COVID-19 and the Death Penalty

The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting use of the death penalty and individuals on death row in Texas. In this blog post, you’ll find an update on recent developments as well as actions you can take (from home) in support.

Recent death penalty developments

  • Two men were scheduled to be executed by the State of Texas this month: Tracy Beatty was scheduled to be put to death today, March 25, and John Hummel had a March 18 execution date.  
     
  • In both cases, attorneys filed motions asking the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (“CCA”) to grant a stay. Last week, in separate opinions, the CCA stayed both executions for 60 days “in light of the current health crisis and the enormous resources needed to address that emergency.”
     
  • The District Attorney Office in Tarrant County, where John Hummel was convicted, and in Smith County, where Tracy Beatty was convicted, opposed the motions for a stay and argued there was no evidence the current health crisis would impact the ability of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to carry out its execution duties.
     
  • There are still seven executions scheduled by the State of Texas through September, including two in April and two in May.  It is not clear how the CCA will handle those cases or if/when they might issue stays, though I am confident attorneys are doing everything they can to stop those executions from moving forward.
     
  • Capital murder trials in Bexar and Tarrant Counties in which prosecutors are seeking the death penalty have been postponed.
     
  • The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has suspended all prison visitation and at least one prison employee and one person in custody at a state jail have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past two days.
     
  • While one legal scholar has speculated that no additional execution dates will be set in the United States in 2020, last week the District Attorney’s Office in Nueces County sought and secured a September 9 execution date for John Ramirez.

You’ll find more details on these and other recent developments from The Marshall Project, How Coronavirus is Disrupting the Death Penalty.”  The Marshall Project is also a great source for coverage of how the coronavirus is affecting criminal justice issues in general, as is The Appeal.

What you can do

There are a number of actions you can take from home to create awareness, express gratitude to elected officials who have embraced alternatives to the death penalty, and lift the spirits of incarcerated individuals: 

1. Thank the Governor of Colorado
On Monday, March 23, 2020, Colorado Governor Jared Polis provided much-welcome news in announcing he had signed death penalty repeal legislation into law and commuted the sentences of the three individuals on death row there.  With this action, Colorado officially became the 22nd state to abandon the death penalty through judicial or legislative action. Governor Polis noted in his statement that “the death penalty cannot be, and never has been, administered equitably in the State of Colorado.” 

Thank Governor Polis for his leadership through this online action sponsored by our colleagues with Equal Justice USA.

2. Write to individuals on death row and in prison, who are more socially isolated than ever.
The address for men on death row is Polunsky Unit, 3872 FM 350 South, Livingston, TX 77351.

The address for women on death row is Mountain View Unit, 2305 Ransom Road, Gatesville, TX 76528.

You can find a list of individuals currently incarcerated on Texas’s death row here.

Be sure to include their TDCJ # when you address your envelope and note new mail regulations, including a ban on all greeting cards, that went into effect on March 1, 2020.

You’ll find resources for corresponding with individuals here:

Death Row Support Project: http://www.brethren.org/drsp/
Write a Prisoner: https://writeaprisoner.com

In addition, the Innocence Project of Texas has launched a “Correspondence with Clients” program.  If you are interested in participating, emailandrea@ipoftexas.org. You will be provided with brief guidelines, which they’ll ask you to sign and return to them.

If you would like additional information about corresponding with someone on death row, please email TCADP Executive Director Kristin Houle Cuellear at kristin@tcadp.org.

3. Catch up on podcasts, movies, and television series related to criminal justice.
You’ll find a lengthy list of recommended media on the TCADP website. If you have feedback on any of these resources or suggestions for additional entries, please email us at info@tcadp.org