In this edition
Reflections on race and “future dangerousness” in the Texas death penalty
Scheduled executions: State of Texas seeks to execute Billy Joe Wardlow for a crime he committed 27 years ago at the age of 18; federal government sets four execution dates
Case updates: Bobby Moore, who spent 40 years on death row, granted parole; U.S. Supreme Court sends another Texas death penalty case back for reconsideration; McLennan County opts not to pursue death sentence for Albert Love
In case you missed it: 54% of Americans deem the death penalty “morally acceptable”; criminal justice reform advocate, Charles T. Terrell, passes away; former Texas Governor Rick Perry supports compensation for Alfred Dewayne Brown; Walter Ogrod exonerated in Pennsylvania
2020 Elections: Important local races on the ballot in Texas primary runoff election
Featured events and what to watch this month: Film screenings, our new webinar series, and the first meeting of TCADP’s book group
Reflections on race and “future dangerousness” in the Texas death penalty
July 2nd marks the 44th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in Gregg v. Georgia (1976). In Gregg, the Court upheld as constitutional the newly crafted death penalty statutes of several states – including Texas – and paved the way for the resumption of executions the following year. Since the ruling, more than 1,500 people have been executed nationwide, with more than one-third of those executions carried out by the State of Texas.
Jurek v. Texas was decided on the same day as Gregg. In that decision, the Court determined that the capital sentencing procedure in Texas was not unconstitutional, even though it differed from other state statutes in a major way – namely, by requiring jurors to determine whether the defendant poses a continuing threat to society (aka “future dangerousness”).
Since its inception, defense attorneys have challenged this unique facet of Texas’s capital punishment statute on a variety of grounds. One of the most egregious aspects of predictions of future dangerousness is the linkage with race. Continue reading…
State of Texas seeks to execute Billy Joe Wardlow
Despite the ongoing pandemic, the State of Texas is scheduled to execute Billy Joe Wardlow on July 8, 2020 for a crime he committed 27 years ago when he was 18 years old. In 1993, he killed 82-year-old Carl Cole at his home in rural Morris County during a botched attempt to steal Cole’s truck. Sentenced to death in 1995 after his trial attorney failed to present significant mitigating evidence, he has spent more than 25 years on death row.
Wardlow is seeking a commutation of his death sentence from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles or at least a reprieve until the Texas Legislature has an opportunity to consider the issue of whether 18- to 20-year-old defendants should be sentenced to death or executed under Texas’s current death penalty statute.
If you have not done so already, contact the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles this week to urge clemency or at least a reprieve for Billy Joe Wardlow. Send an email directly to the Board through this online action sponsored by our partners at Equal Justice USA or compose a message in your own words using the talking points provided here.
In addition to seeking clemency, attorneys for Wardlow have filed a petition for certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court asserting that a jury’s prediction of future dangerousness cannot reliably be made for capital defendants under the age of 21. This determination of future dangerousness is a requirement for imposing the death penalty in Texas. Wardlow also seeks a stay of execution from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) based on the recent surge in COVID-19 cases across the state.
Since mid-March, the CCA has stayed four executions based on the pandemic. It also stayed the execution of Randall Mays, who was scheduled to be put to death on May 13, sending his claim of intellectual disability back to the trial court for a review on the merits. On June 16, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the execution of Ruben Gutierrez an hour before he was set to be put to death. It was the fourth execution date he has faced over the past two years.
To date in 2020, the State of Texas has executed two people. Executions also have been carried out in Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, and Tennessee. At this time, there are two more executions scheduled in Texas, both in September. Texas juries have sentenced two people to death this year; other jury trials are on hold at least through September 1 due to the pandemic.
Federal government seeks to move forward with first executions in 17 years
Last month, the Trump administration renewed its efforts to resume the federal death penalty by scheduling four executions. A year ago, the U.S. Department of Justice sought to carry out executions for the first time since 2003, setting dates in December 2019 and January 2020 for five individuals. In November 2019, a federal district court judge temporarily blocked the executions in response to a lawsuit challenging the legality and constitutionality of the government’s lethal injection protocol. 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. In April 2020, however, the D.C. Circuit Court lifted the injunction, and on Monday, June 29, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to block the executions, which are now scheduled to be carried out in July and August. Litigation specific to the individual cases remains pending. There currently are 62 people on federal death row. The federal government has executed three people since 1988.
What you can do to stop these executions:
– Sign one (or all) of these petitions: to the U.S. Congress, to President Trump, and to Attorney General William Barr.
– If you are a faith leader, sign a Joint Statement Against Federal Executions.
For updates on scheduled executions, visit our website or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
Bobby Moore, who spent 40 years on death row, granted parole
Bobby Moore was removed from death row in December 2019 after years of legal wrangling and two reversals by the U.S. Supreme Court related to his intellectual disability, which made him ineligible for execution. On June 8, 2020 – 40 years after a Harris County jury sentenced him to death – he was granted parole by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. Now 60 years old, Moore was one of the longest-serving death row inmates in Texas.
U.S. Supreme Court sends Texas death penalty case back for reconsideration
On June 8, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the attorney who represented Terence Tremaine Andrus during his 2012 capital murder trial in Fort Bend County performed deficiently in failing to present or even investigate readily available mitigating evidence of Andrus’s troubled upbringing. This evidence included his mother’s drug addiction and prostitution, his role as caretaker for his siblingswhen his mother would abandon her children, his own drug use, multiple suicide attempts and a diagnosis of psychosis. The case has been sent back to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for reconsideration of Andrus’s quest for habeas relief.
McLennan County decides not to pursue another death sentence for Albert Love
The McLennan County District Attorney has decided his office will no longer seek another death sentence for Albert Love, whose conviction was overturned by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in December 2016. The Court found that Love’s text messages had been seized without a warrant and improperly admitted as evidence during his 2013 trial, and that the error was not harmless. He still faces a new trial for the murders of Kennan Hubert and Tyler Sneed in 2011 in Waco.
Prosecutors across Texas have removed the death penalty as a sentencing option in dozens of capital murder cases in recent years. Many of these cases were resolved shortly before the jury selection process or trial proceedings were set to begin. Since 2015, in 40% of the cases in which prosecutors sought a death verdict at trial, juries have opted instead for the sentence of life in prison without parole. Learn more about these trends in our 2019 report.
In case you missed it
Gallup poll finds fewer Americans consider the death penalty morally acceptable
According to Gallup’s recent Values and Beliefs poll, a record-low 54% of Americans consider the death penalty to be morally acceptable, down from 60% last year. This finding is consistent with polling last fall that showed declining public support for the death penalty and a record-high preference for life in prison over the death penalty as a punishment for murder.
Criminal justice reform advocate, Charles T. Terrell, passes away
Former Dallas City Council member, Charles T. Terrell, recently passed away at the age of 81. The state named a prison unit after him in recognition of his work on criminal justice issues. Terrell asked that his name be removed after the unit began to house death row inmates, however. The facility became the Polunsky Unit, and his name was transferred to a prison unit in Brazoria County.
According to the Dallas Morning News, Terrell supported the death penalty but began to question his opinion, noting “racial disparities in the criminal justice system and that people on death row should have the right to a complete investigation using DNA to double-check for mistakes.” He was part of the American Bar Association’s Texas Capital Punishment Assessment Team, which conducted a two-year study of the fairness and accuracy of the death penalty system in Texas. The team’s report found that Texas is significantly out of step with practices implemented in other states that allow the death penalty.
Alfred Dewayne Brown’s fight for compensation gains new ally
Despite being declared “actually innocent”, Alfred Dewayne Brown has not been compensated by the State of Texas for the 10 years he was wrongfully incarcerated on death row. Now, former Texas Governor Rick Perry is urging the Texas Supreme Court to side with Brown in overturning the Texas Office of the Comptroller’s inexplicable decision to deny his applicationfor the compensation to which he entitled. The Tim Cole Act, which Perry signed into law in 2009, compensates exonerees with $80,000 for every year they spent in prison for crimes they did not commit. To learn more about Brown’s harrowing ordeal, watch “Episode 8: The Prosecution: Hidden Alibi” of the “Innocence Files” on Netflix.
Pennsylvanian Walter Ogrod exonerated after spending more than two decades on death row
On June 10, 2020, Walter Ogrod became the 169th person exonerated from death row in the United States since 1973. He spent 23 years on death row in Pennsylvania in a case marked by police and prosecutorial misconduct. After new evidence came to light, the mother of four-year-old murder victim, Barbara Jean Horn, supported Ogrod’s release. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, the exoneration of another Pennsylvania man, Kareem Johnson, is pending.
Early voting in the Texas primary runoff election began on Monday, June 29, 2020 and will run until Friday, July 10, 2020; election day is Tuesday, July 14, 2020. There are many important local and statewide races on the ballot, including District Attorney runoff elections in El Paso and Travis Counties and a special election in State Senate District 14 (Bastrop and Travis Counties). Check with your county clerk on early voting locations and new safety protocols.
Featured events and what to watch this month
Amnesty International event to feature case of Rodney Reed
On Tuesday, July 7, 2020, at 6:00 PM Central Time, Amnesty International will host an online film screening of “State vs. Reed: A Question of Justice on Texas’ Death Row,” which tells the story of Rodney Reed. For 21 years, Reed, who is Black, has maintained his innocence of the 1996 rape and murder of Stacey Stites, who was white. He was convicted and sentenced to death by an all-white jury in Bastrop County in 1998 and came within five days of being executed by the State of Texas last November. Following the film, there will be a discussion with Rick Halperin, Amnesty International’s State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator for Texas, and Roderick Reed, Rodney’s brother. RSVP here.
First meeting of TCADP book group
TCADP’s book group will hold its first meeting on Wednesday, July 15, 2020 at 7:30 PM Central Time, when we’ll discuss The Guardians by John Grisham. RSVP here. You will receive a link for the Zoom meeting a couple days in advance. Questions? Contact Kristin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Launch of new webinar series
TCADP is excited to announce the launch of our new webinar series, “Seeking Justice in Texas.” Each month, we will bring you 2-3 sessions featuring experts on various topics and voices of experience on the death penalty. The first two sessions —”The Evolution of the ‘Modern’ Era of the Death Penalty” and “The Execution of People with Intellectual Disabilities in Texas” — will be presented by Professor Ana Otero, the President of the TCADP Board of Directors. They will take place on Tuesday, July 21, 2020 and Tuesday, July 28, 2020 from 12:00 to 1:00 PM Central Time. Click here for more information and to RSVP. (Note: The sessions will be recorded, but you’ll still need to RSVP to receive the link.)
What to watch this month
The extraordinary documentary film, “True Conviction,” is available to stream for free on PBS through July 26, 2020. Filmed in Dallas, it explores the investigative and philanthropic work of exonorees Christopher Scott, Johnnie Lindsey, and Steven Phillips, who collectively spent more than sixty years in prison for crimes they did not commit. After their exonerations, the three friends formed House of Renewed Hope to help other wrongfully convicted prisoners and advocate for criminal justice reforms. TCADP honored House of Renewed Hope at our 2018 Annual Conference, where Christopher Scott and Steven Phillips also participated in a panel discussion. After you watch this film, you’ll see why they deserve our utmost appreciation – don’t miss it!