Quote of the month
“I’m deeply grateful to Gov. Newsom for officially stopping executions in California. I’ve seen how capital punishment is used as a false promise to grieving families. It doesn’t provide closure. It risks executing prisoners who may actually be part of a family’s healing process.”
– Aba Gayle, “Gov. Newsom won’t execute the man who murdered my daughter. Here’s what I’ve learned since her death.” Sacramento Bee, March 18, 2019
The State of Texas is scheduled to execute two individuals in April:
- On April 11, 2019, Mark Robertson, 50, is scheduled to be executed for the 1989 murder of Edna Brau in Dallas County. In his 1991 trial, he also received two life sentences for the murder of Sean Hill, Brau’s grandson, and Jeffrey Saunders, a convenience store clerk. His appellate attorneys have argued that the jury never heard mitigating evidence about his past because of his trial attorneys’ failure to properly investigate. Additionally, they claim that a Texas prison warden gave false testimony about Robertson’s potential security classification in prison if he received life without parole, which might have changed the jury’s opinion of his future dangerousness.
- On April 24, 2019, John William King, 44, is scheduled to be executed for his role in the racially-motivated dragging death of James Byrd, Jr. in 1998. King, along with two other men, Shawn Berry and Lawrence Russell Brewer, were convicted of chaining Byrd by his ankles to the bumper of a pickup truck and fatally dragging him three miles on the outskirts of Jasper in East Texas. Berry is currently serving a life sentence; Brewer was executed in 2011. In 2009, Congress passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in response to Byrd’s murder.
Update on Patrick Murphy
On March 28, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed Patrick Murphy’s execution based on his complaint of religious discrimination. The stay came more than two hours after the execution was set to take place. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice had denied Murphy’s request to have a Buddhist priest instead of a Christian chaplain in the execution chamber. In concurring in the grant of application for a stay, Justice Kavanaugh wrote that such governmental discrimination against religion violates the Constitution.
Texas is responsible for two of the three executions nationwide thus far in 2019. Two executions have been stayed. A total of five executions currently are scheduled to take place in Texas through September.
In case you missed it
Alfred Dewayne Brown deemed “actually innocent”
On March 1, 2019, the Harris County District Attorney’s (DA) Office declared Alfred Dewayne Brown “actually innocent”. In doing so, DA Kim Ogg accepted the findings of a special prosecutor she appointed last year to investigate the case. Brown spent a decade on death row for the murder of Houston Police Officer Charles R. Clark at a check-cashing business in 2003. He is the 13th person exonerated and released from death row in Texas (out of 165 nationwide – see below) and is now eligible for compensation from the State.
One of the jurors in his trial expressed relief upon learning of the innocence declaration. Anne O’Donnell told the Houston Chronicle that her vote to convict Brown and sentence him to death “was the worst decision I’ve ever made in my life.”
Nueces County jury rejects death penalty
Last month, in the first capital murder trial involving the death penalty in Texas this year, a Nueces County jury sentenced Arturo Garza to life in prison without parole. He had pled guilty to killing his pregnant girlfriend, Susanna Eguia, in 2015. This is the third consecutive time since 2015 that a Nueces County jury has rejected the death penalty in a capital case.
U.S. Supreme Court considers Flowers v. Mississippi
On March 20, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Flowers v Mississippi, a case that raises serious questions about the role of racial bias in jury selection. Curtis Flowers has been tried six separate times for the murders of four people inside a furniture store in 1996. His case received national attention after being featured on the American Public Media podcast, “In the Dark.” The Mississippi Supreme Court overturned the first three convictions; two subsequent trials ended in mistrials when the juries could not reach a unanimous verdict. In Flowers’ sixth trial in 2010, a jury composed of eleven white members and one African-American member convicted him and sentenced him to death.
According to coverage of the arguments, the Justices seemed inclined to favor Flowers’ petition. “They clearly believed that the overall pattern of strikes across the six trials could not be ignored,” said Cornell Law School professor John Blume, “and was highly suggestive, if not proof positive, that the prosecutor engaged in intentional discrimination.”
Two men exonerated in Florida after spending 43 years in prison
Clifford Williams and his nephew, Nathan Myers, spent more than four decades in prison for a murder they did not commit. Their convictions rested largely on the testimony of a single eyewitness. A Duval County circuit judge vacated their convictions on March 28, 2019 upon the recommendation of Florida’s first-ever conviction integrity review unit. Williams originally was sentenced to death by a judge, but the Florida Supreme Court overturned the death sentence four years later. Myers was 18 when he was arrested; Williams was 33. Today they are 61 and 76.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, this brings the total of death row exonerations nationwide to 165; 29 of these exonerations occurred in Florida, more than any other state.
We encourage you to take 15 minutes to watch this compelling TEDTalk by Lindy Lou Isonhood, which provides some background on the powerful documentary film that bears her name, “Lindy Lou, Juror Number 2.” You’ll find more information about the film below. If you would like to host a screening of the film in your community, contact Kristin firstname.lastname@example.org or Jim at email@example.com.
Tonight, April 1, in McKinney
Join St. Gabriel the Archangel’s Ministry to the Imprisoned for a special Lenten event, “From Death into Life,” tonight, Monday, April 1 at 7:00 PM. Father Neil Kookoothe, pastor of St. Clarence Church in North Olmsted, Ohio will speak along with death row exoneree, Joe D’Ambrosio. Fr. Kookoothe met Joe in 1998 while serving as a spiritual adviser to men on Ohio’s death row. After Joe asked him to review his case, Fr. Kookoothe began to question some of the evidence that had led to Joe’s conviction and eventually discovered pertinent information that had been suppressed. After more than 20 years on death row, Joe became the 6th death row exoneree in Ohio. This event will take place at St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic Community, 110 St. Gabriel Way, McKinney, Texas 75071.
April 4 in Austin
“REMEDY: An Art Show and Fundraiser” will take place on Thursday, April 4, 2019 at the DORF Gallery, 5701 Lewood Drive, Austin, TX 78745. This event will start at 7:00 pm, with the poetry reading beginning at 8:00 pm.
The art show and auction will showcase pieces by artists on Texas’ death row. Proceeds from the auction will benefit TCADP. The event is sponsored by Bat City Review (BCR), an arts and literary magazine run out of the University of Texas at Austin. In the tradition of artists supporting artists, BCR has put together a zine of poetry from emerging to established writers who want to lend their work and their voices to this cause. There will be a short poetry reading during the event, with the zines available for purchase as donations to TCADP. RSVP on Facebook.
April 5 & 6 in Austin
Members of the public are invited to attend a symposium sponsored by the University of Texas School of Law’s Capital Punishment Clinic. “The Death Penalty in Texas: Past, Present & Future” will take place on Friday, April 5 (9:00 am to 4:30 pm) and Saturday, April 6 (9:00 am to 12:00 pm) in CCJ 2.306, the Eidman Courtroom at the UT School of Law, 727East Dean Keeton St., Austin, TX 78705.
April 9 in San Antonio
Join TCADP and the Source of Light (SoL) Center for a free screening of “Lindy Lou, Juror Number 2” on Tuesday, April 9, 2019 from 7 to 9 PM at University Presbyterian Church (300 Bushnell Ave, San Antonio, 78212). This powerful documentary from filmmaker Florent Vassault features Lindy Lou Isonhood, 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 TCADP Executive Director Kristin Houle and former Bexar County District Attorney Sam Millsap. This event is a collaboration with POV, PBS’ award-winning nonfiction film series: http://www.pbs.org/pov/.