Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Remembering Molly Ivins

Molly Ivins, the irreverent nationally syndicated columnist from Texas who rankled conservatives and delighted liberals, died late this afternoon after a seven-year battle with breast cancer. She was 62.

Molly Ivins has written several pieces criticizing the death penalty and here is one of her columns about the execution of Gary Graham in 2000.

A mock-ery of a death penalty trial
June 21, 2000

The Supremes are probably right about prayer at football games in the Santa Fe School District case, but you must admit that there's a slight cultural gap here. The court's decision noted that the Fifth Circuit had ruled that students could offer prayers at graduation, but not in the far less solemn and extraordinary setting of a football game. That's all they know about Friday nights.

I've heard a good many proselytizing public prayers offered in this state, as opposed to the "To Whom it may concern: Let no one get injured in tonight's game, Amen" variety, but I doubt you could prove that this increases intolerance. On the other hand, in May, three Santa Fe High students were arrested on accusations that they threatened to hang a 13-year-old Jewish boy, an eighth-grader at the middle school. If true, we would have to say that the three have failed to grasp some of the central tenets of the Christian faith, let alone the principles on which the country is founded.

And now to the case of Gary Graham, who is about to be executed on what has to be the slimmest evidence that anyone has seen in years. It's hard to believe that anyone could be convicted, much less given the death penalty, on the evidence of one eyewitness -- who saw him for maybe a second, from 30 to 40 feet away, at night. The two eyewitnesses who say the killer wasn't Graham got a much better look at the killer and were never heard from at trial, nor were his four alibi witnesses.

This is in part a tribute to Graham's lawyer Ron Mock, a defense attorney who has more clients on Death Row than most prosecutors ever put there. In fairness to Mock, like other public defenders, he had almost no money to prepare a defense. Mock called no defense witnesses. In recent years, he has been disciplined four times for professional misconduct.

Graham is no poster boy for the anti-death-penalty camp. He's a bad actor who belongs in prison -- several violent robberies and a rape. But whether we like it or not, his record doesn't prove that he's guilty of the Bobby Grant Lambert murder for which he is about to be executed.

For that matter, Lambert was a bad actor himself, a known drug dealer -- but that is just as irrelevant as Graham's record. Murder is murder. The relevant precedent here is the case of Henry Lee Lucas, the serial liar, whose sentence Gov. George W. Bush finally had to commute after the state convicted him of a murder that occurred while Henry Lee was out of state.

I've read some moving statements by victims in Graham's other crimes, who understandably want him dead. But I think the question here is simple: Would YOU want to be put to death on the strength of one eyewitness who got a glimpse from 35 feet away at night -- especially if there were better eyewitnesses and alibi witnesses?

(In 1998, a judge ruled that two of the four alibi witnesses who came forward after the trial were not credible -- they are both kin to Graham. But who else are you likely to be hanging out with but your own family and friends?)

If we could all calm down enough to get off our knee-jerk death penalty stands here and try to learn something from this case, there's a really useful change in process that we should consider here. It involves how eyewitness IDs are made.

The one eyewitness against Graham had described him as clean-shaven; she was shown five photographs of possible perps, of whom only Graham was without facial hair. She did not positively ID him from the photos, but the next day, she picked him out of a line-up.

Graham was the only one both in the photographs and the line-up, and experts say that photo spreads can influence line-up ID. There's a better way to do this.

Crow eaten here: In a recent column on the highlights of W. Bush's record as governor, I erroneously reported that Lonnie "Bo" Pilgrim, the chicken magnate and tort reformer, had given generously to Texans for Public Justice. Actually, Texans for Public Justice is a public interest group that keeps track of the contributions of major players like Pilgrim. I doubt that Pilgrim was thrilled by the error, either -- apologies to both camp

New Spring Break posters!

Expect too see this poster on your campus very soon!
To download the high quality version click here.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

TDCJ's response to Rep. Jerry Madden about the Texas death-row conditions

These are the responses TDCJ sent to Representative Jerry Madden, chairman of the house Corrections Committee regarding the death-row conditions. Unsurprisingly they are useless and don't add too much information.

1) Arts and crafts programs for death row inmates;

In order to ensure maximum security, offenders assigned to Death Row
are not provided access to craft shops. However, they are allowed to
purchase supplies available through the commissary (colored pencils,
paper, etc.) for their use.

2) Circulation of chemicals in ventilation (mainly at women's death

In regards to the Mountain View Unit and ventilation in the Death
Row housing area following the use of chemical agents (as permitted in
the TDCJ Use of Force Plan), chemical agents have not been used in
the building housing death row offenders since March 2006. A review of
recent grievance records also indicates no grievances have been filed
regarding this issue.

Nor are offenders sprayed with any type of "de-lousing" agent upon
arrival at Death Row; such treatments would be administered at an
intake facility prior to the offender's transfer to the Mountain View

3) Visitation limitations;

TDCJ is aware of the important role that visitation serves in
maintaining communication between offenders and their families and
friends. However, due to the high level of custody supervision
required for death row offenders, all visits are non-contact. Level I
offenders (most death row offenders are on Level I) are allowed one
general visit per week; Level II offenders are allowed two general
visits per month; and Level III offenders are allowed one general
visit per month. Regular visits last for two hours.

4) Disciplinary measures (i.e. use of SWAT teams and riot gas);

No use of force, to include SWAT teams and riot gas, are used
for disciplinary purposes. Authorized sanctions for violation of
agency rules are described in the disciplinary rules and
procedures for offenders.

However, there are occasions within a correctional setting when it
becomes necessary for staff to use force in order to achieve the
compliance of an offender, or to maintain a safe and secure
environment for offenders and

staff. It is the policy of the Agency that force shall be used only

necessary, and only to the extent necessary to gain compliance. If
lesser means have proven ineffective, chemical agents may be
used to gain compliance from an offender who refuses to obey.
After chemical agents

have been used and the situation has been brought under

individuals and the area affected by the chemical agents are
decontaminated as soon as possible. Occasionally, for example when an
offender refuses a direct order to move from one location to
another or to relinquish a weapon, a forced move must be initiated by
a specially trained extraction

team. When the need for the "use of force" arises, the TDCJ has

strict guidelines and rules. At the conclusion of any major use of
force, the documentation is reviewed not only by unit administration,
but also by the Regional Director's office, Office of General
Counsel, and the Administrative Monitor for Use of Force. If any
violations are found, appropriate action is taken.

5) Prisoner classification (i.e. the fact that a Texas death row
inmates have no hope of getting out of administrative segregation - while others do);

Offenders receiving a death sentence require the highest level of
custody supervision available in the Correctional Institutions
Division (CID) of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). It
is the policy of the TDCJ-CID to provide a non-punitive status for
death row offenders that involves separation of death-sentenced offenders from the
general population for the purpose of maintaining safety, security, and

While other offenders assigned to segregative status may eventually
be released back into general population, due to the high level of
custody required for death row offenders, they remain separated from
the general population.

6) Visitors' health concerns (e.g. cleanliness of visiting room phones);

All TDCJ units strive to keep visitation areas sanitary and

Visitors wishing to report unsanitary conditions may ask to speak to
the Duty Warden/Family Liaison Officer at the time of their visit; or,
they may contact the TDCJ-CID Ombudsman Office, P. O. Box 99,
Huntsville, Texas; telephone: ; e-mail: The agency will continue to consider additional
means to enhance the sanitation and cleanliness of visiting areas.

7) Death row health services.

The Department of Criminal Justice, the Correctional Managed Health
Care Committee and the University providers strives to provide all
incarcerated offenders in the custody of the TDCJ, to include death row
offenders, with quality health care. The standard of care is the same for the
entire offender population. If an offender feels he/she is not
receiving adequate medical treatment, the offender may contact the unit
medical department or utilize the offender grievance process.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Death Penalty Debate

Recent events around the death penalty -- moratoriums in Florida, California, Maryland, and Ohio, as well as a panel's suggestion that New Jersey abolish the practice -- indicate a rupture in political support for the death sentence in the United States. The Austin Chapter of Campaign to End the Death Penalty and Young Conservatives of Texas will participate in a debate hosted by Longhorns Speak on the topic.

Monday, January 29, 2007
7:30pm - 9:00pm
Jester A121A
UT Campus (directions)
Austin, TX

Thursday, January 25, 2007

2007 Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break

Cross-posted on Campus Progress.

Looking for something to do during spring break this year? Here's an idea: come to Austin, Texas for a week of activism and education against the death penalty as part of the 2007 Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break. The event is open to both high school and college students. Register now.

The 2007 anti-death penalty spring break, organized by Texas Students Against the Death Penalty and co-sponsored by Campus Progress, Amnesty International, Texas Moratorium Network, NCADP and other groups, is designed to to give students something more meaningful to do during their week off, rather than just spending time at the beach or sitting at home catching up on school work. This is the place to be if you want to become a part of the next generation of human rights leaders. Go to the beach to change your state of mind for a week, come here to change the world forever.

Students will participate in workshops led by experienced, knowledgeable presenters who will teach them skills that they can use to go back home and set up new anti-death penalty student organizations or improve ones that may already exist. The skills participants will learn can also be used in other issues besides the death penalty. During the week, students will immediately put what they learn into action during activities such as a Death Penalty Issues Lobby Day and a Direct Action Day. There will be opportunities to write press releases, speak in public, meet with legislators or their aides, and conceive and carry out a direct action.

"This is an historical echo to what happened in the 1960s when people came down to the South during the Civil Rights Movement to help people register to vote, what they called freedom summers. This is very similar to what was going on back then, but here the issue is the death penalty." said Scott Cobb, president of Texas Moratorium Network.

Texas leads the nation by far in number of executions. Texas performed 45 percent of all the executions in the United States in 2006. Twenty-four people were executed in Texas in 2006. There were 53 executions in the U.S. in 2006. Since the U.S Supreme Court ruling in 1976 that allowed executions to resume after a four-year period during which they were considered unconstitutional, there have been 1060 executions in the United States. Texas has performed 381 of those executions, which amounts to about 35 percent of the national total. According to the 2000 census, Texas has only 7.4 percent of the nation's entire population.

This spring break was featured last year on mtvU, NPR and the front page of The Huntsville Item. MTV is planning to send their crew to Austin again this year to shoot the spring break for "The Amazing Break," an MTV show featuring alternatives to beer and beaches. Coverage by MTV and other media outlets ensures that the anti-death penalty message of the alternative spring break will reach thousands and thousands of people.

Throughout the week students will participate in workshops and have a chance to talk and eat with people that they probably never imagined they would encounter in their daily lives, such as Shujaa Graham, an African American man who spent 3 years of his life on California's death-row for a crime he did not commit or Renny Cushing, a former New Hampshire state legislator whose father was brutally murdered or Christina Lawson, whose husband was executed by the state of Texas in 2005.

Other speakers include Moresse Bickham, who was on death row when the Furman v Georgia decision was announced in 1972 abolishing the death penalty on grounds that it violated the U.S. constitution. Another ruling four years later allowed executions to resume. Bickham was released in 1996 and at 89 is now the oldest living survivor of the Furman v Georgia decision.

Participation in the Annual Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break is an invaluable experience. Participants will come away with firsthand knowledge of the anti-death penalty movement and a new understanding of how they can affect public policy. Plus, they will an opportunity to form new friendships that could last a lifetime. During the spring break students will have plenty of free time to enjoy Austin, the Live Music Capital of the World. The famous SXSW Festival is the same week as spring break, so if anyone is interested they can attend some of the films or music events during their free time.

Thanks to contributions from Campus Progress, Resist Foundation and other groups there is no participation fee for the Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break except for those people who need housing. If you do not need housing, because you live in Austin or you are making your own housing arrangements, then your participation is free, but please register so we know how many people to expect. Participants are expected to travel to Austin at their own expense and pay for their meals and incidental expenses while in Austin. We will provide some free pizza and snacks a couple of times. Housing is available for a fee of $25. That's right. $25 for all five days. That's $5 a night. Students will stay in rooms with one or two other people at a dormitory near the University of Texas at Austin.

See you in Austin!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

TSADP essay Contest

Nathan Hays of the Mansfield Timberview High School was winner of the Texas Students Against the Death Penalty's 2006 essay contest. He was ranked 1st place by our judges.

Deadline for entries is Feb 1st, 2007. The TSADP Essay Contest is open to all 11th and 12th grade Texas high school students. To participate, you must write an essay explaining why a moratorium on executions is necessary in Texas. Essays are judged on both style and content. The winning essay must demonstrate an outstanding grasp of the death penalty system in Texas. Complete contest guidelines are available on the Web site.

Texas Death Penalty Moratorium: The Time for Action is now

Early in the morning of December 2, 2005, Kenneth Boyd marched from his dimly lit cell in Raleigh, North Carolina, toward a small room dominated by a reclining table and an apparatus for delivering a lethal combination of various poisons. After lying down, a doctor inserted a tube into his arm and stepped back. His last words were to his wife, Kathy Smith, “Look after my son and my grandchildren. God bless everybody in here.” Shortly after that, at 2:15 a.m., he was dead. As the fatal dose of chemicals entered his bloodstream, Kenneth Boyd became the 1,000th person to be executed in the United States since the death penalty’s reinstatement in 1976. With so many deaths over so many years, America has joined the company of China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.[i] Even worse, the death penalty itself has multiple problems, including the ingraining of socially counterproductive values, its unfair application, and the risk of executing innocent people.

By far, the most common argument for the death penalty is that executing criminals deters future aggression. However, the overwhelming amount of evidence suggests just the opposite.[ii] For instance, California experienced a drastic drop in the murder rate while the death penalty was not carried out. From 1907 to 1963, New York encountered more homicides in the month immediately following an execution than before. In addition, the FBI Uniform Crime Report shows that police officers are most in danger in regions where executions are most common.[iii] Why do people commit more crimes in response to executions? The answer to that question lies in what the government communicates through executions. First, it sends the message that the most acceptable answer to offenses is by using violence. Second, the government communicates that vengeance is just. Finally, executions convince people that the government decides who lives and who dies. Inevitably, these three signals induce people to commit more crimes and detest authority. Therefore, not only does the death penalty fail to deter crime, but it actually brutalizes the population into acquiring socially counterproductive values.

In addition, the death penalty is applied unfairly. For instance, 202 African American defendants have been executed for the murders of white victims while only twelve white defendants have received a death sentence for the murder of African Americans.[iv] The logical conclusion from this is that the government values a white life over a black life. Furthermore, there is a significant economic bias. For example, almost all defendants facing the death penalty cannot afford their own legal fees. State-provided attorneys are often inexperienced, unpaid, and have absolutely no motivation to fight hard. As a result, the current death row population is comprised of a disproportionate number of economically disadvantaged people.[v] In 1972, the Supreme Court ruled that the system of executions was “arbitrary and capricious” in Furman v. Georgia.[vi] Although the court later reversed that view, the death penalty in America remains an enemy to unity and equality because it condemns humans to death based on economic status and race.

Finally, the risk of executing an innocent person far outweighs any benefits. Almost 125 people have been released from death row since 1976.[vii] This means that one inmate has been taken off death row for roughly every eight people executed. In addition, the government is often unwilling to review capital cases in order to save time and money, leaving the burden of proving innocence to those outside the system. For instance, journalism students in Illinois were recently assigned to investigate a person on death row. After doing some detective work, they discovered that one of the witnesses had lied at the trial and they uncovered the true killer, who confessed on videotape.[viii] The media has also convinced states to exonerate people on death row in several instances, such as the case of Walter McMillian, who was slated to be executed in Alabama.[ix] However, neither the media nor the informal efforts of concerned citizens can possibly review all of the death row cases. This means that the American public must simply have faith in the criminal justice system, which has already proven itself to be ineffective and prejudiced.

As Kenneth Boyd, closed his eyes for the final time, justice breathed its last breath alongside him. It died because the government sent a message of violence and hypocrisy to its citizens. It died because of the unfair, prejudiced judicial system. It died because the government risked killing an innocent person. Even more, it was all so unavoidable. It is time for our government, which claims to be “of the people, for the people, and by the people” to safeguard the lives of all its citizens and resurrect justice once and for all.

[i] See “US Carries Out 1000th Execution,” British Broadcasting Channel Website, 2 Dec. 2005

[ii] See the Michigan State University Comm Tech Lab’s Death Penalty Information Center for the High School Curriculum, “Deterrence,” 2004 Note: Like the rest of the endnotes here, this is the specific source information. For the general reference to the source, see Works Cited.

[iii] For more general information, see “Facts about Deterrence and the Death Penalty,” Death Penalty Information Center, 2006, The two sources are cited on that page.

[iv] See the Michigan State University Comm Tech Lab’s Death Penalty Information Center for the High School Curriculum, “Arbitrariness and Discrimination,” 2004

[v] See “The Death Penalty in Texas: Lethal Injustice,” Online Documentation Archive. 1 Mar. 1998. Amnesty International, Note: See pages’ endnotes for original references.

[vi] See “ACLU Briefing Paper Number 8: Death Penalty.” Department of Public Education Archives, American Civil Liberties Union,

[vii] For more general information, see “Innocence and the Death Penalty,” Death Penalty Information Center, 2006, The source is cited on the page.

[viii] See the Michigan State University Comm Tech Lab’s Death Penalty Information Center for the High School Curriculum, “Innocence (In Opposition),” 2004

[ix] See “News and Developments,” Death Penalty Information Center, 2006, Article originally appeared in National Geographic Magazine, January 2006 Edition.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Death Penalty

Any who commit murder, a punishment should receive,
But not the death penalty, for such is wrong, I believe.
Either killing’s right or wrong, and clearly it isn’t right,
Therefore, the death penalty, we all should dismiss outright.

It’s plain hypocritical, and behaviour that’s askew,
If we’re condemning killing, yet, are involved in killing too.
We’re simply sanctioned killers, who also don’t have the right
To kill another person; and an innocent one, we might.

Two wrongs don’t make a right; that simply, makes us more guilty,
For where is our example, as we know better, don’t we?
Folk can hardly be pro-life, and the sanctity of life sell,
If just like a murderer, they are taking life as well.

When we kill a murderer, they’re hardly punished at all,
For despite their loss of life, they’re outside the prison wall.
You see, it’s behind those walls, that real punishment takes place,
For behind them, just misery, twenty four seven, they face.

Imagine spending your life, locked inside a tiny cell,
However, such punishment, I’m not attempting to sell.
For locking them in a cell, where they will just vegetate,
Isn’t to our credit either, so, let’s rehabilitate.

How we treat the offender, says a lot about us too,
So, mind what you’re endorsing, be careful what you pursue.
Despite what they may have done, we still should act humanely,
Otherwise, we’re no better, we’re acting hypocritically.

But there is another thing, that we should consider too:
What if to the gallows, friend, a judge wrongfully sends you?
Yes, let the murderer live, lest an innocent man die,
And we become a party to, what one could never justify.

By Lance Landall

Monday, January 15, 2007

Quote of the week

According to the L.A. Times, Attorney General John Ashcroft wants to take "a harder stance" on the death penalty. What's a harder stance on the death penalty? We're already killing the guy? How do you take a harder stance on the death penalty? What, are you going to tickle him first? Give him itching powder? Put a thumbtack on the electric chair.
-- Jay Leno

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Tough on Crime

There is a great editorial in today's Dallas Morning News about the tough on crime politicians in Texas and the so called Jessica's laws:
The worst idea floated in Austin would have Texas join five other states and
allow the death penalty for sex crimes against children. As unforgivable as that
crime is, it doesn't warrant a harsher penalty than simple murder, which brings
five years to life. Execution for sex crimes – the proposal applies to repeat
offenders – would badly warp the proportionality of the state's criminal-justice
code. It also would pose the dangerous possibility of offenders killing their
sexual prey to eliminate witnesses.
The editorial also talks about the problems with the minimum mandatory sentences:
Today's big push for even tougher laws is fraught with risks of unintended
consequences. One example is a proposed new layer of mandatory sentencing: 25
years on the first aggravated sex offense against a child, up from today's range
of two years to life. Experts warn that severe, inflexible sentences rob
prosecutors of the ability to plea bargain; that could result in lost
convictions in cases where prosecutors couldn't get useful testimony from child
victims but had no choice but to go to trial.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Justice for Rodney Reed Rally at the Texas Capitol

In 1998, Rodney Reed was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1996 murder of 19-year-old Stacy Stites in Bastrop, Texas. His habeas corpus appeal has been denied. But there is troubling evidence that Reed is innocent of this crime. And there was a pattern of police and prosecutorial misconduct that puts his conviction in doubt:

* Although semen found in Stites’ body matched Reed’s DNA, witnesses were available to testify that Reed, a black man, was having an affair with Stites, a white woman. The jury never heard them. There is no evidence that he killed her.

* The chain of evidence was broken for DNA evidence that could have bolstered Reed’s claim of innocence. Shipping labels that DPS says were used to ship evidence to California for DNA testing by defense experts do not match shipping company records. Stites’ body was missing for two hours on the night of the murder, showing up at the medical examiner’s office with new bruising.

* DNA that incriminates other suspects never made it to the defense. DNA evidence on two beer cans found near Stites’ body match the DNA of Giddings Police officer David Hall (who had been Fennell’s partner) and Bastrop Police officer Ed Samela. The defense thinks that the police officers might have been involved in the murder with Stites’ fiancĂ©, Jimmy Fennell, Jr., a former Giddings police officer.

* Investigators never searched the Giddings apartment shared by Fennell and Stites, and returned Fennell’s pickup truck (which Stites had been driving the day of the murder) to him before doing a complete forensic analysis.

* Reed had an incompetent defense lawyer who did not call witnesses who could testify as to his relationship with Stites or provide Reed with an alibi for the time of the murder.

How you can help:

Rodney Reed sits on Texas’ death row never having had a fair trial. He has a strong case for innocence, and strong evidence that police and prosecutors either bungled his case or framed him deliberately for the murder. Please consider supporting Reed’s demand for a new trial and get involved with the Campaign to End the Death Penalty.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


Thank you to all the wonderful people who have been signing the petition at and have been spreading the word about the injustice that Nazanin Fatehi is facing in Iran.

Many of you are asking what you can do further?

1. Learn about the case and watch a 30 min documentary called "The Tale of Two Nazanins" at

2. Sign the Petition at

3. Fax or Email a personal message to the Iranian heads of state and Head of the Judiciary pleading with them to release Nazanin. (try to be diplomatic and do not use any profane language) For an idea of what to say you can watch my plea at :

Send your messages to:

Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic
Fax: 00 98 251 7 774 2228


President of Islamic Republic
Email through website:
Phone: 00 98 21 6 649 5880


4. Call your local Iranian Embassy To locate it go to

Iranian Embassy - United Kingdom
Iranian Embassy - Canada

5. Tell your local media (Newspapers, TV, radio stations, magazines, on-line news)

6. Tell everyone you know (family, friends, schools, blogs, websites) and direct them to


Peace and love,

Nazanin Afshin-Jam

Friday, January 05, 2007

TSADP Death Penalty Essay contest

Deadline for entries is Feb 1st, 2007

The TSADP Essay Contest is open to all 11th and 12th grade Texas high school students. To participate, you must write an essay explaining why a moratorium on executions is necessary in Texas. Essays are judged on both style and content. The winning essay must demonstrate an outstanding grasp of the death penalty system in Texas.

Awards: 12th Grade Winner $200
12th grade runner-up $50
11th grade Winner $200
11th grade runner-up $50

Complete contest guidelines are available on the Web site.