[Deathpenalty] death penalty news------TEXAS
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Jul 20 19:51:59 CDT 2007
Public----amnesty international-----UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
One county, 100 executions
Harris County and Texas - A lethal combination----20 July 2007 AI Index:
One of the cruellest anomalies of the modern system of capital punishment:
Geography means everything
In 1969, "Houston" became the first word to be spoken by a human being on
the moon, beginning astronaut Neil Armstrong's famous message back to
earth. Four decades later, the City of Houston, or rather Harris County
where both the city and NASA's Johnson Space Center are located, has
gained international notoriety for something that pushes the boundaries of
human decency rather than space exploration.
For, while Texas is the execution centre of the USA, Harris County is that
state's main supplier of condemned human beings. This is a lethally
symbiotic relationship that helps to create geographic bias in the US
capital justice system on a grand scale.
Harris County is the third largest county in the United States, with a
population of a little under four million inhabitants, or about 1.3 per
cent of the US population. Between one and two per cent of the USA's
murders each year occur in Harris County. About four per cent of the
country's current death row inmates were tried in Harris County. Nine per
cent of the men and 18 per cent of the women executed in the United States
since judicial killing resumed there in 1977 were condemned to death in
97 men and 2 women prosecuted in Harris County have been put to death
since Texas carried out its first execution of the "modern" era in 1982.
At the time of writing, Lonnie Johnson was set to become the 100th such
prisoner to be put to death, his execution scheduled for 24 July 2007.
Johnny Connor was set to become the 101st on 22 August and Michael
Richards the 102nd on 25 September.
If Harris County was a state, it would rank 26th in population among the
US states, one above Oregon. Oregon has executed 2 people since 1977, both
of whom had given up their appeals. There are about 3 of 4 times as many
murders each year in Harris County as there are in Oregon, but Harris
County accounts for 50 times as many executions as that west coast state.
Indeed, if Harris County was a state, it would rank second only to Texas
in the number of executions carried out since 1977.
[sources: Bureau of Justice Statistics and Texas Department of Criminal
USA Texas Harris County Death sentences, 1973-2005 7,662 994 283
13% of national total 29% of TX total Death row, 31 December 2005 3,254
12.6% of national total 126
31% of TX total
Executions, 1977 - 20 July 2007 1,087 397
36.5% of national total 99
25% of TX total
There are currently 126 Harris County offenders under sentence of death in
Texas. Only 5 states apart from Texas currently have more prisoners on
death row - Alabama, California, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and
Pennsylvania. Between them, those 6 states account for 23 times the
population of Harris County, and see thousands more murders take place in
them each year than occur in Harris County. Together, these 6 states have
executed 185 inmates in the past 3 decades, only twice the number of
Harris County offenders who have been put to death.
In Texas itself, Harris County is ahead of other local jurisdictions in
ensuring a steady flow of individuals for the state's lethal injection
team to kill. The number of Harris County offenders executed or remaining
on death row - 225 - is only equalled by grouping together the next seven
largest Texas counties of Bexar, Dallas, Tarrant, Travis, El Paso, Hidalgo
and Collin - counties whose jurisdictions include the cities of Austin,
Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth and San Antonio and whose combined populations
account for nearly 5 million more inhabitants than Harris County and
around a hundred more murders each year.
This is not to say that Harris County is alone in obtaining large numbers
of death sentences. Between 1976 and 2004, over half of murders in the USA
occurred in cities with a population of 100,000 or more, and almost a
quarter occurred in cities with a population of over one million. There
are prosecuting authorities in some of these populous urban counties that
have obtained large numbers of death sentences over the years.
Nevertheless, the combination of Harris County and Texas has proved to be
far more lethal than almost any other state/county mix.
The USA's largest county is Los Angeles County in California, with a
population more than 2 1/2 times greater than that of Harris County. The
annual number of murders in LA County is equivalently higher too. In 2000,
for example, there were over 700 more murders in LA County than there were
in Harris County. Since 1977, however, only 2 people convicted in LA
County have been put to death, while 195 people prosecuted there remain on
death row. Harris County's combined total of 225 executions and current
death sentences is more than 12 per cent higher than obtained by its
Californian counterpart despite being a much smaller county with far fewer
murders than LA County.
Cook County in Illinois is the USA's 2nd most populous county, with about
a million and a half more inhabitants than Harris County and, in 2000,
nearly 350 more murders. In Illinois, between 1977 and 2003 when the state
governor commuted all death sentences because of concern about the
fairness and reliability of the capital justice system, Cook County
prosecutors obtained 152 death sentences. 5 executions of Cook County
defendants were carried out. In the same period, Texas executed nearly 70
Harris County offenders.
In Pennsylvania, there are 117 prisoners on death row (99 of them black)
who were prosecuted in Philadelphia County, but only one prisoner tried
there has been executed since 1977, 98 fewer than in the case of Harris
County. The annual number of murders in Philadelphia County is similar to
that in Harris County.
Maricopa County in Arizona is a jurisdiction of similar population size
to Harris County with around 2/3 the number of murders that occur in
Harris County. There are currently 61 Arizona death row prisoners who were
prosecuted in Maricopa County, fewer than 1/2 of Harris County's total in
Texas. Compared to Harris County's judicial death toll of 99, only 6
inmates prosecuted in Maricopa County have been executed.
In 2000, there were 286 murders in Harris County. In the urban New York
jurisdictions of Kings, Queens, Bronx and New York Counties, which
combined have twice the population of Harris County, there were 635
murders in 2000. Between reinstatement of the death penalty in New York
State in 1995 and the end of 2005, 10 death sentences were passed. In
Harris County, during the same period, some 90 death sentences were handed
down. There have been no executions in New York State since 1963.
The above examples show that what separates Harris County from other major
death penalty jurisdictions is the sheer number of death sentences that
are taken through to execution. In other words, if Harris County was in a
state other than Texas, its lethality would apparently be lessened. If the
Harris County/Texas combination does have a peer in judicial lethality in
the USA, it is the nexus of Oklahoma County and the State of Oklahoma.
Although Harris County accounts for many more death sentences than
Oklahoma County, the latter has a population over five times smaller than
Harris County's and the annual number of murders there is equivalently
lower. Like Harris County in Texas, Oklahoma County has been its state's
main supplier of condemned inmates. 35 of the 85 executions carried out in
Oklahoma by July 2007 and 34 of the 84 prisoners on the state's death row
in January 2007 were of individuals prosecuted in Oklahoma County. It is
another indicator of the geographically southern nature of the death
penalty in the USA that the states of Oklahoma and Texas - ranked 1st and
2nd respectively in the USA in terms of their execution rate per capita of
their populations - are neighbours.
The Harris County and Oklahoma County death sentencing practices also
serve as a reminder that prosecutorial discretion lies at the heart of the
US capital justice system. Unless a case is pursued under federal
jurisdiction, it is county prosecutors who decide whether to pursue the
death penalty in any particular case, which allows such officials to have
a disproportionate impact on the national death penalty picture. In
Oklahoma County, Robert Macy spent 21 years as District Attorney, sending
several dozen people to death row before retiring in 2001. Curtis McCarty
was one of them. McCarty spent 21 years on death row for a crime he did
not commit, the victim of false testimony from a police chemist presented
by the prosecution. He was released in May 2007 after DNA evidence proved
his innocence. During their pursuit of the death penalty in this and other
cases, prosecutors in Oklahoma, particularly in Oklahoma County, have
regularly been cited by the appeal courts for their misconduct.
Serious questions, too, have been raised about Harris County's
prosecutorial conduct in capital cases, including under the term in office
of District Attorney John Holmes. He retired in 2000 after 2 decades as
Harris County's chief prosecutor, a period which saw well over 100
individuals sent to death row from the county. District Attorney Holmes
would reportedly refer to inducting capital defendants into the "silver
needle society", in reference to lethal injection.
Harris County prosecutors and police were accused by a federal judge of
"outrageous" conduct "designed and calculated to obtain . . . another
'notch in their guns'" in securing the conviction of Mexican national
Ricardo Aldape Guerra for the murder of a Houston police officer. He
remained on death row for nearly 14 years, coming within three hours of
execution in 1992. In 1994, a federal judge overturned his conviction and
death sentence, finding that police and prosecutors had intimidated
witnesses into accusing Aldape Guerra and had manipulated evidence to
ensure a conviction. The ruling was upheld in 1996 by the US Court of
Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and Aldape Guerra was moved from death row
to Harris County Jail to await a new trial. However, after the trial judge
ruled that 6 key prosecution witnesses could not testify because their
testimony had been influenced by police, and said that there was
"overwhelming evidence" that Adalpe Guerra was not the gunman, the
District Attorney Holmes dropped the prosecution. On arrival in Mexico in
April 1997 after his release, Aldape Guerra said that the Harris County
authorities had "robbed me of 15 years of my life".
Gary Graham's life was taken in the Texas lethal injection chamber in June
2000 for a crime he was convicted of committing when he was 17 years old.
Harris County obtained a death sentence against him despite having no
physical evidence and presenting testimony from only one eyewitness
identifying Graham as the gunman. Perhaps the prosecution believed that
Graham's admitted involvement in other robberies and assaults around the
time of the murder would make a jury more prone to convict and vote for
execution for that crime. If so, the prosecution was helped by a defence
attorney who apparently also believed in the defendant's guilt, failing to
do any investigation into his claims of innocence. Post-conviction
investigations revealed compelling exculpatory eyewitness testimony not
heard by the jury, but Gary Graham went to his execution protesting his
innocence, without having had a hearing on the post-conviction evidence.
The Harris County District Attorney's Office nevertheless asserts that it
strives to "seek justice not just convictions". Even for those who equate
the death penalty with "justice", which Amnesty International does not,
Harris County has surely failed on occasion to meet its professed goal.
Its prosecution of two men involved in the robbery of a Houston grocery
store which resulted in the murder of Claude Shaffer is instructive in
Claude Shaffer died from a single bullet wound. 2 men were tried for his
murder. Willie Williams was brought to trial first. He pleaded guilty to
killing the victim. The Harris County prosecutor presented the medical
examiner's evidence in support of its theory that Williams had shot
Shaffer. The prosecutor told the jury: "Willie Williams is the individual
who shot and killed Claude Shaffer. That is all there is to it. It is
scientific. It is consistent. It is complete. It is final, and it is in
evidence there is only one bullet that could possibly have done it and
that was Willie Williams' Nichols is out the door." The jury passed a
death sentence and Willie Williams was executed on 20 January 1995. Joseph
Nichols was brought to trial after Williams had been sentenced to death.
The Harris County prosecutor argued that regardless of who fired the fatal
shot, Nichols was guilty under the "law of parties". This is the Texas law
under which the distinction between principal actor and accomplice in a
crime is set aside and each defendant may be held equally culpable. The
jury found Nichols guilty of capital murder, but a mistrial was declared
after the jury was unable to reach a sentencing verdict. Following the
trial, the prosecution interviewed some of the jurors and learned that
their doubts about whether Joseph Nichols had been the person who had
fired the fatal shot had left them unable to agree on the death penalty.
Joseph Nichols was retried by the same Harris County prosecutor. This time
the prosecution primarily argued that Nichols had fired the fatal shot. It
did not base this about-turn on any additional investigation. The
prosecutor argued that "Willie could not have shot [Shaffer] [Nichols]
fired the fatal bullet and killed the man in cold blood and he should
answer for that". The jury voted for a death sentence.
In 1992, a federal judge ruled that the prosecution had presented false
evidence by changing its argument from Nichols's first trial to his
retrial (Nichols II). Judge David Hittner said: "The State argued, the
jury found, and the court accepted the determination in the Williams trial
that Williams was the triggerman, not just a party to the offence. That
fact was established as the truth. This court has concluded that the
prosecutor in charge of Nichols II offered evidence and argued to the jury
and court that Nichols was the triggerman. By prior judicial
determination, the evidence submitted was necessarily false. Accordingly,
this court finds that the prosecutor in charge of Nichols II knowingly
used false evidence to obtain the conviction and sentence in Nichols II."
Judge Hittner concluded that "the due process boundary upon prosecutorial
misconduct and the appearance of basic fairness derived from that boundary
command a determination that, in a criminal prosecution, the State is
constitutionally [barred] from obtaining a fact finding in one trial and
seeking and obtaining an inconsistent fact finding in another trial". He
said that "Williams and Nichols cannot both be guilty of firing the same
bullet because physics will not permit it". He ordered that Nichols be
released or retried. However, the state appealed and the Fifth Circuit
Court of Appeals overturned Judge Hittner's ruling. Joseph Nichols was
executed on 7 March 2007.
[source: Texas Department of Criminal Justice]
Harris County Harris County African Americans as death sentences offenders
executed % of those executed
1924 - 1964 99 63 70%
1982 - 2007 283 99 54%
The Harris County District Attorney also professes "an absolute commitment
to the ends of securing justice without regard to status, race, gender, or
national origin, or the prominence of either the victims of crime or those
charged with crimes." The geographic disparity in US capital justice to
which Harris County's pursuit of executions contributes, however, is
accompanied by indications that it also contributes to the racial bias
that is one of the characteristics of the US death penalty. As two
renowned experts on racial discrimination and the death penalty in the USA
put it, "the history of the death penalty in [the 20th] century has been a
tale of denial and avoidance by state and federal courts, Congress, and
state legislatures". For all its modernity, the Harris County court
building in downtown Houston is hosting a practice with a racist history
and one which continues to display discrimination on the basis of race.
"I would like to say that I did not kill Bobby Lambert. That I'm an
innocent black man that is being murdered. This is a lynching that is
happening in America tonight. There's overwhelming and compelling evidence
of my defence that has never been heard in any court of America. What is
happening here is an outrage for any civilized country to anybody anywhere
to look at what's happening here is wrong."
22 June 2000. Final statement of Gary Graham, black, convicted by a Harris
County jury of 11 whites and 1 black for the murder of a white man
Studies conducted in the "modern" era of the death penalty have
consistently shown that race, particularly race of the murder victim, is a
factor in capital sentencing in the USA. 80 % of the US population is
white, and almost 13 % black. Whites and blacks are the victims of murder
in the USA in almost equal numbers. In 2005, for example, 7,133 whites and
7,125 blacks were the victims of murder. Nevertheless, 80 % of executions
since 1977 were of prisoners convicted of killing whites. Most murders in
the USA are intra-racial. In 2005, for example, in single victim/single
offender murders, 83 % of cases involving white victims had white
offenders, and 91 % of cases involving black victims had black offenders.
Yet across the USA since 1977, 54 % of executions have been of whites
convicted of killing whites, while black-on-black cases accounted for 12 %
of executions. Nationwide, 21 whites have been executed for killing
blacks. In contrast, more than 220 blacks have been executed for killing
whites. Murders of blacks appear not to be viewed with the same
seriousness by the (overwhelmingly white) system as the murder of whites.
Harris County's population is 74 % white and 18 % black. 53 of the 99
executed prisoners from Harris County were African American, as are the
next 3 Harris County offenders scheduled for execution. 57 % of the Harris
County offenders remaining on death row in Texas are black. Whatever the
reasons for these disparities, the death penalty has a disproportionate
impact on members of the black community in Harris County.
A 1998 study based on information collected from Dallas, Tarrant, Harris,
and Bexar Counties revealed an "insidious portrait of racial disparities
within the state: "Killers of whites are always over-represented among
death sentences, but the extent of the over-representation depended on the
race of the offender In contrast, killers of minorities were
under-represented. Killers of Blacks were under-represented, especially if
the killer was White". The study concluded that "the prevalence and
consistency of disparities based on the race of the victim indicate a
pattern of arbitrary sentencing. These findings are consistent with other
studies performed in Texas and elsewhere, and represent one of the most
enduring and tragic consequences of capital punishment in the United
States - prospective candidates for execution are screened and selected to
a large extent on the basis of race."
No white has been put to death for killing a black person in Harris County
since 1977, and as far as Amnesty International is aware no white was put
to death for killing a black anywhere in Texas in the previous period of
the death penalty in the state from 1924 to 1972.
66 of the 99 people executed in Texas in the "modern" era after being
condemned to death in Harris County were convicted of killing whites. 27
of these cases were of black men convicted of killing white victims. 32 of
the 99 executions were white-on-white cases, and 17 involved
black-on-black murders. 6 Latinos and one Native American tried in Harris
County have been put to death for killing whites. 2 whites have been
executed for killing Latinos, in the only 2 cases out of Harris County in
which whites have been put to death for the murder of a member of a
In the US capital justice system, execution is supposed to be reserved for
"the worst of the worst" crimes and offenders. Murder is not punishable by
the death penalty without "aggravating" circumstances, for example murder
during another offence such as robbery. In a society marked by social and
economic inequalities, including along racial lines, such a death penalty
law may contribute to racially disproportionate sentencing. The 1998 study
suggested that "inter-racial crimes involving White victims are likely to
be of a more serious nature than those involving intra-racial murders
among minorities". According to a Houston Chronicle review of Harris
County death sentences, "the most common underlying felony to earn a death
sentence is robbery, and those inclined to commit it come from lower
economic classes, a disproportionate percentage of which is minority".
The divergent experiences and perspectives of blacks and whites in the USA
may have an impact when they are called to serve as jurors. An African
American juror may be better able than his or her white counterpart to
identify or sympathize with the background or experience of a black
defendant when presented with mitigating evidence, for example. Among
research findings has been that a death sentence becomes 3 times more
likely for a black defendant accused of killing a white victim where the
jury has 5 or more white male jurors on it than for a black defendant who
draws fewer such jurors.
As elsewhere in the country, some black defendants in Harris County have
faced juries consisting of 12 white jurors. For example, all-white Harris
County juries passed death sentences against African Americans Richard
Wilkerson, Clifford Phillips, Antonio Bonham and Paul Rougeau - the first
3 of these men for the murder of white victims. All 4 prisoners have been
executed. Gary Graham, executed in 2000 for a crime he may not have
committed, was convicted by a jury of 11 whites and 1 black.
For Texas prosecutors to obtain a death sentence, they must persuade the
jury that the defendant will pose a future danger to society if allowed to
live, even in prison. A study published by the Texas Defender Service in
2004 concluded that predictions of "future dangerousness" in the Texas
death penalty system were wrong in a majority of cases, and that "basing
capital sentencing decisions on predictions of future dangerousness is
unjustifiable - and not only because a system that so allots punishment in
effect punishes defendants for offences they may or may not commit, thus
violating the fundamental legal principle that the accused is innocent
until proven guilty."
Harris County prosecutors persuaded a jury in 1982 that Donald Miller
would be a future danger, even in prison. During his subsequent 25 years
on death row, however, Miller was never disciplined for violent or
aggressive behaviour towards other inmates, guards, or anyone else. In
addition, following an evidentiary hearing, a federal judge ruled in 2004
that Harris County had withheld exculpatory evidence at the trial that was
material to the question of sentencing: that is, the sentence might have
been different if the evidence had not been suppressed. The US Court of
Appeals for the Fifth Circuit overturned the ruling, although one of the 3
judges dissented, arguing that the withheld evidence could have undermined
the prosecution's portrayal of Miller as posing a future danger. Donald
Miller was executed on 27 February 2007. One of the Harris County
prosecutors who obtained the death sentence commented that it was "very
disappointing" that it had taken so long to get Miller to the execution
chamber, stating that "that's 25 years he got to live that his victim
In cases where all-white or majority-white juries are empanelled, this
"future dangerousness" sentencing scheme may disproportionately impact
minority defendants. In the above 2001 study on capital jurors and race,
the researchers found that "whites more often than blacks see the [black]
defendant as likely to be dangerous to society in the future and as likely
to get back on the streets if not sentenced to death. Blacks in these
cases more often see the defendant as remorseful and therefore deserving
of mercy, and even wonder whether the defendant was the actual killer or
at least whether the killing was a capital murder." Furthermore, the
research revealed "a lack of receptivity to mitigating evidence among
white jurors when the defendant is black. White jurors often appear unable
or unwilling to consider the defendant's background and upbringing in
This presupposes that the jury heard mitigating evidence in the first
place. Texas has been notorious for the poor quality of defence
representation provided to indigent capital defendants at trial and on
appeal (although in 2001 the Texas legislature did pass the Fair Defense
Act in an effort to improve this situation, at least at the trial level).
Thus in their pursuit of execution, well resourced and zealous Harris
County prosecutors have frequently had the "advantage" of facing
inexperienced, under-resourced, or unmotivated defence counsel. Or even,
on occasion, a sleeping defence lawyer. Calvin Burdine, represented by a
lawyer who slept during the Harris County trial, eventually had his death
sentence overturned and was re-sentenced to life imprisonment in 2002.
Carl Johnson, sentenced to death in a Harris County courtroom in which the
same lawyer was seen to sleep during some of the proceedings, was not so
fortunate. Johnson, black, was executed in 1995. Another of the same
lawyer's Harris County clients, Larry Anderson, had been executed a year
earlier after the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found that the
lawyer's reputation for incompetence and "habitually [trying] capital
cases in a perfunctory manner" was not relevant in Anderson's case.
Perfunctory would describe the performance of Kenneth Ransom's defence
lawyer at Ransom's Harris County sentencing. By the time Kenneth Ransom
was nine years old, he had suffered prolonged physical and emotional abuse
at the hands of his mother and brothers. He was taken into care by the
authorities, where the records of the Harris County Child Welfare agency
show that the abuse had included whippings with electrical cord and hot
wires. Social workers who examined the child noted that the wounds and
burns covered almost his entire body. When he was 20, Kenneth Ransom was
arrested for his part in the murder of four employees at a Houston
amusement centre during a robbery. At the sentencing phase of the trial,
when the jury would choose between life and death for the defendant, the
jurors were left unaware of the abuse Ransom suffered as a child. This was
despite the fact that his lawyers knew of his appalling childhood, as one
of them had represented his mother when the state removed her children
from her care. The defence presented no mitigating evidence and Kenneth
Ransom was sentenced to death. His execution went ahead in 1997 despite a
new statement from the only surviving defendant in the case, serving a
life sentence, that Ransom had not killed any of the 4 victims.
Harris County prosecutors have been assisted in producing their steady
output of condemned defendants by the substantial number of criminal trial
judges (22) in the county with jurisdiction over capital cases. A majority
of these judges - elected to 4-year terms in partisan elections - are
former prosecutors from the Harris County District Attorney's Office. Of
the 21 filled judgeships as of July 2007, at least 19 were previously
Harris County prosecutors - and all had run for office on the Republican
Party ticket. In 2001, when at least 20 of the 22 judges were former
county prosecutors, 16 had reportedly received election campaign
contributions from defence lawyers who had been appointed by trial judges
to represent defendants charged with capital crimes between 1998 and 2000.
Neither have the appeal courts proved to be much of an obstacle to slowing
the Texas conveyor belt of death. The Harris County District Attorney's
Office asserts that in more than 80 per cent of its cases, the death
sentence is upheld on direct appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal
Appeals, and that less than 5 % of defendants going on to appeal their
convictions are successful. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, whose 9
current judges were all elected on Republican Party tickets, has upheld
death sentences in numerous cases over the years which call into serious
question the standards of justice it is willing to tolerate, including in
Harris County. In the case of George McFarland, for example, the Court
affirmed his death sentence even though the defence lawyer had slept
through parts of the trial. The Harris County trial judge had allowed the
trial to continue on the grounds that "the Constitution doesn't say the
lawyer has to be awake". In another case, Harris County defendant Pamela
Perillo was granted a new trial by a federal judge who found that her
trial lawyer had been labouring under a conflict of interest that
adversely affected his performance, namely he represented one of Harris
County's key witnesses against Perillo. The Court of Criminal Appeals had
upheld Pamela Perillo's death sentence and conviction nonetheless. She was
taken off death row in 2000 and is now serving a life sentence.
Even when there have been serious questions surrounding the state's
evidence, the Court of Criminal Appeals has refused to stay an execution.
In March 2003, an independent audit of the Houston Police Department (HPD)
crime laboratory revealed serious defects in the lab's DNA analysis
section, including poorly trained staff relying on outdated scientific
techniques. The DNA section was shut down, and hundreds of criminal cases
opened for review. In a number of cases, discrepancies between new tests
and the original HPD analysis emerged. Several cases suggest that the
lab's problems extended beyond its DNA section, for example into its
ballistics expertise. On 21 October 2004, a judge on the Texas Court of
Criminal Appeals said that there should be "a moratorium on all executions
in cases where convictions were based on evidence from the HPD crime lab
until the reliability of the evidence has been verified". His was the only
dissenting voice when the Court denied death row inmate Dominique Green's
request for a stay of execution on the basis of concern around the
accuracy of the HPD's ballistics work in his case, and the recent
discovery of 280 boxes of mislabelled evidence that could impact thousands
of criminal cases. A federal judge granted a stay until the HPD could
complete the cataloguing of the boxes. The stay was overturned by the US
Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and Dominique Green was executed
on 26 October 2004. In his final statement, he said that he was
"disappointed that I was denied justice". The Fifth Circuit's rulings in
Texas capital cases have recently raised the concern of the US Supreme
Court, including in relation to issues of race, mental illness, and legal
In some cases, it has been the defendant himself who has helped the Harris
County prosecutors in their pursuit of execution. Harris County sought a
death sentence against Mexican national Angel Maturino Resndiz at his
trial in 2000 despite compelling evidence of his serious mental illness,
including paranoid schizophrenia. After the jury rejected his insanity
defence and convicted him of capital murder for the murder of a doctor in
Houston, Maturino Resndiz joined the Harris County prosecution in asking
for the death penalty. He instructed his court-appointed attorneys not to
make an opening statement at sentencing phase of the trial, not to
cross-examine the state's witnesses and to present no testimony on his
behalf. The jury passed a death sentence, which was carried out in June
What Harris County, or Texas, does in the field of capital justice should
not be seen as reflecting "standards of decency" in the wider country, and
the distorting effect these jurisdictions have on the national picture
should not be allowed to undermine progress towards abolition in the USA.
Harris County's attitude towards the question of child offenders - those
convicted of crimes committed before the age of 18 - is a case in point.
By 2004, three child offenders prosecuted in Harris County had been put to
death, and another 10 were on death row, 3 of whom were scheduled for
execution in mid-2004. At that time, no whole state in the USA, apart from
Alabama (and the rest of Texas), had more child offenders on death row
than Harris County.
Further executions of child offenders were stopped by the US Supreme Court
in 2005 when it found in Roper v. Simmons that there was a national
consensus against such executions, and that standards of decency in the
USA had evolved to the extent that such use of the death penalty was
unconstitutional. Along with other child offenders in the USA, those
prosecuted in Harris County had their death sentences commuted to life
imprisonment as a result of the Atkins ruling. They included Tony Dixon,
prosecuted in 1995 for a murder committed when he was 17 years old. In
addition to his youth, he had an IQ of 65, within the range indicating
possible mental retardation. Pursuing his execution, a Harris County
prosecutor had described him to the trial jury in alarmist language as a
"walking, talking, continuing threat to society". In similar vein, seeking
a death verdict from another jury, a Harris County prosecutor had
described Nanon Williams - also 17 at the time of the crime - as "a
predator... He's evil. He's just flat-out evil...if this defendant isn't a
future danger, nobody is a future danger... It almost insults your
intelligence to try to argue with you that he is not a future danger".
There are serious doubts about whether Nanon Williams - whose death
sentence was also commuted to life imprisonment following the Roper ruling
- committed the crime for which he was convicted.
Harris County prosecutors eventually persuaded a jury that Demetrius Simms
was a future danger to society. It tried him 4 times before obtaining a
death sentence, despite knowing that he had mental retardation. The first
3 trials resulted in hung juries before the jury at the 4th trial in 1996
voted for conviction and execution. Although Simms remained on death row
at the time of writing, he can no longer be executed as it has been
officially confirmed that he has mental retardation (with an IQ as low as
55) and therefore protected from the death penalty under the 2002 Supreme
Court ruling in Atkins v. Virginia. As in the subsequent Roper ruling on
child offenders, the Court found that standards of decency had evolved in
the USA to create a national consensus against the use of the death
penalty against offenders with mental retardation.
Over the years, Harris County has thus not only been shown to be out of
touch with evolving standards of decency in the wider USA, but to be
lagging behind much of the rest of the world which has turned against the
use of the death penalty against anyone, let alone children and the
mentally disabled. The Harris County District Attorney's ultimately
unsuccessful pursuit of the death penalty against Andrea Yates at her
trial in 2002 for drowning her young children when she was suffering from
serious mental illness once again cast the spotlight on "the cultural
norms of Harris County" when it comes to capital justice.
"But someone is mad that a system that's supposed to protect and uphold
what is just and right, has shown it's just as crooked as I am said to be.
Now I lay here dead. But we have gave all Texans the sign that in some
instances, and in some cases 'KILLING IS ALRIGHT TO DO AS LONG IT'S FOR
JUSTICE OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE'. So who win? No one do! Ain't no such
thing as a closure!"
>From final written statement of Richard Williams, sentenced to death in
Harris County in 1998, executed on 25 February 2003
Today there are signs that the USA is slowly turning against judicial
killing. The 53 executions carried out in 2006 represented the lowest
annual total for a decade. The contribution of Texas and Harris County
remained high: 17 % of these executions were of individuals prosecuted in
Harris County, and 45 % were carried out in Texas. Of the 30 executions
carried out in the USA in 2007 to 20 July, 18 (60 %) were conducted in
Texas and 6 (20 %) were of people prosecuted in Harris County. Death
sentencing continues to drop from its peak in the mid-1990s. The number of
people sentenced to death in 2006 was under half of what it was in 1996
and the lowest since 1977. There are possible signs of this downturn in
Harris County also. Between 1999 and 2004, Harris County juries handed
down 40 death sentences at an average of 6 per year. In the two and a half
years from January 2005 to July 2007, a total of 5 death sentences have
been passed in Harris County.
The growing reluctance of capital jurors to hand down death sentences
seems to reflect a broader downturn in public support for the death
penalty, including in Harris County. An erosion of the public's belief in
the deterrence value of the death penalty (the number of murders in
Houston have risen from 230 in 2000 to 377 in 2006, in a period which saw
180 prisoners executed in Texas, including 33 from Harris County), an
increased awareness of the frequency of wrongful convictions in capital
cases, and a greater confidence that public safety can be guaranteed by
life prison terms rather than death sentences have all contributed to the
waning of enthusiasm for capital punishment.
Officials in the USA often defend the death penalty as an example of
"democracy" in action, but when public opinion appears to move against
judicial killing, the same officials are slow to recognize it and act.
Steps to abolish the death penalty or impose a moratorium on executions
can come from the courts, the executive or the legislature. In addition,
at local level in the USA, a prosecutor's authority to decide if and when
to pursue the death penalty allows that office-holder to step away from a
punishment that a majority of governments in the world have stopped using.
In addition to this evolving global abolitionist picture, international
law and standards are abolitionist in outlook, and UN bodies have
repeatedly held that abolition of the death penalty advances human dignity
and respect for human rights.
Prosecutors have an obligation to defend such values while pursuing
prosecutions. The United Nations Guidelines on the Role of Prosecutors
require that such officials be made aware of "human rights and fundamental
freedoms recognized by national and international law", and in any
criminal proceedings prosecutors must "respect and protect human dignity
and uphold human rights". The Harris County District Attorney Office's
persistent choices in favour of the death penalty have left the county,
and by association Texas and the USA, on the wrong side of history and on
the wrong side of human rights.
NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center opened on its site south of Houston in
September 1963. In the four and a half decades since then, more than 70
countries have legislated to abolish the death penalty, bringing to 129
the number of countries which are abolitionist in law or practice. In June
1964, NASA's Houston centre assumed formal responsibility as Mission
Control Center for human space flights. The following month, the last
execution in the Texas electric chair took place with the execution of
Joseph Johnson, an African American man sentenced to death in Harris
Johnson was the 63rd Harris County offender to be put to death between
1924 and 1964, a period which saw 362 executions in Texas, prior to the US
Supreme Court overturning the country's death penalty laws in 1972. Harris
County sentenced more defendants (99) to death than any other Texas county
during this period, and more Harris County offenders were put to death
than from any other Texas county.
Texas was one of the states which lost no time in rewriting its capital
statute after the 1972 Supreme Court ruling, and resumed executions - by
lethal injection rather than electrocution - six years after the Court had
approved such laws in 1976. In its "modern" era of judicial killing,
Harris County has resumed its role as the leading supplier of condemned
inmates in Texas. In October 2001, Texas executed its 63rd Harris County
offender since reinstatement of the death penalty. Since then Texas and
Harris County have outstripped their records from the earlier period, with
the state approaching its 400th execution and Harris County its 100th.
Hosting the Johnson Space Center has placed Harris County on the cutting
edge of modernity for 45 years. At the same time, the county is clinging
to an anachronistic and dehumanizing tradition which contravenes commonly
held standards of decency embraced across the globe. Harris County should
modernize its criminal justice system by abandoning the death penalty.
Please send an appeal to the Harris County District Attorney. Write in
your own words, using the following as a guide, and utilizing information
in the above text as you see fit
: - expressing sympathy for the victims of violent crime and their
families and acknowledging the state's duty to bring to justice violent
- explaining your opposition to the death penalty, and describing how
Harris County's continuing pursuit of executions contradicts the global
- urging the District Attorney to lead Harris County away from the death
penalty by dropping pursuit of this punishment in potentially capital
Charles A. Rosenthal, Jr.
Harris County District Attorney
1201 Franklin Street, Suite 600
Houston, Texas 77002-1923, USA
Email: ChuckRosenthal at dao.hctx.net.
Fax: +1 713 755 6865
Salutation: Dear District Attorney
INTERNATIONAL SECRETARIAT, 1 EASTON STREET, LONDON WC1X 0DW, UNITED
(source: Amnesty International)
Let's unite for Kenneth
On behalf of the entire Save Kenneth Foster Campaign, I would like to
thank The Daily Texan for this excellent analysis of Kenneth's case ("Stop
Kenneth Foster's execution," July 19). The Law of Parties is a flagrant
display of opportunism where the administration of justice is concerned.
It allows prosecutors to optimize their convictions and affords them
incredible leverage where crafting manipulative plea agreements is
Texas is the only state in the country where someone can be sent to death
under such a low threshold of proof. The Kenneth Foster case demands vocal
and visible response. Anyone interested in joining the movement to save
Kenneth's life should attend our rally and march this Saturday at 5 p.m.
on the south steps of the Capitol. Many excellent speakers and performers
will be on hand, including Kenneth's 10-year-old daughter Nydesha, his
wife Tasha and a number of other supporters.
No one should be sent to death for being in the wrong place at the wrong
time. Save Kenneth Foster!
Bryan McCann ---- Communication studies PhD student
Campaign to End the Death Penalty
No flaw in Law of Parties
Like it or not, Michael LaHood Jr. would be alive today if not for the
actions of Kenneth and his associates, who had already committed armed
robbery twice that evening before meeting up with LaHood ("Stop Kenneth
Foster's execution," July 19). Those robberies already account for 2
felonies, and then they conspired to rob from LaHood with a weapon (felony
No. 3). Engaging in armed robbery provides enough rationale to believe
that loss of life is possible, if not probable. When LaHood was murdered
(felony No. 4), all parties involved were equally responsible for his
It's quite logical, really, and it's a good law. You guys are screaming
defenses and excuses for the very type of person who, if left unchecked,
would bring society to its knees. Where's the compassion, sorrow and
sympathy for the victim and his family, by the way? What about justice for
them? I guess Foster is more deserving of your moral relativism than the
real victims in this case.
(source: The Daily Texan
Arrest little comfort to victims daughter
Kelly Brumley will not sleep any easier knowing the man suspected of
killing her mother is in jail.
"In a way it's a relief he was caught, but that's not going to bring my
mom back," said Brumley, 28. "All it does is put a picture with my
Thomas DeWayne Moreland, 20, was arrested Wednesday and charged with the
July 2 bludgeoning and strangulation death of Nancy Brumley, 57, at her
duplex in the 600 block of Avenue D. Moreland confessed to the killing
after being arrested in Freeport shortly after midnight Wednesday,
Freeport Police Capt. Gus Flores said.
Moreland lived with his grandmother, Irene Moreland, and other family
members next door to Nancy Brumley at the time of her slaying, and the
families knew each other.
"It's very sad that she knew him, and I knew him," Kelly Brumley said.
Margaret Dean, who lives in the other half of Brumley's duplex, said
Moreland's family "made a lot of noise."
Dean knew of both Thomas Moreland and his brother but didnt have much
contact with them. She did visit with Irene Moreland sometimes, as did
"I'd see them coming and going, but they never approached me and never
talked to me," Dean said. "Nancy was more open and friendly to them than I
was. I noticed them because of the noise. They were always having verbal
fights always yelling."
Brumley said there is only one proper punishment if Moreland is convicted.
"I hope he gets the death penalty and nothing less," she said. "He killed
my mom, so why shouldn't he be killed? Whenever he's put on trial,
somebody from our family will be there every day."
Morelands grandmother, however, is not convinced of his guilt.
"I don't think he did it," Irene Moreland said from the Lake Jackson
apartment to which she recently moved. "I didn't see anything. Nancy that
was my best friend. When I saw Nancy died, I hollered and hollered."
She said her grandson was friendly with Nancy Brumley.
"He was a boy, you know. A teenager. Always asking me for money," said
Irene Moreland. "He treated Nancy nicely."
But another relative of Moreland's said in a signed, sworn statement that
her nephew "killed Nancy Brumley."
In a probable cause affidavit, police state, "Moreland told her he snapped
that he didn't know why he did it but that he snapped." Moreland also said
he "choked her and had sex with Ms. Brumley," the affidavit states.
Evidence points to a sexual assault during the slaying, but Moreland has
not been charged with a sex offense, District Attorney Jeri Yenne said.
Items collected at Brumley's home and a Freeport storage building have
been sent to a Dallas crime lab. Authorities are awaiting those results
before deciding whether to pursue capital murder charges, Yenne said.
Police said there was blood on Brumley's partially clothed body and on her
head, and bruises on her arms which appeared to be "defensive-type
injuries," the document states. She also had 2 1.5-inch curved lacerations
to the top left side of her head which police said were caused when she
was hit with a can, the affidavit states.
A telephone line to the house also had been cut, according to the
As police secured the crime scene the afternoon Brumleys body was found,
the neighborhood was quiet except for a few shouts of "Oh, my Lord" by
Moreland's family "moved around a lot" and didnt stay in one place long,
Flores said. No family members remain at 605 Avenue D.
Kelly Brumley praised Freeport police efforts in making an arrest fewer
than three weeks after the death. She also said her son, who climbed
through a window to let his mom into Nancy Brumleys house the day her body
was found, doesnt yet understand the scope of the loss.
"I told my son the bad person that hurt Mimi got caught and is going to
jail. He kind of cried," she said. "At first, he asked if my mom was at
the hospital. I said no, she's in heaven with Papa."
(source: The Facts)
Gunman recaptured after mistaken early release
2 1/2 months after being freed because of a clerical error, Willie Joe
McAdams was arrested Thursday and is expected to be booked into prison to
serve at least 16 more years of a 40-year sentence for shooting a Houston
man in the head, blinding him in one eye.
When McAdams was sentenced in 2004 to 40 years in prison for shooting
Cedric Thomas in the head, Thomas thought it was a just punishment.
While enjoying himself at a bar during the 4th of July weekend, Thomas was
shocked when McAdams approached him, shook his hand and apologized.
"What if he still had malice in his heart and wanted to kill me," said
Thomas, who lost an eye in the March 2003 sports bar shooting.
McAdams was released from prison 36 years early after serving four years
of his 40 year sentence because of a "clerical error," according to
Michelle Lyons, a Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman.
McAdams was released May 4.
Lyons said that the mistake was "human error" when keying in McAdams
personal information and punishment time during intake in 2004.
Lyons said McAdams was arrested at Hillcroft and Main during a traffic
stop after being followed from his home Thursday afternoon.
Gulf Coast Violent Offenders Task Force detective C.J. Mitchell said he
and other officers began watching McAdams' home Thursday morning.
Lyons said she expects him to be put back in prison to serve the rest of
his time. He will be eligible for parole in 16 years.
Someone getting out of prison because of a clerical error is a rare
occurrence, Lyons said. When it does happen, the situation is that an
inmate is requested to come to another jurisdiction for other crimes, but
TDCJ doesn't get the correct paperwork.
"We let out hundreds of inmates a day,'' Lyons said. "It usually goes off
without a hitch."
Lyons said the agency was made aware of the mistake Wednesday. TDCJ
Inspector General John Moriarty said his office an internal affairs
division is investigating how McAdams was released.
"I can think of no legal reason he wouldn't have to go back,'' said his
appellate attorney, Dick Wheelan.
By statute, McAdams, who was convicted twice for drug offenses, has to
complete half of his sentence before he is eligible for parole. Because it
is an aggravated offense, he has 16 more years to serve.
Although he was surprised at seeing McAdams, earlier this month Thomas had
heard rumors that McAdams was out, in early May, his friend Clarence
Walker, a former reporter for America's Most Wanted magazine, said Thomas
called him about three months ago and asked him to check on the rumors. At
that time, nothing came of the search and Thomas' concerns were
After McAdams approached Thomas and shook his hand, Walker contacted
Harris County District Attorney investigator Johnny Bonds, who figured out
Bonds searched the records to find that the "somebody at TDCJ wrote 4
instead of 40."
"He's not even on parole," Bonds said. He said TDCJ discharged his
sentence as completed.
"Somebody dropped the ball, that's for sure," Bonds said.
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Dallas police to see if evidence is missing
Police plan to conduct an extensive review of the 1.2 million pieces of
evidence stored in the department's property room because a check revealed
some items might be missing.
"We don't know the extent of the problem," Lt. Vernon Hale, a police
spokesman, said Thursday. "We don't know what's missing and what's not."
Part of the problem may stem from a switch in the computer system that
"It appears there was a glitch somewhere and it shows that some property
was destroyed, and it's still sitting in a bin," Hale said.
He did not elaborate on what evidence could be missing, if any. The
property room contains guns, drugs and a multitude of other evidence from
(source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
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