Texas Moratorium Network
July 22, 2002
Dear Moratorium Supporters,
There is good news since we wrote to you last month. For starters, the Supreme Court banned execution of persons with mental retardation. Our members made progress towards passing a moratorium resolution at the Texas Democratic convention, and have begun an effort to pass a moratorium resolution in the Austin City Council. But there is also bad news. June and July have been busy months for Texas’ death chamber, and execution dates for two juvenile offenders are looming close in August. Please read on for details and actions.
At the State Democratic Convention in El Paso, the moratorium made significant progress. It was clear that the rank and file of the delegates supported the issue, while the Party leadership actively opposed it, for what they believed were pragmatic reasons. The moratorium resolution once again passed almost without opposition in the Resolutions committee, and its inclusion in the platform itself was narrowly defeated by a 17-11 vote. Voting for resolutions on the floor was cut short by a sudden early adjournment, which led to the rather bizarre scene of angry bikers (who had some resolutions waiting to be heard) assertively confronting the party leadership at the foot of the stage while the media eagerly swarmed around. Our moratorium resolution was one of those that was not heard, so we were upset as well. The resolution may pass when the State Democratic Executive Committee (SDEC) meets in Austin in September. If you would like to contact your SDEC representative (there is one man and one woman for each of the 31 Senate Districts in Texas) you can find their contact information on our website:
Court bans execution of persons with mental retardation:
The Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision in Atkins v. Virginia made national headlines. It will have a big impact in Texas, where last year Governor Rick Perry vetoed a bill that aimed to ban such executions. Now the legislature will be forced to revisit the issue.
The debate will be this: Perry and other strong supporters of the death penalty claim that Texas does not and never has executed an inmate with mental retardation, and therefore, they say, no change in the law is needed. Existing law requires juries to consider mental retardation as mitigating factor in the punishment phase of a capital trial (that is, after they have decided guilt).
What’s wrong with that argument? First, the facts: Texas has executed at least eight men whose IQs tested below 70. If Texas wants to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling, it needs to mandate that a claim of mental retardation be decided before the guilt phase of a capital trial. A jury upset by accounts a grotesque murder can’t be asked to make a calm, rational decision about the mental capacity of a defendant.
Nothing illustrates this better than the sad outcome of Johnny Penry’s re-sentencing. Penry, who has an IQ in the mid-fifties, and whose case has been to the Supreme Court twice, received another death sentence just weeks after the Supreme Court’s decision. Penry’s sentence is under appeal. We will be following it as well as the legislative developments on this issue.
Execution of juvenile offenders:
Two juvenile offenders are scheduled to be executed next month: T.J. Jones, on Aug 8, and Toronto Patterson, on Aug 28. Jones has waived further appeals. Patterson, however, maintains his innocence. The American Bar Association has established a website documenting the facts of his case and addressing issues related to execution of juvenile offenders. Please have a look
The recent attention to mental retardation and the death penalty might offer an opening for making people rethink execution of juvenile offenders. Most death penalty supporters think executions are necessary for punishing the worst of the worst. But are murders who have lesser capacities for moral judgement–either because of mental retardation or being 17 at the time of their offenses–really the worst of the worst?
We think this is a good point to raise in communications to the governor, legislators, the Board of Pardons and Paroles, and in letters to local editors.
Austin City Council Resolution
TMN is asking Austin City Council Member Danny Thomas to sponsor a resolution supporting a moratorium. Thomas is a Baptist preacher who is Administrative Pastor at Eph’phatha Full Gospel Baptist Church Ministries and 21-year former Austin police officer. Austin residents, please tell Thomas you would like to see him sponsor a moratorium resolution. He can be reached at the following addresses:
Austin City Council
Danny Thomas, Council Member Place 6
Phone: (512) 974-2266
Fax: (512) 974-1890
124 West 8th Street, #115
Austin, TX 78701
PO Box 1088
Austin TX, 78767
Death Row Database
TMN is developing a searchable database of Texas Death Row, to be avalibale on our website (http://www.texasmoratorium.org). We would like your input on the database before we announce its availability to the media. Try it out and let us know if it is useful or if you have any suggestions for other information to include. After we receive your feedback, we will tell the media that they can use it as a resource. The information on the official TDCJ site is not searchable, but you can search our database by such parameters as race, county, gender, etc. To find juvenile offenders, set “age at offense” to 17. And don’t forget to sign our petition:
Just this last week we have been disappointed to see Gubernatorial Candidate Tony Sanchez emphasize “enforcement of the death penalty” in his latest campaign commercial. In the past, Sanchez has expressed concerns about the fairness of Texas’ death penalty system, but his spokesman says that the recent ad signals his opposition to a moratorium.
Wouldn’t it be more appropriate for Sanchez to emphasize fairness in the criminal justice system instead of just promising more executions? We urge you to tell him so. His offices can be reached at 512-615-1300 or http://firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the coming months, Jeanette Popp, mother of murder victim Nancy De Priest, and Chair of Texas Moratorium Network, will be making a speaking tour of Texas. Jeanette is a powerful speaker and her story has made many people rethink their support for the death penalty. Please contact TMN if you would like to help arrange for Jeanette to come to your community.
Finally, save the date: The Third Annual March for a Moratorium will take place on Saturday, October 12, in Austin, Texas. Details will be posted to our website http://www.texasmoratorium.org.
If you would like to make a financial contribution to defray the cost of Jeanette’s travel, or expenses associated with the march, please send a check to
Texas Moratorium Network
14804 Moonseed Cove
Austin, Texas, 78728.
Thank you for your continuing support.
With best wishes,
Texas Moratorium Network