July 2019 Alert: Still arbitrary, capricious, and discriminatory

In this edition:

Scheduled executions and death sentences: No executions for third month in a row; Texas jury imposes first new death sentence of the year

TCADP staff changes: We bid farewell to North Texas Outreach Coordinator, Jim Webner

In case you missed it: U.S. Supreme Court reverses conviction of Curtis Flowers; Texas Comptroller’s Office continues to deny compensation to Alfred Dewayne Brown; 81-year-old man exonerated after 43 years in prison in North Carolina; HBO releases new documentary about civil rights champion Bryan Stevenson

Featured event: Film screening in El Paso

Invest in justice:  Support the work of TCADP today


Quote of the month

“There is no evidence that the death penalty deters. It costs hundreds of thousands of additional dollars per prisoner. It is steeped in caprice, arbitrariness and racial bias. It is fallible — and when it fails, it undermines the legitimacy of our judicial system. …Someday, I believe, Americans will look back at today’s executions just as we now look back at witch burnings and public hangings, and they will ask, What were they thinking?”

When We Kill: Everything you think you know about the death penalty is wrong,” byOpinion Columnist Nicholas Kristof, New York Times, June 14, 2019


Scheduled executions and new death sentences

Executions
The State of Texas will not execute anyone for the third month in a row, as the July 31 execution date for Ruben Gutierrez was withdrawn.  There are at least eight executions scheduled to take place in Texas in the second half of 2019, including two dates in August (Dexter Johnson on August 15 and Larry Swearingen on August 21).

Texas is responsible for three of the ten executions nationwide thus far in 2019.  Four other scheduled executions were stayed by state or federal courts.  Executions have taken place in Alabama (3), Georgia (2), Florida (1), and Tennessee (1). 

Death sentences
There has been one new death sentence in Texas to date in 2019.  A jury in Nueces County sentenced Gary David Green to death on June 26 for killing Upton County deputy Billy “Bubba” Kennedy in 2013. According to the Cleburne Times Review, the case switched venues several times before being tried in Nueces County. It is the first death sentence to come out of Upton County, which is south of Midland County. In 2018, a total of seven men were sentenced to death in Texas.

Additional information and updates on cases are available on our website and throughFacebook and Twitter.  On the TCADP website, you’ll also find the latest death penalty facts, including county-specific fact sheets for select jurisdictions.


TCADP staff changes

TCADP would like to thank Jim Webner for his service as our North Texas Outreach Coordinator, a position he held from November 1, 2017 until June 21, 2019.  In that capacity, Jim led our work to reduce use of the death penalty in Dallas and Tarrant Counties, kept the death penalty issue on the radar of District Attorney candidates and voters in the 2018 elections, and engaged local members and community influencers in strategic opportunities to damage the death penalty brand. Jim’s connection to the death penalty abolition movement began six years ago when he started organizing vigils at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth. He notes that during his tenure with TCADP, he encountered “thoughtful, committed advocates who are optimistic about Texas’ potential to embrace a fairer, more compassionate justice system.”  We wish Jim the best as he moves back to his home state of Maryland to pursue new opportunities.


In case you missed it

U.S. Supreme Court reverses conviction in case involving egregious racial bias in jury selection
On June 21, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in Flowers v. Mississippi that prosecutors’ “relentless, determined effort” to exclude prospective black jurors from the jury pool violated the Constitution.  In doing so, the Justices reversed the conviction of Curtis Flowers, who has been tried six separate times for the murders of four people inside a furniture store in Winona, Mississippi in 1996.  In his sixth trial in 2010, a jury composed of eleven white members and one black member convicted him and sentenced him to death.  Flowers has maintained his innocence over more than two decades on death row.  For a deep dive into the case, listen to the American Public Media podcast, “In the Dark.”

State of Texas once again denies compensation to exonerated man
In June, the State Comptroller again denied Alfred Dewayne Brown’s application for compensation for the 12 years he spent behind bars, including a decade on death row.  An editorial from the Houston Chronicle called the comptroller’s decision “outrageous” and noted “the state’s accountant chose to disregard a judge’s ruling, a district attorney’s declaration and a very thorough investigation that determined Brown’s innocence.”

On March 1, 2019, the Harris County District Attorney’s (DA) Office declared Brown “actually innocent” after accepting the findings of a special prosecutor appointed to investigate the case.  Two months later, State District Judge George Powell granted the DA’s motion, which should have met the threshold for compensation.  Brown was sentenced to death for the murder of Houston Police Officer Charles R. Clark at a check-cashing business in 2003; the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned his conviction in 2014 due to evidence of prosecutorial misconduct.  He was released from death row in 2015 after prosecutors dismissed the charges against him.  Brown’s attorneys now seek to resume a federal lawsuit against Houston and Harris County for violating his civil rights by withholding evidence.

North Carolina dismisses charges against nation’s 166th death row exoneree
On June 26, prosecutors in North Carolina formally dismissed murder charges against Charles Ray Finch; he was freed after 43 years in prison and is the 166th person nationwide who was sentenced to death and later exonerated. Finch was convicted and sentenced to death in 1976 for killing Richard Holloman during an attempted robbery of a grocery store but was resentenced to life the following year.  Earlier this year, a federal appeals court overturned his conviction based on unreliable evidence.Finch is now 81 years old.

HBO releases new documentary about civil rights champion Bryan Stevenson
If you’ve read his memoir Just Mercy or had the opportunity to hear him speak, you know that defense attorney Bryan Stevenson is one of the most eloquent and inspiring voices of our time.  In June, HBO released a new documentary, True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality, which profiles his lifelong work “on behalf of the poor, the incarcerated and the condemned…”  At this time, you can watch the film for free online.  Don’t miss it! (And read Just Mercy if you haven’t already.)


Featured events

Pax Christi El Paso and the Peace and Justice Ministry of the Catholic Diocese of El Paso will host a screening of the film “True Conviction” on Sunday, July 14 at 3:00 PM.  The event will take place at St Joseph School Auditorium (1315 Travis Street). “True Conviction” tells the story of three exonerated Texans who form an investigative team to help other wrongfully convicted individuals.   


Invest in justice

July 2 marks the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Gregg v. Georgia (1976), which upheld the new death penalty statutes of several states – including Texas – and paved the way for the resumption of executions the following year.  Since the ruling, 1,500 people have been executed nationwide. 

Just four years earlier, the Court ruled in Furman v. Georgia (1972) that the death penalty system, as administered at that time, was arbitrary, capricious, and discriminatory – as random as being struck by lightning. With the Gregg decision, however, the Justices reversed course and took the position that the death penalty did not offend “the evolving standards of decency which mark the progress of a maturing society.”

As the cases described in this newsletter demonstrate, however, the death penalty remains as arbitrary, capricious, and offensive today as it was before Gregg.  Writing for The Intercept, Liliana Seguara observes that “If the 1,500th execution can tell us anything about capital punishment in the modern death penalty era, it’s how stuck in the past it actually is.”
 

TCADP addresses both the past and present realities of capital punishment by working to stop executions, prevent new death sentences, and tell the stories of individuals impacted by violence and the death penalty.  If you support these efforts, donate to TCADP today and help us hasten the end of this arbitrary, capricious and discriminatory system.  

Thank you for standing with us as we unite for justice.