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TCADP January 2022 Newsletter: Starting the year on the right note – with no executions in Texas this month

In this edition

Scheduled executions: No executions set in Texas for January or February

TCADP 2022 Annual Conference: Don’t miss keynote speaker, Sister Helen Prejean!

In case you missed it: Death penalty developments in 2021; a radio station at the Polunsky Unit; new filing for Rodney Reed; important commentary on two Texas death penalty cases pending at the U.S. Supreme Court; remembering TCADP founding member, Marjorie Loehlin

Featured events: TCADP book group meeting on January 19, 2022

Year-end fundraising results: Thank you for supporting TCADP in 2021!

Quote of the month

“The abolition of the death penalty is making us a civilized society. It shows we actually do mean business when we say we have reverence for life.”

– Archbishop Desmond Tutu, anti-apartheid leader, voice for justice, and outspoken opponent of the death penalty, who died on December 26, 2021 at age 90. We honor his impact on the abolition movement and are grateful for his continuing legacy in the global fight for justice.

AnchorScheduled executions

For the first time since 2013, the State of Texas does not have an execution scheduled for January (or February). Currently, four men have execution dates in Texas, with the first set for March 8, 2022. Most prosecutors appear to be waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court to issue an opinion in Ramirez v. Collier, though in Harris County, a judge just set an April execution date for 77-year-old Carl Buntion, who has been on death row since 1991. Executions are scheduled in Oklahoma and Alabama for January 27.

TCADP 2022 Annual Conference

The TCADP 2022 Annual Conference: Transforming Justice in Texas will take place as a virtual event on Zoom on Saturday, February 26, 2022 from 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM Central Time. It will feature a keynote address by Sister Helen Prejean, the presentation of our annual awards, and four concurrent breakout sessions. We are pleased that Rev. Dr. LaKeisha Cook (Virginia), Representative Robert Renny Cushing (New Hampshire), and Denise Maes (Colorado) will join us for a panel discussion to share lessons learned from their respective states’ successful campaigns to abolish the death penalty. Program details, including information about our award recipients, are available here

In case you missed it

State and national death penalty developments in 2021
In December, TCADP released its year-end report, Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2021: The Year in Review. The report documents the persistent problems with the administration of the death penalty in Texas even as use declines. It received coverage from numerous media outletsthroughout Texas, including the San Antonio Express-News, the Corpus Christi Caller Times, and Houston Public Media.

The Death Penalty Information Center also released its year-end report in December, observing that “the death penalty in 2021 was defined by two competing forces: the continuing long-term erosion of capital punishment across most of the country, and extreme conduct by a dwindling number of outlier jurisdictions to continue to pursue death sentences and executions.” Nationwide, there were 11 executions last year and approximately 18 new death sentences.

Giving voice and community to individuals on death row in Texas
In her poignant piece, “The Prisoner-Run Radio Station That’s Reaching Men on Death Row”, Keri Blakinger of The Marshall Project writes about “The Tank”, a prisoner-run radio station at the Polunsky Unit that is creating opportunities for community and belonging for those completely isolated on death row in Texas. This article gives us an intimate look at the importance of human connection and the painful difficulty of finding that connection in prison.

Rodney Reed files new appeal
In December, attorneys for Rodney Reed filed a new appeal alleging prosecutors in his 1998 trial illegally concealed evidence that could have exonerated him, including statements corroborating his romantic relationship with Stacey Stites. Reed has maintained his innocence in the death of Stites for more than 20 years. Separate from this latest filing, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is considering whether to accept or reject a district judge’s recent recommendation to deny relief to Reed even after hearing hours of testimony undermining the State’s case against Reed last summer.

Former U.S. Solicitor General calls on Supreme Court to correct fundamental error in Andrus v. Texas
In a powerful commentary piece published by The Hill last month,former U.S. Solicitor General and U.S. Circuit Judge Kenneth Starr calls on the U.S. Supreme Court to act in the Texas death penalty case of Terence Andrus. In May 2021, a slim majority of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) refused to grant a new punishment trial to Andrus, who was sentenced to death in Fort Bend County in 2012. After finding Andrus’s trial counsel failed to present or investigate mitigating evidence of his client’s traumatic childhood and mental health issues, the Supreme Court had ordered the CCA to reconsider an earlier ruling denying relief to Andrus. Ignoring the Supreme Court, the CCA’s 5-4 opinion in May once again disregarded the ample mitigation evidence presented during post-conviction proceedings. In his piece, Starr observes that “In our system, all courts must faithfully adhere to Supreme Court precedent, especially on matters of life and death.” 

Civil rights attorney who challenged Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage in 1967 calls on High Court to intervene in the case of Andre Thomas
Philip Hirschkop, the attorney for Mildred and Richard Loving who successfully argued to the U.S. Supreme Court that Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage was unconstitutional, is calling on the Court to grant cert in the Texas death penalty case of Andre Thomas. Mr. Hirschkop was moved to speak out – 54 years after the Loving decision – because of the prejudice against interracial marriage expressed by several jurors who sentenced Thomas to death in 2005. He writes that “those jurors’ views on interracial marriage and people of different races having children were not harmless personal preferences, but a particular brand of racial prejudice that was directly related to the facts of Thomas’ case.” Read the piece.

Remembering TCADP founding member, Marjorie Loehlin
TCADP expresses its condolences to the family and friends of Marjorie Loehlin, who passed away in December at the age of 100. Marj was a founding member of TCADP and the Austin Chapter. She served on the TCADP Board of Directors, where she performed the duties of secretary. Our files are full of copies of correspondence sent by Marj to elected officials, religious leaders, and community partners! In 2011, we honored Marj with an Appreciation Award in gratitude for her steadfast presence at nearly every vigil, annual conference, and special event hosted by TCADP, as well as for her efforts to engage the League of Women Voters of Texas and the state’s Unitarian Universalist community in the cause of abolition. We remember her fondly and thank her for her decades of involvement in the anti-death penalty movement.

Featured events

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, January 19, 2022 at 7:30 PM Central Time, when we will discuss Reflections on the Guillotine by Albert Camus.

All are welcome! Register here. You’ll receive the Zoom link that morning.

Thank you for your generous support

We are overwhelmed by the generosity of everyone who donated to TCADP in response to our 2021 year-end appeal. With your support, our efforts this year will focus on limiting use of the death penalty, holding prosecutors accountable for their practices, and sharing the stories of those condemned by our society. Thank you for standing with us as we transform justice in Texas!