December 2018 Alert: Honoring courage and commitment

In this edition:

Scheduled executions: The State of Texas is scheduled to put two people to death this month

TCADP 2019 Annual Conference: Announcing our 2019 honorees and panelists

In case you missed it:  Death row exoneration in Florida; state court overturns conviction of Albert Turner; prominent leaders call on U.S. Supreme Court to act in case of Bobby Moore – again; remembering civil rights activist, Ray Hill

Legislative developments: State Representative Jessica Farrar files death penalty repeal bill

New resources: Animated short film “The Last 40 Miles” now available online

Invest in justice: Support TCADP in your year-end giving


Quote of the month

“…for the first time in at least a generation, many voters were actually being offered a choice between competing visions for the criminal justice system. The impact showed, in the number of people that turned out to learn about candidates’ positions, the ballots cast for elected prosecutor, and the community activists now energized to hold these newly elected officials accountable.”

Taylor Pendergrass, Strategic Advisor, ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice, “The 2018 Midterm Elections Demonstrate Criminal Justice Reform Is a Winner at the Ballot Box”, November 14, 2018


Scheduled executions

Two individuals convicted in Dallas County are scheduled to be put to death this month:

  • The State of Texas is scheduled to execute Joseph Garcia on December 4, 2018. In December 2000, Garcia and six other inmates escaped from a maximum-security prison south of San Antonio, where he was serving time on a murder charge that Garcia has long maintained was self-defense. While robbing a sporting goods store in Irving following their escape, the “Texas 7” became involved in a shootout that left Officer Aubrey Hawkins dead.

    Garcia was convicted under Texas’ law of parties, despite the fact that no evidence directly tied him to the shooting. He was sentenced to death in Dallas in 2003. The controversial law of parties is a Texas statute that holds everyone involved in a crime equally responsible for its outcome.According to Garcia’s current attorney, “There are significant legal issues before the courts that have not been presented until now because of procedural technicalities and bad lawyering. It is important for a court to step in now and give Joseph’s case the consideration it deserves.”Should his execution proceed, he will be the fourth of the “Texas 7” to be executed.

  • The State of Texas is scheduled to execute Alvin Braziel, Jr. on December 11, 2018. Braziel was convicted of the 1993 killings of a newlywed couple, Doug and Lora White, in Mesquite. He was not linked to the crime until 2001, when a DNA match led police to him as the primary suspect. His appellate attorneys raised claims of inadequate representation during his trial, after his original lawyers failed to present evidence of his abusive upbringing, family history of mental illness, and a childhood head injury as possible mitigating factors in his sentencing. The courts rejected his appeal in September.

If either Garcia or Braziel is executed, he will represent the 100th person convicted in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex to be put to death by the State of Texas since 1982. Dallas accounts for 58 executions, while Tarrant County accounts for 41.

The State of Texas has executed 11 people to date in 2018, accounting for more than half of the 21 executions nationwide. There are four executions scheduled in 2019 at this time.

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.


TCADP 2019 Annual Conference: Uniting for Justice

Announcing our 2019 honorees
The TCADP Board of Directors is delighted to announce the recipients of our 2019 Awards, which will be presented during the TCADP 2019 Annual Conference on Saturday, February 16, 2019 at St. David’s Episcopal Church in downtown Austin.

Most of these awards relate to two cases that profoundly touched our hearts this year: Thomas “Bart” Whitaker and Christopher Young.  Read detailed descriptions of each award recipient.

Appreciation Awards
TCADP’s Appreciation Awards are bestowed upon individuals and organizations who have made significant contributions to our efforts to end the death penalty in Texas.  We are pleased to present our 2019 Appreciation Awards to the following individuals:

  •  State Representative Donna Howard, for co-authoring legislation to repeal the death penalty in the 85th Texas Legislature
  •  Larry James, for his outreach efforts on behalf of Chris Young, who was executed by the State of Texas on July 17, 2018

Courage Awards
TCADP’s Courage Award recognizes those who have encountered the death penalty firsthand and bravely shared their experiences with decision makers and with the public at large.  We are humbled to present our 2019 Courage Awards to two individuals who exemplify grace and whose pleas for mercy inspired thousands of people in Texas and around the country:

  • Mitesh Patel, for publicly and selflessly calling for mercy for the man who killed his father and recognizing the spark of redemption in Chris Young
  • Kent Whitaker, for displaying unconditional love and forgiveness in his tireless determination to secure clemency for his son, Thomas “Bart” Whitaker

Media Award
TCADP’s Media Award is presented to journalists, media outlets, filmmakers, authors, and artists who raise awareness of death penalty issues through their respective mediums.  This year, we are delighted to recognize the work of filmmaker Laurence Thrush, whose powerful video interviews with Chris Young and his daughter, Crishelle Young, played a central role in our public mobilization campaign to stop Young’s execution.

David P. Atwood Founder’s Award
The David P. Atwood Founder’s Award was established by the TCADP Board of Directors in 2011 in honor of Houstonian Dave Atwood, who established our organization more than 20 years ago. The award is given at the discretion of the TCADP Board and honors those who have made a lifelong commitment to justice.  The 2019 award will be bestowed upon Keith Hampton, in recognition of the decades of zealous legal representation he has provided to individuals on death row in Texas and, particularly, his inspiring efforts to secure clemency for Kenneth Foster and Thomas Whitaker.

Learn more about our award winners and join us in celebrating these extraordinary individuals at the conference luncheon.  We also invite you to congratulate the honorees by placing an ad in the conference program and/or sponsoring a table.  Registration, sponsorship, and exhibitor/ad forms are available online.

2019 Panel: Voices on the Front Lines

The morning panel discussion at the conference will present views of the death penalty from individuals who have served on the front lines of the criminal justice system. We are thrilled to confirm the participation of the following panelists:

  • The Honorable Elsa Alcala, who has served as a judge and justice in three courts over twenty years. Judge Alcala served on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s supreme court for criminal cases, from 2011 to 2018. She authored over 80 signed majority opinions, 93 dissenting opinions, and 195 concurring opinions while on that court, many of which addressed the propriety of the death penalty.
  • Retired State District Judge Mike Lynch, who presided over the 167th District Court in Travis County from to 1993 to 2012.  Earlier this year, he authored a compelling piece for the Marshall Project, “Why this judge dreads execution day.” 
  • State Representative Joe Moody, who serves as Chairman of the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. Chairman Moody represents House District 78 in El Paso.  This summer, he explained in an opinion piece that he had “moved from longtime support of capital punishment to the moral certainty that it’s time for Texas to abolish the death penalty.”

Register now! Join us for the full day or for the awards luncheon and keynote address featuring Jason Baldwin, one of the “West Memphis Three.” Share the conference flier with others!


In case you missed it

Death row exoneration in Florida
On November 5, 2018, Clemente Javier Aguirre was exonerated of all charges in the 2004 deaths of his former neighbors Cheryl Williams and Carole Bareis in Seminole County, Florida.  He spent more than 14 years in prison, including a decade on Florida’s death row.  According to the Innocence Project, the Florida Supreme Court unanimously overturned Aguirre’s conviction and death sentence in 2016 based on new evidence of innocence that his original jury never heard. The new evidence included DNA testing of multiple pieces of crime scene evidence that exculpated Aguirre and implicated another suspect.

Aguirre is the 164th individual exonerated from death row nationwide and the 28th in Florida (there have been 13 death row exonerations in Texas).  Read about his life since his exoneration.  Also check out this recent op-ed by exonerees Kwame Ajamu and Kirk Bloodsworth.

Kenneth Starr, Timothy Shriver call on U.S. Supreme Court to act – again – in case of Bobby Moore
In separate opinion pieces, former U.S. Solicitor General Kenneth W. Starr and Special Olympics Chairman Timothy P. Shriver call on the U.S. Supreme Court to act once again in the case of Bobby Moore.  In March 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Moore v. Texas that Texas’ standard for determining intellectual disabilities did not comply with current medical standards.  The Justices sent the case back to the Texas court for further proceedings.

Earlier this year, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refused to exempt Moore from the death penalty, despite the U.S. Supreme Court ruling and 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.  Read the pieces from Starr and Shriver in the Washington Post and LA Times.

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturns conviction of Albert Turner
Last month, the state’s highest criminal court overturned the capital murder conviction of Albert James Turner in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in McCoy v. Louisiana (May 2018).  In that case, the Justices ruled defendants have “the right to insist that counsel refrain from admitting guilt, even when counsel’s experience-based view is that confessing guilt offers the defendant the best chance to avoid the death penalty.”  During Turner’s 2011 trial for the murders of his wife and mother-in-law in Fort Bend County two years prior, his attorneys told the jury he had committed the crime, despite Turner’s testimony that he was innocent.

Houston civil rights activist and rabble rouser passes away
Ray Hill, a civil rights icon in Houston, passed away on November 24, 2018.  Hill started “The Prison Show” on KPFT-FM, Pacifica’s peace-and-justice radio station in Houston, and helped to oversee the program for more than 30 years.  He was staunchly against the death penalty and deeply committed to advocating for the rights of Houston’s vulnerable populations.


Legislative Developments
On November 12, 2018, State Representative Jessica Farrar filed House Bill 246, which calls for repeal of the death penalty in Texas.  This bill has received a hearing by the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee in every legislative session since 2009.  The 86th Texas Legislature will convene on January 8, 2019.

You can thank Representative Farrar for her leadership through Twitter (use the handle @JFarrarDist148) or by email (Jessica.farrar@house.texas.gov). Follow the Texas Legislature using the hashtag #txlege.


New resources
“The Last 40 Miles,” a thought-provoking animated short film presenting a man’s final journey from death row in Livingston to the death chamber in Huntsville, Texas, is now available online. The film is the brainchild of British journalist Alex Hannaford, who teamed up with animators Jeff Roth and Lucas Dimick and producer/cinematographer Meg Mulloy.   In 2015, TCADP honored Alex with a Media Award.  Let us know if you host a screening with your faith community or student group.


Invest in justice
Give the gift of justice this holiday season: invest in TCADP with your special, year-end donation by December 31, 2018.  Your contribution will advance strategic initiatives in 2019, including advocating for change at the state legislature and holding prosecutors accountable for death penalty practices.  You’ll also be supporting important membership events like our annual statewide conference, now in its 21st year.  Go to www.tcadp.org/donate to make a secure, tax-deductible gift today.