[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TX., GA., USA
rhalperi at smu.edu
Wed Sep 21 12:43:37 CDT 2011
Victim's son objects as Texas sets execution in hate crime death
As Texas prepares to execute one of his father's killers, Ross Byrd hopes the
state shows the man the mercy his father, James Byrd Jr., never got when he was
dragged behind a truck to his death.
"You can't fight murder with murder," Ross Byrd, 32, told Reuters late Tuesday,
the night before Wednesday's scheduled execution of Lawrence Russell Brewer for
one of the most notorious hate crimes in modern times.
"Life in prison would have been fine. I know he can't hurt my daddy anymore. I
wish the state would take in mind that this isn't what we want."
Brewer is scheduled to die by lethal injection after 6 p.m. local time in
His pending execution comes 10 years after Governor Rick Perry signed into law
the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act, strengthening punishments for hate crimes.
An avowed white supremacist, Brewer, 44, was 1 of 3 white men convicted of
capital murder in the kidnapping and killing of Byrd Jr., in June 1998.
John King, another white supremacist, is on death row awaiting an execution
date. Shawn Berry is serving a life sentence.
Brewer would be the 11th man executed in Texas this year. In Georgia, the
execution of Troy Davis, convicted of killing a police officer, is scheduled
for the same night.
If both executions go forward, Brewer and Davis would be the 34th and 35th
executions in the United States in 2011.
In Texas, a vigil in Huntsville began at midnight with civil rights activist
Gregory has joined Ross Byrd and Martin Luther King III in the past to publicly
protest Brewer's execution.
Ross Byrd, a recording artist studying for his MBA at nearby Stephen F. Austin
University, said Tuesday that he wouldn't attend the execution but will "be
there in spirit."
He says he doesn't want to "waste my time" watching anybody die, even a man who
killed his dad.
"Life goes on," said Byrd, who has a son. "I've got responsibilities that I
have every day. It's not on the front page of my mind. I'm looking for happy
In a crime that touched off a nationwide effort to tighten punishments for hate
crimes, Brewer, King and Berry were convicted of offering Byrd Jr. a ride on
his way home from a party, and then attacking him while they were standing
outside the truck smoking on a country road near Jasper, Texas, according to a
report by the Texas Attorney General's Office.
They beat him, and then chained his legs to the back of their pick-up and
dragged him for several miles, the report said. By the time they stopped, his
head and arm had been ripped off. They left his body on the country road.
Brewer maintained his innocence, saying Berry had killed Byrd Jr. by cutting
his throat. But prosecutors said Brewer and King were prison buddies bent on
starting a racist organization in Jasper and "intended the killing to be a
signal that his (King's) racist organization was up and running."
The crime touched off a firestorm of support in Texas and the United States for
laws that would enhance punishments for crimes motivated by race, religion,
color, disability, sexual orientation, national origin or ancestry.
The jury sentenced the three men as the nation was still reeling from a second
hate crime that same year -- the October 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, beaten
and left to die on a fence in Wyoming because he was gay.
In 2001, Texas passed its hate crimes bill named after Byrd Jr., and its
symbolic signing by Perry was a "watershed moment" in Texas and one of Perry's
"finest moments in office," said Texas state Senator Rodney Ellis, a Houston
Democrat, who helped move the bill through the Texas Senate in spite of staunch
8 years later, President Obama signed into law a similar federal bill named
after Byrd Jr. and Shepard.
"James Byrd's murder certainly changed Texas and, in many ways, the nation,"
Ellis told Reuters.
"It was a wake-up call that evil and hate, while no longer considered
mainstream views, are more prevalent and virulent than we pretend."
Ellis said the death sentence in Brewer's case "will close a chapter in this
"I cannot say for certain that it is a requirement in order for justice to be
served but, as Mr. Brewer was a ringleader in the most brutal hate crime in the
post-Civil Rights era, it is certainly a very appropriate sentence," he said.
Unlike Byrd's children and wife, all of whom oppose the use of the death
penalty against his killers, other family members have been supportive of it.
"I'm not down on them at all for the fact that they support the death penalty,"
said David Atwood, a good friend of Ross Byrd's and founder of the Texas
Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. "They've gone through a traumatic
experience, and there's a history in our country of horrible things happening
to African Americans, so it's understandable that a number of them would say
finally we're getting some justice."
He called Ross Byrd's stand "powerful."
Byrd says the execution of Brewer is simply another expression of the hate
shown toward his father on that dark night in 1998. Everybody, he said,
including the government, should choose not to continue that cycle.
"Everybody's in that position," he said. "And I hope they will stand back and
look at it before they go down that road of hate. Like Ghandi said, an eye for
an eye, and the whole world will go blind."
Why Are We Killing Troy Davis?----“To take a life when a life has been lost is
revenge, not justice.”—DESMOND TUTU
Unless something God-like and miraculous happens, Troy Davis, 42, is going to
be executed tonight, Wednesday, September 21, 2011, at 7pm, by lethal injection
at a state prison in Jackson, Georgia.
Let me say up front I feel great sorrow for the family of Mark MacPhail, the
police officer who was shot and murdered on August 19, 1989. I cannot imagine
the profound pain they’ve shouldered for 22 angst-filled years, hoping,
waiting, and praying for some semblance of justice. Officer MacPhail will never
come back to life, his wife, his two children, and his mother will never see
him again. Under that sort of emotional and spiritual duress, I can imagine why
they are convinced Troy Davis is the murderer of their beloved son, husband,
But, likewise, I feel great sorrow for Troy Davis and his family. I don’t know
if Mr. Davis murdered Officer MacPhail or not. What I do know is that there is
no DNA evidence linking him to the crime, that seven of nine witnesses have
either recanted or contradicted their original testimonies tying him to the
act, and that a gentleman named Sylvester “Redd” Coles is widely believed to be
the actual triggerman. But no real case against Mr. Coles has ever been
So a man is going to be executed, murdered, in fact, under a dark cloud of
doubt in a nation, ours, that has come to practice executions as effortlessly
as we breath.
Be it Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry, governor of Texas, and the
234 executions that have occurred under his watch (that fact was cheered loudly
at a recent Republican debate), or the 152 executions when George W. Bush was
governor of that state, we are a nation of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a
tooth, a life for a life. Spiraling so far out of control that we are going to
execute someone who may actually be innocent tomorrow.
I say we because the blood of Officer MacPhail and Troy Davis will be on the
hands of us all. We Americans who fail to use our individual and collective
voices to deal with the ugliness in our society that leads to violence in the
first place, be they for economic crimes or because some of us have simply been
driven mad by the pressures of trying to exist in a world that often
marginalizes or rejects us. Thus our solution for many problems often becomes
force, or violence. But it has long since been proven that the death penalty or
capital punishment is not a deterrent, contrary to some folks’ beliefs. Murders
continue to happen every single day in America, as commonplace as apple pie,
football, and Ford trucks.
I also say we because it is startling to me that Troy Davis could be on death
row for twenty years, have his guilt be under tremendous doubt, yet save a few
dedicated souls and organizations, there has not been a mass movement of
support to save his life, to end the death penalty, not by well-meaning Black
folks, not by well-meaning White folks, not by well-meaning folks of any
stripe, and certainly not by influential Black folks who represent the
corridors of power in places like Atlanta, with the exception of, say,
Congressman John Lewis.
You wonder what the outcome of the parole board decision would have been if
Black churches in Atlanta and other parts of Georgia, for example, had joined
this cause to end the death penalty in America years back, if Black leaders had
launched a sustained action much in the way their religious and spiritual
foremothers and forefathers had done two generations before?
What could have been different if more Georgia ministers had the courage of
Atlanta’s Rev. Dr. Raphael Gamaliel Warnock, pastor of the famed Ebenezer
Baptist Church once helmed by Dr. King? Dr. Warnock has been steadfast and
outspoken, yet seemingly out there alone in his support of Troy Davis. I mean
if there is ever a time for Black churches to practice a relevant ministry, as
Dr. King once urged, is it not when a seeming injustice like the Troy Davis
matter is right in front of our faces? When so many Black males are locked up
in America’s prisons? What is the point, really, of having a “men’s ministry”
at your church if it is not addressing one of the major problems of the 21st
century, that of the Black male behind bars? Especially in a society, America,
that incarcerates more people than any other nation on earth.
And you wonder how the five-person Georgia State Board of Pardons and Parole
that, paradoxically, includes two Black males, including the head of the board,
must feel. Had it not been for past legal injustices, like the Scottsboro Boys
case of the 1930s or the vicious killing of Emmett Till in the 1950s, there
would not have been a Civil Rights Movement, nor the placement of Blacks in
places to balance the scales of justice, like that Georgia Parole Board. While
I certainly do not think any Black person should get a pass just because they
are Black, I do think, if you are an aware Black man, somewhere in your psyche
has to be some residual memory of Black males being lynched in America, of
Black male after Black male being sent to jail, or given the death penalty,
under often flimsy charges and evidence. If there is a reasonable doubt, keep
the case open until there is ultimate certainty.
Finally, incredibly ironic and tragic that this is happening while our first
Black president is sitting in the White House. We, America, like to pat
ourselves on the back and say job well done whenever there is a shred of racial
or social progress in our fair nation. But then we habitually figure out ways
to take one, two, several steps back, with this Troy Davis execution, with the
rise of the Tea Party and its thinly-veiled racial paranoia politics, to push
America right back to the good old says of segregation, Jim Crow, brute hatred
of those who are different, while social inequalities run rampant like rats in
And if you think Troy Davis’ cause celebre has nothing to do with Jim Crow,
then either you’ve not been to an American prison lately, or you simply are
blind. I’ve been to many, across our country, and they are filled to the brim
with mostly Black and Latino males (and some poor White males), including the
majority of folks sitting on death row.
For sure, given my background of poverty, a single mother, an absent father,
and violence and great economic despair in my childhood and teen years, but for
the grace of God I could be one of those young Black or Latino males
languishing in jail at this very moment. I could be, indeed, Troy Davis.
So I cannot simply view the Troy Davis case and execution as solely about the
killing of Officer MacPhail. Yes, an injustice was done, a killing occurred,
and I pray the truth really comes out one day.
But I am just as concerned about America’s soul, of the morality tales we are
text-messaging to ourselves, to the world, as we move Troy Davis from his cell
one last time, to that room where a needle will blast death into his veins,
suck the air from his throat, snatch life from his eyes.
While the family of Mr. Davis and the family of Officer MacPhail converge, one
final time, to witness a death in progress.
Now 2 men will be dead, Officer MacPhail and Troy Davis, linked, forever, by
the misfortune of our confusion, stereotypes, finger-pointing, and history of
passing judgment without having every shred of the facts. I am Officer
MacPhail, I am Troy Davis, and so are you. And you. And you, too.
And as my mother would say, have mercy on us all, Lawd, for we know not what we
(source: Kevin Powell is an activist and public speaker based in Brooklyn, New
York. A nationally acclaimed writer; kevinpowell.net)
Before Troy Davis: A History of Contested Death Penalty Cases
Barring a last-minute reversal, Georgia inmate Troy Davis will face the death
penalty tonight (Sept. 21) for the 1989 shooting of a police officer.
Davis' case has received national and international attention because of
concerns about witness testimony. Seven of nine eyewitnesses who implicated
Davis in the shooting have recanted their testimony, and others say that the
man who originally implicated Davis was actually the killer. Public figures as
diverse as death penalty opponent former President Jimmy Carter and
conservative U.S. representative Bob Barr of Georgia have called for
reconsideration of Davis' sentence, but on Sept. 20, the Georgia Board of
Pardons and Paroles declined to grant him clemency.
Davis' case has been particularly publicized, but his is not the first death
penalty case surrounded by controversy.
"What's happened in the last 10 years in the United States is that there has
been a dramatic increase in opposition to the death penalty," said Michael
Radelet, a sociologist at the University of Colorado who specializes in death
penalty issues. "I think that's part of why Troy Davis is getting attention."
The Davis case is also grabbing headlines, because Davis has "a strong case for
innocence," Radelet said.
"I have to admit, this one really stumps me," Radelet said. "It really
surprises me. I'm just astonished that they're going to let this execution go
Of course, every death penalty case comes wrapped in some degree of debate,
given deep disagreement over whether the death penalty is ever moral. Here is a
by-no-means-exhaustive list of some of the most controversial cases of the 20th
and 21st centuries:
Sacco and Vanzetti: Italian Anarchists (1927)
Death penalty controversy is not a new phenomenon. Italian immigrants
Ferdinando Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were executed in 1927 after a
highly contested series of trials over the shooting death of two men during a
1920 armed robbery.
Sacco and Vanzetti were followers of Italian anarchist Luigi Galleani, and
anti-Italian sentiment almost certainly played a role in their execution,
Radelet said. The accused men waged a then-unprecedented six-year legal battle
that went all the way to the Supreme Court twice, and public figures (Albert
Einstein among them) called for new trials. But even a confession to the
murders by another man, ex-convict Celestino Madeiros, could not save Sacco and
Vanzetti's lives. They died in the electric chair on Aug. 23, 1927. Later,
several anarchist leaders spoke out to say that Sacco was guilty but Venzetti
was not, though historians still debate whether either man really pulled the
The Scottsboro Boys: Race in Alabama (1931)
Based on the judgment of all-white juries, 8 black teenage boys were sentenced
to death for the rape of two white women on a freight train in 1931 (a 9th boy,
only 12, was judged too young for the electric chair). The trials took place in
just a day — with a lynch mob demanding the surrender of the teenagers outside
the jail before the trials — and the only lawyers who would defend the accused
included a retiree who hadn't tried a case in years and a Tennessee real estate
lawyer unfamiliar with Alabama law.
The convictions led to demonstrations in the heavily black neighborhood of
Harlem in New York City, and the case eventually made it to the Supreme Court,
where the convictions were reversed because of the lack of an adequate defense.
Amid enormous public interest, charges were dropped against four of the men. 3
were re-sentenced to life in prison; a fourth, Clarence Norris, was
re-sentenced to death, later reduced to life in prison. Gov. George Wallace
pardoned Norris in 1976. To this day, the Scottsboro case is still shorthand in
public dialogue for unfair, racially biased convictions and sentencing.
Bruno Hauptman: The Lindbergh Baby (1932)
The abduction and murder of the 20-month-old son of Charles and Anne Lindbergh
was known as "The Crime of the Century" in 1932. Two years later, German
immigrant Bruno Hauptmann was arrested after allegedly spending some of the
ransom money given by the Lindberghs before they knew that their baby was dead.
The crime of the century led to the trial of the century, with Hauptmann
maintaining his innocence to the end. Later analyses would question much of the
evidence that sent Hauptmann to his death, including eyewitness accounts and a
lack of Hauptmann's fingerprints at the scene. Books have been written both
supporting the 1932 verdict and refuting it, and Hauptmann's widow fought until
her death in 1994 to have her dead husband's conviction overturned.
Caryl Chessman: Death Penalty Without Murder (1960)
Californian Caryl Chessman became a flashpoint for anti-death-penalty sentiment
in the 1950s. Chessman was convicted of robbery, kidnapping and rape in 1948;
the jury determined that Chessman had caused bodily harm during one of the
kidnappings, making him eligible for death.
>From death row, Chessman wrote books maintaining his innocence and insisting
that his original confession had been coerced. There was widespread outrage
over the case. Among his supporters, Chessman counted former first lady Eleanor
Roosevelt, writer Ray Bradbury and poet Robert Frost.
Chessman missed his chance at a stay of execution (his ninth) on May 2, 1960.
As the gas chamber at San Quentin Prison filled with toxic fumes, a legal
secretary called to say that a federal judge had issued one more stay of
execution. But it was too late for Chessman, who gasped a few times and died.
Carlos De Luna: The Wrong Man?
The state of Texas put Carlos De Luna to death in 1989 for the killing of a
convenience store clerk in 1983. Until the end, De Luna maintained his
innocence; years after his death, in 2006, the Chicago Tribune reported that
another man, Carlos Hernandez, had bragged about killing the clerk to friends
"He said he was the one that did it, but that they got somebody else — his
stupid tocayo — for that one," Dina Ybanez, an acquaintance of Hernandez, told
the Tribune. "Tocayo" means namesake in Spanish.
A detective in Corpus Christi, Texas, where the killings took place, told the
Tribune that the investigation surrounding the death was sloppy and that
detectives failed to follow up on tips that Hernandez was talking about the
killing. The Tribune investigation also turned up questions about whether the
killing was really a robbery and about eyewitness identifications of De Luna —
though some of De Luna's actions, including lying to police about his
whereabouts that night, left some prosecutors still convinced of De Luna's
Teresa Lewis: A Woman on Death Row (2010)
The 1st woman to die by lethal injection in the state of Virginia, Teresa Lewis
was convicted of paying to have her husband and stepson murdered in 2002. Her
case drew outcry, because testing had pegged Lewis' IQ at 72, just 2 points
above that classified as intellectually disabled. Lewis' attorneys advised her
to plead guilty in hopes of leniency, but she instead received the death
penalty. The 2 hitmen who killed her husband and stepson received life
Her supporters, among them legal novelist John Grisham, sent thousands of
appeals for clemency to Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, to no avail. Lewis was
executed on Sept. 23, 2010.
Humberto Leal: an International Incident (2011)
The controversy around Humberto Leal's death was not focused on his guilt, but
on his legal rights. Leal, a Mexican citizen, was convicted of the 1994 rape,
kidnapping and murder of 16-year-old Adria Sauceda, whose body was found
bludgeoned on a dirt road in San Antonio, Texas. But police had not informed
Leal of his right to call the Mexican consulate upon his arrest, putting the
case on shaky grounds.
In 2004, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that Leal and
other Mexican nationals on death row had been denied their right to contact
their consulate under the Vienna Convention. The Supreme Court in 2008 held
that the International Court's judgment was binding, but Congress would have to
pass a law to ensure individual states would comply. That never happened.
Citing fears that Leal's execution would harm America's standing in the world,
the Obama administration entreated the Supreme Court to stay the execution
until Congress could pass the binding law. The Supreme Court concluded that
Congress had plenty of time to do so, and denied the appeal. Leal died by
lethal injection on July 7, 2011.
Duane Buck: Racial Bias? (2011)
In a rare move on Sept. 15, 2011, the Supreme Court halted the execution of
Texas death row inmate Duane Buck. The stay was a surprise, because the Supreme
Court rarely jumps in on death penalty cases unless there is doubt about the
defendant's innocence; in this case, it wasn't Buck's guilt that led the
Supreme Court to step in, but the testimony of a psychologist at his sentencing
who said that black criminals were more likely to commit violence in the future
than criminals of other races. (Buck was convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend
and her friend in 1995.)
The psychologist's comment has led to cries of racial bias, and in 2000,
then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn (now a U.S. senator) recommended that 6
cases in which the psychologist gave the racially tainted testimony be
All the cases but Buck's were, and all five of those defendants were
re-sentenced to death. The Supreme Court will now decide whether to hear Buck's
case. If it doesn't, Buck will have to again appeal to Texas' Board of Pardon
and Paroles, which has once before refused to commute his sentence to life in
prison. If the board again turns down Buck's request, only Texas Gov. Rick
Perry could halt Buck's execution.
Cameron Todd Willingham: Innocent of Arson? (2004)
Of the 235 people put to death during the tenure of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the
case of Cameron Todd Willingham might be the most controversial. Willingham was
convicted and executed for the deaths of his 3 young daughters, who died in a
fire at the family's home. Prosecutors alleged that Willingham set the fire and
killed the girls to cover up abuse; Willingham's wife, who was not home at the
time of the blaze, denied at the time that he abused his children.
The crux of Willingham's case, however, revolved around whether the fire was
set on purpose at all. Central to Willingham's conviction was an analysis by
deputy fire marshal Manuel Vasquez concluding that lighter fluid or some other
accelerant had been spread throughout the hallways of the home. But in 2004, a
2nd fire investigator, Gerald Hurst, looked into Willingham's case. Hurst found
multiple scientific errors in Vasquez's report and concluded that there was no
evidence of arson. A 2009 report by the Texas Forensic Science Commission would
later come to the same conclusion.
Despite Hurst's criticisms, both the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and
Perry declined to halt Willingham's execution. He was put to death in 2004.
But that wasn't the end of the Willingham case: In 2009, the case became
intertwined with politics after Perry replaced three members of the Texas
Forensic Science Commission two days before a meeting on the report, leading
critics to accuse the governor of trying to hush up talk of Willingham's
potential innocence. When the commission released its report in April 2011, it
took no stance on Willingham's guilt or innocence.
With Perry running for president, the Willingham case may again enter the
public consciousness. But an admission of fault is unlikely, UC Boulder's
Radelet said. There have only been a handful of post-mortem pardons in the
U.S., one in 1891 in Illinois and one in January 2011, when then-Colorado Gov.
Bill Ritter pardoned a disabled man executed in 1939, Radelet said. With
Presdential politics at play, he said, there is even less motive to look deeply
at the Willingham case.
"If Rick Perry ever admitted that Willingham was innocent, his political life
would be threatened," Radelet said.
(source: Live Science)
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