execution Future Dangerousness

State of Texas executes Brent Brewer

A terrible injustice took place in Texas last night. The State executed Brent Brewer on November 9, 2023, more than 32 years after he was convicted of killing Robert Laminack in Amarillo. Brewer was 19 at the time of the crime.

Shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court denied his final appeals, his attorney issued this heart wrenching statement:

“Brent Brewer will be executed by Texas tonight. His execution is the farthest thing from justice.  Brent’s story is one of complete redemption. He recognized and repented for the deeds he had done and totally redeemed himself during his thirty-four years in prison. The Brent that Texas wished to execute is long gone. The Brent they are killing tonight is a kind, generous, peaceful and thoughtful man who spent the vast majority of his time repenting and in religious studies. He is profoundly remorseful for his crime, committed when he was just nineteen, and he would have done anything to take back the pain he caused the victim’s family.

“It’s also important to note that Brent’s death sentence was a fraud. Texas used the unscientific, baseless testimony of Dr. Richard Coons to claim Brent would be a future danger, although the state and the courts have admitted for years that this exact doctor’s testimony was unreliable and should not be considered by juries in capital cases. Yet the courts repeatedly refused to step in and stop Brent’s execution.  One juror clearly expressed her belief that Brent deserved a life sentence, but Texas’s misleading jury instructions confused her into thinking her vote would not make a difference. Yet the clemency board ignored our pleas for mercy.

“When those of us who know Brent Brewer reflect back on his life, the first word that will come to mind is redemption. He has worked every day on his religious faith which has been at the center of his life. He has cared for everyone who he came into contact with: guards, counselors, fellow inmates, medical staff and his attorneys. He has cared deeply for his family, particularly his sister and they for him. Brent will rest in peace.”

– Shawn Nolan, attorney for Brent Brewer
– November 9, 2023

Earlier in the week, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (“CCA”) denied two separate filings from Brewer’s attorneys that argued his death sentence is the invalid product of junk science provided by the State’s now discredited expert, Dr. Richard Coons. Brewer asked the CCA for a stay of execution, which was also denied.

On that same day, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted unanimously not to recommend clemency for Brewer, despite a powerful pleas from a juror who did not want to vote for a death sentence and evidence of Brewer’s personal growth and transformation over more than three decades on death row.

Read coverage from the Texas Tribune.

Background on the case

The robbery and murder of Robert Laminack occurred just weeks after Brewer left a state mental hospital, where he had been involuntarily committed for depression and suicidal thoughts. Like so many on death row, Brewer’s childhood was marked by neglect and trauma caused by repeated exposure to domestic violence.

Over the 32 years he has spent on death row, Brewer has not committed a single act of violence against another person. His exemplary disciplinary record flies in the face of outrageous testimony provided during his trial – and again during a resentencing hearing in 2009 – by the State’s now discredited expert, Dr. Richard Coons. Dr. Coons, who never spoke or met with Brewer, did not cite any evidence to support his conclusion that Brewer would likely commit acts of violence in the future. This “future dangerousness” determination is required for a jury to impose a death sentence in Texas. (See “Will the Supreme Court Let Texas Use Junk Science to Kill Brent Brewer?” for background on this issue.)

One of those jurors did not want to sentence Brewer to death, but Texas’s confusing and misleading jury instructions led her to believe her single vote could not change the verdict. Among the many extraordinary aspects of this case is the fact that this juror wrote to Brewer while he was still in county custody and apologized for the verdict. The two developed a friendship, writing to each other and visiting in person. Her experience as a juror led her to earn her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. 

Read her opinion piece in the Houston Chronicle“A misleading instruction made me vote for the death penalty” (Note: This piece is behind paywall. Excerpts appear in this article from HuffPost.)

Read a statement from State Representative Joe Moody, who has has repeatedly filed legislation to eliminate the misleading and confusing instructions used in Brewer’s trial. The most recent version, House Bill 188, passed the Texas House of Representatives earlier this year by a supermajority vote of 144-4 but was not referred to committee in the Texas Senate.

Brewer has long expressed remorse to the Laminack family recognizing that “money, desperation, drugs, and no forethought” motivated his crime, and that the consequences of his actions were “extreme loss and pain of the victim’s family and a brokenness that cannot be fixed.” For the past year, he has taken advantage of a new outlet for accepting responsibility for his actions, and expressing his remorse, through his participation in the 18-month-long Faith Based Program on Death Row. Notably, this has been the first and only programming available to Brewer during more than three decades on death row – his entire adult life. 

Brewer was the seventh person executed by the State of Texas in 2023. Another execution is set for next week, when David Renteria is scheduled to be put to death.