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.
Senator Rodney Ellis says in a Texas Monthly roundtable discussion, "I’m convinced [Cameron Todd] Willingham was innocent." Yet, Senator Ellis won't push for a moratorium on executions. That does not make sense. If the Texas Legislature had enacted a moratorium in 2001 or 2003 (as we asked them to), it is highly likely that Todd Willingham would not have been executed in 2004 and he would have had more time to prove his innocence. Please contact Senator Ellis and urge him to push for a moratorium on executions. More from the Texas Monthly roundtable with Art Acevedo chief of the Austin Police Department since 2007; Rodney Ellis who was elected to the state Senate in 1990; Anthony Graves who was wrongfully convicted in 1992 and released from jail in 2010; Barbara Hervey a judge on the Court of Criminal Appeals and the chair of the court’s fourteen-member Texas Criminal Justice Integrity Unit. She lives in San Antonio; Kelly Siegler a special prosecutor; Craig Watkins the DA of Dallas County and a former defense attorney and Jake Silverstein, editor of TEXAS MONTHLY.
Silverstein: I want to talk about capital punishment. District Attorney Watkins, it’s something that you are morally opposed to, but in your capacity as district attorney in Dallas County, it’s something you’ve had to seek in some cases. Are you going to push for there to be a moratorium on the death penalty? Watkins: I don’t think from my little seat as DA in Dallas County, which is one of 254 counties, that I have a voice to say there should be a moratorium. I can tell you how we do it in Dallas. We have a death penalty review team that looks at everything before we make a determination. It’s not just me making the decision. We have people with different views, and it’s majority rule. When we pursue it, guilt or innocence is not the issue. It’s pretty much, a guy’s confessed. Ellis: I’ve presided over three executions. On the first day I was acting governor, as president pro tem of the Senate, an execution had been scheduled. I read the file. They had changed the pleadings to make the case to me: “Senator Ellis, you’ve been a civil rights leader; the death penalty has a disproportionate impact on people of color.” It was a direct appeal to me, and I remember thinking that when I took the oath to be president pro tem of the Senate, I swore to enforce the laws of the state of Texas. Not just the ones I like. So I read the file, I got on the line, and I said the state would proceed. But I do think there’s a distinct possibility the state of Texas has executed an innocent person. Graves: Too many. You can’t tell me that I’m wrong. You tried to kill me twice. For something I knew nothing about. Ellis: I’m convinced [Cameron Todd] Willingham was innocent. Watkins: But you’ve got to get away from the morality of it, because people have different morals. It’s got to be logistics. Do we have things in place to make sure we don’t get it wrong? That’s a legitimate question. Siegler: Yes—yes, we do. Checks and balances are in place. It’s the human beings involved that are the problem. You know, it’s another discussion if the people of Texas don’t want the death penalty. If they don’t, fine. But right now, that’s the law. Ellis: But obviously all of us at this table have the ability to influence the law. Siegler: Not that law. Ellis: No, we do. If prosecutors were to say, “Hey, there are enough questions out here, there’s human error, we all make mistakes.” Graves: Come on! To me, it’s an insult that you almost killed me and you’re still not even talking about a moratorium to find out what went wrong. You ask my mother about that. Ask my mom. Ellis: I would say this: as a politician, as a policy maker, I wouldn’t put myself in a position where I would minimize my ability to enact meaningful reforms just to try to pass a moratorium bill. Whenever I carry these reforms, my colleagues come over to me and say, “You’re just against the death penalty. That’s your problem.” And I can look them in the eye and say, “I’ve presided over three executions. By what right do you say to me that I’m against the death penalty? I’ve done it. I’ll go to my maker. I did it. I could’ve given the thirty-day reprieve, but I didn’t.” I just don’t want the debate. I don’t want to minimize anybody’s ability to pass meaningful reforms. In a very conservative state, we’ve made some pretty significant advances. Siegler: So you’re saying you don’t want to waste your time with a moratorium. Ellis: Yeah, I don’t want to minimize my ability to pass other stuff. Graves: I’ve experienced it! And I’m listening to the politics of it. And I’m like, we’re not getting to the real issue. We’re skirting around the real issue. We’re sitting up here discussing the narratives; we’re not discussing the issue. Ellis: I think exonerations and the reforms that we have put in place over the years collectively make it more difficult to get an execution. When I put a spotlight on imperfections in the system, it’s harder for a prosecutor to get an execution. I hope these reforms that I’ve advocated—some of which we have passed—I hope they’ve made it more difficult. Because I’m convinced somebody’s going to look back at us in 25 years and ask, “What the hell were they doing?” Most of [the wrongly convicted] are poor, most of them are black. Graves: And mentally retarded, losing their minds. Watkins: Let me ask you this [to Graves]: When I was campaigning for DA, I ran somewhat on the issue of innocence. So when I got elected, I had to prove the thesis. So now here you are, you’ve been exonerated. And you were on death row, and you have a voice—you’re in a position where people will listen to what you say. And you’re saying that we should get away from capital punishment in Texas because we could make a mistake? Prove it. Hall: How can you prove somebody 
innocent? Graves: Here’s the proof. You tried to kill me twice. Watkins: Yeah, but you’re one. Graves: But one is one too many, ’cause my mother would have never gotten me back had you killed me. I understand exactly what you’re saying. You’re being real about our whole system and that you really have to go out there and prove it to change the mentality about it all. And I understand that, but if I have to go and prove it, that means we’ve got a bigger problem. Acevedo: Let me tell you, you’re a better person than me—you’re a better man than I am. If I were you, I couldn’t be sitting at this table. Graves: I have to be at this table. Hervey: We could never apologize to you enough for what’s happened, but hopefully you know that we’re trying to make a difference. Graves: Yes, ma’am, I surely believe that. Acevedo: What you need to understand is that one Anthony at a time, we build a case. Every single one that we identify is one step closer to tipping the scales of justice. We’re here right now. We’re a few more egregious cases away from people finally taking a step back and saying enough is enough.
In 2010, Judge Charlie Baird wrote an order that would have exonerated Todd Willingham. As the Huffington Post reported, "Baird's order clearing Willingham's name never became official, because a higher court halted the posthumous inquiry while it considered whether the judge had authority to examine the capital case." While waiting for permission to finish the case from the Third Court of Appeals, Baird put together the document that "orders the exoneration of Cameron Todd Willingham for murdering his three daughters," because of "overwhelming, credible and reliable evidence" presented during a one-day hearing in Austin in October 2010. Charlie Baird is currently running for Travis County District Attorney and watch him boldly transform the criminal justice system. "This Court orders the exoneration of Cameron Todd Willingham for murdering his threedaughters. In light of the overwhelming, credible, and reliable evidence presented by the Petitioners, this Court holds that the State of Texas wrongfully executed Cameron Todd Willingham."

Carlos DeLuna

The case of Carlos DeLuna is getting new attention. He was an innocent person executed by the State of Texas. The Columbia University Law Review has created an extraordinary website detailing the case. Be sure to visit their website. Back in 2006, Texas Moratorium Network's Scott Cobb wrote the section on capital punishment in the Texas Democratic Party platform and included Carlos DeLuna as an example of an innocent person executed to show why Texas needs a moratorium on executions. The Atlantic also has a very long article on the case: On the day, sooner than you think, when the United States Supreme Court again outlaws the death penalty, the justices will almost certainly cited the DeLuna case as one of the prime reasons why. It is not the first recent instance where smart, reasonable people have compellingly proven that an innocent man was executed in Texas. And it's certainly not the first time we've read the details of a capital case where the work of government officials -- police, prosecutors, judges -- was so profoundly and consistently shoddy.   But there is something especially compelling about the DeLuna case. It's what drew Possley to it. It's what haunted the lone eyewitness for all these years. A legendary case of injustice deserved -- it needed -- a legendary treatment. And it got one. No one can ever say again with a straight face that America doesn't execute innocent men. No one. Barry Scheck told me Friday: "If Carlos DeLuna were still alive, [the Article] would form the basis of a habeas petition that would have exonerated him."  
 
A new documentary on the case of Cameron Todd Willingham entitled "Burned" is nearing completion. According to the filmmakers, all the footage has been shot and the film is in post-production. "It's coming along well! We've partnered with the Arson Research Project and are creating a transmedia project", the filmmakers told us on Twitter. You can follow the project on Twitter @projectBurned. For more information, you can also visit the website at http://www.burned-documentary.org/. For more on the case of Todd Willingham, visit http://www.camerontoddwillingham.com.
 From the project's website: Burned is a new documentary by Jessie Deeter about Cameron Todd Willingham who was executed in 2004 for the arson deaths of his three young daughters, despite clear forensic evidence that the fire was not arson. Currently, we have completed filming and are beginning post-production work with a target date of late spring 2011 for a rough cut. We’re grateful for the grants and donations we have received, but we still have some distance to cover – and we can’t get there without you. You can help by: * Making a donation * Sharing our quest via email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. * Asking at least one other person to do the same Your contribution will help us with costs of editing, music, web site, sound design, festivals submission, color correction, office space and much more. Please join us in our work to bring this story to the screen. Please spread the word…every dollar and every mention helps. Sign up for the project's mailing list to keep informed about upcoming screenings and other events.
Beunka Adams was executed by lethal injection tonight in Huntsville. Today's execution was the 482nd in Texas since 1982 and the 243rd since Rick Perry became Governor. From AP:
Adams, 29, said just before he was executed that he was "very sorry for everything that happened," according to Jason Clark, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. "I am not the malicious person you think I am," Adams said in front of witnesses including Vandever's family members and one of the surviving victims, according to Clark. "I was real stupid back then. I made a great many mistakes. What happened was wrong. I was a kid in a grown man's world." Prosecutors said Adams and his co-defendant, Richard Cobb, who was also sentenced to death, had robbed two other people at gunpoint before the convenience store incident. Adams' case focused attention on the question of whether low-income defendants receive adequate legal representation when they are on trial for their lives. Adams filed a flurry of motions asking various courts to overturn his death sentence on the grounds that he received inadequate legal representation at his trial. A federal court ordered his execution blocked earlier this month, but a federal appeals court overruled that decision, and ordered the execution to be carried out. The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday denied his request for a stay of execution. Adams used what has become known as the "death is different" argument, claiming that people facing capital punishment are entitled to greater latitude in challenging evidence, the right to more competent legal counsel, and broader ability to challenge lower court rulings than inmates who are facing imprisonment only. The "death is different" argument was rejected by the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, citing several U.S. Supreme Court precedents. Texas has executed more than four times as many people as any other state since the United States reinstated the death penalty in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Texas executed 13 people in 2011.
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