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.

The Austin Human Rights Commission tonight passed a resolution calling for Texas to repeal the death penalty and for a statewide moratorium on executions. The resolution also encourages the Travis County DA not to seek new death sentences and not to request execution dates for people already on death row from Travis County. Thanks to Delia Perez Meyer, who is a member of the Commission and who sponsored the resolution. Texas Moratorium Network wrote the resolution and testified for it at the meeting.

Resolution on the Death Penalty

 WHEREAS, it is appropriate for city governments to give advice on matters of concern to them when actions of the state affect those cities; and

WHEREAS, in Texas a death penalty case can cost taxpayers three times more than seeking and obtaining a sentence of life in prison and of imprisoning someone in a single cell at the highest security level for a term of life in prison, the additional cost of which is borne by all Texans; and

WHEREAS local taxpayers can be faced with the financial burden of settling lawsuits when innocent people are wrongfully convicted or executed because of problems in the criminal justice system.  For instance, the City of Austin settled two wrongful conviction lawsuits in 2003 brought by Richard Danziger and Christopher Ochoa for a total of more than $14 million, all paid by the citizens of Austin; and

WHEREAS Texas leads the nation in executions with 483 since 1982 (as of July 23, 2012).  The frequency of executions and the inadequacies in our criminal justice system increase the risk that an innocent person will be executed, and the execution of an innocent person by the State of Texas would be a grave injustice and would undermine public confidence in our criminal justice system; and

WHEREAS, twelve people have been exonerated of murder and released from Texas Death Row, including most recently Anthony Graves in October 2010, and 140 people have been exonerated and released from death rows in the United States since the death penalty was reinstated in the 1970’s:

WHEREAS strong evidence exists in several cases that Texas has already executed innocent people, including Cameron Todd Willingham; and

WHEREAS juries and prosecutors across the nation and in Texas are opting against death in favor of life in prison without parole. In both 2010 and 2011, Texas juries approved new death sentences in only 8 instances each year, the lowest number since the death penalty was reinstated in 1974. Only 6 of the 254 counties in Texas sent anyone to death row in 2011.

WHEREAS other states are increasingly turning away from the death penalty as evidenced by the legislatures in New Jersey (2007), New Mexico (2009), Illinois (2011) and Connecticut (2012) repealing the death penalty and the Supreme Court of New York ruling it unconstitutional in that state; and

WHEREAS there is no law in Texas that requires District Attorneys to seek the death penalty and district attorneys are free to choose to seek life in prison without the possibility of parole in all capital cases; and

WHEREAS, this resolution is not intended to minimize the profound pain that the families of murder victims suffer,

BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED that the Austin Human Rights Commission recommends to the Austin City Council to encourage the State of Texas to repeal the death penalty in Texas.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Austin Human Rights Commission also supports a moratorium on executions and the creation of a “Texas Capital Punishment Commission” to:

  • study the administration of capital punishment in Texas and correct any injustices or unfair processes that are found and eliminate the risk of executing innocent people; and
  • study whether Texas should repeal the death penalty.

BE IT ALSO RESOLVED that the Austin Human Rights Commission recommends to the Austin City Council to encourage the Travis County District Attorney not to seek death sentences in capital murder cases and not to request execution dates for current death row prisoners who were convicted in Travis County.

 

Today Texas executed Yokamon Hearn.  He was the first person executed with a newly adopted single drug method. Texas had to change from a three drug method to a single drug method because of pressure applied by death penalty opponents to companies who manufacture the drugs and to governments in countries where the drug companies are located. Switching to pentobarbital, also known as Nembutal, raised the cost of drugs for each execution from $83.55 to $1,286.86.

Hearn was the 483rd person executed in Texas since executions resumed in 1982 after an 18 year moratorium. He was the 244th person executed under Governor Rick Perry.

From the BBC:

Before Wednesday’s execution, the three drugs used for court-ordered executions in Texas were: thiopental sodium, to sedate the prisoner; pancuronium bromide to paralyse them; and potassium chloride to stop the heart.

Several states introduced the use of pentobarbital in the face of shortages of thiopental sodium, which was pulled off the market in 2010.

The European Union banned European manufacturers from exporting that drug to the US to prevent it being used in executions. Pentobarbital is also covered by the EU ban.

In Texas, the state chose to switch drugs after its supply of pancuronium bromide expired.

On Wednesday, July 18, Texas is scheduled to execute Yokamon Hearn. If the execution is carried out, he will be the first person executed with the newly adopted single drug method. Texas had to change from a three drug method to a single drug method because of pressure applied by death penalty opponents to companies who manufacture the drugs and to governments in countries where the drug companies are located.

If Hearn is executed, he will be the 483rd person executed in Texas since executions resumed in 1982 after an 18 year moratorium. He will become the 244th person executed under Governor Rick Perry.

Call Rick Perry’s office at 512 463 2000 to register your opposition to this execution.

 

From The Atlantic:

Next Wednesday, July 18, reckons to be another banner day in the history of capital punishment in America. Sometime between 6 p.m. and midnight, the state of Texas is scheduled to execute a convicted murderer named Yokamon Hearn, a man who has, since early childhood, shown clear and consistent evidence of brain damage.

and

There is nothing ambiguous about the crime. It was horrific on every level. Yokamon Hearn was convicted of murdering Joseph Franklin Meziere on March 25, 1998, as part of a carjacking. Hearn and one of his co-defendants, reads a recent defense brief, “shot Mr. Meziere in the head approximately ten times, with the evidence showing that Hearn likely fired first and fired six shots.” In 2004, when Hearn faced another execution date, news reports indicated that Hearn had bragged about the crime. “This innocent victim was shot almost for sport,” noted one former local prosecutor.

So the trial was going to be a slam-dunk and it was. But it was during the penalty phase of the trial, after Hearn had been convicted of capital murder, where today’s conflict began. Here is how Hearn’s current attorneys put it, the essence of their claim:

Yokamon’s jury learned about violence, more violence, a history of burglaries, and, in sharp contrast, exceedingly superficial and inaccurate mitigation during his sentencing proceedings. Yokamon’s lawyers were the reason the jury learned almost nothing about his life. They failed to conduct a minimally adequate investigation into Yokamon’s life history when, had they done so, they would have uncovered a wealth of compelling mitigating evidence, including:

1) evidence that Yokamon’s parents were severely impaired throughout his life; 2) that he was the victim of neglect at the hands of his parents; 3) that relatives who were portrayed at trial as unflinchingly committed and capable of caring for Yokamon were not so; 4) that he had a history of mental health problems, including suicidal ideations, as a young child and that his emotional problems stemmed from his parents’ inability to parent him; 5) that he was exposed to risk factors commonly associated with brain damage; 6) that Yokamon, in fact, suffered from brain damage; and 7) that he exhibited severe impairments in day-to-day functioning consistent with brain dysfunction. [Numbers added for reference]
The failure of Yokamon’s [original] lawyers to investigate his life constituted grossly deficient performance. Absent those failures, there is a strong likelihood that one or more jurors would have concluded that Yokamon did not deserve the death penalty.

But then it got worse for Hearn because his post-trial lawyer, the one who filed his vital habeas appeal, also did not conduct a detailed investigation into Hearn’s life. So what Hearn’s attorneys are arguing today is a sort of funky capital case calculus equation: Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Squared. Until March of this year, until that Martinez case that came down from the Supreme Court, such a formula (what’s formally called “Successive” or “Second” Petitions) would have given Hearn virtually no chance for relief.

In Martinez, in March, the Supreme Court declared by a 7-2 vote that defendants were entitled to have federal courts review their “ineffective assistance of counsel” claims even if those claims were otherwise procedurally barred, if the reason the claims were barred was the ineffectiveness of the lawyers litigating the first round of post-conviction habeas review. Prisoners had a right to effective counsel beyond trial and direct appeal; in other words, a scenario that seems to fit the Hearn case on point. So, back in Texas, emboldened by the Martinez opinion, Hearn’s attorneys filed a new request to have a court look at the “mitigating” evidence they had uncovered about their client’s life history, including his long history of mental impairment.

But when Hearn’s lawyers sought relief from a federal judge they were immediately shut down. U.S. District Judge Sidney A. Fitzwater ruled last week that Hearn was not entitled to any further relief. Why? Because the 5th Circuit already had ruled, in a case styled Ibarra v. Thaler, that Texas didn’t have to follow the new rule outlined in Martinez. Judge Fitzwater felt duty bound to respect the 5th Circuit’s interpretation of the Supreme Court’s precedent. Poof! Just like that, and not for the first time, the most stridently conservative federal appeals court in the nation had just defied the justices.

What the 5th Circuit did, in Ibarra v. Thaler, was to interpret Martinez so narrowly as to make its holding inapplicable in virtually any other case. Even though the justices in Washington had created an exception to “protect prisoners with a potentially legitimate claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel,” the 5th Circuit said that Texas’ appellate procedures vitiated the need for such an exception. Take a few minutes to try to read the Ibarra decision. Look at how hard the 5th Circuit’s majority had to twist to avoid the Supreme Court’s precedent — and to avoid giving Hearn the relief to which he is entitled.

From the Austin American-Statesman and the AP:

DALLAS — Texas will use one drug to carry out executions instead of its usual three-drug method because it has run out of one of the drugs, prison officials said Tuesday.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice will use just pentobarbital, a sedative that is typically the first of three drugs administered. The agency’s stock of the second drug, pancuronium bromide, expired, and it was unable to obtain more, spokesman Jason Clark said.

Clark said other states also now use one drug and that courts have upheld the procedure.

Scott Cobb with the Texas Moratorium Network, an anti-death penalty group, predicted the change will be met with further lawsuits from inmates facing execution under the new one-drug protocol.

“There’s always a concern when you institute a new procedure to execute someone because the people who administer it aren’t trained to use it and don’t know what the effects are,” Cobb said. “On a deeper level, even if they start using this one-drug procedure, it’s not going to be the end of their problems,” he said, noting the state supply of pentobarbital is purchased from a Denmark company that protests its use in capital punishment.

“The reasons they (are) having supply problems is, manufacturers don’t want their drugs used for executions,” Cobb said. “So it’s only a matter of time before the new drug supply is diminished.”

Texas is the nation’s most active death penalty state. It has executed 482 people since the state reinstated capital punishment in 1982. Five people have been executed this year. Texas’ next execution is set for July 18.

“Implementing the change in protocol at this time will ensure that the agency is able to fulfill its statutory responsibility for all executions currently scheduled,” Clark said in the statement.

Several states have had difficulty obtaining drugs to carry out executions. Texas prison officials said in May that the state had enough pentobarbital for 23 executions. No executions have taken place since then.

Pentobarbital is the first lethal drug used during each execution in Huntsville, according to Texas death penalty procedures.

Last year, one of the drugs Texas had used in the process became unavailable when its European supplier bowed to pressure from death penalty opponents and stopped making it. No other vendor could be found, so the drug was replaced by pentobarbital.

Pancuronium bromide is a muscle relaxant typically used after pentobarbital. The final drug, potassium chloride, stops the heart.

Arizona, Idaho, Ohio and Washington have used a single drug to carry out executions, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Ohio was the first to use just pentobarbital, for a March 2011 execution.

In April, an Arizona inmate shook for several seconds after receiving a lethal dose of pentobarbital. The drug had been used by itself.

Additional material from staff writer Chuck Lindell.

Bob Ray Sanders has renewed his call for a moratorium on executions in Texas. A moratorium is the best strategy in Texas for ending the death penalty in Texas soonest. States that conduct a lot of executions, such as Texas, need to go through a period when no executions are conducted before they are likely to reach the conclusion that they can do without the death penalty. A moratorium would also be the best way to ensure that Texas does not execute an innocent person like it did in 2004 when Todd Willingham was executed.

From Bob Ray Sanders:

On June 29, 1972, the Supreme Court declared the death penalty “cruel and unusual punishment” based mostly on the “arbitrary and capricious” nature of how it was being applied by the states. That 5-4 ruling in effect ushered in a moratorium on capital punishment for a few years.

I want to use the anniversary of that ruling to make two appeals: one to call for another moratorium on the death penalty, and the other to ask help for state prisoners who once again are suffering through a sweltering Texas summer.

Prior to the 1972 decision, Texas executed 361 people by electrocution, with the last one occurring in 1964, according to records of the Department of Criminal Justice. In those days, rape was one of the crimes for which one could be put to the death, something that had changed by the time executions were reinstated effective Jan. 1, 1974.

The state retired “Old Sparky” (the electric chair) and in 1977 adopted lethal injection as a means of execution. A Fort Worth resident, Charlie Brooks, became the first person in the country to die by lethal injection in 1982. Since then, 481 other men and women have been killed in the Texas death chamber, and eight more are scheduled to die this year.

Through those years, it has been easy to see that the death penalty as administered in this country, especially in Texas, remains arbitrary and capricious.

In recent years, the Supreme Court has ruled that the state cannot execute people who are mentally ill or those who were juveniles at the time of their crimes — the decisions coming too late for several in those categories who had been put to death.

While I’d like to see the death penalty outlawed outright, as some other states have done in the past few years, at the very least we should call for another moratorium so that we can have a rational discussion about the legality and morality of capital punishment.

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