In this edition:
Scheduled executions: Three men convicted in North Texas scheduled to be executed this month
In case you missed it: Dallas County Commissioner proposes local moratorium; State Representative Jessica Farrar retires from public service; Houston Chronicle editorial board calls for clergy to be allowed in execution chamber
Announcements: Seeking nominations for our Annual Awards; save the date for the TCADP 2020 Annual Conference in San Antonio
New resources: New memoir by Sister Helen Prejean; “Trial by Fire” now available on Amazon
Featured events: Film screening this weekend in Edinburg; presentation by TCADP Board President in Houston
Quote of the month
“I feel certain that my death can be a catalyst to change the insane legal system of Texas which could allow this to happen.”
– Larry Swearingen, in a statement to the Washington Post, “Larry Swearingen, who claimed science excluded him as killer, is executed by Texas”, August 21, 2019
The State of Texas is scheduled to execute three people this month:
- Billy Crutsinger is scheduled to be executed on September 4, 2019. Now 64 years old, he was convicted in 2003 of the fatal stabbings of 89-year-old Pearl Magouirk and her daughter, 71-year-old Patricia Syren, during a robbery in Fort Worth. In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review Crutsinger’s appeal in which he argued he received deficient legal help at trial. Both the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit have denied his motions for a stay based on the same claim. He has a final appeal pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.
- The State of Texas is scheduled to execute Mark Soliz on September 10 for killing Nancy Weatherly during a crime spree in Johnson and Tarrant Counties in 2010. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 2012. His co-defendant, Jose Ramos, pled guilty and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. On August 21, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied Soliz’s motion for a stay of execution. His petition alleged that because he suffers from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), Soliz should be categorically exempted from the death penalty on the grounds that FASD is the “functional equivalent” of conditions already recognized as disqualifying exemptions to the death penalty, such as intellectual disability.
- Robert Sparks is scheduled to be executed on September 25 for killing his stepsons, Raeqwon and Harold, in Dallas in 2007. He also killed his wife, Chare Agnew. Sparks reportedly told investigators he believed his wife was poisoning him. He still has appeals pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. In one claim, Sparks argues that state expert A.P. Merillat provided false testimony regarding his prison classification if a jury chose life without parole rather than a death sentence. Similar claims have been made against Merillat in several other capital cases, leading to at least two overturned death sentences.
The State of Texas has scheduled 11 executions from September 4 through December 11, 2019. Analysis by the Death Penalty Information Center notes that the “death warrants raise troubling questions about U.S. execution practices” and that Texas’ “aggressive execution schedule illustrates its status as an outlier in its use of the death penalty.”
In 2018, Texas accounted for 13 of the 25 executions in the United States. To date this year, the State has carried out 4 of 12 executions nationwide. Five other scheduled executions were stayed by state or federal courts. For updates on cases, visit our website or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
In case you missed it
Dallas County Commissioner calls for local moratorium
Last month, Dallas County Commissioner J.J. Koch called for a moratorium on local use of the death penalty “to give the county time to study the financial, social and moral costs of the punishment,” according to the Dallas Morning News. In a follow-up commentary piece, Koch opined that funds currently directed towards pursuing the death penalty could instead be diverted to law enforcement efforts to curb crime and stop human trafficking, among other serious community issues. He also expressed concern about the disproportionate application of the death penalty to people of color and the impact of juror bias.
State Representative Jessica Farrar announces retirement
On August 16, 2019, State Representative Jessica Farrar announced she was retiring from the Texas House of Representatives after 25 years in office. She represents District 148 in Houston and was first elected in 1994. Rep. Farrar has filed a death penalty repeal bill in every legislative session since 2007. As she notes in the press release announcing her retirement, when she first filed the bill, it did not even receive a hearing in committee: “Now, it has not only received hearings, but also several joint authors, not to mention a dramatic shift in public opinion supporting the abolition of the death penalty.”
Please join us in thanking Representative Farrar for her decades of service and, particularly, her legislative leadership on death penalty abolition. We encourage you to acknowledge her in a tweet @JFarrarDist148 or email her at Jessica.Farrar@house.texas.gov.
Houston Chronicle editorial board calls for chaplains to be present in the execution chamber
On August 12, 2019, the Editorial Board of the Houston Chronicle called on the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to allow chaplains of various faiths in the death chamber, noting that “the state decided to correct a practice of denominational discrimination by instituting a policy that erodes religious freedom” when it revised its policy to remove clergy earlier this year.
Nominate an individual or organization for a TCADP 2020 Annual Award
TCADP is accepting nominations for our annual Courage, Appreciation, and Media Awards. With these awards, we recognize outstanding individuals and organizations who have made significant and selfless contributions towards ending the death penalty in Texas. All award winners will be honored at the TCADP 2020 Annual Conference on February 29, 2020 (yes, Leap Day!) in San Antonio. The conference will take place at the Whitley Conference Center at the Oblate School of Theology.
Registration for the conference will open on October 1. Award nominations will be accepted until October 11, 2019. You’ll find previous award winners listed here.
New memoir from Sister Helen Prejean
Sister Helen Prejean, renowned activist and author of Dead Man Walking and Death of Innocents, has published a new memoir about the evolution of her spiritual journey. Listen to her discuss River of Fire and her experience witnessing executions on NPR’s “Fresh Air” last month.
“Trial by Fire” now available on Amazon
In case you missed “Trial by Fire” when it was released to movie theaters this past May, you can now rent or buy it on Amazon. The film tells the true Texas story of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was sentenced to death in 1991 after being convicted of setting a fire to his Corsicana home that killed his three young daughters. The film is based upon David Grann’s article about Willingham’s case, which appeared in the New Yorker in 2009. “Trial by Fire” stars Laura Dern and Jack O’Connell. If you watch the film, consider leaving a review on Amazon.
The documentary film “Where There is Darkness” will be part of the South Texas International Film Festival on Friday, September 6 from 6:00 to 8:00 PM at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance (118 Paseo del Prado, Edinburg, TX 78539). The film tells the true story of Father Rene, a Catholic priest who was murdered in 2016 in Georgia. The death penalty was sought for his alleged killer. Found among the priest’s papers, however, was a “Declaration of Life” that he had signed more than 20 years prior to his death. The declaration stated that if he were ever murdered, he did not want his killer to receive the death penalty.
Professor Ana Otero, who serves as President of the TCADP Board of Directors, will give a presentation on the death penalty to Galveston Bay Oasis on Sunday, September 22 at 11:00 AM. The group meets at the University of Houston Clear Lake. All are welcome.