Texas Moratorium Network started holding anti-death penalty lobby days in 2003. This year, we held a lobby day as part of the Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break. Both students and non-students, plus six death row exonerees participated in the lobby day. As a result of the lobby day, at least two members of the Texas Legislature wrote letters to Governor Rick Perry urging clemency for Hank Skinner. Below is a report from Hooman Hedayati, who was part of one of the groups of students who visited legislators on March 18.
|Texas House Speaker’s Committee Room
By Hooman Hedayati
After the press conference, we went to one of the committee rooms in the Capitol Extension where each exoneree talked in detail about his case and how he had been convicted despite being innocent and how he later had been exonerated. Rep. Lon Burnam, a long time supporter of SADP and also an abolitionist, had sent an email to all the legislative offices in the capitol inviting them to come and hear the exonerees tell their stories.
The Texas legislature is not in session so a most legislators were not in Austin, but staff members of several legislators attended the event, alongside people from other organizations, such as the Texas Catholic Conference. Many tourists walked in the room curious about what was going on and left the room outraged at the injustices of our criminal justice system.
Afterward, the students divided into several groups with each group assigned to visit several legislative offices. Juan Melendez, who spent more than 17 years on Florida’s death-row for a crime he did not commit, accompanied my group. First, we visited the office of Rep. Elliot Naishtat, who represents the University of Texas at Austin, where I and several other students went and still go to school. We met with Dorothy Browne, Chief of staff to Rep. Naishtat. She apologized to Juan for not being able to attend the panel discussion event earlier in the day. She had already heard about Hank Skinner in the news and promised to talk to Rep. Naishtat about writing a clemency letter. Before heading for the 5 PM rally and the march through the SXSW crowd on 6th street, we visited the offices of Rep. Harold Dutton, Senator Ellis and Rep McClendon, who represents a student in our group. According to reports in CNN and the Texas Tribune we know that at least two of the state legislators we visited wrote clemency letters to Rick Perry urging him to stop the execution of Hank Skinner today. Naishtat wrote in his letter regarding questions in Skinner’s case, “post-conviction DNA testing of evidence could help resolve these questions. Governor, I believe we have time to answer questions in Mr. Skinner’s case. We should take that opportunity to have moral certainty that justice is achieved in the case.”