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TCADP November 2021 Newsletter: Judge declines to recommend new trial for Rodney Reed, despite evidence of innocence

In this edition:

Scheduled executions: All three November execution dates in Texas have been withdrawn 

Case updates: Judge declines to recommend a new trial for Rodney Reed, who maintains his innocence; Dallas judge recommends new trial for Randy Halprin in light of outrageous anti-Semitic bias; journalist reflects on the life of Texas death row survivor Ernest Willis

New resource: Interactive maps illustrate the dwindling number of Texas counties where juries have imposed death sentences in the last five and ten years

Featured events: Save the date for “The Phantom” watch party and discussion; join the next TCADP book group meeting; register for the (virtual) TCADP 2022 Annual Conference

Tuesday, November 2, 2021, is Election Day in Texas. Please vote if you haven’t done so already! You’ll find information about the eight proposed amendments to the state constitution as well as your local ballot here. Use that same link to check your voter registration and find your local polling place.

Quote of the month

“Perhaps there is an awakening across the U.S. about executions. In 1999, there were 98 executions in the U.S. Last year, only 17, with 10 of those being federal executions in the closing months of Donald Trump’s presidency. Last year, Texas had three executions. This year, three as well. The death penalty has run its course. It’s time to let it go, Texas.” 

– Roger C. Barnes, “It’s past time for the death penalty to be abolished in Texas,” San Antonio Express News, October 24, 2021

Scheduled executions

No more executions in Texas in 2021
The November execution dates for Kosoul Chanthakoummane and Ramiro Gonzales have been withdrawn and reset for the summer of 2022. This follows on the heels of a stay of execution granted to Stephen Barbee and the withdrawal of the November 3 execution date for Fabian Hernandez. After putting three people to death this year, the State of Texas now has no executions scheduled until March 2022. 

This welcome respite comes in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to stay the September 8 execution of John Ramirez and consider his claim that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is violating his right to exercise his religious beliefs by prohibiting his spiritual advisor from laying hands upon him or praying aloud during his execution. The Justices will hear oral argument in Ramirez v. Collier on Tuesday, November 9. A recording of the argument will be available later that week. 

Executions in other states
Deplorably, Alabama, Missouri, and Oklahoma have now joined Texas and the federal government in carrying out executions this year after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review appeals from individuals in those states, including those who presented evidence of intellectual disability.

Last week, Oklahoma resumed executions after a six-year hiatus caused by the gruesome botched executions of Clayton Lockett in 2014 and Charles Warner in 2015. According to media witnesses, the execution of John Grant on October 28 went terribly awry, as well, raising yet more concerns about Oklahoma’s problematic lethal injection protocol just months before a trial on the constitutionality of that protocol is set to begin. (Content warning: Coverage of Grant’s execution contains disturbing details.) TCADP stands with those demanding Oklahoma immediately call off its other scheduled executions, starting with Julius Jones, whose clemency hearing is taking place today (November 1).

Case updates

Judge declines to recommend a new trial for Rodney Reed, despite evidence of innocence
In a devastating ruling issued this morning, November 1, 2021, retired state District Judge J.D. Langley has declined to recommend a new trial for Rodney Reed, who has maintained his innocence in the death of Stacey Stites for more than 20 years. This summer, Judge Langley presided over an evidentiary hearing during which he heard hours of testimony from prominent forensic pathology experts who questioned the time of Stites’ death that had been determined by the State’s medical examiner as well as from witnesses who corroborated Reed’s claim that he and Stites were involved in an intimate relationship. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals now will decide whether to accept or reject Judge Langley’s recommendation to deny relief to Reed.  Read a statement from his attorney and learn more about Reed’s quest to present evidence of his innocence to a jury.

Dallas judge recommends new trial for Randy Halprin after determining anti-Semitic bias tainted his legal proceedings in 2003
On October 11, 2021, a district court judge in Dallas determined that her predecessor, Judge Vickers Cunningham, harbored anti-Semitic views and violated Randy Halprin’s right to a fair trial by not recusing himself for bias. In 2019, Halprin, who is Jewish, was less than a week away from being executed before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) granted a stay and ordered the trial court to consider his claim that he had been denied his right to a trial free from religious bias. In her recent ruling, Judge Lela L. Mays recommended the CCA throw out the conviction and death sentence that Judge Cunningham imposed on Halprin, calling the facts of the case “extreme by any measure.” Read more, including a statement from his attorney.

Journalist reflects on the life of Texas death row survivor, Ernest Willis
Journalist Michael Hall with Texas Monthly reflected recently on the “wild times” of Ernest Willis, who spent nearly two decades on death row in Texas as an innocent man. Willis, who passed away at the beginning of 2021, was convicted of deliberately setting fire to a home and causing the deaths of two women in 1986. Seventeen years later, Pecos County District Attorney Ori T. White revisited the case after a federal judge overturned Willis’s conviction. After hiring a specialist who concluded there was no evidence of arson, DA White dismissed all charges against Willis. Ernest Willis is one of 16 men who was wrongfully convicted and released from Texas’s death row. Read Hall’s piece.

New resource

TCADP has added two new interactive maps to the Death Penalty at the County Level page on our website. The maps include the latest death sentence out of Smith County, which last week raised the total number of new death sentences imposed in Texas in 2021 to two. Explore this interactive learning tool to deepen your understanding of the death penalty at the county level and share it with your friends and family.

Featured events

“The Phantom” Watch Party
Join TCADP for a virtual watch party of “The Phantom” on Tuesday, December 7, 2021 from 6:30 to 8:30PM CT to mark the anniversary of Carlos DeLuna’s wrongful execution. “The Phantom”, which is now streaming on Netflix, tells the story of how the State of Texas recklessly sent Carlos DeLuna, a young Latino man who was innocent, to his death in 1989 and left a serial killer at large. We will be joined by director, Patrick Forbes, and the reporter who took Carlos’s last call, Karen Boudrie, for a Q&A session. Register here. Contact with questions.

TCADP Book Group
The TCADP book group meets on Zoom every six to eight weeks and reads a mix of fiction, non-fiction, and memoirs. Our next meeting will take place on Wednesday, December 8, 2021 at 7:30 PM Central Time, when we will discuss The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas by Anand Giridharadas. All are welcome! Register here. You’ll receive the Zoom link that morning.

TCADP 2022 Annual Conference
The TCADP 2022 Annual Conference: Transforming Justice in Texas will take place as a virtual event on Saturday, February 26, 2022 from 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM.  It will include a panel discussion featuring representatives of states that have abolished the death penalty in recent years, a keynote address, breakout sessions, and the presentation of our annual awards. Registration is now open!  More program details, including our award recipients, will be announced soon.