In this edition:
Scheduled executions: Support clemency for Travis Runnels
TCADP 2020 Annual Conference: Announcing our 2020 honorees, panelists, and keynote speakers
In case you missed it: Bobby Moore’s death sentence commuted to life; voices of experience oppose resumption of federal executions; majority of Americans prefer life in prison over death penalty
It’s Giving Tuesday: Invest in our 2020 vision for justice in Texas
Quote of the month
“… this year’s executions contain several sterling examples of why the nation needs to abandon this appalling practice, which is handed down unfairly and meted out at times on people who may have been innocent.”
Editorial: “2019 has given us yet more examples of the inherent injustice of capital punishment,” Los Angeles Times, November 12, 2019
The State of Texas is scheduled to carry out its final execution of the year on December 11, 2019. Travis Runnels was sentenced to death in 2005 for killing Stanley Wiley, a correctional officer at the Clements Unit where Runnels was an inmate. He accepted responsibility for his actions right away and pled guilty to capital murder. During the punishment phase of his trial, however, Runnels’ attorney failed to call a single witness or present any evidence on his behalf, despite the existence of extensive and compelling mitigation that could have provided the jury with a reason to spare his life.
This failure was compounded by the State’s presentation of prison classification “expert” A.P. Merillat, who provided the jury with a patently false description of what Runnels’ life would look like if he were sentenced to life rather than death. Merillat misled jurors into believing that Runnels would essentially be a free man within the confines of the prison if they sentenced him to life, and therefore the only way to prevent him from causing future violence was to send him to death row.
Runnels has filed an application for clemency with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles in which he asks for the commutation of his death sentence to a lesser penalty or, in the alternative, a 90-day reprieve to resolve issues currently pending before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
Contact the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Abbott by December 6, 2019 to urge a reprieve or commutation for Travis Runnels (TDCJ# 999505, DOB 12/17/1972). Email the Board at email@example.com.
Talking points for your appeals and additional contact information are available here.
To date this year, the State of Texas has carried out 8 of the 20 executions nationwide. Twelve other Texas execution dates were withdrawn or stayed by state or federal courts. There currently are five individuals with execution dates in 2020, including Billy Joe Wardlow, who was 18 years old at the time of the crime and has spent nearly 25 years on death row. For updates on cases, visit our website or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
TCADP 2020 Annual Conference: Announcing our honorees, panelists, and keynote speakers
2020 Award Recipients
The TCADP Board of Directors is delighted to announce the recipients of our 2020 Awards, which will be presented during the TCADP 2020 Annual Conference on Saturday, February 29, 2020 at the Whitley Theological Center on the campus of Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas.
TCADP’s Appreciation Awards are bestowed upon individuals and organizations who have made significant contributions to our efforts to stop executions and end the death penalty in Texas. Our 2020 Appreciation Awards honor these individuals:
- Rick McClatchy, State Coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Texas, who led a clergy response to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s abrupt decision in April 2019 to remove chaplains from the execution chamber, just days after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay of execution to Patrick Murphy on grounds of religious discrimination.
- Quinncy McNeal, a Houston-based attorney with Mayer Brown who is part of Rodney Reed’s legal defense team, in conjunction with Bryce Benjet, Senior Staff Attorney for the Innocence Project, and Andrew MacRae of Levatino Pace PLLC. The team secured a stay of execution from the Texas Court of Criminals on November 15, 2019, just five days before Reed was scheduled to be put to death. McNeal first learned about Reed’s case while working as a television news journalist in Austin.
TCADP’s Courage Award recognizes individuals who have encountered the death penalty firsthand and bravely shared their experiences with decision makers and the public at large. Our 2020 Courage Award honors a public servant who inspires us every day by speaking truth to power, The Honorable Elsa Alcala.
In 2018, Judge Alcala left the judiciary after 20 years as a state judge in Texas, having served three different courts. During her 7.5 years on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, she authored over 80 signed majority opinions, 93 dissenting opinions, and 195 concurring opinions, many of which addressed the propriety of the death penalty. During the 2019 Texas legislative session, she advocated zealously for death penalty reforms as the policy director for the Texas Defender Service.
TCADP’s Media Award is presented to journalists, media outlets, filmmakers, authors, and artists who raise awareness of death penalty issues through their respective mediums. This year, we are delighted to recognize filmmakers Will Francome, Mark Pizzey, and Laura Shacham and their documentary films, “The Penalty” and “One for Ten.”
Learn more about our award winners and join us in celebrating these extraordinary individuals at the conference luncheon. We also invite you to congratulate the honorees by placing an ad in the conference program and/or sponsoring a table.
2020 Panel: A Leap Towards Justice in Bexar County
Our morning panel discussion will focus on past and present practices and approaches to the death penalty in Bexar County, a community that is emblematic of how the death penalty landscape has changed in Texas. We are thrilled to confirm the participation of the following panelists:
- Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales was elected in November 2018 and sworn into office on January 1, 2019. He has 30 years in practice of criminal law, having experienced both sides of the bar, and also is a former member of the Judiciary. Today, Gonzales advocates that every person should have equal rights and opportunities under the justice system and has pledged to work on promoting criminal justice reform.
- Sam Millsap was elected Bexar County District Attorney in 1982 and served in that office until 1987. Among other notable cases, Millsap prosecuted Ruben Cantu for capital murder; Cantu was executed in 1992. In December 2005, investigative reporting by the Houston Chronicle raisedserious questions about Cantu’s guilt. Millsap, acknowledging he made an error in judgment when he decided to seek the death penalty on the basis of the testimony of a single eyewitness, assumed personal responsibility for Cantu’s execution and became an internationally recognized opponent of the death penalty.
2020 Keynote Speakers
We are humbled to host Roderick Reed, brother of Rodney Reed, and Wana Akpan, Reed’s sister-in-law, as our 2020 keynote speakers. Roderick and Wana, with the family-led Reed Justice Initiative, mobilized millions of people worldwide to oppose Rodney’s scheduled execution on November 20, 2019. They inspired support from celebrities, elected officials, and people of all ages and backgrounds. Check out their interview with “Democracy Now” on November 6, 2019.
In case you missed it
Bobby Moore finally removed from death row
After years of legal wrangling, on November 6, 2019, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals finally commuted Bobby Moore’s sentence of death to a sentence of life imprisonment due to his intellectual disability. Moore was sentenced to death in Harris County in 1980; he recently turned 60 years old and was one of the longest-serving death row inmates in Texas.
In March 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state of Texas must use current medical standards in determining whether a person is intellectually disabled and therefore exempt from execution. The Justices found the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) had relied on outdated, non-scientific criteria in finding that Moore was notintellectually disabled, and they sent the case back to the CCA for further proceedings.
In 2018, a five-judge majority on the CCA once again relied on lay stereotypes and non-scientific criteria in rejecting Moore’s claim that he is exempt from the death penalty because he is intellectually disabled. The case went back to the U.S. Supreme Court for a second time earlier this year, and again, the Justices reversed the CCA and ruled that Moore is intellectually disabled and is exempt from the death penalty. Read more from the Texas Tribune.
Voices of experience oppose resumption of federal executions
On November 12, 2019, a diverse array of voices of experience on the death penalty called on the Trump administration not to resume federal executions. Former state and federal judges, former corrections officials, former and current prosecutors and law enforcement officials, and 175 family members of homicide victims joined sign-on letters that were sent to President Trump and Attorney General William Barr. Collectively, the letters reflect widespread, bipartisan opposition to the resumption of federal executions. Read this exclusive story from the Washington Post: “Hundreds of victims’ relatives, ex-officials ask Trump administration to halt federal executions.”
On November 20, 2019, a federal district court judge temporarily blocked the Trump administration’s plans to start executions in December. The administration appealed the ruling, but on December 2, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit declined to stay or vacate the preliminary injunction ordered by the District Court, which prohibits the government from carrying out the first federal executions in 16 years. The injunction was entered in a lawsuit challenging the legality and constitutionality of the government’s lethal injection protocol. Learn more.
Americans’ support for the death penalty continues to drop
According to polling data released by the Gallup Poll on November 25, 2019, 60% of Americans prefer life in prison without the possibility of parole as the punishment for murder over the death penalty. Gallup reports that support for life imprisonment rather than the death penalty increased across all key subgroups. Read more and view graphs.
Invest in our 2020 vision for justice in Texas
Today on #GivingTuesday, we remember the generosity at the heart of the holiday season. While we know many worthy causes are asking for your support this month, we also are counting on you to sustain our transformative work to end the death penalty.
Donating to TCADP today means investing in our 2020 vision for justice in Texas, including holding prosecutors accountable for death penalty practices and telling the stories of individuals impacted by violence and the death penalty. Make a secure, tax-deductible gift today. Thank you!