We can now add muteness to the list of flaws in the Texas death penalty. Most Texans probably like to think they stand tall when the chips are down, but Texas prosecutors are choosing to stand mute, and are playing games when a man is on trial for his life in a Houston courtroom.
Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos on Monday ordered prosecutors in her office to “stand mute” during a rare hearing to determine whether the death penalty in Texas is unconstitutional.
The last-ditch strategy to end state District Judge Kevin Fine’s judicial inquiry into the procedures surrounding the state’s death penalty statute makes an observer out of the largest district attorney’s office in Texas.
The hearing, stemming from a death penalty case before Fine’s court, began Monday and is expected to last two weeks.
“It’s arrogant, and it’s contemptuous for the state to decide to not participate when they’re trying to put my client to death,” defense lawyer Casey Keirnan said in court.
Prosecutor Alan Curry told Fine he was ordered to answer that he is to remain mute instead of objecting, cross-examining or putting on witnesses at the hearing.
“I’m not allowing you to not participate,” Fine said.
Curry said he and other prosecutors will remain seated at counsel tables, but that they will not speak.
Fine could have held the office in contempt for the move. Instead of deadlocking the proceedings, Fine allowed prosecutors to listen without objection to testimony from anti-death penalty experts, legal scholars and investigators.
Death penalty opponents and courthouse observers turned out in droves early Monday because the hearing is believed to be the first time a court will consider the constitutionality of the Texas death penalty in the context of analyzing whether there is a substantial risk of convicting the innocent.
Yesterday, Texas Moratorium Network attended the first day of the hearing in Houston on the constitutionality of the Texas death penalty as applied. TMN participated in a demonstration outside the courthouse along with friends from Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, Witness to Innocence and Mexicanos en Accion.