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TCADP February 2021 Newsletter: Case updates, legislative developments, and upcoming events

In this edition of our monthly newsletter, you’ll find information on legislative developments around the country, case updates related to intellectual disability and junk science, and guidance on how you can take action to stop the scheduled execution of Edward Busby. You’ll also find announcements related to our next webinar and book group meeting and the TCADP 2021 Annual Conference later this month.

In this edition

Scheduled executions: Take action to stop the execution of Edward Busby

TCADP 2021 Annual Conference: Join our special virtual event on February 27, 2021

In case you missed it: Tenth death sentence since 2017 reduced based on evidence of intellectual disability; U.S. Supreme Court declines to consider case that relied on hypnotized witness; accounting for the trauma inflicted by the death penalty

Legislative developments: Ohio exempts individuals experiencing severe mental illness from the death penalty; Virginia moves towards abolition; efforts to end the federal death penalty gain steam

Featured events: TCADP’s next webinar and book group meeting; save the date for Amplify Austin 2021

Quote of the month

This is not justice.  After waiting almost two decades to resume federal executions, the Government should have proceeded with some measure of restraint to ensure it did so lawfully.  When it did not, this Court should have.  It has not.”  – U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, dissenting in United States v. Dustin John Higgs, January 15, 2021

Higgs was the 13th person executed by the federal government since July 2020.   Three of those executions occurred in January, the week before President Biden was inaugurated. 

Scheduled executions

Next week, the State of Texas plans to carry out its first execution since last summer. Edward Busby is scheduled to be put to death on February 10, 2021.  It is the second execution date he has faced in the past year.  Busby was convicted of robbing and killing 77-year-old Laura Lee Crane in Fort Worth in 2004. 

Busby is asking the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Greg Abbott to commute his sentence or grant a 120-day reprieve based on two issues: 1.) his request for his spiritual advisor to accompany him in the execution chamber; and 2.) evidence of his intellectual disability, which should render him exempt from execution. 

Contact the members of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles this week to urge them to recommend clemency or a 120-day reprieve for Edward Busby (TDCJ # 999506, DOB 07/25/1972; you must include this information in your appeals).  You’ll find talking points, a sample letter, and contact information for the Board and Governor here. Thanks to everyone who has already taken action on this case.

There currently are four more people with execution dates in Texas through June, including two other men who were convicted in Tarrant County.  (Note: Blaine Milam, who was scheduled for execution in January, received a stay from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals based on his claim of intellectual disability.)  Information and updates on cases are available on our website and through Facebook and Twitter.

TCADP 2021 Annual Conference

The TCADP 2021 Annual Conference: Reckoning with Injustice in the Death Penalty and Beyond is less than a month away!  Have you registered?  During this special virtual event, you’ll hear from defense attorneys and civil rights advocates, journalists, and people impacted directly by capital punishment.  We’ll also discuss the state of the death penalty in Texas and what lies ahead.  Join us online on Saturday, February 27, 2021 from 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM Central Time.

Note: TCADP’s General Membership Meeting, which typically occurs in conjunction with the conference, will take place on Wednesday, February 24, 2021 from 7:00 to 8:00 PM Central.  All TCADP members will receive an invitation with registration details later this month.

In case you missed it

Death sentence of Charles Brownlow reduced based on evidence of intellectual disability
Last month, prosecutors in Kaufman County determined that Charles Brownlow should be resentenced to life in prison without parole after agreeing with experts that he is intellectually disabled.  In February 2020, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned Brownlow’s death sentence on direct appeal.  He had been convicted of capital murder in 2016.  During his trial, the judge instructed expert witnesses to tailor their testimony to the now-discredited “Briseño factors” for determining intellectual disability and to disregard current medical and scientific standards.  Brownlow is the tenth person to be removed from death row in Texas in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2017 decision in Moore v. Texas regarding the assessment of intellectual disability in capital cases.

U.S. Supreme Court declines to consider case that relied on hypnotized witness
On January 25, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case of Charles Don Flores, who has spent more than 20 years on death row in Texas. His 1999 conviction in Dallas hinged largely on an eyewitness who identified him only after the police had conducted a hypnosis session on her and only after she saw him sitting in the courtroom during his trial a year later.  In October 2020, Flores filed a petition asking the Justices to declare the use of hypnotically induced testimony to obtain convictions unconstitutional. Based on the scientific study of how memory works, a majority of U.S. jurisdictions – not including Texas – ban the admissibility of this testimony, recognizing that the process is inherently unreliable.

Accounting for the trauma inflicted by the death penalty
In Exploring the Rise, Fall, and Lingering Trauma of the Death Penalty in Texas,”Michael Barajas of the Texas Observer tells the story of Dalton and Gordon Coble.  The father and son witnessed the execution of Gordon’s father, Billy Wayne Coble, on February 28, 2019.  By all accounts, they are still traumatized by what happened that day in Huntsville.  This trauma also is a centerpiece of journalist Maurice Chammah’s new book, Let the Lord Sort Them: The Rise and Fall of The Death Penalty.  If you were unable to join BookPeople’s virtual event with Maurice and Pamela Colloff last month, you can watch their conversation here.

Legislative developments

There have been several significant legislative developments around the country already this year:

– On January 9, 2021, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed into law House Bill 136, which prohibits the death penalty for people in the throes of severe mental illness at the time of the crime.  (Similar legislation sponsored by State Representative Toni Rose passed the Texas House of Representatives in 2019 but did not move forward in the State Senate. Rep. Rose has filed House Bill 140, relating to the applicability of the death penalty to a capital offense committed by a person with severe mental illness, for consideration in the current legislative session.)

– Legislation to repeal the death penalty in Virginia has cleared two Senate committees and a House subcommittee and has the support of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. Virginia ranks second to Texas in the number of executions carried out since the 1970s, though use of the death penalty there has declined considerably in recent years.

– Members of Congress have introduced three bills to abolish the death penalty at the federal level.  They also are asking President Biden to commute the sentences of the 50 people who remain on federal death row.  In addition, more than 40 lawmakers have urged Merrick Garland, the nominee for Attorney General, to make abolishing the death penalty a priority if he is confirmed. These efforts have the support of a bipartisan group of nearly 100 criminal justice leaders, including several current District Attorneys in Texas, who have urged the Biden Administration to take steps to end the death penalty in the United States. 

There has not been movement on death penalty related bills (or any bills) filed in the 87th Texas Legislature, which began on January 12, 2021 and is adjourned until February 9.  Senate committees have been named; members of the House await their committee assignments.  TCADP has mailed a copy of our recent report, Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2020, to every legislative office.

Featured events

TCADP Webinar Series: Seeking Justice in Texas
On Tuesday, February 16, 2021, TCADP will present a webinar focused on lethal injection, including the status of litigation challenges and ethical and regulatory issues surrounding the source of drugs used currently in executions.  Our presenters are Maurie Levin, a capital defense attorney, and Heidi Bragg, and professor of pharmacy and regulatory compliance expert.  Join us from 12:00 to 1:00 PM Central Time that day.  Register here.

TCADP Book Group
Members of the TCADP book group have designated our next two reading selections: First up is End of Its Rope: How Killing the Death Penalty Can Revive Criminal Justice by Brandon Garrett.  We will meet on Wednesday, March 3, 2021 at 7:30 PM Central to discuss this book.  Register here. You will receive details for the Zoom meeting that morning. After that, we will read Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusuf Salam (meeting date TBD). 

Amplify Austin
Save the date for Amplify Austin 2021: March 4-5, 2021. Amplify Austin is a great way to support TCADP and our programs to end the death penalty in Texas.  More details coming soon.