance to overwhelming reality. This is real life. These are real people. And this is the real me.  A faith-filled and caring person who was chosen to decide a man’s fate. A fate that when decided was death.

Have you or someone you know served on a capital jury in Texas?  If so, we would like to talk with you about your experience.  Please email Kristin at khoule@tcadp.org or call 512-441-1808.

Another chance to watch “True Conviction”
Did you miss “True Conviction” on PBS last month?  Never fear, this wonderful documentary film is now available on iTunes and Amazon (free for Prime members!).

Filmed in Dallas, “True Conviction” explores the investigative efforts of exonerees Christopher Scott, Johnnie Lindsey, and Steven Phillips, who collectively spent more than sixty years in prison for crimes they did not commit. After their exonerations, the three friends formed House of Renewed Hope to help other wrongfully convicted prisoners and advocate for criminal justice reforms.


In case you missed it
Support for death penalty drops in Texas
According to a new poll from the University of Texas/Texas Tribune, 65% of registered voters in Texas support capital punishment, which is a down from 75% two years earlier and aligns with national opinion. 54% of Americans support the death penalty, according to the results of a Pew Research poll released on June 11, 2018.

Texas party platforms at opposite ends of the spectrum on the death penalty
Texas’ major political parties recently held their state conventions, during which delegates adopted their respective platforms.

The Republican Party of Texas 2018 platform includes this language: “Capital Punishment: Properly applied capital punishment is legitimate, is an effective deterrent, and should be reasonably swift and unencumbered.”

The Democratic Party of Texas 2018 platform supports and urges “the passage of legislation that would abolish the death penalty and replace it with the punishment of life in prison without parole,” as well as “the election of district attorneys who prioritize justice over convictions and duly exercise their discretion with regard to charging and sentencing options,” among other provisions.

How should we redress prosecutorial misconduct?
According to the National Registry of Exonerations, police or prosecutorial misconduct has played a role in roughly half of the nearly 2,200 exonerations across the country since 1989. In “What Happens When Prosecutors Break the Law?”, Nina Morrison, a senior staff attorney with the Innocence Project, opines that the “justice system all too often falls silent when the culprit is a prosecutor, and the victim is an ordinary citizen accused of a crime.”

Jordan Smith with The Intercept picks up this theme in “If a prosecutor breaks the law in secret, does the crime exist?  Not according to Texas prosecutors.”  Smith asks important questions about how prosecutorial misconduct comes to light, especially in cases settled through plea bargaining, which is how 95 percent of criminal cases are resolved.

Judges in Harris County routinely “rubber stamp” prosecutor documents
“The Problem of ‘Rubber-Stamping’ in State Capital Habeas Proceedings: A Harris County Case Study,” an essay published in the current volume of the Houston Law Review, offers a disturbing look into how judges in Harris County handle post-conviction reviews of death penalty cases. In 96 percent of the cases included in the review, the judge sided with the state on every single case.

Even more appalling, in 167 of the 191 cases, “the judges simply signed the state’s proposed document without changing the heading.” As Radley Balko puts it in his analysis of the study, this means that “the judges essentially let the prosecutors write their opinion for them.”

New Hampshire Governor vetoes abolition bill
On June 21, 2018, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu vetoed legislation to repeal the death penalty.  The bill passed by a vote of 14-10 in the Senate and 223-116 in the House.  Two-thirds majorities in both chambers are needed to override the veto.


TCADP staff changes
TCADP would like to thank Vanessa Akins for serving as our Communications Coordinator for the last three and a half years.  During her time with TCADP, Vanessa significantly increased our presence on social media through her creative and timely posts.  She also maintained the organization’s resources and website, developed the monthly alert, monitored capital murder charges and trials across Texas, and chaired our annual conference planning committee. Her last day with the organization was June 11, 2018.  We wish Vanessa the very best as she pursues new opportunities.


42 years of the “modern” death penalty
Justice Anthony Kennedy’s announcement that he is retiring from the U.S. Supreme Court came less than a week before the anniversary of the Court’s decision in Gregg v. Georgia (July 2, 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.”

The death penalty remains as arbitrary and offensive today as it was in 1972.  While there are many unknowns surrounding Justice Kennedy’s departure from the Court, we are resolute that our work to stop executions, prevent new death sentences, and tell the stories of individuals who have been impacted by violence and the death penalty must continue.