Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Austin Chronicle: Should Have Been Anticipated

Thats title of Jordan Smith's article in the Austin Chronicle about execution of Jeff Wood. There is also a rally planned this weekend to support Jeff Wood in San Antonio, Texas.

Should Have Been Anticipated

Jeffrey Wood
Scheduled for execution Aug. 21: Jeffrey Wood

Jeffrey Wood did not enter the Gold Star Texaco in Kerrville until after he heard the gunshots.

He was sitting in a pickup truck parked outside the gas station – almost a second home to him, his sister Terri Been says, a real hangout where Wood often went to socialize with friends who worked there, including clerk Kris Keeran – when he heard gunfire. He ran inside, where he found his friend Keeran slumped over near the counter, dead from a single .22-caliber round that caught him between his left eye and the bridge of his nose. Holding the gun was another friend, Danny Reneau. Wood was shocked. Reneau pointed the gun at Wood and barked an order for him to grab a video surveillance camera and VCR. Wood was afraid, he later told police, and did as he was told. Reneau removed the store safe and the pair fled to the home of Wood's brother in Devine.

Wood did not fire the fatal shot and did not participate in the robbery that preceded the Jan. 2, 1996, murder. Nonetheless, Wood was sentenced to die, based on the state's "law of parties," also known as the "conspirator liability" statute. The law provides that if two or more people agree to commit one crime but in the process commit another, each person is guilty of the crime committed – if the crime was "one that should have been anticipated." This is a more nebulous form of traditional accomplice liability (aiding and abetting) that requires the state to prove specific, individual culpability. The difference here is in intent and foresight: Accomplice liability requires intent; conspiracy requires only a finding that the crime was foreseeable.

Photo courtesy of The Wood Family

In Wood's case, the state argued that he had planned with Reneau to rob the Texaco and therefore was responsible for Keeran's death. But it isn't at all clear that Wood was planning to rob the store. Wood told police that he'd heard Reneau talking with someone else (the store manager, Been says) about a possible robbery – the place had taken in $17,000 over Christmas, and the pair speculated that a similarly hefty stash could be expected just after New Year's Eve, since the bank holiday would mean the money would not yet have been deposited – but Wood also said he believed the talk was "bullshit in the breeze." (Family members have said that Wood did initially talk about robbing the store, along with Reneau, the store manager, and Keeran, but insisted that Wood, Keeran, and the manager all dismissed the idea.)

Critics have argued that Texas' use of the law of parties unconstitutionally broadens the field of death-eligible defendants; the death penalty, they argue, should be reserved for the most culpable and most heinous crimes. In fact, Texas is the only state that uses a conspiracy statute to make defendants eligible for the death penalty. "To pass constitutional scrutiny," Wood's attorney Scott Sullivan argued on appeal, "a sentencing statute must not only narrow the class of persons eligible for the death penalty, it must also ensure sentencing decisions are based upon an individual inquiry" of culpability. Texas' law of parties fails to do that, he wrote. The state, however, argues that the law of parties is not implicated in a decision to impose death: "The Texas capital murder scheme does not allow an individual to be put to death merely for being a party because the law-of-parties cannot be applied in answering the special issues" that jurors must answer, argued then-Bexar Co. Assistant District Attorney Lucy Cavazos. A death sentence is assessed only if jurors find that a defendant would pose a continuing threat to society and that there is no mitigating evidence that might lessen the defendant's culpability. Yet Cavazos' argument evades the fact that without the law-of-parties, defendants like Wood wouldn't be eligible for death in the first place. The courts have sided with the state.

Wood's case is similar to that of Kenneth Foster, who was sentenced to death for the 1996 murder of Michael LaHood by a companion, based on the Bexar Co. district attorney's use of the conspiracy statute. Foster was scheduled to die last year but was spared when Gov. Rick Perry accepted the recommendation of the Board of Pardons and Paroles and commuted his sentence to life in prison. "I believe the right and just decision is to commute Foster's sentence," he said. Perry did not directly implicate the law of parties in explaining his decision but did raise the issue of culpability, saying he was "concerned" that state law allowed Foster to be tried jointly with triggerman Maurecio Brown.

Given the parallels between the Wood and Foster cases, Wood's supporters question how the state can execute Wood without further damaging the credibility of the Texas death system. (Indeed, Wood's sister, Been, argues that her brother is even less culpable of murder than was Foster.) "There will be a full package going to the governor, and I think you will see a lot of similarities between us and Foster," Sullivan said last week.

Wood's family and supporters also question whether Wood is actually competent to face execution. He was originally found incompetent to stand trial, because he could not adequately work with his attorneys and participate in his defense. During the sentencing phase, District Judge Stephen Ables ruled that Wood would not be allowed to fire his court-appointed lawyers and represent himself. Nonetheless, Wood would not allow his attorneys to present mitigating evidence – including evidence that Wood was abused as a child and had been diagnosed with serious learning disabilities. Moreover, school records show that Wood's maturity was notably retarded – school officials noted that although he looked his age, he behaved like a child, constantly sought approval for actions, and was easily led and influenced by others. The evidence further erodes Wood's culpability, Been argues. "Jeff was just dumb. He's so trusting of people and has to get burned in order to learn a lesson," she says. "He doesn't deserve to die."

Hickman: Texas needs to start a dialogue on the death penalty

Austin Musician Sarah Hickman has an Op-Ed in today's Austin-American Statesman about her opposition to the death penalty.

In the early 1990s, I started correspondence with a man on death row. After a few years of writing, I went to visit him in person.

What I experienced shocked me. Thinking I was going in to see an angry human being, I met an intelligent person who seemed broken. Someone who had lived an abused, unloved life had lived the only way he knew how: in survival mode. His lifestyle was far from mine, but his upbringing was like nothing I could imagine, either. Leaving the prison, I was completely struck with the thought that people do what they know. While in his early twenties, uneducated, drugged up, and jobless, he had struck out and viciously murdered an innocent woman, had spent 20 years on death row, and still had no understanding of what it meant to be "productive" or a part of society. He had killed out of revenge for the murder of his best friend. Kill or be killed. That is what he knew. Several years later after our meeting, he was executed by the state, in each of our names.

As a society, without a doubt, we can agree that murdering a fellow human being is a horrendous act. It stains the perpetrator, or even an entire country, for life, for all time. So, here in Texas, we have the death penalty to terminate the life of the guilty who have taken a life.

But how does killing anyone, whether someone is in a crazed state who murders or a state sanctioned killing occurs, ever solve anything? Murdered, or put to death, left behind are grieving family members, children without parents, loved ones and friends all caught in the never ending questions of, "Why? What was solved? Will this heartache ever end?" And what about those we execute who are innocent? The greatest example, here, is Jesus Christ. Or Bruno Richard Hauptmann. The list goes on.

As a mom and a musician, I wanted to start a dialogue about the death penalty. Because I live in Texas, the state with the greatest number of executions, I wanted to get people to think about what the death penalty means: spiritually, economically, and morally. My hope was to start a dialogue that was open to all in the spirit of healthy debate and information—-a forum where people who were opposed to or for or conflicted by the death penalty could meet and discuss the issue without fear or hostility.

So, last spring, I had a meeting with the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (TCADP) here in my home.

We discussed ways to raise awareness, and I suggested a series of monthly concerts around the state of Texas, starting in Austin and ending in

Austin, going to 11 cities along the way. We decided to include musicians and speakers. In October 2007 we had our first event with Linda White, mother of a young woman who was murdered by two teenage boys and reverends John McMullen (First United Methodist Church) and Bobbi Kaye Jones (St. Johns United Methodist). Barbara Kooyman (Timbuk 3) was our first guest musician.

Since then, we have traveled to Huntsville, Corpus Christi, San Antonio, Houston, San Angelo, Beaumont, El Paso, and Denton.

Attendees have heard comments from a variety of speakers including El Paso Mayor John Cook (who has joined our tour, singing and speaking and challenging other Texas mayors to come out to the events), the amazing account of Rev. Carroll Pickett (the death row minister who witnessed 95 executions in Huntsville; he is convinced that at least 15 of those men were innocent), prosecutor Sam Millsap, victim's families talking about why they are opposed to the death penalty and listened to the music as diverse as Shelley King to Austin Lounge Lizards (who will be at our Waco event on Sept. 18) and Kinky Friedman, who will be at our Antone's finale October 1.

My hope is twofold: that you will come out and join in on this conversation, and that in five years we will have a moratorium on the death penalty here in Texas. Please, come express your opinions at one of the events and meet family members of murder victims, meet family members of those executed on death row. Come hear music and get involved at the same time. This isn't easy. In fact, it's intense.

To end with a thought, when Cain murdered Abel in the old testement, God didn't destroy Cain. He banished him, yes, but he set him out in the world marked with protection that no one would harm a hair on his head. Why would God do such a thing? I challenge you to start the dialogue.

Media Advisory - Save Jeff Wood from the Texas Executioner

Media Advisory
For immediate release: July 29, 2008


Terri Been B.S., M. Ed, Sister of Jeff Wood

Scott Cobb, President
Texas Moratorium Network

Kristin Wood, Wife of Jeff Wood

Scott Sullivan
Jeff Wood's Attorney

Rally to Save Jeff Wood From Execution to be Held in San Antonio August 2 at Noon

A rally for Jeff Wood, who is waiting to die on Texas Death Row with an execution date of August 21st, 2008, will take place in San Antonio in front of the Alamo at noon on Saturday, August 2. Wood was sentenced to death under the 'Law of Parties' for a murder he did not commit. The actual murderer was Daniel Reneau, who has already been executed by the state of Texas. Wood did not kill anyone and did not intend anyone to be killed. He did not know that Reneau would commit a murder.

What: 'Save Jeff Wood' rally to stop the execution and urge clemency for Jeff Wood
Where: In front of The Alamo at 300 Alamo Plaza, San Antonio, Texas
When: Noon on Saturday August 2
Speakers Include: Terri Been, sister of Jeff Wood; Kristin Wood, wife of Wood; representatives of Texas Moratorium Network, Texas Students Against the Death Penalty, Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, Campaign to End the Death Penalty and others.

Last summer, Governor Perry commuted the death sentence of Kenneth Foster only hours before he was scheduled for execution. The Board of Pardons and Paroles had voted the day before to recommend clemency for Foster, who had been convicted under the 'Law of Parties' even though he did not kill anyone. Many newspapers wrote editorials urging Perry to commute Foster's death sentence, including the Dallas Morning News, which wrote in , 'Not a Killer: Kenneth Foster does not deserve execution':

'Ours is the only state in the country to apply the 'law of parties' to capital cases, allowing accomplices to pay the ultimate penalty for a murder committed by another. Mr. Foster is a criminal. But he should not be put to death for a murder committed by someone else'

Now, Texas is set to execute another person who did not kill anyone but was sentenced to death under the Law of Parties.

The Coalition to Save Jeff Wood is asking the people of Texas to contact the governor and the Board of Pardons and Paroles and urge them to grant clemency to Jeff Wood, because he did not kill anyone. 'Many Texans support the death penalty, but I do not believe that any reasonable person in Texas believes that a person like Jeff Wood should be executed who did not kill or intend to kill. Wood's sentence should be commuted just as Kenneth Foster's was commuted', said Scott Cobb of Texas Moratorium Network.

The cousin of Kris Keeran (the murder victim) wants to save the life of Jeff Wood.
"My cousin was the person killed by Danny, not Jeff. I say this as a family member who realized long ago Jeff had no part in my cousin's murder and he shouldn't be executed. It's insane to kill another person who did not kill Kris. The video showed Jeff took no part in it. Jeff was one of my friends growing up and someone I think deserves a chance. If he didn't kill him, why should we kill Jeff? This is ridiculous."
- Amanda Smith, Texas
June 19, 2008
Everyone - including law enforcement and prosecutors alike - agree that Jeffrey Wood did not kill anyone during the January 2, 1996 incident for which he was sentenced to death. The undisputed facts are that Kris Keeran was shot and killed by Daniel Reneau. During the episode, Jeffery Wood did not and could not have known that Reneau would murder Keeran. In fact, Wood was not even inside the store at the time of the murder.

Daniel Reneau was convicted of the murder of Kris Keeran and Reneau was executed on June 13, 2002. When the robbery took place on the morning of January 2, 1996, Wood was under the impression that Reneau was going in to the store to get 'road drinks and munchies.' Although it is true that Wood and Reneau had planned a robbery of the store at the behest of the manager of the store, Wood backed out because he had a bad feeling about it. The robbery was supposed to take place on the 1st, but after Wood backed out, Reneau decided to go through with the robbery on the 2nd on his own initiative and made the decision to kill Kris Keeran on his own. Wood had no idea that a murder or a even a robbery was going to take place on the morning of the 2nd. Before Reneau and Wood left the house on the morning of the 2nd, Wood told Daniel Reneau to put the gun away, which he did in front of Wood, but Reneau pulled the gun out again when Wood went to the restroom.

At approximately 6:00 a.m. on Jan. 2, 1996, while Jeff Wood waited outside, Daniel Reneau entered the gas station with a gun and pointed it at Kris Keeran, the clerk standing behind the counter. Reneau ordered him to a back room. When he did not move quickly enough, Reneau fired one shot with a 22 caliber handgun that struck Keeran between the eyes. Death was almost instantaneous. Proceeding with the robbery, Reneau went into the back office and took a safe. After hearing the shot, Wood got out of the car to see what was going on. He walked by the door and looked through the glass. Then he went inside, looked over the counter and ran to the back, where Reneau was. Wood was then ordered by Reneau at gunpoint to get the surveillance video and to drive the getaway car. Earlier, Reneau had threatened to kill Wood's young daughter if anyone ever 'ratted' on Reneau, so with a gun pointed at him and a man already having been shot, Wood complied with Reneau's orders.

Additional facts:

* Wood suffers from severe mental, emotional and learning disabilities. He was abused and beaten severely and repeatedly as a child. He is submissive to more dominant personalities because of the abuse during his childhood.
* At arrest Wood was forced into interrogation by the police and did not have council present. Wood was kept awake the entire time. He was refused sleep. He eventually confessed saying it was a planned robbery. He later revoked this statement. Wood was found not mentally fit to stand trial. He was admitted into a mental hospital and a couple of weeks later was found 'trial ready'.
* At trial, Wood was not satisfied with his representation. Wood asked to represent himself, but wasn't allowed to do so. The judge found him not capable of representing himself. The judge however, did not argue when Wood, in his diminished mental capacity, ordered his attorneys not to do anything during the punishment phase of his trial. The result was that Jeff had no witnesses during the punishment phase of his trial on his behalf. If his lawyers had been able to call witnesses during the penalty phase, the jury would have heard about Wood's mental problems and his abusive childhood and may not have sentenced him to death.

* The victim's father called the Governor of Texas on the day of Daniel Reneau's execution and urged the governor not to execute the person who actually killed his son, Daniel Reneau.

Visit the Save Jeff Wood website at for more information and to sign the petition for Jeff Wood.

Thomas D. Arthur's execution stayed

Alabama Supreme Court in a 5-4 vote has stayed the execution of Thomas D. Arthur. Below you can find Bobby Ray Gilbert's affidavit confessing to the murder.

Dallas Morning News: Gov. Perry should halt this execution

Dallas Morning News has called on Gov. Rick Perry to stop execution of José Medellín in order to protect Americans abroad.

All eyes are on Gov. Rick Perry regarding the Aug. 5 execution date for José Medellín, a Mexican who confessed to the 1993 gang rape and murder of two Houston teenage girls.

Although this newspaper opposes the death penalty, no one doubts the governor's prerogative under the law to permit the execution of convicted murderers. In this case, though, an international court has ruled that Mr. Medellín deserves a judicial review because he was denied his right to a Mexican consular visit, as required under a U.S.-signed treaty.

The international court's ruling can't be enforced, and the Supreme Court has upheld the state's authority to proceed. But that doesn't mean Mr. Perry is required to proceed. For the good of the country, we join Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in urging him to grant a stay of execution.

The State Department calculated that 4,456 Americans were arrested abroad in 2006, up from 3,614 in 2005. The bulk of those arrests occurred in Mexico. For an American sitting in a filthy, dark jail cell in a foreign land, it's easy to be overwhelmed by hopelessness. One thing makes the nightmare bearable: the guaranteed visit from an American consular official.

Many foreign governments permit this visit because they know that the full weight of American diplomatic pressure will come to bear on them if they do not.

Yes, Mr. Perry can flex the state's judicial muscle and show the world that Texans don't bow to the whims of some distant, obscure international court. But it would send an unequivocal message to all foreign governments – especially Mexico – that this country doesn't stand by its promises. They can justifiably point to Mr. Perry's example if they decide not to be bound by this or other important treaties in the future.

This is a heavy weight to put on one man's shoulders, but Mr. Perry, your decision could set the course for international events of far greater importance than the fate of a single, confessed killer. It's time to put the interests of this country and its citizens first and halt Mr. Medellín's execution.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Condoleezza Rice asks Perry to stop execution of Jose Medellin

According to Dallas Morning News, Condoleezza Rice and Attorney General Michael Mukasey has asked Gov. Rick Perry to stop execution of Jose Medellin in order to protect American's abroad.

Fourteen years and numerous judicial reviews have passed since José Medellin was sentenced to die after confessing to the brutal gang rape and murder of two teenage girls in Houston.

That's long enough, state officials say. It's time to carry out the sentence.

But defense attorneys, and an unusual coalition of federal officials, including no less than the attorney general and secretary of state, say if his Aug. 5 execution is not stayed, so Mr. Medellin's case can be reviewed one more time at the behest of the International Court of Justice, Texas will be rushing to judgment and endangering Americans abroad.

"Put simply, the United States seeks the help of the State of Texas," Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrote Texas Gov. Rick Perry in a letter released by defense attorneys.

Federal authorities are scrambling to bring the U.S. into compliance with the Vienna Convention, a treaty signed decades ago giving jurisdiction to the world court in cases concerning consular access. The world court first called for additional review for dozens of Mexican citizens condemned to die without access to their consular officials in 2004 and repeated the call in another decision July 16.

"We respectfully request that Texas take the steps necessary to give effect to the ...decision," the June letter says.

President Bush tried to resolve the issue three years ago by ordering states to review the cases of 51 Mexican nationals on death row, including Mr. Medellin, as directed by the International Court. But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that Mr. Bush overstepped his authority and that individual states are not bound by the international court decision.

The Supreme Court ruling cleared the way for Harris County prosecutors to seek an execution date for Mr. Medellin.

But two weeks ago, a bill was introduced in Congress by Reps. Howard Berman, D-California, and Zoe Lofgren, D-California, to require states to come into compliance with the International Court order. Defense attorneys and officials are pushing to delay Mr. Medellin's execution until that bill can be considered.

"Texas has an obligation to abide by this commitment of the United States just like everybody else, and Texas should allow Congress an adequate time to pass the legislation," said Donald Donovan, Mr. Medellin's attorney.

Concern about the impending execution and its possible ramifications is so high that a group of state department officials traveled to Texas to lobby the governor's general counsel. Some international law experts say Americans traveling abroad who are arrested may suffer if the U.S. does not abide by the treaty.

A dilemma

But Gov. Perry remains resolute. Spokesman Robert Black admits the federal government has "a big sort of dilemma" because the United States as a whole is obligated to abide by international treaty obligations, but individual states are not.

Still, "the governor isn't feeling any pressure on this simply because he is here to uphold the laws of the state of Texas and not some foreign court in Europe," he said.

"Two young girls were brutally gang raped and murdered, and the governor is not willing to say that any foreign national is going to get any additional protection under the law than a Texas citizen would," Mr. Black said.

Mr. Medellin, 33, was afforded the same rights in his case, including a court-appointed attorney, as any American citizen. In 1994, he was convicted of kidnapping, raping and murdering Elizabeth Pena, 16. Another girl, Jennifer Ertman, 14, was also raped and murdered. The girls stumbled into a gang initiation.

Despite the horrific nature of the crime, defense attorney Donovan said it "would be fundamentally unjust" for Gov. Perry to not respect the commitment made under the treaty "by the American people as a whole."

"In Texas, like the rest of the United States, a deal is a deal," he said.

And, he added, Americans overseas could face consequences. "I think the people of Texas, just like the rest of the American people, would not want Texas to do anything that would jeopardize the safety of Americans living, traveling, and working abroad."

'Profoundly wrong'

Despite Mr. Perry's determination not to halt the execution, Mr. Donovan seems confident the lethal injection will be stopped. "For Texas to go forward would be profoundly wrong," he said. "And we believe if Texas insists on going forward with this execution that a Texas court or a federal court will step in, including the Supreme Court."

Others doubt the political pressure or legal maneuvers will have much effect at either the state or national level.

"There may be some attempt at having a political solution but Texas will be a very reluctant partner in that," said Dr. Kimi King, a lawyer and associate professor of political science at the University of North Texas.

She believes the August execution will proceed "because there's simply too great of a political culture inside Texas that is supportive of the death penalty, and there is more mileage to be gained from opposing the request to stay it than there would be in trying to support it."

Chuck Cooper, a Washington attorney who filed a brief supporting Texas in the Medellin Supreme Court case, said he doubted Congressional efforts would amount to much either. He could see "some fringe California congressman offering a bill to do this," he said, "but I can't imagine Congress as a whole passing a statute."

Treaty obligations are important, Mr. Cooper said, but "the obligation to fulfill treaty requirements simply gives way when it would violate constitutional laws."

Monday, July 28, 2008

Save Jeff Wood Rally

When: Saturday, August 2nd, 2008 @ 12:00 pm
Where: In front of the Alamo in San Antonio

Like Kenneth Foster, Jeff Wood was convicted under the Law of Parties.

Jeff has an execution date of Aug. 21, for a murder he did NOT commit!!!
Come & help save Jeff from the Texas executioner!

You can Help!!! The time to act is NOW!!!!

Did Chuck Rosenthal hide evidence?

Check out the following AP article and keep the following in mind:

Chuck Rosenthal is guilty of hiding evidence when he prosecuted Ronnie E. Johnson for capital murder back in 1994. Six weeks before his execution, Lonnie’s lawyer and private investigator found missing evidence contained within police reports at the Harris County District Atorney's office that supported his claim of self-defense. But the courts said that it was always available in the DA's files and refused to stay his execution.
Six of Lonnie's attorneys over 17 years have signed affidavits saying they never saw these reports that would have supported Lonnie's claims of self defense.

Lonnie's case is one of a Black man accepting a ride late one night from two white teenagers at a convenience store. They took him the wrong way and when he asked them where they were going, one of the youth put a gun to Ronnie and told him, "this was the end of the ride, N - - - - r."

They ordered him out of the car, beat and kicked him repeatedly and urinated on him. Lonnie grabbed the gun during a lull and killed both teenagers. Though Lonnie was able to defend his life during this hate crime, the State of Texas wrongfully executed him for the “double murder” of his two attackers.

So, I wonder if all defense attorneys would now ask for a search warrant for the DA's offices, if that would be granted. It might have helped save Lonnie Johnson's life if his first attorneys could have searched for the exculpatory evidence that the DA, Rosenthal, had hidden.

Defense lawyers group upset over search of office

FRISCO, Texas — Members of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association plan to attend an upcoming hearing to protest what they say is a highly unusual search of a defense attorney's office in connection with a murder-for-hire case in suburban Dallas.

Collin County prosecutors seeking the death penalty against a man accused of being a contract killer requested a court-ordered search of the offices of the man's lawyers, saying they believed defense attorneys were hiding incriminating evidence.

Attorneys for defendant Mark Lyle Bell and members of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association said the February search violated attorney-client privilege.

"I think it's unconscionable," David Schulman, one of Bell's attorneys, said in a story in Sunday's editions of The Dallas Morning News.

Craig Jett, a former president of the defense lawyers association, said defendants should be able to have private communications with their attorneys and that such a search violates that right.

"I thought it was pretty outrageous to issue a search warrant for a lawyer's office," Jett said.

Prosecutors defended the search, saying they believed the defense was hiding evidence, including the boots Bell wore the night of the alleged killing. The search turned up no boots but did yield a sealed box, documents and handwritten letters from Bell to his wife.

"No one has a right to conceal evidence in a criminal case, including attorneys," prosecutor Greg Davis said.

A hearing is scheduled Aug. 5 to determine whether state District Judge Mark Rusch, who signed the search warrant, can stay on the case. Bell's lawyers want him off the case.

Rusch declined to comment. The Texas Attorney General's Office said Rusch should be able to stay on the case and should not have to testify at the hearing.

Southern Methodist University law professor Linda Eads said lawyers can be subject to search warrants, but it's considered an extreme and rare measure to execute one against an attorney. Courts must balance "the level of probable cause against the incredible importance of the attorney-client relationship," she said.

No trial date has been set in Bell's capital murder case. He is accused of fatally shooting 36-year-old Craig Nail in his Frisco home in December. Authorities said Nail's estranged wife, Vera Elizabeth Guthrie-Nail, wanted him dead. She and another man, Thomas Edward Grace, face charges of conspiracy to commit capital murder.

All three defendants remain in the Collin County Jail.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

What the Death Penalty Has Done To Me

By Christy Armell

August 30th, 2007 will forever be engraved in my mind. This is the day that the state of Texas was going to execute my friend Kenneth Foster. I remember going to bed the night before, with Kenneth’s letters right beside me thinking I may never get another letter from him. How could this be happening? How could this country that I live in want kill someone that I cared for? I remember waking up that morning in tears. I paced the floors, calling people, emailing, screaming the injustice that was going to take place that very day. I reached out to anyone who would listen to me. I held my 13 year old daughter tight, somehow helping me feel closer to my friend. My daughter looked at me and told me everything will be ok. As she dressed for school, she vowed to fast in protest of the state sanctioned murder of my friend. Seems her silent protest may have helped save Kenny’s life.

I don’t remember anything else Adam Axel said to me when he phoned me mid morning on August 30th, 2007 except that Kenny’s sentence had been commuted. I screamed so loud my neighbors came by to see if I was ok. Answering the door in tears of joy, I responded my friend will live, my friend will live. August 30th, 2007 turned out to be one of the happiest days of my life.

I actually stumbled upon Kenny’s case while researching the death penalty for a class. I am a Criminal Justice student. I decided to write to him in prison. Those letters have continued to this day. I had known, before I met Kenny, that I opposed the death penalty, I just never was able to really vocally say so. Kenny helped me to see that my voice could be and should be heard. I have not stopped using my voice since then.

I really began getting more involved, writing to inmates, and speaking to their families and other activists. I became aware of the pain, the tears, and the cries of help that each case warranted. We were talking about people’s lives. Guilt or innocence never really mattered. This country is killing people in the name of justice. I don’t call that justice, I call that revenge.

I became more involved with the death penalty in Texas. My focus remains there today. Texas is the killing capital of the world, when it comes to executions. With over 400 executions in Texas since the death penalty became legal again in 1976, there seems to be a real joy of applying a death sentence to people; even people who have never killed another. Texas has an arcane law called the Law of Parties. The Law of Parties was never meant to be used in capital cases. However, that has changed and men and women are being sent to their deaths for never killing anyone. The Law of Parties basically states that a person should “anticipate” that a murder will occur. How can anyone anticipate such a thing? Men and women are sitting in prison, convicted under LOP who had no knowledge that a murder would occur, did not conspire to commit a murder, and did not participate it the crime at all. How can Texas justify this? Kenneth Foster was charged under LOP, and his life was spared. Will others?

I have been to Texas. The moment I crossed the border into that state, I could smell the death in the air. Why? Why the death penalty is still considered an appropriate form of punishment? Over 100 men and women have been exonerated from death row in recent years, with valid proof of innocence. This is enough to tell me that the system is flawed. The death penalty is irreversible. I do not want the blood of an innocent person on my hands. And neither should Texas, or the United States.

While I came into this struggle on a victory of Kenny’s life being saved, I knew that it would not last. However, I was never prepared to lose a friend to state sanctioned murder. Karl Chamberlain was killed by Texas in June 2008. Karl had this amazing smile that would melt your heart. His words did the same. Karl was prepared to die, and was also very remorseful for the crime that he committed. He told me once not to feel sorry for him, but to continue the fight. I go over those words in my mind everyday. The day of Karl’s execution will also be forever etched in my mind. June 11th, 2008. The day Texas killed my friend. I frantically was on the phone to people in Texas who were outside the gates of the killing chamber in Huntsville Texas. I was also on the phone with Joey, a pen pal of mine who was just released from Texas Department of Corrections. I had grown to love Joey very much, and I called on him to watch the news there and to tell me anything that was being said about Karl. I was in tears and completely distraught.

When the news came down that Karl had indeed been executed all I could do was cry and wonder when will it stop? When will this country stop creating more victims? I certainly was a victim that day, as well as all of Karl’s family and friends. We lost someone we loved. I closed down the computer, turned off the phone and thought of Karl, and his mother, who was protesting outside of Huntsville while her son was being murdered just feet away from her.

The next day, I received a letter from Karl. It was the usual upbeat letter, telling me to press forward, to fight for those who others have forgotten or just chose not to hear. Karl was looking down on me, as he is today. The sadness will remain from losing Karl, but the fight will continue. I fight for Kenny who lived, and I fight for Karl who died. I fight for the mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and children who love unconditionally. I fight for what the death penalty has done to me, and what it may one day do to you.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Murder victims' group writes clemency letter for Jeff Wood

July 16, 2008

The Honorable Rick Perry

Governor, State of Texas

P.O. Box 12428

Austin, Texas 78711-2428

Ms. Rissie Owens, Chair

Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles

8610 Shoal Creek Boulevard

Austin, Texas 78757

Re: Jeffrey Wood, TDJC No. 999256

Dear Governor Perry and Chairwoman Owens:

Our organization consists of hundreds of family members of murder victims plus thousands of "Friends of MVFR". Many of these members reside in Texas. I write as a representative of all of these good people.

We make an urgent plea for you to extend mercy to Jeff Wood by commuting his death sentence. He presently resides on Texas' death row, with the date of 8/21 set for his execution. We do not ordinarily write to state officials in behalf of those on death rows. We only do so when we believe the circumstances are so extraordinary that it cries out for leniency. In those cases, there have usually been one, or possibly two, circumstances that might lead to commutation. In Wood's case, there appear to be at least four such circumstances, probably more, but the four noted herein are the ones that strike us as being most important. First, he was not at all involved in the shooting, actually being outside, with no idea this tragedy might take place. This is combined with fact that there was no predetermined plan for a shooting to happen. Second, he has severe mental problems, likely stemming from abuse he suffered as a child. This is no fake, proven by fact that he was originally found unfit to stand trial and placed in a mental hospital. Third, no defense was presented at the penalty phase of the trial, since Wood, in his diminished capacity, ordered his lawyer not to assert a defense. Had a defense been presented, there is a good possibility that this letter would not even be necessary. Fourth, and this is very important to those of us who have lost loved ones to murder, is the fact that the victim's father and cousin do not want Wood to be executed. On a very personal note, the wishes of a father are very important to me. I lost my beloved daughter to murder in the State of Georgia twenty years ago, and at that time, I asked the prosecutor to seek the longest possible prison term she could for the killer, but not seek the death penalty. She complied with my request. While the desires of the victims' family members certainly are not controlling, they often lead prosecutors to seek capital punishment. Here, they should also be a factor to be considered in determining whether leniency is appropriate.

To summarize, in our humble opinions, this is the exact type of case where intervention is called for, a case in which the legal requirements of capital punishment have been met, but justice will be best served by intervention. Accordingly, our thousands of members and friends most respectfully request that you provide that justice.

With great thanks for your consideration of this vital matter,

Lorry W. Post

Executive Director

Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Maryland State Police spied on Campaign to end the Death Penalty

American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland through a lawsuit has obtained 46 pages of documents from the Maryland State Police, revealing how undercover police officers infiltrated local anti-death penalty and anti-war groups. You can watch the video coverage at WBALTV's website. According to Washington Post,

Maryland State Police officers conducted surveillance on local peace activists and groups opposed to the death penalty, including some in Takoma Park, for more than a year during the administration of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), documents released this morning show.

The 46 pages released to the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland through a lawsuit seeking public information on the activities of the State Police Homeland Security and Intelligence Division reveal undercover agents monitored private organizing meetings, public forums and rallies outside the State House in Annapolis. The agents used aliases to attend these events and to join listservs, logging information about protest activities into a database, the records show.

Reports of the surveillance were shared with numerous federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, including the National Security Agency and the Anne Arundel County Police Department. The logs did not contain reports of illegal activity.

The records show that undercover agents collectively spent 288 hours on surveillance activities over 14 months from March 2005 to May 2006. The groups monitored include the Coalition to End the Death Penalty, which has many members from Takoma Park, and the Baltimore Pledge of Resistance, a peace group that has been vocal in opposing the Iraq war.

"To invest this many hours in investigating the most all-American of activities without any scintilla of evidence there is anything criminal going on is shocking," ACLU attorney David Rocah said this morning.

The records do not reveal who in the Ehrlich administration ordered the surveillance. A spokesman for the former governor, who was defeated by Martin O'Malley (D) in 2006, could not be reached immediately.

O'Malley's State Police superintendent, Terrence B. Sheridan, declined comment this morning, saying he was not familiar with the case. Sheridan was appointed last year.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration wrote guidelines permitting law enforcement agents to attend public events for the purpose of tracking suspected terrorists. But the information cannot be retained unless terrorism or suspected criminal activity is suspected. Officials with the ACLU said most of the State Police records are unlawful because they do not relate to criminal acts.

Staff writer John Wagner also contributed to this report.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

News: International Court of Justice Press Release


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Katharine Huffman: 202-360-1991

July 16, 2008


U.S. International Relations and Safety of Americans Abroad at Risk As Execution Date Approaches

THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS – The International Court of Justice (ICJ) today determined that the United States must take “all measures necessary” to prevent the executions of José Medellín and four other Mexican nationals sentenced to death in the state of Texas. The order will remain in effect until the ICJ resolves Mexico’s request for interpretation of its 2004 Judgment in Avena and Other Mexican Nationals (Mexico v. United States of America).

The Avena case was filed by Mexico on behalf of 51 Mexican nationals who did not receive consular access upon arrest in the United States, in violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. In 2004, the ICJ issued its original decision in the case, determining that each Mexican national was entitled to a judicial hearing to ascertain whether he was harmed by the violation of his Vienna Convention rights.

Despite this binding legal obligation, the United States has failed to provide the judicial hearings mandated by the ICJ’s 2004 judgment in the vast majority of the Avena cases. José Ernesto Medellín, one of the individuals whose Vienna Convention rights were denied, is scheduled for execution in Texas on August 5th.

Attorneys for Medellín applauded the order. “We welcome the ICJ's order of provisional measures in response to Mexico’s request as a vindication of that institution’s faith in the United States’s political will and ability to enforce the Avena Judgment,” said Donald Francis Donovan of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, New York, counsel to Mexico and to Medellín. “We are confident the United States and the State of Texas will comply with the ICJ’s order and stay the August 5th execution of Mr. Medellín.”

According to international law experts, the situation has implications far beyond the individual cases at issue. Professor Sarah H. Cleveland, Louis Henkin Professor of Human and Constitutional Rights and Co-Director of the Human Rights Institute at Columbia Law School, expressed concern about how U.S. global governmental allies and business partners will view future international treaties and agreements if the United States fails to honor its international obligations.

“It is critical that the United States abide by the commitments undertaken when we signed and ratified the Vienna Convention,” said Cleveland. “The United States has relied repeatedly on the enforceability of this and other treaty obligations abroad. If we do not keep our promises to our international partners, we lose the ability to protect our own citizens abroad, and damage our nation’s reputation as a reliable player on the world stage.”

On Monday, July 14th, the U.S. Congress introduced the “Avena Case Implementation Act of 2008” in order to implement the ICJ’s Avena judgment. This legislation empowers the federal courts to hear the Vienna Convention claims of foreign nationals who were not advised of their consular rights, including the Mexican nationals named in the Avena judgment. The legislation has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee for consideration.

Today’s ICJ order came following the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Medellín v. Texas. In March of this year, the Court held that the U.S. is under a binding legal obligation to abide by an International Court of Justice ruling requiring review of the cases of Medellín and other Mexican nationals not provided with consular access. But the Supreme Court concluded that Congressional action is necessary to make the Avena Judgment enforceable in U.S. courts.

Although a bill has been introduced in the House, congressional enactment of the legislation would take longer than the few weeks remaining before the August 5th execution date. Postponement of the pending execution is critical so that Congress has adequate time to act in accordance with the Supreme Court’s decision.

“Texas should stay the pending execution not only out of respect for the ICJ – an international institution that the United States helped build and in which the U.S. has long been a participant – but also out of respect for the U.S. Congress and for the legal obligations that the United States has undertaken to its neighbor, Mexico,” said Gregory Kuykendall, an attorney and Director of the Mexican Capital Legal Assistance Program. “We would expect no less of Mexico or any other Vienna Convention signatory if the tables were turned.”


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Howard County Joins Public Defender Task Force

Here is News West 9's report:

by Victor Lopez
NewsWest 9

HOWARD COUNTY-- It cost them nothing to join, but it could save thousands of tax dollars. Howard County Commissioners said yes, Monday morning, to joining the Public Defender Task Force, all to cut the cost of paying for a public defender in a death penalty case.

Howard County averages one capital murder case every ten years, according to Judge Mark Barr, it's a matter of doing your math. And just like an insurance policy, you never know when you're going to need it, "If you had two, it's a good deal. If you don't have any, it's a bad deal. If you have one, it's about the same."

It would cost Howard County, anywhere between $80,000.00 and $200,000.00 for a capital murder case. So it's no wonder commissioners voted to join the Public Defender Task Force, which would bring that cost down, considerably.

Judge Barr tells NewsWest 9, they are missing one key player in the game, "Howard County does not have an attorney that is certified to do capital murder cases."

There will be no expense to the county this year but as the judge explains, the fees will vary from year to year, "In 2009, we'll pay this task force a little over $10,000 and in 2011, it's a little over $8,000. I believe it escalates in 2012, to a little over 20,000 dollars."

You may call it a coincidence, but the commissioners decision to join this task force, comes at the right time. There are already two potential cases that would benefit from it.

"Of course we have one case that was kicked back to us on the Supreme Court on just the punishment phase. So they're going to have to retry that. That's possibly one. And then there's the potential of this drive-by shooting that involved the pregnant girl. That could be another one," Barr said.

Commissioners can opt out of the program with a 180 day notice. So, for now, Judge Barr says, it's a wait and see situation, "We're just gonna kinda see, check the water and see how it is."

Tuesday's vote brings good news since Howard County has faced financial difficulties in recent years.

Other counties in the Permian Basin that have already joined this task force include Ector and Martin.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Drop All the Charges in the Yogurt Shop Case NOW!


Picket and Press Event at Yogurt Shop hearing:

Tuesday, July 15th at 12:30PM
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 others 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.

Mikes trial has been postponed until October, while new DNA testing is done on crucial evidence from the crime scene. Recent results from that testing, as well as all prior DNA testing has fully exonerated all four men of this crime!

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!

China refuses to consider 250,000-strong petition

A World Coalition delegation found the door closed on June 16 when they attempted to handover to the Chinese Liaison Office in Hong Kong a petition urging for changes in the death penalty system in China.

Stopped at the outside door of the building, it was refused the chance to be met by any official on the explanation that ‘this is a political issue’.

The petition, calling for the lift of state secrecy on the practice of the death penalty and a moratorium on executions, was signed by 256,457 persons from all around the world.
Earlier in the morning, the WCADP held a press conference in Hong Kong to present its demands and compare the death penalty situation in China with global trends in Asia and the rest of the world.
Death penalty remains a particular concern in China, where thousands of people continue to be sentenced to death and executed each year, often after hasty and unfair trial.

“They've destroyed my future”

“I just had one son, all my hopes rested on him. They’ve destroyed my future […] Without my son, my family and I can’t go on”, said the mother of an innocent who had been wrongfully sentenced to death and executed on the basis of confessions made under torture.
Mark Allison, China researcher for Amnesty International, reminded that important reforms were needed to improve the Chinese criminal justice system and preclude miscarriages of justice. However, he recognised the importance of a recent reform requesting the Supreme People’s Court review of death penalty sentences, which has led to a significant reduction in the number of executions, according to the Chinese authorities. He regretted that this statement could not be supported or assessed by any figure as the death penalty remains classified as a state secret.

“Polite and transparent dialogue”

“We ask for China to make transparency part of its death penalty”, said Speedy Rice, an American law professor talking on behalf of the World Coalition. “We hope that through a polite and transparent dialogue, China will restrict the number of crimes eligible for death, afford greater legal protection for the accused and, ultimately, respect its public statement at the United Nations Human Rights Council that China will one day end its use of the death penalty.”
Abolition is possible in China as it is in the rest of the world. Emily Lau, member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council, reminded that Hong Kong has abolished the death penalty in 1993 and that the crime rate has been decreasing in the past ten years.

“Changes in China would have a great impact on the rest of the world and especially in Asia” said Maiko Tagusari, a lawyer from Japan and member of the Anti Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN). She spoke after a two-day meeting of the ADPAN network clearly indicated that the momentum towards abolition is growing in the region.

The press conference had opened with a video message from Robert Badinter, French Senator, former Minister of Justice and former member of the Ethics Commission of the International Olympic Committee. He insisted that executions that would take place in China or elsewhere in the world during the Olympic Games would offend the integrity of human beings, which is the very principle of the Olympic spirit.

Lonnie Earl Johnson Foundation


Lonnie Johnson was unlawfully executed on July 24, 2007 for killing two teenage boys on August 15, 1990. Six weeks prior to his death, his defense team found police reports hidden in Mr. Johnson's prosecuting attorney's file at the District Attorney's office. The prosecuting attorney was then assistant District Attorney, Chuck Rosenthal. The police reports were investigated and submitted by the Harris County Police Investigation Department in August 1990 and tell the story of how Mr. Johnson was targeted on August 15 by two teenage boys who were ultimately killed by Mr. Johnson in self-defense as Mr. Johnson had claimed from the beginning.

The Criminal Court of Appeals and the 5th Circuit Court denied Mr. Johnson's Petition for Relief in July 2007 saying that these files were not hidden because the DA's office has an open file policy. Contrary to that belief, Jodi Callaway-Cole, Mr. Johnson's' final attorney obtained as evidence, 6 affidavits from each of Lonnie's attorney's over 17 years that swore they were never provided the police reports in question.

Hiding evidence in a capital murder case for the sole purpose of gaining a wrongful conviction and unlawful execution, knowing that the person will suffer hardship and ultimately death is especially depraved and criminal. The LEJ Foundation feels strongly that if we are successful, other cases that Rosenthal handled "improperly" will be exposed - Rosenthal was a DA for a long time; he is still licensed to practice law.

On July 24, 2008, The LEJ Foundation is submitting a letter requesting an investigation of Chuck Rosenthal, former DA to the Harris Grand Jury regarding the hidden police reports in Mr. Johnson's case.

PRESS CONFERENCE - The Johnson Family and I will hold a press conference on July 24, 2008 at the Magnolia Hotel Library in Houston Texas at noon. Please let us know if you are interested in attending and/or would like more information regarding Mr. Johnson's wrongful execution.

Please feel free to visit our website for more information.
Carrie Christensen
Cell (310) 701-4380

LEJ Foundation - Exposing Unlawful Executions, Taking action , Creating Public Awareness, Finding Justice.

Karl Keys of Capital Defense Weekly wrote this about Lonnie's case in response to a blogger on his site:

Having read the pleadings in this case however I have been left with the strong, strong feeling that Lonnie Johnson is telling the truth, as well as that the state’s trial prosecutors suppressed evidence. The victims’ family members are of course outraged that their children are now dead at the hands of Johnson, what parent wouldn’t be. The question though is not the outrage at the children’s death but did Johnson kill in cold blood or in self-defense. The state suppressed evidence that went directly to that point.

I firmly believe that everyone should be entitled to a fair trial. Johnson, imo (in my opinion), was denied that right. The jury was denied, imo (in my opinion), the right to hear that evidence before condemning this man to death. The appellate courts were entitled to review that evidence without having to apply the Arcane & Byzantine rules of procedural default, abuse of the writ & deference.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Sanders: Another troubling Dallas case

Thats the title of Bob Ray Sander's column in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram against the execution of Carlton Akee Turner.

The case of Carlton Akee Turner, who is scheduled for the Texas death chamber Thursday evening, presents the state and its noble citizens a whole set of conundrums:

What really should be done with troubled youths who commit horrible crimes?

Do we truly care about the feelings of the victims’ families and how they view "closure"?

How should our highest criminal court deal with cases from Dallas County particularly, with its history of racism, terribly flawed investigations and what some see as true "criminal" prosecution tactics of the recent past?

At what point do the people of Texas say "enough is enough" when it comes to capital punishment, even for those who committed a crime, as Turner most certainly did?

Many of you will remember the case of the Irving teenager arrested and charged with murdering his own parents, two revered people in the community who had adopted him as an 11-month-old baby.

The news shocked North Texas, and many people were asking at the time, "How could he have done that?" That question still haunts Turner family members, many of whom want to see the young man’s life spared.

Turner, called "Akee" by family members, was born on an Indian reservation in Utah on Independence Day, 1979, according to a clemency petition filed with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles by representatives of the University of Texas School of Law Capital Punishment Clinic.

"As a child of a Native American woman and a black man, he was not accepted by his mother’s tribe," the petition said.

Carlton Turner Sr. and his wife, Tonya, and the child moved around the country because of the elder Turner’s military career. And they often visited family in Pennsylvania together.

Other family members saw a happy couple with a delightfully "cute" child — a stable household with no problems.

But, according to the petition, "While Tonya and Carlton presented the picture of a happy well adjusted family, troubles started at an early age. Akee exhibited learning and behavioral problems as early as elementary school. These continued throughout his school years. His problems were only exacerbated by his father’s strict and abusive punishments. He suffered broken fingers, cuts, bruises and a broken leg (after his father threw him to the ground when he was seven years old), and endured many trips to the hospital as a result of his father’s punishment."

Turner, 19 at the time he shot his parents, testified about the abuse and said he killed his father in self-defense. He said he didn’t know why he killed his mother.

After the shooting, he dragged their bodies to the garage, where police found them three days later after obtaining a search warrant.

The facts about the crime were presented in court and don’t really play a part in the requests for clemency, something rarely granted in Texas under any circumstance.

Maurie Levin, an attorney with the UT law school’s Capital Punishment Clinic, argues in the petition and a supplement that Turner’s sentence should be commuted to life on two grounds: Dallas County’s history (including in this case) of excluding black people from juries in capital cases, and the fact that relatives of his dead parents — also members of his family — don’t want him executed.

Turner was convicted by an all-white jury, and anecdotal evidence suggests that no black people even made it to the voir dire (or questioning) part of jury selection. Jurors who expressed reservations about capital punishment on their questionnaires, a disproportionate number being African-American, were rejected "despite the fact that they may have been legally qualified to serve," the attorney said in her supplement to the petition.

Because of the practice of excluding blacks from capital cases in Dallas County, both prosecutors and defense lawyers were complicit in this tainted procedure, the petition says. "The capital prosecution of an African American man by an all white jury from a jurisdiction with such an extensive record of discrimination in exactly that arena should cause doubts in the first instance," the petition said. "Where . . . there is evidence of a deeper level of discrimination that is, by its nature, well camouflaged, a call for a halt to Mr. Turner’s scheduled execution is compelled, at least until further investigation can be conducted."

Noting a quote from Gov. Rick Perry that we "never forget the impact felt by crime victims," the attorney points out that the "vast majority" of Tony and Carlton Turner Sr.’s family members do not want to see the couple’s son executed.

"Executions are held out as a talisman that will provide the victim with closure," said the petition. "This belief serves in part as a rationale for executions. But, in Mr. Turner’s case, an 'eye for an eye’ truly does leave a family blind, twice robbed of their own."

Affidavits from three family members were submitted with the petition.

Kelly Johnson of Philadelphia, Tonya’s brother, wrote: "I do not wish to see my sister’s only child executed. I believe in my heart that my sister would only have wanted Akee to receive the help that he needed to restore his mind to a sound state."

Tonya Turner’s first cousin and close friend, Krishell Coleman of Lawrenceville, Ga., said, "I don’t think Carlton should be executed. I don’t want him to be executed. Now that I know more of the details that led to the murders, I realize that he needs help. Killing him is just another murder. Nothing is going to bring my cousin back. Killing him will just hurt our family again, the way Tonya and Carlton’s murders did."

The Board of Pardons and Paroles should recommend that the governor commute the sentence, and Perry should heed that advice.

Bob Ray Sanders’ column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. 817-390-7775

Friday, July 04, 2008

Pakistan's parliament bans the death penalty

Asia News is reporting that Pakistan's parliament has abolished the death penalty. Now the bill awaits Musharraf's signature in order to become law.
by Qaiser Felix
The bill launched by the premier to commemorate Benazir Bhutto was ratified by the government and now awaits President Musharraf’s signature. Welcomed by human rights groups, who are demanding improved rehabilitation programmes for prisoners.

Karachi (AsiaNews) – An end to the death penalty in Pakistan: the historic decision, approved by parliament and launched by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, now awaits the signature of President Musharraf before becoming law, but the act should be pure formality.

Information Minister Sherry Rehman announced Parliaments turning over a new leaf yesterday: a ban on capital punishment, and all death row sentences commuted to life in prison. It is a personal success story for the premier who had pusher for the reform to honour the anniversary of the birth of Benazir Bhutto, the leader of Pakistan’s People’s Party assassinated December 27th last.

"We welcome the decision made by the government of Pakistan”, said Nadeem Anthony of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, adding that "there is still more to be done particularly in the field of prisoner rehabilitation, so that they may one day be reintegrated into society”.

According to Nadeem the number of “sentences” and “executions” in Pakistan is among “the highest in the world: according to HRCP study at the moment in Pakistan there are 7,500 prisoners are on death row, including a few women ". It must also be underlined that “the imposition of capital punishment has not contributed to reduce the crime rate”, that human rights are “fundamental norms” and the death penalty is a “misconception of justice and denial of fundamental right to life”.

Currently it is still not clear if the criminals to benefit from the norm will include those accused of drug trafficking, terrorism or espionage. Islamists are strongly opposed to the move and see the commuting of the sentence as being opposed to the Koran: the Catholic Church for its part is fully behind the initiative, having long defined the death penalty as “inhuman” particularly because it denies the possibility of repentance and forgiveness.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Jester Leroy's execution stayed

Fort Worth Star-Telegram has the earliest update on the case.

A state judge in Sherman has postponed the July 22 execution date of Lester Leroy Bower Jr. and plans to hold hearings that could involve the Arlington man’s claims of innocence.

Bower’s stay of execution, signed late Monday by Judge Jim Fallon, was the latest twist in a case that began nearly a quarter-century ago when four men were found shot to death inside an airplane hangar near Sherman. In 1984, Bower was convicted and sent to Texas’ Death Row, where he has survived five execution dates during a lengthy appellate process.

Prosecutors contended at his trial that Bower, now 60, killed Bob Tate, Ronald Mayes, Jerry Mack Brown and Philip Good during the theft of an ultralight aircraft. But defense lawyers have uncovered witnesses who allege that other men were the killers and that the massacre occurred during a drug deal gone bad.

"My reaction is mixed," Shari Bower, the condemned man’s wife, said Wednesday of the stay. "We’ve been doing this for 24 years. By the same token, this is what we’ve been praying for, to get back into court and have someone look at the evidence. Now our prayers are going to go out that this judge will see the validity of all this."

News of Bower’s stay also inspired complicated emotions among survivors of the victims, including Lorna Mayes Murphy, the only daughter of Ronald Mayes. Murphy was 13 when her father was slain and named her first child after him.

"You learn to live with that over the years," she said Wednesday of her grief. "You don’t hear about it. You don’t talk about it. But now, when it comes back, this sadness, this sense of loss, it’s like losing him all over again. . . .There has to be some closure for the families."

Yet Murphy said the new evidence has raised questions in her mind about whether the right man was convicted.

"I want to believe they’ve found the man who did this. I want to believe it was Bower," Murphy said. "I can’t help it when they’re starting to bring other evidence up. Did they get the right person? And if they didn’t, they need to find the right person. I just want it to be right. I want it to be done and be over."

Mayes’ widow and Murphy’s stepmother, Paula Mayes, said Wednesday she has no doubt that Bower is the killer. Bower’s stay was another devastating setback in her ongoing attempts to heal, she said.

"I mean, there is enough evidence against him that it would almost convince people there was an eyewitness," Paula Mayes said. "To me, he [Bower] is the scum of the earth. I have forgiven him and tried to move on, but he keeps weaseling his way back into my life and I think it’s wrong. This has been going on for 25 years and it’s all about his rights. What about our rights?"

The case

From the time of his arrest, Bower, a family man and chemical salesman, has denied involvement in the killings. He has acknowledged visiting the hangar the afternoon of the crimes to buy an ultralight aircraft from Tate. But when first questioned by investigators, Bower repeatedly denied making the trip to the hangar, fabrications that likely played a large role in his conviction. He was arrested when parts of the ultralight belonging to Tate were found in his Arlington residence. Bower was also known to have the same kind of weapon and exotic ammunition that was used in the massacre.

But six years after the killings, a witness came forward to tell defense lawyers that her then-boyfriend talked about participating in the killings and mentioned three accomplices. The wife of one of the other alternative suspects recently told defense investigators that she overheard similar discussions about the slayings. Lawyers for Bower say they have confirmed several other key aspects of the new scenario. The names of the witnesses and suspects have been kept under court seal.

In recent motions, Bower’s lawyers have asked Fallon to allow new DNA analysis of hair and cigarette butts found at the crime scene. The defense hopes that the testing might link one of the other suspects to the crime. Citing the new evidence, Bower has also asked Fallon to set aside his conviction and death sentence. The judge could consider both requests during hearings in the next few weeks.

"We do very much appreciate an opportunity to present those issues when the parties and the court are not operating under the emotional pressure that comes with an imminent execution date," defense lawyer Anthony Roth said.

Did they get the right person? And if they didn’t, they need to find the right person. I just want it to be right. I want it to be done and be over."

Lorna Mayes Murphy,
the only daughter of Ronald Mayes

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Paul House will be released today

This is the great news from Tennessee. According to the Tennessean, Paul House will be released today. TCASK will probably have some more updates soon.

Paul Gregory House will celebrate the Fourth of July at home this Friday thanks to an anonymous donor who sent his mother the $10,000 bail needed for his release from state custody.

House, who has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair, is set for release today at 9:30 a.m. from the Lois M. DeBerry Special Needs Facility in Nashville.

"I was in tears because I couldn't find an appraiser for a property bond," said his mother, Joyce House. "Then I got an anonymous caller who said they were going to put up the money. There are angels out there. One day I hope to meet them."

House, 46, was on death row for 22 years after being convicted in 1986 of murdering Carolyn Muncey in East Tennessee. The U.S. Supreme Court concluded in 2006 that a jury, based upon DNA evidence that emerged years after his trial, could find reasonable doubt in the case. House has maintained his innocence.

U.S. District Court Judge Harry Mattice Jr. ordered the state to release House or retry him within 180 days, and an appeals court upheld Mattice's decision.

Prosecutors said they would retry House, and a state court judge in Union County set a $500,000 bond. Another judge reduced the bond to $100,000. At least 10 percent of that amount was required for House's release.

House's mother planned to use her Crossville home for a property bond to get her son released from jail while awaiting his second trial in October.

Under the bail conditions set by a judge, House can only leave his mother's home for medical appointments and court appearances. He will have a 24-hour electronic monitoring system and has to register as a sex offender. No firearms are allowed in the house.

Groups declare victory

The state does not plan to seek the death penalty during the second trial, and anti-death penalty organizations already have declared victory.

"We are so grateful to all the Tennesseans and people all over the country who have supported our work to free Paul House," said Stacy Rector, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing.

Contact Chris Echegaray at 664-2144 or