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Innocence
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Todd Willingham
Todd Willingham was wrongfully executed under Governor Rick Perry on February 17, 2004.

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On Tuesday, people who once faced a death sentence called on Texas lawmakers to end to the state’s death penalty. They were supporting House Bill 1032, proposed by State Representative Harold Dutton, which would abolish the death penalty in Texas. “As a legislator I didn’t want to be in the death penalty business,” said Dutton. Sabrina Butler spent several years on death row before she was exonerated of the murder of her nine-month-old son. “I don’t want anyone to be put in the same position that I was in,” said Butler.

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Texas leads the nation in the frequency of the use of the death penalty, and every year, one state legislator works to abolish it.

On Tuesday, Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) filed bills, for the seventh time, that aim to abolish the death penalty in Texas. Dutton has filed bills every legislative session since 2003.

“Texans have become less and less confident in the legal systems to protect the innocent,” Dutton said. “Texas has not fixed it’s legal processes, so that we cannot guarantee someone who is innocent does not get executed.”

Supporters of eliminating the death penalty gathered at the Texas State Capitol on Tuesday. Several death row exonerees spoke at this year’s “Day of Innocence,” including Sabrina Butler, convicted when she was 17 years old in 1990 for killing her baby.

“I still feel like a prisoner,” Butler said. “He stopped breathing, and I tried to apply CPR and applied it the wrong way.”

Butler spent six and a half years in prison.

“They pretty much knew what they wanted to do before they saw me,” Butler said of her trial and conviction.

Medical findings eventually determined her baby had a disease that caused the damage they initially thought she had done.

Despite being the only woman in the U.S. exonerated after being sentenced to death, Butler’s life will never be the same. She has trouble finding employment, because she must still admit her conviction on job applications.

“That’s the part that makes me feel still like I’m in prison, because this will affect my life, not only my life, my children’s life,” Butler said. “The first thing on my mind when I got exonerated, I wanted to see my older son.”

Ron Keine, another death row exoneree, was sentenced to death in New Mexico, until a police officer admitted he actually committed the murder.

“He went to the nearest church and confessed,” Keine said. “That’s what got me out. It wasn’t any maneuvering by lawyers.”

Dutton believes the bill will pass eventually and said he’ll keep filing it until it does.

Here is a report from the Austin American-Statesman:

Once condemned to die for crimes they did not commit, two former death row inmates came to the Capitol on Tuesday to support a longshot bill that would shut down the nation’s busiest execution chamber.

Ron Keine, who spent almost two years on New Mexico’s death row before the real killer confessed in the mid-1970s, said he came to “the belly of the beast” to show Texas lawmakers that capital punishment is not universally loved.

Sabrina Butler, exonerated in the mid-1990s after almost three years on death row for the death of her 9-month-old son in Mississippi, said the stories of condemned but innocent men and women prove that the death-penalty system is too flawed to continue.

Ex-death row inmates push to end Texas executions photo
Sabrina Butler speaks at a Tuesday news conference with Ron Keine, right, in favor of a bill to abolish the death penalty in Texas.
“I do this because I don’t want anybody to be put in the same position I was in, to be put in a cell and told I was going to die,” she told a Capitol news conference. “I’m just here today to help.”

Keine and Butler lent their support to an uphill battle waged by Rep. Harold Dutton Jr., D-Houston, since 2003, when he filed the first of seven bills in consecutive legislative sessions to abolish the death penalty in Texas. None has made it out of committee, but Dutton said he refuses to give up.

“I think Texas ought not be in the death penalty business until we get the systems fixed … until we can guarantee that no one who is executed is innocent,” Dutton said. “We’ll keep pushing it. For some legislators, at least we’re causing them to think about it a little more than they have.”

Former death row inmates push to end executions, 03.03.15 gallery
Former death row inmates push to end executions, 03.03.15
Dutton’s House Bill 1032 would end capital punishment in Texas, converting current death sentences to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Keine and Butler also urged support for another Dutton proposal, House Bill 341, which would end capital punishment under the “law of parties,” which allows parties to a capital murder to be executed even if they did not personally commit the murder or murders.

Tuesday’s news conference also included Mark Clements, a Chicago man freed based on police misconduct after serving 28 years in prison, who spoke on behalf of Bastrop death row inmate Rodney Reed.

Reed, whose execution was halted last week by an appeals court, is innocent of the 1996 murder of Stacey Stites, Clements insisted. “Why am I in Texas? Texas is dirty. It enhances its laws to place people on death row,” he said.

Exonerees at Day of Innocence, Mark Clements, Sabrina Butler, and Ron Keine

Exonerees at Day of Innocence, Mark Clements, Sabrina Butler, and Ron Keine

The 2015 Statewide Texas Lobby Day to Abolish the Death Penalty – the “Day of Innocence” was a resounding success.  We met with many, many legislators and left feeling good about having increased support for Rep Harold Dutton’s bill to abolish the death penalty.

The Dallas Morning News published a powerful information graphic, go here to see it.

From the Dallas Morning News:

AUSTIN—Death row exonerees on Tuesday called for lawmakers to abolish the death penalty—a long-shot bid in Texas where capital punishment has broad support.

Death penalty opponents declared it the “Day of Innocence,” with about two dozen exonerees and loved ones of death row inmates lobbying lawmakers to approve legislation that would abolish the death penalty and prohibit the law of parties from being used in capital cases. The law allows people convicted of aiding or abetting in a murder committed by another person to be sentenced to death.

“I don’t want the state executing people in my name,” said Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, who has again filed legislation to end the death penalty.

“You can go all the way through the system and be factually innocent and end up on death row, which is evidence by some of the people here. How many people has Texas executed who might have been innocent?”

Dutton has attempted to get the bills passed in the Legislature every session since 2003. The bills have not made it out of committee.

Support for capital punishment runs deep in the Lone Star State. A 2012 poll indicated that more than 70 percent of Texans are in favor of the death penalty. The state tops the nation in number of executions.

Despite their uphill battle, death penalty opponents said they would visit “as many offices as possible” to ask lawmakers to consider a moratorium.

In a news conference, Terri Been tearfully pleaded for her brother, Jeff Wood, to be removed from death row.

Wood was convicted under the state’s law of parties for a killing committed by his partner in a 1996 robbery in Kerrville. According to news reports, Wood waited outside of a gas station while Daniel Reneau entered and pointed a handgun at the clerk, Kris Keeran. When Keeran did not respond to Reneau’s request, Reneau shot him.

Wood then entered the store. He stole a surveillance video—his family says he was forced by Reneau to take the tape—and fled from the scene with Reneau. Wood has said he did not know Reneau would use force, according to reports.

In 2008, Wood, who was found not mentally fit to stand trial, won a stay from a federal judge just hours before his scheduled execution. He remains on death row.

Been said her brother’s proposed execution has caused great anguish for the family.

“It’s very difficult as a family member to have come that close to your loved one being murdered before you,” she said.

The bills have not yet been scheduled for a committee hearing.

 

10403806_10105768261843900_3923624668966898483_o (1)The 2015 Statewide Texas Lobby Day to Abolish the Death Penalty starts at 9 AM on Tuesday March 3, 2015 in room E2.022 in the Texas Capitol. We are calling this the “Day of Innocence” at the capitol. Special guests include several people who were sentenced to death and later exonerated, including Ron Keine, Shujaa Graham, Clarence Brandley, and Sabrina Butler from Witness to Innocence. They and other death row exonerees will be honored with a resolution by the Texas House of Representatives. Come lobby side by side with several death row survivors.

Join the event Facebook page

Three ways you can participate in the Lobby day:

1) Come to Austin and attend the Lobby day in person.

2) If you can not come to Austin, you can still participate in the Statewide Call-in Day to Abolish the Death Penalty by calling your legislators March 3 and urging them to abolish the death penalty.

3) Or visit the local district office of your legislators and tell the district coordinator to deliver your message to the legislator.

People from across Texas will come to the Capitol in Austin to advocate for a bill to abolish the death penalty in Texas (HB 1032 filed by State Rep Harold Dutton), as well as a bill that would prohibit death sentences for people convicted under the Law of Parties even though they did not kill anyone (HB 341 by Rep Dutton). We will also lobby to build support to stop the scheduled execution of Rodney Reed now set for March 5.

In the past, our Lobby Day resulted in several legislators signing on to support the bills we lobbied for. We expect the same success in 2015.

This will be a day we will always remember, a day when we stand side by side with innocent people who were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death.

Register for the Lobby Day to Abolish the Death Penalty. You can also just show up without registering, but if you register, then we know how many people are coming and we can plan appointments with legislators. Please be sure to dress professionally. Dress as if you’re heading to a job interview. Register Now!

If you can not attend the Lobby Day, you can still help by making a donation (not tax-deductible). Also on March 3, even if you are not in Austin at the Lobby Day, you can participate in the Statewide Call-in Day to Abolish the Death Penalty. Find out who represents you, then call your Texas legislators and let them know your position on the death penalty and urge them to support the bill to repeal the death penalty. Call the members of the Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence and urge them to schedule a hearing on the bill to repeal the death penalty. One of our goals of Lobby Day is to convince the committee to hold a hearing on the abolition bill.

Tentative Schedule of the 2015 Statewide Texas Lobby Day to Abolish the Death Penalty

9 AM  Check-in and meet for a short training session on how to lobby. Afterwards we will begin office visits to lobby legislators. Room E2.022 in the Capitol. Take the elevator down to level E2.

9:30 – 10 AM Visit legislative offices to lobby legislators to support abolishing the death penalty

10 AM Press Conference in the Speaker’s Committee Room (2W.6). Special guests include State Rep. Harold Dutton, author of a bill to abolish the death penalty in Texas, and several death row exonerees, including Ron Keine, Shujaa Graham, Clarence Brandley, and Sabrina Butler. Other guests to be announced.

11 AM to noon More lobbying

Noon  Lunch at your own expense in the Capitol cafeteria.

1 PM Tentative time Go to the viewing area above the House floor to watch the exonerees honored by the Texas House with a resolution sponsored by Rep. Dutton.1-5:00 More lobbying visits to legislative offices.

5:00 PM Meet in the Capitol cafeteria to share stories about what everyone learned during the legislative lobbying visits.

Parking is available in the Capitol Visitors Parking Garage at 1201 San Jacinto located between Trinity and San Jacinto Streets at 12th and 13th Streets. Parking is free for the first two hours and $1.00 for each half hour thereafter (maximum daily charge: $8.00); accessible parking is available with accessible routes to the Capitol.The Statewide Lobby Day to Abolish the Death Penalty has been organized since 2003 by several organizations working together, the same ones who also organize the annual “March to Abolish the Death Penalty” each October: Texas Moratorium Network, Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, Campaign to End the Death Penalty, and Students Against the Death Penalty.

 Organizations that would like to participate or co-sponsor the Lobby Day can email admin@texasmoratorium.org or call 512-961-6389.
Call the members of the Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence and urge them to schedule a hearing on HB 1032, the bill to abolish the death penalty.
Position Member
Chair: Rep. Abel Herrero  email (512) 463-0462
Vice Chair: Rep. Joe Moody email  (512) 463-0728
Members: Rep. Terry Canales   email   (512) 463-0426
Rep. Terry Canales   email    (512) 463-0426
Rep. Todd Hunter    email    (512) 463-0672
Rep. Jeff Leach      email    (512) 463-0544
Rep. Matt Shaheen    email     (512) 463-0594
Rep. David Simpson   email   (512) 463-0750

UPDATE: Feb 23: Rodney Reed’s execution has been stayed pending further review by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

From Justice4RodneyReed.org

Thanks to the efforts of the student chapter of Amnesty International at the University of Texas, Rodney Reed is the subject of an Amnesty International Urgent Action. We are thankful toAmnesty for recognizing the grave injustices in Rodney’s case and for sharing this information with its membership!

Their fact sheet is available in pdf or html for easy sharing, and includes information for those who wish to write a clemency letter to Texas Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, asking them to stop Rodney’s execution. Thanks to Amnesty for helping us take Rodney’s case truly international!

amnesty-international-logo-1

Amnesty International is one of the world’s largest human rights organizations with offices in over 80 countries.

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