Upcoming Executions
Click for a list of upcoming scheduled executions in Texas.
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.

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.

BREAKING NEWS: We just heard from Gloria Rubac of the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement that Texas death row inmate Anthony Pierce will not return to death row. Anthony arrived on death row in 1978. Only two other people still on death row in Texas arrived earlier than Anthony.

From Gloria:

“Just got off the telephone with Anthony Pierce’s mother. His attorney called her and told her to sit down that he had some news for her.

After 35 years on death row, after two years awaiting a new sentencing trial at the Harris County Jail, after turning down two requests to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence and life without parole, the D.A. has decided not to retry Anthony so he will automatically receive a life sentence and will not go back to death row, ever!!!

This is a partial victory but it a victory indeed! His mother said she would not live through another trial. She is 83 or 84 years old and not in the best of health, so probably she is right.

A real victory would be for this innocent man to be immediately released, be exonerated, and be given the millions that he is due for being wrongfully locked up since he was 18 years old. Anthony turned 53 years old on July 20.

Anthony, or maybe just his attorney, will be in court Thursday morning to receive this news. Judge Denise Collins, 208th District Court, 17th Floor, Harris County Criminal Justice Center, 1201 Franklin. BE THERE IF YOU CAN TO SUPPORT HIS MOTHER AS SHE RECEIVES THIS GREAT NEWS! Docket call begins at 9am.”

If you want to send Anthony a quick note congratulating him, mail to:
Anthony Pierce, SPN # 00189793
Harris County Jail, 6N1 04A
701 N. San Jacinto
Houston, TX 77002

From Reuters:

A man convicted of fatally shooting three sleeping teenagers in 1998 won a reprieve from the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, less than an hour before he was due to be put to death in Texas.

It was the third time that John Balentine, 43, has been granted a stay of execution. Justice Antonin Scalia reviewed Balentine’s emergency appeal and referred the case to the full court for consideration.

Balentine, 43, also got a reprieve from the U.S. Supreme Court last year on the day he was scheduled for lethal injection, and from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in 2009 on the day before his execution date.

He appealed to the Supreme Court after the appeals court on Tuesday refused to reconsider his request for a stay.

Balentine argued he deserved a reprieve because an ineffective trial lawyer failed to present mitigating evidence, such as emotional problems and a difficult upbringing, that could have led to a life sentence.

UPDATE August 22 at 6 PM: John Balentine received a stay of execution.

There are now nine executions scheduled in Texas for the remainder of the year, including John Balentine today. There have already been seven executions this year. Last year there were 13 executions in Texas. The most executions in one year was in 2000 when there were 40.

If there are no stays and all the executions take place, the total number of executions in Texas in the modern era will reach 493.

To protest the execution of John Balentine on August 22, call Texas Governor Rick Perry at 512 463 2000.

You can also call any member of the Texas House of Representatives and urge them to support a moratorium on execution in the next legislative session that begins in January 2013.

 

Scheduled Executions

Scheduled Execution Link Last Name First Name TDCJ Number Date of Birth Race Date Received County
08/22/2012 Offender Information Balentine John 999315 01/30/1969 B 06/11/1999 Potter
09/20/2012 Offender Information Harris Robert 999364 02/28/1972 B 10/06/2000 Dallas
09/25/2012 Offender Information Foster Cleve 999470 10/24/1963 W 03/01/2004 Tarrant
10/10/2012 Offender Information Green Jonathan 999421 12/23/1967 B 07/17/2002 Montgomery
10/18/2012 Offender Information Haynes Anthony 999330 01/22/1979 B 11/03/1999 Harris
10/31/2012 Offender Information Roberts Donnie 999487 02/09/1971 W 10/28/2004 Polk
11/08/2012 Offender Information Swain Mario 999475 02/28/1979 B 04/08/2004 Gregg
11/14/2012 Offender Information Hernandez Ramon 999431 11/8/1971 H 10/21/2002 Bexar
11/15/2012 Offender Information Hughes Preston 939 12/24/1965 B 05/17/1989 Harris
12/12/2012 Offender Information Avila, Jr. Rigoberto 999391 08/05/1972 H 07/19/2001 El Paso

Last updated August 21, 2012

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