Upcoming Executions
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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.

Texas executed Cleve “Sarge” Foster Tuesday. He had received three stays of execution from the U.S. Supreme Court because of questions about how forcefully his lawyers defended him. He was the 247th person executed in Texas since Rick Perry became governor and the 486th since 1982 in Texas. Foster was the 30th person executed in the United States this year and the ninth in Texas.

In his last statement, Foster sent his love to his family and friends. “I love you, I pray one day we will all meet in heaven …,” Foster said. “Ready to go home to meet my maker.”

Texas has executed more than four times as many people as any other state since the death penalty was reinstated in the United States in 1976

Foster had asked the U.S. high court for a fourth stay of execution but it was denied on Tuesday. He was pronounced dead at 6:43 p.m. local time (2343 GMT) at the state penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas criminal justice spokesman Jason Clark said.

Tuesday’s request for a fourth stay was referred by Justice Antonin Scalia to the full court but just three of the nine justices — Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg — said they would favor another.

Family of Cleve "Sarge" Foster

“It was so hard for Sarge’s son Michael to let his father go. Michael and Sarge loved each other and this death will hurt so many for so long”, said Gloria Rubac.

Family of Cleve "Sarge" Foster

Sarge’s family praying before they leave for the death house.

Family of Cleve "Sarge" Foster

His family talking to Sarge Foster on the phone hours before his execution.

Photos by Gloria Rubac.

Below is from Keith Hampton’s website:

Today is the 5th anniversary of the execution of Michael Richard, the death-sentenced inmate seeking an appeal who Judge Sharon Keller famously told, “We close at 5p.m.”Michael Richard’s case is not a unique case of Sharon Keller exercising bad judgment. Judge Keller has a career of abusing constitutional rights.

 

Here are the facts:

  • Sept. 25, 2007 – The Supreme Court of the United States takes up a case regarding the procedure of administering lethal injection.
  • That Morning – States across the U.S. halt lethal injections pending the decision of the Supreme Court.
  • That Afternoon – Lawyers representing Michael Richard prepare an appeal based on the Supreme Court’s action, but are delayed in filing it. They ask if the Clerk’s office could remain open for just a few more minutes past 5 p.m.
  • 4:45PM – Judge Keller denies the request. She says, “We close at 5.”
  • 8:28PM – Michael Richard is pronounced dead, having been executed by lethal injection.
  • Years later – Sharon Keller is reprimanded by the Commission on Judicial Conduct, yet still serves as presiding judge.
We cannot afford for our justice system to be held hostage by Sharon Keller any longer.
This year, you decide who wears the robes on the highest court for criminal cases in Texas. It is time to restore justice, join me.
Keith Hampton

Cleve “Sarge” Foster is scheduled for execution this Tuesday, Sept 25, in Texas. His previous two execution dates were stayed at the last minute. Foster was sentenced to death under the Law of Parties.

Call Governor Rick Perry at 512 463 2000 to urge him to issue a stay of execution for Cleve Foster and tell him that no one should be executed under the Law of Parties. You can email Perry at his website.

From the Austin Chronicle:

Cleve Foster, a Desert Storm veteran turned Army recruiter in Fort Worth, is slated to be the next inmate executed in Texas.

Foster, known as “Sarge,” and one of his recruits, Shelton Aaron Ward, were each convicted of the 2002 rape and murder of Sudanese immigrant Nyanuer “Mary” Pal. The two were seen talking to her in a bar shortly before her murder; the three left at the same time, and Foster and Ward followed Pal as she drove off in her car. Pal’s body was later found in a ditch by workers laying pipe.

Ward died in prison, reportedly of brain cancer, in 2010. Foster has maintained his innocence, and argued that he had an incompetent trial attorney who failed to present expert testimony supporting his innocence claim – and that his state habeas attorney was also incompetent for failing to raise on appeal the ineffectiveness of his trial counsel. In several statements Ward repeatedly claimed that he alone murdered Pal, but prosecutors have said Ward’s statements are inconsistent with the evidence. DNA evidence showed both men had sex with her before her death, but Foster insists he was passed out from sleeping pills and wasn’t involved in Pal’s killing.

Indeed, Foster was tried and sentenced to death not for directly killing Pal, but as a party to the crime. Under Texas law, if a person knows or could have anticipated that a crime would occur, he can be charged as a party to it, even if he has no direct physical connection to the crime or any intent to commit it.

From the AP

What Cleve Foster remembers most about his recent brushes with death is the steel door, the last one condemned Texas inmates typically walk through before their execution.

“You can’t take your eyes off that door,” he says.

But twice over the past year and a half, Foster has come within moments of being escorted through the door, only to be told the U.S. Supreme Court had halted his scheduled punishment.

On Tuesday, Foster, 48, is scheduled for yet another trip to the death house for participating in the abduction and slaying of a 30-year-old Sudanese woman, Nyaneur Pal, a decade ago near Fort Worth.

It takes just under an hour to drive west from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Polunsky Unit, where the state’s male death-row inmates are housed, to the Huntsville Unit, where condemned Texas prisoners have been put to death for nearly a century. The last 485 have been by lethal injection; the first 361, from 1924 through 1964, from the electric chair.

On execution day, the condemned inmate waits, usually for about four hours, in a tiny cell a few steps from the steel door to the death chamber.

Foster, a former Army recruiter known to his death row colleagues as “Sarge,” denies his role in the murder. Prosecutors say DNA ties him to the killing and that he gave contradictory stories when questioned about Pal’s death.

AP
In this Aug. 29, 2012, photo, convicted… View Full Caption
“I did not do it,” he insisted recently from a tiny visiting cage outside death row.

Appeals again were pending in the courts, focusing on what his lawyers argued was poor legal help both at his 2004 trial in Fort Worth and by attorneys early in the appeals process. Similar appeals resulted in the three previous reprieves the courts subsequently have lifted, but his lawyers argue his case should get another look because the legal landscape has changed in death penalty cases.

“I don’t want to sound vain, but I have confidence in my attorney and confidence in my God,” he said. “I can win either way.”

Pal’s relatives haven’t spoken publicly about their experiences of going to the prison to watch Foster die, only to be told the punishment has been delayed. An uncle previously on the witness list didn’t return a phone call Friday from The Associated Press.

Foster, however, shared his thoughts of going through the mechanics of facing execution in Texas — and living to talk about it.

The process shifts into high gear at noon on the scheduled execution day when a four-hour-long visit with friends or relatives ends at the Polunsky Unit outside Livingston.

“That last visit, that’s the only thing that bothers me,” he said. “The 12 o’clock-hour hits. A dozen or so guards come to escort you.”

By Foster’s count, it’s 111 steps to the prison gate and an area known as the box cage. That’s where he’s secured to a chair for electronic scrutiny to detect whether he has any metal objects hidden on his body.

It’s the legacy of inmate Ponchai Wilkerson. Wilkerson, asked by the warden if he had a final statement after he was strapped to the death chamber gurney for execution in 2000, defiantly spit out a handcuff key he’d concealed in his mouth.

“You’re in handcuffs, you’re chained at the ankles, they give you cloth shoes and you have to shuffle to keep them on,” he said.

As he waddles the 111 steps, he gets acknowledgement from fellow prisoners who tap on the glass of their cells.

From the AP:

A woman on Texas death row for the stabbing and bludgeoning of a 71-year-old woman has received a Jan. 29 execution date.

Kimberly McCarthy was sentenced to die for the July 1997 killing of retired college professor Dorothy Booth during a robbery at Booth’s home in Lancaster, about 15 miles south of Dallas.

The Dallas County District Attorney’s office disclosed the date Wednesday.

The 51-year-old McCarthy is one of 10 women sentenced to die in Texas but is the only one with a scheduled execution date. Since Texas resumed carrying out capital punishment in 1982, only three of the 482 people put to death have been women.

Damien Echols, one of the West Memphis 3 who spent 18 years on death row before his release in 2011, will be in Austin on October 27 and 28, 2012 for the Texas Book Festival, where he will present his new memoir “Life After Death”.

Damien Echols, the central figure in one of the most notorious cases of wrongful conviction in recent memory, presents a gripping, eloquently written account of his early life, his arrest and trial, his eighteen years on death row, his new life after prison, and his ongoing quest for full exoneration in his definitive memoir, LIFE AFTER DEATH (Blue Rider Press; September 18, 2012; ISBN: 978-0-399-16020-2; Price: $26.95).

Along with fellow teenagers Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr., Echols was arrested and charged in 1993 with the murders of three eight-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas.  As the supposed “ringleader” of the group, Echols was sentenced to death, while Baldwin and Misskelley were given life sentences.  The convicted men, known as the West Memphis Three, became the subject of a three-part HBO documentary, Paradise Lost, which exposed the false testimony, legal incompetence, and public hysteria that characterized their trial.  The documentary also brought their case to the attention of a worldwide audience and won them support from celebrities like Eddie Vedder, Johnny Depp, Margaret Cho, Henry Rollins, Natalie Maines and Marilyn Manson, as well as thousands of ordinary people.

Stunningly, after years of fruitless attempts to overturn their convictions, the WM3 were released from prison in August 2011.  A new documentary about them produced by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, who are both longtime supporters of the WM3, West of Memphis, was acclaimed at the Sundance Film Festival and is scheduled for wide release in December 2012.  In addition, Johnny Depp’s production company has optioned the film rights to Echols’s memoir.

In LIFE AFTER DEATH, Damien Echols tells for the first time the complete, inside story of his life before and after the trial, including his difficult childhood, his spiritual and intellectual journey in prison, and his wife, Lorri Davis, whom he met and married while on death row.  Combining much new writing with unpublished passages from his prison journals, as well as excerpts from his brief self-published memoir, Echols reveals himself to be not only an emblematic and charismatic public figure, but also an extraordinary writer.

Like Jeannette Walls in The Glass Castle, he describes with heartrending precision and disarming humor an often-painful Southern upbringing by dysfunctional parents in trailer parks and unheated shacks.  During his disaffected teenage years, he wore the goth look of black clothing, earrings, and shaved head that made him the perfect target for police investigators convinced that satanic rituals had played a role in the murders.  He recalls the tumultuous emotions that shook him during his interrogation, arrest, and trial, along with his overwhelming sense of disbelief that he had been convicted of a crime he knew nothing about in a trial marked by gross inconsistencies, police and prosecutorial misconduct, and utterly inadequate legal representation.

At the heart of Echols’s memoir is his vivid and appalling chronicle of his nearly two decades on death row – an experience of almost unimaginable physical and psychological abuse, fear, and isolation.  “I will be your master of ceremonies,” he writes, “on a guided tour of this small corner of hell.  Prepare to be dazzled and baffled.  If the hand is truly quicker than the eye you’ll never know what hit you.  I know I didn’t.”

For much of his in time in prison, Echols was assigned to a “super max” penitentiary, alone for twenty-three hours a day in a concrete cell so small he could take no more than two steps, and from which he could see only a few inches of sky.  He tells of being beaten and locked in solitary confinement without cause; of having his few possessions, and especially his writings and artwork, seized or destroyed without warning; of getting so accustomed to having his hands and feet shackled that he could no longer walk normally, or climb stairs.  “The prison staff does not look at you as human,” he writes, “and they go out of their way to let you know it.  The message that you are inferior and worthless is hammered in at every conceivable turn.”

Echols memorably portrays his fellow death row inmates, most of them men of limited intelligence and desperate backgrounds, seething with greed, anger, frustration, lust, hatred, and jealousy.  Most have no families or families who long ago stopped visiting them.  They become so lonely that they make beloved pets out of rats, mice, snakes, and even crickets.  The law says that mentally retarded or insane people are not supposed to be executed, but Echols repeatedly saw that law cynically manipulated and violated.

In most cases, death row inmates have indeed committed terrible crimes, but their crimes are no worse than those of many others who receive prison sentences, and at least some measure of rehabilitation.  On death row, there is no attempt at rehabilitation.  “Why bother?” is the prevailing attitude about these human beings already consigned to oblivion.  In Echols’s view, “Most of the people on death row are here for no other reason than that their case got more publicity than others.  The difference between a man receiving a prison sentence and a man receiving a death sentence could be decided by nothing more than a slow news day.”

Yet Echols’s memoir is as inspiring as it is terrifying, revealing how he managed to keep himself both sane and alive in a world shaped by sadness, horror, and sheer absurdity.  Readingwas a refuge, and Echols consumed thousands of books until his eyesight began to fail under the perpetual stress of prison toward the end of his incarceration.  Another deep source of strength was his spirituality, which is uniquely his own but has been fed by his involvement with Catholicism, Buddhism, Kabbalah, and other spiritual paths.  A few remarkable chaplains were nothing less than lifelines to him and his fellow prisoners.  But above all, it was the support that Echols received from his wife, who led the efforts to have his conviction overturned and get him released, that sustained him and literally saved his life, he says.  Echols’s account of how they kept their relationship vital and evolving through years of being deprived of nearly all the usual means of expressing love is both moving and miraculous.

The journal writing and artwork that Echols did in prison helped him to process his experiences and place them in some kind of comprehensible context.  They also revealed his artistic ambitions, which are clearly evident in his new memoir, for it is far more than simply a work of testimony, sensation, or even salvation.

“If I start to believe that the things I wrote cannot stand on their own merit, then I will lay down my pen,” Echols writes.  “I’m often plagued by thoughts that people will only think of me as either someone on death row or someone who used to be on death row.  I grow dissatisfied when I think of people reading my words out of a morbid sense of curiosity.  I want people to read what I write because it means something to them – either it makes them laugh, or remember things they’ve forgotten and that once meant something to them, or that it simply touches them in some way.  I don’t want to be an oddity, a freak, or a curiosity.  I don’t want to be the car wreck that people slow down to gawk at. . . .  I want to create something of lasting beauty, not a freak show exhibit.”

Publishing a year after the WM3’s release from prison, and in conjunction with the release of a major new film about them, LIFE AFTER DEATH is a spellbinding and eye-opening read from a prodigiously talented writer, sure to become a classic of prison literature.

 

About the Author:

Damien Echols was born in 1974 and grew up in Mississippi, Tennessee, Maryland, Oregon, and Arkansas.  At age eighteen he was falsely convicted, along with Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr. – afterward known as the West Memphis Three – in the case known as the Robin Hood Hill murders.  Echols received the death sentence and spent eighteen years on death row.  In 2011, all three were released in an agreement with the state of Arkansas known as an Alford plea.  The West Memphis Three have been the subject of Paradise Lost, a three-part documentary series produced by HBO, and West of Memphis, a documentary produced by Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh.  Echols is also the author of a self-published memoir entitled Almost Home.  An exhibition of artwork he completed in prison will take place at theMuseum ofModern Art inNew York in the fall of 2012.  Echols and his wife, Lorri Davis, live inNew York City.

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