In this edition:
Scheduled executions: State of Texas set to execute two men this month; both had previous execution dates in the past two years
Case updates: U.S. Supreme Court hears DNA-related challenge in case of Rodney Reed; Justices decline to consider egregious racial bias harbored by some of the jurors who sentenced Andre Thomas to death; federal judge presides over competency hearing for Scott Panetti; Harris County jury imposes first new death sentence in Texas in 2022
TCADP 2023 Annual Conference: Anthony Graves to keynote our statewide gathering, now in its 25th year; online registration is open
Featured events: Join an Innocence Project of Texas Book Club event on November 9 and the TCADP Book Group meeting on December 7
Early voting in Texas ends Friday, November 4. Election Day is Tuesday, November 8. There are numerous races that will impact use of the death penalty in Texas, including trial court and appellate judges, district attorneys, and state legislators. For information on your specific ballot, visit https://www.vote411.org. YOUR VOTE IS YOUR VOICE!
Quote of the month
“As Oklahoma proceeds with its relentless march to execute one mentally ill, traumatized man after another, we should pause to ask whether this is really who we are, and who we want to be.” – Tom Hird, attorney for Benjamin Cole, who was executed on October 20, 2022 despite the fact he suffered from severe mental illness, including paranoid schizophrenia and brain damage
The State of Texas is set to execute two men this month; both faced previous execution dates in the past two years.
Tracy Beatty: November 9, 2022
The State is scheduled to execute Tracy Beatty on November 9, 2022. He was convicted of killing his mother, Carolyn Click, in Smith County in 2003. Beatty faced execution in March 2020 but received a stay from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals because of the health crisis created by COVID-19. He also had an execution date in 2015. According to media reports, Beatty has filed a lawsuit against prison officials alleging his execution could be unconstitutional due to improper mental health evaluations. It is our understanding he also has submitted an application for clemency to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles but we do not have any details to share about that request at this time.
Stephen Barbee: November 16, 2022
The State of Texas is scheduled to execute Stephen Barbee on November 16, 2022 despite the violation of his constitutional right to a fair trial. This violation occurred when his lawyers unexpectedly and impermissibly conceded his guilt to the jury despite Barbee’s insistence on his innocence of the murders of Lisa and Jayden Underwood in 2005. His request for clemency or at least a 120-day reprieve to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles highlights this critical issue and two other considerations:
- Barbee’s attorneys presented virtually no compelling mitigating evidence to the jury, particularly regarding the crucial special issue of “future dangerousness,” which a Texas jury is required to determine to impose a death sentence. Barbee did not have a criminal record prior to his arrest in 2005 and he has not committed a single act of violence since his incarceration on death row.
- Barbee’s health has deteriorated considerably during his years on death row. He uses a wheelchair, has serious arm immobility issues, and has had two hip replacements, among many other serious ailments. He is not a danger to his fellow inmates or prison staff.
TAKE ACTION! We’re asking you to email the members of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles at email@example.com to urge them to recommend clemency or at least a 120-day reprieve for Stephen Barbee (you must include his TDCJ #999507 and DOB 03/30/1967 in your appeals). Share your concerns with Governor Greg Abbott. More talking points, a sample email message, and contact information for the Board and Governor are available here. Contact the Board by Friday, November 11, 2022.
Nationwide, twelve people have been put to death this year by five states: Alabama, Arizona, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas, which has executed three people. All five states are scheduled to carry out executions in November. The State of Texas already has six executions scheduled in 2023.
U.S. Supreme Court hears challenge related to DNA testing in the case of Rodney Reed
On October 11, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in Reed v. Goertz. Rodney Reed, who has been on death row in Texas since 1998 for a crime he has steadfastly maintained he did not commit, seeks DNA testing of crime-scene evidence, including the belt used to strangle the victim, Stacey Stites. That belt, along with other key crime-scene evidence, has never been tested. As reported by CNN, “Court precedent allows a state prisoner who has been denied in state court to pursue a post-conviction claim for DNA testing in federal court. But Reed’s case raises a statute of limitations question about whether such a claim can be brought at the end of state court litigation or at the moment a trial court denied DNA testing.” Listen to the recording of the argument at the Supreme Court (or read the transcript). Read additional coverage of the case from the Texas Tribune.
Justices decline to consider evidence of racial bias among all-white jury that sentenced Andre Thomas to death
The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to consider the case of Andre Thomas, a Black man with profound mental illness who was convicted in Grayson County in 2005of murdering his estranged wife, a white woman, their son, and her daughter in response to voices in his head. Suffering from severe schizophrenia and active psychosis, Thomas committed this crime and then attempted to take his own life by stabbing himself in the chest. Five days after the murders, while sitting in his jail cell, Thomas—following the literal dictates of Matthew 5:29 that “if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee”—gouged out his right eye. Soon after arriving on death row, Thomas gouged out his other eye.
Several people who expressed prejudice against interracial marriage were allowed to serve on the all-white jury that sentenced Thomas to death. Thomas asked the Supreme Court to hold that this violated his rights to an impartial jury and effective assistance of counsel. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson, vigorously dissented from the Court’s decision not to review the case, arguing “No jury deciding whether to recommend a death sentence should be tainted by potential racial biases that could infect its deliberation or decision, particularly where the case involved an interracial crime.” Read the response of Thomas’s attorney to the Court’s decision.
Federal judge presides over yet another competency hearing for Scott Panetti
Last week, a federal judge presided over a three-day hearing to determine whether Scott Panetti, who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and paranoid delusions over many decades, is competent to be executed. This isn’t the first time such a hearing has taken place in his case. As Panetti’s attorney noted in his opening statement, “It is unprecedented to be litigating on an execution competency claim for 20 years now.” Panetti has been on death row since 1995 after he was allowed to represent himself during his trial dressed in a purple cowboy costume. Read coverage of the hearing from the Texas Tribune and a compelling opinion piece by Professor Brian Shannon on why executing Scott Panett would be an appalling injustice.
Harris County jury sentences Robert Solis to death
On October 26, 2022, a Harris County jury imposed the first new death sentence in Texas this year, recommending the death penalty for Robert Solis for killing Harris County Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal in 2019. Solis represented himself during the trial. He did not call any witnesses during the punishment phase, and the jury deliberated for only 35 minutes about whether to sentence him to death. Solis is the fourth person sentenced to death in Harris County since 2018, more than any other county in Texas but still a marked departure from the 1990s, when Harris County juries routinely sent more than a dozen people to death row each year.
Registration is now open for the TCADP Annual Conference: 25 Years of Igniting Change, which will take place in person on Saturday, February 25, 2023 from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM at St. David’s Episcopal Church in downtown Austin. We are thrilled to announce that Anthony Graves will serve as our keynote speaker! Anthony spent 18 and a half years in prison, including more than 12 years on death row, as an innocent man. Since his exoneration on October 27, 2010, he has worked tirelessly to fulfill his dream of creating a criminal justice system that treats people fairly, strives for equality, and respects the humanity of the guilty and innocent alike.
In addition to the keynote address and awards luncheon, the conference will feature a panel discussion and breakout sessions on a variety of topics. We will share more program details soon! Register here.
On Monday, November 7, 2022 at 10:00 AM CT, the Death Penalty Information Center is holding the first webinar in a new series on Human Rights and the U.S. Death Penalty. The first event will focus on Race and the U.S. Death Penalty, with panelists Olivia Ensign, Senior Advocate at Human Rights Watch, and Kristina Roth, Senior Policy Associate at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Recordings of all webinars will be available after the events. Register here.
Join the Innocence Project of Texas for a discussion of Barred: Why the Innocent Can’t Get Out of Prison with author Daniel Medwed. This virtual event will take place on Wednesday, November 9, 2022 at 6:00 PM CT. More details, including the Facebook invitation, will be posted here.
The TCADP Book Group meets every six to eight weeks on Zoom and reads a mix of fiction, non-fiction, and memoirs (see the list of everything we’ve read to date). Join us for a discussion of That Bird Has My Wings: The Autobiography of an Innocent Man on Death Row by Jarvis Jay Masters on Wednesday, December 7, 2022 at 7:30 PM CT. Register here.