In this edition:
Scheduled executions: First three executions scheduled in Texas in 2021 stayed to review claims of intellectual disability
Legislative developments: Virginia becomes first Southern state to abolish the death penalty
In case you missed it: Harris County District Attorney supports new sentencing hearing for Raymond Riles; Civil and human rights organizations call on President Biden to end federal death penalty; Death Penalty Information Center releases new report on death row exonerations; Fifth Circuit denies relief to James Broadnax despite racially discriminatory jury strikes
TCADP 2021 Annual Conference: Thanks to everyone who joined us online!
Featured events: Join TCADP’s next webinar and book group meeting; help us Amplify Austin this week
Quote of the month
“It is vital that our criminal justice system operates fairly and punishes people equitably. We all know the death penalty doesn’t do that. It is inequitable, ineffective, and inhumane.
“Over Virginia’s long history, this Commonwealth has executed more people than any other state. And, like many other states, Virginia has come too close to executing an innocent person. It’s time we stop this machinery of death.
“Thanks to the vote of lawmakers in both chambers, Virginia will join 22 other states that have ended use of the death penalty. This is an important step forward in ensuring that our criminal justice system is fair and equitable to all.”
Ramiro Ibarra, who was scheduled to be executed by the State of Texas on March 4, 2021, was granted a stay by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA). Ibarra, who is a Mexican national, has spent 23 years on death row for killing 16-year-old Maria Zuniga in McLennan County. The CCA sent his case back to the trial court to review Ibarra’s claim he is intellectually disabled and exempt from execution. The court also will consider his claim that scientific developments related to DNA testing undermine the reliability of evidence presented at his trial.
Ibarra is the third person this year to receive a stay from the CCA based on evidence of intellectual disability. It is the first time since 2008 that the State of Texas has not carried out any executions in the first three months of the year. The last execution in Texas occurred on July 8, 2020, when Billy Joe Wardlow was put to death. He remains the only person executed by the State during the pandemic.
Our counterparts in the Commonwealth of Virginia are on the cusp of a monumental achievement: abolition of the death penalty in the first Southern U.S. state. And not just any Southern state, but the state second only to Texas in terms of executions carried out since the U.S. Supreme Court paved the way for the resumption of executions in 1976. The Virginia legislature gave final approval to a bill to repeal the death penalty on February 22, 2021 and it now awaits the signature of Governor Northam. Virginia will be the 23rd state to abandon the death penalty through legislative or judicial action.
Since 1976, Virginia carried out 113 executions but like the rest of the country, the death penalty landscape there has shifted considerably over the past decade. At this time, just two people remain on death row and no one has been sentenced to death since 2011. Read about the historical significance of abolition in Virginia from TIME magazine.
Meanwhile in the 87th Texas Legislature, committees in the Texas House of Representatives have begun to meet and are expected to start considering bills shortly. Updates will be posted on the TCADP website.
In case you missed it
Raymond Riles, who has spent more than 40 years on death row, deserves new sentencing hearing
In early February, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office agreed that Raymond Riles should receive a new sentencing hearing. Riles has been on death row in Texas since 1976 and is severely mentally ill. Under the statute in place at the time of his trial, the jury that sentenced him to death was not given the opportunity to fully weigh mitigating evidence. Learn more about his case from The Marshall Project.
Civil and human rights organizations urge President Biden to end the federal death penalty
TCADP was proud to join more than 80 civil and human rights organizations in calling on the Biden administration to make good on its promise to end the federal death penalty once and for all, starting with an immediate halt to federal executions. The letter, which was sent last month, observes that “If we are to truly forge a nation as good as its ideals, the federal government must take swift action to commute the sentences of those currently under federal sentence of death and end the government’s cruel, ineffective, and irreversible use of the death penalty.”
New report adds three individuals to list of Texas death row exonerations
The Death Penalty Information Center’s (DPIC) new Special Report: The Innocence Epidemic provides in-depth analysis regarding the facts of wrongful convictions in capital cases. With the release of this report last month, DPIC has added 11 individuals to its list of individuals exonerated from death row. Of the 187 exonerations nationwide, 16 involve cases in Texas. The report also updates a key death penalty stat: for every eight people executed in the United States, one individual sentenced to death is exonerated. Even more disturbing, data demonstrates how the criminal legal system has weaponized the death penalty against innocent citizens, with abuses aimed particularly at poor communities and people of color. Learn more about the findings in this important new report.
Fifth Circuit denies relief in Dallas County death penalty case despite racially discriminatory jury strikes
In 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit agreed to review whether the prosecution’s jury selection notes in the case of James Broadnax should be allowed as evidence. During Broadnax’s 2009 trial in Dallas, prosecutors struck all people of color from the jury pool (the judge reinstated one Black juror). Last month, the Fifth Circuit denied relief. As reported by The Appeal, the ruling “exemplifies judges’ extraordinary deference to prosecutors, and the contorted reasoning they use to avoid holding prosecutors accountable for even the most obvious racism.”
Supporters gather virtually for TCADP 2021 Annual Conference
TCADP is grateful to everyone who participated in the TCADP 2021 Annual Conference: Reckoning with Injustice in the Death Penalty and Beyond, which took place virtually on February 27, 2021 with participants from across Texas, other states, and even abroad! It was wonderful to see both new and familiar names on our screen, honor our incredible award recipients, and hear from special guest speakers. We particularly want to thank Keri Blakinger, Delia Perez Meyer, and Shawn Nolan for sharing their insights with us during the panel discussion, and Henderson Hill for his stirring keynote address.
Our thanks also go to the following sponsors: Flanary Law Firm; Virginia Greenway; Jan Heinrichs; Anne and Bob Michael; Law Office of Omar Vargas; and Professor Ana Otero. Generous support for the conference was provided by the Judith Filler Foundation.
TCADP Webinar Series: Seeking Justice in Texas
[Rescheduled from February 16] On Tuesday, March 9, 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 1:00 PM to 2:00 PM Central Time that day or sign up to receive a recording of the session. Register here.
TCADP Book Group
The TCADP book group will meet tomorrow, Wednesday, March 3, 2021 at 7:30 PM Central Time to discuss End of Its Rope: How Killing the Death Penalty Can Revive Criminal Justice by Brandon Garrett (Professor Garrett will be joining us for the first half hour of our meeting!). Register here. You will receive details for the Zoom meeting that morning. All are welcome.
Our next book selection is Punching the Air by Yusuf Salam and Ibi Zoboi (meeting date TBD in late April).
It’s time to Amplify Austin
Amplify Austin, an annual online fundraising event, will take place this week on March 4-5, 2021. You don’t have to live in Austin (or the United States) to participate. Mark your calendar and help TCADP win a $1,000 bonus prize by donating between 1:00 and 2:00 PM Central Time on Friday, March 5.