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.


Death Penalty 

It’s time for Texas to pause 

Dallas Morning News Editorial Board 04/22/2001 

The process takes no more than seven minutes. 

The death-bound prisoner, strapped on a gurney, is already hooked to an intravenous feed of saline solution. Upon the warden’s signal, the executioner plunges into the tube a lethal dose of sodium thiopental to sedate the prisoner. This is followed by a muscle relaxant so that involuntary body functions cease, collapsing the diaphragm and lungs. The only sound is the prisoner’s one or two snorts as air rushes to equalize pressure in the chest cavity. Potassium chloride is then added to stop the prisoner’s heart. Then everyone waits, and a doctor is admitted to pronounce the prisoner dead. 


State executions are less grotesque than in the days when electricity was used to shock the life out of convicts, but they still are a gruesome business. Nonetheless, last year Texas found it necessary to take the lives of 39 men and one woman because they took many more than 40 lives in more brutal ways. 

But what if the state was wrong? Texas has executed 245 people since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976; 449 await execution. What if one, two, three, pick a number, did not commit the crimes alleged? 

Some argue the fact that dozens of people have been moved off Texas death row over the years proves the system of safeguards works. 

However, The Dallas Morning News believes the contrary – the close calls make one wonder how many got called right. Texas leaders are beginning to admit the system’s faults. The governor this month signed a bill expediting DNA testing to clarify culpability. The Legislature looks likely to pass a proposal to improve the quality of indigent defense. The attorney general this year confessed state error in allowing a psychologist to use race as a factor in death sentencing hearings. 

Correcting these admitted wrongs may improve the judicial system in the future. But these actions won’t redress all avenues of possible error. And they will only reduce the chance of future error; they will not remedy all past wrongs. 

That’s why Texas needs to pause in its administration of the death penalty and take a larger look at its justice system. Measures making their way through the Legislature would allow Texans to vote for a moratorium on the death penalty while a commission on capital punishment investigates and evaluates the fairness of the death penalty’s implementation. 

The system needs evaluation. Consider the recent testimony of Houston lawyer Scott Atlas before the committee. 

Mr. Atlas and nearly a dozen other lawyers at the Vinson & Elkins firm spent $2.5 million of their time to investigate the case of death row inmate Ricardo Aldape Guerra. The illegal alien, who had no previous arrests, claimed innocence in the 1982 killing of a Houston police officer. The team was able to find alleged eyewitnesses and to obtain evidence about bullet trajectories that proved not only Mr. Aldape Guerra’s innocence but also strong police and prosecutor misconduct in coercing false witness testimony. 

Defendants without the pro bono services of a major law firm or the money to spend on quality defense have little hope of being saved from false charges. As a result, the poor – typically minorities – populate death row. 

That’s one of the issues being considered by a commission studying the death penalty in Illinois, where last year GOP Gov. George Ryan ordered a moratorium on executions. The commission appointed by the governor includes defense and prosecuting lawyers, judges, death penalty opponents and some nonlawyers. 

Illinois Deputy Gov. Matt Bettenhausen says that public hearings have highlighted the whole issue of fairness, including disparities in charges and sentencing based on wealth as well as race. 

“You can have like cases with similar facts and one will get 40 years and another will get death,” Mr. Bettenhausen states. He notes that two-thirds of the 160 Illinois death row inmates are African-American. 

The commission also has met frequently as a working group to consider errors in cases and ways to correct them. No date is set for a final report. 

The legislation being considered in Texas would require a completed review of the state judicial system by the next legislative session. This would allow some assessment of any reforms enacted this year and consideration of other reforms, such as barring the appointment of defense lawyers with state bar disciplinary problems and creating stricter procedures for use of jailhouse informant testimony. It also would allow a determination of whether the death penalty has been applied discriminatorily and whether the process for reviewing claims is fair. In Texas, 42 percent of the death row inmates are black and 22 percent are Hispanic. 

The moratorium on executions would start only if voters approved it in a referendum this November. It would expire by September 2003. 

What redress could a moratorium achieve? 

The state would not be forced to retry the outstanding death penalty cases. However, the commission might recommend that the Legislature determine the need for an independent review of cases where new evidence warrants consideration, especially given that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rarely grants claims of new evidence. 

Our state leaders and citizens should support a study commission and moratorium on executions. The cost of postponing those very final seven minutes for some prisoners would not be great, but the potential savings to the Texas conscience could be. 

KPRC Channel 2 Houston Endorses Moratorium

Moratorium On Executions Needed (4/18/01)
System Has Flaws

HOUSTON, 4:23 p.m. CDT April 18, 2001 — We would like to believe that the state of Texas has never executed an innocent person. But it could happen. 
Since 1975, 95 inmates in the U.S. — seven in Texas — have been released from death row after being found innocent. 

Governor Perry found the need for post-conviction DNA testing so pressing that he designated legislation granting access to it an emergency. 

Besides questions of accuracy, the justice system is under fire in Austin for unfairness. Lawmakers are working on a bill to raise standards for public defenders. 

Now a senate resolution asks to set a two-year moratorium on executions while a special commission studies possible flaws in our criminal justice system. 

Channel 2 thinks this is a good idea. 
As long as we think the system has faults, we should hold off on dispensing lethal justice — until we are sure it is not a lethal mistake. 

Copyright 2001 by Click2Houston.com. 

Date : April 4, 2001
To : Members of the Texas Moratorium Network


Legislative support for a moratorium in Texas has never been stronger.
When we talk to the legislators and their staff, they told us over and over again that they received *MANY* calls in support of the moratorium. You did that, not the coordinators, and we are grateful.
Two moratorium bills were heard in the House and Senate committee hearings this week. The combined momentum of these bills give us a real chance for a moratorium, but we have to act now. Please don’t be silent during this window of opportunity.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
1. Call legislators, if you haven’t done so. You can call anytime until they vote.
2. Attend Tues. April 17 Moratorium Rally in Austin.

1. CALL LEGISLATORS
There are two separate committees we need to reach. Please call as many of the following key committee members as possible. Ask House Criminal Jurisprudence members to support House Joint Resolution 56 (death penalty moratorium). Ask Senate Criminal Justice to support Senate Joint Resolution 25 (death penalty moratorium) Senate Bill 680 (death penalty study commission).
When you call, please remember to
  • Say who you are and where you’re from
  • Thank them for hearing the bill
  • Mention the bill by number and say briefly what its about (i.e. “death penalty moratorium.”)
  • You may tell them why you think a moratorium is necessary, but often they are only interested in counting your opinion as “for” or “against.”
  • Thank them again.
 All numbers below are 512
House Criminal Jurisprudence (re House Joint Resolution 56)
Rep. Juan Hinojosa (Chair) 463-0636
Rep. Jim Dunnam (Vice Chair) 463-0508
Rep. Domingo Garcia 463-0654
Rep. Ann Kitchen 463-0700 (Austin, supports moratorium)
Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer 463-0616
Rep. Terry Keel 463-0652
Rep. John Shields 463-0658
Rep. Robert Talton 463-0460
Rep. Rick Green 463-0498
Senate Criminal Justice (Senate Joint Resolution 25 and Senate Bill 680)
Sen. Kenneth Armbrister (Chair) 463-0118
Sen. John Whitmire (Vice Chair) 463-0115
Sen. Mike Moncrief 463-0112
Sen. Steve Ogden 463-0105
Sen. Teel Bivins 463-0131
Sen. Todd Staples 463-0103
Sen. Royce West 463-0123
In addition, please contact your own Representative and Senator. You find out who they are and how to reach them at http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/fyi/fyi.htm, or by calling the Chief Clerk’s Office at 463-0845.

2. ATTEND MORATORIUM RALLY, TUES APRIL 17
Mark your calendars for the Moratorium Rally on Tuesday, April 17th, at 5:30 pm in front of the Capitol. Expected speakers include exonerated death row inmates Randall Adams and Kerry Cook, as well as family members of execution victims. More details TBA.

Remember, the Texas legislature meets only once every two years, and the present session will last only another two months.

We need you to act now!

The State Affairs committee in the Texas House of Representatives recently held a public hearing on a bill to establish a moratorium on executions in Texas.

This is a *major* step forward.

Media Coverage

According to a recent poll, almost 2/3rds of Texans believe that an innocent person has been executed in Texas. While some good bills have been introduced to improve the death penalty system, some serious flaws are not being addressed, such as racism and police or prosecutor misconduct. Nor will these bills benefit the men and women who are already on death row as the result of a system that the public no longer trusts.
Texas Moratorium Network is calling for a temporary halt on executions until a comprehensive study of the entire system is undertaken, and additional safeguards are implemented to prevent the wrongfully convicted from being executed.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Please call at least one member of the State Affairs Committee (phone calls to legislative offices should be brief):

  • thanking them for holding the hearing
  • expressing how important it is to halt executions while so many problems in the Texas criminal justice system remain unresolved
  • urging them to support and vote in favor of HB 720.

The members of the House State Affairs Committee are as follows (all area codes are 512):

DEMOCRATS

Steve Wolens      463-0746
Sylvester Turner   463-0554
Kevin Bailey        463-0924
David Counts       463-0480
Debra Danburg    463-0504
John Longorio     463-0618
Ruth McClendon 463-0708

REPUBLICANS

Tom Craddick     463-0500
Paul J. Hilbert     463-0572
Kim Brimer         463-0632
Kenny Marchant 463-0468
Bob Hunter         463-0718
Brian McCall      463-0594
Delwin Jones     463-0542
Tommy Merritt   463-0750
You may also want to call your own Representative, if she or he is not on the State Affairs Committee. If you don’t know who your Representative is, you can go to the following website:
http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/fyi/fyi.htm
Thank you for your efforts on behalf of this important legislation. If you have any questions, or get any interesting responses, feel free to email us, or call us at: 512.302.6715.

CALL TODAY!

Since the United States Supreme Court decision to reinstate the death penalty in 1976, more than 240 prisoners have been executed in Texas, which is more than in any other state. Last year, Texas executed more prisonersthan in any previous year. Concerns exist regarding the possible execution of innocent individuals and are evidenced by recent initiatives on issues surrounding capital punishment, including the examination of the indigentdefense system, postconviction DNA testing of defendants, and sentencing alternatives. However, Texas does not currently conduct a comprehensive assessment and examination of its capital punishment system. House Bill 720 creates the Texas Capital Punishment Commission to study capital punishment in this state and places a two-year moratorium on all executions in the state.
House Bill 720 amends the Code of Criminal Procedure to create the Texas Capital Punishment Commission (commission). The bill requires the commission to study capital punishment in this state, concentrating particularly on issues relating to the legal representation of inmates in capital cases, the certainty of the guilt of individuals convicted in capital cases, and the sufficiency of appellate review of convictions in capital cases. After completing the study, the bill requires the commission to propose legislation to correct any inequities in the capital punishment process in this state and to submit the proposed legislation to the lieutenant governor and the speaker of the house of representatives not later than December 1, 2002. The bill also sets forth the composition of the commission, the necessary qualifications of commission members, and when they must be appointed.
H.B. 720 also prohibits the state from executing an inmate on or after September 1, 2001, and before September 1, 2003. The bill also provides that the commission is abolished on January 1, 2003, and that these provisions expire on that date.
EFFECTIVE DATE September 1, 2001.

Source : Texas House Resource Organization

Moratorium Bills Filed!

House Bill 720, filed by Rep. Dutton, a Democrat from Houston, calls for a moratorium and for a study to be conducted during the period in which executions are halted.  It has been referred to the House State Affairs Committee.  He has also filed House Joint Resolution 56, which calls for a Constitutional Amendment declaring a moratorium.  HJR 56 has been referred to the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.  And Rep. Naishtatt, a Democrat from Austin, has filed HJR 59, which calls for a Constitutional Amendment granting the Governor the power to establish a moratorium on executions. Soon, there will be a Senate version of a moratorium bill, and yet another version may also be filed in the House.

The next step is a hearing on a moratorium.

We are asking supporters to call your Texas State Representative and State Senator and ask them to cosponsor or otherwise support *any* legislation that calls for a moratorium on executions in Texas. If your State Representative is on the State Affairs or Criminal Jurisprudence committees, please urge them to see to it that moratorium legislation gets a full and public hearing.

If you don’t know who your state legislators are, you can find out by going to the following website:      http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/fyi/fyi.htm


Thank you again for your support for a moratorium on executions in Texas.  With your help, we have made great progress, and we will not cease of efforts until the moratorium is a reality.  If you have any questions, suggestions or concerns, please do not hesitate to call us at: 512-302-6715

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