[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS
rhalperi at smu.edu
Wed Oct 5 22:35:58 CDT 2011
Texas to Condemned Man: Execution First, DNA Later
If you were moved by the plight of Troy Davis, wait until you hear what is
happening to Hank Skinner.
Skinner, 49, has been on death row in Texas since 1995 for the murders of his
girlfriend and her 2 adult sons in their Panhandle home. He has steadfastly
professed his innocence. In recent years, the State's star witness recanted her
testimony to my journalism students and others, and several witnesses told the
students that the female victim's uncle (now deceased) was the likely killer.
And, there is DNA. Some DNA tests, including on a trail of blood leading from
the home, excluded Skinner. Other tests placed Skinner at the scene. (He was a
frequent visitor to the home and claims he passed out the night of the crime
from a combination of codeine and alcohol. A witness and 2 experts back his
But most stunning is the physical evidence that has never been tested. The rape
kit was not tested. The murder weapons were not tested. Several hairs clutched
in the female victim's hand were not tested. A distinctive windbreaker strongly
resembling the uncle's found two feet from her body and covered in blood? Not
Since 2000, Skinner has repeatedly asked the local D.A. and the courts to order
tests on the remaining evidence, confident they would prove his innocence. Each
time, his plea has been denied on the grounds that he did not make the request
before his trial. So, on March 26, 2010, Texas planned to execute Skinner while
the evidence sat in a storage locker controlled by the current D.A., Lynn
Less than an hour before the execution, Skinner's fortune changed -- for the
time being. While munching on his last meal, he learned from his lawyer that
the U.S. Supreme Court had issued a temporary stay. Prison guards abruptly
escorted Skinner from his holding cell outside the execution chamber in
Huntsville to his cell on death row in Livingston.
A few weeks later, the Court agreed to hear the case before another attempt
could be made on his life. Finally, in a landmark decision earlier this year,
the justices ruled 6-3 that Skinner had the right, under federal civil rights
law, to sue D.A. Switzer to seek access to the remaining physical evidence for
possible DNA testing.
As a federal magistrate in Texas considered the lawsuit that quickly followed,
Skinner had another temporary stroke of good fortune. In May, the Texas
legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill guaranteeing the right to
post-conviction DNA testing, and in June Gov. Rick Perry signed it into law.
The bill's sponsor publicly said that it was designed for cases like Skinner's
and in memory of another prisoner, Tim Cole, who tragically died behind bars
before DNA tests proved his innocence.
Suddenly, Skinner had 2 chances for justice: the federal lawsuit against the
D.A. to gain access to the physical evidence in his case, and a new state law
assuring the tests.
What happened next defies imagination. A Texas judge, days before the new
statute went into effect and the DNA motion was filed, set another execution
date for Skinner: November 9th. That's right. Skinner is scheduled to die in a
month -- while 2 judges continue to contemplate whether he can test the
evidence that might clear him.
Under other circumstances, the courts would issue a stay of execution and allow
both civil actions -- one authorized by the highest court in the land, the
other by the state legislature -- to move forward. Unfortunately for Skinner,
however, the U.S. magistrate almost certainly lacks the authority in a federal
civil case to issue a stay of execution in Texas. How about the state court
judge with the DNA motion on his desk? He happens to be the same judge who set
Skinner's execution date for November 9th.
Without intervention by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Gov. Perry, or the
U.S. Supreme Court, Hank Skinner may well die before the DNA tests can be
conducted. Welcome through the looking glass into the criminal justice system,
where up is down, and down is up.
Fighting back, Skinner's advocates have posted a petition asking D.A. Switzer
to "do the right thing" and order the tests on her own. And Skinner has gained
support for his cause from, among others, six of the jurors who found him
guilty and voted for death. Although this sordid episode is unfolding in Texas
-- a state that has already performed almost one-third of the country's
executions this year -- it is not too late to speak out with Georgia still on
your mind. Troy Davis would have liked that.
(source: David Protess, Huffington Post)
In Texas, Perry Has Little Say In 'Ultimate Justice'
As the longest-serving governor of Texas, Rick Perry has overseen the
application of the death penalty more than any other U.S. governor — 236
executions, and counting.
While Perry is unquestionably a steadfast supporter of capital punishment, his
overall record on criminal justice is more complicated than that.
'The Train Runs On Its Own'
Inside the Texas Prison Museum, off Interstate 45 in the city of Huntsville,
sits a stout oak chair, its varnish dull with age, fitted with thick leather
"This is the Texas electric chair dubbed 'Old Sparky' by the inmates," says Jim
Willett, a former warden and director of the prison museum. "In fact, the
inmates referred to the execution as 'riding the thunderbolt.' "
Before the chair was retired in 1964, 361 convicts were put to death in it by
"We get a lot of comments from people who think that we ought to put [this
chair] back into use," says Willett, "that we ought to use that because it's
too soft the way we put them to death these days."
Solid majorities of Americans favor capital punishment — Republicans, Democrats
Rick Perry knows that.
"If you come into our state and you kill one of our children, you kill a police
officer, you're involved with another crime and you kill one of our citizens,
you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas — and that is you will
be executed," the governor said to applause during a debate last month.
It's often said the Texas governor "presides" over an execution, but that's
inaccurate. He doesn't sign a death warrant or set an execution date, as in
some states. In Texas, the only power the governor has is to grant a single
30-day reprieve — and then only if his Pardons Board recommends it.
"The train runs on its own," says Jordan Steiker, co-director of the Capital
Punishment Center at the University of Texas Law School. "Execution dates will
be scheduled. The attorney general's office and the local district attorneys
will defend the death sentences. The governor's office basically doesn't have
to do anything, and capital punishment will run in a robust way in Texas."
Perry has granted one stay in his more than 10 years in office. George W. Bush
granted one. Democrat Ann Richards — a liberal icon — did not grant any.
Critics say Perry is a more passionate advocate for the death penalty than his
predecessors, and that zeal has manifested itself in two controversial actions.
In 2001, he vetoed a bill that would have stopped executions of convicted
murderers who are mentally retarded; the Supreme Court ruled the next year that
executing mentally retarded criminals is cruel and unusual punishment.
And in 2009, Perry was criticized for suppressing a state investigation that
was looking into whether bogus forensic evidence was used to convict a man for
capital murder. Cameron Todd Willingham was put to death for setting a fire
that killed his three young daughters. A damning new documentary, Incendiary,
questions whether Texas executed an innocent man, and whether Perry did
everything he could to make the Willingham case go away.
In a scene from the film, Perry says: "This is a very heinous crime that was
committed by an individual who's been described by his own defense attorney as
But is that the end of the story — that Perry favors frontier justice?
'He's Done Some Real Good'
There are criminal justice reformers in Texas who insist that Perry is anything
but a hang-'em-high governor.
"I think Rick Perry is really getting a bum rap if and when he's being
portrayed as some sort of bloodthirsty tyrant that just likes to kill people,"
says Jeff Blackburn, chief legal counsel for the Innocence Project of Texas,
which works to overturn wrongful convictions.
"What we're accustomed to, frankly, is the governor's office being the primary
obstructer of reform and progress, and that has not been the case with Rick
Perry," he says. "He's done some real good, and I think more good than any
other governor we've had."
Blackburn gives 4 examples:
Perry supported the nation's most generous compensation package for exonerated
He signed a probation reform bill that avoided 17,000 new prison beds.
He pardoned 38 defendants in the notorious Tulia drug sting, and then curbed
the state's overzealous drug task forces.
And he signed legislation that gives prosecutors an option of life without
parole, which keeps criminals off death row.
In fact, 8 people were sent to death row last year in Texas, compared with 49
death sentences in 1994.
Criminal justice advocates won't go so far as to call Perry a reformer, and
indeed, the governor has done little to exercise clemency in death penalty
cases in which there are clear procedural flaws.
But to judge him solely on the 236 executions on his watch is unfair, says
Scott Henson, who writes the respected criminal justice blog Grits for
"Capital punishment is a media fetish," he says. "It's not really something
that stands out as a remarkable part of Rick Perry's criminal justice record."
Henson has a theory: Perry has so little to do with executions that he strains
to take credit for them, knowing how popular capital punishment is with voters.
Anthony Graves reflects on Morton case----Fellow exoneree recalls his release
As a judge set Michael Morton free after 25 years behind bars, Anthony Graves
reflected on his own 18 years on death row.
A jury convicted Graves for the murders of a Somerville, Texas grandmother, her
daughter, and four grandchildren in 1992. A judge released him in October,
"I lost 18 years of my life. If they had just done any kind of investigation I
would’ve never spent a night in jail, but that’s not the case," said Graves.
Graves said his case and the Morton case are proof of serious problems in the
"If you don’t have DNA in your case, it’s like no one wants to hear it," said
Graves. "[Morton's] case is just another example of how bad our system is and
you think that’s 25 years ago and nothing’s changed in our system."
Graves spent the last year travelling the world talking about his experiences.
He now helps counsel prisoners still behind bars. He said his time behind bars
gave him a sense of purpose.
"I'm out here living my life trying to save life. I'm trying to educate people
about this injustice known as the death penalty and our system," he said.
Graves works for the Texas Defender Service, where he advocates for reforms to
the death penalty. Among them: stiff criminal penalties for prosecutorial
misconduct, and institution of a review board for death penalty sentences.
"Anybody in whatever county who wants to seek the death penalty has to take
that case in front of that panel ," he said. "That is the kind of safeguard
that needs to be there. Because when you allow one man to make that decision
you don’t know why he's making that decision."
He remembered his release, calling the experience "surreal."
"There are a lot of things he doesn't have to do unless he wants to now, that
he didn't have the choice for the last 25 years," he said of Morton."This guy
is on top of the world right now, but he is scared"
"It’s not going to really hit him probably until he hugs his mother and he
feels her tears running down his neck and realizes that he’s home," Graves
(source: KXAN News)
Joel Osteen on CNN: Texas Pastor Appears Torn on Death Penalty Issue
Joel Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church, America's largest Christian church, was
accused by Piers Morgan Tuesday of "sitting on the fence" on the issue of the
death penalty after the Texas minister said he believes in second chances and
has faith in the justice system.
During the "Piers Morgan Tonight" show, Morgan asked Osteen what his view was
on state executions, especially in the context of the recent execution of Troy
Davis. In that case, Morgan said, the prosecution could not have been 100 %
sure that Davis committed the crime.
Osteen attempted to avoid the answer by pointing out both sides of the
"It's a complicated issue, Piers. I haven't thought a whole lot about it, but
of course I'm for second chances and mercy," he said. “Yet the flip side is:
there's consequences for what we've done. I don't know what my total stand is."
Morgan pressed, "A life for a life?"
"I don’t know," Osteen answered.
Morgan interrupted and attacked the pastor for not taking a clearly defined
standing on the death penalty, noting that Osteen is seen as an influential
"I don't think that you can say that …," the TV host said. "You can't be the
man who influences millions of people and sits on the fence on key moral issues
Osteen ended up not giving a precise answer during the show.
"I think the thing is that we have a justice system and I believe in our system
of justice," he replied to Morgan.
The Houston preacher added that there is a "merciful" part of him that wishes
to give "everybody a chance," but there is also so another side that agrees
with the law, he implied.
"It's hard for me to say 'Yeah, let's just kill this person because he's so
bad.' They can be redeemed, they can be forgiven; but they may still have to be
put to death. That's hard for me-I don't know what the right thing is. I mean,
there's people smarter than me that make all the laws," the pastor said.
Troy Davis was convicted of killing a police officer and executed in Georgia on
Sep. 21. His supporters claim that race-based testimony tainted Davis' trial,
and protested his execution.
Osteen's ministry reportedly reaches over 7 million broadcast media viewers
weekly in over 100 nations around the world.
The Osteen and his wife, Victoria, appeared on the Piers Morgan show to promote
the pastor's latest book, Every Day a Friday, which this week hit Number 1 on
the New York Times Advice, How-To, and Miscellaneous Hardcover best seller
(source: Christian Post)
More information about the DeathPenalty