In this edition:
Scheduled executions: Texas once again schedules first U.S. execution of the year
In case you missed it: Death penalty developments in Texas and nationwide; sentence of one of state’s longest-serving death row inmates overturned; death row exoneree graduates from Texas Woman’s University; The Intercept exposes “old truths about the so-called modern death penalty” in four-part series
TCADP 2020 Annual Conference: Join us in San Antonio on February 29, 2020
Featured events: Nationwide release of films “Just Mercy” and “Clemency”
Quote of the month
“As I watched my client of three years die, I thought of all the failures that led to this point. Chief among these failures is the Texas justice system, which chose cruelty and lawlessness over truth and compassion.”
– Mark Pickett, “My client, Travis Runnels, did not deserve to die,” December 18, 2019
The State of Texas is scheduled to execute John Gardner on January 15, 2020 for the 2005 death of his estranged wife, Tammy Gardner. Gardner was convicted and sentenced to death by a Collin County jury in 2006. He is the first person scheduled to be put to death in the United States in 2020. Gardner turns 64 years old on January 3.
There currently are seven additional executions scheduled to take place in Texas through May.
In case you missed it
State and national death penalty developments in 2019
In December, TCADP released its year-end report, Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2019: The Year in Review. According to the report, use of the death penalty continues to decline in Texas, with the number of new death sentences and executions hovering near record-low levels in 2019.
The Death Penalty Information Center also released its year-end report in December, noting that 2019 marked the fifth consecutive year with fewer than 30 executions and less than 50 new death sentences nationwide. According to the report, half of U.S. states have abandoned the death penalty through legislative/ judicial action or imposed moratoria on executions. Read more.
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturns death sentence of Cesar Fierro
On December 18, 2019, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) overturned the death sentence of Cesar Fierro, who has spent nearly 40 years on death row. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 1980 by an El Paso jury for the shooting death of Nicolas Castanon, a crime he claims he did not commit. No physical evidence connected him to the murder. The CCA reversed Fierro’s sentence in light of Penry v. Lynaugh (1989), a U.S. Supreme Court case that established jurors must be given the opportunity to fully consider all mitigating evidence during the punishment phase of death penalty trials.
In response to the CCA’s ruling, the El Paso County District Attorney, Jaime Esparza, announced his office will not seek another death sentence. Fierro will be resentenced to life in prison. Now 63 years old, he is one of the state’s longest-serving inmates on death row. Only four people still on death row have been there longer than Fierro. Read more.
Death row exoneree graduates from college
Last month, Ryan Matthews graduated from Texas Woman’s University in Denton with a degree in applied arts and sciences. It was the culmination of a remarkable journey for Matthews, who was arrested at age 17 and sentenced to death in Louisiana for a crime he did not commit. After five years on death row, he was exonerated in 2004 after DNA testing on evidence from the crime scene excluded him. Mathews and his family moved to North Texas after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Read more.
Four-part series on the “modern” death penalty from The Intercept
Last month, The Intercept published an outstanding four-part series seeking “to produce a broad portrait of what four decades of ‘modern’ capital punishment have wrought.” The first article, “Death and Texas,” is particularly insightful in its explanation of our state’s unique death penalty statute. It also sounds the alarm that racial disparities are increasing as the use of the death penalty itself is decreasing.
TCADP 2020 Annual Conference
The TCADP 2020 Annual Conference – 2020 Vision for Texas: A Leap Towards Justice – will take place on Saturday, February 29, 2020 at the Whitley Theological Center on the campus of Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas. Register today!
Our program will feature a panel discussion between the current and former district attorneys of Bexar County, in-depth workshops led by experts, and the presentation of our annual awards to extraordinary individuals.
If you can’t join us for the full day, purchase a ticket for our awards luncheon and keynote address by Wana Akpan and Roderick Reed. Roderick and Wana, in collaboration with the family-led Reed Justice Initiative, mobilized millions of people worldwide to oppose Rodney Reed’s scheduled execution on November 20, 2019. Consider sponsoring a table at the luncheon or placing an ad in the conference program to commend Wana and Roderick and our award recipients.
Learn more about the conference, including details on our speakers and award winners.
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. The hotel provides free breakfast, as well as a free shuttle to the conference venue (Oblate School of Theology) and other amenities. Make your reservation directly with the hotel using this link.
If you’ve read his memoir 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. “Just Mercy,” a new feature film based on Stevenson’s book of the same name, tells the story of his work to free an innocent man from death row. The film stars Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan and opens nationwide on January 10, 2020 (some theaters will begin showing the film on the evening of January 9). You’ll find a list of local screenings here (just type in the name of your city at the top of the page).
We encourage you to take a friend or family member to see “Just Mercy” and have a conversation about how the themes of the film impact your own community. We also invite faith leaders to participate in “Justice Weekend,” an opportunity to address the themes of justice and mercy during worship services over the weekends of January 4-5 and January 11-12. You can download the Faith Leader Toolkit and sign up for Justice Weekend here.
Also showing in select theaters in January is “Clemency,” the winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival last year. Alfre Woodard stars as a prison warden who must confront the psychological and emotional demons caused by overseeing executions. “Clemency” will open in theaters in Austin, Dallas and Houston on January 24, 2020. If you would like to organize a group screening, please contact TCADP Executive Director Kristin Houle at email@example.com.
TCADP’s San Antonio chapter will hold its monthly meeting on Wednesday, January 8, 2020 at 6:30 PM at the Oblate School of Theology, Building 4 of the Oblate Renewal Center (285 Oblate Drive). Members will plan their participation in the city’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. March on Monday, January 20, 2020. Contact coordinator Mardi Baron at firstname.lastname@example.org for details about the meeting and/or parade.