In this edition
Scheduled executions: Texas set to resume executions; federal government plans to execute three people next week
TCADP 2021 Annual Conference: Join us virtually on February 27, 2021 for an inspiring and informative event
In case you missed it: Death penalty developments in Texas and nationwide in 2020; Texas Supreme Court rules Alfred Dewayne Brown must be compensated for the decade he spent on Texas’s death row as an innocent man; Anthony Graves reflects on 10 years of freedom since his exoneration
Featured events: TCADP book group meeting on January 13; special event on January 27 with journalist Maurice Chammah, the author of a new book about the death penalty, hosted by BookPeople and the Texas Tribune
Quote of the month
“Before we emerge from this informal pandemic moratorium in a damaging way, we should take stock of how executions are not only inessential, but are harmful to our public health, in large part because they are a major component of our society’s domination of Black bodies.”
– Walter Long, Founder of Texas After Violence Project, “True Freedom Beckons: The Coronavirus, Black Lives Matter, and the Resumption of Texas Executions,” December 10, 2020
Executions in Texas
The State of Texas is scheduled to execute Blaine Milam on January 21, 2021 for killing 13-month-old Amora Carson in 2008 in Rusk County. Jessica Carson, the baby’s mother, was sentenced to life in prison. Both Milam and Carson were 18 at the time of Amora’s death. Milam had an execution date in January 2019 but received a stay from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) in light of recent changes to intellectual disability law and arguments his conviction was based on discredited bitemark evidence. On remand, the trial court rejected both of these claims, and the CCA denied relief on July 1, 2020.
There currently are five more people with execution dates in Texas through June, including three men who were convicted in Tarrant County.
The federal government, which put ten people to death last year, is scheduled to execute three more people next week. Two of those individuals – Corey Johnson and Dustin Higgs – tested positive for COVID-19 in December. Their attorneys have asked a U.S. district judge to stay the executions on the grounds they would constitute cruel and unusual punishment. All three people have petitioned President Trump to grant clemency.
– Lisa Montgomery is scheduled to be executed by the federal government on January 12, 2021, despite her horrific history of childhood trauma, severe mental illness, and a lifetime of abuse. She was convicted in 2007 of the murder of Bobbie Jo Stinnett and is the only woman under a federal death sentence. Montgomery’s execution date of December 8, 2020 was stayed by a federal district judge to give her attorneys time to recover from COVID-19, which they contracted after visiting her. Most recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia overturned the district court’s ruling that the government had acted illegally in rescheduling Montgomery’s execution. Her attorneys will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
More than 1,000 current and former prosecutors, anti-violence advocates, anti-trafficking organizations, advocates for abused and neglected children, and mental health advocates are asking President Trump to stop the execution. Join them by signing this petition.
– The Department of Justice has scheduled the execution of Corey Johnson for January 14, 2021 despite overwhelming evidence of his intellectual disability. No jury or trial court has ever considered this evidence, which should render his execution unconstitutional. One of his co-defendants, Vernon Thomas, participated in many of the acts for which Johnson was sentenced to death in 1993 yet received a life sentence based on proof of his own intellectual disability. Two other co-defendants were sentenced to death and remain on federal death row for multiple murders committed in Virginia. Sign this petition to President Trump, sponsored by Equal Justice USA.
– Dustin Higgs faces execution by the federal government on January 15, 2021. He was convicted as an accomplice to the 1996 murders of Tanji Jackson, Tamika Black, and Mishann Chinn by a federal jury in 2000 in Maryland (Maryland abolished capital punishment in 2013). According to his attorney, “All witnesses agree that the sole shooter was Mr. Higg’s co-defendant, Willis Haynes, who was tried separately and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release. It would be arbitrary and inequitable to punish Mr. Higgs more severely than the person who committed the murders.” Although compelling evidence that would have supported a plea for life was available at the time of his trial, the jury that sentenced Higgs to death did not hear all of this mitigating information because his attorneys failed to develop and present it fully. Sign this petition, sponsored by Death Penalty Action.
TCADP 2021 Annual Conference
The TCADP 2021 Annual Conference: Reckoning with Injustice in the Death Penalty and Beyond will take place as a virtual event on Zoom on Saturday, February 27, 2021 from 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM Central Time. Our esteemed panelists will address the impact of COVID-19 on death penalty use and on incarcerated individuals. Capital defense attorney and civil rights advocate, Henderson Hill, will deliver the keynote address on this moment of reckoning with racial injustice. We also will offer four breakout sessions on a variety of topics and will honor three capital defense attorneys whose zealous advocacy has spared numerous individuals from execution and impacted the future of the death penalty. Learn more about our award recipients, panelists, and keynote speaker and register today!
In case you missed it
State and national death penalty developments in 2020
In December, TCADP released its year-end report, Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2020: The Year in Review. The report documents the sharp decline in death penalty usage driven by the pandemic, reform-oriented prosecutors, and eroding public support. It received coverage from numerous media outlets, including the San Antonio Express-News, the Austin Chronicle, and the Associated Press. We will provide a copy of the report to all members of the 87th Texas Legislature, which will convene on January 12, 2021.
The Death Penalty Information Center also released its year-end report in December, observing that “four forces shaped the U.S. death penalty landscape in 2020: the nation’s long-term trend away from capital punishment; the worst global pandemic in more than a century; nationwide protests for racial justice; and the historically aberrant conduct of the federal administration.”
For an excellent analysis of developments last year and the future of the death penalty, read “How the Pandemic Exposed the Failures of Capital Punishment,” from Liliana Segura and Jordan Smith with The Intercept.
Alfred Dewayne Brown will finally receive compensation for his wrongful incarceration
On December 18, 2020, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that Alfred Dewayne Brown is entitled to compensation for the decade he spent on Texas’s death row as an innocent man. Brown had been convicted of capital murder during the robbery of a check-cashing business in Houston in 2003, even though phone records corroborated his alibi. In 2014, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned his conviction after finding prosecutors had withheld this critical exculpatory evidence from his defense attorneys. Prosecutors in Harris County then dismissed the charges against him but did not declare him “actually innocent” at the time of his release in 2015. The State Comptroller used that technicality to deny Brown’s application for compensation, even after the Harris County District Attorney’s Office and a state district judge provided the necessary legal remedy. Last month, the Texas Supreme Court found the Comptroller exceeded his authority and was wrong to deny Brown the $2 million to which he is entitled based on the length of his wrongful incarceration.
Anthony Graves reflects on a decade of freedom and advocacy
In October 2020, Anthony Graves marked 10 years of freedom after being incarcerated for more than 18 years, including 12 years on death row, for a crime he did not commit. Anthony and his attorney, Nicole Casarez, shared their thoughts on the last decade and current criminal justice issues with the Texas Observer. (If you want to learn more about Anthony’s case, read his memoir and join our book group discussion next Wednesday – see below!)
The TCADP book group is reading Infinite Hope: How Wrongful Conviction, Solitary Confinement, and 12 Years on Death Row Failed to Kill My Soul by Texas death row exoneree Anthony Graves. We will meet on Wednesday, January 13, 2021 at 7:30 PM Central Time. All are welcome. Register here. You will receive details for the Zoom meeting that morning.
On Wednesday, January 27, 2021, Austin’s independent bookstore, BookPeople, will host a special virtual event with Maurice Chammah, a journalist with The Marshall Project. Maurice will discuss his new book, Let the Lord Sort Them: The Rise and Fall of The Death Penalty. The conversation will be moderated by Pamela Colloff, a senior reporter at ProPublica and a writer-at-large at The New York Times Magazine. The event is free and begins at 7:00 PM Central Time. Register and order your copy of Maurice’s book.