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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.

The chair of the Texas House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence has endorsed ending the death penalty. He sent out an email today copied below that links to his article entitled”

“It’s time to get rid of the death penalty in Texas

Today, the Texas Tribune published an op-ed I wrote about the death penalty. My views on capital punishment have evolved in my eight years making statewide criminal justice policy on the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee and my years as both a prosecutor and defense attorney outside of that. After a long time weighing the costs-financial and moral-of putting a person to death, considering the times our state has gotten it wrong, and reviewing the procedural deficiencies that still plague us (especially when it comes to offenders suffering from serious mental illness or intellectual and developmental disability), I’ve come to believe that Texas is better than the death penalty. It’s time for change.
I encourage you to read the article in its entirety here , but you’ll find some excerpts below.

Onward,
Signature

Joe Moody
State Representative | District 78
“Texas has long had the dubious distinction of being a leader in capital punishment, which has also made it a leader in litigation which has exposed many constitutional and practical problems in our system. It’s a shameful fact that we’ve occasionally executed the innocent and frequently applied the death penalty unevenly to the guilty, including to people suffering from serious mental illnesses and significant intellectual and developmental disabilities, an explicit focus of our recent hearing.”

“We apply the death penalty too broadly and very inconsistently. Procedures vary wildly between the state’s 254 different counties, and many people face death who constitutionally shouldn’t – like those who were seriously mentally ill at the time of their offenses and those who had only minor roles in a crime. We’ve even let what we’ve later found to be junk science sway juries into handing down death sentences and then provided few ways to challenge those verdicts afterwards.”

“From any moral standpoint, we all know that mercy is a show of strength, not weakness. Executions by the state put us on a short list with the likes of North Korea, Iran, and China,  far out of step with the bastions of democracy and freedom we call allies. Texas is better than capital punishment.”

“Most of all, though, I regret the cost that can’t be measured in money. We lose a piece of ourselves with every unnecessary killing; we lower ourselves morally. Something that resonated at our hearing was the testimony of Shane Claiborne, pastor and author of the fantastic book Executing Grace. ‘The death penalty isn’t about whether a person deserves to die,’ he said, ‘but whether we deserve to kill.'”

“We must set aside anger and fear and embrace grace. I encourage Texans to keep open minds and open hearts, give some serious thought to this issue, and join me in the growing bipartisan effort to end capital punishment in this state.”

Watch the episode of Death Row Stories about Sabrina Butler. Sabrina was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death. She is listed as number 59 on the The Innocence List maintained by the Death Penalty Information Center. She was instrumental in convincing a Texas State Senator to file a bill to abolish the death penalty, when she and exoneree Ron Keine, both of Witness to Innocence came to Texas for our Lobby Day in 2015 to share their stories at a press conference and by visiting and talking to a bunch of legislators and their aides, including the Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr, who filed the abolition bill a couple of weeks after she and Ron asked him to file it.

 
 

Ami Lyn White, left, Murder Victim Family Member. Ami remembers being told that her mother, Cathy, was murdered when she was five. She speaks to the pain and despair that she felt then and in the years since. She recognizes that “those on death row and those who are executed have families too, those family members, those children experience the same kind of pain and devastation that I felt. To me, the most premeditated murder of all is the death penalty. It only creates more victims, more heartache, more pain.”

Murder victim family members opposed to the death penalty on a journey of hope together with exonerated former death row prisoners.

Randy Gardner wearing some prison clothes of his brother, Ronnie, who was executed by firing squad in Utah in 2010.

George White, right, who was wrongfully convicted of his wife’s murder before being later declared innocent and released.
Dr. Jack Sullivan, bottom left, whose life and leadership have been forever influenced by the 1997 murder of his younger sister, Jennifer. In the traumatic days, weeks and months that followed Jennifer’s untimely death, his family steadfastly rejected any notion that the killer(s) be sentenced to death if apprehended. No one was ever arrested in Jennifer’s death.

 

Derrick Jamison, left, an innocent man who spent nearly 20 years on Ohio’s death row for a murder and robbery he did not commit. Shujaa Graham, right, acquitted five years after being sent to death row in 1976.

The 18th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty will be held in Austin, Texas on Saturday, October 28, 2017 at 2pm at the Texas Capitol.

We will also hold a press conference inside the Capitol at 12:30pm in the Speaker’s Committee Room (2W.6).

Speakers at the march and/or the press conference include:

Bill PelkeMurder Victim Family Member President and Cofounder of Journey of Hope

Bill authored a book entitled Journey of Hope…From Violence to Healing, which details the May 14, 1985 murder of his grandmother Ruth Elizabeth Pelke, a Bible teacher, by four teenage girls. Paula Cooper who was deemed to be the ringleader was sentenced to die in the electric chair by the state of Indiana. She was fifteen years old at the time of the murder. Bill originally supported the sentence of death for Cooper, but went through a spiritual transformation in 1986 after praying for love and compassion for Paula Cooper and her family. He became involved with an international crusade on Paula’s behalf and in 1989 her sentenced was commuted to sixty years in prison. Bill, a retired steelworker, has dedicated his life to working for abolition of the death penalty. He has shared his story of love and compassion and the healing power of forgiveness thousands of times in more than forty states and fifteen countries with the Journey.

Ami Lyn WhiteMurder Victim Family Member

Ami remembers being told that her mother, Cathy, was murdered when she was five. She speaks to the pain and despair that she felt then and in the years since. She recognizes that “those on death row and those who are executed have families too, those family members, those children experience the same kind of pain and devastation that I felt. To me, the most premeditated murder of all is the death penalty. It only creates more victims, more heartache, more pain.”

Reverend Dr. Jack Sullivan, Jr,  Murder Victim Family Member

Dr Sullivan is the Senior Pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Findlay, OH. He recently completed service as Executive Director of Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation (MVFR), the nation’s largest victims’ families-led antideath penalty organization. Dr. Sullivan’s life and leadership have been forever influenced by the 1997 murder of his younger sister, Jennifer. In the traumatic days, weeks and months that followed Jennifer’s untimely death, his family steadfastly rejected any notion that the killer(s) be sentenced to death if apprehended. No one was ever arrested in Jennifer’s death,

Delia Perez-Meyer – sister of TX DR prisoner Louis Castro Perez

Terri Been – Sister of TX DR prisoner Jeff Wood

Sandra Reed – Mother of TX DR prisoner Rodney Reed

Marie Brignac – Representing Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement

Yancy Escobar – wife of TX DR prisoner Juan Balderas

Ty Cassell – 10 yr old abolitionist from Houston

Alisa Hernandez – President of Amnesty International – UT

Marilyn Shankle-Grant – Mother of TX DR prisoner Paul Storey

Shujaa Graham – Exonerated Death Row Survivor, Murder Victim Family Member Social Activist, Member of Witness to Innocence

As a teenager, Shujaa lived through the Watts riots and experienced the police occupation of his community. In and out of trouble, he spent much of his adolescent life in juvenile institutions, until at age 18, he was sent to Soledad Prison. He came of age, mentored by the leadership of the Black Prison movement. He taught himself to read and write, studied history and world affairs, and became a leader of the Black Panther Party and growing movement within the California prison system. In 1973, Shujaa was framed in the murder of a prison guard. As a recognized leader within and without the prison, the community became involved in his defense, and supported him through 4 trials. Shujaa and his co-defendant, Eugene Allen, were sent to San Quentin’s death row in 1976, after a second trial in San Francisco. The DA systematically excluded all African American jurors, and in 1979, the California Supreme Court overturned the death conviction. After spending three years on death row, Shujaa, continued to fight for his life. A third trial ended in a hung jury, and after a fourth trial, he was found innocent. As Shujaa often says, he won his freedom and affirmed his innocence despite the system.

George White – Murder Victim Family Member, Wrongfully Convicted Exoneree, Chairman of the Board, Journey Ambassador and Cofounder of JOH

On February 27, 1985 in Enterprise, Al, George and his wife, Char, experienced firsthand the insanity of murder when a masked gunman entered his office and shot the pair repeatedly during an armed robbery. A horrific, twisted nightmare began and lasted for more than seven years as George went from a survivor of a violent crime and husband of a murder victim, to a suspect, accused, indigent defendant facing the death penalty, convicted murderer sentenced to life, and innocent man exonerated. Convicted in1987, the conviction was overturned in 1989 but it took until 1992 to uncover and confront the prosecution with the proof of his innocence and a judge ordered that the charge be forevermore dismissed, exonerating him. George speaks of his own often torturous journey from violence and hatred to healing. “I believe society’s laws must offer relief for our pain, anger and loss and afford us protection from those who would harm us; however, I reject the death penalty as a failed solution not only to heal the wounds of our loss, but as bad public policy, morally, socially and economically. Together, let us find a better way.”

Bill Babbitt –Brother of an Executed Man

Bill Babbitt once supported the death penalty. He also really trusted in the police, but when he realized that his brother, Manny, could possibly be involved in the death of an elderly woman he was filled with anguish and fear that if he contacted the police, they or the state of California might kill the brother he dearly loved. Manny Babbitt, a decorated Marine, had brought the horror of war home with him after two tours in Vietnam. He was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Bill convinced himself to place his trust in the justice system and that it would recognize the reality of his brother’s mental illness. Manny would be held accountable and receive the psychological help that he needed. Bill literally led the police to his brother believing that justice would be served and Manny would get the help he needed. Bill was certain the state would not kill his little brother. He was wrong. Bill Babbitt was present at San Quentin prison when at one minute after midnight on May 4th, 1999 the state of California executed Manny.

With spoken word by Houston artist Kamil Khan!

MC: Lily Hughes

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