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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.

AG Candidates Weigh In on Execution of Mexican National

Wednesday night’s execution in Texas of a Mexican national convicted of killing a Houston police officer has given the candidates vying to be the state’s next attorney general an opportunity to weigh in on the death penalty — revealing only slight differences in how they might have handled the case.

Texas officials went ahead with Edgar Tamayo’s execution despite pressure from both the Mexican and U.S. governments to delay it. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned that the execution “could impact the way American citizens are treated in other countries.”

Among the Republicans vying to replace Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is running for governor, all of them said they would have proceeded with the execution.

Enrique Marquez, state Rep. Dan Branch’s campaign manager, said in an email that Branch “has never wavered in his belief that the death penalty is a just punishment for the most heinous crimes.” Marquez said that because “there seems to be no question about Edgar Tamayo’s guilt or of the due process,” Branch would also have allowed the execution of Tamayo to go forward.

State Sen. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney, said in an email that Tamayo was “punished in accordance with state law, which provides for the death penalty.” He said there was no need for a delay.

And Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman, who has long favored capital punishment on the stump, said Texas officials acted properly.  

In 2002, during an interview with the Harris County district attorney’s office, where he was hired as a prosecutor, Smitherman apparently led his interviewer to believe otherwise. “Smitherman is opposed to the death penalty for religious reasons,” notes from his personnel file state. “He said that being pro-life doesn’t ‘square with’ the death penalty.”

Smitherman’s campaign said his views had been mischaracterized in the notes.

“Barry supports, and has always supported, the death penalty for the most heinous and violent criminals,” Jared Craighead, Smitherman’s campaign manager, said in an email. “… It is clear that there was a misunderstanding in a short interview with one person that occurred over a decade ago regarding Barry’s views on the death penalty.”

Only Sam Houston, a Houston attorney and the lone Democrat in the race, said he would have asked for a delay in the execution. But his personal views on the death penalty don’t appear to be much different from his Republican counterparts.

Houston said that in the Tamayo case, he is concerned that violating international treaties could put Americans in danger abroad and “have further far-reaching ramifications.” He added that he had “no sympathy” for the offender.  

Houston said he believed that the process by which criminals are convicted and given the ultimate punishment should be carefully scrutinized to make sure no innocent person is put to death. But if the appropriate legal process is followed, he said, “I am not personally opposed to the death penalty.”

Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/01/23/how-would-next-ag-handle-major-death-penalty-cases/.

Death Row Exoneree Takes Action Against Prosecutor

HOUSTON — Former death row inmate Anthony Graves, who who spent 18 years behind bars before being exonerated, announced Monday that he is taking action against the man who prosecuted him, alleging prosecutorial misconduct.

“We’re here today, Martin Luther King Day, seeking justice for me and my family and the citizens of this state,” Graves told a crowd at Texas Southern University while announcing that he would file a grievance against former Burleson County District Attorney Charles Sebesta

Graves spent 12 of his 18 years in prison on death row — where he twice neared execution. Graves had been convicted of killing a Somerville family of six, even though another man, Robert Carter, confessed that he was the sole killer. Both men were sentenced to death. Then, in 2006, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Graves’ conviction, ruling that Sebesta had used false testimony and withheld Carter’s confession from the defense.

“I’m asking prosecutors to cooperate with the highest of integrity,” Graves said. “It took me 18 and a half years to get back home. Two execution dates. All because a man abused his position.”

Robert Bennett, Graves’ attorney, said Graves could elect to pursue criminal charges against Sebesta in addition to filing a grievance with the State Bar of Texas. Sebesta could not immediately be reached for comment, but he has denied that he withheld evidence in the case. On his website, Sebesta defends his actions and points to the State Bar’s dismissal of a previous grievance over the case.

State Sens. John Whitmire and Rodney Ellis and Rep. Senfronia Thompson, all Houston Democrats, joined Graves at Monday’s news conference. Supporting Graves’ pursuit of a grievance, they called on the State Bar to provide justice for Graves.

“It doesn’t hurt to have some transparency,” Thompson said. “No one is above the law.”

In 2013, Whitmire authored Senate Bill 825, which changed the statute of limitations for a wrongfully imprisoned person to file a grievance in cases of alleged prosecutorial misconduct. The new law allows Graves to take action against Sebesta up to four years after the date of Graves’ release from prison. Previously, the four-year statute began on the date the misconduct was discovered.

Whitmire said that while district attorneys will always be needed, “the message today is, we’re watching them.”

Graves was released Oct. 27, 2010, which meant that under SB 825 he is eligible to file a grievance through Oct. 27 of this year. At the conclusion of Monday’s news conference, using an aide’s iPad, he submitted his grievance electronically.

“It’s a great day to be alive,” he said.

Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/01/20/death-row-exoneree-seeks-punishment-prosecutor/.

Texas executed 16 people in 2013, one more person than in 2012. 69 percent of the people Texas executed in 2013 were people of color, eight African-Americans and three Hispanics. There were five white people executed by Texas in 2013.

Two people were executed from Dallas County, two from Harris County, two from Hidalgo County, two from Lubbock County, one from Leon County, one from Brazos County, one from Victoria County, one from McLennan County, one from Jefferson County, one from Cherokee County, one from Navarro County and one from Smith County.

Since December 7, 1982, the state of Texas has executed 508 people. There have been 269 executions in Texas since Rick Perry took office in December 2000.

The highest number of executions in one year in Texas was 40 in 2000.

So far, 9 people have been sentenced to death in 2013 in Texas. New death sentences have declined from their high in the late 90s. In 1999, there were 48 people sentenced to death.

88.8 percent of the nine new death sentences handed out in 2013 in Texas have been given to people of color. Of the nine people sentenced to death so far in Texas in 2013, seven are African-American, one is Hispanic and one white.

New death sentences came from Dallas County with three, Harris, Hays, Hunt, Jefferson, Brazoria, and McLennan Counties all had one new death sentence.

The number of new death sentences has declined over the last several years in large part because people who serve on juries are increasingly choosing life without parole as an alternative to the death penalty because members of juries have read about so many mistakes in the system when innocent people have been convicted only to be exonerated years later.

DeliaThe Road to Livingston directed by Erick Mauck and Chelsea Hernandez will have its world premiere at the 2013 Austin Film Festival.  It tells the story of Texas Moratorium Network board member Delia Perez Meyer, who is fighting to prove the innocence of her brother Louis Castro Perez who is on Texas death row.

WORLD PREMIERE After ten years, Delia Perez-Meyer still makes the four-hour drive every week to Livingston, Texas to visit her brother on death row. At first saddened and frustrated by this journey, Delia discovers others unwillingly involved in the prison system who help bring her to a place of redemption and hope. Under the shadow of death, bonds are forged and families made along the road to Livingston.

Sunday, October 27 at 9:30 PM at Texas Spirit Theater

1800 Congress Ave., Austin, TX 78701

Located at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum
Tuesday, October 29 at 7:15 PM at Rollins Theatre 
701 W. Riverside Drive, Austin, TX 78704
Located at The Long Center for the Performing Arts




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