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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.

Rick Casey of the Houston Chronicle writes in his column today about a Republican judge in Houston who jailed the wife of a defendant who had just been acquitted of murder for reacting to the acquittal with relief. Judge Susan Brown of Houston’s 185th Criminal Court  (see photo left), whose insensitivity and callousness brings to mind Judge Sharon Kelleris being opposed in the November election by Democrat Vivian King


Click here to join the Texas Moratorium Network Facebook page to stay informed about the Texas death penalty.

From the Houston Chronicle:






Last week she warned everyone in the courtroom not to react in any way when the verdict was read after a four-day murder trial.
When the jury pronounced the defendant “not guilty,” the defendant’s wife nevertheless reacted with some combination of relief and delight.
The judge gave her three days in jail for contempt.
How sensitive? Judge Brown said the woman was “screaming and flailing and yelling,” adding she had “never seen anything quite like it.”
But four other witnesses described it differently.
The defendant, the defense attorney and two jurors had varying memories. One heard the woman say, “Thank God.” One heard her say, “Amen.” Two heard a brief scream or squeal. None saw her flailing about.
I’m not naming the defendant or his wife because her co-workers aren’t aware her husband was accused of murder, and I think she need not be punished further.
The defendant had been in jail awaiting trial for about 18 months, so it was considerable relief to his wife when he was found not guilty.
“I think my wife said, ‘Amen.’ She said it one time,” the defendant said.
“She was crying when they took her off to jail. She don’t eat meat, so she couldn’t eat the food they gave her.”
Though she was sentenced to three days, she was let out after 36 hours, spending Thursday and Friday nights in jail.
Tyrone Moncriffe, the defendant’s attorney, remembered the woman as saying “Thank God.”
“She had been under a lot of stress and strain for almost two years,” said Moncriffe, a veteran defense attorney who is board-certified in criminal law.
He said he’d never seen a judge jail someone for such behavior.

‘Oh hell’

Juror Mark Enns said he heard the woman make a noise “like a quick squeal.” He said his view of her was partly blocked, but he didn’t see any flailing about.
When I told him the woman was the defendant’s wife and had been sent to jail, he said, “Oh hell.

Vivian King, Judge Brown’s Democratic opponent in the November election, said:



“It wasn’t an angry thing,” she said of the wife’s outburst. “Every black preacher teaches us to thank the Lord.”

King, who like the wife is African-American, said of Brown’s action, “I don’t think it was racism, just a lack of cultural understanding.”

Please sign the email petition urging Chair Bradley and other members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission to make all of its committee meetings open to the public and the media.

The “Investigative Committee on the Willingham/Willis Case” of the Texas Forensic Science Commission is holding secret, private, closed door meetings without any public notice to discuss the Cameron Todd Willingham investigation.

Other committees of the TFSC are also being held in secret. Since the four-person Willingham/Willis committee does not form a quorum of the entire nine member Commission, it is not subject to the Open Meetings Act — which means it can legally deliberate in secret. However, the members of the Commission can vote to make all meetings public and to follow the rules of the Open Meetings Act.

Unless, the policy is changed, the public will not be privy to discussions by the four-member panel of the Commission that is responsible for scrutinizing the reliability of the arson investigation used to convict Todd Willingham.

Instead, the panel will report its conclusions to the nine-member commission, which will make the matter final.

Asked if he favored allowing the public to attend such sessions, TFSC Chair John Bradley responded, “No,”.

If you believe that all subcommittee meetings of the Texas Forensic Science Commission should be public and not private, secret closed door meetings, then please join us in writing commission Chair John Bradley and other Commission members urging them to make the meetings public and to post notices on the Commission website of when and where the subcommittee meetings will take place.

Shortly before Todd Willingham was executed in 2004 for an arson that killed his three young daughters, Texas Governor Rick Perry had received a request that he delay the execution based on an arson expert’s report that evidence presented at the trial did not show that the fire had been deliberately set.

Dr. Craig Beyler, one of the nation’s top arson experts, who after a search was hired by the Forensic Science Commission to investigate the case, submitted a report to the Commission in 2009 that the fire may well have not been caused by arson at all.

Secret, closed-door thwart transparency and erode public confidence in the commission’s work, which has already been compromised by Governor Rick Perry’s abrupt dismissal of the previous chair and three other members of the TFSC two days before the Commmission was scheduled to discuss the report by Dr Craig Beyler.

Please add your name to the list of people urging Chair Bradley and other members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission to make all of its committee meetings open to the public and the media.

Video of TV News Report: Forensic Science Commission Holding Secret Closed Meetings in Todd Willingham Case

If you believe that all subcommittee meetings of the Texas Forensic Science Commission should be public and not private, secret closed door meetings, then please join us in writing commission Chair John Bradley (photo left) and other members urging them to make the meetings public and to post notices on their website of when and where the subcommittee meetings will take place.
The address is:

Texas Forensic Science Commission
Sam Houston State University
College of Criminal Justice
Box 2296
816 17th Street
Huntsville, Texas 77341-2296

Fax: 1-888-305-2432
E-mail: info@fsc.state.tx.us

Report of today’s meeting from the Dallas Morning News:

Bradley meets the press. Asked about the pace of the Willingham case ahead, he says it will proceed as appropriate. Asked if he would set a timetable, he says no. He says that would be arbitrary.
Asked about the newly configured, four-person Willingham committee, he says it will meet in private. Why not public? “I don’t think it’s in the best interest of how we choose to do things.” Asked who decided the Willingham committees will meet privately, he says the committee did. (I should point out that the assistant AG attending today’s session advised the commission that the committee were only made official today and that they couldn’t have made official decisions at their organizing meetings last week.)
Bradley cuts off questions before I could ask him particulars of what the committee will tackle at its next meeting.
Talking with Commissioner Evans, the Fort Worth defense attorney, who says it was news to him that the committee will be meeting in private. Should it be? Evans says he would have no objection to public meetings, though he appreciates that there is a level of frankness that can help get things done behind closed doors. Overall, he says he’s willing to listen to pros and cons.
Evans says he figures that committee members will be in contact to decide what materials to review and people to talk to for their next session — whenever that is.
On his way out, Adams says it was news to him that committees will conduct business in private. He presumed they would be public. But don’t worry, he says, other members of the commission will make sure business is above-board.

From last week’s Grits for Breakfast, “Forensic commission’s Willingham committee meeting in secret:

Committee meetings of the Forensic Science Commission are being held in secret, including a committee evaluating the Todd Willingham arson investigation which met yesterday. Death penalty activist Scott Cobb emailed FSC coordinator Leigh Tomlin to ask:

I heard your voice mail that the Complaint Screening Committee and the Investigative Committee on the Willingham/Willis Case held meetings yesterday in Dallas. When and where were they held? I didn’t see any meeting notice posted on the website. I only knew about it because I had read in the Houston Chronicle that it was going to be held next Thursday. Did the Commission provide a public notice before the meetings were held? How can the public be aware of when these meetings are going to be held in the future? Are there minutes available of the meetings yesterday?

Tomlin replied with a single sentence: “The meetings were not public meetings.”

They could be public, of course, at the discretion of the commission and the chair. But the new rules Chairman John Bradley rammed throughat the commission’s last meeting allow him to opt to have closed sessions.

Having watched that meeting online, I seriously doubt the majority of commissioners understood that this would be the result or intended to close their deliberations. This is simply the chairman exercising his discretion in the convenient absence of any rule to the contrary. This is what happens when rules aren’t publicly posted or even shared with commissioners before the day they’re required to vote on them. One hopes the commission majority will override their chairman to revisit and amend those rules, making committee hearings public and publishing their agendas just like regular commission meetings.

The Forensic Science Commission never conducted its business in secret before. What do they have to hide?




The Texas Forensic Science Commission met today in Irving. The meeting took all day, but the time spent discussing the case of Todd Willingham amounted to about 5-8 minutes or so. One commission member said they were just at the beginning of the investigation. One member wanted to look at the Willingham trial transcript, get a report from the Corsicana fire department and take a look at what the Willingham’s wife has said, among other things, so that suggests they may take a broader look at the Willingham case instead of just focusing on the scientific validity of the forensic evidence. If the forensic evidence and the analysis of it had no basis in science, then there was no valid evidence of arson, which means there was no evidence of a crime and Texas executed an innocent person. 

They expanded the subcommittee handling the investigation into the Willingham case and the case of Ernest Willis from three members to four. Chair John Bradley pointed out that if they put too many people on the subcommittee, then they would have to make the subcommittee members public. As it is, with so few members on the subcommittee, they can have secret, closed meetings.

In fact today’s meeting of the entire commission during the brief time they discussed the Willingham case was so agreeable between the commission members, that it appeared they may have hashed out any differences in the secret meeting they held last week of the then three-person panel of the subcommittee.

From the Austin American-Statesman:


Three commissioners had initially been tapped for the Willingham case: commission chairman John Bradley, who is the Williamson County District Attorney; Tarrant County Medical Examiner Dr. Nizam Peerwani; and Sarah Kerrigan of the forensic science program at Sam Houston State University.
Kerrigan at first said she was “willing to stand down” from the subcommittee. Bradley said Kerrigan had told him that “personal issues” would prevent her from committing the time required for the subcommittee work. And he said that he wanted to add another lawyer to the panel because of the weighty legal issues involved — and also because, for public perception, it would be better to have both a prosecutor and a defense lawyer on the subcommittee.
Bradley said he’d asked defense lawyer Lance Evans to join the subcommittee in Kerrigan’s place.
Evans said he’d be happy to join the subcommittee, but he asked the commission to consider expanding it to include more commissioners — or the entire commission. He said it might be helpful to have people on the subcommittee who had been involved in the earlier investigation. Peerwani, Bradley and Evans are recent Perry appointees.
“I think every member of this commission is vitally interested in this particular investigation,” Evans said.
Bradley told the commission that if the subcommittee were enlarged to include the entire nine-member commission — or at least a quorum — the meetings would have to be public because of Texas’ open meeting requirements.
But three — or four — members may meet behind closed doors.

From the Dallas Morning News:

Bradley meets the press. Asked about the pace of the Willingham case ahead, he says it will proceed as appropriate. Asked if he would set a timetable, he says no. He says that would be arbitrary.

Asked about the newly configured, four-person Willingham committee, he says it will meet in private. Why not public? “I don’t think it’s in the best interest of how we choose to do things.” Asked who decided the Willingham committees will meet privately, he says the committee did. (I should point out that the assistant AG attending today’s session advised the commission that the committee were only made official today and that they couldn’t have made official decisions at their organizing meetings last week.)
Bradley cuts off questions before I could ask him particulars of what the committee will tackle at its next meeting.
Talking with Commissioner Evans, the Fort Worth defense attorney, who says it was news to him that the committee will be meeting in private. Should it be? Evans says he would have no objection to public meetings, though he appreciates that there is a level of frankness that can help get things done behind closed doors. Overall, he says he’s willing to listen to pros and cons.
Evans says he figures that committee members will be in contact to decide what materials to review and people to talk to for their next session — whenever that is.
On his way out, Adams says it was news to him that committees will conduct business in private. He presumed they would be public. But don’t worry, he says, other members of the commission will make sure business is above-board.

Texas Moratorium Network plans to ask the public to write the commission and urge them to make all subcommittee meetings public and not to hold private, secret closed door meetings.

Texas today executed its 453rd person since 1982 and the 214th person since Governor Rick Perry took office in 2000. The next Texas execution is April 27 when Samuel Bustamante is set to die.

Click here to join the Texas Moratorium Network Facebook page to stay informed about the Texas death penalty.

From the Houston Chronicle:

A Texas inmate convicted of fatally shooting an El Paso high school senior after robbing and sexually assaulting her was executed Thursday evening in the nation’s busiest death penalty state.

William Josef Berkley was condemned to death for the March 2000 slaying of 18-year-old Sophia Martinez, whose body was found in the desert outside El Paso after being robbed at a drive-through ATM. She had been shot in the head five times and there was evidence she’d been raped.

Berkley was the sixth Texas inmate to receive lethal injection this year. Ten other prisoners are set to die over the next three months.

In his final statement, Berkley thanked his girlfriend, a friend and his spiritual adviser, who were at the execution, for their love and support. But he did not mention Martinez or look at or speak to the victim’s mother and two sisters, who were also in attendance.

“Warden, let her rip,” Berkley said after his brief statement.

As the drugs took effect, he gasped at least twice. Nine minutes later, at 6:18 p.m. CDT, he was pronounced dead.

Berkley, a self-described marijuana-smoking, baggy-jeans-wearing, “sarcastic smart ass,” denied involvement in the slaying during an interview with The Associated Press before his execution.

The U.S. Supreme Court turned down Berkley’s appeal late Thursday. The high court last year refused to review his case. On Wednesday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected his appeal.

Martinez was robbed after pulling up to a drive-through ATM to withdraw $20 for spending on a Friday night.

A surveillance camera caught the robbery on tape and showed a man prosecutors said was Berkley forcing his way into Martinez’s car. After being forced to withdraw $200 from the ATM, Martinez drove off with Berkley.

Two days later, Martinez’s body was found in the desert about 10 miles away.

Berkley, who dropped out of high school in 10th grade, was born in Germany, where his father was posted with the U.S. Army. His family moved to El Paso when he was in the fourth grade.

Berkley said he had dual citizenship with Germany. The German government didn’t step in to intervene in the case.

Scheduled next for the Texas death chamber is Samuel Bustamante, 40, facing execution Tuesday for the fatal stabbing of a 28-year-old man during a robbery in Fort Bend County.

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