Friday, November 28, 2008

State Rep Harold Dutton files Law of Parties bill

State Rep Harold Dutton of Houston has filed a bill to end the death penalty as a sentencing option for anyone convicted under the Law of Parties.

By: Dutton H.B. No. 304



relating to the extent of a defendant's criminal responsibility for

the conduct of a co-conspirator in certain felony cases.


SECTION 1. Section 1, Article 37.071, Code of Criminal

Procedure, is amended to read as follows:

Sec. 1. (a) If a defendant is found guilty in a capital

felony case in which the state does not seek the death penalty, the

judge shall sentence the defendant to life imprisonment without


(b) A defendant who is found guilty in a capital felony case

only as a party under Section 7.02(b), Penal Code, may not be

sentenced to death, and the state may not seek the death penalty in

any case in which the defendant's liability is based solely on that


SECTION 2. Section 2, Article 37.0711, Code of Criminal

Procedure, is amended to read as follows:

Sec. 2. (a) If a defendant is found guilty in a case in

which the state does not seek the death penalty, the judge shall

sentence the defendant to life imprisonment.

(b) A defendant who is found guilty in a capital felony case

only as a party under Section 7.02(b), Penal Code, may not be

sentenced to death, and the state may not seek the death penalty in

any case in which the defendant's liability is based solely on that


SECTION 3. The change in law made by this Act applies to a

criminal proceeding that commences on or after the effective date

of this Act. A criminal proceeding that commences before the

effective date of this Act is governed by the law in effect when the

proceeding commenced, and the former law is continued in effect for

that purpose.

SECTION 4. This Act takes effect immediately if it receives

a vote of two-thirds of all the members elected to each house, as

provided by Section 39, Article III, Texas Constitution. If this

Act does not receive the vote necessary for immediate effect, this

Act takes effect September 1, 2009.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The UN just voted in favor of the resolution for a death penalty moratorium

The resolution passed the UN vote a little while ago:

105 in favor, 48 against and 31 abstentions.

Last year it passed with 99 in favor, 52 against and 33 abstentions.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Star-Telegram interview with Dallas DA Craig Watkins

Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins created a conviction integrity unit. He invited law students into his office to help probe for wrongful convictions. And there is at least one other way Watkins differs from most other prosecutors: He is personally opposed to capital punishment. In recent interviews, Watkins discussed those feelings and how he reconciles them with Texas law and the policies of his office.

Why are you opposed to capital punishment?

I’m a human being, and as a human being, I will not kill anybody. I don’t want to use my position to take a life, even though you may go out and do a heinous crime. I may be even worse than you because I have the full weight of the government behind me. For me to use the full weight of the government to do the same thing that you did, is that justifiable?

We just agreed to seek the death penalty against a guy that raped a 3-year-old girl and strangled her and left her under a bed. When I see that, the human side of me says, "Yeah, that guy should be killed." But then the government is the supreme being, right? You’re in a supreme position. You’re higher than human existence and you should carry yourself as such.

Given your feelings, when your office seeks the death penalty, do you personally sign off on that?

Professionally that’s something I have to do . . . for the citizens I represent.  . . . It’s the law and I have to implement it. I can’t let my personal views get in the way of what the public wants.

Will your feelings about the death penalty ever affect the policy of your office?

I would like to think that I have the courage to stand up and say no [to capital punishment]. But I’m not at that point. I don’t know if I ever will be. It’s so early in my career as DA. I don’t have any seniority. I don’t have any credibility.  . . . That might be a fight that I should fight, but at this point it’s too early.

Do decisions on capital cases cause you any sleepless nights?

All the time. Not just the ones that I make the decision on. Every time I read in the newspaper that someone is going to the death chamber, I don’t sleep.  . . . They just did one last week with one of the Texas Seven. I pay attention to that. That’s something I struggle with, even though the person did something really bad.

Are you concerned your position on capital punishment will hurt you politically?

I think it will, obviously. I can foresee the attacks that will come my way. But at the end of the day, the public wants honesty and openness. The fact that I am publicly trying to come to a conclusion on this is good for the system, and it’s good for politics. I don’t think politicians are honest enough. — Tim Madigan

11th Circuit Court of Appeals has granted oral arguments to Troy Davis

Julien Ball of CEDP has received words from Martina Correia, Troy Davis's sister, that the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has granted oral arguments in Troy Davis's case and will hear them on December 9! This hearing will be open to the public. More to come...

Dick Cheney, Alberto Gonzales indicted in S. Texas

Thats title of Houston Chronicle's article on indictment of Dick Cheney, Alberto Gonzales and state Senator. Lucio on charges related to alleged abuse of prisoners in federal detention centers.

McALLEN — A South Texas grand jury has indicted Vice President Dick Cheney and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on state charges related to the alleged abuse of prisoners in Willacy County's federal detention centers.

The indictment, which had not yet been signed by the presiding judge, was one of seven released Tuesday in a county that has been a source of bizarre legal and political battles in recent years. Another of the indictments named a state senator on charges of profiting from his position.

Willacy County District Attorney Juan Angel Guerra himself had been under indictment for more than a year and half before a judge dismissed the indictments last month. This flurry of charges came in the twilight of Guerra's tenure, which ends this year after nearly two decades in office. He lost convincingly in a Democratic primary in March.

Cheney's indictment on a charge of engaging in an organized criminal activity criticizes the vice president's investment in the Vanguard Group, which holds interests in the private prison companies running the federal detention centers. It accuses Cheney of a conflict of interest and "at least misdemeanor assaults" on detainees because of his link to the prison companies.

Megan Mitchell, a spokeswoman for Cheney, declined to comment on Tuesday, saying that the vice president had not yet received a copy of the indictment.

The indictment accuses Gonzales of using his position while in office to stop an investigation in 2006 into abuses at one of the privately-run prisons.

Gonzalez's attorney, George Terwilliger III, said in a written statement, "This is obviously a bogus charge on its face, as any good prosecutor can recognize. Hopefully, competent Texas authorities will take steps to reign in this abuse of the criminal justice system."

Willacy County has become a prison hub with county, state and federal lockups. Guerra has gone after the prison-politician nexus before, extracting guilty pleas from three former Willacy and Webb county commissioners after investigating bribery related to federal prison contacts.

Another indictment released Tuesday accuses state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. of profiting from his public office by accepting honoraria from prison management companies. Guerra announced his intention to investigate Lucio's prison consulting early last year.

Lucio's attorney, Michael Cowen, released a scathing statement accusing Guerra of settling political scores in his final weeks in office.

"Senator Lucio is completely innocent and has done nothing wrong," Cowen said, adding that he would file a motion to quash the indictment this week.

Last month, a Willacy County grand jury indicted The GEO Group, a Florida private prison company, on a murder charge in the death of a prisoner days before his release. The three-count indictment alleged The GEO Group allowed other inmates to beat Gregorio de la Rosa Jr. to death with padlocks stuffed into socks. The death happened in 2001 at the Raymondville facility, just four days before de la Rosa's scheduled release.

In 2006, a jury ordered the company to pay de la Rosa's family $47.5 million in a civil judgment. The Cheney-Gonzalez indictment makes reference to the de la Rosa case.

None of the indictments released Tuesday had been signed by Presiding Judge Manuel Banales of the Fifth Administrative Judicial Region.

A second batch of indictments targeted public officials connected to Guerra's own legal battles.

Willacy County Clerk Gilbert Lozano, District judges Janet Leal and Migdalia Lopez, and special prosecutors Mervyn Mosbacker Jr. — a former U.S. attorney — and Gustavo Garza — a long-time political opponent of Guerra — were all indicted on charges of official abuse of official capacity and official oppression.

Garza, the only one who could be immediately reached Tuesday, called it a sad state of affairs.

"I feel sorry for all of the good people this unprofessional prosecutor has maligned," Garza said. "I'm not at all concerned about the accusations he has trumped up."

Banales dismissed indictments against Guerra last month that charged him with extorting money from a bail bond company and using his office for personal business. An appeals court had earlier ruled that Garza was improperly appointed as special prosecutor to investigate Guerra.

After Guerra's office was raided as part of the investigation early last year, he camped outside the courthouse in a borrowed camper with a horse, three goats and a rooster. He threatened to dismiss hundreds of cases because he believed local law enforcement had aided the investigation against him.

On Tuesday, Guerra said the indictments speak for themselves. He said the prison-related charges are a national issue and experts from across the country testified to the grand jury. Asked about the indictments against local players in the justice system who had pursued him, Guerra said, "the grand jury is the one that made those decisions, not me."

The indictments were first reported by KRGV-TV.

Associated Press writer Deb Riechmann in Washington contributed to this report.

Monday, November 17, 2008

HURRICANE SEASON: the hidden messages in water

HURRICANE SEASON: the hidden messages in water is a two woman show about unnatural disaster and a great shift in universal consciousness. Read more about this inspiring show at the show's website:

Texas Moratorium Network will participate in a dialogue at the Austin show. The running time of the show is 2 hours. During the intermission between the first act and finale, representatives of TMN and other groups will be invited to come forward. Sallome Hralima, a powerful solutionary who has training and experience in transformational dialog, will be facilitating the ciphers.

Alixa and Naima are the soul-sister co-conspiracy of arts activists known as Climbing PoeTree. With roots in Haiti and Colombia, Alixa and Naima reside in Brooklyn and track footprints across the country and globe on a mission to overcome destruction with creativity.

AUSTIN the Off Center
11.19.08 | 6:30 PM
Austin, TX
The Off Center
2211 Hidalgo St
Austin, TX 78702
(512) 476-7833

doors open (6:30)
show time (7:00)

Ticket Info: 10- 20 dollar sliding scale.

Hurricane Season is a post-Katrina performance uprising: a multi-media show and movement strategy that draws vital connections between shared struggles and common solutions in a critical moment in national and global history.

New Orleans emerged from the floodwaters as a microcosm of the intersecting forces at play across the world:

- global warming and environmental injustice
- extreme poverty amidst affluence and over-consumption
- gentrification and forced relocation of poor people and people of color
- the police, prison, and military industrial complex
- corporate control over public policy
- lack of local ownership and self-determination
- gross disparity of access and power along gender, sexuality, class, and color lines

Through a tapestry of spoken-word poetry, theater, video projection, dance, shadow art, and a sound collage of personal testimonies, Hurricane Season connects the issues that surfaced in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to the "unnatural disasters" disenfranchised communities are experiencing nationwide on a daily basis.

Popular education through cultural activism,
the performance brims with stories missing or mangled in mainstream media. The show is both brutal and uplifting, taking the audience on a voyage of unthinkable tragedy and undeniable promise from the eye of a systemic storm.

With a set built of bamboo,calabash, and water that surrounds the audience in a circle of shadow and light, Hurricane Season transforms spaces into sanctuaries of healing, witness, and imagination.

Every show is followed by a "solutions-cipher," a forum that addresses the impacts of the issues surfaced in Hurricane Season on a local level, and illuminates solutions already underway. The objective of the post-show "solutions-ciphers" is to cross-pollinate creative strategies for self-determination and to turn the passion generated in the show into action manifested in the community.

Representatives from grassroots groups doing critical and inspiring work in every tour stop, will be featured at the dialogs to garner support for their initiatives and give audience members access into local movements.

Texas Moratorium Network will participate in the post-show dialogue at the Austin show. TMN is a grassroots organization that struggles against the death penalty in the number one execution state in the U.S.

All the people scheduled for execution in Texas are either African-American (9) or Hispanic (5).

Two weeks after the first African-American was elected President of the United States, two African-Americans are set to be executed in Texas this week. Last week, Texas also executed two African-Americans. The week before that Texas also executed an African-American. 40 percent of the people on death row in Texas are black, although blacks comprise only 11.9 percent of the Texas population. According to the TDCJ website, of the fourteen executions starting with the one on Nov 6, Elkie Taylor, and going until March 11, 2009, all the people executed or scheduled for execution in Texas are either African-American (9) or Hispanic (5).

For more information on the issue of race and the death penalty, visit this page at the Death Penalty Information Center.

Polunsky visitation with Jeff

Terri Been is sister of death-row inmate Jeff Wood. In this letter she talks about her experience with visiting her brother on death-row and the situation during and after this month's lock-down.

Yesterday’s visit to my brother was bitter sweet to say the least. Overall the visit went well, but it was very emotional and degrading!!! The lockdown has taken its toll not only on the overall policy at Polunsky, but on the spirit of the inmates as well.

I have visited the Polunsky unit MANY times over the course of my brother’s incarceration, but never have I experienced the overwhelming sense of complete and absolute dread that I felt there last night. Now don’t get me wrong, I have experienced dread there before…as my brother came within hours of his execution, and we said what we thought would be our final goodbyes to him, which has crippled and destroyed me emotionally; BUT the dread that I am talking about now reaches further than just those who have an execution date. The dread that I am talking about is a thick blanket that wraps around you and suffocates you when you walk into the visitation room…which you literally feel!

The tone for the evening was set when you pulled up into the facility. In the past we have always had to jump through hoops just to get into the place, but things are far worse now! Guards are now required to do “complete car checks” instead of the normal “pop the hood and trunk” checks. Visitors had their purses gone through, their glove compartments torn apart, bags/luggage in the car were rummaged through…you name it…it was searched. Did it stop there? Hell no; round two started at check in!!

Now, I’m going to flashback to the summer to give you a full picture of the nightmare we call check-in @ Polunsky, so please bare with me here: Imagine, if you will, having to make a run to the local Wal-Mart 3 different times to purchase clothing and shoes just to be allowed into Polunsky. This has happened on numerous occasions and to various visitors…and this literally is no joke! (My sister-in-law, Kristin, and I have experienced this for ourselves.) This past summer we were scheduled for a normal 2 hour visit to see my brother; Kristin had quite literally just gotten off of the plane from overseas two hours before the visit was to take place, and come to find out that the airlines had lost all of her luggage (which she did not get back for almost a full week) so all she had was the clothing on her back. She was not happy because she wasn’t going to be able to “dress up” for him, and due to time restrictions…she decided to make do with what she had on. Having made the trip to the US on several occasions, she learned a few valuable lessons; one being when you’re on a plane for 17 hours you wear “comfortable clothing”. The comfortable clothing that she was wearing was indeed appropriate, but the guard on duty felt that it was a little too form fitting; so we were sent to Wal-Mart…and mind you we are already late because of plane delays. Kristin grabs a baggy Mickey Mouse T-shirt, because there should be NOTHING wrong with a cartoon character T- shirt…or so you’d think. So we get back to Polunsky, where we are turned away again because of the Mickey Mouse Logo…which has been adopted by the Mexican Mafia (one of the most powerful prison gangs in the US). On our second trip to Wal-Mart she purchases a plain black T-shirt; and with her new T-shirt on we walk back into the unit, but were turned away…yet again, this time for her shoes!!! After purchasing a new pair of tennis shoes, we were finally allowed in, but with all of the trips back and forth to Wal-Mart, we had less than an hour visit.

Check in…sounds extreme doesn’t it? Well it can be and has been for MANY people!!! But…it has gotten worse, so in addition to the metal detectors and the wardrobe scrutiny we have always had to go through lets add the following: pat-downs/body searches, and counting your money down to the quarter. Waiting in line to be searched sucks…so if you know somebody who is going to visit, you may want to tell them to get there a little earlier than normal…because you will be searched. Think I’m kidding, ask the black lady a few people ahead of us in line that had to take off her “weave” and have it searched! You may also want to tell them that they will be patted down! Okay, let me rephrase that…you will be rubbed down and felt-up. I have gone through several pat searches in order to get into federal buildings before, but I have never experienced one quite like I got @ Polunsky this night!

When you walk in the door…you are now required to take off you shoes and socks so they can be searched. The metal detectors have new settings, and are picking up what seems to be everything; so ladies if you have jewelry…you might be better off leaving it in the car, because you will pass through the damn thing for every ring, necklace, or earring…not to mention belts. Some ladies even had to cover their breasts with their arms/hands to get through because the underwire in their bra kept setting off the alarm. “Pat-downs” now consist of the following for women: a lady using her two hands to rub the entire length of your leg. Each leg will be rubbed twice: one sweep covers the front/back and includes your ass-cheek, the second sweep of the leg covers the inside/outside, which includes a backhanded rubdown of your “downstairs privates”. The search also includes having each breast examined by hand…starting on the inside of each breast, and cupping around to the outside. It is an absolutely humiliating experience, and is absolutely NOT necessary in my opinion!

I risked not being able to see my brother because I gave them hell about the new procedure. I told them I understood such procedures for those who were allowed contact visits, but Death row families NEVER get to touch or come in contact with the inmates, and that it was the corrupt guards who were causing this nightmare, and we should not be subject to sexual harassment just to get to see our loved ones because they are self-serving and money hungry. I actually said several other things to the guards that were not exactly polite or worth repeating, but at least I said my peace.

You are allowed to take $20 dollars into the unit, however we did not get to take in the full amount of $ because both change machines were down. Luckily, I knew somebody coming out of the early visit that had some change left over; which gave us an additional $7 dollars, but we were not even close to $20. MANY people did not get to take in any money because there was no change…and I tell you that was cruel and was done on purpose!

These men had gone months with Johnny bags! Remember the lockdown was not the only time they were getting these…just weeks before they were restricted to these bags because of the hurricane that hit…so we are talking almost two months on Johnny bags. My brother had lost at least 25 – 30 pounds since I had seen him at the end of August. I spent EVERY bit of change I had with the exception of 1 nickel on food for my brother. 2 hamburgers, three bags of chips, 2 snicker bars, a salad, 3 dr peppers, 5 beef jerky sticks, and a piece of pie were all gone in less than 3 minutes of receiving them. Seriously…no joking; he was quite literally starving and inhaled the food! I am thankful that I was able to provide him with that, but there were many others there that were hungry that got nothing…and I feel so bad for them. So my second piece of advice is to make sure that you have change before you get to the unit…Do NOT count on the machines to be working! Also…if you feed your inmate like we do…you may also want to take the early session because they only have 1 machine now that serves “food” (sandwiches, salads, juice, pie, etc.) and nearly all of the food in that machine was gone from the 1st visit.

I’ll not even get into the property that was taken away or destroyed from these inmates.

Needless to say, the visit was absolute chaos! New Policies, new procedures, and new hours to call and make reservations to visit...the list goes on, but the important thing here is that nobody is handling it well…including the staff!

The only good thing that happened that night was in addition to getting to see my brother, my kids and I had the privilege of talking to several other inmates during our visit. (which is strictly forbidden, but we did it anyway.) We spoke with two of this week’s condemned inmates: Robert Hudson and Rogelio Cannaday. We told them that we had signed their petitions, and that we had written letters to the governor on their behalf. We also told them that there were a great many people who were fighting for them, and that we all would be calling the governor’s office this week in a continued effort to fight for their lives. They were very grateful and sent their thanks.

I could go on, but I have written a book here already! If you are pen-pals, or friends with any of these guys…they need our help in more than one way. Yes we want to fight to save their lives, but we need to fight for their rights inside as well. They also need financial contributions if you can afford it, as most of these guys have nothing left from all of the property raids and shake-downs. Their fans, hot-plates, radios, typewriters, and other various properties were taken and destroyed. Some people may be thinking that these inmates don’t need a radio, but I say different; that is their only link to the outside world other than any visit they may get. Complete Isolation leads to insanity…and being without this contact to the world will only cause more pain and suffering. Please keep these guys and their families in your prayers!

Causewiring the Anti-Death Penalty Movement

Anyone interested in using online activism against the death penalty should take a look at the new book, CauseWired: Plugging In, Getting Involved, Changing the World. It is about using online activism to change the world. The author, Tom Watson, also has a blog that is worth a look. He says that Obama's election was "the product of the most socially-wired campaign in American history. In a victory that holds deep lessons for how nonprofit organizations and cause-driven ventures will organize volunteers and build support in the future, Barack Obama was elected President of the United States Tuesday in a near-landslide victory keyed by state-of-the-art social networking and online organizing."

The website SocialActions is also a great place to find useful social activism services. It has a guide to 30 website platforms that can be used for online activism. Another source is, which concentrates on using cell phones for social change.

If you run an anti-death penalty website, you might take a look at some of the online services that TMN uses and implement them on your own sites.

TMN was an early adopter of online activism from our start back in 2000. Our first website, created using phpWebSite, allowed us to make blog posts long before the word "blog" became popular. We have sinced starting using Blogger as our main blog while keeping our main website at In addition to our own blog, we reach a larger audience by posting occasionally about death penalty issues on other community blog sites, such as DailyKos and Burnt Orange Report.

Every anti-death penalty organization can share news and action alerts on each others websites by creating a news feed using a service such as Google Reader. Then you include the RSS feeds from other anti-death penalty organizations. You can see an example on the right of our blog and main website. Capital Defense Weekly is a site that uses RSS feeds very well.

We have used Joomla to create websites such as and, among others. The TMN PAC website uses WordPress. Our main website still uses phpWebSite, but we want to transition to another content management system soon.

You can also find TMN on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, or read our blog. We feed our blog automatically to Twitter using TwitterFeed. Our Twitter account also is fed action alerts dealing with the death penalty from the SocialActions website, so it should pick up alerts from other anti-death penalty organizations.

We have also used Democracy in Action to let our supporters send messages to the Texas governor, members of the legislature and the board of pardons and paroles. During the campaign for Kenneth Foster, more than 6,000 messages were sent through our DIA-powered alert. We have also used DIA to collect petition signatures. DIA is a system that you have to pay for. Most of the other systems we use are free.

Many campaigns use the Care2 Petition Site, but that system doesn't allow you to download the complete contact information of the people who sign, so that is a weakness with Care2. Another option that does allow you to download all the contact information is, which we used to create this petition for a federal death penalty moratorium.

We have found many new volunteers though our profile on VolunteerMatch.

We send text alerts to cell phones using Upoc.

We most recently started using, which is currently running a membership contest that if our "Abolish the Death Penalty" project could win. If our "Abolish the Death Penalty" project has the most members on Amazee by Jan 22, we could win up to $5,000 to use against the death penalty.

We use GrandCentral for voice mail.

We use and to promote events, such as upcoming execution protests.

We use ConstantContact for our email newsletter that goes out to thousands of people.

We use to create our video aggregation page.

We use Picnik to edit photos for flyers and websites. Then we store them on Picassa, Flickr or Photobucket. Right now, Picassa is our favorite. See photos of the recent March in Houston on Picassa here.

We use Wufoo to collect information through forms, such as registering people for Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break.

We have used SproutBuilder to create widgets to promote actions such as the Save Jeff Wood widget.

We use to post documents online.

We use Widgetbox to get more people to read our blog posts and Feedburner to allow people to subscribe to receive our blogposts by email. Subscribe to Texas Moratorium Network blogposts by Email.

We are developing a new tool using CauseCaller to allow people to call the governor and members of the Texas Legislature. It should be ready by January. We might also use it to allow people to call members of the U.S. Congress and the new president to push for a federal moratorium.

If you think we have been doing a good job using online social activism tools, especially for an all-volunteer organization, please vote for us in the

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Panel recommends abolishing death penalty in Md.

A state commission has voted to recommend abolishing the death penalty in Maryland.

The Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment voted 13-7 to make the recommendation in its report to lawmakers and the governor next month.

The vote came after the failure of a proposed amendment to keep the death penalty for people who kill correctional officers or police officers.

The report to the General Assembly is due Dec. 15.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The lockdown ends on Wednesday

Gloria Rubac of the The Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement informs us by email that visits will resume on Wednesday at Polunsky.

From Gloria:

The lockdown ends on Wednesday.

Just called again to clarify and was told that visits start Wednesday. Of course, on Wednesday it is press day so visits are only in the morning, from 8-12 noon.

Thanks to all who helped put the pressure on Texas officials to end this ridiculous lockdown. The Abolition Movement will continue to work around the isolation and mind-destroying conditions on Texas' death row.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

End the Polunsky Unit Lockdown Now!

The Abolition Movement spent the majority of our meeting on November 5 discussing the current situation at the Polunsky Unit.

The consensus was that anything and everything should be tried until this lockdown ends, visits are restored, shakedowns are ended and life returns to what TDCJ considers normal.

We all know that “normal” conditions are in and of themselves horrific and that they violate the prisoners’ human rights. The isolation is driving the prisoners mad. The lack of group recreation, a work program, television, religious services, piddling privileges and human interaction are illegal and inhumane. We want to succeed with ending the lockdown and then continue to work around conditions.

Here’s our proposals. How many can YOU do?

  1. Monday, Wednesday and Friday are “Call-in Days” until the lockdown ends. We want everyone to make 3 calls--to the Polunsky Unit warden, the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, and Governor Rick Perry. Warden Tim Simmons: 936-967-8082. Texas Board of Criminal Justice: (512) 475-3250. Governor Rick Perry: 1-800-252-9600 (All in Texas except Austin) everyone else 512-463-2000. The demands are to end the lockdown, end the shakedowns, restore visitation, restore commissary, restore regular showers and recreation—in other words, restore normalcy. Keep notes of who you speak with and what they tell you and them report it to us so we can keep track.

  2. Attend the Senate Criminal Justice Committee hearing on Nov. 13 in Austin at the Capitol. It will be at 10 AM in Capitol Extension, Room E1.016. According to their web page they will take public testimony and one of the items on their agenda is the use of lockdown procedures. Our point should be that once cells have been searched once or even two times, then life should return to “normal.” Also, personal possessions that are permitted should not be destroyed—from typewriters, to radios, to legal papers to photos of loved ones. This is NOT contraband. Food should be enough calories that prisoners don’t lose unintended weight and are kept hungry. So far, we have three people from Houston committed to attending and speaking. Who else can join us? We will notify the media about this.

  3. Schedule meetings with members of the Board of Criminal Justice. We found that two of those on the board live in Houston and we are setting up appointments with them for a delegation to meet and discuss the abuses going on. Check their web page to see if some of them live in your city. The chair of the board lives in Horseshoe Bay, which is in the Hill Country in Burnet and Llano Counties but his business is in Austin and is a corporation that helps clients implement effective labor relations strategies. Oliver J. Bell & Associates, 13449 Dulles Avenue, Austin, Texas 78729, Phone 512.249.6200, Fax 512.249.6607. The vice-chair of the board clerked for (gasp!!) Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court and Edith Jones (gag!) on the 5th Circuit. He lives in Cedar Park, which is in the Austin area. Others live in Amarillo, Highland Park (Dallas), Arlington, Lubbock, and San Antonio. Schedule these meetings soon and certainly before the Board meets on Dec. 2-3.

  4. Attend the meeting of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice on December 3 in Austin. The meeting is at the Sheraton Austin Hotel, 701 East 11th Street, Austin, Texas 78701, Tel: (512) 478-1111, Fax: (512) 479-6458. The meeting on Dec. 3 will allow public comments only on agenda items, but surely the cell phone / security / contraband issue will be on the agenda. If it isn’t, we should sign up to speak on an agenda item and then talk about the lockdown anyway. We plan to notify the media that we will be attending and have a statement for them.

  5. Contact media / reporters and ask them to investigate why cells are being shaken down four and five times and why personal property is being destroyed that is allowed and NOT contraband, i.e. legal materials, photos, radios, typewriters, hot pots.

  6. Find a lawyer who will investigate and possibly file a lawsuit regarding the arbitrariness of lock down procedures and the abuses that have gone on. Yolanda Torres was one attorney who was suggested. It was also suggested we contact the NAACP in every major Texas city, MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense Fund), LULAC, ACLU and also their Prisons and Jails Accountability Project, and the Texas Civil Rights Project which has offices in San Juan, Austin and El Paso. Who can volunteer to help with this?

  7. Write letters to the editors of all major Texas newspapers describing what has been going on at Polunsky and asking for an investigation. Does anyone already have a list of e-mail addresses or street addresses together for Letters to the Editor for papers in Houston, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Livingston, Lubbock, Amarillo, El Paso and whatever is the biggest paper in the Rio Grand Valley.

  8. Contact Texas legislators to be part of a delegation that will make an impromptu visit to Polunsky to make an inspection and question prisoners. Sherri will contact State Rep Dora Olivo, Gloria will contact Reps Jessica Farrar and Senfronia Thompson, and we will have someone contact Reps Harold Dutton and Garnett Coleman and Senator Rodney Ellis. Other cities and other Reps or Senators? This needs to happen asap.

  9. A demonstration outside of Polunsky if the lockdown does not end. The rumor is that it will last for three months. This means until AFTER the holidays and is unacceptable.

  10. Write to your friends family or friends on death row and ask them to document what is happening. Then share that with everyone, us as well as the media where you live.

On Thursday, when one of our members called Polunksy, she was told that the lockdown might continue for three months. Also, they said that the men were now getting hot meals. Can anyone verify this? Also, the men were being allowed to make commissary, but only for a limited amount of stamps and hygiene products, but nothing else.

Pick a least one thing you can do. Share this with others. Please keep us informed about what YOU are doing so that your actions can be shared with others. If you have another idea, share it!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Cynthia McKinney: Witness to an Execution

Last Thursday, while Ralph Nader, Bob Barr and Chuck Baldwin were debating in Cleveland, Cynthia McKinney was acting as witness to the execution of another innocent man in Texas - Gregory Wright, who was killed by Texas authorities at Huntsville Unit, Texas State Penitentiary, Jacksonville, Texas.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Complete video of Witness to Innocence's press conference at the Texas Capitol

On Friday, 24 exonerated ex-death row prisoners from across the country held a news conference to call for the establishment of a statewide commission on wrongful convictions while a moratorium is imposed on executions in Texas. They spent a combined total of nearly 200 years on death row for crimes they did not commit. They were joined by State Rep. Elliott Naishtat and former Bexar County District Attorney Sam Millsap. Naishtat (D-Austin) is a longtime supporter of a moratorium on executions, while Millsap has become an outspoken critic of the death penalty since the 1993 execution of Ruben Cantu, who many believe was innocent. Both KUT and Statesman covered the event.

Help Us Win a Membership Contest so that We Can Help Some Families of People on Death Row

Click here to join the "Abolish the Death Penalty Project" on and help us win the membership contest. We could win up to $5,000 to use against the death penalty. The project with the most members by Jan 22 wins. We plan to use one-half of any prize money we win to help needy families of people on death row travel to visit their loved ones on death row. We will use the other half of the prize money to fight against the death penalty.

You have to go to the project page, click on "join project" on the right hand side, then click on "register". Then to qualify as one of the members who count towards the contest, you have to upload a profile picture or avatar of yourself. You don't have to do anything else to help us win the membership contest, but if you want, you can contribute content to the project.

We were all moved by the family members who spoke at the 9th Annual March to Stop Executions in Houston, so we were thinking of how we could help them. We all know that the death penalty is reserved for the poor. There are no rich people on death row. We want to use one half of any prize money we get through this contest to help family members visit their loved ones on death row. Many families have a hard time making ends meet and the extra cost of traveling long distances to visit their loved ones on death row is a great financial burden. Some of the people on death row have young children who rarely get to visit them.

If we win the first place prize of $5,000, then $2500 will be reserved to help with trips to death row for families of people sentenced to death who need financial help to visit their loved ones. The other $2,500 would be used for activities during the upcoming Texas legislative session, such as a big anti-death penalty rally in Austin and other projects. If we only win third place, then we would have $1000 for the families and $1,000 for other expenses. But let's aim for first place!