Beazley should have been granted reprieve By Walter Long


Thursday, June 6, 2002 

Napoleon Beazley was executed May 28 for the killing of a Tyler businessman in 1994. Beazley was 17 when he committed the crime. This column was written by Walter Long, who, along with David Botsford, represented Beazley during his trial. 

In 1993, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun remarked, “I have voiced disappointment with this Court’s obvious eagerness to do away with any restriction on the State’s power to execute whomever and however they please. I have also expressed doubts about whether, in the absence of such restrictions, capital punishment remains constitutional at all. Of one thing, however, I am certain. Just as an execution without adequate safeguards is unacceptable, so too is an execution when the condemned prisoner can prove that he is innocent. The execution of a person who can show that he is innocent comes perilously close to simple murder.” 

Our client Napoleon Beazley was not innocent of capital murder. Yet, in my opinion, his execution May 28 may have been perilously close to simple murder. The “safeguards” in Napoleon’s case were completely unacceptable. 

As in the cases of scores of other indigent Texas capital inmates, the state denied Napoleon any meaningful appellate review of his death sentence by failing to provide him with statutorily guaranteed competent representation at the only time in which he could reasonably hope for an evidentiary hearing, an opportunity to develop non-record facts, and a credibility determination made by a judge hearing testimony on both sides of the issues. 

What is more frightening and unique about Napoleon’s case is that, as a child offender, he may have been protected from execution by the federal constitution, as well as by international law. This month, the U.S. Supreme Court should issue a decision in Atkins v. Virginia that may undermine the legal rule in Stanford v. Kentucky, the 1989 Supreme Court case which allows the death penalty to be given to 17-year-old offenders like Napoleon. Application of the new Atkins rule to the facts regarding juvenile offenders may exempt them from execution. 

My reprieve petition to Gov. Rick Perry reiterated what I had been asking every adjudicator to do for Napoleon since February: grant a reprieve until Atkins is released. I explained that it was nearly impossible for the United States Supreme Court to grant review in Napoleon’s case because only six justices were participating, and no other juvenile offender (who could have had nine justices) had a case before the court to which Napoleon’s could be attached. In that regard, I noted, “By chance circumstances, Christopher Simmons, a child offender in Missouri, had his execution date changed from May 1 to June 5 by the Missouri Supreme Court, which currently has the Eighth Amendment claim before it. He is the next child offender who will have all nine justices . . . . The answers to all of these questions may be given in Simmons’ case, but only days too late to help Napoleon if a reprieve is not granted.” 

I was on my way to Huntsville around 2:30 p.m. on May 28 when I received a call from Simmons’ attorney on my cell phone, notifying me that minutes earlier the Missouri Supreme Court had issued an indefinite stay for Simmons. The order read, “Execution stayed pending decision by the Supreme Court of the United States in Atkins v. Commonwealth of Virginia.” 

I headed back to Austin, where I met with the governor’s deputy counsel, making sure that the governor understood why I believed the Supreme Court had not acted in our case and that we were asking him to do exactly what Missouri did. David Botsford and I filed a motion for stay of execution at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which has the jurisdiction to stay an execution for any reason. 

The court voted 5-3 to deny a stay. Judges Tom Price, Cheryl Johnson, and Lawrence Meyers noted that they would have granted a stay. Shortly after getting word of the court’s decision, I received a call from the governor’s office: The governor had denied the reprieve. 

Our client was not innocent of the offense, but may have been ineligible for the death penalty under the federal Constitution. By denying a 30-day reprieve, the governor displayed a disregard for fairness, especially in light of his awareness of Missouri’s just and equitable stay on the same day. Perry understood the stakes when he made his decision. Waiting another month to execute Napoleon would not have hurt the system. On the other hand, if Atkins leads to protection for juvenile offenders, Perry’s decision will expose the system’s brutal arbitrariness.

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