Wednesday, October 31, 2007

5,000,000 signatures for moratorium collected

The community of Sant’Egidio and the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty have collected five millions signatures from around the world calling for a moratorium on executions. According to their press release,
A delegation of anti-death penalty activists from around the world will meet with the President of the United Nations General Assembly, Mr. Srgian Kerim, on Friday, November 2, at 10:30 AM, to deliver a petition containing over five million signatures that urge the General Assembly to pass a resolution calling for a global moratorium on executions.

The delegation, led by Mario Marazziti of the Community of Sant'Egidio, will include Sister Helen Prejean, leading American advocate of the abolition of the death penalty and the woman behind the movie Dead Man Walking, Yvonne Terlingen, Head of Amnesty International's UN Office in New York, Renny Cushing, Marie Verzulli, and Bill Babbitt from Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights, an international organization of victims' family members and family members of the executed, Speedy Rice from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Elizabeth Zitrin, member of the executive board of Death Penalty Focus.

Angola, Albania, Brazil, Croatia, Gabon, Mexico, the Philippines, Portugal (for the EU), and New Zealand are presenting the text of the resolution to the General Assembly as a cross-regional initiative. Close to one hundred other countries have signed on as co-sponsors.

After meeting with the President of the General Assembly, the delegation will hold a press conference at 11:00 AM at UNCA CLUB, UN, Room 326, at the Third Floor of UN Headquarters.

Videotaped statements will also be available from Rev. Rowan Williams, Primate of the Church of England (London), Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Nobel Peace Prize laureate (Buenos Aires), Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, President of the Pontifical Council Justice and Peace (Vatican City), and Siti Musdah Muliva, Moslem theologian at the University of Jakarta.



UN, 10.30, President's office

UN, 11 AM, UNCA CLUB, Room 326, Third Floor


Mario Marazziti

Telephone: +39 335 726 3641

Mobile +39 346 850 1247


Yvonne Terlingen

Telephone +1212 867 8878 ext 2

Mobile + 1917 406 1185

Fax +1212 370 0183

Media coverage of Sharon Keller protest

Keye TV has a good coverage of last night's protest. Click here for video.
Outside the Austin home of a powerful state judge, protestors showed up this Tuesday evening to file an unusual appeal.

Scott Cobb, protestor: "She should be removed from office."

They are pleading for the ouster of Judge Sharon Keller, who presides over the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Last month, as convicted murderer Michael Richard was headed to the execution chamber, his attorneys filed a last minute appeal asking Keller's court to hold off on the execution while the Supreme Court considers the whole issue of lethal injection.

As the story goes, their paperwork was delayed by a problematic printer, and when they asked for more time, the judge reportedly told them the Court of Appeals closes at 5. Hours later, Richard was put to death.

Cobb: "They had a little technical snafu and it shouldn't have impacted whether this person lived or died."

So demonstrators are determined to literally bring home the message that they want Keller out. But staking out her house, one neighbor says, is a little extreme no matter how impassioned they are about their cause.

Rich Lampert, neighbor: "If it's work-related, leave it in the workplace. I think they've crossed the line."

But those who came with placards in hand insist that, like the judge, they have 9-to-5 jobs requiring that they track her down after work.

KVUE has this. Video here.
Outside the Austin home of a powerful state judge, protestors showed up this Tuesday evening to file an unusual appeal.

Scott Cobb, protestor: "She should be removed from office."

They are pleading for the ouster of Judge Sharon Keller, who presides over the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Last month, as convicted murderer Michael Richard was headed to the execution chamber, his attorneys filed a last minute appeal asking Keller's court to hold off on the execution while the Supreme Court considers the whole issue of lethal injection.

As the story goes, their paperwork was delayed by a problematic printer, and when they asked for more time, the judge reportedly told them the Court of Appeals closes at 5. Hours later, Richard was put to death.

Cobb: "They had a little technical snafu and it shouldn't have impacted whether this person lived or died."

So demonstrators are determined to literally bring home the message that they want Keller out. But staking out her house, one neighbor says, is a little extreme no matter how impassioned they are about their cause.

Rich Lampert, neighbor: "If it's work-related, leave it in the workplace. I think they've crossed the line."

But those who came with placards in hand insist that, like the judge, they have 9-to-5 jobs requiring that they track her down after work.

Daily Texan coverage of Sharon Keller protest

The Daily Texan has a good article about last night's press conference at Sharon Keller's home. Even though the lights inside her home were on, she didn't come out. Surprisingly this time she didn't call DPS, as she did last year over the website
Protest hits home for Texas judge who refused to hear late appeal

By Amanda DeBard

Austin anti-death penalty activist Alison Dieter protests outside of the home of Judge Sharon Keller on Tuesday evening.
Media Credit: Bryant Haertlein

Austin anti-death penalty activist Alison Dieter protests outside of the home of Judge Sharon Keller on Tuesday evening.

A group of activists opposing the death penalty rallied outside Judge Sharon Keller's home in North Austin Tuesday night.

Keller presides over the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and refused to accept a late death penalty appeal on Sept. 25, which resulted in Michael Richard's execution.

"We came to where we think she can hear us," said Scott Cobb, president of the Texas Moratorium Network, an organization in opposition of the death penalty.

Keller told attorneys filing Richard's appeal that the office closes at 5 p.m. and would not grant them the 20 extra minutes they requested due to computer printer malfunctions. There was another attorney assigned to handle late appeals that night, who Keller did not consult with prior to her decision.

Cobb said the protest occurred at Keller's house because most members of his organization work until 5 p.m. when the Court of Criminal Appeals office would be closed.

Keller did not come out of her house at any point during the protest and did not respond to knocks on her front door.

In light of Richard's execution, Cobb said he thinks the trust in and integrity of the criminal justice system has been lost.

"We're asking for her to be removed from office to restore the integrity of the system," he said. "If there is no trust in the system, then the whole thing breaks down."

About 1,200 public members have signed the judicial complaint against Keller, which will be delivered to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct Nov. 6. The complaint is sponsored by the Texas Moratorium Network.

Members of the Austin chapter of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty criticized Keller's actions in the courtroom in addition to her actions on the night in question.

In the past, Keller has allowed attorneys to sleep through capital murder trials, said Kathleen Feyh, a UT graduate student and member of the organization, referencing a capital murder trial for Calvin Burdine, whose lawyer, Joe Cannon, slept through parts of his client's trial.

"We haven't seen her treat cases with any passion, and she does not view defendants as human," she said.

Feyh said she believes the Richard case was the straw that broke the camel's back but said she wishes Keller's actions had come much sooner. After Richard's execution, no other Texas inmates have been executed.

"Any halt to executions is a good step and a step in the right direction," Feyh said.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Video of 8th Annual March to Stop Executions (pt 1)

October 27th 2007, about 500+ people gathered in Houston Texas for the 8th annual march to stop executions. This first clip is excerpts from speakers at Emancipation Park before the march to SHAPE Center.

Source: Houston IndyMedia

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Monday C-Span: ABA's discussion on death penalty

At 11 a.m. Eastern Time (US) on Monday, Oct. 29. 2007, the American Bar Association's recent discussion and denunciation of capital punishment will be broadcast and Webcast on C-SPAN 3.

Report on the 8th Annual March to Stop Executions in Houston

by Gloria Rubec

The organizing committee for the 8th Annual March to Stop Executions thanks everyone who came out yesterday. We feel like we accomplished our goals, educated and motivated activists and energized a new generation for this struggle.

There was a diverse cross section of the Houston community attending the march, which was one of our main goals. For too long the death penalty has been seen as an issue led by a group of very well-intentioned white folks who sometimes have not a clue of the daily realities for the very, very poor, and the African American and Latino communities who are under occupation by the Houston police.

Yesterday shattered that idea because the leaders of this march were from those communities.

This would not have been possible without the months and days and hours and hours of hard work by Ester King, Deloyd Parker, Sherri Clausell, Lee Greenwood, Regina Guidry, Vermila Freenman, Njeri Shakur, Elisha Enard, our young sister, Courtney, and many more.

So many people were involved in making the event a success that I can't mention names. From the web site, to the flyers, to the banners, to the phone calls, to the leafleting, to the emails, to attending and speaking at meetings, to trying to pin down legislators, preachers and community leaders, to generous donations, to organizing transportation from around the state--many people shared the load and did the work. !Muchisimas gracias!
  • Hope to see you at the Nov. 6 meeting of the Abolition Movement where we will be having a film and discussion on THE EXECUTION TAPES: GEORGIA'S SECRET AUDIO RECORDINGS OF TWO EXECUTIONS, a film from the July 17, 2007 program of Democracy Now. We will also be planning a fundraiser for Brother Clarence Brandley, making plans for our annual card signing and holdiay treats pot luck on Dec. 4 and our literature / tee shirt table for the first day of KWANZAA on Dec. 26.
  • Please sign on the the judicial complaint agianst Judge Sharon "Killer" who told the attorneys for Michael Richard "We close at 5:00." Go to if you have not. You have until Nov. 6 to sign on. Do it now. If you are in the Austin area join the demonstration at Judge "Killer's" home next week.
The Houston Chronicle has a story on yesterday's march/rally, with one picture, in the City/State section of today's paper. Double their numbers and add a few more, cuz we had way more than 200 people!!! Ariel with the UH Sankofa Organization is lookin' serious in the photo.

Five additional photos are also there -- look for the hard-to-find link under "Resources" on that page (next to the camera icon). Great one of Clarence Brandley's sisters, Margaret and Alice!
You can also see photos at Flickr.

I'm sure our friends at Houston Indy Media will have something up before too long. Go to :
The struggle continues!

Pictures from the 2008 March to Stop Executions in Houston

Picture by Mayra Beltran: Chronicle
Alice, left, and Margaret Bradley, right, sisters of former death row inmate Clarence Bradley, chant with marchers at SHAPE Community Center after approximately 200 marchers departing from Emancipation Park walk a mile to SHAPE.

Mayra Beltran: Chronicle
Barbara Hartfield holds a poster of her brother Joshua Maxwell "Moe" who is on death row, as she listens to speakers at SHAPE Community Center after approximately 200 marchers departing from Emancipation Park walk a mile to SHAPE.

For more pictures and Houston Chronicle's article about the march click here.

Editorial by Mr. Hood

Mr John Hood, writing for the John Locke Society, is too big for his breeches. Judge Stephens ignores reality is stating that an execution is not a “medical event”. A medical gurney is used—or an operating table: it is designed for no other purpose. Medical tubing is used; it has no other purpose. Drugs are used; they have no other non-medical purpose. The execution chamber is decorated like a surgical suite, and the killing team wears hospital associated clothing (scrub suits) except in Disneyland, where the doctor wears a purple moon suit, and colored goggles The honorable judge is jumping into an area of which he has no knowledge, and he pretends to be able to dictate the ethics of my profession.
The North Carolina Medical Board—formally called the “Board of Medical Examiners”, was specifically set up by the legislature to regulate the practice of medicine in the 1830s. Those salons then realized that doctors should regulate medicine, and not people who did not go through a medical education, of which some traditions and ethical standards go back 2500 years or more. Stare decisis.
Judge Stephens, and the legislatures of today are laboring under the delusion that: (1) a machine, monitored by doctors, can determine if an execution causes “excessive pain”. Typically, the legislature and the Judge do not define “too much “ pain, nor can doctors—pain is too subjective-- and no machine, watched by a physician or not, can make that medical distinction. The act of dying is frequently accompanied by erratic brain waves and a hypoxic and then anoxic pattern develops, overlapping any other patterns. So much for the monitor.
If this is a not a medical procedure, what is the doctor doing there? Can he intervene and stop the killing if things go awry, can he do an impromptu cut down if needed, or otherwise modify the procedure in midstream. He is present to give the killing a degree of respectability to an inherently evil and ugly procedure. That is the only reason.
The physicians who did turn killer in the Nazi T-34 program started out merely getting rid of “ballastexistenz” and this eventually led to mass murder. Let the image of Karl Brandt, a gifted neurosurgeon, and one of the designers of T-34, dangling from a gallows be a reminder of what can happen to a good physician gone bad.
There are better combinations of poison that can be used, better gas than cyanide, but those developing them are prevented from divulging these poisons. It is pure stubbornness to keep the three drug cocktail today, considered too cruel to kill Fido and Tabby.
The analogy made by Hood is equally specious. A doctor’s mission on the battlefield is not to better kill, but to preserve life and to alleviate suffering as much as possible. It is the intent that distinguishes the physician from the medical monster. Doctors have evolved a body of ethics that, at least in a civilized world, prevent the use of medical knowledge to kill. There is no comparison between the battlefield and he death chamber. It is so easy to use the word “war” in a sense not intended.
I would not tell a lawyer, or an accountant what is ethical in his profession, and it is presumptuous of a lawyer to dictate to doctors. Ethics is too serious a matter to leave to the lawyers. The legislature’s intent might sound noble, but its effect is just the opposite—it perverts medicine’s most cherished rule—PRIMAM NON NOCERE --- first do no harm
G M Larkin MD/Charlotte NC
a North Carolina physician for 40 years

Friday, October 26, 2007

Houston Chronicle: Anti-execution march moves to Houston

Houston Chronicle has an article about tomorrow's march to stop executions in Houston. For more directions and march information please visit:
Ex-death row inmates to take on Harris County's sentencing record

Former death row inmates Clarence Brandley and Kerry Max Cook will be keynote speakers Saturday at a Houston anti-death penalty march and rally expected to draw protesters from throughout the state and nation.

Normally held in Austin, the march, now in its eighth year, was moved to Houston to protest Harris County juries' record of leading the nation in assessing death sentences, said event organizer Gloria Rubac. Since executions were resumed 25 years ago, 102 killers from Harris County have been executed; 122 remain on death row.

The March to Stop Executions will assemble at 2 p.m. at Emancipation Park, 3018 Dowling, then proceed to SHAPE Center, 3815 Live Oak, for a 3:30 p.m. rally.

The theme of the event is "Celebrating Our Victories, Remembering Our Losses; Continuing the Fight for Abolition!"

Brandley, who was convicted of the August 1980 rape-murder of Cheryl Dee Ferguson, a 16-year-old volleyball player at Conroe High School, spent a decade on death row before prosecutors dropped charges against him. Investigators' failure to compare a Caucasian hair found on Ferguson's body with that of other possible suspects in the case was among presumed irregularities in the case cited by Brandley's advocates.

At the conclusion of an evidentiary hearing in October 1987, state District Judge Perry Picket called on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to grant Brandley a new trial. "The litany of events graphically described by the witnesses, some of it chilling and shocking, leads me to the conclusion the pervasive shadow of darkness has obscured the light of fundamental decency and human rights," he wrote.

After unsuccessfully appealing to stop a new trial, the prosecution dropped charges in October 1990.

Cook spent 22 years on death row after he was convicted of the 1977 rape-murder of Linda Jo Edwards, a Tyler woman. He was tried three times and twice condemned. After he won a new trial in 1993, Cook was freed from prison based on time served after he entered a no contest plea. Months later, DNA linked Edwards' murder to another man.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Sharon Keller on CBS Evening New with Katie Couric

CBS Evening News with Katie Couric will report on Sharon Keller's action to close the court's door.
Keller has said that she didn't know that Richard's defense lawyers in Houston were having computer problems when they asked the court for 20 more minutes to deliver their final state appeal to Austin hours before the scheduled execution on Sept. 25. Without a definitive ruling from the state court, the lawyers could not properly appeal to the United States Supreme Court to block the execution.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers filed a complaint against Keller - the first judicial complaint the group has ever filed.

Now lawyers' groups are filing complaints against Keller left and right. One group is circulating a petition calling for the court to accept electronic filings.
Also Houston Chronicle is reporting that 309 lawyers have filed a petition asking the Court of Criminal Appeals to accept electronic filings.

A petition signed by 309 Texas lawyers — including two former state Supreme Court justices — was filed Wednesday asking the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to accept electronic filings to avoid a repeat of the controversial events leading to the execution of Michael Richard.

Richard was executed Sept. 25 after Presiding Judge Sharon Keller told the court clerk's office to close promptly at 5 p.m., cutting off Richard's appeals for a stay of execution.

The U.S. Supreme Court earlier in the day had agreed to consider whether the chemicals used in lethal injection constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

If Richard's stay request had made it through legal channels, his execution likely would have been halted until the case was decided. Another Texas inmate had his execution stayed by the Supreme Court on the same grounds as Richard was requesting.

"To help avoid a recurrence of such a tragic, unnecessary execution, petitioners ask the court to adopt a rule to permit e-filing, to facilitate and expedite the filing of papers in death penalty cases," said the petition by the Texas lawyers.

Such filings, they noted, are allowed in all the federal courts in Texas as well as the U.S. Supreme Court.

Because the Court of Criminal Appeals was meeting in Beaumont on Wednesday, the court's spokesman, Judge Tom Price, was unavailable for comment.

Among those signing the petition were former state Supreme Court Justices Rose Spector, a Democrat, and Deborah Hankinson, a Republican. The Supreme Court handles civil matters.

Others on the petition included Houston attorneys Dick DeGuerin and Mark Lanier.

Richard, 49, was executed for the rape and shooting death of Marguerite Dixon, a Hockley mother of seven, in 1986.

Twenty lawyers previously filed a complaint against Keller with the Judicial Conduct Commission of Texas, saying her actions deprived Richard of due process and discredited the court. And 130 lawyers from Harris County filed a complaint with the State Bar of Texas.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Greg Abbott responded to criticism that he should have tried to stop the execution.

The criticism came from former Attorney General Jim Mattox and former Gov. Mark White, who both fought to enforce the state's capital punishment laws during their terms as attorney general.

They said earlier this month that the state's top lawyer has a duty to halt executions when they appear to violate an inmate's due process rights. The attorney general handles the state's case in death penalty appeals.

White said Abbott is an officer of the court and he "should have been obligated to ask for a stay" in the Richard execution. Mattox said the attorney general may lack actual legal authority to stop an execution, but the state prison system will follow an attorney general's order.

Abbott said there was nothing he could have done.

"It's up to the courts to make that determination. I don't have the legal authority to stop an execution. Only the governor and only the courts have that authority and we have to rely upon the courts to exercise that authority," Abbott said.

Mattox, who witnessed more than 30 executions, said he once ordered an inmate off the execution gurney over prison system protests because he knew the man would receive a stay.

"When the state is all-powerful, the state has got to be cautious in how it uses its power," Mattox said. "Sometimes you do things not to protect the individual but to protect the system itself."

Mattox and White are Democrats. White served as attorney general from 1979 to 1982, and Mattox from 1983 to 1990.

Abbott is a Republican who has served as attorney general since December 2002. Prior to that, he was a justice on the Texas Supreme Court.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

NYT: National Group with 13,000 Lawyers Files Complaint Against Sharon Keller

The New York Times is reporting today that

on Wednesday, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, with 13,000 members nationwide, said it had just sent a complaint against Judge Keller to the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct, the first judicial complaint the group had ever filed, said its president, Carmen D. Hernandez, of Washington.

“Whatever else happens in the United States of America, the courts are to remain open to litigants,” Ms. Hernandez said.
Also, so far, almost 900 people from all walks of life have signed on to a complaint from members of the public that is being organized by Texas Moratorium Network. The sister of Michael Richard, Patricia Miller, is one of the people who have signed the TMN complaint. Patricia Miller will speak on Saturday at the 8th Annual March to Stop Executions in Houston.

Anyone can sign the complaint online by clicking here.

TMN is also responsible for persuading several elected officials to file complaints against Keller, including State Representatives Burnam, Dutton, Olivo and Farrar.

ACLU and Texas Innocence Network Appeal Innocent

At a hearing today before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the
American Civil Liberties Union and the Texas Innocence Network (TIN)
argued that death row inmate Max Soffar was unfairly prevented from
proving his innocence at his second trial in 2006. The groups hope to
overturn Soffar's conviction in the capital murder case of 4 victims shot
during an armed robbery in a Houston bowling alley in 1980. In 1981,
Soffar was convicted and sentenced to death, but a federal court
overturned his conviction in 2004 because his trial lawyers failed to
argue that Soffar's confession contradicted the account of the sole
surviving witness and other reliable evidence in the case. The state of
Texas retried Soffar last year and he was again convicted and sentenced to

"This case is a textbook example of a miscarriage of justice," said John
Holdridge, Director of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project. "From a false
confession to two unfair trials and death sentences, the problems with Max
Soffar's case are gravely troubling. We must not allow the state of Texas
to execute an innocent man."

The ACLU and TIN argued that Soffar was denied the constitutional right to
defend himself because Soffar's trial judge refused to admit evidence that
another man confessed to committing the murders. This man, Paul Reid,
formerly of Houston, also committed a series of highly similar
robbery-murders and now awaits execution on Tennessee's death row. A
photograph of Reid, taken in Houston nine days after the bowling alley
incident, strongly resembles the police's composite sketch based on the
description of the crime's sole witness.

The ACLU and TIN also charged that Soffar was denied his constitutional
rights when, during his second trial, the court refused to allow him to
show that media reports of the crime contained all of the details in his
false confession. The prosecution claimed that these details-although
broadcast throughout Texas-could only be known by the person responsible
for the crime.

Soffar was known by the police in 1980 as an unreliable and feeble-minded
informant who often traded information for police assistance or money.

Shortly after the bowling alley crimes took place, Soffar fingered his
friend, Latt Bloomfied, as the perpetrator. Soffar also told police that
he and Bloomfield had burglarized the same bowling alley the night before
the incident - a crime the press reported as potentially related to the
robbery-murders. The police soon learned that Soffar's confession to the
burglary was false and arrested others for that crime; yet even after
Soffar's first false confession, law enforcement continued to rely on
another confession of his that implicated Soffar and Bloomfield in the
robbery-murders. After his initial arrest, Bloomfield was quickly
releasedand has never faced charges for the crime.

"Max Soffar has been on Texas's death row for almost 3 decades for a crime
he did not commit," said David Dow, Head of the Texas Innocence Network
and one of Soffar's attorneys. "We urge the court to do the right thing
and strike down Mr. Soffar's wrongful conviction. Too many innocent people
have been executed as a result of mistakes in the system. The risk of
executing an innocent man is unacceptable in a just society."

John Holdridge added, "False confessions are far more common than the
public realizes. According to the Innocence Project, innocent defendants
made incriminating statements, delivered outright confessions or pleaded
guilty in more than 25% of DNA exoneration cases."

More information on Max Soffar's case is available at:

Lawyers on this case are Holdridge and Brian Stull of the ACLU Capital
Punishment Project and Dow and Jared Tyler of the Texas Innocence Network.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Lariat Online: Group hopes to raise death penalty awareness

Baylor University's paper The Lariat Online has published an article about the Journey of Hope 's visit to their campus.
By Amanda Allen

The death penalty is reserved for criminals who have committed cruel, inhumane crimes- acts that give their victims and their victims' loved ones little room for compassion. But the members of Journey of Hope find room.

"No other group has power and authority to speak about forgiveness than (the members of Journey of Hope). They have no reason to forgive, but they do," Fernando Arroyo, chair of Waco Amnesty International, said.

Baylor National Association of Social Workers and Baylor Students for Social Justice in association with Waco Amnesty International will join Journey of Hope to speak about death penalty alternatives on campus Thursday morning in Kayser Auditorium.

Step by Step, a documentary about Journey of Hope members will be shown from 8:30 to 10 a.m., and Journey of Hope members will speak from 10:30 a.m. to noon. Each session will be followed by a question-and-answer session.

Family members of murder victims and the executed and exonerated lead Journey of Hope. They conduct public education speaking tours to address alternatives to the death penalty.

Amnesty International, an organization supporting different human rights issues, is the umbrella organization for Journey of Hope. Their main action for human rights is letter writing, but having an event on campus is something Arroyo, said he has always wanted.

Arroyo said Amnesty International has received a lot of help from Baylor students, especially in helping to promote two main campaigns - Journey of Hope and genocide in Darfur and Sudan.

Last semester Amnesty International held six film sessions in Waco that many Baylor students were involved in. This year, they hope more students will be able to take something away from Journey of Hope since they will be speaking on campus.

"We have the privilege of having the founders come," Arroyo said.

Executive Director Bill Pelke will speak to students and answer questions on behalf of Journey of Hope.

"It's a platform for family members of victims to share their story, and, in some cases, prove death row inmates' innocence," Arroyo said. "It puts a human face on the death penalty."

Journey of Hope is not a Christian organization because it's mission is to gather people of all belief systems who share in it's mission.

"It's their faith that's helped them overcome hatred and revenge and it's what has helped them overcome the bitterness creeping into their heart," Arroyo said. "They find healing and the miracle of forgiveness in their hearts and want to pass is around in the lives of victims and their perpetrators."

McGregor senior Flor Avellanedo, president of Baylor's social work association helped to organize the event. "It's a miraculous thing -- that God gives people the power to forgive and speak on behalf of them," she said.

Members of Journey of Hope said they believe there's only an allusion of closure when a murderer is executed.

Arroyo said family members end up destroying true reconciliation that could take place after the murder of a family member.

"It's so sad to think how many innocent people we've sent to death row," he said "Even if it's one, it's too many."

Acknowledging that the death penalty is a controversial issue, Avellanedo said, "We all have our opposing views of the death penalty, but it's always good to be aware of other views so we can reflect and think twice about what we think."

Andrea Brashier, Carrolton senior and association member, said she will attend the event because she wants to support awareness of the justice system.

"I think we have a lot of room to grow in that area so I think this program will open our eyes to thinking about other options, especially as students of a Christian school," she said.

Arroyo hopes the event will start more dialogue about the issue and prompt action.

Monday, October 22, 2007

This weekend: March to Stop Executions in Houston

Sharon Keller's controversial rulings

R.G. Ratcliffe of the Houston Chronicle has compiled a list of Sharon Keller's controversial rulings.

• Keller was in the court majority that allowed the 2003 execution of Leonard Rojas to go forward despite a showing that his lawyer had just two years of experience, had his law license suspended three times and had missed a deadline for federal appeals because of bipolar disorder.

Three judges wrote a dissenting opinion, saying: "A capital murder habeas proceeding is no place for a green attorney with multiple suspensions from the State Bar."

Keller responded by saying the lawyer only needed to be competent when appointed. She said the fact the Bar had probated the lawyer's suspensions showed that the Bar "still found counsel to be competent to practice law."

In wording that echoes Keller's actions in the Richard case, she complained that Rojas' complaints of incompetent counsel "were not brought to this court's attention until mere days before applicant's scheduled execution."

• Prior to the Richard execution, the biggest controversy of her tenure on the court came when Keller wrote an opinion saying DNA evidence did not prove convicted rapist Roy Criner was innocent even though the semen in his alleged victim was not his. Keller said Criner could have worn a condom during the rape, a theory that was not raised by the prosecution in his trial.
On the PBS program Frontline, Keller was asked how Criner could prove his innocence. She replied: "I don't know."

Fellow appeals court Judge Tom Price told Texas Lawyer that Keller had turned the court into a "national laughingstock." Price ran against Keller in 2000 and 2006, losing both times. He did not respond to a request for an interview.

Further DNA testing proved saliva on a cigarette butt at the scene of Criner's alleged rape belonged to another man, whose DNA also matched the semen. Criner received a pardon from then-Gov. George W. Bush in 2000.

• In 1996, Keller wrote an opinion that death row inmate Cesar Fierro received a fair trial despite the fact his confession was coerced by threats that Mexican police would torture his parents. After learning of the coerced confession, the prosecutor and judge in the case called for Fierro to receive a new trial.
"We conclude that the applicant's due process rights were violated," Keller wrote for the court. "But, because we conclude that the error was harmless, we deny relief."

Keller, writing for the court majority, said Fierro could have been convicted on a co-defendant's testimony alone.

Keller's legal opinions have not been the only source of controversy for the jurist.

• Other members of the court in 2002 stripped Keller of the sole authority to hand out grant money after she gave $225,000 to a little-known legal organization to provide legal training for lawyers who represent poor clients. The group was headed by a one-time staff attorney at the court.

• Keller, to help balance the state budget, in 2003 announced a cut of $860,000 from a fund that pays for lawyers who represent death row inmates. Keller said the money would not be needed before the next budget cycle.

A shame, and a surprise, what Keller did

Joan Cheever has a great column in Houston Chronicle, where she asks "Did Keller close the office at 5 p.m. because she's dumb or just mean?" Any members of the public can sign on to the complaint by clicking here. So far, more than 800 people have signed on to the general public members complaint against Judge Sharon Keller.

When I first heard the story about the execution of Michael Richard after the presiding judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refused to keep the clerk's office open an extra 20 minutes, when his lawyers incurred a late-afternoon computer crash causing the delay, I thought it was a joke.

I don't know why I was so surprised to find that the story was real. Sometimes, especially in Texas death penalty law, you just can't make this stuff up.

I shouldn't be taken aback. After all, the Lone Star state leads the nation in executions (405 of the 1,099 men and women who have been executed since the return of the death penalty in 1977). Texas was the first state to use the new execution style lethal injection with Charlie Brooks in 1982, and had a governor (now president) who laughed at Karla Faye Tucker's clemency request. "Please don't kill me," Bush whimpered, his lips pursed in mock desperation, to a shocked Tucker Carlson, who was writing a profile about Bush for a national magazine.

Texas is the same state in which a judge said that while you are entitled to legal counsel at your death penalty trial, it's OK if your lawyer sleeps through most of it. In that same case, two out of three federal judges from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reverse a lower court ruling, blaming the defendant, Calvin Burdine, for not keeping accurate records of the times his lawyer was sleeping. Sufficiently embarrassed, the full 5th Circuit, in an unprecedented move, reversed their fellow colleagues a year later.

Sept. 25 was a day of surprises. The U.S. Supreme Court's announcement of its decision to review the issue of cruel and unusual punishment and lethal injection on the same day of Richard's execution was unexpected. It was really the first time that the method of execution, by lethal injection, had ever been looked at, seriously, by the Supreme Court. The high court's stay of execution in the case of two Kentucky death row inmates put the brakes on scheduled executions across the United States. Well, all except Texas.

The word from the Supremes just didn't seem to apply to Texas. As quick as a hiccup, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller denied Richard's lawyers the 20 minutes they needed to print the darn thing out and get it to the court —11 copies of Richard's 108-page petition and get it to the court. E-mails aren't allowed. And I guess a frantic, pleading phone call doesn't count, either.

Keller didn't even pick up the phone and call the other judges on the court to get their opinions. At least two of them have said they were hanging around the court that evening, just waiting for Richard's application. The judges were ready to vote. The U.S. Supremes couldn't step in, procedurally, unless and until the Texas judges called it first.

All the Texas judges had to have been available by phone for this vote. At least that's what they are supposed to do at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, most especially in the hours before an execution. At least that's what they did in 1983, when I worked there as a briefing attorney. In the weeks and days and, most especially, on the day and in the hours leading up to a midnight execution, everyone knew about it — the lawyers, the court clerk, the clerical staff, even the nightly cleaning crew.

The air was thick with tension on "those days," especially in "the bullpen," the nickname of the large room where four of us worked, side by side, because the court had run out of space for our offices. It was the unofficial headquarters, the office water cooler — for all the new briefing attorneys to exchange gossip, pitch legal strategy or chat about some nuance of case law.

No one went out for lunch on the day of or a few days before an execution; some high-strung briefing attorneys could barely keep breakfast down.

It's hard for me to understand exactly what happened on Sept. 25. By the time I had left the court in 1984, only three men had been executed in Texas. The number is now 405. Has the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals become so desensitized to executions that it can't stop the killing machine for an extra 20 minutes?

Even on a day when there is an 11th-hour and very unexpected announcement from the U.S. Supreme Court that it will review a crucial death penalty issue, everyone knows it takes hours for the defendant's appellate lawyers to review stacks of appellate briefs to see if the "out of left field" the cruel and unusual punishment/lethal injection claim was raised earlier. Then there is a quick strategy session and a race to the computer to crank out a 108-page application to stop the execution based on the U.S. Supreme Court's order. I can't imagine the pandemonium in that law office when, out of the blue, their computer crashed, making a 5 p.m. deadline of 11 hard copies absolutely impossible. All of this was taking place one hour before the execution.

Dutifully, Michael Richard's lawyers called the clerk at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to explain the emergency and ask for 20 minutes. It's on the computer, but e-mails are prohibited. Judge Keller says, "No." Our office closes at 5 p.m. sharp. Keller wasn't going to wait, not even an extra minute, much less 20.

Two hours later, 49-year-old Michael Richard, with an IQ of 64, well below the U.S. Supreme Court's 70 IQ mark when it banned executions of the mentally retarded in 2002, was dead.

To many people, especially some of the family members of Richard's victim, 53-year-old Lucille Dixon, a nurse and mother of seven, justice had already been delayed for more than two decades. But 20 more minutes?

No, siree, Bob. Keller showed us that Texas' killing machine stops for no man, no surprise announcement by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier in the day and no computer crash.

On Sept. 25, the eyes of the United States and the world, were on Texas, and still are. On Sept. 30, members of the European Parliament called for an immediate moratorium on executions, and overwhelmingly voted in favor, 504-45, to mark Oct. 10 as the official European Day against the Death Penalty.

But I still would like to know: Did Keller close the office at 5 p.m. because she's dumb or just mean?

Cheever is a former briefing attorney for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the author of Back From the Dead: One woman's search for the men who walked off America's death row (John Wiley & Sons 2006).

Joan Cheever talked during the 2007 Anti-Death Penalty Spring Break. What would happen if the United States abolished the death penalty and emptied its Death Rows? If the killers were released from prison? What would they do with their second chance to live? Would they kill again? Back From The Dead is the story of 589 former death row inmates who, through a lottery of fate, were given a second chance at life in 1972 when the death penalty was abolished; it returned to the United States four years later. In Back from the Dead, Cheever describes her own journey and reveals these tales of second chances: of tragedy and failure, racism and injustice, and redemption and rehabilitation.

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

CSI: East Lansing – science shows innocent man hanged in famous British murder case

by Sue Nichols, MSU Today

October 16, 2007 - Ninety-seven years after an American was hanged in London in one of the most notorious and famous murder cases in British history, forensic science at MSU is producing evidence that his execution was a mistake.

Dr. Hawley Crippen was hanged for murdering and dismembering his showgirl wife, then fleeing with his mistress across the high seas with the police in hot pursuit. Loaded with enough sordid details and twists to eventually fuel more than 40 books and several movies, this London case is second only to Jack the Ripper in its sensational notoriety.

Back in 1910, it was forensic evidence that brought Crippen down. Now, David Foran, a forensic biologist and director of MSU's forensic science program, partnering with clinical and forensic toxicologist John Harris Trestrail III, managing director of the regional poison center in Grand Rapids, is combining state-of-the-art DNA analysis with solid sleuthing to show the remains buried in Crippen's basement couldn't have been his wife.

"This can't be Cora Crippen," Foran said. "We're certain of that."

For nearly a century, Crippen, a homeopathic physician, was thought to have poisoned his flamboyant and domineering wife with an obscure toxin, dismembered her body and buried little more than tissue in his London cellar. Crippen was labeled "one of the most dangerous and remarkable men who have lived in this century."

Trestrail has been engrossed by the case for 40 years. One of the nation's leading experts in poisoning, he knew dismemberment and poisoning don't go together.

"There were no identifying parts of the remains found, no head, no bones, no organs of gender. I've always wondered who is that under the steps?" Trestrail said. "Was he telling the truth? Now we have the possibility to bring the science of DNA up against actual specimens from the trial to answer the question: ‘Was that her under the steps or wasn't it?'"

Trestrail formed a team with Foran and Beth Wills, a genealogist from Ionia, to resolve what he saw as inconsistent evidence.

Foran's laboratory specializes in ancient and forensic DNA evidence, often working with human remains that are thousands of years old. The nearly 100-year-old microscope slide, sent to Michigan State from the Royal London Hospital Archives and Museum, is the same one the pathologist Bernard Spilsbury used to help hang Crippen. In 1910, forensic pathology was more primitive; Spilsbury's testimony, identifying what he claimed was an abdominal scar consistent with Cora's medical history, convinced the jury that these were Cora's remains.

Crippen went to the gallows insisting he was innocent.

The present-day challenge: getting past the pine sap that sealed the slide and the formaldehyde used to preserve the tissue in order to examine the mitochondrial DNA that could identify Cora Crippen based on the genetic history of her maternal relatives.

Mitochondrial DNA is the genetic blueprint that is passed down in the egg from mother to daughter. Unlike regular DNA, which comes from the cell's nucleus, Foran explained that mitochondrial DNA remains more stable in aged tissue and is easier to retrieve. Also, mitochondrial DNA remains relatively undiluted through generations, offering a reliable familial match.

Foran's laboratory has devised methods to extract and isolate mitochondrial DNA. Unable to break through the sap seal, he chipped away at the slide's glass cover slip to get at the tissue sample. One of his graduate students recently studied ways to work around formaldehyde fixation to isolate DNA.

The goal: Compare the mitochondrial DNA in the slide that convicted Crippen with Wills' assignment - finding a maternal relative of Cora Crippen. If Hawley Crippen indeed killed his wife and buried some of her remains in the cellar, those remains would share specific DNA characteristics with Cora Crippen's current day relatives. To paraphrase the famed attorney in the O.J. Simpson murder trial, Johnnie Cochran, if the DNA doesn't fit, you can't convict.

Wills spent some seven years pouring through genealogical records and taking on the somewhat nontraditional task of finding living female relatives of Cora Crippen's mother.

"Usually, in genealogy, you work backwards, but in this case, we went forward," she said.

As she traced through the family line, she found elderly relatives who remembered talk of a family scandal, one where a woman had been murdered by her husband in London. She ultimately located three grandnieces.

"We took a lot of precautions when doing this testing," Foran said. "We just didn't stop. We went back and started from scratch and tested it again. The DNA in the sample is different from the known relatives of Cora Crippen."

"Crippen was not convicted just of murder - but the murder of Cora Crippen," Trestrail said. "If that body is not Cora, then that's another trial."

For more information, visit the Special Report.

On execution of Michael Dewayne Johnson

On October 19, 2006 my life would change in a drastic way. The truth of the matter is each day/month/year on death row changes me – even if only gradually like drops of water falling onto a rock. The change is there even if only seen by the most vigilant eyes.

For me, when a date of execution is at hand I find myself, mentally and spiritually, in another place. I'm solemn and spacey, yet my senses are acutely aware that on this day someone will die. Premeditated murder is a hard adversary to face. In Texas it's become more like highway scenery, something that we see coming, passes us by quickly, but comes back again and again.

I have no balm, spell nor medicine to deal with this death ritual that induces pain, madness and horror. Truth, rage and fight is all I have. But the day of October 19, 2006 would be a day that would plunge me into a hell that I didn't know existed; a trauma that I didn't know I could feel. It would become a day that I would allow no one to ever forget.

The state-sanctioned murder of Michael Dewayne Johnson was scheduled to be carried out in the sadistic catacombs of the Criminal's Jest/us System. But instead of the glee that is System and its minions get from ushering a man to his murder, they would finally come face to face with a reflection of the horror of this process.

I would receive the news around 8am that in the middle of the night Michael Dewayne Johnson, instead of going to the gurney, chose to leave a lasting impression on all our minds, committing suicide by cutting his own throat with a razor. Like a 100-foot drop my stomach would plummet to depths of nausea that I didn't know existed and I felt that I would regurgitate up my entire being. In a state of shock I read those lines over and over again and each time it hit me harder and harder: "Suicide by cutting his own throat!" Dear God what has become?!?

For hours I would spiral out of sanity. Reports I got said the scene was unreal; thought to be macho and heartless, male officers were in tears and female officers were having nervous breakdowns. Blood would not only flood the floors, but it would also tell a story. Accounts vary, but it was said that in his own blood Michael Johnson wrote words declaring he didn't do the
crime, which right next to he posted a statement from his co-defendant who confessed to the crime. This is where I've made this event my personal business.

I knew Michael Johnson. I first met him in 1997 when I got to death row. Let me state for the record that Michael was NOT mentally ill. Michael was a highly intelligent man; the type of guy who might be a computer technician or an engineer. Michael was a very respectful person. He never caused anyone problems, he was always cordial, he recreated practically daily and he lived a peaceful life. He would help you if he could and something else many don't know is that not long before this tragic incident, Michael (in the face of critics and a bias prison setting built on black, white and brown separatist rules) embraced Islam, choosing the name Hamzaa for himself.

Outside of the reasons that this was a man of Peace and Kindness, whom the death penalty had to brutalize, I am making it my personal business to staunchly fly the flag of his name, but also for the reasons that he and I found ourselves bound to Death Row under the same means – The Law of Parties.

While in Michael's case there was a question raised on who shot the victim (unlike my case where the shooter admitted it) there was evidence (the statement that was said to be on the wall) that showed Michael's co-defendant admitting to the shooting. After stealing a car and joy riding, Michael and his friend went to a gas station to do a gas run (meaning fill up with gas and drive off), but when the gas attendant unexpectedly came out to approach them, acting on independent pulse, Michael's co-defendant shot the man and they drove off.

The combination of standing on his innocence of the crime of Capital Murder and his co-defendant quickly accepting a deal to shift blame, the state led Michael to death row. There are uncanny similarities between his case and mine. And due to the fact that I have passionately spoken out against this contradictive and unconstitutional law of parties for 10 years and having
those cries fall on deaf ears I am here to say that the anti-death penalty movement is failing us. It failed to know Michael Johnson and it is failing to be a force to save us from these horrors.

I'm here to make a powerful declaration – what Michael Dewayne Johnson did was not because he lived a suicidal life nor because he was mentally deranged, he did it to make a statement to YOU ("you" being all of you pro and anti-death penalty who think activism is monthly dues and meetings; yearly marches and speeches; but your work extends no further. Not into the
abyss of death row, not into the personal lives of death row inmates, not anywhere passed your own comfort zone). Genocide is not comfortable. Sensory deprivation housing is not comfortable.
The bloodthirsty cries of pro-death penalty people are not comfortable. When Michael Dewayne Johnson cut his own throat it was not comfortable nor made to make you feel comfortable. It was done to provoke you and make you remember how sick, demeaning and horrific death row is.

How does a man who never killed find himself on death row anyway? When is the anti-death penalty community going to start asking that question? I've begged and pleaded for 10 years for this anti-death penalty movement to do that, but now look. This is blood on your refusing hands. What has our movement become when it won't speak out for men they KNOW have not killed?
They'll speak out for sensationalized cases, cases where men have big backing, but for us no name people we find no favor in your sight. None of you knew Michael Dewayne Johnson, but may his name and plight now be forever burned in your psyche.

Do you think that Michael did this to avoid pain? NO WAY!! Michael is not the first to attempt suicide before his execution. He's not the first to commit suicide on Death Row. I wonder how many of you reading this is aware of that. Some of these men tried to go by pills, fire, cutting their wrists; and ones did go by hanging themselves. But to slice open your own neck is a
statement so potent that it brings tears to my eyes. It brings tears to my eyes because no one gave a damn to fight for this man.

I wonder what you all are doing at the sound of this news. Will it just be another event that you look at and say "That's so sad," or will you let this shocking event act as a fuel to attack this death penalty how it needs to

I tell you that EVERY politician, TV and radio station in Texas needs to know what happened. They all need to see what their death row is, because that's been the reason we fail to bring change – these massacres have been made to seem too polite. Was the botched execution of the man in Ohio polite when needles were popping out of his arm? The people in this system don't
seem to care, because executions continue. Michael is dragged out and we prepare for the 6 other scheduled executions. This is a heartless killing machine that doesn't stop. What are we doing about it?

Then I have the additional unfortunate news to say that I – a man who has killed no one - awaits an execution date as my appeals proving my Innocence and that I'm not death eligible were denied. And I think strongly about Michael's statement. Why do we dignify the gurney? It has been successful in fooling the people in society that it's something humane and easy about this process. It's not! Thinking of all this I feel I'd rather die fighting, or at the end of a firing squad, the guillotine – let it be, in a fashion that exhibits what this country is really about: Systematic Genocide!

Are you going to put Michael Johnson in the back of your closet? Are you going to allow that statement to go unread by the world? Are you going to put myself and many others who have not killed anyone, against the horrors of the gurney and/or the razor?

I feel sad to say that I think you are, because I barely hear you and barely see you unless it's at the yearly galas. I think so because even in our own anti-death penalty movement there are people stealing from death row inmates, lying to their faces, blowing off their struggles because they don't have the fame or the fortune. And so where is Texas? At the bottom of the success and unity, and at the top of the executions. Have you thought to ask why? Why? Why? Why does a man find more solace in cutting his own throat than going to the gurney? I wonder if you'll have the courage to ask someone. Will you explore the depths of this hell? How long will you deny what this place is and what it's doing to men here, their families and society? The concept of politeness went out the door on October 19, 2006!

Now I'm left to the nightmares. I'm left with the burden to continue to find a way to smile, stay positive, sane and non violent. I'm left with people who are supposed to be advocates but they don't answer letters, make calls or visits. What is it going to take? Can we stand for anything more horrific than October 19, 2006? I fear to entertain the thought.

Men aren't walking to their executions in Texas. If you don't believe it go read:

Leave the illusion world of candles ending murder and signs stopping slaughters. If we're not putting forth Aggressive and Concerted Actions to deal with the systematic murders of people, then we will not make anymore progress than what we have seen.
Dear Michael,
I'm sorry that your fight was unheard. I'm sorry it was futile. I'm sorry that I've failed to get people to fight against the trash law of parties. I'm sorry that we are all being punished here like dogs. I'm sorry people lie to us and steal from us. But I promise you that I'll keep on keeping on. I promise that people won't forget the statement you made as long as I am alive, because we were bound by a common injustice.

Do people want change? I don't know, Michael. I do know DRIVE wants change! And I want your name forever in mind and I hereby mark October 19, 2006 as a day of Martyrdom for you. We will keep on fighting and I'm afraid that I may never see the Peace and Justice until the day that I see you. Until then........... The struggle continues.

Charles Perroud

"I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of
the giver." - Maya Angelou

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Killer Keller must resign

Photo by Jana Birchum
Published by The Daily Texan

"We close at five." It took these four words for Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller to deny a convicted killer's last appeal. On September 25, the same day the U.S. Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari to a Kansas inmate questioning the constitutionality of lethal injection, Michael Richard was scheduled to be executed. The attorneys for the Texas Defenders Service requested that the court clerk's office remain open 20 minutes after the 5 p.m. closing time because their computers had crashed. Keller shocked the world by closing the court's office at 5 p.m. on an execution day without even consulting any of the other judges of the court. As a result, a man was executed without being able to have the merits of his last appeal considered by the criminal justice system.

The Court of Criminal Appeals is the highest criminal court in Texas and must rule on every case before the U.S. Supreme Court can consider an appeal for a stay of execution. If the CCA had accepted the case and voted to deny Richard a stay, the U.S. Supreme Court could have issued a stay. That is exactly what happened in another case two days after Richard's execution, when the court voted 5-4 to deny a stay to Carlton Turner, but U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay of execution.

According to the Houston Chronicle, several judges were in the court while Keller turned down the appeal. Judge Paul Womack stayed as late as 7 p.m. expecting to receive a late filing. Judge Cheryl Johnson, who was the assigned judge to handle any late appeals, was not even informed, in Richard's case, of Keller's action until she read the story in the Austin American-Statesman.

"And I was angry," she told the Statesman. "If I'm in charge of the execution, I ought to have known about those things, and I ought to have been asked whether I was willing to stay late and accept those filings."

Keller's action denied Michael Richard two constitutional rights, access to the courts and due process, which led to his execution. Her actions also brought the integrity of the Texas judiciary system and of her court into question. But this is not the first time Keller has behaved like a buffoon. In 2000, she wrote the majority opinion in the case of Roy Criner, claiming that the new DNA evidence proving his innocence in a rape and murder case did not warrant a new trial because he could have "failed to ejaculate." According to Tom Price, one of the other conservative judges on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, as far back as 2001 she made Texas' highest criminal appeals court "a national laughingstock."

To close at 5 p.m. and refuse to accept an appeal by a person about to be executed is a violation of judicial responsibility. When a person is about to be executed, our state's highest criminal court needs to remain open for business. As long as Keller is in office, the people of Texas cannot be sure that justice is being done with integrity. Judge Sharon Keller should resign or be removed from office by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, which is responsible for investigating allegations of judicial misconduct.

If you are as shocked as I was by Judge Sharon Keller's refusal to accept an appeal 20 minutes after 5 p.m. from lawyers representing a man about to be executed, then sign on to the general public complaint against Judge Sharon Keller by going to The complaint will be submitted to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct on Oct. 30.

Hedayati is a government junior, Students Against the Death Penalty president and a Campus Progress at the Center for American Progress advisory board member.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Journey of Hope in Austin


Every year the Journey of Hope travels the US speaking against capital punishment. This unique group of people is made up of murder victim family members, exonerated death row prisoners, and family members of death row prisoners. Come hear their stories!

Texas Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing
October 13 - 27,

Sharon "Killer" Keller is on Notice!

Governor Rick Perry and Teas Court of Criminal Appeals - You are on NOTICE, Colbert-style!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Houston Chronicle: Remove Sharon Keller from office

Houston Chronicle has joined Austin American-Statesman and Waco Tribune-Herald in calling for sanctions against Judge Sharon Keller. You can sign the complaint by clicking here. Anyone can sign the complaint. It is intended as a way for ordinary people to bring their concerns to the attention of the members of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.

The events of Sept. 25 have put a stain on Texas justice that can only be cleansed by the removal of Chief Justice Sharon Keller from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

On that day, Judge Keller let her personal bias in favor of the death penalty trample the right of now-executed prisoner Michael Richard to access the courts and have due process. In doing so, she abdicated her role as the state's chief criminal justice to become its chief executioner.

As laid out in a complaint to Texas' State Commission on Judicial Conduct signed by 20 distinguished Texas attorneys, including Houston's Dick DeGuerin and University of Houston Law Center professor Michael Olivas, Judge Keller's actions were legally inexcusable. The plot line could be straight from a Law and Order episode, with the twist that in this case it was the justice who committed the injustice.

After the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider a challenge to the constitutionality of lethal injection, attorneys for Richard, a convicted murderer, had less than a day to craft an appeal for a stay of execution pending resolution of the issue before the high court. A ruling by the Texas court was necessary before the U.S. Supreme Court could consider his appeal.

Because of computer problems, Richard's lawyers requested that the Court of Criminal Appeals remain open past 5 p.m. to take the last-minute appeal. The judge assigned to the case, Cheryl Johnson, and two other judges had stayed late, anticipating that an appeal might be forthcoming before the execution scheduled later that evening. Without informing them of her decision, Judge Keller refused to allow the appeal to be filed after 5 p.m. Richard was executed hours later.

Even Keller's court colleagues expressed dismay at her actions. Justice Johnson was quoted in the complaint as angry, because "if I'm in charge of the execution, I ought to have known about these things, and I ought to have been asked whether I was willing to stay late and accept those filings." She indicated she would have accepted the brief, "because this is a death case." Justice Paul Womack told the Chronicle he waited in his office till 7 p.m. because "it was reasonable to expect an effort would be made in some haste in light of the Supreme Court. I wanted to be sure to be available in case it was raised."

Justice Keller's response to the uproar was that the lawyers should have filed the appeal on time. After all, she said, "they had all day." When an irreversible action like an execution is only hours away from occurring, Keller's adherence to a 9 a.m.-to-5 p.m. justice schedule is mind boggling. Civil judges are available at all hours to sign temporary restraining orders as are criminal judges to approve search warrants. Yet in the taking of a life, the most profound action a judge will ever be involved in, Keller wants to stick to banker's hours.

The irresponsibility of Keller's behavior was highlighted by subsequent legal developments. Two days after the Richard execution, the Supreme Court stayed the execution of another Texas prisoner, Carlton Turner. Although his appeal had been denied by the Texas court, the fact that it was heard allowed the high court to act.

Then the Court of Criminal Appeals stayed the scheduled execution of convicted murderer Heliberto Chi, effectively signaling a halt to death by injection in the state until the high court rules on its constitutionality.

Just as Turner and Chi were spared pending the resolution of the issue, so Michael Richard should be alive today. Since she will not face the voters until 2012, the miscarriage of justice perpetrated by Chief Justice Keller can only be remedied by a recommendation by the Judicial Conduct Commission to the Texas Supreme Court that she be removed from office.