October 2019 Alert: “The Penalty” comes to Texas

In this edition:

Scheduled executions and case updates: State of Texas poised to carry out three more executions this month and three in November, including Rodney Reed; Court of Criminal Appeals stays execution of Stephen Barbee; jury rejects death penalty in Denton County case

In case you missed itThe Appeal examines current Harris County death penalty practices, particularly with regard to intellectual disability claims

TCADP 2020 Annual Conference: Registration now open; award nominations due by October 11

Featured events: “The Penalty” tour of Texas; chapter meeting in San Antonio; special presentations in Houston


Quote of the month

“…the death penalty retains a strong psychic hold on ideas about justice and public safety, even as capital punishment has evolved to become more and more, at least in the United States, a singularly Texan institution.”

– Christopher Hooks,“The Texas Death Penalty Machine Has Become Increasingly Grotesque,” Texas Monthly, September 9, 2019


Scheduled executions and case updates

Scheduled executions

The State of Texas is scheduled to execute three people this month (a fourth scheduled execution was stayed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals – see below):

– The State of Texas is scheduled to execute Randy Halprin on October 10, 2019, despite the fact that he was deprived of his constitutional right to a fair trial before an impartial judge.  Halprin, who is Jewish, was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death as a party in connection with the killing of Irving Police Officer Aubrey Hawkins during the robbery of a sporting goods store on December 24, 2000.  He and six others had escaped from a maximum-security prison south of San Antonio earlier that month.

Halprin’s 2003 trial was tainted by the anti-Semitic bias of Dallas Judge Vickers Cunningham; evidence of this bias only came to light last year.  No court has considered the impact Judge Cunningham’s anti-Semitic beliefs and ethnic bias had on the fairness of Halprin’s trial. Learn about his case and the widespread support he has received from faith leaders and religious organizations.

If you haven’t done so already, please contact the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles this week to urge them to recommend clemency for Randy Halprin, TDCJ #999453, or, in the alternative, grant a 120-day reprieve so that the Board may fully investigate and consider the facts of Halprin’s case.  Click here for talking points and contact information.

– On October 16, 2019, the State of Texas is scheduled to execute Randall Mays. He was convicted of the fatal shootings of Sheriff Deputies Paul Habelt and Tony Ogburn on his property in Henderson County in May 2007 in an incident that arose after a neighbor called the police about a disturbance.  Mays previously faced execution on March 18, 2015 but received a stay from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) after the court agreed with Mays’s lawyers that mental-health assessments were needed to determine if Mays, who had been previously committed to state mental hospitals and been diagnosed pre-trial with an organic brain disorder, was competent to be executed. Under Supreme Court law, to be found “competent to be executed,” a person has to have a rational understanding of why he is to be executed, not simply know that he is to be executed because he was convicted of a crime.  

A retired judge, Judge Joe Clayton, was appointed to preside over a competency proceeding for Mays. After a multi-day evidentiary hearing, Judge Clayton issued a two-page opinion finding Mays competent to be executed, thereby rejecting the opinions of two of the three court-appointed mental health professionals who had concluded otherwise. Two medical doctors who testified during the evidentiary hearing had concluded that Mays was incompetent to be executed, and a third, a psychologist, concluded that he was mentally ill but not incompetent to be executed. The CCA, in denying relief this summer, concluded that the appointed judge had not abused his discretion in relying on only one of the three mental-health experts.

– The State of Texas is scheduled to execute Ruben Gutierrez on October 30, 2019.  It’s the third execution date he has faced in just over a year.  Gutierrez was scheduled to be put to death on September 12, 2018 for the 1998 murder and robbery of Escolastica Harrison in Brownsville; he has consistently maintained that he did not kill her. A federal judge stayed that execution to give his new lawyers more time to review the case.  Gutierrez has asked for DNA testing for years, but the state opposes it.

The State of Texas also is scheduled to put three men to death in November, including Rodney Reed.  Reed faces execution on November 20, 2019 for the rape and murder of Stacey Stites in 1998 in Bastrop County; for the last 20 years, he has steadfastly maintained his innocence and sought DNA testing that could exonerate him.  According to The Appeal, his attorneys filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in August, which argues that executing him without first conducting DNA testing is a violation of his constitutional rights.  In late September, they filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the Justices “to review new and comprehensive evidence of innocence that both negates the State’s case against Reed, and confirms the police investigator’s initial suspicions of Stites’s fiancé, a local police officer named Jimmy Fennell,” according to a press release from the Innocence Project.  

The Innocence Project has launched a petition opposing Reed’s execution.  Sign here.

In 2018, Texas accounted for 13 of the 25 executions in the United States.  To date this year, the State has carried out 7 of the 16 executions nationwide.  Seven other execution dates were withdrawn or stayed by state or federal courts.  For updates on cases, visit our website or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Case updates
Court stays execution of Stephen Barbee
On September 23, 2019, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stopped the execution of Stephen Barbee in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in McCoy v. Louisiana (2018). The Justices ruled in McCoy that “a defendant has 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 his trial, Barbee’s lawyers reportedly conceded his guilt over his objections. Barbee, now 52, was scheduled to be executed on October 2, 2019. He was convicted of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend, Lisa Underwood, and her 7-year-old son, Jayden, in 2005 in Tarrant County.

Jury rejects death penalty for Daniel Greco
For the second time this year, a Texas jury has rejected the death penalty in a capital murder trial. On September 24, after several hours of deliberation, a Denton County jury sentenced Daniel Greco to life without the possibility of parole after convicting him of capital murder in the death of Anjanette Kristina Harris. According to the Denton Record-Chronicle, the jury responded “no” on the question of future dangerousness.  To date in 2019, one person has been sentenced to death in Texas.  


In case you missed it

Last month, The Appeal looked into the current death penalty practices of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, focusing particularly on Dexter Johnson and other cases involving intellectual disability claims.  The article examines District Attorney Kim Ogg’s record on the death penalty three years into her term; she will stand for reelection in 2020. 

There currently are eight pending capital cases in Harris County in which prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.  Last week, a jury convicted Ronald Haskell of capital murder in the deaths of Katie and Stephen Stay, rejecting his plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.  His trial now enters the punishment phase. Haskell is the first white defendant to face the death penalty in Harris County since 2004.


Registration now open for the TCADP 2020 Conference

TCADP’s Annual Conferenceis a special one-day event for all of our supporters and anyone who wants to learn more about the death penalty.  It features a panel discussion, workshops, a keynote address, and the presentation of our annual awards. The conference provides a unique opportunity to connect with supporters across the state and hear about the progress we are making towards ending the death penalty in Texas.

Registration for the TCADP 2020 Annual Conference – 2020 Vision for Texas: A Leap Towards Justice – is now open!  The 2020 Conference will take place on Saturday, February 29, 2020in the Whitley Theological Center at the Oblate School of Theology (285 Oblate Drive, San Antonio, TX 78216).

TCADP has secured a block of hotel rooms at the TownePlace Suites San Antonio Airport (214 N.E. Loop 410 San Antonio, Texas 78216) for Friday, February 28 and Saturday, February 29.  The rate is $99 per night, plus tax; this rate is available until February 14, 2020. Make your reservation directly with the hotel using this online reservation link.

A limited number of sleeping rooms also are available at the Oblate Renewal Center.  Please contact Kristin at khoule@tcadp.org for more information.

Last but not least, don’t forget to nominate a worthy individual or organization for a Courage, Appreciation, or Media Award.  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. Nominations will be accepted until October 11, 2019.


Featured events

San Antonio: The TCADP San Antonio Chapter will meet on Wednesday, October 9, 2019 at 6:30 PM at the Oblate School of Theology, Building 4 of the Oblate Renewal Center (285 Oblate Drive).  Contact coordinator Mardi Baron at mardibaron@gmail.com for details.

Houston: “Let’s talk about the death penalty.  What are Catholics called to do?” Presentation by Emma Tacke and John Sage, Thursday, October 17, 2019, 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church, Activity Building Room 1 (1801 Sage Road Houston, TX 77056). Emma Tacke is the Associate Director of Community Engagement of the Catholic Mobilization Network; she will discuss Catholic Social Teaching in regards to the death penalty.  St. Michael’s parishioner John Sage will give his personal testimony about his sister’s two murderers, who were both sentenced to death.

Statewide: The filmmakers of “The Penalty” will be conducting a tour from October 27 to November 16 in cities around Texas. All screenings will be followed by a panel discussion with the filmmakers and a range of experts on the death penalty. This powerful documentary weaves together three storylines, each of which exposes the flaws and failures of the death penalty in dramatic, often unexpected, ways.  To learn more or watch the trailer, go to www.thepenaltyfilm.com

The preliminary schedule is below; we’ll provide updates on our website.

If you would like to organize a screening in your community as part of the tour, please contact Will Francome (will@reelnice.co.uk) and Laura Shacham (laura@reelnice.co.uk).
 

October 29, 2019: University of Texas – Austin; 6-9pm

October 30, 2019: St. Edward’s University – Austin, 7pm

October 31, 2019: University of the Incarnate Word – San Antonio; 3pm

November 3, 2019: Blue Starlight Drive In – Austin*, 8pm, Gates open at 7:15pm, 2103 E M Franklin Ave, Austin, TX. Buy tickets here.

November 4, 2019: Northwest Vista College – San Antonio*, 7pm

November 4, 2019: Texas State University – San Marcos; time pending

November 6, 2019: University of Houston Downton, Wilhelmina Cullen Robertson Auditorium*, 6pm, 3rd floor Academic Building, One Main St., Houston, TX 77002

November 8, 2019: 14 Pews – Houston*, 7pm, 800 Aurora St, Houston, Tx 77009. Buy tickets here.

November 13, 2019: Thurgood Marshall School of Law – Houston*, 5pm

November 14, 2019: Southern Methodist University – Dallas, 5:30pm

Events marked with an asterisk (*) are open to the public.