[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Sep 27 20:19:31 CDT 2007
Cruel punishment? Texas and other states should halt lethal injections
while the Supreme Court weighs constitutionality
There are several good reasons to give every death row inmate an
indefinite reprieve. This week the U.S. Supreme Court found another.
Particularly in Texas, the nation's execution leader, the criminal justice
system is prone to mistakes and abuse. The system is too unreliable in its
assessment of guilt to justify exacting the ultimate, irrevocable penalty.
As recorded by the Innocence Project, advances in DNA analysis have
exonerated more than 200 convicted prisoners nationwide since 1989. The
wrongful convictions often involved cases of mistaken identity. Police and
prosecutorial misconduct were common. The odds are that many more innocent
people are in prison for crimes they did not commit and for whom there is
no DNA to analyze.
In Houston, the Police Department crime lab's incompetent testing of all
kinds of evidence combined with false testimony tainted hundreds of
cases, placing their convictions in doubt.
Tuesday the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide whether lethal injections
are cruel and unusual and therefore unconstitutional. Critics allege the
injections can cause great agony, but the drugs paralyze the prisoner
before he can protest.
In an earlier case, Justice John Paul Stevens informed a deputy attorney
general from Florida that the drug cocktail used by her state and all the
others sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride in
various dosages would not be allowed to be used to euthanize cats and
dogs. In a California case, a member of the American College of Veterinary
Anesthesiologists testified that those drugs were soundly rejected by his
peers and would be very likely to cause pain in animals.
With lethal injections suspected of being cruel and unusual and therefore
unconstitutional and unjust, it is inappropriate for Texas to proceed with
executions until the court has ruled. A spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry,
however, said executions in Texas would continue, as the cases under
review affect only Kentucky.
That is a narrow and mean view of justice. Do the governor and the members
of the Board of Pardons and Paroles wish to look back on a series of cruel
and possibly illegal executions carried out under a legal cloud?
Death row inmates about to be executed committed their crimes 15-20 years
ago. Where is the harm in postponing executions for a few months until the
court makes its ruling? After executing more than 400 people since 1977,
Texas can afford to wait.
(source: Editorial, Houston Chronicle)
Death penalty foes fighting tight deadline----Appeals court, Perry to be
asked to delay tonight's execution of killer
Death penalty opponents scrambled Wednesday to block tonight's scheduled
execution of a Texas inmate in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision
to consider whether lethal injection should be banned as cruel and unusual
The high court accepted the lethal injection case from Kentucky on Tuesday
and hours later refused to block the execution in Huntsville of inmate
Michael Wayne Richard for a 1986 killing near Houston.
But defense attorneys said they will try again to convince the courts that
executions in Texas should be halted while the injection issue is pending
before the U.S. Supreme Court for several months.
David Dow, a professor at the University of Houston Law Center, said he
will ask Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to delay
the execution of Carlton Turner, a double murderer from Dallas County.
Failing that, he will ask the high court to intervene.
"I hope they realize we shouldn't be executing people in Texas if the
Supreme Court is deciding this issue," Dow said of the lower court. "The
state court is going to have to say something about it. If it rules in our
favor, I expect it will shut down executions in Texas until March or April
or May or June" when the high court issues its decision.
Dow was one of the attorneys who failed to get a last-minute stay from the
high court or a 30-day reprieve from Perry in the Richard case on Tuesday.
The lethal injection issue, to be argued next year, is the 1st
constitutional challenge to a method of execution since the Supreme Court
upheld Utah's use of firing squads more than 100 years ago.
Texas and 36 other states use lethal injection a three-drug cocktail that
sedates and paralyzes the inmate before stopping the heart. Opponents of
the procedure, originally developed as a more humane alternative to the
electric chair or gas chamber, say lethal injection as currently carried
out may cause inmates to suffer needlessly without the ability to alert
anyone to their pain. A change in the dosage and combination of drugs used
could resolve the issue, they say.
Dow said that in Richard's case, lawyers simply ran out of time to file a
stay request at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin before the
court closed at 5 p.m. Tuesday. They then went to the U.S. Supreme Court,
which denied the request without explaining why.
Douglas Berman, a law professor and sentencing expert at Ohio State
University, said he wasn't surprised, given the 11th-hour request and the
fact that Richard had not raised the lethal injection issue in lower
"Had they granted the stay, it would have sent an extraordinary message to
every state that you have to put things on hold, which they are
disinclined to do on a last-minute basis," he said.
But the high court and lower courts could grant stays on a case-by-case
basis, he said, and courts in states other than Texas, which already have
lethal injection challenges in the pipeline and governors who are
concerned about the execution method, likely will stall executions.
Like Richard, Turner also has not raised the lethal injection issue
before, but Dow plans to argue to the Court of Criminal Appeals and to
the Supreme Court if the case gets that far today that there is precedent
for halting pending executions when the justices are pondering a question
in a similar case.
In recent years, the Supreme Court and lower courts did grant stays of
execution while the high court pondered the constitutionality of executing
juveniles and the mentally retarded.
In both cases, the court eventually ruled that executions of such inmates
violates the Constitution.
Also Wednesday, the Honduran government urged Texas officials to spare a
Honduran man scheduled to be executed next week for a killing during a
2001 robbery at an Arlington clothing store.
(source: Houston Chronicle)
'True Heroines' tribute to female officers who have died
It's been over 2 decades since the Texas Department of Criminal Justice
lost a female officer in the line of duty.
Minnie Houston, 41, was stabbed in July 1985 by an inmate already serving
a 30-year sentence for a murder in Pecos county.
Ramon Mata was conivcted in Walker County of capital murder for Houston's
murder and sentenced to death.
But before the state could carry out his sentence, Mata died of natural
causes 15 years later, still waiting on death row.
Houston, a resident of Trinity, was stabbed by Mata in the Ellis Unit's
employee dining room where Mata and his 7-member trusty crew were working.
Houston was found in a bathroom adjacent to the cafeteria with nearly 8
stab wounds to her chest. Mata used a 15-inch kitchen knife to stab her as
Houston tried to disarm him.
Author Dr. Billy Wilbanks who wrote "True Heroines," a book recalling the
stories of female police and correctional officers who have died in the
line of duty, recalls Houston's case well.
"(Mata) was working under (Houston's) supervision outside the dining hall
and just attacked her," Wilbanks said.
Houston - one of over 138 officers Wilbanks has collected in his book -
was a lifelong resident of Trinity and had 7 years on the force before she
A grand jury convened in Mata's case 3 days later, and returned a captial
murder charge against him.
Wilbanks said that, oddly, after stabbing Houston, Mata then stole her car
and drove it 300 some yards to the main unit - near the employee dining
hall - and turned himself in to authorities.
Mata gave a full written confession.
The jury deliberated two days before returning a guilty verdict, and later
unanimously sentenced Mata to die. He returned to Ellis, but rather than
being placed on the trusty camp he was placed on death row at the unit.
"This guy had a fantasy he was going with this girl or they were madly in
love," said then Walker County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy Ted
Pearce. "She had nothing to do with that at all."
The state contradicted the claim as "fantasy" and said Mata contradicted
Houston's "gracious smile" and kindness for affection.
Houston's funeral was widely attended, held at the Trinity High School
auditorium a few days later. Then governor Mark White attended Houston's
funeral, as did hundreds of correctional officers from around the area.
Houston had foiled an escape attempt by two death row inmates only 3
months earlier. Ellis was home of death row until it was moved in 1999 to
the Polunksy Unit in Livingston.
Jerry Peterson, who was warden at the time of Houston's stabbing, recalled
Houston as a humble, quiet person.
" When she was introduced to me, she was introduced as the officer that
stopped the inmates from escaping from death row," Peterson said in a 2004
interview. "I can't remember exactly what I said to her, but I remember
what she said back to me. She kind of looked at me and then looked down
and said, 'I was just doing my job.'"
In December of 2003 a training unit was dedicated in Houston's honor at
the Ellis Unit. Houston was among the first 10 female officers assigned to
the unit in 1981.
The Minnie R. Houston Training Facility is 1 of 6 regional training
centers operated by TDCJ throughout the state. It provides pre-service and
in-service training for security and non-security personnel as well as
firearm and chemical agent training.
"Ms. Houston was one of the pioneers of women in corrections," Peterson
said. "In my opinion, she was an example of an employee that every warden
would want to have. She had the desire to learn what she wanted to do and
to be the best at what she wanted to do."
Houston was the first woman corrections officer killed in the line of duty
2 other TDCJ employees died in 1974 when an 11-day siege between inmates
with some 12 hostages at the Huntsville "Walls" Unit.
Julia Standley and Von Beseda were librarians at the unit.
The two volunteered, along with another woman employee, to be handcuffed
to 3 inmates when they exited the library and took fire.
According to Wilbanks, the women knew "they would very likely" be killed
in the shootout, but told the other hostages "that they were needed less
by their families than the seven other hostages.
"It was a very sad thing," Wilbanks said. "While they weren't officers,
they still deserve to be remembered for dying in the line of duty."
The last corrections officer to die in the line of duty was Stanley Wiley,
a supervisor at the Clements Unit in Amarillo.
He was attcked in a prison shoe factory and his throat was cut with a
knife by inmate Travis Trevino Runnels.
The now 32-year-old Runnels was later sentenced to death and is still on
death row awaiting an execution date.
(source: Hunstville Item)
Executions Set Despite Ky. Case Review
Lawyers for 2 murderers set to die by lethal injection Thursday say the
executions should be delayed because of the U.S. Supreme Court's plans to
review that method of capital punishment, but officials in both states
involved intend to press ahead.
In Texas, attorneys for Carlton Turner Jr. hurriedly prepared appeals
Wednesday challenging lethal injection.
In Alabama, attorneys for Tommy Arthur are seeking a stay of his execution
not only because of the high court's plans, but because Gov. Bob Riley
decided Wednesday to change the state's lethal injection procedures. The
procedures can't be changed in time for Thursday's scheduled execution,
but state officials say the procedures already in place are
The Supreme Court announced Tuesday that it will hear a challenge early
next year from two inmates on death row in Kentucky Ralph Baze and Thomas
Clyde Bowling Jr. who claim that lethal injection as practiced by the
state amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the Eighth
Legal experts say it's unlikely the high court will issue a national
moratorium while the case is considered. It declined to halt Tuesday's
execution of Michael Richard in Texas, conducted just hours after it
announced it would review the Kentucky case.
Doug Berman, a sentencing expert at Ohio State University's law school,
said he expects some state courts to stop executions while awaiting the
outcome of the Kentucky case.
If neither execution scheduled for Thursday is stopped, he said, "It will
be a pretty strong statement that it's business as usual."
One possible explanation for the Supreme Court's decision to accept the
Kentucky appeal, yet allow other lethal injection executions to proceed,
lies in the different number of votes needed to take a case and block an
Supreme Court rules require just 4 votes to accept a case but 5 justices
to block an execution.
"It's possible there is not a 5th vote to grant a stay of execution
pending resolution of the case," said Carol Steiker, a Harvard Law School
expert in criminal law.
Every state that uses lethal injections employs the same 3 drugs, but
there are differences among the states in the way the drugs are
administered, training of executioners who administer them and dosages,
In North Carolina, lawyers for death row inmates asked state leaders to
delay action on execution protocol until the Kentucky case is decided. A
judge in August ordered the Council of State to reconsider its execution
protocol approved in February, but the lawyers now want the council to
wait to act on the issue until the high court rules.
Turner, 28, was condemned for the 1998 slayings of his parents in suburban
Dallas. He was 19 when authorities said he shot Carlton Turner Sr., 43,
and Tonya Turner, 40, several times in the head. He then bought new
clothes and jewelry and continued living in the family's Irving home as
their bodies decomposed.
Turner would be the 27th inmate in the nation's busiest death penalty
state to die this year by lethal injection.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to review Turner's case, but his
attorneys said they were preparing further appeals on the lethal drug
issue. Also Tuesday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, on a 7-0
vote, turned down a request to commute his sentence to life in prison.
In a death row interview last week, Turner acknowledged killing his
parents in the home they shared.
"People got killed," Turner said. "I did it. The only thing that matters
is I did what I did."
Turner testified at his trial that he shot his father in self-defense
because his father abused him but recalled little about killing his
In Alabama, Gov. Riley decided on Wednesday to change the lethal injection
procedure to provide additional safeguards to make sure inmates are
unconscious before they are administered drugs to stop the lungs and
heart, said Jeff Emerson, Riley's communications director. Details of the
change are still being worked out, but Emerson said it could include more
anesthetic and an additional check for unconsciousness.
In papers filed with the Alabama Supreme Court, Arthur's attorney Suhana
Han argued that the planned change in Alabama's procedures should prompt
the postponement of his execution. Arthur, 65, is sentenced to die for the
1982 murder-for-hire killing of 35-year-old Troy Wicker of Muscle Shoals.
"At this point, we are hopeful the fact that the state of Alabama is
essentially conceding deficiencies in its protocol will help Mr. Arthur
gain a stay," she said.
Emerson and Assistant Attorney General Clay Crenshaw said the state is not
conceding any deficiencies.
Crenshaw, who opposes a stay, characterized the change as very minor and
said it was not in response to Arthur or other inmates challenging
Crenshaw told the Alabama Supreme Court that Arthur has not produced
evidence of any execution mishap in an Alabama lethal injection execution
or any "cruel or unusual pain" suffered by an inmate during a lethal
On the Net: Texas Department of Criminal Justice execution schedule:
Carlton Turner: http://www.lampofhope.org/999321.html
(source: Associated Press)
What do an executed prisoner from Texas, a former UN official and an
eccentric Cornish aristocrat have in common? They've all had their death
masks made by sculptor and Alabama 3 member Nick Reynolds.
This is a story about a lethal injection, a body in the back of a hired
car, a cabin in the wilds of Texas, a gallery of death masks, the theme
song of the TV series The Sopranos, the son of the mastermind of the great
train robbery and an artist baroness from Chiswick who wears a bra made
out of latex pigs' heads.<>P> Last things first. John Joe "Ash" Amador, a
30-year-old American, was executed last month in Huntsville, Texas for the
1994 murder of a San Antonio taxi driver. He went to his death, still
protesting his innocence, with an armful of lethal sodium pentathol and
the words, "God forgive them, for they know not what they do" on his lips.
During his final weeks as a resident of Texas's death row, he had been in
touch with Baroness Von Carrie Reichardt, a ceramicist who operates out of
a studio called the Treatment Rooms in Chiswick. She also performs in
spectacular costumes (viz, that bra) with the band Anarchist wood, who
often open for the Alabama 3, the London-based group who gave us the
Sopranos theme song, Woke Up This Morning. "The Baroness", as everyone
seems to know her, has long been campaigning against the death penalty in
the US and has been in correspondence with Amador for the past year or so.
When it became clear that all his appeals were likely to be turned down,
Amador asked her if she would join his wife and family as one of his five
witnesses when he took the long walk.
The Baroness is a friend of Nick Reynolds, harmonica player with the
Alabama 3, former Royal Navy diver during the Falklands war, son of Bruce,
the great train robber, and, most relevantly, a sculptor who specialises
in death masks. So when she said she was going out to witness Amador's
death and make a film about it, he suggested coming along and making a
mask, so that the person whom the Texas justice system was about to snuff
out would have a sort of life after death.
Reynolds became interested in the lost art of death masks about a decade
ago. Mary, Queen of Scots and Napoleon, Stalin, Ned Kelly and many of the
aristocrats who lost their heads during the French revolution have all
been immortalised in this way, but the art has, as it were, died out, its
function replaced by photography and, more recently, videos of departed
loved ones. Reynolds decided to continue the tradition, using a mixture of
the old materials and modern technology - plaster of Paris and alginate
moulds. "I really like doing it," says Reynolds, over a plate of sea bass
in a Clerkenwell cafe. "I get a great deal of pleasure in giving something
to someone that is a memory of the person. They're not forgotten, not
underground, not in a jar full of ashes."
His first subject was George "Taters" Chatham, once the best-known thief
in Britain and a man with a big gambling habit; if he ran out of money
during a poker game in the West End, he would ask to be excused for half
an hour, slip up the drainpipe of a nearby Mayfair house and return with
enough jewellery to stay in the game. Chatham's sister had initially not
wanted a death mask done but finally agreed because Taters, a notoriously
grumpy individual, died with a sweet smile on his face. "It was due to
gravity, to be honest," says Reynolds. "The weight of his cheeks made it
look like he was smiling."
Others have followed: Pat Castange, the composer of the national anthem of
Trinidad and Tobago ; a veteran UN official; and, most recently, Lord Jago
Elliot, the performance artist, surfer and all-round good guy who was a
friend of Reynolds and who died last year after suffering an epileptic
"In most cases, the people I've done have been dead for a while and they
have about as much personality as a bit of clingfilmed chicken on the cold
counter at Sainsburys', so generally I can detach myself," says Reynolds.
"But in the case of Jago, it was tragic because he was so young - he was
only 40 - and a friend of mine. He had told a friend that, if he was to
die, he wanted a cast made of his body which would be taken to all the
places in the world he never got to see."
Reynolds has seen quite a few places in his life. As a boy, when his
father was on the run and living under an assumed name, the family hid out
for a while in Mexico and young Reynolds went to school there. Life in the
Royal Navy then took him with the Falklands taskforce to the south
Atlantic in 1982, and a few other seas besides. Anyway, he was happy to go
to Texas to make a death mask of Amador.
"They didn't let me meet him, but he spoke to me by phone from what they
call the hospitality room just before they executed him," says Reynolds,
"and he was saying that having a death mask made was a real honour because
it was something normally reserved for kings and people like that. He was
really up for it. I've looked into his case and I really do believe he is
innocent, and that the odds were stacked against him because he was black
and Hispanic. He told me in that conversation just before he died that
it's called capital punishment because it's for people with no capital -
there are no rich people on death row."
After they had finished chatting, and less than an hour after the US
Supreme Court had predictably turned down his appeal, Amador was
spread-eagled on a gurney and given the last rites and a lethal injection.
He made his fi nal statement: "God forgive them, for they know not what
they do. After all these years, our people are still lost in hatred and
anger. Give them peace, God, for people seeking revenge toward me." To
which he added, as he slipped away: "Freedom ... I'm ready," and, finally,
The Baroness, who is 41, sat with the family watching him as he died. Her
title, by the way, has a connection with the last tsar of Russia, who made
her grandfather an honorary general for helping the allied forces in the
first world war; her grandfather was 80 when her father was born, and the
family changed its name to Richards because Germanic names were not a good
idea in Britain at the time: thus Carrie Richards. Her connection with
death row goes back to a small ad she saw in the Big Issue in 2000 that
asked for pen pals for blokes awaiting execution. Her first pen pal, Luis
Ramirez, who has also been executed, had put her in touch with Amador.
"It is very hard to put into words what it's like," she says of the
execution. "It is totally surreal. You have to try to smile for them and
he was trying to smile for us. It's very hard and it took him nine minutes
to die, but when he said 'Wow', he was looking so serene, it was as if he
was looking at the angels."
The version of his last words that appeared in the local press included
the phrase, "God forgive me" which, says the Baroness, was inaccurate.
Reynolds says that Amador's family "were really angry because it made it
look like he was finally saying he was guilty, which he never did". He was
the 402nd person to be executed in Texas since the reintroduction of the
death penalty in 1982.
Once Amador had been certified dead, his body was taken to the local
undertakers, but they were not too receptive to the idea of a cadaverous
Englishman making a death mask on their premises, despite the wishes of
the family. "They were dead against it," says Reynolds. "They thought we
were freaks, twisted. Also, there's a law there that you can't be near a
body unless it's been embalmed."
So Reynolds and the family carried the still warm body out and placed it
in the back of a hired car for a 1-hour trip to the woods near a town
called Livingston, where Amador's widow, Linda, had a small cabin. "We
just put him on the back seat, unzipped the body-bag and took his arm out
so that his wife could hold his hand," says Reynolds.
At one point, the 3-car convoy was stopped by the police for speeding, but
fortunately, the car they examined was not the one with the corpse on its
At the cabin, Reynolds set to work. "It only took about 2 hours because we
were paranoid that the police would arrive and ask what we were doing with
the body," he says. "So there we were, hiding out in this little wooden
bungalow in the middle of the woods, like a Friday the 13th movie. I don't
normally talk to the bodies, but I did on this occasion. He looked so
young because, although he was 30, he had hardly been outside for the past
The journey to the woods was not the last trip Amador - or at least his
death mask - would take. The Baroness brought the mask home with her and
placed it on top of a specially designed and decorated truck, the Tiki
Love Truck, with "In memoriam JJ Amador" in lettering down the side -
which was duly entered in last week's inaugural Art Car Parade in
"Ash knew what we were going to do with it," the Baroness says, "and he
was very pleased because he said that he used to feel he was real trash,
but having a death mask made him feel he was somebody." The spectacular
truck drove off with one of the main prizes. It was quite possibly the
first time that a vehicle with the death mask of a recently executed Texan
had been driven down a Manchester thoroughfare.
The mask will get further exposure in an exhibition planned for the new
year in London's East End. It will sit alongside those of Chatham and the
others, a s well as some of Reynolds' masks of the living, including a
rogues' gallery of villains such as "Mad" Frank Fraser, Freddie Foreman,
Peter Scott, and his father, Bruce, plus that of Andy McNab, the
bestselling author of Bravo Two Zero. The exhibition will be called - in
light of the numbers of those executed in Texas - 402 and Rising.
Reynolds' company, Memorial Casts, is also off ering anyone a chance to
have their loved ones cast in bronze, and will throw the ashes into the
mould if requested.
That's not all Amador has waiting for him. The Alabama 3, who found fame
when Woke Up This Morning was chosen for the opening sequence of The
Sopranos, as Tony Soprano cruises through New Jersey with murder in his
heart, have taken a big interest both in miscarriages of justice and the
death penalty. So there will be a song about Amador and death row on their
"We have a lot of Alabama 3 fans on death row in Texas and they are
sending us lyrics of the songs they have written," says Larry Love, who
writes some of the band's songs, although he is from Merthyr Tydfil rather
than Alabama. They have just released a new album , called MOR. "We have
one song [on it] called Locked Down and Loaded but I Love You, which is
written from the point of view of a spouse," says Love. "In fact, Woke Up
This Morning was written after I read about the case of Sara Thornton and
how she had killed her husband. It was meant to be about female
empowerment, and it ends up becoming a gangster anthem. "
>From Mary, Queen of Scots' beheading in 1587 to John Joe Amador's lethal
injection in 2007: the styles in execution may have changed, but the death
mask, it seems, lives on.
(source: The Guardian)
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