Ruben Cantu, Carlos De Luna and Cameron Willingham are three persons that many people now believe were innocent people executed in Texas. But have there been other innocent people executed in Texas? The New York Times ran an article in 2000 that mentioned several cases of people executed in Texas who may have been innocent. That article did not mention De Luna or Cantu and at the time the article was published Willingham was still alive and would not be executed until 2004. The article mentions David Spence, Odell Barnes, Troy Farris, James Lee Beathard and Jerry Lee Hogue as possibly innocent people executed in Texas. About Troy Farris, the article says:
Another member of the board (Board of Pardons and Paroles), Tom Moss, a retired federal parole officer, talked about his vote for clemency for Troy Farris, who was executed for killing a police officer. The Farris case, Mr. Moss said, was one of two cases in which he “saw something that may have indicated that they were innocent.”
Cynthia Tauss, who has studied law, is also on the board. She said she “cried all day” after Texas executed Mr. Farris. “I wasn’t sure he should have been given the death penalty,” she said. “That’s why I voted to commute.” A majority of the 18-member board would have to have voted for clemency in order to make a recommendation of it to Mr. Bush.
In the Farris case, the one that caused Ms. Tauss of the parole commission to break down into tears, the Court of Criminal Appeals said there was no forensic evidence to link Mr. Farris to the crime or to support the testimony of the two key witnesses against him. But the appeals court upheld the jury’s decision.
Then, in an unusual move, seven members of the state parole board voted for clemency, but 10 opposed it and one abstained. Mr. Farris was executed in January 1999.
The Times also wrote about the case of Jerry Lee Hogue, who was executed for arson-murder. Remember, it was arson that was involved in the cases of Cameron Willingham and Ernest Willis. Willingham was executed for arson-murder and Willis was exonerated after 17 years on death row for arson-murder.
This emphasis on speed hurt Jerry Lee Hogue. Although there was strong evidence, including two eyewitnesses, that he had committed the arson-murder for which he was convicted, on the eve of his scheduled execution nearly 20 years later a law enforcement official had gnawing doubts. The official, Joseph Stewart, an arson investigator in Wichita Falls, arrested a man for a different arson who it turned out had been at the arson for which Mr. Hogue had been convicted. The arsons seemed disturbingly similar, Mr. Stewart said in an interview, and he called Governor Bush’s office several times, pleading for a reprieve of 30 days in order to pursue the new evidence.
“I’m not a defense lawyer, I’m a Texas peace officer,” said Mr. Stewart, a death penalty supporter who has voted for Mr. Bush and has been in law enforcement since he was 21. For this reason he thought Governor Bush would listen to him. He was wrong.
Mr. Sutton said that the governor had rejected Mr. Stewart’s entreaties because “the jury decision was right.” The execution of Mr. Hogue on March 11, 1998, left Mr. Stewart with grave doubts about how the death penalty is administered. “Being in law enforcement, I am not against the death penalty,” he said in an interview in the county building in tiny Crowell. “I had always assumed there was a good set of checks and balances. I was pretty disillusioned afterward.”
Texas needs to stop executions immediately, so that the question about whether innocent people have been executed in Texas can be fully investigated.
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