In this edition:
Scheduled executions: John Ramirez faces execution on October 5 despite District Attorney’s attempt to withdraw the date
TCADP 2023 Annual Conference: Seeking nominations for our Annual Awards
In case you missed it: American Psychological Association calls for extending ineligibility for the death penalty to those under age 21; Tarrant County District Attorney asks Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to grant new punishment trial to Paul Storey
Featured events: TCADP Book Group meeting on September 7; Bexar County District Attorney Candidate Debate on September 21, hosted by the nonpartisan San Antonio Report
Quote of the month
“I believe in the power of redemption. If given the opportunity, Mr. Coddington can help others in prison and live a life of service to others.”
-Trisha Allen, “Oklahoma governor denies clemency for death row inmate ahead of Thursday execution,” CNN, August 24, 2022
James Coddington was executed on August 25, 2022 by the State of Oklahoma for a 1997 murder and robbery spree. Trisha Allen, who was robbed by Coddington, wrote in an affidavit that she would not have testified in support of his death sentence had she known the circumstances of Coddington’s childhood. Governor Stitt rejected a recommendation for clemency from the Pardon and Parole Board.
The State of Texas has scheduled three executions in the remainder of 2022 (three dates also have been set already for 2023).
On October 5, 2022, the State is scheduled to execute John Ramirez. It is the fourth execution date he has faced in recent years and comes after extensive legal wrangling about the presence and practices of spiritual advisors in the execution chamber.
In September 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed Ramirez’s execution to consider his federal complaint alleging the violation of the free exercise of his religious beliefs. Ramirez had requested that his spiritual advisor, Pastor Dana Moore of Second Baptist Church in Corpus Christi, accompany him in the execution chamber and be allowed to lay hands upon him and pray aloud at his moment of death in accordance with his religious practice.
In the Court’s opinion in Ramirez v. Collier, released on March 24, 2022, it upheld the religious rights of individuals facing execution in Texas. In compliance with that decision, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice now is considering requests involving spiritual advisors on a case-by-case basis.
Ramirez’s latest execution date was sought without the knowledge or consent of Nueces County District Attorney (DA) Mark Gonzalez, who has publicly expressed his belief that the death penalty is unethical. Gonzalez filed a motion to withdraw the date but a state district judge rejected that motion.
Ramirez was convicted in 2009 of killing and robbing Pablo Castro in Corpus Christi in 2004. He was 20 years old at the time of the offense. According to the clemency application he submitted last year, the jury that sentenced him to death never heard about his traumatic childhood and mental health issues, including an attempted suicide.
By all accounts, Ramirez has grown mentally, emotionally, and spiritually during his years on death row. He has been active in prison ministry as well as the prison radio station at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas.
We will share more information about this case once we receive guidance from Ramirez’s attorneys.
Nationwide, ten people have been put to death this year, including Carl Buntion and Kosoul Chanthakoumanne in Texas. These executions have occurred in five states. Executions are scheduled in Oklahoma, Alabama, and Missouri, where the Missouri Supreme Court has set a November 29 execution date for Kevin Johnson, who was convicted of killing a suburban St. Louis police sergeant in 2005 when he was 19 years old. According to the Associated Press, “The execution date comes despite opposition from the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, which wants a special prosecutor to investigate whether Johnson’s conviction and death sentence resulted from racial bias.”
Our colleagues with Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty have launched a campaign for #ClemencyForKJ. Sign the petition and learn more about this case.
Nominate an individual or organization for a TCADP 2022 Annual Award
TCADP is now accepting nominations for our annual Courage, Appreciation, and Media Awards. With these awards, we recognize outstanding individuals and organizations who have made significant and selfless contributions towards ending the death penalty in Texas (read about previous recipients). All award recipients will be honored during the TCADP 2023 Annual Conference, which will return as an in-person event on Saturday, February 25, 2023 in Austin. Stay tuned for more details about this informative and inspirational day of advocacy!
Award nominations will be accepted until October 17, 2022.
American Psychological Association calls for extending ineligibility for the death penalty to those under age 21
Last month, the American Psychological Association adopted a resolution calling upon courts and state legislatures to ban the application of the death penalty to anyone younger than 21, citing scientific research that adolescents’ brains are still developing. (The U.S. Supreme Court prohibited capital punishment for those under age 18 in 2005.) This is particularly welcome news in Texas, where two of the last five people put to death—Billy Joe Wardlow and Quintin Jones—were under 21 at the time of the crime. Both men spent decades on death row before they were executed. By all accounts, they had matured tremendously during their time in prison. Information about impulse control and the ability to make rational decisions, among other core brain functions, was not available to the juries that sentenced them to death more than 20 years ago.
Even more recently, Ramiro Gonzales faced execution in July for a crime he committed when he was barely 18 years old. Thankfully, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted a stay two days before the execution based on Gonzales’s claim that a State’s witness at his trial provided false testimony about recidivism rates. That same expert changed his opinion about Gonzales upon re-evaluating him 15 years after his conviction and now believes Gonzales “does notpose a risk of future danger to society,” a determination that is required for a jury to impose a death sentence in Texas.
Racial bias also impacts the sentencing of individuals under age 21. According to a new report by University of North Carolina political scientist Frank R. Baumgartner, Black defendants constitute 50% of the death sentences imposed on those ages 18 to 20 since 2005.
Tarrant County District Attorney asks Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to grant new punishment trial to Paul Storey based on prosecutorial misconduct
Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson has filed a motion with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) asking for a new punishment trial for Paul David Storey, who has been on death row since 2008 and faced execution in April 2017. He was sentenced to death for the robbery and murder of Jonas Cherry. A prosecutor claimed during her closing argument in the punishment phase of the trial that “… it should go without saying that all of Jonas’s family and everyone who loved him believe the death penalty is appropriate.” In fact, Judy and Glenn Cherry, the parents of Jonas, opposed the death penalty and campaigned publicly to stop Storey’s execution (watch their recorded statement).
After the CCA granted a stay of execution to Storey, State District Judge Everett Young held an evidentiary hearing to determine whether prosecutors had committed misconduct. In 2018, Judge Young recommended that Storey’s death sentence be commuted to life in prison after finding prosecutors had presented false evidence and withheld evidence from the defense. He also found that the testimony of the two original prosecutors at the writ hearing was not credible.
A majority of judges on the CCA rejected Judge Young’s recommendation in 2019, however. They did not consider the merits of Storey’s claim but rather ruled that Storey’s habeas counsel, who is now deceased, could have uncovered evidence to expose the falsity of the prosecutor’s closing argument sooner through “reasonable diligence” and thus could and should have brought the claim in an initial habeas filing. Two judges – Yeary and Walker – filed separate dissenting opinions; Judge Slaughter joined both dissents.
District Attorney Wilson is now asking the CCA to reconsider its 2019 ruling that denied relief to Storey, noting that the prosecutors’ conduct “is the very antithesis of due process.” Read more from KERA.
TCADP Book Group
The TCADP Book Group meets every six to eight weeks on Zoom and reads a mix of fiction, non-fiction, and memoirs. Our next meeting will take place on Wednesday, September 7, 2022 at 7:30 PM Central Time, when we will discuss Notes on an Execution: A Novel by Danya Kukafka. Register here.
Bexar County District Attorney Candidate Debate
District Attorney (DA) elections in dozens of Texas counties in 2022 will impact criminal justice practices and use of the death penalty for years to come. On Wednesday, September 21, 2022, the San Antonio Report – a nonprofit, nonpartisan digital news outlet – will host a Bexar County District Attorney candidate debate. It will take place from 6:00 PM – 7:30 PM CDT in the McAllister Fine Arts Center, located on the San Antonio College campus at 1300 San Pedro Ave. The event is free and open to the public; it will be live streamed, as well. Register here.
We will provide information on other relevant candidate events as it becomes available. As a 501(c)(3) organization, TCADP does not get involved in political campaigns or endorse candidates. We are strictly nonpartisan.