COVID-19 executions Gallup poll legislature TCADP Annual Conference

TCADP December 2020 Newsletter: Keeping up the fight to stop executions and end the death penalty

In this edition of our monthly newsletter, you’ll find information about federal executions scheduled by the outgoing administration, program announcements for the TCADP 2021 Annual Conference, and a new report on the toll COVID-19 has taken on Texas prisons and jails. Plus… abolition bills have been filed in the Texas Legislature and a new Gallup poll shows declining support for the death penalty.

In this edition

Scheduled executions: Five federal executions scheduled by outgoing administration

Legislative update: Abolition bills filed in the Texas House and Senate

TCADP 2021 Annual Conference: Join us (virtually) on February 27, 2021 

In case you missed it: Remembering Bill Pelke, founder of the Journey of Hope… From Violence to Healing; new report examines the devastating toll COVID has taken on Texas prisons and jails; Gallup poll shows declining support for the death penalty

Featured events: Participate in our next webinar and book group discussion

It’s Giving Tuesday: Invest in justice in Texas

Scheduled executions

The State of Texas does not have any executions scheduled this month, although six dates already have been set for 2021.  Half of these cases come from Tarrant County, which is becoming the epicenter of the death penalty in Texas. 

Federal executions
The federal government, which has put eight people to death this year, has scheduled two more executions for 2020 and three in 2021.

– On December 10, 2020, International Human Rights Day, the Department of Justice plans to execute Brandon Bernard despite the fact that a majority of the surviving trial jurors no longer want that death verdict carried out.  The government concealed vital information that likely would have persuaded those jurors to spare Bernard’s life in the first place.  One of the former prosecutors who worked to uphold his sentence also now wants his life to be spared.  Bernard and co-defendant, Christopher Vialva, were convicted and sentenced to death for carjacking, robbing, and killing Todd and Stacie Bagley at Ford Hood, Texas in 1999.  Bernard was 18 at the time and is one of the youngest people ever sentenced to death in federal court.  Vialva, who was executed on September 24, 2020, was 19 at the time.  Learn more about Brandon Bernard and how you can help stop his execution.

 – Alfred Bourgeois has been scheduled for execution on December 11, 2020.  According to a statement released by his attorney, the jury that sentenced Bourgeois to death never learned about his intellectual disability because his trial lawyers did not present the evidence that was available to them, nor has any court ever reviewed the evidence of his intellectual disability using proper scientific standards.  He was convicted of killing his two-year-old daughter at the Corpus Christi Naval Air station in 2002, which resulted in federal charges.

– On November 19, 2020, a federal district judge stayed the execution of Lisa Montgomery, a person with severe mental illness and the only woman on federal death row, so her lawyers can recover from COVID-19 and prepare her clemency application.  Montgomery was scheduled to be put to death on December 8, 2020, despite her horrific history of childhood trauma and a lifetime of suffering physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. The federal government has now rescheduled her execution for January 12, 2021. Two other people are set to be put to death that same week, just days before the Presidential inauguration. Sign the petition asking President Trump to stop Montgomery’s execution and learn more about her case.

*Case update* The Governor of Tennessee has granted Pervis Payne a reprieve until April 9, 2021 due to the pandemic.  Payne had been scheduled for execution on December 3, 2020 despite serious questions about his conviction.  Thanks to everyone who took action to stop his execution.

Legislative update

Bills to abolish the death penalty have been filed in the Texas House of Representatives and Texas Senate for consideration in the 87th Texas Legislature, which will convene on January 12, 2021.  We are immensely grateful to State Representative Joe Moody (House District 78-El Paso) for filing HB 215 and to State Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. (Senate District 27-Brownsville) for filing SB 188 and look forward to working with their offices during the legislative session.  Read about the bills and their authors in the Texas Signal and The Monitor.

TCADP 2021 Annual Conference

The TCADP 2021 Annual Conference will take place as a virtual event on February 27, 2021 from 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM Central Time.  With the theme “Reckoning with Injustice in the Death Penalty and Beyond,” we will address systemic racism in the criminal legal system as well as the injustices and inequities exposed and exacerbated by the pandemic.  

During the conference, we will honor three capital defense attorneys whose zealous advocacy has spared numerous individuals from execution and impacted the future of the death penalty.  Our expert panelists will address the impact COVID-19 has had on death penalty use and on incarcerated individuals.  Capital defense attorney and civil rights advocate, Henderson Hill, will deliver the keynote address and share his thoughts on this moment of reckoning with racial injustice.  Learn more about our award recipients, panelists, and keynote speaker and make plans to join us for this inspiring and informative virtual event

In case you missed it

Remembering Bill Pelke, a voice for compassion and forgiveness
Bill Pelke, the founder of the Journey of Hope… From Violence to Healing, passed away on November 12, 2020 in Anchorage, Alaska.  Bill shared his story of opposition to the death penalty and his call for love and compassion for all humanity with thousands of Texans over the past two decades.  He did so in memory of his grandmother, Ruth Pelke, who was brutally murdered by a group of teenage girls in Indiana in 1995.  We extend our condolences to Bill’s family and friends around the world and mourn this loss for the abolition movement.  

Texas leads the nation for the most COVID-19 prison and jail deaths 
new report from the University of Texas at Austin examines the devastating toll COVID has taken on Texas prisons and jails.  According to “COVID and Corrections:  A Profile of COVID Deaths in Custody in Texas,” at least 231 people, including both incarcerated people and staff, have died from COVID in Texas prisons and jails, more than any other state.  Fifty-eight percent of the people who died from COVID in prison were eligible for parole at the time of their death.

Americans’ support for the death penalty continues to drop
According to new polling data from Gallup, “Americans’ support for the death penalty continues to be lower than at any point in nearly five decades.”  A slim majority of Americans (55%) are in favor of the death penalty.  Millennials and Generation Z, non-white adults, and college graduates all indicated below-average support for the death penalty.  Read more and view graphs.

Featured events

TCADP Book Group
The TCADP book group is reading The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.  We will meet virtually tomorrow, Wednesday, December 2, 2020 at 7:30 PM Central Time.  All are welcome.  Register here.  You will receive details for the Zoom meeting in the morning. 

TCADP Webinar Series: Seeking Justice in Texas
Our monthly webinar will take place on Wednesday, December 16, 2020 from 12:00 to 1:00 PM Central Time.  In this session, we will discuss TCADP’s forthcoming report on Texas death penalty developments in 2020.  You’ll hear analysis of recent trends and ideas for using the report in your own advocacy against the death penalty.  Register here.

Invest in justice in Texas

Today on Giving Tuesday, we remember the generosity at the heart of the holiday season.  We know we join many worthy causes in asking for your support right now.  Your gift to TCADP will transform the Texas death penalty landscape in 2021 as we advocate for abolition at the state legislature, fight to stop executions, and hold prosecutors accountable for their death penalty practices.  Make a secure, tax-deductible gift today

Thank you for supporting our vision for justice in Texas!