TCADP October 2020 Newsletter: Virtual events abound this month

In this edition:

Scheduled executions: A month without executions

Case updates: Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reduces the death sentences of two individuals based on intellectual disability; Clinton Young seeks new trial after discovering prosecutor was working simultaneously for the judge who presided over his case 

In case you missed it: New report documents persistence of racial bias in the death penalty; 2020 Texas Tribune Festival panelists discuss “The Future of the Death Penalty”; federal judge rules Texas prison system must do more to protect older incarcerated individuals from COVID-19

Announcements: Submit nominations for our annual awards; apply for the TCADP Lobby Corps

Featured events: TCADP book group and a two-part webinar series on “future dangerousness”, plus a virtual event with Sister Helen Prejean and annual Wrongful Conviction Day


Monday, October 5 is the last day to register to vote in Texas if you plan to participate in the November 3, 2020 election.  Early voting in Texas begins on October 13.


Scheduled executions

There are no executions scheduled in Texas in October.  In fact, the State has not scheduled any executions for the remainder of 2020; three dates have been set for 2021.  This is in stark contrast to last year, when Texas scheduled executions every week in October, and eight executions altogether in the last three months of the year.  Thankfully, six of those executions were stayed or withdrawn. 

In September, the federal government put William LeCroy and Christopher Vialva to death.  The seven federal executions in recent months equal the number of executions carried out by all states in 2020.  Texas accounts for three executions this year, the fewest since 1996.


Case updates

Two individuals on death row receive reduced sentences due to intellectual disability
In two separate cases last month, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) changed the death sentences of Juan Lizcano and Gilmar Guevara due to evidence of their intellectual disability.  The CCA was forced to change the way it assesses intellectual disability claims in capital cases by the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings in Moore v. Texas (2017 and 2019).  In the cases of Lizcano and Guevara, the district attorney’s offices in Dallas and Harris Counties, respectively, agreed with the experts’ assessment of intellectual disability.  Trial courts then determined the men were ineligible for execution.

Astonishing revelations in Midland County death penalty case
Attorneys for Clinton Young have filed a writ with the CCA seeking a new trial after discovering that one of the prosecutors in Young’s 2003 trial was working at the same time for the district judge who presided over his case. As journalist Keri Blakinger noted in a thread on Twitter, “This is wild, even by Texas standards.”  Three years ago, the CCA stayed Young’s execution in order to consider his claim that false or misleading testimony was introduced at his trial. 


In case you missed it

New report documents historic role race has played in application of the death penalty
Last month, the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) released “Enduring Injustice: The Persistence of Racial Discrimination in the U.S. Death Penalty,” an important report that places the death penalty in historical context.  It documents the pervasiveness of racial discrimination in capital cases and explains why ending the death penalty is an import element in dismantling and reforming the criminal legal system.

The report lifts up the Texas death penalty case of Duane Buck and recent sentencing trends in Harris County as examples of persistent racial bias.  It also addresses systemic exclusion of jurors of color from service in death penalty trials and the disproportionate imposition of death sentences against defendants of color.  TCADP’s own research shows that over the last five years, more than 70% of death sentences in Texas have been imposed on people of color; 38% of these sentences were imposed on Black defendants. 

“Enduring Injustice” also examines how cases with white victims are more likely to be investigated and capitally charged.  This is certainly true in Texas. A recent study by University of Denver Professors Scott Phillips and Trent Steidley,  A Systematic Lottery: The Texas Death Penalty, 1976 to 2016, found that white females were the victims in 36% of the approximately 1,000 cases in which capital defendants were sentenced to death.   Read a summary of the study from DPIC.

Texas Tribune Festival panel on the death penalty
In “The Future of the Death Penalty,” a panel that took place as part of the 2020 Texas Tribune Festival, journalists Pamela Colloff and Maurice Chammah, Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales, and former Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Elsa Alcala cover systemic racism, the impact of the pandemic on capital cases, and other topics (all in 30 minutes!). Watch now.

Federal judge orders more protective measures for incarcerated individuals
This spring, individuals incarcerated at the Wallace Pack Unit filed a lawsuit against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), claiming health and safety concerns put them at risk of contracting COVID-19.  On September 29, 2020, U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison ordered TDCJ to do more to protect elderly individuals in prison against the coronavirus.  According to the Texas Tribune, “Texas has had more inmate deaths related to the coronavirus than any other prison system in the nation.” 


Announcements

Nominate an individual or organization for a TCADP 2021 Annual Award
TCADP is accepting nominations for our annual Courage, Appreciation, and Media Awards. 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 during the TCADP 2021 Annual Conference, which will take place as a virtual event on Saturday, February 27, 2021. Stay tuned for program announcements.

Award nominations will be accepted until October 15, 2020. You’ll find previous award winners listed here.

Apply for the TCADP Lobby Corps
TCADP is recruiting our next class of Lobby Corps members. This dedicated group of volunteers works with our staff and board members to advance TCADP’s legislative agenda. Lobby Corps members have played an active role in the last four sessions of the Texas Legislature, meeting with legislative offices and educating elected officials about the death penalty.  They continue to build relationships with legislators and share information about important death penalty developments in between sessions.  Given the uncertainties surrounding the next state legislative session, which is scheduled to begin in January 2021, we anticipate shifting our Lobby Corps activities to the virtual realm.  Flexibility required!

Applications are due by October 23, 2020.  We seek to add 8-10 new members to our ranks.  


Featured events

Wrongful Conviction Day
October 2, International Wrongful Conviction Day, seeks to raise awareness of the causes and remedies of wrongful conviction.  It also recognizes the tremendous personal, social, and emotional costs of wrongful conviction for innocent people and their families.  The Innocence Network will host a full-day of digital content from 9 AM to 9 PM on Friday, October 2, 2020Learn more about the streaming event and other ways to get involved.

TCADP Book Group
The TCADP book group is reading A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines. We will meet on Wednesday, October 21 at 7:30 PM Central Time.  All are welcome! Register here. You will receive details for the Zoom meeting that morning. 

TCADP Webinar Series: Seeking Justice in Texas
Texas law requires jurors to predict a defendant’s “future dangerousness” when deciding whether to impose a death sentence in capital cases.  In this two-part series, capital appellate attorney Gretchen Sween will discuss the origins of Texas’s unique jury instruction and how it has been used to stack the deck in favor of death sentences.

Tuesday, October 20, 12:00 to 1:00 PM CDT: Texas’s “Future Dangerousness” Special Issue, Part 1: A Problematic History

Tuesday, October 27, 12:00 to 1:00 PM CDT: Texas’s “Future Dangerousness” Special Issue, Part 2: Continuing to Stack the Deck in Favor of Death

Learn more and register here. You will receive Zoom meeting details a few hours before each session.  Note: The webinars will be recorded if you want to watch on your own time, but you must register to receive the link.

Other virtual events
Abu Ali Abdur’Rahman has been sitting on Tennessee’s death row for 33 years even though he never received a fair trial.  A documentary film about his case, “You Don’t Know Me,” will be shown online in the Nashville Film Festival from October 1 to October 7.  Anyone can purchase a ticket to watch the film any time during the seven days of the Festival.  If you watch the film, please consider voting for it to receive an Audience Award at the Festival.

The Cal Turner Program in Moral Leadership at Vanderbilt University will host a virtual event with Sister Helen Prejean via Zoom on Wednesday, October 7 at 12:00 PM (CDT).  Sister Helen will speak about her memoir, River of Fire, as part of the program’s October Lunch and Learn series.  Registration is free and open to all.

We also recommend the Cal Turner Program’s October 14 event with Reverend Sharon Risher, “For Such a Time As This: Hope and Forgiveness after the Charleston Massacre.” Rev. Risher was the keynote speaker at the TCADP 2018 Annual Conference, where she shared her powerful story of pain and forgiveness in the wake of the horrific act of hate that took her beloved mother and eight others, including two cousins and a childhood friend.  Register here.

St. Edward’s University and the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life at the University of Texas-Austin will host a panel discussion about the judicial selection process in Texas on Wednesday, October 7 at 7:00 PM Central Time over Zoom.  Speakers State Rep. Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio), Judge Bert Richardson (R- Texas Court of Criminal Appeals), and Emma Platoff from the Texas Tribune will discuss the repercussions of 1) how Texas’s system of judicial selection currently works, and 2) how it may change in the future given the newly formed Commission on Judicial Selection. The event is free and open to everyone. Register here.

Join the Innocence Project on Wednesday, October 21 at 6:00 PM Central Time for “A Call to Justice, An Evening of Thanks,” featuring experts, exonerees, and supporters.  (And then join the TCADP book group discussion after that!).  RSVP here.