innocence intellectual disabilities Melissa Lucio racial bias Stay of execution

TCADP May 2024 Newsletter: Updates on Texas innocence cases

In this edition:

Scheduled executions: Dates set for Ramiro Gonzales and Ruben Gutierrez

Case updates: Significant developments in the innocence cases of Melissa Lucio and Robert Roberson; two men removed from death row due to evidence of intellectual disability

In case you missed it: TV host John Oliver lambasts the death penalty; community forum brings attention to the case of Charles Don Flores

Featured events: TCADP Book Group meeting on May 29, 2024, with the author of He Called Me Sister: A True Story of Finding Humanity on Death Row; Noose to Needle: The legacy of race and the death penalty in Texas webinar on May 30, 2024

Seeking 50 new Partners for Justice in 2024: Set up a recurring donation to TCADP today!

Quote of the month

Scheduled executions

Texas does not have executions scheduled in May, but dates are set for June and July:

June 26, 2024: Ramiro Gonzales. Two years ago, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted a stay to Gonzales and remanded his claim about false testimony by the State’s trial expert regarding recidivism rates. Gonzales was eighteen at the time of the crime. Watch Ramiro’s Story.

July 16, 2024: Ruben Gutierrez. This is the fifth execution date Gutierrez has faced since 2018. Most recently, he came within an hour of being put to death on June 16, 2020, before the U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay. Over the twenty-five years Gutierrez has spent on death row, he has consistently maintained he did not kill Escolastica Harrison.

TCADP will provide updates and opportunities to raise your voice against these executions in the coming weeks.

To date this year, Texas has put one person—Ivan Cantu—to death. (In 2023, Texas executed eight men.) Executions also have occurred this year in Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, and Oklahoma. Alabama is set to put Jamie R. Mills to death on May 30, 2024. 

Case updates

Trial court judge recommends relief for Melissa Lucio
There was positive news last month in the case of Melissa Lucio, who came within two days of being executed by the State of Texas in 2022 despite evidence of her innocence of the accidental death of her daughter, Mariah. The Honorable Judge Arturo Nelson recommended the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) overturn Lucio’s conviction and death sentence, based on findings of fact and conclusions of law submitted jointly by the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office and attorneys for Lucio. Prosecutors and the defense team agreed, and Judge Nelson found, that critical information was withheld from the defense at the time of trial and that Lucio “met her burden of proof, by a preponderance of the evidence, that she would not have been convicted in light of the suppressed evidence.”

The court’s order can be viewed here. Lucio’s case now returns to the CCA, which has the ultimate authority to decide whether her conviction should be set aside.

Robert Roberson asks court to reconsider its denial of relief in “shaken baby” wrongful conviction case
Attorneys for Robert Roberson, who was convicted and sentenced to death more than twenty years ago under the now-discredited “shaken baby” hypothesis, have asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to reconsider its denial of relief

In 2002, Roberson’s two-year old, chronically ill daughter, Nikki, was sick with a high fever and undiagnosed pneumonia when she suffered a short fall from bed. Hospital staff did not know Roberson is autistic and judged his response to his daughter’s grave condition as lacking emotion. The overwhelming medical and scientific evidence shows that Nikki died of accidental and natural causes, not the debunked shaken baby hypothesis. Yet Texas courts have ignored advancements in science and compelling new medical evidence not heard by the jury that support Roberson’s innocence.

Brian Wharton, the lead detective who investigated Roberson’s case and testified against him, now believes Nikki died of accidental and natural causes. The case also has attracted widespread support from eminent scientists, medical doctors, faith leaders, innocence groups, former federal judges, and best-selling novelist John Grisham.

Despite the overwhelming evidence in support of Roberson, Anderson County District Attorney Allyson Mitchell plans to seek an execution date, as reported by Palestine Herald-Presson April 23, 2024. Roberson’s attorney has asked for a hearing before any execution date is set.

Tomas Gallo and Randall Mays removed from death row
Two men have been removed from death row in recent months due to evidence of their intellectual disability:

– On March 27, 2024, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) re-sentenced Randall Mays to life in prison without parole after determining he meets the standard for intellectual disability. Mays had faced three execution dates between 2015 and 2020. He spent nearly sixteen years on death row.

– In April, the Texas CCA determined that Tomas Gallo—who was sentenced to death in Harris County in 2004—is intellectually disabled and therefore ineligible for execution. The ruling came after Harris County prosecutors and Gallo’s attorney reached an agreement and the trial court judge recommended relief. He has been resentenced to life in prison (Texas adopted life without parole as a sentencing option in 2005). 

Eighteen people have been removed from death row in Texas since 2017 due to evidence of intellectual disability. One-third of these cases came from Harris County. There currently are 178 people on death row in Texas.

In case you missed it

TV host John Oliver lambasts the death penalty
A recent episode of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” doesn’t pull any punches about his disdain for the death penalty. Oliver also exposes the likely (illegal) source of the drugs used in the thirteen federal executions carried out in 2020 and early 2021. Watch here (and just FYI, there is a lot of cursing).

Community forum shines a spotlight on Charles Don Flores
Last month, TCADP staff and members attended an important community forum about the Dallas death penalty case of Charles Flores. Flores has spent more than twenty years on death row for a crime he maintains he did not commit. Read about the forum and the new research on memory that bolsters his innocence claim.

Featured events

TCADP social gathering in Dallas
TCADP Deputy Director Tiara Cooper will host an informal happy hour for supporters in DFW on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. Come by Vector Brewing (9850 Walnut Hill Ln. Suite 405, Dallas, TX 75238) anytime between 6:30 and 8:30 PM to meet Tiara and Nan Tolson, Director of Texas Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, who recently moved back to the area after living in Austin for several years. Tiara also will provide updates on cases we are working on and other current initiatives. Email her at to RSVP or text her when you get to Vector Brewing at 469-677-4141.

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 selection is He Called Me Sister: A True Story of Finding Humanity on Death Row by Suzanne Craig Robertson. We will discuss the book with Ms. Robertson on Zoom on Wednesday, May 29, 2024, at 7:00 PM CT. Register here.

Noose to Needle: The legacy of race and the death penalty in Texas
Join us on Thursday, May 30, 2024, for an important conversation about the intersection of race and the death penalty, featuring TCADP Deputy Director Tiara CooperEstelle Hebron-Jones, Director of Special Projects for Texas Defender Service (TDS), and Furonda Brasfield, Director of the Noose to Needle Project. In this webinar, you will learn about persistent and ongoing racial disparities in Harris County’s use of the death penalty, as documented in a report published by TDS earlier this year and exemplified by the case of Duane Buck. You also will hear about the Noose to Needle Project, which explores the historical connections between lynching and racial terror and the modern death penalty. Tiara will share her perspective on intersectionality and how the project connects to her current work in Texas. This conversation will take place on Zoom from 6:30-7:30 PM CT. Register here to receive the meeting link.

Rise for Justice: 50 New Partners in 2024

As we continue our journey towards ending the death penalty, TCADP has set an ambitious goal: To secure 50 new Partners for Justice (our marvelous recurring donors) by World Day Against the Death Penalty on October 10, 2024.

With recurring donations, Partners provide a steady source of income for TCADP and advance initiatives like our clemency campaigns, presentations to faith communities and student groups, and webinars.

As a token of our appreciation, the first five people who become Partners of Justice through this campaign as of its launch on May 1, 2024 (minimum donation of $10/month) will receive a complimentary TCADP T-shirt (while sizes/supplies last) or a signed copy of one of the books in the TCADP library. We also will offer an exclusive online event to Partners later this year. Become a Partner for Justice today!