[Deathpenalty]death penalty news-----TEXAS
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Sep 15 12:17:14 CDT 2005
Newton Executed: No Relief
On Wednesday, Frances Newton became the 3rd woman to die in Texas' death
chamber since executions resumed in 1982, and the 1st black woman to be
executed in the state since the Civil War. She was executed despite
considerable evidence of prosecutorial negligence, inadequate defense, and
recent documentation of evidence lost or suppressed during the original
prosecution. On Wednesday afternoon, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected
Newton's final appeal (unanimously and without comment.)
On Monday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted 7-0 to deny
clemency to Newton, who was convicted of the 1987 murder of her husband
and 2 young children. The board's refusal was echoed by the Texas Court of
Criminal Appeals, the federal district court for the Southern District of
Texas, and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The string of refusals -
and most significantly the denial of clemency by the BPP, whose authority
is not limited by any rigidly defined statutory scheme - was astounding
considering the gravity of new evidence that Newton's attorneys proffered
in recent weeks, which appears to support the long-standing suspicion that
Houston sheriff's investigators recovered multiple firearms in connection
with the April 1987 triple murder - despite prosecutorial insistence that
a single weapon was seized during the investigation.
On Aug. 25, Newton's attorney David Dow, director of the Texas Innocence
Network at the University of Houston Law Center, filed an addendum to
Newton's clemency petition citing investigators' assertions that at least
2 identical .25-caliber Raven Arms guns had been recovered in connection
with the crime. Although this specific information had never before been
corroborated, the CCA denied Newton's final appeal based on its opinion
that the recent revelations were somehow old news. The BPP's denial is
perhaps the most astounding, because the board voted to recommend (and
Gov. Rick Perry granted) Newton a 120-day reprieve in December in order to
allow time for further testing of suspect evidence used against her at
But rather than put to rest doubts about Newton's guilt, the resumed
investigation actually generated additional, critical questions about the
conduct of investigators and prosecutors, leading many legal observers to
conclude that the board would again agree she should not be killed while a
storm cloud of doubt still threatened the case. Apparently those who
thought the board had the capacity for clear and compassionate reasoning
were wrong. (For more on the case, see "Without Evidence: Executing
Frances Newton," Sept. 9.)
(source: Austin Chronicle)
Woman Executed for Texas Family Slayings
Frances Newton was executed Wednesday for the fatal shootings of her
husband and 2 children 18 years ago, becoming the 3rd woman, and 1st black
woman, to be put to death in the state since executions resumed in 1982.
Strapped to the death chamber gurney and with her parents among the people
watching, she declined to make a final statement, quietly saying "no" and
shaking her head when the warden asked if she would like to speak.
Newton, 40, briefly turned her head to look at her family as the drugs
began flowing. She appeared to try to mouth something to her relatives,
but the drugs took effect. She coughed once and gasped as her eyes closed.
She was pronounced dead eight minutes later.
One of her sisters stood against a wall at the rear of the death house,
her head buried in her arms. Her parents held hands and her mother brushed
away a tear before they walked to the back of the chamber to console their
About 50 demonstrators chanted outside but the crowd paled in comparison
to the hundreds who gathered in 1998 to protest the execution of Karla
Faye Tucker, the 1st woman executed in Texas since the Civil War.
"She's back with her family, in her mind," said John LaGrappe, one of her
attorneys, who met with Newton less than two hours before she was executed
and described her as "strong and optimistic. ... It's her faith in God."
He characterized her as the victim of laws that denied her access to the
Supreme Court and blamed state-appointed lawyers early in her appeals
process for missing deadlines that barred Newton from raising legal
"It's a sad statement about the judicial process," he said.
2 cousins of Newton's slain husband who also watched the execution
complained that too much attention had been focused on the convicted
killer, and not enough on her 3 victims.
"I wanted her to apologize, just to confess," Tamika Craft-Demming said.
"Justice is not to me served. If we saw some kind of apology, that would
have been justice."
Craft-Demming sobbed loudly in the death chamber. "I'd like to say not one
tear was for Frances," she said. "They were for the kids."
Without dissent, the Supreme Court declined a pair of appeals about an
hour before Newton was scheduled to be taken to the Texas death chamber.
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, which last year paved the way for
Gov. Rick Perry to issue a reprieve about two hours before Newton was set
to die, on Monday unanimously rejected a request that her death sentence
be commuted to life in prison. Perry rejected another delay in the
execution Wednesday afternoon.
She also lost appeals in state and lower federal courts. Her execution was
the 13th this year in Texas. She was the 11th woman executed in the United
States since the Supreme Court in 1976 allowed the death penalty to
Newton didn't deny putting a gun in her 7-year-old son's knapsack and
stashing the bag at an abandoned house. But she and her lawyers argued the
.25-caliber blue steel revolver she hid was not the one used to fatally
shoot her son, Alton; her 21-month-old daughter, Farrah; and her husband,
Adrian, 23, at their Houston apartment.
Newton all along insisted she was innocent, and the claim about the gun
was among several in her appeal to the Supreme Court. She also contended
her trial attorneys were incompetent and evidence at her trial improperly
"I know I did not murder my kids and my family," she told The Associated
Press in a death row interview. "It's frustrating ... nobody's had to
answer for that."
Prosecutors called Newton's appeals meritless, noting that a 2nd gun never
was recovered, that repeated ballistics tests confirmed the gun she hid
was the murder weapon, and that any destruction of evidence was not
"The unbroken chain of custody directly links Newton to the murder
weapon," the Texas Attorney General's Office said in its filing to the
Newton, accompanied by a cousin, found the bodies April 7, 1987. Her
husband had been shot in the head, the 2 children in the chest, all with a
3 weeks before the slayings, Newton took out $50,000 life insurance
policies on herself, her husband and her daughter. She named herself as
beneficiary and said she signed her husband's name to prevent him from
discovering she had set aside money to pay for the premiums.
Prosecutors said the insurance payoff was the motive for the slayings.
(source: Associated Press)
Supporters flank Huntsville "Walls" Unit
Shouting, "How you gonna undo this?" Sherri Clausell walked in circles,
waving a sign. She and more than 100 others came to the Huntsville "Walls"
Unit to protest the execution of 40-year-old Frances Newton, who on a warm
Wednesday evening became the 1st black woman put to death in Texas since
the Civil War.
Newton, who was convicted of killing her husband and two children in 1987,
insisted all along she was innocent. Protesters, mostly from Houston, came
to Huntsville on Wednesday to support Newton and make their voices heard
on what they believe was a horrible injustice.
"It seems to me there's enough evidence to say this woman is quite
possibly innocent," said Houston's Jacquelyn Battise while fellow
protesters organized in the street at the corner of 12th Street and Avenue
I. "The death penalty is very wrong. If they've killed one innocent person
it's wrong, and I believe Frances is innocent.
"It's very scary. Anybody can walk into that just by being at the wrong
place at the wrong time. Then what do you do?"
Before the execution took place inside the Walls, Art Browning, a
middle-aged white man, lifted a stick with a stuffed mannequin wearing a
bright orange, jailhouse jumpsuit hanging from the noose. Draped around
the mannequin were signs that said, "Shame on Texas," and "Frances Dies,
A member of the Green Party and a part of the Committee to Free Frances
Newton, Browning believes the state of Texas made a huge mistake
Wednesday, a mistake it now cannot undo.
"To err is human. We have no perfect systems, no perfect courts, there's
no way we can be absolutely certain in every case. But in this case, I'm
as certain as I can get that Frances is innocent," he said. "We have here
in effigy what is meant to represent her in particular, the case where an
innocent person is killed by the state of Texas - in your name and my name
and everybody's name.
"We should be ashamed this was allowed to happen. The execution machine in
Texas has been likened to a well-oiled machine, and in this case it's a
locomotive," Browning added. "It is a racist system. We know that about
half of the people on Texas death row are black, all of them are poor, so
it's a racist thing because they're black and most can't afford legal
Not all of the people assembled outside the Walls on Wednesday were on
Newton's side. One college-aged man walked to the scene with his dog just
to see what was happening.
"I wanted to make sure it went through," Jeff Potter of Huntsville said.
"I used to work for the state of Texas as a correctional officer. I
believe in seeing justice done."
Another man who refused to give his name said he came to the Walls to
people watch, just as he does in the mall. He stood in the shade with
others, across the street from the commotion.
"I'm not a rabble-rouser and I'm not crazy or anything, but I just think
there are 2 sides to everything," he said. "What is lathered up in an
emotional situation drops the facts out."
"I support the justice system in this country. We have people all over the
world trying to get to this country. If we were executing innocent people
wouldn't they say, 'Let's stop and think about this for a minute.' If
they're criminals they probably would. But if they're trying to get here,
we must be doing something right.
"Perfect? I'm not going to use that word, but I support the justice system
of this country. ... I think a person is entitled to a fair trial under
the Constitution. She got that. The sentence was delivered. It's been 18
years since the crime - all that time to do appeals and multiple appeals
and second-gun theories. Nothing has said, 'Whoa, there's a glitch.'"
Protesters believe there were plenty of glitches. No one was willing to
listen to Newton's new attorneys, though.
They argued that Newton was denied a basic requirement for a fair trial -
a competent attorney. Her state-appointed lawyer was Ron Mock, whose work
in capital murder trials is well-known in legal circles. More than 15
people Mock represented were sent to death row. On Newton's behalf, he
never investigated any of her claims of innocence and could not name a
single witness he had interviewed on his client's behalf when asked by the
Debate about a 2nd, possibly even a 3rd gun, was recently brought up by
Newton's new attorney David Dow. The fact that no gunpowder residue was
found on Newton's hands, nor was blood found on her clothes, cloud the
case even more.
"Once the wheels of justice begin, or the wheels of injustice as the case
may be, once those wheels get turning it's almost impossible to stop it,"
Browning said. "They have it set up to where if someone has been declared
guilty that an appeals process is practically impossible to bring in new
The Supreme Court declined a pair of appeals about an hour before Newton
was scheduled to be taken to the Texas death chamber Wednesday, and Gov.
Rick Perry Perry rejected another delay minutes before the execution took
"I think it's disappointing that they would wait until 20 minutes before
her execution and not grant her some type of stay," one of Newton's new
attorneys, John LaGrappe, said outside the Walls. "More than anything I'm
disappointed with the courts, not the governor's office. The governor, I
think, really looked at the case from his heart.
"But the Court of Criminal Appeals is so conservative in the way they
apply the rules that they are really, really are guaranteeing someone
innocent will be executed. The rules are guaranteeing the execution of an
innocent person. That's the problem with the process and the procedures."
Clausell and a group from the Houston chapter of the National Black United
Front stood as close to the Walls Unit as they could. Led by activists
Kofi Taharka and Quanell X, they chanted Newton's first name continually
for two minutes leading up to 6 p.m., then kept that going for several
minutes after the top of the hour. The group prayed on a couple of
occasions, before and after the execution was scheduled to take place.
Clausell made the rounds, crying out angrily.
"Wicked government, wicked governor, wicked president," she yelled. "They
don't care about us black people. The Supreme Court doesn't care about
black people, George Bush doesn't care about black people. ... This is a
legalized lynching. This is a crime scene. This is an evil lynching."
(source: Hunstville Item)
Public hearing ordered in case tied to crime lab -- Court's decision could
influence other appeals that question evidence handled by HPD
In a ruling that could affect many more cases, Texas' highest criminal
court ordered a new hearing in a death row inmate's appeal Wednesday
because of questions about the Houston Police Department's handling of DNA
The decision by the Court of Criminal Appeals indicates the justices have
seen something in Randolph Mansoor Greer's case that deserves a public
airing - and that could influence other appeals involving HPD's
much-criticized crime lab, legal observers said.
While noting that the ruling does not constitute a "get out of jail free
card," South Texas College of Law professor Charles Rhodes said it was a
significant order from "an extremely conservative, law-and-order court."
"In the last decade, it has not been a court that looks to overturn, or
even provide a mechanism to overturn, criminal convictions," Rhodes said.
"But this order shows that (the court) is concerned with the allegations
in this case. And this case is not going to be the only case in which
similar concerns are going to be raised."
Houston defense attorney Brian Wice agreed, saying the order for a public
hearing is rare. "I think the court is making it clear that the crime-lab
imbroglio is not some run-of-the-mill writ issue that can be swept under
the carpet with dueling affidavits," Wice said.
Greer was sentenced to death for the June 1991 robbery-slaying of Bellaire
gun-shop owner Walter Chmiel. In his trial, Greer, then 19, was identified
as the gunman by a wrecker driver who said he entered the store during the
holdup and was forced to beg for his life after being made to help fill a
bag with pistols.
While considering Greer's sentence, jurors heard from four women who
testified that Greer had raped them. He was not tried in those rapes,
however, and had no criminal record in Harris County before 1991.
Additionally, according to an appeal filed by his attorneys, although DNA
testing of blood from the crime scene did not directly link Greer to the
murder, the jury was told that it also did not exclude him.
Greer's attorneys maintained further analysis of the blood is needed to
determine whether Greer, or someone else, was at the murder scene.
However, the appeal also notes that the evidence "is apparently no longer
available because of improper procedures employed by the HPD crime lab."
The attorneys contend that the lab "tainted and effectively destroyed" the
blood evidence during testing.
Prosecutors Marie Munier and Jack Roady said Wednesday that it is too
early to predict the impact of the court's ruling. The Harris County
District Attorney's Office is still reviewing it, they said.
However, attorney Jim Marcus of the Texas Defense Service said the ruling
is long overdue.
"What's been clear, at least from the reporting on this (crime-lab) issue
so far, is that there were prosecutors who knew about problems in the
crime lab but who never came forward and never disclosed them to the
defense," Marcus said. "So what the prosecutors knew, what their contacts
were with the crime lab, all of these things will be in play in this
The Houston Chronicle reported in June that the District Attorney's Office
for years ignored its obligation to inform defense lawyers about
accusations that crime-lab analysts had falsified drug-test results.
Evidence in thousands of drug cases in the past seven years might have
received closer scrutiny, the defense attorneys said, if they had been
informed that two HPD analysts were suspected of "drylabbing" - concocting
results without performing tests.
District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal acknowledged at the time that attorneys
in cases involving the analysts' work should have been notified about the
An independent investigator probing the crime-lab problems revealed in May
that 2 former lab workers had been disciplined after being accused of
faking results in 4 drug cases between 1998 and 2000.
The investigator, former U.S. Justice Department Inspector General Michael
Bromwich, plans at least a partial review of more than 7,000 cases
processed by the crime lab's drug-testing facility.
The drylabbing claim was the latest controversy to hit the crime lab,
where questions have been raised about DNA, ballistics, toxicology and
serology tests. The problems became public in 2002 when an outside audit
found widespread discrepancies in the DNA lab, leading to retesting of DNA
evidence in almost 400 criminal cases.
The retesting is still under way. 2 men have been released from prison
after the discovery of faulty work by the lab.
Greer's lawyers did not return calls from the Chronicle.
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Court of Criminal Appeals orders new hearing for death row inmate
The state's highest criminal court has ordered a new hearing in a death
row inmate's appeal because of questions surrounding the Houston Police
Department's handling of DNA evidence.
Randolph Greer was sentenced to death for the 1991 robbery and killing of
a Bellaire gun shop owner.
So far, 2 men have been released from prison after the discovery of faulty
work by the DNA lab.
An 11 news Defenders investigation first revealed evidence of errors at in
(source: KHOU News)
Commissioners seeking solution for rising indigent defense costs
Taxpayers picking up the tab to defend those charged with crimes is a
hefty - and expensive - burden mandated by the state legislature, county
Angelina County spent $279,100 in 2004 to provide legal defense for those
charged with crimes.
"We have spent $174,620 on indigent defense to date this year," County
Auditor Eddie Gray said in an e-mail interview.
With this amount increasing every year, the county may soon need to open a
public defender's office, Angelina County Judge Joe Berry said during
county budget workshops this summer.
Since 2002, the county has received an annual grant from the state to help
fund the program, Gray said.
On Tuesday, commissioners agreed to apply for the grant to the 2006
Indigent Defense Grant Program. The estimated grant amount is $47,751,
according to Gray.
"This is a formula grant," Gray said. "The amount received by Angelina
County is based on population figures."
Defense counsel hired by the court are paid on a fee schedule, according
to State District Judge David Wilson.
"An indigent defendant does not get to select his attorney," Wilson said
in an e-mail interview. "We work off an approved list and attempt to
rotate through the list as much as possible given the availability of the
Indigent defendants must qualify for the program by filing a financial
record and swearing to the authenticity of the record, Wilson said.
"Their available income is compared to the U.S. Poverty Guidelines, and,
if the applicant falls within the guidelines, they are appointed counsel,"
(source: Lufkin Daily News)
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