Upcoming Executions
Click for a list of upcoming scheduled executions in Texas.
Innocence
The death penalty puts innocent people at risk of execution.
Todd Willingham
Todd Willingham was wrongfully executed under Governor Rick Perry on February 17, 2004.

duttonIn another success stemming from our lobby day back on March 3, Rep. Harold Dutton’s bill to ban the death penalty in law of parties cases (HB 341) has been approved by the Texas House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence, which recommended that it “be reported favorably to the full house with the recommendation that it do pass”. The vote was 4-2. Two Republicans and two Democrats voted yes. One Republican and one Democrat voted no. And one Republican was absent.

The bi-partisan support for the bill bodes well for it to gain enough support to pass the entire House. Please contact your Texas state representative and urge them to support HB 341.

HB 341 was one of the bills that people lobbied for on the Statewide Texas Lobby Day to Abolish the Death Penalty on March 3. When the bill was heard in committee, we returned to the capitol to support it. One of the people who testified in support of it in the committee hearing was Terri Been, whose brother Jeff Wood is on death row in a law of parties case even though he did not kill anyone himself and did not intend anyone to be killed. He was outside in a car when another person killed a convenience store clerk.

Before it can reach the floor of the House for a vote by all the members of the House, it must first pass the Calendars Committee. Below are the members of the Calendars Committee.

Position Member
Chair: Rep. Todd Hunter
Vice Chair: Rep. Eddie Lucio III
Members: Rep. Roberto R. Alonzo
Rep. Byron Cook
Rep. Sarah Davis
Rep. Charlie Geren
Rep. Helen Giddings
Rep. Patricia Harless
Rep. Dan Huberty
Rep. Eric Johnson
Rep. Ken King
Rep. Lyle Larson
Rep. Four Price
Rep. Debbie Riddle
Rep. Eddie Rodriguez

HB 341

The chair laid out HB 341.

Representative Canales moved that HB 341, without amendments, be reported favorably to the full house with the recommendation that it do pass and be printed.  The motion prevailed by the following record vote:

Ayes:                           Representatives Herrero; Canales; Leach; Simpson (4).

Nays:                           Representatives Moody; Shaheen (2).

Present, Not Voting:   None (0).

Absent:                        Representative Hunter (1).

Rep. Harold Dutton’s HB 1032, a bill to abolish the death penalty in Texas, is scheduled for a public hearing in the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence on Wednesday, April 29, 2015. The meeting room is E2.030. The hearing starts at 10:30 AM or upon adjournment of the Texas House of Representatives.

On the same day, the committee will also hear testimony on Dutton’s bill to ban the death penalty in law of parties cases, HB 341.

Anyone can attend the hearing and sign in to support the bills or even sign up to speak in support of the bills. You can also provide written testimony.

The order of the bills being heard is not known, so you should plan to spend time waiting in the committee room for the bills to be called up.

Rep Dutton first filed a bill to abolish the death penalty in 2003, which was the first abolition bill filed in the Texas Legislature in a long time up to that year. When no one else was willing to file a bill to abolish the death penalty, Rep Dutton stepped up in 2003 and filed an abolition bill. Everyone opposed to the death penalty should thank Rep Dutton for his leading role in the effort in the Texas Legislature to end the death penalty.

It was an exciting day back in 2003 when Dutton’s abolition bill was heard in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. That was the first time an abolition bill was heard in a Texas legislative Committee in the modern era, and maybe ever.

Rep Harold Dutton is pictured speaking at one of our Day of Innocence Lobby Days to Repeal the Death Penalty.

Below Rep Dutton speaks at the 2011 Day of Innocence. Behind him are six death row exonerees who spent years on death row for crimes they did not commit.

11-Eddie-Lucio-MUG_1176019a (1)

Texas State Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr has filed legislation to abolish the death penalty in Texas. This is the first time a state senator has ever filed legislation to completely abolish the death penalty in Texas. It happened because organizations in Texas held the Statewide Texas Lobby Day to Abolish the Death Penalty on March 3 and death row survivors Ron Keine and Sabrina Butler from Witness to Innocence and Scott Cobb of Texas Moratorium Network met with Senator Lucio’s general counsel and requested that Senator Lucio file abolition legislation.

(There was an abolition bill filed in the Texas Senate in 1969, but it would not have completely abolished the death penalty.)

Here is a report from the Austin American-Statesman on our successful lobby day, which was widely covered in the media, including the Dallas Morning News, potentially reaching hundreds of thousands of people in Texas with our message.

Last summer, Senator Lucio attended the Democrats Against the Death Penalty caucus at the Texas Democratic Party state convention. The caucus has been held every year since 2004 when it was started by Scott Cobb. The caucus has proven to be an effective method for persuading Texas Democrats to make abolishing the death penalty a higher priority among both elected officials and ordinary people in the Texas Democratic Party.

In the coming weeks, we will be working with Senator Lucio’s staff as well as staff of the House sponsor of the abolition bill, to prepare for committee hearings on the abolition bills. When a hearing is held in the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, it will be the first time ever for a hearing on abolishing the death penalty in the Texas Senate. It will be up to the chair of the committee to decide if a hearing is scheduled.

Here are links to the two pieces of legislation filed by Senator Lucio. One is a regular bill (SB 1661) and the other is a proposed constitutional amendment (SJR 54).

Thank you to all the groups and people from across Texas who participated in our lobby day, including Texas Moratorium NetworkTexas Death Penalty Abolition MovementCampaign to End the Death PenaltyStudents Against the Death Penalty, and Witness to Innocence.

Thank you also to State Rep. Harold Dutton, who sponsored the Day of Innocence and who has filed an abolition bill in the Texas House of Representatives every session since 2003.

If anyone would like to thank Senator Lucio for filing his abolition proposals, you can contact him through this form on his website.

By: Lucio S.J.R. No. 54

A JOINT RESOLUTION

proposing a constitutional amendment abolishing the death penalty.
BE IT RESOLVED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS:
SECTION 1. Article I, Texas Constitution, is amended by
adding Section 13a to read as follows:
Sec. 13a. A penalty of death shall not be imposed against
any person.
SECTION 2. Section 4(b), Article V, Texas Constitution, is
amended to read as follows:
(b) For the purpose of hearing cases, the Court of Criminal
Appeals may sit in panels of three Judges, the designation thereof
to be under rules established by the court. In a panel of three
Judges, two Judges shall constitute a quorum and the concurrence of
two Judges shall be necessary for a decision. The Presiding Judge,
under rules established by the court, shall convene the court en
banc for the transaction of all other business and may convene the
court en banc for the purpose of hearing cases. The court must sit
en banc during proceedings involving capital cases [punishment] and
other cases as required by law. When convened en banc, five Judges
shall constitute a quorum and the concurrence of five Judges shall
be necessary for a decision. The Court of Criminal Appeals may
appoint Commissioners in aid of the Court of Criminal Appeals as
provided by law.
SECTION 3. Section 5(b), Article V, Texas Constitution, is
amended to read as follows:
(b) [The appeal of all cases in which the death penalty has
been assessed shall be to the Court of Criminal Appeals.] The
appeal of all [other] criminal cases shall be to the Courts of
Appeal as prescribed by law. In addition, the Court of Criminal
Appeals may, on its own motion, review a decision of a Court of
Appeals in a criminal case as provided by law. Discretionary review
by the Court of Criminal Appeals is not a matter of right, but of
sound judicial discretion.
SECTION 4. This proposed constitutional amendment shall be
submitted to the voters at an election to be held November 3, 2015.
The ballot shall be printed to provide for voting for or against the
proposition: “The constitutional amendment abolishing the death
penalty.”

Keyetv with Video:

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.

KVUE:

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.

%d bloggers like this: