Monday, May 30, 2011

Execution Watch: Gayland Bradford

Gayland Bradford

By Elizabeth Ann Stein
Producer, Execution Watch

(HUNTSVILLE, Tex.) -- Texas is preparing to put to death Gayland Bradford Wednesday in what is slated to be the first of four executions in Texas during June. Execution Watch will provide live radio coverage and analysis.

Unless  Bradford receives a last-minute stay, the program will air during the execution June 1, from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Central Time. It may be heard in the Houston area on KPFT 90.1 FM and over the internet at > Listen.

GAYLAND BRADFORD, 42, came within six days of being executed in October, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay to give his attorneys time to prepare a full appeal of his sentence on grounds that he is mentally impaired. Bradford was sentenced to death in the slaying of a Dallas security guard. His attorneys say his execution would be unconstitutional because he is mentally retarded. Texas prison officials tested his IQ at 68 when he was a 17-year-old first offender. More background at > Backpage on Gayland Bradford.

Host: RAY HILL, an ex-convict whose activism has included shepherding several cases to the U.S. Supreme Court., he founded, and hosted for 30 years, the Prison Show on KPFT. His new internet talk show may be heard every weekday on at 2 p.m. CT.

Legal Analyst: JIM SKELTON, a legal educator and retired attorney, he’s a native Texan and  iconoclast who has seen capital trials from both the prosecution table and the defense table.

Featured Interview: HOOMAN HEDAYATI. He is Texas Field Organizer for Witness to Innocence, which seeks to empower death row survivors and their loved ones to be effective leaders in the movement to abolish the death penalty. As a student at UT-Austin, he founded the national organization, Students Against the Death Penalty. A board member of the Texas Moratorium Network, he testified before legislators recently on death-penalty-related legislation. The website for Witness to Innocence:

Reporter, Death House, Huntsville: GLORIA RUBAC. Founder of the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement,

Reporter, Texas Vigil: DAVE ATWOOD. Founder and board member, Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death penalty; author of memoir, Detour to Death Row.

On June 15, Texas plans to execute JOHN BALENTINE. If that happens, Execution Watch will broadcast. Details:

PRODUCER: Elizabeth Ann Stein, eliza.tx.usa
TECHNICAL DIRECTOR: Otis Maclay, omaclay
THEME:  By Victoria Panetti, SheMonster International,

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Media Advisory: Texas Comptroller Susan Combs Denies Exonerated Death Row Inmate Clarence Brandley Compensation for Ten Years of Wrongful Imprisonment on Texas Death Row

Media Advisory
May 17, 2011

Contacts:  Hooman Hedayati
Gloria    Rubac   

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs Denies Clarence Brandley Compensation for Ten Years of Wrongful Imprisonment on Texas Death Row; Texas Continues Its Denial to Innocent Men

A press conference will be held by Clarence Brandley and his supporters at 4:00 PM Wednesday, May 18, 2011, at the S.H.A.P.E. Center Harambee Building, 3903 Almeda, 77004 to denounce Texas’ denial of compensation for the ten years he wrongfully spent on death row.

In a letter dated May 12, 2011, the Texas Comptroller’s office sent a letter informing Clarence Brandley, who spent almost ten years on death row for a crime he did not commit, that his claim for compensation did not meet the actual innocence requirement of the Texas Code, Section 103.051(b-1).
Brandley was wrongfully convicted and sent to death row in 1981.  It wasn’t until 1987 that Special State District Judge Perry Pickett ruled after an evidentiary hearing in Galveston County that Brandley should be released or retried because “The litany of events graphically described by the witnesses, some of it chilling and shocking, leads me to the conclusion the pervasive shadow of darkness has obscured the light of fundamental decency and human rights.”

Brandley was finally released in 1990 (read bio).

Brandley‘s supporters, led by his brother Rev. Ozell Brandley, are planning a course of action to hold Texas accountable for its wrongful convictions, whether done because of prosecutorial misconduct by officials withholding exculpatory evidence or faulty eye witness identification.  

“This is a righteous cause to bring justice and have it work the way it is supposed to work. We will hold those public officials accountable for their actions of refusing compensation for those who were wrongfully imprisoned.  Their careers should be over if they cannot dispense justice. My brother Clarence and the families of the wrongfully convicted and well as the victims’ families deserve more. Clarence and my family have paid a high price for their injustice.” 

Representatives of civil rights and community organizations, including Witness to innocence, the National Black United Front, the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, and others will be present Wednesday in support of Brandley’s claim for compensation.

A Spanish speaker will also make a statement and be available for interviews in Spanish.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Exonerated Death Row Survivors Urge Georgia to Stop the Execution of Troy Davis

From Witness to Innocence:
Exonerated Death Row Survivors Urge Georgia to Stop the Execution of Troy Davis

Chairman James E. Donald                                                                                                           
Georgia State Board of Pardons & Paroles
2 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, SE
Suite 458, Balcony Level, East Tower
Atlanta, GA 30334

Dear Chairperson Donald and Members of the Board:

We, the undersigned, are alive today because some individual or small group of individuals decided that our insistent and persistent proclamations of innocence warranted one more look before we were sent to our death by execution.  We are among the 138 individuals who have been legally exonerated and released from death rows in the United States since 1973.  We are alive because a few thoughtful persons – attorneys, journalists, judges, jurists, etc. – had lingering doubts about our cases that caused them to say “stop” at a critical moment and halt the march to the execution chamber.  When our innocence was ultimately revealed, when our lives were saved, and when our freedom was won, we thanked God and those individuals of conscience who took actions that allowed the truth to eventually come to light.

We are America’s exonerated death row survivors.  We are living proof that a system operated by human beings is capable of making an irreversible mistake.  And while we have had our wrongful convictions overturned and have been freed from death row, we know that we are extremely fortunate to have been able to establish our innocence.  We also know that many innocent people who have been executed or who face execution have not been so fortunate.  Not all those with innocence claims have had access to the kinds of physical evidence, like DNA, that our courts accept as most reliable.  However, we strongly believe that the examples of our cases are reason enough for those with power over life and death to choose life. We also believe that those in authority have a unique moral consideration when encountering individuals with cases where doubt still lingers about innocence or guilt.

One such case is the case of Troy Anthony Davis, whose 1991 conviction for killing Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail rested almost solely on witness testimony.  We know that today, 20 years later, witness evidence is considered much less reliable than it was then.  This has meant that, even though most of the witnesses who testified against him have now recanted, Troy Davis has been unable to convince the courts to overturn his conviction, or even his death sentence.

Troy Davis has been able to raise serious doubts about his guilt, however.  Several witnesses testified at the evidentiary hearing last summer that they had been coerced by police into making false statements against Troy Davis. This courtroom testimony reinforced previous statements in sworn affidavits.  Also at this hearing, one witness testified for the first time that he saw an alternative suspect, and not Troy Davis, commit the crime.   We don’t know if Troy Davis is in fact innocent, but, as people who were wrongfully sentenced to death (and in some cases scheduled for execution), we believe it is vitally important that no execution go forward when there are doubts about guilt.  It is absolutely essential to ensuring that the innocent are not executed.

When you issued a temporary stay for Troy Davis in 2007, you stated that the Board "will not allow an execution to proceed in this State unless and until its members are convinced that there is no doubt as to the guilt of the accused."  This standard is a welcome development, and we urge you to apply it again now.  Doubts persist in the case of Troy Davis, and commuting his sentence will reassure the people of Georgia that you will never permit an innocent person to be put to death in their name.

Freddie Lee Pitts, an exonerated death row survivor who faced execution by the state of Florida for a crime he didn’t commit, once said, “You can release an innocent man from prison, but you can’t release him from the grave.”

Thank you for considering our request.


Kirk Bloodsworth, Exonerated and freed from death row Maryland
Clarence Brandley, Exonerated and freed from death row in Texas
Dan Bright, Exonerated and freed from death row in Louisiana
Albert Burrell, Exonerated and freed from death row in Louisiana
Perry Cobb, Exonerated and freed from death row in Illinois
Gary Drinkard, Exonerated and freed from death row in Alabama
Nathson Fields, Exonerated and freed from death row in Illinois
Gary Gauger, Exonerated and freed from death row in Illinois
Michael Graham, Exonerated and freed from death row in Louisiana
Shujaa Graham, Exonerated and freed from death row in California
Paul House, Exonerated and freed from death row in Tennessee
Derrick Jamison, Exonerated and freed from death row in Ohio
Dale Johnston, Exonerated and freed from death row in Ohio
Ron Keine, Exonerated and freed from death row in New Mexico
Ron Kitchen, Exonerated and freed from death row in Illinois
Ray Krone, Exonerated and freed from death row in Arizona
Herman Lindsey, Exonerated and freed from death row in Florida
Juan Melendez, Exonerated and freed from death row in Florida
Randal Padgett, Exonerated and freed from death row in Alabama
Freddie Lee Pitts, Exonerated and freed from death row in Florida
Randy Steidl, Exonerated and freed from death row in Illinois
John Thompson, Exonerated and freed from death row in Louisiana
Delbert Tibbs, Exonerated and freed from death row in Florida
David Keaton, Exonerated and freed from death row in Florida
Greg Wilhoit, Exonerated and freed from death row in Oklahoma
Harold Wilson, Exonerated and freed from death row in Pennsylvania

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Delma Banks Jr and Prosecutorial Misconduct

US Supreme Court overturned Delma Banks Jr's death sentence in 2004 based on prosecutorial misconduct. Now the same prosecutor is in charge of prosecuting the same case again after 30 years. Brandi Grissom of Texas Tribune reports:
For the second time in three decades, a Texas court is preparing to decide whether Delma Banks Jr. should be executed for the 1980 shooting death of 16- year-old Richard Whitehead.

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Banks’ death sentence in 2004, finding that the Bowie County prosecutors who tried the case suppressed evidence and deliberately covered up their mistakes for decades. “It’s really a remarkable tale of misconduct — just about every kind of thing the prosecution could do that was improper,” said Robert C. Owen, co-director of the Capital Punishment Center at the University of Texas School of Law, who was one of Banks’ appellate lawyers.

Now, the same district attorney’s office — including one of the same prosecutors who was involved in the original trial — is again seeking the death penalty for Banks. Despite the Supreme Court’s rebuke, James Elliott, who has been a prosecutor on the case for more than 30 years, has maintained that he will pursue Banks until he “gets what he deserves.”
At a hearing Monday in a Bowie County state district court, Banks’ lawyers will ask Judge Nathan E. White to disqualify Elliott and the local district attorney’s office from the case and to assign different lawyers to represent the state. “Mr. Elliott’s misbehavior proves that he cannot serve as a disinterested prosecutor and is laboring under a conflict of interest that will prevent Mr. Banks from receiving a fair trial,” lawyers wrote in court documents.

Banks, who is black and was 21 when the crime was committed, was convicted of killing Whitehead, who was white, so he could take off with his car. The police found Whitehead’s body in a park near Texarkana and soon discovered that Banks had been with him on the last night he was seen alive. There were no witnesses to the killing and no physical evidence linking Banks to it. The prosecution’s case relied largely on the testimony of Robert Farr and Charles Cook, both admitted drug users; Cook also had convictions for robbery by assault and forgery.

Cook told the jury that he met Banks in Dallas the morning after the murder. He said Banks had blood on his pants and told him he decided to “kill the white boy for the hell of it and take his car and come to Dallas.”

Farr testified that he, Banks and another man drove to Dallas on the day that Banks was arrested so that Banks could retrieve a gun to use in armed robberies. Farr said Banks told him he would “take care of it” if any trouble arose.

Banks had no criminal history, and people who were with him and Whitehead on the last night that Whitehead was alive testified there was no ill will between the two. Nonetheless, an all-white Bowie County jury convicted Banks, who was sentenced to death.

In 1999 — almost 20 years after the trial — a federal judge forced Bowie County to open its case records, and Banks’ lawyers discovered a transcript showing that Cook’s testimony had been extensively rehearsed and coached. They also learned that the police had paid Farr, an informant who had an unreliable record, $200 for his role in the investigation.
Farr, in an affidavit, said he was afraid that the police would arrest him on drug charges. In exchange for the money, and to avoid jail, he agreed to set up Banks, he said, persuading him to drive to Dallas to get a gun. Prosecutors allowed Cook and Farr to lie in court and never told jurors that their information was false, the Supreme Court found. Cook denied on the stand that anyone had helped him with his testimony, and Farr said he had not been paid for his help in the case. During closing arguments, Elliott told jurors that they should believe the two witnesses.

In arguments before the Supreme Court, state lawyers did not dispute that Cook had been coached and that Farr was paid for his help. But they said Banks’ lawyers were at fault for not uncovering the information sooner.

The Supreme Court ruled that without the testimony of the two witnesses, Banks might not have been sentenced to death. “It has long been established that the prosecution’s ‘deliberate deception of a court and jurors by the presentation of known false evidence is incompatible with rudimentary demands of justice,’” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in the court’s majority opinion.

Elliott, the prosecutor, declined to comment last week about the case. “We’re in litigation,” he said. “The newspaper is the wrong place to be trying cases — it just is. So I can’t give any comment.” He also declined to provide copies of his responses to the defense motion to disqualify him, and the Bowie County district clerk’s office said the responses had not been received.

Elliott did respond to newspapers in 2004, when the Supreme Court overturned the Banks sentence. He told reporters he was convinced that Banks was guilty. “I have not read the opinion, but it doesn’t matter,” he said in an interview with The Chicago Tribune. “We are going to pursue this case until Delma Banks gets what he deserves.”

At Monday’s resentencing hearing for Banks — one of death row’s longest-serving residents — his lawyers will argue that after more than two decades of misconduct, the Bowie County district attorney’s office should be precluded from participation.
Elliott’s remarks in the news media show that he cannot approach the case objectively, they argued in court documents. “The prosecution’s serial misconduct that has tainted these proceedings establishes that Mr. Banks cannot receive a fair trial if again prosecuted by the Bowie County district attorney’s office,” they wrote.
Banks’ lawyers are also asking the court to throw out the guilty verdict and order a new trial. They contend that the perjured testimony of Cook and Farr and the prosecutors’ withholding of facts also affected their client's ability to defend himself. “Because of the state’s purposeful suppression and misconduct, Mr. Banks was surely denied the full defense available to him,” his lawyers argue in court pleadings.

Owen, of the Capital Punishment Center, said police and prosecutorial errors raised serious questions about whether Banks had actually committed the murder. “In a case where the evidence of guilt is so very thin, and the misconduct by the prosecution is so far-reaching and well-documented,” he said, “there’s no reason for any court to have any confidence the conviction is solid.”

Monday, May 02, 2011

NYT Editorial: Co-Victims Against the Death Penalty

The following is last Friday's NYT editorial in support of the death penalty abolition in Connecticut.
As the country has increasingly turned against capital punishment as barbaric and horrifyingly prone to legal abuses, defenders are pointing to the emotional needs of the families of murder victims — “co-victims” to those who study crime — as justification. Many family members, however, have said they want no part of that.

When New Jersey abolished the death penalty in 2007 and New Mexico did in 2009, each did so with the support of co-victims. In Connecticut, the Legislature’s joint Judiciary Committee has now approved a bill that would repeal that state’s death penalty, again with the support of victims’ families.

The family members say that rather than providing emotional closure, the long appeals process in death penalty cases is actually prolonging their suffering. They also say it wastes money and unjustifiably elevates some murders above others in importance. In an open letter to the Connecticut Legislature, relatives of murder victims — 76 parents, children and others — wrote that “the death penalty, rather than preventing violence, only perpetuates it and inflicts further pain on survivors.”

Their arguments were a moving and effective part of the effort that led to the committee’s repeal vote. Now Connecticut’s leaders need to bring these arguments to a wider state audience. A March opinion poll in Connecticut showed that 48 percent of residents favored the death penalty over life without parole, up from 37 percent in 2005.

The increase is not surprising, since news in the state has been dominated by the trials of the murderers in the 2007 home invasion killings in Cheshire. Dr. William Petit Jr., who lost his wife and two children, is an outspoken advocate for the death penalty, arguing that vicious killers should pay with their lives.

We do not minimize the suffering of family members, wherever they stand on the issue. But the facts are undeniable. The death penalty does not deter crime and the long history of legal abuses is well documented. Connecticut’s full Legislature should pass the repeal bill and Gov. Dannel Malloy should sign it into law.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Kerr execution to involve first TX use of pentobarbital

                                                     Cary Kerr has maintained his innocence

By Elizabeth Ann Stein
Producer, Execution Watch

Texas plans to put to death Cary Kerr Tuesday with a lethal-injection formula that would mark the first use of the barbiturate pentobarbital by the nation's busiest executioners.
Unless there is a stay, Execution Watch will broadcast coverage and commentary, beginning when the execution does at 6 p.m. Central Time. It may heard on the internet at > Listen, or in the Houston area on KPFT FM 90.1.

 CARY KERR, 46, convicted and sentenced to death after refusing a prosecutor’s offer of a life sentence in exchange for a guilty plea. Kerr has maintained his innocence in the 2001 murder of Pamela Horton in the Fort Worth suburb of Haltom City following a night of drinking. Kerr’s habeas attorney said he would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the execution so evidence may be presented that Kerr’s trial attorney did a poor job by failing to give the jury mitigating evidence of abuse Kerr suffered during childhood. If Texas executes Kerr as scheduled, it will mark its first use of pentobarbital in the lethal-injection protocol. More background at > Backpage on Cary Kerr.

 Host: RAY HILL, an ex-convict who has lost a dozen friends to the death chamber. Ray’s civil rights activism has included shepherding several cases to the U.S. Supreme Court. He founded, and hosted for 30 years, KPFT’s Prison Show, .

 Legal Analyst: JIM SKELTON, a legal educator and retired attorney, Jim is a native Texan who has seen capital trials from the prosecution table and the defense table.

 Featured Interview: To be announced.

 Reporter, Death House, Huntsville: DENNIS LONGMIRE, PhD, a professor in the School of Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State University, Huntsville.

 Reporter, Texas Vigil: DAVE ATWOOD, a founder and board member of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death penalty, and author of the memoir, Detour to Death Row.

 On June 1, Texas plans to execute GAYLAND BRADFORD, a 21-year resident of death row. If that happens, Execution Watch will broadcast. Details:

 PRODUCER: Elizabeth Ann Stein, eliza.tx.usa
 TECHNICAL DIRECTOR: Otis Maclay, omaclay
 THEME: “Death by Texas,” Victoria Panetti and SheMonster International, shemonster


"48 Hours Mystery:" Grave Injustice

In full: Students help free a man 16 years after he's sentenced to death. Richard Schlesinger reports.
Read story.

Click here to watch the full episode from 48 Hours Mystery about the case of Anthony Graves.

Graves: "I'm tired of the state kicking me."


GALVESTON — To Anthony Graves, the loss of a $250 speaking fee seemed like the final indignity heaped upon him by the state of Texas.
Graves spent 18 years behind bars, 12 of them on death row, for a crime that prosecutors now say he didn't do.
After he was freed in October, the Texas comptroller's office refused the compensation provided by law for those who are unjustly convicted.
Then the Texas Attorney General's Office began garnisheeing his wages for child support that a judge decided Graves owed even though he was on death row at the time. But when they blocked payment of the $250 fee he earned for a presentation to students at Prairie View A&M University, it was too much.
"If you feel I owe some compensation, fine, I'm not crying about that, but don't go after everything I make," said Graves, 45. "I'm tired of the state kicking me."
The Attorney General's Office is garnisheeing $175 of the $3,000 monthly salary he earns as an investigator for Texas Defenders Service, an organization that represents death penalty defendants.
Graves owes either $5,420 or $5,403, according to the Attorney General's Office, which cited the two child support figures in letters to Graves.
A Washington County judge decided in 2002 that Graves owed back child support from 1998 until 2002, even though he was on death row the entire time, according to Graves' attorney Nicole Casarez.

'Sympathy' from state

Jeff Blackburn, another member of Graves' legal team, said Attorney General Greg Abbott was retaliating for a lawsuit Graves filed to force the state to pay his compensation.
"Abbott is clearly a vindictive guy and he's just ordering this retaliation," Blackburn declared. "It's a completely immoral position, and to me it proves that Greg Abbott is at best a hypocrite and at worst just a cruel monster."
The state comptroller refused to pay Graves the $80,000 for each year of wrongful imprisonment provided by law because the order dismissing the capital murder charges did not contain the words "actual innocence," as the statute requires.
Graves has sued the attorney general, asking for a declaration of actual innocence, but Abbott's office said the law does not allow the attorney general to make such a declaration.
Abbott spokesman Jerry Strickland responded, "While we are deeply offended by the ridiculous and meritless claims lodged by Anthony Graves' counsel, this office has nothing but sympathy for Mr. Graves. His experience is truly troubling and deeply compelling."
Strickland said the system that tagged Graves for child support payments is auto­mated and handles 1.2 million cases. The child support division "regularly files wage withholding orders without any involvement from the executive office," Strickland said. "And that is exactly what happened in this case."
He said the Attorney General's Office is obligated to collect the money that the court has ordered be paid.
Strickland said he couldn't comment on details of the case without permission from the mother of Graves' son, now 27.
Blackburn said he intends to sue the attorney general to have the payments rescinded.

Big crowd, but no check

The loss of the fee that fueled Graves' growing frustration began with an invitation from the political science department at Prairie View A&M University.
Graves, Casarez and an attorney from Texas Defenders spoke to an overflow crowd April 20 about his case. Casarez recalled that students were jammed behind them on the stage and spilled into the hallways.
The university offered Graves a $250 honorarium to compensate him for his travel expenses and time.
On Wednesday, Graves asked Casarez to find out why he hadn't received the payment. She was forwarded an email from a Prairie View professor saying the money had been withheld because Graves owed child support.
"The state of Texas tried to kill me for something I didn't do and now they are trying to get child support out of me," Graves said. He noted that the Attorney General's Office persisted in prosecuting him for four years after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned his conviction in 2006.
"I feel powerless," he said.
Casarez said that her client has another speaking engagement at the University of Texas that he probably won't be paid for because of the child support.

Graves not the first

Convicts often are stuck with enormous child support payments after leaving prison, but the law makes no provision for those who were unjustly convicted, said Michael McCormick, executive director of the American Coalition of Fathers and Children.
"I'm not aware of any state where it says a wrongly convicted individual is relieved of their obligation," McCormick said.
Graves isn't the first in Texas to be found innocent of capital murder and forced to pay child support. The wages of Clarence Brandley, cleared in 1997 of the rape-strangulation of 16-year-old girl in Conroe, were garnisheed to pay $25,640 in child support.
Graves was convicted of the 1992 slayings of a grandmother and five children. Robert Carter, who confessed to the killings, absolved Graves of the crime in his final statement moments before his execution in 2000. He said he lied during his testimony against Graves.
The federal appeals court found that the prosecution withheld statements crucial to the defense and elicited false statements from witnesses during the 1994 trial.