Thursday, July 21, 2016

Hedayati: In Texas death row case, punishment does not fit crime

By Hooman Hedayati - Special to the American-Statesman

Jeff Wood has an appointment he hopes to miss.

On Aug. 24, 2016, at about 6 p.m., the Texas Department of Criminal Justice plans to inject a lethal dose of pentobarbital into Jeff’s veins to stop his heart as punishment for the 1996 murder of Kris Keeran.

What makes this execution controversial is that everyone, including law enforcement and the prosecution, agrees that Wood, the driver of the getaway car, did not kill Kris Keeran inside a Kerrville convenient store on the morning of January 2, 1996. In fact, Daniel Reneau, the actual and sole killer of Keeran, was executed for his crime on June 13, 2002.

Wood was convicted and sentenced to die under Texas’ arcane felony-murder law, more commonly known as the “the law of parties” — for his role as an accomplice to a killing, which he had no reason to anticipate. Under the law of parties, those who conspire to commit a felony, like a robbery, can be held responsible for a subsequent crime, like murder, if it “should have been anticipated.” The law does not require a finding that the person intended to kill. It only requires that the defendant, charged under the law of parties, was a major participant in the underlying felony and exhibited a reckless indifference to human life. In other words, neglecting to anticipate another actor’s commission of murder in the course of a felony is all that is required to make a Texas defendant death-eligible.

Texas is not the only state that holds co-conspirators responsible for one another’s criminal acts. However, it is one of few states that applies the death sentence to them. There have been only 10 people in the U.S. executed under the law of parties — and five of those 10 executions were in Texas. The last such execution was in 2009, where the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles (BPP) recommended, with a 5-2 vote, that Robert Thompson’s death sentence be commuted to life. Rick Perry rejected that vote and allowed the execution to proceed. Thompson was executed, even though it was his co-defendant, Sammy Butler, who actually killed the victim. Butler was given a life sentence.
When the convenient store robbery took place, Wood was sitting in a car outside, under the impression that Reneau was going into the store to get “road drinks and munchies.” Although it is true that Wood and Reneau had talked about robbing the store at the behest of the manager, Wood had backed out of the idea. Wood had no idea Reneau was carrying a gun and was going to attempt to rob the store. Wood also claims he was forced to drive Reneau away from the crime scene at gunpoint. Wood’s actions before the murder, namely sitting in a car unarmed and unaware that another person was going to commit a robbery, does not constitute reckless indifference to human life.

Even many supporters of capital punishment agree that the Texas law of parties is wholly unfair. In 2009, the Texas Moratorium Network and Wood’s family led an advocacy campaign to end the death penalty for people convicted under the law of parties. The Republican-controlled Texas House overwhelmingly voted in favor of the bill. Unfortunately, the bill died in the Senate after Gov. Perry threatened to veto it. Last year, the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence voted again in favor of a bill to exclude the death penalty as punishment in law of parties cases. However, the session ended without an opportunity for a floor vote.

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles should recommend that the governor commute Wood’s death sentence to life in prison or a lesser term consistent with Wood’s level of participation in the crime. They have made that recommendation in similar cases, including those of Kenneth Foster in 2007 and Robert Thompson in 2009.

Wood might deserve punishment for driving away from the crime scene, but he does not deserve to die. He has never taken a human life with his own hands.

Hedayati is an attorney and a member of the Texas Moratorium Network Board of Directors. For more information visit:

Help Texas Man Set for Execution Under Law of Parties – Jeff Wood Did Not Kill Anyone

terribeenJeff Wood is scheduled for execution in Texas on August 24, 2016 under the law of parties even though he did not kill anyone. We need to persuade the Texas governor and members of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to commute Jeff’s death sentence. I have known Jeff’s family for many years. His sister Terri Been is leading the effort to #savejeffwood. She has testified to the Texas Legislature to ban executions under the Law of Parties and spoken out many times to save her brother from an unjust execution.
We created a petition to David G. Gutiérrez, Chair, Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Greg Abbott, which says:
“We are petitioning to save Jeff Wood from unjustly being put to death by the state of Texas on August 24, 2016 for a murder he did not commit. Jeff was charged under the controversial Law of Parties. He was not the shooter in this crime, nor was he even in the building when the shooting took place. This unjust law states that even though a co-defendant may not have killed anyone, he can still face the death penalty, because of the actions of another person.
The actual shooter in this case, Daniel Reneau, has already been executed by the state of Texas.”
Four things to do:
1) Will you sign our petition? Click here to add your name.
 2) You can also donate to the clemency campaign. We have about two months to move the public, the governor and the Board of Pardons and Paroles and we need about $1,000 for the clemency campaign.
3) Attend the rally July 23 at the Texas Governor’s Mansion in Austin.
4) Write a clemency letter to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and to Governor Greg Abbott. Send the letters separately to each of their addresses.
David Gutiérrez, Presiding Officer Board of Pardons and Paroles, Executive Clemency Section 8610 Shoal Creek Boulevard, Austin, TX 78757
Governor Gregg Abbott, Office of the Governor, P.O. Box 12428, Austin, Texas 78711-2428
On July 23, we will hold a rally at the Texas Governor’s Mansion.
In 2009, the Texas House of Representatives passed a bill that would have banned executions of people convicted under the law of parties. The bill died in the Senate. It will be introduced again in the next legislative session in January 2017.
Jeff’s case is similar to Kenneth Foster’s, whose death sentence was commuted in 2007 by Governor Rick Perry after many people wrote clemency letters and more than 17,000 people signed a petition urging Perry to commute the death sentence, since Foster had not killed anyone. He was sentenced under the law of parties.
There have been only ten executions in the U.S. of people convicted under law of parties statutes. Five of those people were executed in Texas.
Terri Been wrote on Facebook:
I humbly ask you to help my family by taking a few minutes of your time to read a few facts regarding Jeff’s case and to sign his petition that we will be sending the governor! While you are on Jeff’s Web Page, I also ask that you take an extra minute or two to look at the other information we have in the how you can help section. For those of you who are familiar with Kenneth Foster’s case (which is very similar to Jeff’s case) it took their family over 17,000 messages to the Governor and the Board of Pardons and Paroles to get his sentence commuted to Life. This was accomplished by sending petitions, faxes, letters, and by making phone calls. I am eternally grateful for every single signature, but I need more. I need calls, letters and faxes to go along with the petition signatures.
I humbly ask that you help my family. Jeff is my baby brother and he did not kill anybody! Please ask yourselves what you would do if you were in my situation. What lengths would you go to if this was your family member?
Short case summary: At approximately 6:00 a.m. on Jan. 2, 1996, while Wood waited outside, Reneau entered the gas station with a gun and pointed it at Kris Keeran, the clerk standing behind the counter. Reneau ordered him to a back room. When he did not move quickly enough, Reneau fired one shot with a 22 caliber handgun that struck Keeran between the eyes. Death was almost instantaneous. Proceeding with the robbery, Reneau went into the back office and took a safe. When hearing the shot, Wood got out of the car to see what was going on. He walked by the door and looked through the glass. Then he went inside, and he looked over the counter and ran to the back, where Reneau was. Wood was then ordered, at gun point by Reneau, to get the surveillance video and to drive the getaway-car.
Sign the petition, please.
Tison v. Arizona, 481 U.S. 137 (1987), is a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court applied the proportionality principle to conclude that the death penalty was an appropriate punishment for a felony murderer who was a major participant in the underlying felony and exhibited a reckless indifference to human life.
If it goes to the Court again in the Wood case, they should be asked to find that enough change has occurred in public opinion since 1987 that there is now a national consensus that the death penalty should be banned in law of parties cases.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

TX executes mentally ill man for murder of officer

Good article by a Sam Houston State University student for the college paper about Adam Ward, a mentally ill man, who was executed last night. Thankfully he wouldn't allow his parents, Nancy and Ralph Ward, to witness the execution as they were having a very difficult time with losing their only son. Two Abolition Movement members who had known them for many years, Angie and Gloria, met them afterward and offered condolences at the local church where the funeral home takes the body so family and friends can say good-bye. Kathy Cox, a former Salvation Army minister, witnessed he execution, as she had known the Wards and visited their son for many years and was staying with them in Huntsville. His mom, Nancy, collapsed several times as she wailed and touched her son's warm yet lifeless body. It was such an emotional, yet needless scene--another reason for the end of the death penalty.

The Houstonian


TX executes mentally ill man for murder of officer

Despite arguments that he was ineligible for the death penalty due to his severe mental illness, Tuesday night the state of Texas executed Adam Ward for the 2005 murder of a code enforcement officer.

Ward insists he was defending himself when he fatally shot code enforcement officer Michael Walker, who was taking photos of possible code violations outside the Ward family home in Commerce, about 65 miles north of Dallas.

Ward, 33, was put to death by lethal injection March 22 at the Huntsville Unit, just one street block away from the Sam Houston State University campus. Outside the nation’s most active execution chamber, 15 to 20 protestors stood holding signs opposing capital punishment and held public prayers.

Danielle Allen of Cleveland, TX is also a code enforcement officer and was outside protesting the execution, despite the death of another officer.

“The man’s obviously mentally ill,” Allen said. “He’s delusional. I understand we’re government officers and that makes his murder a Capital offense, but how can we put this boy to death? Why does it have to be the death penalty and not life in prison? What’s more killing going to solve?”

Ward is the ninth person executed this year and the fifth inmate executed in Texas; 535 inmates have been executed in Texas since 1976.

Walker, 44, began taking pictures of the Ward’s family home to document code violations resulting from the piles of junk outside the house which led to an argument between Walker and Ward, then 22.

Ward intervened and told Walker to leave the property. Walker waited nearby after calling for assistance, but he was unaware that Ward had gone inside the house to grab his gun.

Walker died after sustaining nine gunshot wounds from Ward’s .45 caliber pistol. Ward confessed to the murder soon after, stating that he shot Walker because he feared for his life.

Ward’s parents were not present at the execution at the request of Ward who said he did not want his parents there to witness his death, according to Gloria Ruback of Houston, who stood holding an “abolish the death penalty” sign outside the prison.

“He has two parents who love and adore him,” Ruback said, who spoke with Ward’s parents last week. “All this execution is doing – just like with all of the other children Texas has murdered – is creating more victims, more pain and suffering.”

Last week, Ward’s lawyers filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court asking the high court to overturn a March 16 decision from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeal’s denying a stay of execution for Ward.

In the appeal, his lawyers argued that Ward committed a murder because he suffered from “delusions and paranoia fed by his disabling bipolar disorder” dating back to his childhood.

“That’s one of the surest ways to avoid a death penalty is to have your client found not mentally competent or mentally sane and then they can’t execute you according to the Supreme Court,” Criminal Justice professor and capital punishment expert Dennis Longmire, Ph.D., said. “But it’s very, very rare that somebody avoids any punishment in Texas, much less the death penalty as a result of mental


Longmire said southerners tend to believe in the death penalty and make little exceptions, including mental illness.

“In Texas and the south in general, it’s just not part of the culture to recognize that somebody might be so mentally ill that they can’t be held responsible for their actions.” He said. “It’s very, very hard to get people to think about the nature of the crime or offense rather than feel it.”

From age three, Ward was prescribed psychiatric medicines to address his aggressive and destructive behavior. After spending two and a half months in a psychiatric unit when he was four-years-old, Ward was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, according to the appeal.

Ward’s mental illness continued to plague him as he began school, the appeal argued. By the time Ward was in second grade, his school had built a “Time Out Box” – a small, padded isolation room – specifically for him.

According to a neuropsychological evaluation in middle school, Ward suffered from “rage episodes,” during which he was unmanageable for an hour or more, had a low frustration toleration and a high level of insecurity and tendency to interpret incoming information as persecutory.

Court documents described Ward’s father, Ralph Ward, as a hoarder who filled the family’s home with piles of junk and an arsenal of guns and ammunitions. Both father and son suffered from shared delusions and paranoia.

The two delusional men believed the city of Commerce was out to get their family and the government was controlled by the “Illuminati.” However, court documents revealed the Ward family had in fact received numerous city code violations for junk piled inside and outside the house.

“Ward’s aggressive and antisocial behavior continued and escalated through adolescence and into adulthood, culminating in him fatally shooting Code Enforcement Officer Michael Walker on June 13, 2005,” Ward’s appeal argued.

His lawyers argued in the appeal that Ward’s mental illness is “so severe, so well-documented, and so deeply present in Mr. Ward’s entire life as to make him constitutionally ineligible for execution.”

The Supreme Court has ruled that mentally ill prisoners, generally defined as those with an IQ below 70, may still be executed if they understand they are about to be put to death and why they face punishment. According to the state’s lawyers, evidence showed Ward’s IQ was nearly 123.

“To qualify as Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity by virtue of mental disease or defect he has to either not understand the wrongfulness of what he’s doing or not be able to control himself even if he knows it’s wrong…that’s the mental illness,” Longmire said.

According to Longmire, the type of people who commit heinous crimes such that of Ward are largely the product of two factors: rage and guns.

“[They’re] in a moment of total rage and situational loss of control… he is enraged and that’s all he’s got,” he said. “So you put together the availability of guns and a general sense of rage and anger, and you’ve got a powder keg.”

According to Longmire, Ward is not the type of person who has the mental capacity to commit premeditated murder.
“In order for someone to able to stop and deliberately say ‘I am going to kill someone’ and do it with pleasure and a sense of purpose, you’ve got to work for the State of Texas and you’ve got to be on the execution team because that’s what they do,” he said.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Rally for Bernardo Tercero Today at 11 am

July 9, 2015
Contact: Gloria Rubac  713-503-2633

Friends and Supporters of Death Row Prisoner Bernardo Tercero to Rally Outside of Nicaraguan Consulate; Will Urge the Consul General to Increase Efforts to Stop Tercero’s August 26 Execution

Friends and supporters of Nicaraguan citizen Bernardo Tercero will rally outside of the Nicaraguan consulate today at 11:00 am, 8989 Westheimer Rd., 77063, to encourage the consul general to intensify efforts to stop Tercero’s August 26th execution in Huntsville.

There are many troubling issues in Tercero’s case that must be settled before Texas carries out this execution. Among them are:
1.       Tercero was actually 17 years old when arrested for capital murder which would make him ineligible for the death penalty according to the Supreme Court’s Roper v Simmons ruling in 2005 that declared juveniles ineligible for the death penalty.
2.       Despite the fact that he specifically requested to speak with the Nicaraguan Consulate and the authorities had full knowledge of Tercero's status as a foreign national, they denied him his right under the Vienna Convention of Consular Relations (VCCR, article 36).
3.       Tercero had totally incompetent trial attorneys. Rather than use the funding provided by the court to have a knowledgeable professional assist in obtaining records and conducting a background and mitigation investigation in Nicaragua, attorneys instead refunded $8,449.42 of the $21,000 in funds to Harris County.
4.       Although the trial court approved Tercero’s counsel’s request for a forensic psychologist in February of 2000, counsel did not attempt to contact a psychologist until September 29, 2000, less than two weeks before Tercero’s trial was set to begin. No psychological testing was ever done, nor was any psychological or other expert evidence, records, or testimony offered at trial.

British attorney Peter Bellamy and Tercero petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to intervene in this case.  Bellamy was notified on July 6 that the IACHR accepted the petition on its merits and will investigate the case. The IACHR has renewed the "protective measures" status of Bernardo which imposes responsibilities on US authorities not to carry out the execution pending the outcome of the Commission’s investigation of Bernardo's petition.

There have been multiple systemic failures in Tercero’s case, beginning with his arrest and continuing today—a lack of due process at every stage of prosecution, defense, and post trial appeal. Until there is a remedy to these, Bernardo's sentence must not be carried out.

We urge the Honorable Samuel Trejos, Consul General of Nicaragua, to step up and defend his fellow countryman, Bernardo Tercero, before anymore injustices take place.


Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Judicial vacancies slow judicial system

Perhaps no one can appreciate the importance of quick access to our federal courts more than death-row inmate Max Soffar. By the time the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals rules on his habeas petition in support of his claim of innocence, he might have already died of liver cancer. The fact that the Fifth Circuit, which has jurisdiction to hear appeals from the federal district courts in Texas, has had two vacancies for the past 18 months will not help him either. The first vacancy opened three years ago, in August 2012, and the second in December 2013. No other circuit court in the country has more vacancies than the Fifth.

Unfortunately, Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz have consistently opposed potential nominations of qualified district judges. And though it was Republicans who originally recommended these judges for the vacant positions, Sens. Cornyn and Cruz have shown little interest in recommending nominees to the White House to fill an additional seven district court vacancies. The Judicial Conference of the United States, headed by Chief Justice John Roberts, has marked the two circuit vacancies, and five of the seven district court vacancies, as a Judicial Emergency. This designation implies that the courts’ current caseload is both excessive and unmanageable. Even if these seats are filled tomorrow, the Conference has asked Congress to add eight new judgeships for the Texas district courts.

What’s the hold up, you ask? Political partisanship and a reluctance to promote Obama appointees to federal courts is responsible. Historically, due to the time required to identify, nominate, and confirm judicial replacements, many federal judges announce their plan to step down up to a year in advance, giving Senators plenty of time to recommend their replacements. Unfortunately, in almost all cases, our Senators have wasted many months after the vacancy to even begin the replacement process. For instance, more than a year in advance of his January 2014 vacancy, Judge Robert Junell of the Western District of Texas announced on the US Courts website that he would be taking a senior status .. Yet, Sens. Cornyn and Cruz waited more than a year, until April 2015, to begin their search process. This was not the approach taken under previous administrations. While George W. Bush was president, and after Cornyn was elected, five district court judges gave notices to vacate their seats well in advance of the official vacancy. Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Texas’ sitting senators at the time, made recommendations to Bush well before the vacancy became current. So are we to assume that, yet again, Sens. Cornyn and Cruz are dithering at the expense of Texans?

Having fully staffed courts are imperative for the innocent inmates challenging their wrongful conviction, the victims and their families who have waited years for closure, and the injured plaintiffs and consumers seeking a redress. In contrast, a deliberately sluggish federal court system with a crushing backlog of cases provides golden opportunities for large corporations to manipulate the system, using the painfully slow litigation process to force parties into hasty settlements. .
Texans deserve their day in court, but as long as Sens. Cornyn and Cruz continue to dilly-dally, ignoring their constitutional duty of sending nominations to the President, Texans will suffer at the expense of a bureaucratic logjam.

A version of this commentary was published in the San Antonio-Express News on July 6, 2015. The published version can be accessed here and here.

For more information on judicial vacancies visit and People for the American Way.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Help Texas Death Row Survivor Alfred Dewayne Brown

After more than ten years on Texas death row for a crime he did not commit, Alfred Dewayne Brown walked free and into the loving arms of his family and friends on June 8, 2015. "I went in an innocent man and I came out an innocent man," said Brown. Now, he needs your help so that he can rebuild his life. Every donation makes a difference. Will you please help him?


Dewayne's life changed forever on April 3, 2003. It was on that day that Dewayne was falsely accused of a horrible crime which resulted in two deaths. Despite the fact that Dewayne tried to tell the Houston, Texas police that he was at home during the incident, they chose to believe two men who did not want to turn in their buddy, so they "fingered" Dewayne. A series of events took place that Dewayne could not control. He told anyone and everyone that he was home and the landline phone records would prove it because he had called his then girlfriend at work when the news came on. It was these phone records that would be the pivotal point in the release of Dewayne. The Grand Jury argued with Dewayne and threatened his girlfriend with jail time and with taking her children away from her if she did not change her story. She buckled, the DA hid the phone records and Dewayne was sent to Death Row.

Despite the fact he kept telling his trial attorney he was innocent and the phone records would prove it, nothing was presented at trial. It was only after the conviction of the two actual defendants and Dewayne ending up on the infamous Texas Death Row, that several people came forward, admitting to lying and telling the DA that Dewayne was not even aware of the crime.

Nothing impressed the Harris County DA and Dewayne was left with the thought of lethal injection for a crime he had nothing to do with. Appeals were filed and in 2007, the law firm of K&L Gates took the case, honing in on the lost phone records. It took the attorneys six years to find them - IN THE GARAGE OF AN INVESTIGATOR. The DA in 2007 stated that failure to disclose the records "was inadvertent and not in bad faith. It was one piece of paper". The trial judge signed orders for a new trial, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals threw out the conviction and ordered a new trial in November 2014.

Lisa Falkenberg, a columnist for the Houston Chronicle, took notice of Dewayne and wrote a series of articles concerning his case and the Grand Jury. Making waves around the world and winning the coveted Pulitzer Prize for her series, Ms. Falkenberg has shed light on the barbaric Grand Jury system in Harris County, from threatening witnesses to using ex-cops to serve as foreman (on nine juries). It took the new DA, Devon Anderson, seven months and two days, to announce that Harris County has no evidence to bring charges against Dewayne and he should be set free.

Dewayne spent 12 years, 2 months and 5 days behind bars for something he had no part in. That is 4,449 days or 106,776 hours of his life that was stolen from him. Nearly every one of those days were spent in solitary in a cell no larger that a small bathroom. Living with the fact that he could be executed any day. Torn away from his family, not being able to be a father to his daughter. For this, the State of Texas needs to compensate Dewayne. But, because of the "clever" wording in the paperwork when Devon Anderson declared that Harris County has no evidence against Dewayne, it will be an uphill battle to win compensation. A battle that will not be won any time soon.

This is where the people of the world come in. Dewayne needs your help now to get on his feet. He needs to rebuild his life that Harris County and the State of Texas stripped from him. Going straight from solitary to the "free world" is no easy task. He needs time to adjust being able to make decisions on his own, at a pace that is comfortable to him. We can never give these years back to Dewayne. But, we can help him manage more comfortably. Please give what you can. Everything makes a difference.

Read more about the day Dewayne was released here.

This fundraiser is being conducted with the consent of Dewayne Brown, who will receive all funds raised, minus the 3 percent charged by the credit card processing company. We have also obtained consent from Dewayne's legal team. While Indiegogo Life doesn’t charge a fee, payments are handled by third-party processors who charge a 3% transaction fee.

At the end of the 30 day campaign, the donations will be transferred directly from the system to a bank account set up by Dewayne's legal team for his exclusive benefit.

The fundraiser organizers are a group of Texas death penalty abolitionists who want to help Dewayne. Organizers include Pat Hartwell, Scott Cobb, Hooman Hedayati, Gloria Rubac, and Delia Perez Meyer, as well as the organizations Texas Moratorium Network, Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, Campaign to End the Death Penalty, and others to be listed as they endorse the fundraiser.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Historic Texas Senate Bill Filed to Abolish Death Penalty in Texas

11-Eddie-Lucio-MUG_1176019a (1) 
Texas State Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr has filed legislation to abolish the death penalty in Texas. This is the first time a state senator has ever filed legislation to abolish the death penalty in Texas. It happened because organizations in Texas held the Statewide Texas Lobby Day to Abolish the Death Penalty on March 3 and death row survivors Ron Keine and Sabrina Butler from Witness to Innocence and Scott Cobb of Texas Moratorium Network met with Senator Lucio's general counsel and requested that the Senator file abolition legislation. 
Here is a report from the Austin American-Statesman on our successful lobby day, which was widely covered in the media, including the Dallas Morning News, potentially reaching hundreds of thousands of people in Texas with our message. 
Last summer, Senator Lucio attended the Democrats Against the Death Penalty caucus at the Texas Democratic Party state convention. The caucus has been held every year since 2004 when it was started by Scott Cobb. The caucus has proven to be an effective method for persuading Texas Democrats to make abolishing the death penalty a higher priority among both elected officials and ordinary people in the Texas Democratic Party. 
In the coming weeks, we will be working with Senator Lucio's staff as well as staff of the House sponsor of the abolition bill, to prepare for committee hearings on the abolition bills. When a hearing is held in the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, it will be the first time ever for a hearing on abolishing the death penalty in Texas. It will be up to the chair of the committee to decide if a hearing is scheduled.
Here are links to the two pieces of legislation filed by Senator Lucio. One is a regular bill (SB 1661) and the other is a proposed constitutional amendment (SJR 54).
Thank you to all the groups and people from across Texas who participated in the lobby day, including Texas Moratorium NetworkTexas Death Penalty Abolition MovementCampaign to End the Death PenaltyStudents Against the Death Penalty, and Witness to Innocence.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Conversation with Sandra and Rodrick Reed

Rodney Reed’s family has been at the forefront of a 17 year struggle to prove his innocence and win his freedom from Texas’ death row. Recently, Rodney’s mother Sandra, and brother Rodrick, sat down to talk with Lily Hughes about their disappointment in the courts, the need for DNA testing, and the pain of facing an execution date.
THERE'S A clemency process that's already started, and we hope that you will have an opportunity to meet with the new governor, Greg Abbott, or perhaps members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles, to talk to them about why they should grant clemency. What you would say to the governor if you did get a chance to meet with him face to face? 
Sandra: What we've been saying all along! Rodney is an innocent man. He was wrongfully convicted. He didn't get a fair trial, and they used Jim Crow tactics to convict him. It's not that they use Jim Crow tactics with every trial, but they used it with him.
We just want the new DNA testing. We want the truth. That's all we're asking. The only evidence that was presented was his DNA, and it was old. And you have nothing else--I mean nothing to link him to this case. How is it that you have enough merit to take a life--over old DNA? He was dating her!
There was a box of evidence that Judge Towslee ordered sealed--locked away. We never knew what that was until recently. Now, at this last hearing, there were two boxes when there should have been one, and they both were unsealed. That, to me, spells corruption. All I'm asking for is fairness. Give my son a fair shake. He never had a fair shake in the beginning. That's all we're asking.
And from my point of view, no matter what, you still shouldn't take a life. Thou shalt not kill. What happened to the Ten Commandments? That's all I have to say. 
Rodrick: I would say to him that we just want to be treated the way he would want his own treated. We want the same thing he would expect if he were in our shoes. Fairness. Equality. We're not asking for anything special. We're not asking for anything out of the ordinary. We're just asking for what's right.
Sandra: And if you have thousands of people out here who believe in him, what does that say? There is a shadow of a doubt...Twelve jurors were deceived. I still don't know how they thought they had enough to do what they did, but I do believe they were deceived. 
RECENTLY, AT a hearing here in Bastrop in front of the trial judge, he denied important DNA testing. And of course, there's been a string of denials from the courts over the years, whether it's the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals or the Fifth U.S. Circuit of Appeals and, more recently, the U.S. Supreme Court. How has that affected your view of the court system and the way the criminal justice system operates? 
Sandra: I've told people over the years that I was very naïve as far as the justice system is concerned. I thought that if anything went wrong, all we had to do was take it to court, because that's what the United States stands for: fairness without a shadow of a doubt.
But when it came down to my son's case and the hearing and the way the trial went, it just went plumb Jim Crow.
There were witnesses waiting to testify, but never called. They made me a possible witness for the prosecution and never called me. The judge denied the alibi witness from testifying. And sitting there during that process, there was nothing I could do. I had no knowledge of the law itself, I didn't have the funds, and I was denied the ability to testify for my son.
It felt like I was chained and bound. There was nothing I could do but stand there and watch them railroad my son. Over these last years--17 or 18 years of fighting--I have to say: Thank god for the Campaign to End the Death Penalty. Because you guys know what's going on and what happened to me.
You wouldn't have known what happened to Rodney if you hadn't been concerned about right and wrong, and what did happen. And I am a proud member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty.
Traveling over the years, and speaking and meeting exonerees from death row and other family members speaking out--that encouraged me to keep right on fighting for my son. This proved to me that the United States has defrauded all of us.
They painted this so-called justice system with rose colors and made us think that we would get a fair shake. And being Black, you have that mark against you. Looking back at Martin Luther King and how he fought for our rights, I thought, well, we have our rights now. But I realize we don't. We never had equality. 
AND THE courts have completely failed us.
Sandra: The courts have completely failed us. Right. Absolutely. 
SO WOULD you say that winning justice from the system requires taking MLK's route? 
Sandra: It's a hard row to hoe, especially when racism is still rampant. Things are better on the surface, but within, it's still there, and it still hurts. It still affects people.
It's undercover slavery. That's what I feel. The government is building all of these prisons. Why? And most of the people are minorities. The justice they're carrying out is legalized murder. Murder is murder.
Yet we're willing to sacrifice our young men and boys to go over and fight for somebody else's rights. And we don't have our own backyard cleaned up? We're killing our own. That's what I got out of this--there's no justice in this so-called justice system that we have.
Rodrick: There's some justice, just us.
RODRICK, DID you have anything else you wanted to add about the courts?
Rodrick: Yes. I believe the courts are very, very misleading, because you think that justice will be blind and everyone should get a fair shake. But the reality is that if you don't have the capital, you're going to get the punishment. If you're poor, you're not going to get proper representation. If you're mentally handicapped in any kind of way, you're not going to get a fair shake, and that's not right.
So the bottom line is that there's a lot of work to be done in the justice system, and it's not going to happen until we come together and use what we have to make it better. In cases like my brother's case, once we bring him home--which I pray that's the way it goes--then the fight keeps going. That racism, that injustice, that corruption is still there. And that's the roots that we have to try to dig up. 
SWITCHING SUBJECTS, I think that both of you have been down to see Rodney fairly recently, and we were wondering if you could talk about how he's handling everything?
Sandra: I haven't seen him since the hearing, because there have been other people, such as his sons, who have been visiting. I wanted them to have as much visitation as they could, because over these 18 years, he hadn't seen his sons. When he was convicted, his sons were six or seven--maybe not even that old. But they're now grown, and they have their own kids, so they've been visiting.
His granddaughter lives in California, and her mother put her on the plane, and her father picked her up in Dallas--and wow, they just had a wonderful, beautiful visit. Each visit was four hours. Monday, they got two visits in the same week for four hours, and I think that was wonderful.
So I want those kids to visit as much as they can, and other people who are in his corner and hadn't seen him. They needed to see him, and he needed to see them. He only gets a one visit a week, and so that makes it kind of tough. But he's strong. 
Rodrick: Yeah, he's real strong. He's real positive. You go down there with the expectation of trying to lift his spirits up, and... 
Sandra: He lifts yours. 
Rodrick: He lifts yours. And I think it's all possible because of God, and all his supporters and friends and family who believe in him and support him. That keeps him strong, that keeps him positive, that keeps him going. If it had been me, I'd be crazy as a bug, but he's strong. 
Sandra: His support is strong, and his family, we're right there with him. If he can just see our faces and see how strong we are, it keeps him strong. 
Rodrick: We keep each other strong. 
Sandra: He's doing as well as can be expected. And of course, our faith is strong and I'm optimistic. Yet I have to face reality of how this justice system has treated my son over these 18 years, with the denial of everything. I'm hoping and praying. I can't see how, with all of this information and evidence pointing to Rodney's innocence, Greg Abbott would deny him clemency, but who's to say? 
THAT BRINGS me to my next question. How are you all doing? I know this is not an easy time, and it never is. What do you want to say about the death penalty, and the way it creates a whole new set of victims? 
Rodrick: Myself, I'm tired. 
Sandra: He's tired. We're all tired. 
Rodrick: I'm tired, but I'm strong. I'm going to keep my strength, and I'm going to push on as far as I can and do all that I can do, and I'm going to let God do the rest. But I think that it's very stressful. I've aged--I've got more gray hair and a face full of gray. It has an effect. 
All in all, we're good. And I know it will get better. We all have points where it's like, how much more can we take? How many more denials? How many more years? How many more days?
Sandra: And on top of dealing with everyday life, I have six sons, and all of them have their issues. Their issues are mine, and I worry. Not as much as I used to when they was coming up. Now that they're in their 40s and 50s--- 
Rodrick: Don't tell them my age! (laughter) 
Sandra: I'm telling mine accidently! But, you know, when it rains it pours. There's going to be times where everything happens at one time. But we're maintaining. It's a struggle, but we're maintaining. And me being the mother, words can't even express what I'm feeling now at this phase. I could tell you but you wouldn't really know.
Rodrick: The words can't describe it. 
Sandra: I can sit here and tell you right now how much I'm grateful to you guys, and the words aren't enough. 
Rodrick: They don't even do it justice.
Sandra: Words can't even express what I'm feeling. At this phase of the game, I'm strong. I'm optimistic. Knowing what this system has done to us, I can't believe it until I see it now. I have to touch it now. So that's the best I can do, but I'm praying to God that he gives me the strength to endure whatever. 
Rodrick: Somebody told me yesterday, "I'm really proud of you for the work that you do for your brother. I think you're doing a good thing. I'm so proud of you." I looked at her and I said, "To be proud of me for doing something for someone that I love is not a big deal. What moves me is people who do something for someone they don't even know--a stranger." 
That's what gives me strength. When we have people like you who are not related, who didn't even know Rodney, but you came in and you gave up your time and your money and everything you can give to help support us. Because it's easy to do for someone that you love. Anybody does that. But to do something for a stranger who you don't know even know--that says it all. 
Sandra: But see, you're God's angels to me. I know we've discussed that before, but you are. 
He assigned you, whether you believe in Him or not, to do this. It's His work. Through you guys. Those petitions that we attempted to submit to the DA! Eleven thousand signatures! 
AND NOW it's over fourteen thousand. 
Sandra: The signatures of people who we don't know! 
Rodrick: That's what I'm saying. We have to be here. And if we're any kind of good family and love our family, we have to do the things we have to do. But for all the hundreds and thousands of people trying to help us, that's something to be proud of. 
Sandra: Because if it was up to our family, we would be screwed, glued and tattooed!  
THAT BRINGS us to the last question: Is there anything that you want to say to people who already support Rodney? What can people be doing right now that helps the most? 
Sandra: What helps the most is do what you've been doing. I thank each and every one, the thousands and possibly millions of people that have viewed that documentary State vs. Reed and took an interest. I thank them all. 
Rodrick: I thank you all, and I'm proud of you, because that's doing something--when you're in a situation where you don't have to be, but you chose to be in it. You chose to be in this fight. You can sit down on the sidelines and watch it go down, but you said no. I stand up and I'm going to represent. 
Sandra: How long have we been in this together? Fifteen years. 
Rodrick: That means the world to me.
Sandra: And I love all of you.
Read more at the New Abolitionist.