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.

Yesterday Rep. Harold Dutton of Houston filed HB 1641 to enact a moratorium on executions and create a commission to study the death penalty in Texas. He first filed a bill for a moratorium in 2001.

In the January 2011 issue, Texas Monthly endorsed a moratorium on executions:

IT’S TIME TO HALT EXECUTIONS IN Texas. The flaws in our death penalty system have become too obvious to ignore any longer. Five times in the past seven years we’ve learned about a person wrongly convicted and taken off death row or a person convicted on bogus forensic science—and executed. It’s clear: Until the day comes when we are able to guarantee that our system will never put innocent men and women to death, we can’t continue to use a form of punishment that is irreversible. It’s time for Texas to put a moratorium on capital punishment.
This is a law-and-order state, and most citizens support executing murderers. But what about executing people who haven’t done anything wrong? The new Legislature that convenes this month is the most conservative in history, with 22 freshman lawmakers, many of them tea party–inspired folks who promised their constituents that they were going to Austin to grapple with the tyranny of the government. On the campaign trail, these men and women railed against the ineptitude and interference of government in general, about the way the state tramples on the lives of its citizens. “Don’t tread on me!” they cried. Fine, then. Let’s look at recent history, which has offered some appalling examples of the state’s treading all over its citizens.
In the summer of 2008, Michael Blair, who was convicted of a Plano murder in 1994 based on hair-comparison analysis, was taken off death row following a series of DNA tests that showed he was not guilty of the crime. One year later, a nationwide controversy erupted over the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, a Corsicana man who was convicted in 1992 and executed twelve years later for setting a fire that killed his children. No fewer than seven subsequent reports revealed that Willingham’s conviction was based on forensic science that amounted to little more than folklore. The case bore a striking similarity to that of Ernest Willis, who spent seventeen years on death row for setting a deadly house fire in Iraan before he was exonerated and set free, in 2004. This past November, the Innocence Project and the Texas Observer announced the results of an investigation into the case of Claude Jones, who was convicted of murdering a liquor store owner in 1989 and executed in 2000. Like Blair, Jones had been convicted largely based on the analysis of hair—in Jones’s case a single strand found at the crime scene. But DNA testing on the hair showed that it wasn’t his at all.
Finally there’s the case of Anthony Graves, which we wrote about in tremendous detail back in October and have followed up on this month (see “Innocence Found”). Graves was convicted of a brutal 1992 murder and sentenced to death. There was no evidence to connect him to the crime, no plausible motive, and the only person who could place him at the scene was the crime’s actual perpetrator, Robert Carter, who was executed in 2000 and who had repeatedly recanted his testimony and proclaimed Graves’s innocence. Nonetheless, Graves spent eighteen years behind bars—twelve of them on death row—and was about to face a retrial next month when Burleson County district attorney Bill Parham abruptly set him free. To summarize: Agents of the state grabbed a completely innocent man out of his mother’s apartment, prosecuted him for capital murder, and kept him locked away for almost two decades.
What can we learn from Graves’s ordeal? Governor Rick Perry, campaigning in Lubbock two days later, was asked by a reporter about the case. “I think we have a justice system that is working, and he’s a good example,” Perry said. “I think our system works well; it goes through many layers of observation and appeal, et cetera. So I think our system is working.”
In fact, the Graves case proves the exact opposite. Graves was failed every step of the way by the system—or, to be more precise, by imperfect humans working in a flawed system. He, like so many other wrongly convicted death row inmates, had inexperienced trial attorneys who were no match for a powerful prosecutor. He was also failed by the judges on the state appellate courts; the Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest of Perry’s fail-safe layers of appeal, turned him down three times.
Mostly, however, Graves was failed by Charles Sebesta, the district attorney in Burleson County at the time of his arrest. State law directs DAs “not to convict, but to see that justice is done.” But early on Sebesta and the investigators working the case developed a theory that Carter could not have committed the crime alone, and they settled on Graves as his accomplice. The night before Carter was set to testify at Graves’s trial, he told the DA, “I did it all myself, Mr. Sebesta.” But nothing was going to keep the DA from winning. After discussing it with Sebesta, Carter testified at trial the next day that Graves was a murderer.
The system that Perry says is working would never have discovered this shocking detail had it not been for an offhand comment that Sebesta made in a Geraldo Rivera documentary in 2000, six years after the DA had sent Graves to death row. On the show, Sebesta let slip that Carter had told him he had acted alone. That comment was evidence of a conversation that Graves’s defense attorneys said Sebesta had never revealed before. Springing into action, Graves’s new appellate lawyers got to work writing a federal appeal, which led a federal court to overturn the murder conviction in 2006 and order the state to retry Graves or set him free. But for Sebesta’s comment, Graves would almost certainly be dead by now. Does it need to be said that a system reliant on Geraldo Rivera is a system that needs work?
“Charles Sebesta handled this case in a way that would best be described as a criminal justice system’s nightmare,” special prosecutor Kelly Siegler told reporters after Graves was released. “It’s a travesty.” But his case is not an aberration. We know of several other Texas death penalty cases where the very qualities we value in our prosecutors—ambition, relentlessness—led them to refuse to be skeptical of shaky witnesses, to refuse to admit error, to push on at all costs. Randall Dale Adams was convicted of killing a Dallas police officer and sent to death row in 1977. He was released in 1989, after his accuser confessed to the crime himself and a higher court stated that the prosecutors had “knowingly used perjured testimony.” Kerry Max Cook was convicted of killing a woman in Tyler in 1977. He was released in 1997 and his conviction reversed; the Court of Criminal Appeals found that the state had hidden critical evidence. And then there’s Ernest Willis, who was pumped so full of antipsychotic medicine during his trial that he appeared to jurors as a blank-eyed maniac—a fact the prosecutor made great use of at trial.
And these are just the cases we know of. Are there other wrongfully imprisoned people sitting on death row right now whose stories will never come out? Before you answer that question, think about what went into saving Graves. Nicole Cásarez, a professor at the University of St. Thomas, in Houston, and a dozen of her students spent thousands of hours poring over the case and interviewing people. Graves also had the benefit of good, experienced lawyers and journalists who worked hard to explain his case. And Graves wasn’t the only one with outside help: Just about every single exoneree who has walked off death row has done so in spite of the system, not because of it. The confession that led to Adams’s release was propelled by a documentary film; Cook has a New Jersey prison ministry to thank for his freedom; Willis was lucky enough to wind up with a New York lawyer whose firm spent more than $5 million on his case. Without these benefits, Graves, Adams, Cook, Willis—all of whom are innocent men—would likely have been put to death. And, needless to say, the vast majority of the men on death row will never be so lucky as to have a high-priced lawyer or a filmmaker or a posse of journalism students working on their behalf.
So what’s to be done? First of all, let’s admit, finally, that we have a problem. Second, we have to halt all executions: We can’t allow a process so flawed to continue doling out the ultimate punishment. Finally, we need to examine the system from top to bottom with a sharp, skeptical eye. Consider forensic science. As late as 2009, investigators from the attorney general’s office were trying to work the Graves case using the services of Keith Pikett, a deputy from Fort Bend County who said his bloodhounds could pick the smells of criminals out of scent lineups. Pikett wore out his welcome with law enforcement after sending at least five people to prison for crimes they didn’t commit. This didn’t happen in the dark ages before DNA. This happened in the past few years.
As the Graves case makes clear, we need to pay attention to the conduct of our district attorneys. They’re usually among the most powerful people in any county, and at present there are hardly any criminal or civil penalties for prosecutors who engage in misconduct. We need to create real incentives for our DAs to seek justice instead of convictions. This won’t be easy. Sebesta still claims he did nothing wrong—as did the men who prosecuted Adams, Cook, and Willis. They were the good guys fighting the good fight, and if sometimes they got zealous, well, who can blame them? They’re only human.
Which brings us to the heart of the problem. Can the criminal justice system, a system conceived and operated by humans, ever be completely free of error? The common theme in the cases of Graves, Willis, Cook, and Adams (and Willingham and Jones) is clear: People make mistakes, and so do the institutions they work for. We know this intuitively. We see it every day, when, say, the postman mistakenly delivers our neighbor’s mail or when officials at a football game screw up a call. We can afford these kinds of mistakes. We walk the letter next door. We scream at the TV. But it’s different when we’re dealing with capital punishment. We can afford the mistaken holding penalty. We can’t afford the mistaken death penalty. It’s time to halt executions in Texas.

Texas tonight executed Timothy Adams. He was the second person executed in Texas in 2011 and the 466th person executed in Texas since 1982. The next execution in Texas is set for April 5 when Cleve Foster is scheduled for execution.

From the Houston Chronicle:

“God is still in control,” her father, retired Houston firefighter Columbus Adams, told her as he supported her in his arms until a wheelchair could be rolled into position. Adams’ mother, Wilma Adams, muttered, “He’s going to sleep. He’s going to sleep. He’s going to a better place. He’s going to get to see Jesus.”
Adams, put to death for the February 2002 murder of his 19-month-old son, offered no final statement.
He nodded to the witness room containing his family, who had made public pleas that his life be spared. Then, as the poisons began to flow, he breathed heavily and closed his eyes.
The drugs were administered at 6:21 p.m. Adams was declared dead 10 minutes later. He was the 466th killer to be put to death since the state resumed executions in 1982, and the second this year.

Beaumont case cited

In a witness room reserved for the family members of the victim, Adams’ former wife Emma Adams wept softy as the killer stopped breathing. A male companion comforted her by placing his arm around her waist.
As others in the room watched wordlessly, weeping could be heard from the adjoining room occupied by the killer’s family.
Adams, 42, shot his son, Timothy Adams Jr. during a 2½-hour police standoff at his Houston home. Adams’ attorneys contended the shooting came during an emotional crisis prompted by his wife’s decision to leave him.
Adams had no prior criminal record, and exhibited exemplary behavior in his seven years on death row, they said.
As the date for Adams’ execution approached, members of his family and church publicly pleaded with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to spare him. Emma Adams did not join in their call for mercy.
The pardons board unanimously rejected the killer’s appeal on Friday.
Adams’ final appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, filed Tuesday morning, mirrored an earlier appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which also ended in failure.
In that appeal, David Dow, a Texas Defender Service lawyer and University of Houston law professor, argued that a 2007 court ruling in a Beaumont woman’s baby-killing case should be applied retroactively to Adams.
Appeals justices in the Beaumont case found that the mother no longer presented a continuing danger because her violence had been directed solely at her child and, in prison, she likely never again would become a mother.
The high court rejected Adams’ appeal shortly before 6 p.m.

Below are photos of people gathered at the Texas Capitol to protest today’s execution.

Call Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and urge him to sign the bill to end the death penalty.

Chicago Office: 312-814-2121. Springfield Office: 217-782-0244

Many Texans are doing their part today to convince Illinois Governor Pat Quinn to abolish the death penalty in Illinois. On Tuesday, February 22, 2011, Texans are calling the Governor of Illinois to urge him to sign the bill to repeal the death penalty.

If Illinois abolishes the death penalty, it will have a major impact in other death penalty states, including Texas. Illinois started with a moratorium on executions in 2000 and now Illinois may abolish the death penalty with just a signature from the governor.

Illinois is just one signature away from becoming the 16th state without the death penalty. The General Assembly passed legislation to repeal the death penalty on January 11, 2011. Now the bill is awaiting Governor Pat Quinn’s signature.

Governor Quinn has said he encourages people with opinions to contact his office. In the past, he has indicated support for the death penalty, while also expressing concerns about the problems with the system. You can remind him that regardless of his position on the death penalty, Illinois’ history has made it clear that the system is broken. Illinois legislators decided the system can’t be fixed, so they voted to repeal the death penalty. Illinois can no longer afford to keep the costly and error-ridden death penalty.

Please call Governor Quinn to tell him you want him to sign the death penalty repeal bill.

You can say, “I want to encourage Gov. Quinn to sign the legislation to end the death penalty.”

Chicago Office – 312-814-2121

Springfield Office – 217-782-0244

If you don’t get through to a person or voicemail, please try again.

The Governor’s staff won’t ask you for reasons (they only want to know if you support or oppose), but if you’d like talking points or more information, visit the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty website.

The Texas groups participating in the “Texas for Illinois Day” have set a goal to confirm at least 200 calls to Governor Quinn’s office. We need you to let us know you made the call.

After you call, and you can even call both numbers, please send a quick email to (texasforillinois@gmail.com) or leave a comment on the facebook event page with the word “CONNECTED” in the subject line if you actually spoke with someone, and “VOICEMAIL” if you were able to leave a message. If you get a busy signal, please keep trying until you connect with either a person or leave a message. If anything interesting happens with your calls, please be sure to let us know so that we can pass that on to our colleagues in Illinois.

We encourage any and all Texas groups to participate in the “Texas for Illinois Day”, even ones that don’t primarily work on the death penalty issue, as long as your group wants to help convince the Illinois governor to sign the repeal bill. Currently, the groups participating include Texas Moratorium Network, Campaign to End the Death Penalty – Austin chapter, Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, Texas Students Against the Death Penalty, Campaign to End the Death Penalty – Denton chapter, and Texas Death Penalty Education and Resource Center.

The dates for this year’s Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break are March 14-18, 2011. You can register by clicking here. Now is an important time in the fight 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. Attend our alternative spring break and help us end the death penalty in Texas – the number one execution state in the United States. The event includes a statewide “Day of Innocence” Lobby Day and Rally Against the Death Penalty on Thursday March 17 at 5:30 at the Texas Capitol.

We are excited about this year’s program (see schedule here), which includes attending the World Premiere at the SXSW Film Festival of a new documentary about the Todd Willingham case, plus great panelists including several people exonerated from death row, such as Anthony Graves who was released in October 2010 after 18 years on death row in Texas and Clarence Brandley who spent ten years on death row in Texas before proving his innocence. Other speakers include Sam Millsap, a former elected District Attorny in Texas who now opposes the death penalty because he believes an executed person named Ruben Cantu whom he prosecuted may have been innocent.

Alternative Spring Breaks are designed to give college and high school students something more meaningful to do during their week off, rather than just spending time at the beach or sitting at home catching up on school work. The specific purpose of the Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break is to bring students together for five days of anti-death penalty activism, education and fun. This is the place to be if you want to become a part of the next generation of human rights leaders. Go to the beach to change your state of mind for a week, come here to change the world forever

We will provide participants with workshops led by experienced, knowledgeable presenters who will teach them skills that they can use to go back home and set up new anti-death penalty student organizations or improve ones that may already exist. The skills participants will learn can also be used in other issues besides the death penalty. Students will gain valuable training and experience in grassroots organizing, lobbying, preparing a public rally and media relations. During the week, students will immediately put what they learn into action during activities such as a Death Penalty Issues Lobby Day and a public rally at the Texas Capitol. There will be opportunities to write press releases, speak in public, meet with legislators or their aides, and carry out a public rally.

In your free time, Austin has a lot to offer for fun, including the SXSW film, music and interactive festival that takes place the same week as our alternative spring break.

Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break is a program of Students Against the Death Penalty, Texas Moratorium Network, Texas Students Against the Death Penalty, Campaign to End the Death Penalty – Austin Chapter, Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, Texas Death Penalty Education and Resource Center. Co-sponsors include Campus Progress, Witness to Innocence , Amnesty International, and Journey of Hope … From Violence to Healing.

Call Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and urge him to sign the bill to end the death penalty.

Chicago Office: 312-814-2121. Springfield Office: 217-782-0244

Texans are planning to help convince Illinois Governor Pat Quinn to abolish the death penalty in Illinois. On Tuesday, February 22, 2011, Texans will be calling the Governor of Illinois to urge him to sign the bill to repeal the death penalty.

If Illinois abolishes the death penalty, it will have a major impact in other death penalty states, including Texas. Illinois started with a moratorium on executions in 2000 and now Illinois may abolish the death penalty with just a signature from the governor.

Illinois is just one signature away from becoming the 16th state without the death penalty. The General Assembly passed legislation to repeal the death penalty on January 11, 2011. Now the bill is awaiting Governor Pat Quinn’s signature.

Governor Quinn has said he encourages people with opinions to contact his office. In the past, he has indicated support for the death penalty, while also expressing concerns about the problems with the system. You can remind him that regardless of his position on the death penalty, Illinois’ history has made it clear that the system is broken. Illinois legislators decided the system can’t be fixed, so they voted to repeal the death penalty. Illinois can no longer afford to keep the costly and error-ridden death penalty.

Please call Governor Quinn to tell him you want him to sign the death penalty repeal bill.

You can say, “I want to encourage Gov. Quinn to sign the legislation to end the death penalty.”

Chicago Office – 312-814-2121

Springfield Office – 217-782-0244

If you don’t get through to a person or voicemail, please try again.

The Governor’s staff won’t ask you for reasons (they only want to know if you support or oppose), but if you’d like talking points or more information, visit the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty website.

The Texas groups participating in the “Texas for Illinois Day” have set a goal to confirm at least 200 calls to Governor Quinn’s office. We need you to let us know you made the call.

After you call, and you can even call both numbers, please send a quick email to (texasforillinois@gmail.com) or leave a comment on the facebook event page with the word “CONNECTED” in the subject line if you actually spoke with someone, and “VOICEMAIL” if you were able to leave a message. If you get a busy signal, please keep trying until you connect with either a person or leave a message. If anything interesting happens with your calls, please be sure to let us know so that we can pass that on to our colleagues in Illinois.

We encourage any and all Texas groups to participate in the “Texas for Illinois Day”, even ones that don’t primarily work on the death penalty issue, as long as your group wants to help convince the Illinois governor to sign the repeal bill. Currently, the groups participating include Texas Moratorium Network, Campaign to End the Death Penalty – Austin chapter, Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, Texas Students Against the Death Penalty, Campaign to End the Death Penalty – Denton chapter, and Texas Death Penalty Education and Resource Center.

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