Friday, May 30, 2008

Cuba to commute death sentences

I just found this BBC News article from April 29 in my inbox about Raul Castro's commutation of death sentences.

Cuba's President Raul Castro says nearly all death sentences are to be commuted to prison terms of between 30 years and life.

It is the latest in a series of liberalising measures. Mr Castro said the decision was humanitarian and not due to international pressure.

Three people charged with terrorism will stay on death row for the time being. Their cases will be reviewed.

The death penalty will remain on the statute book in Cuba.

Mr Castro also announced he was convening a Communist Party congress next year - the first for more than a decade.

The congress is expected to chart Cuba's future political and economic agenda.

Cuba has been under pressure from human-rights organisations to abolish the death penalty, which is carried out by firing squad.

There are no official figures, but the Cuban Human Rights Commission estimates that between 40 and 50 inmates could be affected.

The only exceptions to the death penalty changes are two Central Americans charged with a hotel bombing that killed an Italian tourist, and a Cuban American charged with murder during an attempt at armed infiltration of the island.

"It would be irresponsible and disingenuous to renounce the dissuasive power that capital punishment has on the real terrorists, the imperialist mercenaries," Mr Castro said in a speech to the Communist Party central committee.

This is the latest in a series of social changes announced by Raul Castro since taking over as president from his older brother Fidel in February. They are designed to make life easier and less restrictive for ordinary Cubans.

They include lifting the ban on owning mobile phones and staying in the same hotels previously reserved for foreigners.

Buying and selling property is still not allowed, however.

Fidel Castro retired earlier this year after undergoing a series of intestinal operations in July 2006.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Inside the Architecture of Authority

Wired Magazine has published a collection of photographs by Richard Ross titled, "Inside the Architecture of Authority." The first picture is the death chamber at Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola.

A new book by photographer Richard Ross, Architecture of Authority, examines the way institutional buildings exert power over people. Ross managed to gain impressive access to all kinds of secretive or high-security buildings, from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, to the supermax high-security Pelican Bay prison in California. Ross credits his unprecedented access to a combination of persistence and sincere curiosity. "Many of these people want to show you these places once they know that you're interested in their world," he says.

To question the pervasiveness of intimidating, "disgusting" architecture, the images in Ross' book are both striking and inviting. Ross intentionally makes the photos of oppressive structures look seductive. "You can convince people a lot easier by whispering in their ear rather than hitting them over the head," says Ross.

Following is a selection from the book along with Ross's commentary. Ross has an exhibition at the Aperture Gallery in New York which is now open to the public.

Below: Pictured is the prison's lethal injection chamber. "Ninety percent of inmates who enter Angola [Louisiana State Penitentiary], never leave," Ross says. Inmates work on the prison farm and are not allowed to eat the cows they raise because the quality of the meat is too high. Meals at Angola can cost as little as 17 cents per person since so much of the food is grown on site. Twice a year, inmates enjoy a rodeo on the prison grounds with barbecues and bull riding.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mike Kennedy, RIP

I first met Mike Kennedy during the annual Fast and Vigil to Abolish the Death penalty and later several times in Texas, including the 2007 Journey of Hope. Abe Bonowitz's has done a blog post about Mike Kennedy which I am copying here.

More is here.

People who didn’t know Mike but saw him could easily have mistaken him for a homeless drunk, but his hard to understand speech and his imbalance was due to his illness. That he was usually bedraggled was as much a matter of choice as it had to do with all the hassle involved for someone with his degenerative cerebral condition (I forget exactly what it was). But he cleaned up well, as evidenced by the picture of him here in my office taken at my wedding brunch. If you look at the Texans Against State Killing march video from 1992, you can see that Mike was using a cane then but still able at that point to set a very fast pace. Mike always had a book and he didn’t just read it, he devoured it. I offered to replace his copy of Dale Recinella’s “The Biblical Truth About the Death Penalty” because it was so dogeared, but he wouldn’t hear of it. I’ve never been to his apartment but a profile I read about him indicated he had quite the extensive library. Mike always wore his t-shirt and his buttons and I can’t recall him missing a Fast & Vigil or a Journey of Hope since I’ve known him – preferring to take the bus all the way from Dallas rather than to fly. As I know him, Mike identified first with Pax Christi, the Catholic peace movement, and he put his faith into action every day. Mike was a true human rights hero and he is missed.

Mike was an abolitionist’s abolitionist, and in his honor I am today making a contribution to the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. I encourage others to do the same here.


Tonight! (Tuesday) Protest & Press Conference for Yogurt Shop Case-AUSTIN

Jeannine Scott, wife of wrongly convicted Yogurt Shop defendant Michael Scott, has been a tireless fighter against the death penalty and has worked on behalf of so many men and women for justice over the years. With Mike’s new trial around the corner, we have a real chance to win justice and bring him home. It is our turn to do everything we can to support Jeannine now, so please come out!

I also want to point out that Texas now has 10 executions scheduled over the next 3 months. They are making up for lost time, as they themselves have said. This is so barbaric, and it makes the rally against the 1st (and all) execution on June 3rd that much more urgent. We’ll see you all there!


Travis County has the wrong men in the Yogurt Shop Case.

Press Conference and Protest:

With Jeannine Scott – wife of Michael Scott


Tuesday, May 27th at 5:30PM
Travis County Courthouse Plaza, off Guadalupe between 10th and 11th.

Things are heating up in the Yogurt Shop case! As many of you may know, long time CEDP member Jeannine Scott is fighting for her husband Michael Scott, who was wrongfully imprisoned for murder in this case. Several years ago, 4 teenage girls were murdered in an Austin area yogurt shop. 8 years and dozens of false confessions later, 4 young men were indicted for the murders. With no physical evidence, Robert Springsteen was sent to death row and Michael Scott given life. Two other men were not even taken to trial. The basis of the convictions were “confessions” from Mike and Robert, which have been shown to have been coerced Although both men refused to testify against each other, each of their so-called confessions were used in the other’s trial as evidence. It is on the basis of this misuse of the “confessions” that both men had their convictions thrown out and were granted new trials.
Mike’s trial was slated to begin in May, but has been postponed indefinitely, while new DNA testing is done on crucial evidence from the crime scene, some of which has already been shown not to match any of the men originally indicted.

Austin Chronicle a good article outlining the issues in this case and the recent developments:

Friday, May 23, 2008

Collin County DA admits Michael Blair should not be on death row

Months after DNA evidence proved that a hair used to connect Michael Blair
to Ashley Estell did not belong to either person, the Collin County DA has
finally admitted that Michael Blair's conviction cannot stand. On death
row, he is case number 999122, but he won't be there for long.

Don't worry, though. Because this man has confessed to other brutal sexual
assaults, he won't be freed. Ever. But a Texas DA, a Texas jury and
several appeals courts almost had the blood of an innocent man (in this
case) on their hands. He was convicted because he was a known child
molestor who showed an interest in the case. If the process moved as
quickly as death penalty proponents wished it did, he'd be dead by now.

John Roach released this statement today:



Criminal District Attorney




May 23, 2008

In November 2006, in light of the pending appellate litigation and the
potential outcome from that, I assembled a select group of investigators
and prosecutors from my office and assigned them the task of
re-investigating the Michael Blair capital murder case. Since then, the
Team has expended over 5,000 hours, interviewed more than 50 witnesses and
spent over $47,000 on its investigation. They exhaustively reviewed
records, files and evidence related to the case as well as tracking down
new leads and information. DNA testing was performed on a number of items
of evidence that had never before been DNA tested. The result: the Team
discovered no new evidence connecting Mr. Blair to Ashley Estell as well
as no new evidence demonstrating Mr. Blair's guilt.

However, through its work, the Team identified at least one other person
of interest. This person not only exhibited suspicious activity after the
murder, much as Mr. Blair did, but this person cannot be scientifically
excluded as a contributor to a piece of DNA evidence in the case.
Unfortunately, despite strenuous efforts, the Team has been unable to
eliminate or conclusively connect this person to the offense.

At this time, the expert hair comparison testimony in trial that connected
Ashley Estell and Mr. Blair has been disproved by DNA testing of a type
that was not available at the time of the trial in 1994. None of the hairs
belong to either Ashley Estell or Mr. Blair. No other credible,
individualized forensic evidence connects Ashley Estell and Mr. Blair.

Although Mr. Blair has not been exonerated, I believe the evidence as it
now stands meets the criteria for relief under the law. There is no good
faith argument to support the current conviction in light of the facts and
the law as they now exist. Therefore, under my duty to not only uphold the
law but to see that justice is done, the State is joining today with the
defense team in its request for relief.

This case remains in litigation and under investigation. Accordingly, this
office cannot comment further on the matter at this time.

John R. Roach

Criminal District Attorney

Tim Wyatt

Collin County Public Information

210 S. McDonald St., Suite 626,

McKinney, Texas 75069

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Listen to Rev. Carroll Pickett interviewed on Fresh Air

You can listen to the interview at:
May 19, 2008 | Fresh Air from WHYY | 39 min 19 sec

Legal Affairs
Chaplain Discusses 'Death House' Ministry

Reverend Carroll Pickett was the death-house chaplain at the Walls prison unit
in Huntsville, Texas for 13 years. During his tenure, he ministered to 95
inmates executed by lethal injection.

Because he was employed by the state, Pickett was unable to voice his
disapproval of capitol punishment while performing his ministry. But he has
become an opponent of the death penalty since leaving the prison system.

Pickett co-authored a memoir with Carlton Stowers, titled Within These Walls.
He is now the subject of a new documentary, At the Death House Door.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Reverend Carroll Pickett on NPR's Fresh Air

Reverend Carroll Pickett, the subject of "At the Death House Door" will be interviewed today on NPR's Fresh Air. Tune in to your local NPR station to listen. The archive will be posted online at 3pm Eastern Time:

Friday, May 16, 2008

People Scheduled to be Executed in Texas

Legal Lynching Date + No. for TX

Last Name

First Name




of Birth



06/03/2008 – Tuesday -- #406







06/11/2008 – Wednesday #407







06/17/2008 – Tuesday -- #408







07/10/2008 –Thursday -- #409







07/22/2008 – Tuesday -- #410







07/31/2008 – Thursday -- #411







08/05/2008 – Tuesday -- #412







08/14/2008 – Thursday -- #413







08/20/2008 – Wednesday #414







09/09/2008 – Tuesday -- #415







There’s no right way to do the wrong thing!

The death penalty is racist and anti-poor!



Saturday, May 24 29th Annual Pan African Festival—Help staff the Abolition Movement’s table @ SHAPE Center, 3815 Live Oak

Friday, May 30 Rapper Capital X in Houston -- after walking 1700 miles from New Jersey to Texas to oppose the death penalty. Event at Avant Garden at 411 Westheimer at Taft

Monday, June 2 Monthly Meeting of the Abolition Movement at 7PM @ SHAPE, 3815 Live Oak (not on the first Tuesday due to execution.)

Tuesday, June 3 First execution in Texas since the Supreme Court OK’ed lethal injections. Protest at the Mecom Fountain at 5PM or go to Huntsville at 3:30 for a 5pm protest at the death house.

Thurs & Fri, June 5,6 Attend the Democratic State Convention in Austin to help get signatures to allow our resolution to Abolish the Death Penalty onto the floor. Also, Democrats Against the DP Caucus meeting on Fri @ noon.

Wed., June 11 Press Conference in Houston and car caravan to Huntsville with supporters of Karl Chanberlain who are driving 1600 miles from Las Vegas, New Mexico to be with Chamberlain’s mother at the execution that evening.

For more information: or call 713-503-2633

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

State needs innocence commission

That is the title of Dallas Morning News' recent editorial calling for creation of Texas Innocence Commission.

A poignant drama unfolded in the state Capitol last week that should have been witnessed by all Texans.

Nine men at a head table in the Senate chamber looked out at a sea of faces and shared stories of lost freedom. Unjustly convicted in Texas courts, each was locked away in prison until the truth of his innocence was established, most of them through DNA tests.

The first to speak, James Lee Woodard, lost 27 years after the travesty of a wrongful conviction in Dallas County. Brandon Moon spoke of his lost 17 years. And Charles Chatman, 27 years. James Curtis Giles, 10 years. Carlos Lavernia, 15 years. Alejandro Hernandez, 13 years. Billy James Smith, 19 years. James Waller, 10 years. Thomas McGowan Jr., 23 years.

Some told their stories with passion and resolve, others with sadness. The facts chill to the bone. They reveal how scant or sketchy evidence, faulty witness identification, faulty forensics and gamesmanship by prosecutors helped railroad innocent people – and let the guilty get away.

"It was a nightmare," said Mr. McGowan, erroneously picked out of a photo lineup by a rape victim in Richardson in 1985. "It could happen to your kids; it could happen to you."

Lawmakers in Texas must do something about that ghastly possibility. Eight lawmakers were in the audience Thursday to hear the testimonials of the exonerated men. Also attending were legal experts, judges, police brass and other law enforcement officials.

They gathered at the invitation of Sen. Rodney Ellis of Houston, who has championed the forMation of a state innocence commission to dissect cases of exonerated people and recommend ways to improve the system. The concept is a sound one and has been adopted by at least five states.

It's needed badly in Texas, which has 33 DNA-established exonerations to date, more than any other state. Seventeen are from Dallas County, more than in any other U.S. county.

News flashes about Dallas cases obscure the fact that local exonerations would not be achieved were it not for the sound practice of storing biological evidence in all criminal cases. No other Texas county has done that; one can only imagine how many wrongly convicted people from the 253 other Texas counties have no shot at DNA exoneration. A special commission could recommend best practices for evidence storage, among a long list of other law enforcement procedures.

Credit goes to several local officials for attending Mr. Ellis' summit and pledging to work to improve justice. They include District Attorney Craig Watkins, Republican Sen. Bob Deuell, Democratic Rep. Terri Hodge, Democratic Rep. Paula Pierson, Dallas Assistant Police Chief Ron Waldrop and Richardson Police Chief Larry Zacharias. Two judges from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals – Barbara Hervey and Cheryl Johnson – offered ideas.

We hope the list of participants reflects momentum for the Ellis proposal after years of indifference and hostility in the Legislature. His legislation cleared the Senate last year but was snuffed out in a House committee.

Roadblocks must be eliminated in next year's lawmaking session, and Mr. Ellis deserves robust support from the Dallas-area delegation.

In fact, a Dallas Republican should step forward to sponsor the bill in the House. That would provide the political and geographic balance to help Mr. Ellis, a Democrat, secure passage.

No county has borne more shame than Dallas County for the outrage of miscarriage of justice. No county has a greater responsibility to change Texas law to prevent tragic mistakes in the future.

Potential legal reforms

A state innocence commission could recommend best practices in these areas:

•Eyewitness identification and testimony

•Photo lineups

•Suspect interrogation

•Preservation of biological evidence

•Forensic technology

•Defendant's access to case files

•The right to competent defense counsel

•Ethical and legal responsibilities of prosecutors

Monday, May 12, 2008

Protest at yogurt shop case hearing for Michael Scott


Wednesday, May 14th at 1PM
Travis County Courthouse Plaza, off Lavaca between 10th and 11th.

Things are heating up in the Yogurt Shop case! As many of you may know, long time CEDP member Jeannine Scott is fighting for her husband Michael Scott, who was wrongfully imprisoned for murder in this case. Several years ago, 4 teenage girls were murdered in an Austin area yogurt shop. 8 years and dozens of false confessions later, 4 young men were indicted for the murders. With no physical evidence, Robert Springsteen was sent to death row and Michael Scott given life. Two other men were not even taken to trial. The basis of the convictions were “confessions” from Mike and Robert, which have been shown to have been coerced Although both men refused to testify against each other, each of their so-called confessions were used in the other’s trial as evidence. It is on the basis of this misuse of the “confessions” that both men had their convictions thrown out and were granted new trials.

Mike’s trial was slated to begin in May, but has been postponed indefinitely, while new DNA testing is done on crucial evidence from the crime scene, some of which has already been shown not to match any of the men originally indicted.

Here is a good article outlining the issues in this case and the recent developments:

Jeannine Scott has worked for years on behalf of many cases including Rodney Reed, Frances Newton, and Kenneth Foster, Shaka Sankofa, Stan Tookie Williams and countless more. Let’s give her and her family the same kind of support now!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Report from the Summit on Wrongful Convictions


Six of us with the Abolition Movement went to Austin today for the Summit on Wrongful Convictions sponsored by Texas Senator Rodney Ellis.

Today was an amazing day -- meeting 9 exonerees, meeting the Dallas DA that has the courage to do the right thing, speaking with legislators who agree with us that DA's that commit misconduct should go to jail. We met with Jeff Blackburn, attorney and founder of the Innocence Project of Texas who is working with the Dallas DA and has agreed to work with us to get help for Howard Guidry, an innocent man on death row.

Regina Guidry did an interview with German TV, in German, I assume, about Howard.
The few people not enjoying the day were Roe Wilson, Harris County DA who handles post conviction capital murder appeals. Also Rissie Owens, chair of the Board of Pardons and Paroles.
Sen John Whitmire made Roe Wilson look like she needed Pepto Bismol, according to Ester King. And Lee Greenwood took both of Rissie Owens hands in hers and spoke to her about her allowing the murder of her son, Joseph Nichols, a man who had killed no one. I hope that keeps Ms. Owens awake tonight and every other night. Looking into the eyes of a mother in pain whose child you have murdered couldn't be easy if you have any sense of humanity. And we don't know if she does or not.

We got a commitment from State Rep. Terri Hodge to attend the 9th Annual March to Stop Executions in Houston on October 25.

Barbara Acuna and I had a long talk with Alejandro Hernandez an exoneree from El Paso who spent 13 years locked up for a crime he did not commit. He was sincerely interested in Barbara's son, Robert, who was the last juvenile sent to death row in the country. He also got to know Cesar Fierro while in the El Paso County jail in 1994. Cesar was there on a bench warrant for a eharing that should have resulted in him being freed from death row, but didn't.

The lunch was delicious and we thank Sharon for getting us name badges which allowed us and Randi with the CEDP in to the opening lunch and introduction session.

I think we made good contacts and allies for furthering our work for abolition and building the movement that is needed to stop the executions for good!

Gloria Rubec,
Death Penalty Abolition Movement - Houston, Texas

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Protest the First Texas Execution in 9 Months at Rick Perry's Home

There will be protests of the first execution in Texas after the Supreme Court ruling allowing executions to resume after a de facto moratorium since Sept 25. The protests will occur prior to the first execution. Currently, the first execution is on June 3rd. If another one is scheduled before that date, then the protests will be adjusted accordingly.

Derrick Sonnier, is scheduled to be executed in Huntsville on June 3rd.

This will be the first execution in Texas since Sept 25th when Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller said, "we close at 5" and refused to accept an appeal 20 minutes late for a man later executed that night. Around 1900 people signed on to a complaint that we submitted asking the State Commission on Judicial Conduct to remove Keller for her unethical action.

Monday, June 2nd at Governor Rick Perry’s temporary home. He has moved out of the governor's mansion while it is being renovated. The address where Perry is living is 8113 Hickory Creek Drive.

Tuesday, June 3rd at 5:30PM at the Capitol
On the steps at Congress and 11th

The Supreme Court recently decided a case allowing the use of the current method of execution by lethal injection to stand. Executions are already scheduled in a handful of states, including Texas.

Events sponsored by Campaign to End the Death Penalty and Texas Moratorium Network. If your group or organization would like to co-sponsor and/or help plan this event, let CEDP know at 494-0667 or cedpaustin@gmailcom.

The rent at Governor Perry's temporary home is paid for with tax payer money. The state is paying almost $10,000 a month for Gov. Rick Perry and his wife, Anita, to live in this Hickory Creek Drive home for a year.

View Larger Map

Monday, May 05, 2008

Summit on Wrongful Convictions

(Austin, TX; April 29, 2008) – State Senator Rodney Ellis today announced that a day-long Summit on Wrongful Convictions will be held May 8 at the State Capitol in Austin to determine the causes of wrongful convictions in Texas and identify reforms that can prevent them.

Today's release of James Lee Woodard in Dallas — based on DNA tests showing that he did not commit a murder 27 years ago for which he was wrongfully convicted — comes just one week after Thomas McGowan was freed based on DNA results showing he did not commit the Dallas County rape and burglary for which he spent 23 years in prison. Woodard is represented by the Innocence Project of Texas; McGowan is represented by the Innocence Project. Eighteen people have now been freed based on post-conviction DNA testing in Dallas, and more than 30 people in Texas have been fully exonerated based on DNA results.

As a result of the unprecedented number of exonerations in Texas, key leaders from across the state will gather in Austin on May 8 for a landmark Summit on Wrongful Convictions. Judges, lawmakers, defense attorneys, prosecutors, exonerees, professors and many others will come together for the Summit. The Summit will mark the first time any state's criminal justice leaders have initiated a high-level meeting themselves to address wrongful convictions. Texas State Senator Rodney Ellis is spearheading the Summit, and Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck will attend. The Summit will be open to the public.

"We've reached a tipping point on wrongful convictions in Texas. Nobody can seriously doubt that there's a problem, and next week leaders from across our criminal justice system will come together to start solving it," Senator Ellis said today. "We will bring a wide range of leaders, experts and exonerees together for a full day to develop concrete, common-sense remedies to make our system of justice more fair and accurate. We won't solve these serious problems in one day, but we will make historic strides toward restoring confidence in our criminal justice system."

The Summit on Wrongful Convictions will be held on the Senate Floor at the State Capitol from noon to 5 p.m. on Thursday, May 8. Additional details will be circulated early next week

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Innocence Project of Texas and James Woodard on CBS's 60 Minutes

CBS "60 Minutes" - Sunday, May 4
James Woodard
Tune in to CBS's "60 Minutes" on Sunday, May 4 to learn more about the Innocence Project of Texas's involvement in securing the release of James Lee Woodard, who served more than 27 years in prison for a Dallas County murder that he has always maintained he did not commit. Woodard's release came about as a result of more than 1000 man hours spent by IPOT and the Dallas County District Attorney's office investigating his claim of actual innocence. His story will be told in a compelling segment about the efforts of Dallas County's Conviction Integrity Unit and its collaboration with the Innocence Project of Texas to review more than 400 cases where post-conviction DNA testing was denied by previous Dallas D.A. Administrations.
For more information about this program click here.