Attorneys for Chris Young seek stay of execution, new trial free from religious discrimination

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Contact Kristin Houlé
khoule@tcadp.org 

512-552-5948

Attorneys for Christopher Young seek stay of execution, new trial free from religious discrimination
Constitutional advocates and faith leaders agree that striking a juror based solely on religious affiliation should be impermissible

(Austin, Texas) – Attorneys for Christopher Anthony Young have filed a subsequent habeas petition with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) seeking a new trial on the grounds that religious discrimination tainted his original conviction.  The State of Texas seeks to execute Young on July 17, 2018.

Mr. Young is challenging his conviction and seeking a new trial based on a constitutional violation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.  During the jury selection process in his 2006 capital murder trial in San Antonio, Texas, an African-American member of the jury panel was struck from service based solely on her association with her Baptist church’s Outreach Ministries Program.  Some members of the church group ministered to prisoners, an activity the State argued might indicate a potential juror favored the defendant, but the juror made clear she did not participate in ministering to prisoners. Her personal religious beliefs were not questioned.

According to the habeas petition, “Allowing Young’s execution to proceed on July 17, 2018 would be to effectively hold that any Texas citizen can be denied the right to serve on a jury if that person has chosen to exercise her First Amendment right to affiliate herself with a church where at least one member of the church ministers to prisoners. Allowing Young’s execution to proceed on July 17, 2018 would be to effectively hold that Texans who exercise their First Amendment freedoms are not welcome in their state’s courts.”

Mr. Young’s application for relief is supported by an amicus brief from Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a non-profit, public interest legal organization that provides strategic planning, training, funding, and direct litigation services to protect First Amendment freedoms.

According to its brief, “ADF represents individuals and groups when the government discriminates against them based on their religious identity. It is deeply concerned by Texas precedent that fails to treat religious distinctions as inherently suspect under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.”

Two dozen faith leaders representing a diverse array of religious traditions filed a separate amicus brief in support of authorizing Mr. Young’s subsequent habeas application, staying his execution, and holding that strikes made purely on the basis of religious affiliation – not personal beliefs – are impermissible.  Their brief notes that removing the juror based on her religious affiliation “deprived her of the privilege and right to serve on a jury,” one of the most significant opportunities for a citizen to participate in the democratic process.

The faith leader amici curiae include Pastor Jesse Rincones, Executive Director of the Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas; Bishop Michael McKee of the North Texas Conference, United Methodist Church; Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, Archbishop Emeritus of Galveston-Houston; and Noel Castellanos, President of the Christian Community Development Association.

“In 2009, in Mr. Young’s previous appeal, the CCA issued a ruling saying it is acceptable to exclude someone from serving as a juror in a death penalty trial merely because of the church that person belongs to,” said David R. Dow, who represents Mr. Young. “However, in a subsequent case, the CCA made it clear that it is only on the basis of a juror’s actual religious belief, and not her mere church affiliation, that she can be excluded. Today we therefore urge the court to clarify its previous rulings and reaffirm that our Constitution and our state’s commitment to religious liberty mean that an individual’s mere affiliation with a church does not automatically disqualify that person from performing her civic duty as a juror.”

In February 2017, as his petition for a writ of certiorari was pending with the U.S. Supreme Court, more than 500 religious and spiritual leaders from 44 states representing more than 20 different faith traditions endorsed a joint statement calling for a new trial for Chris Young.

Richard A. Viguerie, the chairman of ConservativeHQ.com, also supported Young’s request for a new trial. In a piece published on February 27, 2017 on CNSNews.com, Viguerie urged “conservatives to stand united against allowing prosecutors to discriminate against potential jurors on the basis of religious affiliation.”

Mr. Young also has filed an application for clemency with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, asking for a recommendation that his sentence be commuted or a 120-day reprieve be issued.  Nearly 20,000 people have signed a petition sponsored by change.org calling on the Board and Governor to show mercy to Mr. Young.

Link to the subsequent habeas application: http://bit.ly/2KDMrWo

Link to amicus brief from Alliance Defending Freedom: http://bit.ly/2z3i3QQ

Link to faith leader amicus brief: http://bit.ly/2Kurle1

Link to clemency application: http://bit.ly/2KoLE8v

Attorney Jeff Newberry is available to answer questions about Mr. Young’s case. Contact Mr. Newberry at 713-743-6843 or jrnewber@central.uh.edu.

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