In this edition:
Scheduled executions: Federal judge stays execution of Ruben Gutierrez
Case updates: Long-lost evidence discovered in courthouse basement; new death sentence in Harris County
Announcements: Seeking Lobby Corps members and award nominations
In case you missed it: Summer issue of our quarterly newsletter, Seizing the Momentum; Houston attorney calls for “open, reviewable pardon and commutation process”
Upcoming events: Film screenings, speakers, and candidate forums across the state
Quote of the month
“Now faith is aligned with human rights on the death penalty, and that is a powerful thing.”
– Sister Helen Prejean, in response to Pope Francis’ revision to the Catholic Catechism, which now declares the death penalty inadmissible in all cases
The State of Texas is scheduled to carry out back-to-back executions at the end of September; a third execution is currently on hold per a judge’s order:
- A federal district judge granted a stay of execution to Ruben Gutierrez on August 22. He was scheduled to be put to death on September 12 for the 1998 murder and robbery of Escolastica Harrison in Brownsville. Gutierrez received new lawyers at the beginning of August; they asked the judge for more time to review the case. The State has appealed the ruling, and there is a chance the stay could be lifted by a higher court. Check www.tcadp.org
for further developments.
- Troy Clark faces execution on Wednesday, September 26. He was sentenced to death for the 1998 murder of Christina Muse in Tyler. Smith County accounts for 12 executions since 1982.
- The following night, Thursday, September 27, the State of Texas is scheduled to execute Daniel Acker for killing his girlfriend, Marquetta George, in 2000. He was convicted in Hopkins County.
Nationwide, 7 states have carried out 16 executions in 2018. In August, Nebraska carried out its first execution in 21 years and Tennessee ended nearly a decade without executions. Five additional individuals in Texas have execution dates in the remaining months of 2018.
Discovery of lost evidence halts hearing in junk science case
Just hours after the start of an evidentiary hearing in the case of Robert Roberson on August 14, the proceedings were delayed indefinitely after long-lost evidence was found in the basement of the courthouse. Roberson was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in Anderson County in 2003 for allegedly causing the death of Nikki Curtis, his two-year-old daughter. He has consistently maintained his innocence.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) stayed Roberson’s scheduled June 21, 2016 execution, based on a new Texas law that allows for legal challenges related to changes in the science that was used to obtain a conviction. The CCA sent Roberson’s case back to the trial court to consider the merits of four distinct claims, including a “junk science” claim.
First new death sentence in Harris County in four years
A jury sentenced Ali Mahwood-Awad Irsan to death on August 14. He was found guilty of killing Coty Beavers, who was married to his daughter, Nesreen Irsan, and Gelareh Bagherzadeh, his daughter’s close friend and an Iranian activist in 2012. It was the first death sentence in Harris County since 2014 and the first during the administration of Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, though her office recused itself from the case due to a conflict of interest. The special prosecutors appointed to try the case sought the death penalty. Harris County juries have imposed nearly 300 death sentences since 1974.
Join the TCADP Lobby Corps
TCADP is recruiting our fifth class of Lobby Corps members. This dedicated group of volunteers works with our staff and board members to advance TCADP’s legislative agenda. Lobby Corps members have played an active role in the last three sessions of the Texas Legislature, meeting regularly with legislative offices and educating elected officials about the death penalty. Submit your application by October 15.
Nominate an individual or organization for one of our 2019 Annual Awards
TCADP is now accepting nominations for our annual Courage, Appreciation, and Media Awards. With these awards, we recognize outstanding individuals and organizations that have made significant and selfless contributions towards ending the death penalty in Texas. You’ll find previous award winners here.
In case you missed it
Summer issue of Seizing the Momentum
In the summer issue of our quarterly newsletter, you’ll find a review of the documentary film, “Lindy Lou, Juror Number 2,” as well as a recap of recent activities in North Texas. We also reflect on our campaign to stop the execution of Chris Young and offer reactions from TCADP members statewide on Pope Francis’ recent change to the Catholic Catechism regarding the death penalty.
Defense attorneys calls for reforms to clemency process
In a powerful opinion editorial published last month by the Houston Chronicle, defense attorney Pat McCann writes that “the truth is that the process of clemency in Texas is so random and isolated that it effectively does not exist.” He compares the secrecy that shrouds the decisions of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles with the process in Ohio, where Governor John Kasich commuted a death sentence earlier this summer.
From Lubbock to San Antonio and Fort Worth to Tyler, exciting events are taking place throughout the state over the next six weeks.
The ACLU of Texas will host a screening and book signing with Anthony Graves on Tuesday, September 4, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Huston Tillotson University (900 Chicon St, Austin, TX 78702). Anthony spent more than 18 years in prison – including 12 years on death row in Texas – as an innocent man. CNN dedicated an episode of its series, “Death Row Stories,” to his case. RSVP on Facebook or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Join TCADP Executive Director Kristin Houle and Jason Baldwin, one of the “West Memphis 3” and a co-founder of Proclaim Justice, for a panel discussion before the staging of a new play by CB Goodman, *some humans were harmed in the making of this show. The play was inspired by the 1903 public execution of Topsy the elephant and is told with contemporary human characters. It will run September 20-22, 27-29, and October 4-6 at 8 PM at the Ground Floor Theatre in east Austin (979 Springdale Rd #122). Tickets are $20. The panel will take place at 7 PM on Monday, October 1 as part of a “pay what you can” event, with proceeds benefiting TCADP. Purchase tickets online.
Join TCADP and the First Tuesday Social Justice Film Festival for a free screening of “Lindy Lou, Juror Number 2” on Tuesday, September 4 at 7 PM at Unitarian Universalist Church of Oak Cliff (3839 W. Kiest Blvd., Dallas, 75233). This powerful documentary from filmmaker Florent Vassault features Lindy Lou, who served on a capital jury in Mississippi 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.
After the screening, there will be a discussion with Brad Lollar, Deputy Chief of the Capital Trial Division, Dallas County Public Defender’s Office. This event is a collaboration with POV, PBS’ award-winning nonfiction film series: http://www.pbs.org/
Attend a public forum featuring the two candidates for Dallas County District Attorney, John Creuzot and Faith Johnson, on Friday, September 7. Gromer Jeffers, of the Dallas Morning News, will moderate. Sponsored by the Public Forum/Media Relations Committee of the Dallas Bar Association, the forum will begin at noon at the Pavilion at the Belo Mansion, 2101 Ross Avenue in downtown Dallas (garage parking available; enter from Olive Street). The event is free. An optional $14.95 lunch buffet will begin at 11:30 a.m. RSVP to email@example.com.
On Sunday, September 9, First Unitarian Church of Dallas (4015 Normandy Avenue, Dallas 75205) will host TCADP North Texas Outreach Coordinator, Jim Webner, for an update on recent death penalty developments in Dallas County. The Issues Forum begins at 11:00 AM. All are welcome.
The Republican candidate for Tarrant County District Attorney, incumbent Sharen Wilson, will participate in a candidate forum on Thursday, September 13 at 6:00 PM at First Congregational UCC (4201 Trail Lake Drive, Fort Worth, 76109). The Democratic candidate, Albert Roberts, participated in a similar forum hosted by TCADP in May.
Sister Helen Prejean, renowned social justice advocate and author of Dead Man Walking and Death of Innocents, will speak at the Catholic Foundation of the Diocese of Lubbock on Tuesday, October 2 at 6:30 PM.
University of Incarnate Word will sponsor a public lecture by death row exoneree Anthony Graves on Wednesday, September 12 at 7:00 pm in the Concert Hall on campus (4301 Broadway). Anthony will appear on TPR’s “The Source” at noon that day with David Martin Davies. View the event flyer.
Sister Helen Prejean will address the Diocese of Tyler/Sanctity of Life Ministry at 5 PM on Monday, October 8.
More details on these and other events can be found on our website.