abolition DNA testing legislature

TCADP June 2019 Alert: 21 states have abandoned the death penalty

In this edition of our monthly alert, you’ll learn about the most recent state to abandon the death penalty. There’s also a legislative recap and details about special events this month in Dallas and Houston.

In this edition:

Scheduled executions: No one will be put to death this month in Texas

Legislative recap: Bipartisan support in Texas House of Representatives for death penalty-related bills

In case you missed it: New Hampshire becomes 21st to abandon the death penalty; daughter of executed man in Tennessee seeks posthumous DNA testing

Featured events: Join us for events this month in Dallas and Houston

Quote of the month

“We are deeply grateful to the bipartisan group of senators who stood firm and again cast their vote to end capital punishment in our state. Like the majority of their House colleagues, they agreed that capital punishment is inhumane, unfair, error prone, and costly,” said Barbara Keshen, Chair of the New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NHCADP) and a former NH Assistant Attorney General.  NHCADP Press Release, May 30, 2019

Scheduled executions

For the first time this year, there are no executions scheduled to take place in Texas this month.  Texas is responsible for three of the nine executions nationwide thus far in 2019.  Four other scheduled executions were stayed by state or federal courts.  Executions have taken place in Alabama (3), Florida (1), Georgia (1), and Tennessee (1).

There currently are five executions scheduled to take place between July and October. Ruben Gutierrez is scheduled to be put to death on July 31.  This is his second execution date in a year.

86th Texas Legislature

The 86th Texas Legislative session concluded on Monday, May 27, 2019.  Regrettably, House Bill 246, a bill to repeal the death penalty, did not receive a committee hearing for the first time in 10 years.  The bill was filed by State Representative Jessica Farrar (House District 148 – Houston), and jointly authored by State Representative Donna Howard (House District 48 – Austin) and State Representative Joe Moody (House District 78 – El Paso).  The Senate version, SB 294, filed by State Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. (Senate District 27 – Brownsville), also did not receive a hearing.

The Texas House of Representatives did act on several death penalty-related bills, however, passing the following legislation with significant bipartisan support:

 – House Bill 1030 would have revised and clarified the jury instructions given during the sentencing phase of a capital murder trial. The bill was sponsored by Representative Joe Moody and passed the House on April 10 by a vote of 133 Yeas to 10 Nays.  It did not receive a hearing in the Senate State Affairs Committee.

– House Bill 1139 would have established a process for determining whether a defendant in a capital case is a person with an intellectual disability and prohibited the death penalty for persons found to be intellectually disabled. The bill was sponsored by State Representative Senfronia Thompson (House District 141 – Houston) and passed the House on April 30 by a vote of 102 Yeas to 37 Nays. A significantly altered version of the bill passed the Senate on May 22.  Both chambers appointed members to a conference committee to resolve their differences with the bill, but they were unable to reach agreement before the session ended.

– House Bill 1936 would exempt a defendant with a severe mental illness at the time of the crime from the death penalty; the determination would be made by the jury. The bill was sponsored by State Representative Toni Rose (House District 110 – Dallas) and passed the House on May 9 by a vote of 77 Yeas to 66 Nays.  The Senate did not act on the bill.

All three bills were authored and co-authored by Democrats and Republicans in the Texas House.  We are grateful to these legislators for their leadership. 

In case you missed it

New Hampshire abolishes the death penalty

On May 30, the New Hampshire Senate overrode Governor Chris Sununu’s veto of a bipartisan bill to abolish the death penalty.  The House overrode the veto one week earlier by a vote of 247 to 123.  New Hampshire now joins 20 other states that have abandoned the death penalty through legislative or judicial action; governors in four other states have imposed moratoria on executions. 

According to the New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, this year’s results follow efforts by abolitionists in: 2018 (bill was vetoed by Gov. Sununu); 2016 and 2014 (bill failed in Senate by one vote each time); 2009 (study commission was formed); and 2000 (bill was vetoed by then-Governor Shaheen).  We congratulate our colleagues in the Granite State on their perseverance and commitment to this hard-fought campaign!

Family of executed man in Tennessee seeks posthumous DNA testing

On May 1, April Alley announced that she was petitioning the Criminal Court of Shelby County, Tennessee and Governor Bill Lee for post-conviction DNA testing of evidence in her father’s case. Sedley Alley was convicted of the rape and murder of Marine Lance Corporal Suzanne Marie Collins in 1985 and executed in 2006. DNA evidence from the crime scene was never tested.  Reinvestigation of Alley’s case has called into question much of the physical evidence against him.  Additionally, although Alley confessed to the crime, many of the details in his confession do not match the forensic evidence.

Eugenia Willingham and Patricia Willingham Cox, mother and cousin of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed by Texas in 2004 despite similarly compelling evidence of his innocence, recently authored an op-ed in support of April Alley and called for Governor Lee and the courts to order new testing. “Nothing can bring back these men,” they wrote, “just like nothing can bring back Todd. Even so, the search for truth must go on so that terrible mistakes don’t keep happening…To fair-minded people in Tennessee and across the nation, testing the DNA is just common sense.”

Cameron Todd Willingham is the subject of the recently released film “Trial by Fire,” starring Jack O’Connell and Laura Dern.

Featured events

Upcoming events in Dallas

Tuesday, June 11: Join TCADP North Texas Outreach Coordinator Jim Webner as he speaks to the Dallas chapter of the Libertarian Party at Kozy Kitchen (6400 Gaston Ave, Dallas 75214) at 7:00 PM. Jim will be recapping the work of the 86th Texas Legislature, including developments on important bills related to the death penalty.

Sunday, June 16: “On the Row: A Staged Reading of Stories from Arkansas’ Death Row” will take place at 2:00 PM at Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration (14115 Hillcrest Road, Dallas).  From May through October 2016, The Prison Story Project was given unprecedented access to the men on Arkansas’ Death Row at Varner Prison. The inmates met with the volunteer team once a month in person on death row to explore writing and storytelling concepts. A staged reading of their work – On the Row – was developed and performed for the men on death row on October 8, 2016 and has been touring the US since.

Wednesday, June 19:  Join TCADP North Texas Outreach Coordinator Jim Webner for a gathering of local TCADP members at 6:00 PM at Celebration Restaurant (4503 W Lovers Ln, Dallas 75209. RSVP to Jim at  
Upcoming events in Houston

Monday, June 3: The TCADP Houston Chapter will meet at 7 PM at Central Market (3815 Westheimer, Houston 77027). Professor David R. Dow is scheduled to speak. Dow is the founder and director of the Texas Innocence Network and has represented more than 100 death row inmates during their state and federal appeals.  His debut novel, Confessions of an Innocent Man, was published in April; the book presents the complex story of a man who has been wrongly imprisoned and sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit. 

Wednesday, June 12: Join the European Union, the Consul of Greece in Houston, and TCADP for a special screening of “Lindy Lou, Juror Number 2”.  The event will take place from 6:00 to 8:00 PM at the Wilhelmina Cullen Robertson Auditorium at the University of Houston-Downtown (One Main Street, Houston, TX 77002).

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. Following the film, we will have a discussion with experts on the front lines of the criminal justice system. This event is a collaboration with POV, PBS’ award-winning nonfiction film series

The event is free and open to the public. Register here.