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Lon BurnamBurnam declares, ‘I’m a 21st-century abolitionist and I’m proud of it’

Posted Thursday, Mar. 14, 2013

By Dave Montgomery, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

AUSTIN — With Texas moving closer to its 500th execution, Rep. Lon Burnam on Wednesday described himself as a “21st-century abolitionist” and denounced the death penalty as “a gross example of institutionalized racism.”

The Fort Worth Democrat joined other death penalty opponents in a “Day of Innocence” to promote legislation to repeal capital punishment. They acknowledged that they are overwhelmingly outnumbered in a state that leads the nation in executions but nevertheless vowed to keep on fighting.

“We are right and the people who are on the other side are wrong,” Rep. Harold Dutton Jr., D-Houston, told about a dozen death penalty opponents in a legislative committee room. “Don’t be discouraged. … Today we have a new beginning.”

Dutton filed his first anti-death penalty bill 10 years ago to stop what he called the “madness” of executions. “Every time I read in the paper that they executed somebody, I as a legislator take full responsibility,” he said. “Everybody in the Legislature had a part in it because we didn’t stop it.”

Burnam, the senior member of Tarrant County’s 11-member House delegation, drew applause as he told fellow death penalty opponents: “I’m a 21st-century abolitionist and I’m proud of it.”

“There is no more gross example of institutionalized racism in this state today than in the death penalty,” Burnam asserted, saying that prisoners put to death in Texas are overwhelmingly poor and “people of color.”

Of the 287 inmates now on Death Row, according to the Texas Department of Corrections, 40 percent are black and 30 percent are Hispanic.

Texas has executed more than 490 inmates since 1976 and is nearing its 500th execution of a prisoner. Depending on appeals, that could come May 7 with the scheduled execution of Carroll Parr, convicted of killing a man in a robbery outside a convenience store in McLennan County in 2003.

“We have executed in Texas almost 500 people,” said Burnam, describing the upcoming threshold as “one of shame.”

Clarence Brandley, a former Death Row inmate who was wrongly convicted in the rape and murder of a 16-year-old student in Conroe, also participated in the event.

In addition to seeking a ban on capital punishment, Texas death penalty opponents are seeking to change Texas’ “law of parties” doctrine under which people can be sentenced to death for assisting in a capital crime even though they didn’t commit the murder.

Dave Montgomery is the Star-Telegram’s Austin

bureau chief.

Message posted by State Rep Lon Burnam on his Facebook page after the press conference on the 2013 Statewide Lobby Day Against the Death Penalty March 13.:

“I spoke today about abolishing the death penalty and the bill I have joint-authored with Rep. Harold Dutton to do so. To my right is Clarence Brandley, one of the dozen men (mostly black) who were declared innocent after being fully convicted of murder and sentenced to death in Texas. It is time for this injustice to end. Find out what you can do at the Texas Moratorium Network website: http://www.texasmoratorium.org/“.

 Below is a report by Gloria Rubac on the 2013 Statewide Lobby Day Against the Death Penalty, which was held on March 13.

                             State Rep Harold Dutton opens our press conference for the 2013 Lobby Day with TMN’s Scott Cobb

Death Penalty abolitionists from around Texas gathered Wednesday at the Texas Capitol for their bi-annual Texas Lobby Day Against the Death Penalty and Day of Innocence. Activists and death row families visited every legislator on the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee and the Senate Criminal Justice Committee as well as their own senators and representatives.

The anachronistic and very unfair Law of Parties bills were very well received by most and there could be a hearing next Tuesday on those bills. They would change Texas law so that a person could not be executed if arrested under the Law of Parties if they were not the shooter. Right now in Texas dozens of people sit on death row who killed NO ONE!

Particularly powerful presentations were provided by Sylvia Garza from the Rio grand Valley. Her son Robert was not even at the crime scene and killed no one. Yet Bobby has been on death row for ten years and his appeal was turned down by the US Supreme Court in February. He could receive an execution date at any moment.

Legislators also paid rapt attention to information by Clarence Brandley who spent ten years on death row before he was finally freed. He has never received the compensation he deserves for his years of terror in Huntsville, coming within days of execution two times.

The press conference was opened with a moving statement by State Representative Harold Dutton of Houston who said he was ridiculed when he first introduced his bill to abolish the death penalty over a decade ago. “My father told me to always stand up for what was right, so when I was asked Are you crazy? for proposing Texas end executions, it didn’t bother me because I was doing what is right.”

Participating organizations included Texas Moratorium Network, Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, Campaign to End the Death Penalty and Kids Against the Death Penalty.

The 2013 Statewide Texas Lobby Day Against the Death Penalty is Wednesday, March 13, 2013. Special guests include death row exoneree Clarence Brandley. All Texas death row exonerees will be honored with a resolution by the Texas House of Representatives.

People from across Texas will come to the Capitol in Austin to advocate for a bill to abolish the death penalty in Texas and other reforms that would impact the Texas death penalty, including bills to protect innocent people from wrongful convictions, a moratorium on executions, a commission to study the death penalty system, a bill to require separate trials in death penalty cases and a bill that would prohibit death sentences for people convicted under the Law of Parties who do not kill anyone.

This will be a day we will always remember, a day when we stood side by side fighting against the death penalty with people who were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death. Don’t be one of those people who one day “shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here” and fought with us on the Lobby Day Against the Death Penalty. Register now!

Below is the schedule for Lobby Day. Please register for Lobby Day, so that we know how many people are coming and so that we can schedule legislative appointments. In 2009 and 2011, our Lobby Day resulted in several legislators signing on to support the bills we lobbied for. We expect the same success in 2013. We have held a Lobby Day every session since 2003.

Register for the Lobby Day Against the Death Penalty. You can also just show up without registering, but if you register, then we know how many people are coming and we can plan appointments with legislators.

If you can not attend the Lobby Day, you can still help by making a donation (not tax-deductible). Also on March 13, even if you are not in Austin at the Lobby Day, you can participate in our Statewide Call-in Day to Abolish the Death Penalty. Find out who represents you, then call your Texas legislators and let them know your position on the death penalty and urge them to support the bills to repeal the death penalty, HB 164 by Harold Dutton and HB 1703 by Jessica Farrar. The bills are identical and we support both. Call the members of the Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence and urge them to schedule a hearing on the bills to abolish the death penalty. One of our goals of Lobby Day is to convince the committee to hold a hearing.

If you have questions, call or text Hooman Hedayati at (210) 601-7231.

Schedule of the 2013 Statewide Texas Lobby Day Against the Death Penalty

9-11 AM: Meet and Greet with death row exoneree Clarence Brandley, followed by lobby training as people arrive for lobby day and beginning of office visits as people complete training. Room E2.018 in the Capitol.

11 – Noon: Visiting Legislative Offices to Lobby

Noon: Press Conference in the Speaker’s Committee Room (2W.6). Special guests include State Rep. Harold Dutton, author of a bill to abolish the death penalty in Texas and State Rep. Lon Burnam, co-author of the bill to abolish the death penalty, as well as Clarence Brandley, an innocent person who spent ten years on Texas death row for a crime he did not commit.

1 PM: Lunch at your own expense in the Capitol cafeteria.

2-4:30 More lobbying visits to legislative offices.

4:30 PM Meet in the Capitol cafeteria to share stories about what everyone learned during the legislative lobbying visits.

6:30 PM SXSW Film Festival screening of new documentary “An Unreal Dream” about the case of Michael Morton, an innocent person who spent 25 years in prison wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife. You will need to buy your own tickets, which will go on sale at the theater before the showing. Tickets are limited, so you may not get in if it sells out.

Lobby Day has been organized since 2003 by several organizations working together, the same ones who also organize the annual “March to Abolish the Death Penalty” each October: Texas Moratorium Network, Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, Campaign to End the Death Penalty – Austin chapter, Texas Students Against the Death Penalty.
Organizations that would like to participate or co-sponsor the Lobby Day can email admin@texasmoratorium.org or call 512-961-6389.
Call the members of the Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence and urge them to schedule a hearing on the bills to abolish the death penalty.
Position Member
Chair: Rep. Abel Herrero  email (512) 463-0462
Vice Chair: Rep. Stefani Carter email  (512) 463-0454
Members: Rep. Lon Burnam   email   (512) 463-0740
Rep. Terry Canales   email    (512) 463-0426
Rep. Bryan Hughes    email    (512) 463-0271
Rep. Jeff Leach      email    (512) 463-0544
Rep. Joe Moody     email     (512) 463-0728
Rep. Matt Schaefer   email   (512) 463-0584
Rep. Steve Toth     email     (512) 463-0797


Updated May 16, 2013

The 500th execution in Texas is now on the schedule.  The 500th execution under the current schedule will happen on June 26, 2013 when Kimberly McCarthy is scheduled for execution. There may be stays or additions in the schedule that change the date of the 500th. Right now 497 people have been executed in Texas in the modern era.


We urge everyone in Texas and our friends worldwide to take action leading up to the 500th execution to let Texas know that it should stop executions with a moratorium and begin the process of repealing the death penalty.


Let us know if you plan any actions to protest 500 executions in Texas.


We originally posted this information on December 12, 2012, but because there have been more execution dates set, we updated the post on February 4 and again on May 9 to reflect the new date for the 500th execution.


Texas is nearing 500 executions in the modern era since the 1976 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the death penalty was constitutional. Texas conducted its first execution after the ruling in 1982.


To express your opposition to any execution, you can contact Governor Rick Perry’s office at 512 463 2000. If you call after business hours, you can leave a voice mail message. During business hours, someone should answer the phone. You can also send a message using a form on Perry’s official website.


498) Jefferey Williams, May 15, 2013


TDCJ Info on Williams


499) Elroy Chester III, June 12, 2013


TDCJ Info on Elroy Chester


500) Kimberly McCarthy, June 26, 2013


TDCJ Info on McCarthy


501) Rigoberto Avila Jr July 10, 2013


TDCJ Info on Avila


502) John Quintanilla Jr. July 16, 2103


TDCJ Info on Quintanilla


503) Vaughn Ross, July 18, 2013


TDCJ Info on Ross


504) Douglas Feldman, July 31, 2013


TDCJ Info on Feldman


505) Robert Garza, September 19, 2013


TDCJ Info on Garza


506) Arturo Diaz September 26, 2013


TDCJ Info on Diaz


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