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State Reps. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, left, and Jeff Leach, R-Plano, speak at a press conference on the death penalty and the law of parties on April 17, 2017.
Marjorie Kamys Cotera for The Texas Tribune

The death penalty was a hot topic at the Texas Capitol Monday night.

Testimony on five capital punishment bills was heard by the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee in a seven-hour-long meeting that lasted until close to midnight. The bills included two that would stop the practice of sentencing accomplices to death in certain cases and two which would abolish the death penalty altogether.

House Bills 147 and 316, by Democrats Harold Dutton and Terry Canales, respectively, would change how a person could be sentenced to death under Texas’ “law of parties,” which holds that those involved in a crime resulting in death are equally responsible even if they weren’t the actual killer.

“At the end of the day, the logic should be, ‘Did you intend to participate in that murder? Were you a part of it?’” Canales exclaimed while laying out his bill near the end of the long meeting. “Let’s cut the nonsense out.”

The most prominent case of a current Texas death row inmate sentenced under the law of parties is Jeff Wood. Wood was convicted in the 1996 murder of Kriss Keeran, who was fatally shot by Wood’s friend in a Kerrville convenience store while he sat outside in a truck. Last year, Wood’s case garnered national attention as his execution neared. Texas lawmakers from both parties spoke out against the execution, which was halted days before the scheduled date.

Republican Rep. Jeff Leach has been one of the most adamant supporters of reforming the law of parties. He has taken an interest in Wood’s case, going so far as to visiting him on death row in February.

“I promised Jeff that I and Chairman Dutton and Rep. Canales would do everything that we can this session to ensure that another case like Jeff Wood’s case would never happen again in the state of Texas,” Leach said at a news conference earlier Monday on the bills.

There are two ways to find someone guilty under Texas’ law of parties. The first puts responsibility on those who help commit or solicit a crime, even if they weren’t directly involved. The second states that all parties are responsible for one felony that stems from another if the second “should have been anticipated.” For Wood, the state argued he was willfully participating in a robbery and knew his accomplice would resort to killing if Keeran did not comply, so Wood should have anticipated the robbery would lead to a murder. Wood has maintained he didnt know his friend had a gun on him.

The reform bills focus mainly on the “anticipation” clause, removing the possibility of a death sentence if someone is found guilty under the second part of the law of parties and automatically granting them a sentence of life without parole. Currently, after being convicted, a jury still must agree the convict intended to kill or anticipated death to issue a death sentence.

Travis County Assistant District Attorney Justin Wood was the lone testifier against the bills, with eight others testifying in support of the bills that were laid out close to 11 p.m. He said the law of parties has been a “useful tool” for prosecutors, adding that “there are a lot of monsters who never get their hands dirty.”

But Dutton argued that those people would still be punished, just not to death.

Chairman Joe Moody, D-El Paso, said Wood’s testimony resonated with him as he has long struggled to “strike a balance” with the law of parties and the death penalty. In 2009, a similar bill filed in the House made it to the Senate, but died there. Terri Been, Jeff Wood’s sister, said she has been lobbying against the law of parties for 20 years and pleaded through tears for the Legislature to move it forward this year.

“My cries have fallen on mostly deaf ears. I’m begging you to be leaders and to lead your constituents in the right direction,” she said before wiping her eyes.

It is not common for a jury to sentence someone to death under the law of parties, but it happens. In 2007, prison inmates Jerry Martin and John Ray Falk, Jr., attempted escape. In the escape, Martin hit and killed prison guard Susan Canfield with a van. This March, Falk was sentenced to death as a party to the murder.

And Texas has executed at least five people under the statute, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Only five other states have executed anyone under similar laws.

Aside from the law of parties, two identical bills to get rid of the death penalty in Texas completely were also heard Monday evening. Dutton and Rep. Jessica Farrar filed House Bills 64 and 1537.

Both lawmakers have repeatedly filed abolition bills in past legislative sessions, and they acknowledged their main goal was to keep up a discussion on the death penalty. In a Republican-led legislature, it is almost certain that the bills will not pass. Dutton clarified to committee members he was asking for them not to vote against the death penalty but “to vote to let the House have a debate on this.”

“This bill might not pass this time, but if it doesn’t pass this time, we’ll be right back here next time, fighting the same fight,” Dutton said earlier Monday at a press conference on his two death penalty bills.

Fourteen people testified in support of abolishing the death penalty for reasons ranging from arbitrary sentencing to the cost of appeals. One woman tearfully spoke of her death-sentenced husband. No one spoke out against the bill.

The remaining bill focused on the death penalty was one by Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, a democrat from San Antonio. House Bill 3411 aims to lessen requirements to become the lead defense attorney in capital murder cases to allow for more lawyers to handle the backlog of death penalty cases.

Texas Defender Services Executive Director Amanda Marzullo argued against the lesser requirements, saying she believed it would cause more trouble in the appeals process and that there were other ways to ease the backlog such as creating a public defender office.

“We’ve got to build the bench, and we’ve got to move these cases,” Gervin-Hawkins responded. “These people need their day in court.”

All of the bills were left pending before the committee.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/04/18/multiple-death-penalty-reform-bills-heard-texas-legislature/.

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The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

The 2017 Statewide Texas Lobby Day to Abolish the Death Penalty will be held Monday, April 17, 2017, when the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence will hold a hearing on the bills to abolish the death penalty (HB64, HB 1537) and the bills to ban executions in law of parties cases (HB147, HB 316).

COMMITTEE: Criminal Jurisprudence
TIME & DATE: 2:00 PM or upon final adjourn./recess

Monday, April 17, 2017
PLACE: E2.014

Schedule of the 2017 Statewide Texas Lobby Day to Abolish the Death Penalty, April 17, Monday.

9 AM – 10 AM Check-in and meet for directions and lobbying tips. Capitol cafeteria, room E1.002. They serve breakfast till 10:30.

10:00 – Noon Visit legislative offices to lobby legislators to support abolishing the death penalty and banning death sentences in law of parties cases.

Noon Press Conference in the Speaker’s Committee Room (2W.6). Special guests include State Rep. Harold Dutton and State Rep. Jeff Leach, plus Terri Been and other family members of Jeff Wood, who remains on death row convicted under the law of parties, and Lawrence Foster, grandfather of Kenneth Foster, Jr, who won clemency in 1007 after being sentenced under the law of parties.

1 PM Lunch at your own expense in the Capitol cafeteria.

2 PM Hearing on abolition and law of parties bills in Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence E2.014. You can testify verbally, submit written testimony, or just sign in to support the bills without testifying.

We are raising funds so that we can bring some death row exonerees to the Capitol in Austin to participate in the lobby day and to testify at the committee hearing. Please donate to help us bring the exonerees to lobby day.

People from across Texas will come to the Capitol in Austin on Lobby Day to advocate for three bills to abolish the death penalty in Texas (HB 64 filed by State Rep Harold Dutton and HB 1537 by State Rep Jessica Farrar, as well SB 597 filed by Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr).

We will also lobby for bills that would prohibit death sentences for people convicted under the Law of Parties even though they did not kill anyone (HB 147 by Rep Dutton and HB 316 by Rep Terry Canales). Last summer, Jeff Wood’s scheduled execution under the law of parties was stayed shortly before his scheduled execution. Many legislators spoke out to support clemency for Jeff Wood, because he did not kill anyone. Now, is our chance to pass a bill to prohibit executions under the law of parties.

In the past, our Lobby Day has resulted in several legislators signing on to support the bills we lobbied for. In 2015 we visited the office of Senator Eddie Lucio Jr and asked him to file a bill to abolish the death penalty. He filed his abolition bill two weeks later.

As we do every session, we are calling this the “Day of Innocence” at the capitol. Special guests will include people who were sentenced to death and later exonerated. We will announce who will come soon.

We will visit legislative offices and ask legislators to support abolishing the death penalty. We will hold a press conference at noon. We will also attend the committee hearing starting at 2 PM and testify in support of the bills. Anyone can sign up to testify or you can just sign in as a supporter of the bills without testifying. You can submit written testimony or deliver your testimony verbally in front of the committee members.

This will be a day we will always remember, a day when we stand side by side with innocent people who were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death and side-by-side with family members of people sentenced to death under the law of parties.

Please be sure to dress professionally.

The Statewide Lobby Day to Abolish the Death Penalty has been organized since 2003 by several organizations working together: Texas Moratorium Network, Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, Campaign to End the Death Penalty, Kids Against the Death Penalty, and Students Against the Death Penalty.

Organizations that would like to participate or co-sponsor the lobby day can contact any of the above mentioned organizations.

Maurice Chammah of The Marshall Project published a first-person account told to him by Texas Moratorium Network’s former chairperson Jeanette Popp of how she opposed the death penalty for her daughter’s killer and worked to prevent him from getting the death penalty.

Facing Her Daughter’s Killer, at Last

But only after two wrongly convicted men were set free.

Jeanette Popp’s daughter Nancy DePriest was murdered in 1988 in Austin, Texas, while working at a Pizza Hut. Weeks later, police arrested Christopher Ochoa and Richard Danziger. Ochoa confessed during an interrogation, pleaded guilty to murder, and was sentenced to life in prison. Danziger was convicted of rape.


It was a high-profile case, and the public wanted results. Our family wanted results. I remember how at the trial, Richard Danziger would just stare at me; he was so adamant about his innocence. But why should I have believed him? I had no reason to doubt the police, the detectives, the district attorney. It never occurred to me to doubt the entire judicial system.

Twelve years later, I was at work when my brother-in-law called and told me to turn on the TV. There was the district attorney, announcing that they’d got the wrong people. It was such a shock that I just collapsed in a chair, thinking, Oh my God. I was absolutely livid that I had not been told this before it was on television. What the hell are they doing? I thought. The guy confessed. They got the right guys.


The actual murderer was a man named Achim Marino. He had undergone a religious awakening while in prison for a different crime and confessed to killing my daughter. Because I’d lost faith in the judicial system, I knew that this man was the only person who could tell me the real truth of what happened.

I traveled to the prison where he was housed, and we sat across a table from each other. He was kind of scary looking, with tattoos all over, and his eyes could tear through you. I asked him why he killed my daughter, and he said that the voices in his head told him that if he made a human sacrifice, the headaches and voices would go away.

I asked if they went away, and he said no. I asked if she had said anything, and he replied that she said only “Please don’t hurt me.” I asked if she fought, and he said no. He added that she didn’t see he was going to shoot her.

Then he looked in my eyes and said he was sorry. Do I believe that? I’m not sure.

He said he’d rather be executed than spend his life in a Texas prison. But I couldn’t support that. You have to understand: Mr. Marino has a mother. She’s not responsible for what he did, and taking her son away—what good is that? I told reporters, “I will not stain my daughter’s memory with that man’s blood.” To be honest, part of why I tried to spare him was selfishness; I can’t personally be a party to the taking human life.

I went on the court steps and told the public to call the district attorney on my behalf and ask them not to seek the death penalty. A week later, it was off the table. “I’m sorry,” I told Marino. “I’ll do everything I can to save your life.”

Achim Marino received a life sentence in 2002 — one of four he is serving simultaneously — for the 1988 murder of Nancy DePriest. He is incarcerated at the Robertson Unit, in Abilene, Texas.

Read the complete article at The Marshall Project

Jeanette Popp with Christopher Ochoa (center) and Scott Cobb (left).

Jeanette Popp in 2011 with Christopher Ochoa (center) and Scott Cobb (left).

11-Eddie-Lucio-MUG_1176019a (1)

Texas State Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr has again filed a bill (SB 597) to abolish the death penalty in Texas. This is the second session he has filed his abolition bill. When Senator Lucio filed similar legislation in 2015, it was the first time a state senator had ever filed legislation to completely abolish the death penalty in Texas.

Senator Lucio fill his abolition bill in 2015 because organizations in Texas held the Statewide Texas Lobby Day to Abolish the Death Penalty on March 3, 2015 and death row survivors Ron Keine and Sabrina Butler from Witness to Innocence and Scott Cobb of Texas Moratorium Network met with Senator Lucio’s general counsel and requested that Senator Lucio file abolition legislation.

(There was an abolition bill filed in the Texas Senate in 1969, but it would not have completely abolished the death penalty.)

In 2014, Senator Lucio attended the Democrats Against the Death Penalty caucus at the Texas Democratic Party state convention. He spoke to the DADP caucus meeting at the 2016 state convention. The caucus has been held every year since 2004 and has proven to be an effective method for persuading Texas Democrats to make abolishing the death penalty a higher priority among both elected officials and ordinary people in the Texas Democratic Party.

Here is the link to the abolition bill filed by Senator Lucio: (SB 597).

Thank you also to State Rep. Harold Dutton, who has filed an abolition bill in the Texas House of Representatives every session since 2003, including the current session. Rep. Dutton’s 2017 abolition bill in the House is HB 64.

If anyone would like to thank Senator Lucio for filing his abolition proposals, you can contact him through this form on his website.

You can also contact Rep Dutton and thank him by emailing him on the form on his legislative page.

Prosecutor, Expert, and the entire District Attorney’s Office Exhibited Same Pattern in Other Wrongful Convictions

Terry-Edwards (Dallas, TX) Attorneys for Terry Edwards, who is scheduled to be executed by Texas on January 26, 2017, filed a motion in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas seeking to stay the execution, based on gross prosecutorial misconduct — part of a pattern for the Dallas County DA’s Office and the individual prosecutor assigned to Mr. Edwards’s case — as well as substantial, and concealed, evidence that Terry Edwards never committed the killings for which he was convicted. Mr. Edwards was charged with and convicted of the murder of two of his ex-colleagues at a Balch Springs, Texas Subway sandwich franchise on July 8, 2002. His cousin and co-defendant, to whom the evidence points as the shooter, could be released any day now. Mr. Edwards’s Motion for a Stay of Execution can be accessed here: http://www.phillipsblack.org/terry-edwards

“The man responsible for the murders was sentenced to a term of years and is eligible for parole. This is not justice. Texas must reopen Terry Edwards’s case before executing him for a shooting that the State’s own evidence shows he did not commit,” said Jennifer Merrigan, Mr. Edwards’s attorney and a principal at the Phillips Black Project.

Astonishingly, Mr. Edwards’s new lawyers — appointed only months ago — are the first people in the fifteen-plus years since his trial who have investigated his case, requested independent forensic testing, or talked to crucial witnesses, including Mr. Edwards’s family members, in order to prove that he was not the triggerman.

Terry Edwards had no history of violence and had never been accused of a violent crime before the tragic events of July 8, 2002. His co-defendant and older cousin, Kirk Edwards, on the other hand, had a long criminal history, including violence and a pattern of assaultive and manipulative behavior. Kirk’s own family has placed the blame squarely on his shoulders.

Scrambling against a deadline, and the interests of justice, Mr. Edwards’s new attorneys have unearthed repeated instances of misconduct by the lead prosecutor in Mr. Edwards’s 2003 trial. That prosecutor, Thomas D’Amore, is directly responsible for at least three wrongful prosecutions that were later overturned, in a District Attorney’s Office where a staggering 54 exonerations have emerged in recent years.

On January 10, 2017, attorneys for Mr. Edwards filed to reopen his case based on this extraordinary prosecutorial misconduct and the gross incompetence and abandonment of his appointed trial and appellate attorneys. Mr. Edwards’s Motion to Reopen Judgement can be access here: http://www.phillipsblack.org/terry-edwards

The prosecutor tried Mr. Edwards as the shooter of two former co-workers during the 2002 robbery of the Subway shop in Balch Springs despite the State’s evidence indicating Mr. Edwards did not use the murder weapon. The State conducted gunshot residue (GSR) testing of Mr. Edwards within minutes of the shootings and the results were negative.

At Mr. Edwards’s trial, his defense called only one witness, a trace evidence examiner at the Dallas County crime lab. On cross-examination, the prosecutor elicited false and misleading testimony that he then used against Mr. Edwards. Mr. Edwards’s current lawyers have filed a statement from a GSR expert with over 20 years of FBI experience that contradicts the trial expert, finding that her testimony on cross was “scientifically unsupportable.” Also, the DA suppressed evidence of additional testing by this witness that further supports the conclusion that Mr. Edwards did not fire the weapon. Finally, in a 1995 wrongful conviction, the prosecutor in Mr. Edwards’s case examined this very same forensics analyst at trial and elicited strikingly similar untruthful testimony that the analyst later admitted was not supported by science.

After trial, Mr. Edwards’s appellate attorneys continued to fail him. His state court lawyer in 2009 submitted a cut-and-pasted brief lifted from other cases, with a mere 10 original sentences in the entire 60-page document. Mr. Edwards’s initial federal attorney took a new job in the middle of his representation and disengaged from the case without notifying the court, leaving Mr. Edwards without an attorney to represent him.

Mr. Edwards’s petition raises additional claims for reopening his case. Among them, Mr. Edwards’s current attorneys have discovered that the prosecutors, enabled by the capitulation of Mr. Edwards’s trial attorneys, removed all eligible African Americans from the jury pool of 3,000 citizens and seated an all-white jury to decide the fate of an African American man charged with murdering two white people. The DA’s Office recently turned over the prosecutor’s jury list, which shows the letter “B” handwritten and circled next to the names of certain prospective jurors. In light of the troubled history of this DA’s Office, there is concern that these markings suggest racial indications. Mr. Edwards’s jury was empaneled months after the first of two U.S. Supreme Court cases (Miller-El) addressing the entrenched practice in the Dallas County DA’s Office of removing African American jurors.

After Mr. Edwards was convicted and sentenced to death, his older cousin, Kirk Edwards, pled guilty to robbing the Subway shop. He is currently eligible for parole and scheduled to be released, at the latest, in 2027.


The Phillips Black Project is a nonprofit, public interest law practice dedicated to providing the highest quality of legal representation to prisoners in the United States sentenced to the severest penalties under law. Phillips Black further contributes to the rule of law by consulting with capital counsel, conducting death penalty clinical training, and developing research on the administration of criminal justice. For more information, please visit http://www.phillipsblack.org/.

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