In this edition:
Scheduled executions: A marked change from this time last year
TCADP 2024 Annual Conference: Join us on March 2, 2024, for a day of inspiration and advocacy
New reports: Reports released in December by TCADP, the Death Penalty Information Center, and the Wren Collective shed light on the persistent failures of the death penalty
In case you missed it: Trailblazing former Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins passes away; The Intercept takes a deep dive into the Harris County death penalty case of Jeff Prible and Kelly Siegler, the controversial prosecutor who may have orchestrated his conviction
Featured events: Local celebrations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day; TCADP book group meeting on January 10, 2024, with capital defense attorney and author David Dow; TCADP General Membership meeting on February 21, 2024
At this time last year, the State of Texas already had scheduled nine executions – with seven in the first quarter alone. This year is a different story, with two people currently on the execution schedule: Ivan Cantu and James Harris, Jr.
Ivan Cantu also faced execution in April 2023 before the date was withdrawn by a district court judge in Collin County; the judge agreed additional legal proceedings were necessary. Cantu was convicted of killing his cousin James Mosqueda and James’s fiancé, Amy Kitchen, in Far North Dallas. He has maintained his innocence, and in previous appeals he argued his trial attorneys were ineffective for failing to investigate and present evidence that would support his claim. Two of the jurors who sentenced Cantu to death in 2001 want this evidence to be reviewed, declaring they are disturbed by the prospect they heard false and misleading testimony during the trial.
In August 2023, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied Cantu’s appeal. A new execution date has been set for February 28, 2024. The date set for James Harris, Jr. is March 13, 2024. We will provide more information and advocacy opportunities in the coming weeks.
Nationwide, there is one execution scheduled this month: On January 25, 2024, Alabama is set to put Kenneth Smith to death using a new, untested method of nitrogen hypoxia. As reported by NBC News, “some details of the protocol remain cloaked in mystery to the public.”
Join us in Fort Worth on Saturday, March 2, 2024, for the TCADP 2024 Annual Conference: Creating Conscious Communities. Here’s what we have lined up for the program:
– Keynote address by Ms. Opal Lee, who has lived in Fort Worth since 1937 and is known as the “Grandmother of Juneteenth” for her tireless advocacy for Juneteenth to be celebrated nationally.
– An awards luncheon honoring our 2024 Award Recipients: Two mental health advocates, a faith leader, a journalist, and a member of the TCADP Lobby Corps.
– Panel discussion about what it means to create conscious communities with individuals on death row, featuring two people involved in death row ministry and a longtime friend to Charles Flores, a wrongfully convicted man on death row in Texas.
– Workshop sessions on topics including junk science, victims’ voices, and conservative outreach.
Registration opens at 9:00 AM; the program will begin at 10:00 AM and run until 4:00 PM.
Don’t miss this opportunity to gain new advocacy skills and meet TCADP members from across the state! Learn more about the conference and register here. (Note: Registration rates will increase after February 16, 2024.) Sponsorship opportunities are also available.
TCADP has reserved a block of rooms at the SpringHill Suites Fort Worth University (3250 Lovell Avenue) for anyone who needs overnight accommodations on March 1-2, 2024. To receive the special room rate of $139/night, book by Friday, February 9, 2024. Make your reservation here.
In December, TCADP, the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), and the Wren Collective, a group of former public defenders who conduct criminal justice research and policy, released important reports that shed light on the failures of the death penalty.
Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2023: The Year in Review
TCADP’s year-end report, Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2023: The Year in Review, documents recent trends as well as the persistent problems with the death penalty in Texas. It includes information about death sentences, executions, and significant post-conviction rulings. View infographs from the report here and read coverage from HuffPost and the Austin American-Statesman. Later this month, the TCADP Lobby Corps will hand deliver copies of the report to every legislative office in the State Capitol.
The Death Penalty in 2023: Year End Report
According to DPIC’s report on national death penalty developments, 2023 marked the ninth consecutive year where fewer than 30 people were executed (24) and fewer than 50 people were sentenced to death (21). Just five states carried out executions last year, and only seven states and the federal government accounted for new death sentences. Twenty-nine states have now either abolished the death penalty or have paused executions by executive action. Read the report.
Death By Design
The Wren Collective has issued two reports evaluating the state of death penalty defense in Harris County (Houston), Texas. In Part 1 of Death By Design, they reviewed 28 cases of individuals sentenced to death in Harris County since 2013. They found that in most cases, overworked trial lawyers failed to uncover an appalling amount of mitigating evidence that might have saved their clients’ lives. Read coverage from HuffPost.
The legacy of Craig Watkins
Craig Watkins, who served as the District Attorney of Dallas County from 2007 to 2015, passed away on December 12, 2023, at the age of 56. Watkins, who was the first Black District Attorney of Dallas, established the nation’s first Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU). There are now dozens of CIUs throughout the country and they have played a pivotal role in exonerations. According to D Magazine, “Under his tenure, 24 people were exonerated after Watkins ordered reviews on more than 400 cases that his predecessor, Bill Hill, had denied.”
Questions swirl around the Harris County death penalty case of Jeff Prible
The Intercept has done a deep dive into the Harris County death penalty case of Jeff Prible and the controversial prosecutor who secured his conviction (and many others). Read Part 1: “Kelly Siegler Is a True-Crime Celebrity. Did She Frame a Man for Murder?” (and then read Parts 2 and 3!).
Important reminder: The last day to register to vote in the 2024 primary election in Texas is Monday, February 5, 2024.
2024 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
TCADP staff and members will participate in local activities to honor the life and mission of civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in several cities on Monday, January 15, 2024.
– In Austin, TCADP will have an information table at the 2024 Annual MLK Community Festival on the campus of Huston-Tillotson University (900 Chicon Street). The festival will begin around 10:30 AM. If you would like to join other TCADP members for the march through downtown Austin, contact TCADP Executive Director Kristin Cuellar at firstname.lastname@example.org.
– In Dallas, TCADP Deputy Director Tiara Cooper will lead a contingent in the 2024 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Parade, which will start at the intersection of Holmes Street and MLK, Jr. Blvd. at 10:00 a.m., and proceed approximately one mile down Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd, ending at Fair Park. Contact Tiara at email@example.com for information on where to gather that day.
– In San Antonio, TCADP members will participate in the city’s 37th Martin Luther King, Jr. March and Celebration, which begins around 10:00 AM. If you would like to walk with the TCADP contingent in the March, contact coordinator Mardi Baron at firstname.lastname@example.org for details on where to meet.
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, January 10, 2024, at 7:00 PM CT when we will discuss Confessions of an Innocent Man, a novel by Texas capital defense attorney David Dow. David will join us for part of the meeting. Register here to receive the Zoom link.
TCADP General Membership Meeting
TCADP’s General Membership Meeting will take place on Zoom on Wednesday, February 21, 2024, from 7:00 to 8:00 PM Central Time. Attendees will hear a report on the state of our organization and participate in the election of new board members. We’ll then break into small groups for discussions led by TCADP Board Members. If you have questions about your membership status, email Kristin at email@example.com.