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.

Today, Hank Skinner won his Supreme Court case 6-3, so he can continue to seek DNA testing of evidence. At least year’s Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break, Hank’s wife, Sandrine, spoke at a press conference organized by the students participating at spring break. It was one week before Hank’s scheduled execution. Last year during spring break, the students also visited legislative offices and got Sen Ellis and Rep Naishtat to write clemency letters for Hank Skinner to Governor Perry. If you want to make a major difference in the effort against the death penalty like last year’s participants, register for this year’s spring break at springbreakalternative.org/deathpenalty.

From the New York Times:

The Supreme Court on Monday made it easier for inmates to sue for access to DNA evidence that could prove their innocence.

The legal issue in the case was tightly focused, and quite preliminary: Was Hank Skinner, a death row inmate in Texas, entitled to sue a prosecutor there under a federal civil rights law for refusing to allow testing of DNA evidence in his case? By a 6-to-3 vote, the court said yes, rejecting a line of lower-court decisions that had said the only proper procedural route for such challenges was a petition for habeas corpus.

Elizabeth Gilbert will attend and speak to students at the Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break, which is March 14-18, 2011 in Austin (To register for the spring break click here). Elizabeth will attend on Thursday, March 17, when the program includes a screening at the SXSW Film Festival of a new documentary about the Todd Willingham case –  “Incendiary“.  The film screens at noon March 17 at the Rollins Theater at the Long Center. After the screeening, Elizabeth Gilbert will participate in a discussion about the film and about the Todd Willingham case, along with the fimmakers.  

Elizabeth Gilbert is a Houston teacher and playwright who befriended Texas death row prisoner Todd Willingham. Her story is featured in the New Yorker article by David Grann about the case as well at the Frontline Documentary“Death by Fire” (Click to watch online). If it were not for Elizabeth’s involvement in the case, in addition to Todd’s family, Todd Willingham’s innocence likely would never have come to light. Anyone who hears Elizabeth’s story will know that it is indeed possible to make a difference in the world if you only take the time and make the effort.
Elizabeth actively investigated the case on her own. She became convinced of Todd’s innocence and was instrumental in helping his family and lawyer find an expert fire investigator to examine his case. The investigator found no evidence for arson and sent a report to Governor Rick Perry. However, the State failed to halt Willingham’s execution in 2004. Further arson investigations have also found no evidence for arson.

INCENDIARY” is the true story of the conviction and execution of Cameron Todd Willingham for the arson murder of his three children in 1991, and of the resulting scientific, legal and political firestorm that rages today. A potential landmark death penalty case, Willingham’s execution based upon junk science begs re-examinations of other arson convictions, criminal prosecution for obstructors of due process, and a re-evaluation of the law’s ultimate punishment. Equal parts murder mystery, forensic investigation and political drama, INCENDIARY documents the haunted legacy of a prosecution built on ‘folklore’.


Frontline has an interview on their website with Elizabeth. Below is an excerpt in which she talks about her meeting with Todd’s former wife Stacy:

Can you describe your meeting with Stacy?
Stacy came in, and I felt that she was very genuine, and I think this was the first time she had really talked to anybody outside [of the official investigation]. … But to me [she] was just like, “Oh, sure, I’ll meet you; I’ll tell you this is the truth.” … I told her I was a writer; I’m from Houston. I interviewed her; I taped her. And she seemed kind of reserved, nervous, just a person who had a lot of tragedy in her life.
I had heard from Todd that her mother had been murdered, and she had been there. So it seemed like her life had been filled with tragedy, … and she seemed genuinely to feel Todd had not done this. … She really convinced me that she felt that an injustice had been done. … She didn’t feel like he was capable of doing that.
So you believe Stacy told the truth?
Yes, I really do.
Do you remember how she said it?
… She cried, and I just remember her saying, “Todd is not capable of doing that,” just acknowledging that he loved his children. I sensed this very pained individual. … After the conviction, and after Todd was on death row, Stacy decided to get a divorce. She didn’t visit him on death row. 
At an event such as the Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break March 14-18, with many people from different places coming together for multiple days, it is very useful if the participants can quickly and easily communicate with each other, so we have decided to use the group messaging service Beluga during the Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break.
You can download the free Beluga IPhone app or download the free Beluga Android app. The service can also be used without an App on any smartphone by accessing the mobile Beluga website by using the browser, although using the App provides a better experience. Visit the Beluga website for more information.
We think Beluga will be particulary useful when we are at the Texas Capitol lobbying, because we will divide into groups to lobby and people can send texts to everyone updating everyone else about what is happening when they are all spread out over the capitol lobbying. For instance, if you encounter a particularly supportive legislator you could send a text using Beluga and everyone will know immediately about your lobbying success. If you get to take a picture with a legislator, you can send the photo using Beluga to all the alternative spring breakers.
Another way to use Beluga is during your time off to check in with others and see if anyone wants to meet somewhere, or communicate with roommates for any reason.
Beluga is one of the most buzzed about and highly rated new group messaging services. It was recently bought by Facebook. Here is how one article described it:
Beluga is a simple app for communicating with multiple people at once. You create a “pod” (Beluga’s name for a group) of people and each time one of you sends a message, everyone else gets it. It’s a bunch of custom-created group chat rooms. In these “pods”, you can not only share text but also pictures and locations. And not everyone even needs to have a smartphone, as the app accounts for your feature-phoned friends by sending them SMS instead of in-app content”.
Guest speakers include six innocent, exonerated people who spent more than 50 years on death row for crimes they did not commit: Anthony GravesClarence BrandleyShujaa GrahamRon KeineGary Drinkard and Albert Burrell. Anthony Graves is the most recent innocent person released from Texas Death Row. He spent 18 years on death row before he was released in October 2010.
All events are free and open to the public, both students and non-students. The first two days will be held on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin in a room to be announced. The second two days will be held at the Texas Capitol.  The full schedule and a registration form is on the website: www.springbreakalternative.org/deathpenalty

The “Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break” will be held in Austin from March 14-18, 2011. The full schedule and a registration form is on the website:www.springbreakalternative.org/deathpenalty. Special guests include six exonerated people who all-together spent about 50 years condemned to death for crimes they did not commit: Anthony GravesClarence Brandley,Shujaa GrahamRon KeineGary Drinkard and Albert Burrell.  
Now is an important time in the national effort to end the death penalty. After 11 years of a moratorium, Illinois may soon abolish the death penalty if the governor signs the abolition bill he has been sent by Illinois legislators. Students who attend the alternative spring break will train to join the national effort against the death penalty and to help stop executions in Texas – the number one execution state in the United States. 
Other speakers include:
  • former Bexar County District Attorney Sam Millsap, who prosecuted Ruben Cantu who was executed in 1993. Millsap acknowledges that Cantu may have been innocent (watch video)
  • former Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Charlie Baird, who will be on a panel together with Sam Millsap on Monday March 14 at 7 PM (room at UT-Austin to be announced).
  • Danielle Dirks, who teaches the course “Capital Punishment in America” in the Sociology Department at the University of Texas at Austin.
All events are free and open to the public, both studets and non-students.
The first two days will be held on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin. The second two days will be held at the Texas Capitol. Rooms to be announced.
On Wednesday, March 16, students will participate in a “Day of Innocence” Lobby Day Against the Death Penalty and attend a panel discussion with the six death row exonerees at 3:00 PM in the Texas Capitol (room to be announced). The spring breakers will join other people from across Texas who will come to the Capitol in Austin on the “Day of Innocence” to advocate for reforms that would impact the Texas death penalty, including a package of innocence bills, a bill for a moratorium on executions and a commission to study the death penalty system and a bill to require separate trials in death penalty cases.
Students will organize a rally against the death penalty at 5:30 PM at the Texas Capitol on March 16.
On Thursday, March 17 at noon, participants in the alternative spring break will attend a screening at the SXSW Film Festival of the new documentary “Incendiary” about the case of Todd Willingham. There will be a Q&A with the Austin filmmakers Steve Sims and Joe Bailey, Jr after the screening.
Austin is an appropriate location for this alternative spring break because Texas is the number one execution state in the United States. 466 people have been executed in Texas since 1982, including people who may have been innocent, such as Todd Willingham, Ruben Cantu and Carlos De Luna.
Alternative spring breaks are designed to give high school and college students something meaningful to do during their week off. The specific purpose of this alternative spring break is to train the next generation of human rights leaders by bringing students to Austin for five days of anti-death penalty activism, lobbying and education. “We will provide participants with workshops that will teach them skills they can use to go back home and set up new anti-death penalty student organizations or improve ones that may already exist. Participants can apply what they learn to organize against the death penalty or in their activities involving other issues,” said Hooman Hedayati, recently hired as Texas Field Organizer for Witness to Innocence. Hedayati participated in the 2005 Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break as a high school senior. He later founded Students Against the Death Penalty.
Students will gain valuable training and experience in grassroots organizing, lobbying and media relations. There will be opportunities to write press releases, organize a press conference with death row exonerees, speak in public, meet with legislators or their aides, and organize a rally at the capitol.
The “Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break” was started by Texas Moratorium Network in 2004. It is now organized and co-sponsored by Students Against the Death Penalty, TMN, Witness to Innocence, Campaign to End the Death Penalty – Austin chapter, Campus Progress and Amnesty International.
This is an historical echo to what happened in 1964 when people came down to the South during the Civil Rights Movement to register people to vote during Freedom Summer. This is similar to what was going on back then, but here the issue is organizing against the death penalty. Many young people from across the nation and throughout Texas have come to Austin over the years to learn about the injustice of the death penalty, train to take action to oppose executions and gain experience lobbying about the death penalty. 
“Students and youth have played a critical role in every major struggle for civil and human rights in this nation. Ending the abomination of capital punishment is the calling of this generation. Just as before, student activists will likely determine the future of this issue. You must be part of the debate and the action.” – Diann Rust-Tierney, Executive Director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

There is no participation fee for the “Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break” except for those people who need housing. Housing is $25, which gets participants a place to sleep for four nights in a dormitory or hotel room shared with other students. Participation for students who do not need housing, because they live in Austin or are making their own housing arrangements is free, but everyone is asked to register so the organizers know how many people to expect. Participants are expected to travel to Austin at their own expense and pay for their meals and incidental expenses while in Austin. In their free time, students who are interested in music and film will have time to attend some of the events of the world-renowned SXSW festival.
To register for the “Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break”, people may visit: http://www.springbreakalternative.org/deathpenalty

People working to stop executions in Texas will spend the day on Wednesday, March 16, lobbying Texas legislators during the “Day of Innocence” and Statewide Texas Lobby Day Against the Death Penalty. Register online.

Special guests on the “Day of Innocence” include six death row exonerees who together spent almost 50 years on death row for crimes they did not commit:  Anthony GravesClarence BrandleyShujaa GrahamRon KeineGary Drinkard and Albert Burrell.

“It is time for the Texas Legislature to pass reforms that will protect innocent people from the injustice of wrongful convictions and to stop executions with a moratorium on executions. Participants in the Lobby Day will also advocate for the two bills filed to abolish the death penalty or any death penalty related bill that is important to them, such as the bill requiring separate trials in death penalty cases or the Law of Parties bill”, said Scott Cobb, president of Texas Moratorium Network.
People interested in participating in the Lobby Day can register online. Registration is not mandatory, but it helps organizers schedule appointments with legislators.
The “Day of Innocence” will be a day we will always remember, a day when we stood side by side fighting against the death penalty with people who were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death. Don’t be one of those people who one day “shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here” and fought with us on the Day of Innocence”, said Cobb.
The “Day of Innocence” on March 16 will conclude with a rally at 5:30 PM on the South Steps of the Capitol.

Schedule for the Statewide Texas Lobby Day Against the Death Penalty and “Day of Innocence” – Wednesday March 16, 2011

The main base of operations for the “Day of Innocence” will be room E2.026 in the Texas Capitol

For more information, contact Scott Cobb at 512 552 4743

8 :00 – 9:00 AM Check-in and Meet and Greet at the Texas Capitol in room E2.026. Legislators, staff members, everyone coming to Austin for the Lobby Day and anyone at the capitol and the general public is welcome to attend and meet death row exonerees Anthony Graves, Clarence Brandley, Shujaa Graham, Ron Keine, Gary Drinkard and Albert Burrell who all spent many years on death row for crimes they did not commit.
9 – 10 AM Lobby Training. People coming for Lobby Day will be trained and given assignments. People who received training before Lobby Day can begin lobbying. Location: Room E2.026 in the Texas Capitol.
Sometime during the day while the House and Senate are in session the death row exonerees may be recognized and honored with a resolution in the Texas House and/or Senate. 
10 AM – Noon Visit legislative offices to lobby legislators and their staff.
Noon – 1 PM Lunch on your own. There is a cafeteria in the Texas Capitol.
1 – 2 PM  Press conference and group photo in Texas House Speaker’s Committee Room 2W.6 at Texas Capitol with death row exonerees and others.
2 – 3 More lobbying visits to legislative offices. 
3:00 – 4:30 PM Panel Discussion on “Innocence and the Death Penalty” with six death row exonerees, Location: room E2.026 in the Texas Capitol. Panelists and guests include exonerees Anthony Graves, Clarence Brandley, Shujaa Graham, Ron Keine, Gary Drinkard and Albert Burrell who are all innocent people who spent many years on death row for crimes they did not commit.
4:30:- 5:00 Set up for rally and final legislative office visits.
5:30 – 7:00 “Day of Innocence” Statewide Rally Against the Death Penalty on the South Steps of the Texas Capitol. Rally Speakers and other special guests include death row exonerees Anthony Graves, Clarence Brandley, Shujaa Graham, Ron Keine, Gary Drinkard and Albert Burrell.
Lobby Day has been organized since 2003 by several organizations working together, the same ones who also organize the annual “March to Abolish the Death Penalty” each October: Texas Moratorium Network, Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, Campaign to End the Death Penalty – Austin chapter, Texas Students Against the Death Penalty.
Organizations that would like to participate or co-sponsor the Lobby Day can email admin@texasmoratorium.org or call 512-961-6389.

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