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.

Texas executed 16 people in 2013, one more person than in 2012. 69 percent of the people Texas executed in 2013 were people of color, eight African-Americans and three Hispanics. There were five white people executed by Texas in 2013.

Two people were executed from Dallas County, two from Harris County, two from Hidalgo County, two from Lubbock County, one from Leon County, one from Brazos County, one from Victoria County, one from McLennan County, one from Jefferson County, one from Cherokee County, one from Navarro County and one from Smith County.

Since December 7, 1982, the state of Texas has executed 508 people. There have been 269 executions in Texas since Rick Perry took office in December 2000.

The highest number of executions in one year in Texas was 40 in 2000.

So far, 9 people have been sentenced to death in 2013 in Texas. New death sentences have declined from their high in the late 90s. In 1999, there were 48 people sentenced to death.

88.8 percent of the nine new death sentences handed out in 2013 in Texas have been given to people of color. Of the nine people sentenced to death so far in Texas in 2013, seven are African-American, one is Hispanic and one white.

New death sentences came from Dallas County with three, Harris, Hays, Hunt, Jefferson, Brazoria, and McLennan Counties all had one new death sentence.

The number of new death sentences has declined over the last several years in large part because people who serve on juries are increasingly choosing life without parole as an alternative to the death penalty because members of juries have read about so many mistakes in the system when innocent people have been convicted only to be exonerated years later.

DeliaThe Road to Livingston directed by Erick Mauck and Chelsea Hernandez will have its world premiere at the 2013 Austin Film Festival.  It tells the story of Texas Moratorium Network board member Delia Perez Meyer, who is fighting to prove the innocence of her brother Louis Castro Perez who is on Texas death row.

WORLD PREMIERE After ten years, Delia Perez-Meyer still makes the four-hour drive every week to Livingston, Texas to visit her brother on death row. At first saddened and frustrated by this journey, Delia discovers others unwillingly involved in the prison system who help bring her to a place of redemption and hope. Under the shadow of death, bonds are forged and families made along the road to Livingston.

Sunday, October 27 at 9:30 PM at Texas Spirit Theater

1800 Congress Ave., Austin, TX 78701

Located at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum
Tuesday, October 29 at 7:15 PM at Rollins Theatre 
701 W. Riverside Drive, Austin, TX 78704
Located at The Long Center for the Performing Arts

 

 

 

woodlandsThe Woodlands Compounding Pharmacy letter to TDCJ demanding Texas return execution drugs for a refund.

Woodlands Compounding Pharmacy Letter to TDCJ by Scott Cobb

Previously the AP reported that The Woodlands Compounding Pharmacy was where Texas bought its execution drugs.

The nation’s most active death-penalty state has turned to a compounding pharmacy to replace its expired execution drugs, according to documents released Wednesday, weeks after Texas prison officials declined to say how they obtained the drugs amid a nationwide shortage.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice, responding to a Freedom of Information request from The Associated Press, released documents showing the purchase of eight vials of the drug pentobarbital last month from a compounding pharmacy in suburban Houston. Such pharmacies custom-make drugs but aren’t subject to federal scrutiny.

Texas’ previous supply of the sedative expired last month, but prison officials wouldn’t say where they were getting their new supply. Several companies have been refusing to sell the drug for use in executions, leading to a shortage in death penalty states, though at least South Dakota and Georgia have also turned to compounding pharmacies.

Texas — which carries out far more executions than any other state — now has enough pentobarbital to carry out scheduled executions into next year, department spokesman Jason Clark said. Pentobarbital has been used as the lone drug in lethal executions in Texas for more than a year.

“The agency has purchased a new supply of the drug from a Texas pharmacy that has the ability to compound,” Clark said.

A message left by the AP for the pharmacy, The Woodlands Compounding Pharmacy, wasn’t returned Wednesday.

Texas’ purchase invoice shows that the warden from the Huntsville Unit, which houses the state’s death chamber, bought eight 2.5-gram vials of pentobarbital on Sept. 16. Five grams, or two vials, are used in each execution, with another 5 grams available should they be needed to complete the execution.

Clark said the agency also has purchased from the same pharmacy another eight vials that will expire April 1. The recently purchased supply will expire in March.

The disclosure came a day after a federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of three death-row inmates who are challenging the state’s use of the new drugs. Among the plaintiffs is death-row inmate Michael Yowell, who is scheduled for execution on Oct. 9 for killing his parents at their home in Lubbock.

The lawsuit, filed in Houston, contends that Texas’ use of untested drugs during an execution would violate the U.S. Constitution’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

“Use of compounded pentobarbital would constitute a significant change in the lethal injection protocol, a change that adds an unacceptable risk of pain, suffering and harm to the plaintiffs if and when they are executed,” the lawsuit says.

Clark said he had not seen the lawsuit and would not comment on it.

The lawsuit also alleged that prison officials have been trying to obtain execution drugs in the name of the “Huntsville Unit Hospital,” though a hospital at the prison hasn’t operated since 1983. Clark said the state corrections department had a current federal drug agency number registered to the Huntsville Unit.

Texas switched to a lethal, single dose of the sedative pentobarbital last year after one of the drugs used in its previous three-drug execution process became difficult to obtain. Legal challenges were filed to that revision but failed.

Other death-penalty states have encountered similar problems after some drug suppliers barred the drugs’ use for executions or have refused, under pressure from death-penalty opponents, to sell or manufacture drugs for use in executions.

South Dakota has carried out two executions using the sedative from a compounding pharmacy. Georgia has said it’s taking that route, but it’s difficult to tell exactly how many states have used or are planning to use compounding pharmacies for execution drugs because states frequently resist disclosing the source of the drugs.

Georgia’s first use of an execution drug obtained through a compounding pharmacy was put on hold in July after the condemned inmate challenged a new state law that bars the release of information about where Georgia obtains its execution drug.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers products from compounding pharmacy unapproved drugs and does not verify their safety or effectiveness. But such businesses came under intensified scrutiny after a deadly meningitis outbreak was linked to contaminated injections made by a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy.

Newly Discovered Evidence Points to Possible False Testimony at Willingham’s Trial and Possible Prosecutorial Misconduct that May Have Contributed to His Wrongful Execution

(Austin, TX; September 27, 2013) – Relatives for Cameron Todd Willingham were joined by exoneree Michael Morton at a press conference at the Texas capitol today to urge the state to conduct an investigation into Willingham’s wrongful execution.  Last year, Willingham’s family filed a posthumous pardon petition before the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles asking that the state pardon Willingham, who was executed in 2004 for the arson murder of his three daughters despite compelling evidence of his innocence.  The Innocence Project filed an amended petition today on behalf of the Willingham family presenting newly discovered evidence that points to possible false testimony at his trial and possible prosecutorial misconduct that may have contributed to his wrongful execution.

“Todd’s dying wish was that we help clear his name, and we can’t let this go until the state acknowledges the grave injustice that Todd suffered,” said Eugenia Willingham, Willingham’s stepmother. Patricia Willingham Cox, Willingham’s cousin added, “The more we learn about Todd’s case, the more we see how tragically the system failed him.  The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles has the power to finally conduct a thorough investigation into his case, and we urge it to do so for the sake of all Texans who deserve a clemency system that values justice over mere finality.”

Following the press conference, exoneree Michael Morton walked with Willingham’s surviving relatives to deliver a letter to Gov. Perry asking for a meeting with him to explain why a hearing is needed.  A copy of the letter is available at www.innocenceproject.org/willingham.

“There are only two mistakes one can make on the road to truth:  not going all the way and not starting,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “The reason an investigation is so critical in this case isn’t to affix blame on Gov. Perry or any one individual.  Everyone has responsibility if not for making errors then for failing to detect them.”

 

Willingham was at home with his three daughters when his home in Corsicana burned to the ground on the morning of December 23, 1991. He managed to escape, but his children did not survive.  He always maintained his innocence but was convicted of arson murder in 1992 based largely on the testimony of the Assistant Fire Chief Douglas Fogg and the Texas Fire Marshal Manuel R. Vasquez who testified that there was evidence that the fire had been intentionally set. In the days leading up to Willingham’s execution, his attorneys sent Governor Rick Perry and the court a report from Gerald Hurst, a nationally recognized arson expert, saying that Willingham’s conviction was based on erroneous forensic analysis. Documents obtained by the Innocence Project show that state officials received that report in advance of his execution date.  Yet despite Hurst’s report, Willingham was executed and pronounced dead on February 17, 2004 at 6:20 pm.

The only other evidence linking Willingham to the fire was the testimony of a jailhouse informant, Johnny Webb, who claimed that Willingham told him within earshot of several law enforcement employees that he committed the crime to protect his wife who had injured or killed one of the children the night before. Prior to Willingham’s execution, Webb acknowledged in a handwritten “motion to recant” that he lied about the confessions, stating “I was forced [sic] to testify against Willingham by the D.A.s [sic] office and other officials.  I was made to lie.  Willingham is innocent of all charges.”  Notations on the motion indicate that it was provided in 2000 to then Judge John Jackson, who had been the lead prosecutor in the Willingham’s case.  But this motion does not appear to have been filed in either Willingham’s or Webb’s case file.  Further, no one representing Willingham was told about this recantation.  Although the Navarro County District Attorney’s Office was aware of the recantation, the District Attorney’s office continued to rely on Webb’s testimony in the hours leading up to Willingham’s execution, claiming that the report submitted by Hurst, which stated that the fire testimony was scientifically invalid, was irrelevant because Willingham had confessed to Webb.

“It is especially troubling that officials in Navarro County continued to rely on the testimony of Johnny Webb even after the district attorney’s office knew that he had recanted,” said Gerry Goldstein of Goldstein, Goldstein & Hilley.

At trial, Webb and then prosecutor Jackson assured the jury that Webb expected nothing in return for his testimony. But newly discovered evidence contradicts these assurances, and Jackson appears to have assisted Webb in dealings with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for years after the trial.   In a 1996 letter to a prison official, Jackson wrote that he was sorry to bring up another Johnny Webb problem, indicating that he had intervened on Webb’s behalf before.

Other new evidence also points to possible efforts by Jackson and the Navarro County authorities to reduce Webb’s sentence. Roughly five years after Willingham’s trial, the Navarro County District Attorney, the District Judge, and the Navarro County Sheriff asked the Board of Pardons and Paroles to commute Webb’s sentence from 15 years to 5 years.  Although the letters told the Board that the request was based on new information from the victim, Jackson told a prison warden in a letter addressing a problem Webb was having with his property that the commutation was in connection with a capital murder case.  Around the same time, Jackson obtained an amendment to the aggravated robbery judgment that reduced the charge from the first degree felony of aggravated robbery to the second degree crime of simple robbery.  Although Jackson explained this change in a 1996 letter to the Board of Pardons and Paroles as based on a review of the Navarro County records and those of Webb’s criminal defense lawyer, all of the public documents relating to Webb’s case indicate that he was charged and pled guilty to the first degree felony of aggravated robbery.  When asked at Willingham’s trial, Webb clearly testified that he had been convicted of an aggravated offense.

“In recent years, our state has made great strides in heeding the lessons learned from wrongful convictions,” said Sen. Rodney Eillis (Dist. 13), who is also Chair of the Innocence Project’s Board of Directors.  “But the Willingham case remains a powerful reminder of how much more needs to be done to restore public’s trust in the system.”

After Willinghams’s execution, the Innocence Project asked the then newly formed Texas Forensic Science Commission to investigate Willingham’s case and the case of Ernest Willis who was convicted based on similarly flawed evidence but later exonerated for the arson murder that put him on death row.  During the course of that multi-year investigation, nine of the nation’s leading arson scientists reviewed the evidence in Willingham case and all agreed that the original testimony of the fire investigators was based on outdated arson science. A summary of these findings is available at http://www.innocenceproject.org/willingham.The Commission was ultimately barred by the Texas Attorney General from making a finding on whether the state was negligent in the wrongful execution of Willingham, however the Commission acknowledged that unreliable arson science facilitated Willingham’s conviction and recommended that the state conduct a review to determine if there are other people in Texas prisons who were wrongly convicted based on bad arson science.

A copy of the petition filed today, a summary of the scientific reports and a timeline of the case is available at www.innocenceproject.org/willingham.

In addition to Scheck and Goldstein, the lawyers representing Willingham’s family include Innocence Project Staff Attorney Bryce Benjet, Daniel Greenberg, Robert J. Ward and Meghan M. Breen of Schulte Roth & Zabel, and Kathryn Kase, Executive Director of the Texas Defender Service.

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Paul Cates

Communications Director
Innocence Project
40 Worth Street, Ste. 701
New York, NY  10013
Innocence Project on Facebook:  http://www.facebook/innocenceproject
Innocence Project on Twitter:  http://www.twitter.com/innocence
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