Past TCADP Conferences

On this page you can find information on speakers, panels, award recipients, and more for TCADP’s past annual conferences.

2022: Transforming Justice in Texas

The conference took place as a virtual event on February 26, 2022. The conference program is available here. As our keynote speaker, TCADP hosted Sister Helen Prejean, known around the world for her tireless work against the death penalty and as an award-winning author.

Our panel discussion featured representatives of states that have abolished the death penalty in recent years. The panelists included Rev. Dr. LaKeisha Cook, Denise Maes, Barbara Keshen, and Ellic Sahualla (moderator).

The TCADP Appreciation Awards were presented to Randi Chavez, the Interim Executive Director and Director of Mitigation and Investigation for Texas Defender Service; Richard Ellis, a capital defense attorney who has represented more than 20 death-sentenced Texans in their federal habeas appeals; and Marv Knox, the founder of Fellowship Southwest, an ecumenical network that supports practical ministry and social justice advocacy across several states. The Media Awards honored Maurice Chammah, a journalist with The Marshall Project and the author of Let the Lord Sort Them: The Rise and Fall of the Death Penalty, and Patrick Forbes, the director of “The Phantom,” a documentary film that tells the tragic story of Carlos DeLuna, who was wrongfully executed by the State of Texas in 1989.

Our breakout groups included workshops entitled, “Transforming Justice Through Credible Messengers”, “District Attorney Elections: Why They Are Important and How You Can Be Involved”, “Faith Perspectives on the Death Penalty”, and “The Role of Mitigation Specialists in Capital Cases”.

2021: Reckoning with Injustice in the Death Penalty and Beyond

The conference took place as a virtual event on February 27, 2021. Our 2021 keynote speaker was capital defense attorney and civil rights advocate, Henderson Hill, who shared his thoughts on this moment of reckoning with racial injustice.

For our panel discussion, Shawn Nolan, Keri Blakinger and Delia Perez Meyer, addressed the impact of COVID-19 on the use of the death penalty and on incarcerated individuals throughout the state and country. The panel was moderated by Jessica Brand.

The 2021 Appreciation Awards honored capital defense attorneys, Cliff Sloan and Gretchen Sween. Cliff Sloan teaches Criminal Justice, Constitutional Law, and Death Penalty Litigation at Georgetown Law, and led the legal team for Bobby Moore. Gretchen Sween defends indigent individuals in death penalty cases and secured a rare win at the U.S. Supreme Court in the capital case of Terence Andrus in 2020. The David P. Atwood Founder’s Award honored Richard (“Dick”) Burr for his lifetime of advocacy on behalf of individuals on death row in Texas, particularly, his efforts on behalf of Billy Joe Wardlow and Cesar Fierro.

2020: A Leap Towards Justice

The conference took place at the Whitley Theological Center on February 29, 2020. We were humbled to present Rodrick Reed and Wana Akan as our 2020 keynote speakers. Rodrick and Wana, along with other members of the Reed family, mobilized millions of people worldwide to oppose Rodney Reed’s scheduled execution on November 20, 2019. They inspired support from celebrities, elected officials, and people of all ages and backgrounds.

Our panel discussion focused on past and present practices and approaches to the death penalty in Bexar County, a community that is emblematic of how the death penalty landscape has changed in Texas.  We were delighted to host Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales, Sam Millsap, and Professor Roger Barnes.

The 2020 Appreciation Awards were bestowed upon Rick McClatchy, State Coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Texas, and Quinncy McNeal, a Houston-based attorney with Mayer Brown who is a part of Rodney Reed’s legal team. The Courage Award was given to The Honorable Elsa Alcala, who served twenty years as a state judge in Texas. The Media Awards recognized filmmakers Will Francome, Mark Pizzey, and Laura Shacham.

Our breakout sessions included workshops led by Hannah Cox with Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty, Jeff Newberry who works as a legal clinic supervisor at the University of Houston Law Center, Gretchen Sween who practices as a capital appellate attorney, and representatives from the Texas Organizing Project and MOVE Texas.

2019: Uniting for Justice

The conference took place at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Austin, Texas on February 16, 2019. Pictures can be found here. The keynote address was delivered by Jason Baldwin, who was wrongfully convicted and served over eighteen years for the murder of three 8-year old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas.

The morning panel discussion at the conference presented views of the death penalty from individuals who have served on the front lines of the criminal justice system. The panelists included The Honorable Elsa Alcala, Retired State District Judge Mike Lynch, and State Representative Joe Moody, and was moderated by Keri Blakinger.

The 2019 Appreciation Awards recognized State Representative Donna Howard who co-authored legislation to repeal the death penalty in the 85th Texas Legislature, and Larry James for his outreach efforts on behalf of Chris Young, who was executed on July 17, 2018. The Courage Awards honored Mitesh Patel, for publicly and selflessly calling for mercy for the man who killed his father and recognizing the spark of redemption in Chris Young, and Kent Whitaker, for displaying unconditional love and forgiveness in his tireless determination to secure clemency for his son, Thomas “Bart” Whitaker. The Media Award was given to Laurence Thrush, whose powerful video interviews with Chris Young and his daughter, Crishelle Young, played a central role in our public mobilization campaign to stop Young’s execution. The David P. Atwood Founder’s Award honored defense attorney Keith Hampton, for his decades of zealous legal representation he has provided to individuals on death row in Texas and his inspiring efforts to secure clemency for Kenneth Foster and Thomas Whitaker.

2018: Transforming the Landscape

The conference took place at Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas on February 17, 2018. Pictures can be found here. As our keynote speaker, we were honored to host Rev. Sharon Risher, whose mother, two cousins and childhood friend—Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, Tywanza Sanders and Myra Thompson, respectively—were killed along with five others at Emanuel AME Church (“Mother Emanuel”) in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015. As our keynote speaker, she addressed her experiences with the criminal justice system and her longstanding opposition to the death penalty.

Our morning panel discussion featured individuals who were wrongfully convicted and exonerated; they discussed transformations they’ve seen with criminal justice reform since their exonerations, as well as improvements that still need to be made to the system. Panelists included Christopher Scott and Johnny Pinchback; The panel was moderated by Mike Ware, Executive Director of the Innocence Project of Texas.

The 2018 Appreciation Awards were awarded to Reverend Deanna Golsan, the Senior Pastor at Disciples Christian Church in Plano, Texas, and Jeff Newberry, a legal clinic supervisor at the University of Houston Law Center. The 2018 Courage Award recognized Glenn and Judy Cherry for their unwavering opposition to the death penalty for the man who killed their son, Jonas Cherry, and their public, selfless efforts to stop Paul David Storey’s execution in April 2017. The David P. Atwood Founder’s Award honored Rev. Dr. Wes Magruder, the Senior Pastor at Kessler Park United Methodist Church in Dallas and active member of TCADP.

2017: Moving to Higher Ground

The conference took place at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Austin, Texas on February 18, 2017. Pictures can be found here. As our keynote speaker, TCADP hosted Brian Stolarz, who served as habeas corpus counsel to Alfred Dewayne Brown, who was exonerated in June 2015 after spending 10 years on Texas’ death row.

The panel discussion included local journalists who cover the death penalty; they discussed their approach to the issue and how this might have changed over the years. Panelists included Pamela Colloff of Texas Monthly, Joy Diaz of the Texas Standard, Jolie McCollough of the Texas Tribune, and Ryan Poppe of the Texas Public Radio. Freelance journalist, Alex Hanna, moderated the panel.

The 2017 Appreciation Award recognized Lindsey Pearlstein for her hundreds of hours of volunteer service with TCADP as a full-time undergraduate student at the University of Texas-Austin. We were pleased to present our Courage Award to Alfred Dewayne Brown in recognition of the 10 years he spent as an innocent man on Texas’ death row and his continued pursuit of justice and compensation from the State. We presented the David P. Atwood Founder’s Award to State Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. in honor of his many important contributions to the cause, particularly his sponsorship of the first death penalty repeal bill to be introduced in the Texas Senate.

2016: At the Epicenter of the Death Penalty

The conference took place at Unity of Houston on February 20, 2016. Pictures can be found here. As the keynote speaker, TCADP hosted Sen. Colby Cash of Nebraska, who played a critical role in the abolishment of the death penalty in Nebraska after 38 years of attempts. He used his position as a conservative leader to convince his colleagues that the death penalty did not represent conservative values or the best interests of Nebraskans.

Our morning panel discussion focused on past and present use of the death penalty in Harris County, which alone accounts for nearly 300 death sentences and more executions than any state in the country besides Texas. Our panel included Dr. Stephen Klineberg, a Professor of Sociology at Rice University and the founder of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research.

Our 2016 Appreciation Awards recognized State Representative Alma Allen, who jointly authored State Representative Jessica Farrar’s death penalty repeal bills in the 2011 and 2013 legislative sessions; Patricia Delgado, one of TCADP’s most dedicated volunteers and leaders of our El Paso chapter; and KPFT 90.1 FM, Houston Pacifica Radio, for their dedicated coverage of issues relating to the death penalty. The Media Award was presented to Houston Chronicle Metro Columnist Lisa Falkenberg in recognition of her groundbreaking work on the Texas grand jury system and the case of Alfred Dewayne Brown. We presented the David P. Atwood Founder’s Award to the Dominican Sisters of Houston, in gratitude for their longtime support for TCADP and involvement in our activities.

2015: Death Penalty Fault Lines – A Seismic Shift in ground

The conference took place at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Austin, Texas on February 21, 2015. Pictures can be found here. As our keynote speaker, TCADP hosted Tim Cole, a former district attorney with more than 20 years of experience in the courtroom and was elected to four terms as 97th District Attorney (Archer, Clay & Montague Counties; 1993 to 2006) and served as assistant district attorney in the 271st District (Wise, Jack Counties; 2010-2014).

The panel discussion, “Shifting the Ground Under the Death Penalty”, included Pat Monks, a criminal defense attorney and member of the republican party, and Brian Stull, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Capital Punishment Project. The panel was moderated by Dr. Mike Renquist.

The 2015 Appreciation Awards were presented to Alexandra Noll, a dedicated student volunteer since 2011 who has brought other students into the movement, and Rev/ Cheryl Smith, for bringing light to the death penalty issue through regular vigils outside the Walls Unit in Huntsville. The Courage Award was presented to Manuel Velez, for spending nine years in prison, including four years on death row, as an innocent man and making the ultimate sacrifice to take a plea offered by the state in order to ensure his freedom and be reunited with his family. The Media Award was presented to Alex Hannaford, for writing countless articles about the death penalty for publications such as The Guardian, Texas Observer, and The Nation and for creating “The Last 40 Miles,” an animated short film that presents a death row inmate’s final journey from death row in Livingston to the death chamber in Huntsville.

2014: Lighting the Way

The conference took place at University Christian Church in Fort Worth, Texas on February 22, 2014. Pictures can be found here. The keynote speaker of the event was Bob Ray Sanders, a professional journalist for 40 years and in three media: newspaper, television and radio.

The panel discussion included Kathryn Kase, the Executive Director of the Texas Defender Service, and Shari Silberstein, the Executive Director of Equal Justice USA. For more information, the conference program can be found here.

The 2014 Appreciation Awards were presented to Ariana Campos, who has provided critical logistical support for TCADP’s activities in the State Capitol since 2010; Maria Castillo, one of TCADP’s stalwart volunteers in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex; Paula Keeth, a steadfast advocate for abolition and devoted member of the TCADP Dallas Chapter; and Burnham Terrell, for his faithful work coordinating the Houston-area execution vigils for many years. The Courage Award honored State Representative Terry Canales, in recognition of his public statement in support of ending the death penalty during the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee’s hearing on House Bill 1703. The David P. Atwood Founder’s Award was presented to State Representative Lon Burnam, in recognition of his lifelong commitment to justice and his contributions to abolition and to TCADP, both within and outside of the Texas Legislature.

2013: Changing the Conversation

The conference took place at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas on February 23, 2013. The panel discussion discussed how instances of wrongful convictions and evidence of wrongful executions are changing the conversation on the death penalty. Panelists included Anthony Graves, a motivational speaker and legal consultant who spent 12.5 years on death row before being exonerated in 2010; and Professor James Liebman, Simon H. Rifkind Professor of Law, Columbia University School of Law, and the lead author of Los Tocayos Carlos: An Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution. You can watch video of the discussion here.

The Appreciation Awards were presented to JC Dufresne, who played an instrumental role in the Texas Democratic Party’s decision to endorse abolition of the death penalty in its 2012 Platform, and the Methodist Federation for Social Action-Southwest Texas Chapter, for their years of involvement and ongoing contributions to the abolition movement. The Media Awards were presented to Joe Bailey, Jr. and Steve Mims, Filmmakers of “Incendiary”, a documentary about the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004 despite serious flaws in the forensic science used to convict him and doubts about his guilt.

2012: Seizing the Momentum… Creating the Climate for Change

The conference took place at the University of Incarnate Word in San Antonio on February 18, 2012. Pictures can be found here. The panel discussion included Jim Henson, the Director of the Texas Politics Project, Michael Cline, Associate Director of the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas at Rice University, Luis Figueroa, a staff attorney with MALDEF, and Andres Gonzalez, a political consultant.

You can find information on our honorees here. The Courage Award was presented to Jan Brown, a murder victim family member who publicly opposes the death penalty. The Media Award honored Jordan Smith, a staff writer for the Austin Chronicle who provides consistent, in-depth, and fair treatment of the death penalty and other criminal justice issues. Our Appreciation Awards were presented to Brother Brian Halderman, the University Minister for Social Justice at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, and Kelly Epstein, a long-time TCADP member and activist in the abolition movement. The David P. Atwood Founder’s Award was presented to Bishop Joe Wilson, retired Bishop of the United Methodist Church, a persistent voice for justice on multiple issues who works to raise awareness and advocate for change.

2011: Seizing the Momentum… Advancing the Statewide Vision through Local Action

The conference took place at First United Methodist Church in Austin on February 19, 2011. The panel discussion included Sam Millsap, former Bexar County District Attorney; Dennis Reeves, Assistant Public Defender of the Regional Public Defenders Office for Capital Cases; and Karen Peissinger, El Paso TCADP Chapter Leader. The panel was moderated by Sachin Chheda, NCADP Deputy Director.

You can find information on our honorees here. The Courage Award honored Anthony Graves and his family for the great courage and perseverance throughout the ordeal of his wrongful conviction and 18 years in prison, including 12 years on death row, for a crime he did not commit. The Media Award was presented to Pamela Colloff, the author of “Innocence Lost”, an exhaustive article on the case of Anthony Graves that appeared in the October 2010 issue of Texas Monthly. The Appreciation Awards were presented to Jim and Sherry Coombes for their years of service to TCADP; Marj Loehlin, an advocate in anti-death penalty work for many years and one of the original members of the TCADP Austin Chapter; and Dennis Longmire, a professor at Sam Houston State University who provides a peaceful and respectful presence outside the Walls Unit in Huntsville on the evening of every execution in Texas. The David P. Atwood Founder’s Award honored Rev. Carroll Pickett; Rev. Pickett served as the death house chaplain at the Walls Unit for 15 years and witnessed 95 executions. He has worked tirelessly to make more Texans aware of issues related to the death penalty.

2010: Seizing the Momentum: Building Capacity, Community, and Coalition

The conference took place at Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas on February 20, 2010. The conference was co-sponsored by the SMU Human Rights Education Program. Pictures can be found here.

2009: Raising Our Voices for Abolition

The conference took place at First United Methodist Church in Austin on February 21, 2009.