TCADP April 2021 Newsletter: As Virginia abolishes the death penalty, Texas schedules executions

In this edition

Scheduled executions: State of Texas set to carry out first execution in nine months

In case you missed it: Texas prisons resume visitation; business leaders launch global initiative against the death penalty; National Registry of Exonerations records 129 exonerations in 2020

TCADP Board Member updates: Board of Directors welcomes new member, remembers beloved former TCADP Treasurer, Sherry Coombes 

Upcoming events: TCADP book group and webinar; San Antonio chapter meeting and book festival


Quote of the month

“Today, we start a new chapter, embracing the possibility of a new evidence-based approach to public safety. One that values the dignity of all human beings and is focused on transforming the justice system into one that is rooted in fairness, accountability, and redemption. We are so grateful for this day.”

– Rev. LaKeisha Cook, Justice Reform Organizer for the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, during the March 24, 2021 ceremony in which Governor Ralph Northam signed a bill to abolish the death penalty in Virginia. Virginia is the 23rd state – and the first Southern state – to end capital punishment. 


Scheduled executions

The State of Texas is scheduled to execute Ramiro Gonzales on April 20, 2021.  If it occurs, Gonzales would be the first person put to death in Texas since July 2020.  He was sentenced to death in Medina County for killing Bridget Townsend in 2001.  Both Gonzales and Townsend were 18 years old at the time.  He previously faced execution dates in 2016. TCADP will provide information on advocacy opportunities if/when available from the legal team. 

Three other execution dates are scheduled in Texas; two of these cases are from Tarrant County, which has become an outlier on the death penalty in recent years.  Information and updates on cases are available on our website and through Facebook and Twitter


In case you missed it

Texas Department of Criminal Justice allows visitors for the first time in a year
Prison visitation resumed in Texas on March 15, 2021 after a year-long hiatus due to the pandemic. Correspondence through the mail also remains vital as a means of contact with the outside world. The Friends Meeting of Austin currently is seeking pen pals for dozens of men on death row in Texas. If you are interested in becoming a pen pal, contact Joanna Vaughn at joannaredfield@gmail.com.

Business leaders launch new campaign to end the death penalty
In March, Sir Richard Branson and other prominent global business leaders launched a new campaign to abolish the death penalty.  The Business Leaders Declaration Against the Death Penalty states: “We can no longer stay silent on issues of inequality, and no issue is more intricately tied to the racial and socio-economic biases that permeate justice systems than the death penalty.”  The declaration was organized by the Responsible Business Initiative for Justice and has 21 initial signatories. 

Registry records 129 exonerations nationwide in 2020
According to a new report from the National Registry of Exonerations, 129 people were exonerated in 2020. Collectively, they were incarcerated for 1,737 years, with an average of 13.4 years lost per exoneree. Misconduct by government officials played a role in two-thirds of those cases (87/129). Texas accounted for 15 exonerations.  The report notes that in many of the exonerations last year, “COVID-19 became another party to the proceedings. It was no longer simply that the incarceration of these defendants was wrong. It was also dangerous to their immediate health.” Read the full report. 


TCADP board member updates

In February, the TCADP Board of Directors welcomed Rick McClatchy as its newest member.  Rick, who lives in San Antonio, has served as the State Coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Texas since 2003.  He attended Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas and received a B.A. in Religion.  At Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Fort Worth, he received a M.Div. and Ph.D. in Church History.  He has served as pastor of four churches and taught in five universities and seminaries.  From 1995 to 2003, Rick served as State Coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Oklahoma.  He was the recipient of a TCADP Appreciation Award in 2020 for his leadership in responding to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s abrupt decision to remove chaplains from the execution chamber, just days after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay of execution to Patrick Murphy on grounds of religious discrimination.

TCADP is mourning the loss of one of our most beloved members and stalwart supporters, Sherry Coombes.  Sherry served as a TCADP Board Member and Treasurer from 2000 to 2009.  She and her husband, Jim (who served on the board, as well, including as Board President), were instrumental in the professionalization and fiscal stewardship of our organization. Sherry also played a pivotal role in planning annual conferences, recruiting and cultivating new members, and organizing events in the Austin area (among many other contributions).  We will miss her dearly.


Upcoming events

TCADP Webinar Series: Seeking Justice in Texas
Tuesday, April 13, 2021, 1:00 to 2:00 PM Central Time: The Role of Mitigation Specialists in Capital Cases

What constitutes “mitigating evidence” in death penalty cases? How do mitigation specialists go about their work, and how do they try to persuade jurors to sentence defendants to life instead of death? What mitigating evidence seems to be most compelling?  In this session, you’ll hear from Elizabeth Harvey, a social worker and mitigation specialist on the front lines of capital cases. Register here.

TCADP Book Group
The TCADP book group will meet on Wednesday, April 14, 2021 at 7:30 PM to discuss Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam. Register here. You will receive details for the Zoom meeting that morning. 

After that, we will read Let the Lord Sort Them: The Rise and Fall of the Death Penalty by Maurice Chammah (meeting date TBD). Maurice will participate in a session moderated by Piper Kerman, author of the highly acclaimed memoir, Orange Is the New Black, during the San Antonio Book Festival, which is taking place online from April 9 to 11. To access the virtual Festival, register on the online platform at sabookfestival.org/online-edition with an email address. After registering, attendees can sign up to attend as many sessions as they’d like.

TCADP San Antonio Chapter
TCADP’s San Antonio Chapter will meet virtually on Zoom on Wednesday, April 14, 2021 from 5:30 to 6:30 PM.  We will discuss death penalty developments in Bexar County, including the pending capital trial of Otis McKane, as well as legislative updates. To join the meeting, email TCADP San Antonio Coordinator Mardi Baron at mardibaron@gmail.com.