Upcoming Executions
Click for a list of upcoming scheduled executions in Texas.
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.
Spiegel has an article on the Steven Woods execution scheduled for Tuesday, Sept 13. Call Rick Perry's office at 512-463-2000 to urge him to stop the execution by using his power to issue a 30 day stay of execution. Some of us will be at the Texas Capitol at 11th and Congress in Austin tomorrow at 5:30 to protest this execution. Others are going to Huntsville from Houston. There is another execution set for this Thursday in Texas and two more next week. From Spiegel:
In Texas, Steven Michael Woods is slated for execution on Tuesday, despite considerable doubts about his guilt. The inmate is fighting to have his sentence commuted, but his chances are diminishing. State Governor Rick Perry is considered a champion of the death penalty.
It's a gruesome record, but Rick Perry is proud of it. "Your state has executed 234 death-row inmates, more than any other governor in modern times," NBC's Brian Williams told the Texas governor during this week's presidential debate. Did he ever struggle to sleep at night, Williams continued, "with the idea that anyone of those might have been innocent"?
Before Williams had finished, the auditorium erupted in cheers, even whistles, as if the spectators welcomed this killer number. Then Perry answered grimly: "No sir, I never struggled with that at all." Asked what he made of the applause, he said: "I think Americans understand justice."
This bizarre moment was almost lost in the subsequent coverage of the Republican candidates' debate. For one man, however, it was a bad omen: Steven Michael Woods.
Woods, 31, is incarcerated in the Allan B. Polunsky Unit, which houses Texas' death row, a four-hour drive east of the capital Austin. His execution for capital murder is set for Tuesday -- one day after the next Republican debate. It would be the 19th execution this year in Texas alone.
Grave Doubts about Verdict
There's more, though: Woods, his lawyers and his friends insist he is innocent.
There are indeed grave doubts about the verdict. Marcus Rhodes, Wood's co-defendant and a former friend, has admitted to the double murder in question and already been sentenced -- but to life in prison. Rhodes' DNA was found on the weapons, but not that of Woods.
Yet all courts so far have rejected Wood's appeals. Even the US Supreme Court refused to take up the case. Alex Calhoun, Wood's defense lawyer, has now filed a clemency petition with Governor Perry and the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole, as a last resort.
Woods was deprived of his constitutional rights and convicted based on "false or misleading testimony," Calhoun alleges in the 20-page petition to Perry. Furthermore, the prosecution had "illegally withheld significant evidence."
"I am sure that the Board of Pardons and Paroles will, using their judgment and innate sense of fairness, recognize the injustice and patent unfairness," Calhoun told SPIEGEL ONLINE. However, this sounds like overblown optimism: Since he took office in December 2000, Perry has not once shown clemency in a capital punishment case -- sometimes in spite of doubts. And it is highly unlikely that Woods would be the first person to get it.
Woods' story started as a horrifying criminal case. On May 2, 2001, two people were brutally murdered in a deserted field north of Dallas: Ronald Whitehead, 21, and Bethena Brosz, 19. Whitehead was shot in the head six times, Brosz twice as well as once in the knee. Both also had their throats cut. Whitehead's dead body was found hours later, Brosz was still alive but died 36 hours later in a hospital.
Whitehead was a drug dealer, Brosz a chance acquaintance. The 19-year-old planned to study astronomy. "Beth was just in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people," her mother Janet Shires wrote on a memorial website. The suspects in the murders were tried separately. Woods, then 21, was sentenced to death in August 2002. Witnesses had claimed that he had bragged about the murders. His lawyers didn't dispute his presence at the murder scene but named Rhodes the killer.
Before Rhodes' trial could start in January of 2003, he confessed to killing Whitehead and Brosz alone -- without implicating Woods. In a plea deal, he was sentenced to life, not death.
For years Woods has tried to overturn his sentence -- unsuccessfully. Texas law is against him: Even if he had never pulled the trigger or swung the knives, he'd still be as guilty as the killer by his mere presence. In Texas that's called the Law of Parties.
The Polunsky Unit where Woods has been kept since is infamous for its terrible conditions. In 2004, dozens of death-row inmates went on hunger strike to protest their treatment, Woods among them.
'They're Killing the Wrong Person'
The courts weren't impressed. Even a broad coalition of activists for the abolition of the death penalty fighting for Woods hasn't been able to achieve anything. One of them is the Los Angeles student Tali Kaluski, 25. She learned about the case when she was asked to design and print t-shirts for Woods supporters. Woods thanked her in a letter. She visited him in jail in January.
"They're killing the wrong person," says Kaluski. "He's such a shy, quiet person." She says that Woods told her that he was in the car with Rhodes but had no idea then what he had planned. "How can a killer get life and Steven death?" she asks.
By now, the Office of Capital Writs (OCW), a state agency that represents death-row inmates in post-conviction habeas corpus and related proceedings, is working on the Woods case, too. OCW lead attorney Brad Levenson has filed another petition with the Supreme Court to review the verdict. On 44 pages he lists what went wrong during the trial and after. Woods' original lawyers had been "ineffective," the jury "prejudiced," the petition claims.
Insiders have little hope, as time is running out. "The concept of clemency in this red neck, peckerwood state is a hollow illusion, existing only for the sake of providing the appearance of due process," says one lawyer involved, who refuses to disclose his name for fear of angering the courts. "If history is any guide, I fear that Mr. Woods' case will be denied without a second thought."
Even the US media have shown little interest. Capital punishment is no longer a hot-button issue here. "The public is a lot more ambivalent than they had been, say 15 years ago," Richard Dieter, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment, told the Website Politico. "They see it as a grayer issue now."
Woods' execution is set for Tuesday, 6 p.m. local time. Tali Kaluski, who now calls herself Woods' "fiancee," is already in Livingston, at least to be closer to him in the final days.
Anthony Graves asks "How can you applaud death?" in response to members of the audience at the GOP debate clapping and cheering about the 234 executions conducted under Rick Perry. We need to show the nation a counter example to the clapping at the GOP debate, so please make plans to attend the 12th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty. Come clap for justice, not killing. On October 22nd in Austin, it is our turn to clap and cheer when as many as 20-25 death row exonerees urge us to end the death penalty. Watch video of people clapping at GOP debate. From ABC News:
Anthony Graves read in the newspaper about the crowd at the Republican presidential debate applauding the fact that Gov. Rick Perry had authorized 234 executions during his tenure. “How can you applaud death?” Graves asked. Graves is one of 12 death row inmates who have been exonerated in Texas since 1973. Five of those exonerations occurred while Rick Perry was governor, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a group that opposes capital punishment. “The state of Texas has a very thoughtful, a very clear process in place in which when someone commits the most heinous of crimes against our citizens they get a fair hearing, they go through an appellate process, they go up to the Supreme Court if that’s required,” Perry said during the debate Wednesday. Perry defended the use of the death penalty in his state and told the audience, “I think Americans understand justice.” But Graves said his mother would not be one of those Americans. Graves spent 18 years in prison and 12 years on death row as a convicted murder. In 2010 his conviction was overturned and he was released. “He should ask my mother about that, ” he says. “She lost her son for 18 years.” Graves says he was stunned at the governor’s comments because he was exonerated less than a year ago. “I was exonerated from the very same system that he is boasting about. He’s a politician, but I’m an exoneree and I think I know more about the subject.”
The Austin Chronicle says there is "scant evidence" that Steven Woods killed anyone. He is scheduled for execution in Texas under Governor Rick Perry on Sept 13. This is a case that likely would have a high chance for a commutation to life in other death penalty states, since the physical evidence does not indicate that the person being executed actually killed anyone while there is clear evidence linking his co-defendant as the killer.
"Unless the U.S. Supreme Court steps in to stop it – or the Board of Pardons and Paroles recommends and the governor grants clemency (a remote chance) – inmate Steven Woods will be put to death Sept. 13, even though there is scant evidence suggesting that he actually killed anyone. Woods was sentenced to death for a 2001 double murder in The Colony, near Dallas. After his conviction, a co-defendant, Marcus Rhodes, made a deal with prosecutors, pleading guilty in exchange for two life sentences. Nonetheless, while there was clear physical evidence linking Rhodes to the crime, there was no such evidence linking Woods. "There is no physical proof linking him to the crime," says attorney Alex Calhoun, who has represented Woods on appeal and who has filed a clemency petition with the parole board, seeking to have Woods' sentence commuted to life. That would be far more equitable, he argues; while that is a good argument against sending Woods to death, it's been the argument in two out of the three cases in which the board has recommended clemency under the leadership of Gov. Rick Perry. Perry only granted clemency in one of those (that of Kenneth Foster), and he said he did so because Foster and a co-defendant had a shared trial, not because Foster literally was not guilty of killing anyone.
Meanwhile, Brad Levenson, director of the state's Office of Capital Writs, responsible for representing indigent death row inmates on appeal, late last week filed a final appeal in Woods' case. In the appeal, Levenson argues that Calhoun rendered ineffective assistance when he failed to pursue in a timely manner evidence that one of Woods' jurors was so biased that his presence on the jury violated Woods' right to an impartial panel. (Should the ineffective assistance claim fail, Levenson argues that the presence of the juror alone should render the Woods verdict unsound.) The appeal comes on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court announcing that it would hear two cases this fall that relate to the right to effective counsel on appeal. Whether Texas courts will see fit to stay Woods' execution until the high court has an opportunity to weigh in on the topic remains to be seen."
August 31, 2011 CONTACT: Charlie Baird Campaign (512) 705-7001 press@charliebaird.com MEDIA ADVISORY TUESDAY: Former Criminal District Court Judge Charlie Baird Will Officially Launch Candidacy For Travis County DA SPECIAL GUESTS: Hon. Morris Overstreet, former judge, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals; Cory Session brother of Tim Cole, defendant exonerated in 299th District Court in 2009 by Charlie Baird AUSTIN—Charlie Baird will launch his campaign for Travis County District Attorney on Tuesday, September 6, with a speech and rally at Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex in Austin. WHO: Charlie Baird, former district court judge and candidate for Travis County District Attorney WHAT: Campaign Announcement for Travis County District Attorney WHEN: Tuesday, September 6, 2011, 11:30 a.m. (Doors open at 11:00am for Press) WHERE: Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex, 1156 Hargrave Street, Austin, TX 78702, 512-472-6932 MORE: Print, broadcast, or online media who would like an individual media availability with the candidate should contact the campaign at 512.705.7001. Live feeds and live stand-ups during noon newscasts are welcome; stations should contact the campaign for information on set-up, equipment placement, etc. Pd. Pol. Adv. By Charlie Baird Exploratory Committee, Charles F. "Charlie" Baird, Treas. P.O. Box 1242 Austin, Texas 78767
We received the information below from advocates trying to stop the execution of Steven Woods on Sept 13, 2011: On September 13 2011, Steven Woods (31) is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection by the state of Texas after being wrongfully convicted and confined 24 hours a day for the past 9 years of his life. Woods maintained his innocence since he was arrested, and he swears that he will keep doing so until he dies. The evidence supporting Steven Woods' wrongful conviction is overwhelming; provided below is more information that I hope will help you better understand Woods' case: - In 2002, Steven Woods was convicted for shooting & killing a young couple in Denton County, Texas - Woods was 21 at the time and had no prior arrests or warrants. - 3 months after Steven was wrongfully convicted/sentenced to death, 24 year old Marcus Rhodes took responsibility for knowingly and intentionally shooting and killing both of the murder victims, in a Denton County court. - Rhodes didn't insinuate that Steven in any way, participated/plotted/played any role in the murders. - There is NO physical evidence or confession that ties Steven Woods to the murder scene. - No one has reported or testified to having eye-witnessed these murders. - The murders were committed with Marcus Rhodes' own firearms. (Both registered under Rhodes' name) - The firearms were found under Rhodes' bed when Police searched his parents' home. - The weapons only had Rhodes' fingerprints on them. - The victims' backpacks & their belongings were found in Rhodes' car a few days after the murders. - The only "evidence" used against Woods were friends of Marcus Rhodes who took the stand, claiming that they heard Woods brag about the murder. This is called "hearsay" & is usually inadmissible in court. - One "witness", a habitual heroin user & friend of Rhodes' was paid 1000 dollars for his testimony. -Another "witness" signed a sworn affidavit stating that her testimony was coerced with threats. -The state tried to use DNA found on a latex glove to convict Woods. The jury was told that the DNA on the glove was Woods', but later in the trial Steven demanded that the glove be tested. The DNA did NOT match Woods'. The glove was stricken from the protocol by Denton County Judge, Lee Gabriels - so that Woods could not use it to prove his innocence in his appeals process. - The prosecution accused Woods of numerous erroneous claims to which they had no basis. Example: The prosecution lied to the jury claiming that Woods (who they did not know was of Armenian heritage), was a "white supremacist". -The man who confessed to killing the couple, also confessed to carrying out an additional murder in CA that occurred 2 months prior to the Denton murders. Steven did not participate in that murder, nor did he witness it or get indicted in association with it. -The actual murderer, Rhodes got a punishment of life in prison with parole. -Steven Woods got sentenced to death and will be executed on Sept. 13 2011. More info can be found at www.texaskills.com and we can be reached at justiceforstevewoods@gmail.com
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