Powerful testimony from a former death-row inmate and the several family members of murder victims about justice gone awry and forgiveness preceded the El Paso County Commissioners Court's 4-1 vote Monday for a resolution against the death penalty.
The vote made El Paso County the second Texas county behind Austin's Travis County to endorse the resolution, which actually calls for a moratorium on executions until a commission studies the administration of the death penalty.
Carmen Velasquez told how her brother, Raymond, became a probation officer and was tortured and murdered at the age of 34 in 1990.
"It has taken me decades to realize there is no peace in someone else's death," she said.
Juan Roberto Melendez, 65, said he spent nearly 18 years in hellish conditions on Florida's death row before a copy of another man's confession to the crime was found in the prosecutor's files, where it had been for a year before Melendez was sentenced to die.
"It happens all the time," he said of prosecutorial misconduct.
El Pasoan John Tures, husband of Carol Tures, who has campaigned for a moratorium for years, read a supporting letter from former Bexar County District Attorney Sam Milsap. He said he used to be a strong supporter of capital punishment but turned against it after learning than an executed man he convicted was innocent.
District Attorney Jaime Esparza's first assistant, Marcos Lizarraga, pleaded with commissioners to not approve the measure, saying it stands little chance of broad approval in Texas but will put doubt in the minds of El Paso jurors in murder cases.
"I'm worried that with this resolution, people will think what we do as part of our job is wrong," he said.
And while the resolution calls for a moratorium on executions, Lizarraga said, Commissioners Court would actually be taking a stand against the death penalty for the worst crimes.
Commissioner Larry Medina told Lizarraga he was right.
"The state has no business in the revenge business," Medina said.
Commissioner Miguel Terán said part of the problem is that money buys justice and more money buys more justice.
"We live in a racist society that condemns people on the basis of the color of their skin," he said.
County Judge Dolores Briones said she supported the resolution because she is pro-choice on abortion, while Commissioner Dan Haggerty said he would oppose it because he is pro-life.
Texas Moratorium Network (TMN) is a non-profit organization with the primary goal of mobilizing statewide support for a moratorium on executions in Texas. Significant death penalty reform in Texas, including a moratorium on executions, is a viable goal if the public is educated on the death penalty system and is encouraged to contact their elected representatives to urge passage of moratorium legislation.
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