Sunday, February 28, 2010

Execution Watch: Michael Sigala

Execution Watch will broadcast Tuesday as Texas kills Michael Sigala. He was convicted and sentenced to death at age 22 in a trial where prosecutors suppressed testimony that he is mentally ill. The featured guest will be the legal affairs director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. If the execution is canceled, the show will be, too.

KPFT HD-2 Houston 90.1 FM,
Streaming live at, 6-7 pm CT
Spotlighting Texas's badge of shame by broadcasting during executions
Currently Scheduled Dates:



March 2, 2010, Tues., 6-7 pm CT

Listen on KPFT's HD-2 channel, 90.1 FM Houston, or

Go to www.executionwatch. org at 6 p.m. CT, click on “Listen.”


MICHAEL SIGALA, 32, convicted of slaying a Plano couple in their apartment during a robbery a decade ago. In his unsuccessful appeals, Sigala argued that the testimony of a psychiatrist was improperly limited at trial. Dr. Laura Slaughter had planned to testify that he had a history of mental illness and suffered from bipolar disorder. The prosecution kept the jury from hearing the diagnosis.


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 hosts his own program Fridays at KPFT: the Prison Show, now in its 30th year, www.theprisonshow. org

Legal Analyst: JIM SKELTON, a retired attorney who continues to contribute to the profession by teaching continuing education in appellate law. During a distinguished career he participated in a number of capital trials as prosecutor or defense attorney.

Featured Interview: RONALD S. HONBERG, JD, director of policy and legal affairs for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mr. Honberg oversees NAMI’s federal advocacy agenda and its Law and Criminal Justice Action Center. Among his areas of focus is the intersection between people with mental illness and the criminal justice system.

Reporter, Huntsville, Death House: DENNIS LONGMIRE, professor of criminal justice at Sam Houston State University,

Reporter, Houston vigil: DAVE ATWOOD , member, board of directors, Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty,


On March 11, Texas plans to execute Joshua Maxwell. Execution Watch will broadcast. Details:

PRODUCER: Elizabeth Ann Stein.


THEME MUSIC: “Death by Texas,” Victoria Panetti, www.myspace. com/shemonster

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Five Death Row Exonerees to Speak at Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break March 15-19 in Austin, Texas

Derrick Jamison, an innocent man who spent 17 years on death row in Ohio will be one of the speakers at the Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break, which is March 15-19, 2010 in Austin, Texas. Derrick is attending as a member of Witness to Innocence. Derrick will join exonerees Shujaa Graham, Curtis McCarty, Ron Keine and Perry Cobb at alternative spring break to speak with participants about how innocent people can end up on death row. Altogether, the five exonerees attending the alternative spring break spent a total of almost 50 years on death row for crimes they did not commit.

The Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break March 15-19 in Austin is designed for high school and college students interested in human rights and the death penalty. All the events are also open to people of all ages who are interested in the issue. In addition to five death row exonerees, there will be many other interesting speakers, including the national director of Sister Helen Prejean's Dead Man Walking School Theatre Project, Bill Pelke of Journey of Hope, Susannah Sheffer of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights, Brian Evans from the Washington D.C. office of Amnesty International, and Elizabeth Gilbert, the friend of Todd Willingham who first brought his case to the attention of thefire expert who later sent a report to Rick Perry in support of a stay of execution.

Participants will gain valuable training and experience in grassroots organizing, lobbying, preparing a public rally and working with the media. During the week, students will immediately put what they learn into action during activities such as an Anti-Death Penalty Lobby Day with a rally at the Texas Capitol. There will be opportunities to write press releases, organize a press conference, speak in public, meet with legislators or their aides, and carry out a public rally at the capitol.

Please register at the website

Derrick Jamison

derrick jamison | www.witnesstoinnocence.orgWhen James Suggs, an eyewitness to the robbery and murder of a Cincinnati bartender, was shown photo arrays of suspects by police, he identified two men—but neither of them was Derrick Jamison. There were also multiple contradictions between physical descriptions of the perpetrators given by witnesses and Derrick’s actual appearance. This information was withheld from Jamison’s trial, and as a result, an innocent man spent nearly 20 years on Ohio’s death row for a crime he did not commit.
In February 2005, Ohio Common Pleas Judge Richard Niehaus dismissed all charges against Derrick after his conviction was overturned three years earlier. Jamison was convicted and sentenced to death in 1985 based largely on the testimony of Charles Howell, a co-defendant whose own sentence was reduced in exchange for testimony against Derrick.
Statements were withheld that contradicted Howell’s testimony, undermined the prosecution’s explanation for the death, and ultimately would have incriminated other suspects for the murder. Two federal courts ruled that the prosecution's actions denied Derrick a fair trial.
Today, Derrick is fully aware of the inequality of the criminal justice system. “There is a double standard when it comes to justice in our judicial system, especially with wrongful conviction,” he says. “If you are a minority or a low-income citizen, the pursuit of justice can be an elusive one. But if you are rich it happens overnight.”
Although his resentment towards the system is subsiding, Derrick continues to express anger about how the 17 years he spent on death row impacted his life and the lives of his family members. At the time of sentencing, he was incredibly troubled because of his unjust imprisonment. “I was very angry, furious and distraught. . . all the emotions that stir up anguish. It made me feel it was over for me. Not only did that sentence affect me, it was the demise of my mother and father.”
Derrick currently lives in Cincinnati, where he expresses daily gratitude for his release. “In the 21 years I experienced ‘dead man walking’ I never had anything to smile about,” he says, “but on that day, I felt the smile come from within my heart. The sun shone down on me that day.”

Friday, February 26, 2010

Save Linda Carty

British grandmother Linda Carty was wrongfully sentenced to death by a Texan court and is now dangerously close to execution. Please watch this video about her disastrous case - and find out how you can help save her life.

How to save Linda Carty
  1. Please sign this petition NOW
  2. Follow Linda Carty's case on Facebook, Twitter or our Save Linda Petition
  3. Sign up for updates on Linda's case by mailing
  4. Donate to our Urgent Appeal for Linda Carty

Who is Linda Carty?

After a catastrophically flawed trial, Linda Carty was sentenced to death in February 2002 and faces execution within months. She desperately needs your help.

Why is Linda Carty on death row?

Linda would certainly not be on death row today if she had had a decent defence lawyer at trial. Her story is a damning indictment of the Texas justice system, and exposes the perils of being poor and vulnerable in the USA.

Linda was born on 5 October 1958 on the Caribbean island of St Kitts to Anguillan parents and holds a UK dependent territory passport. She worked as a primary school teacher in St Kitts until she was 23, when she moved to the US to study.

After disastrous failures by her court-appointed lawyer, Linda was convicted of taking part in the murder of 25 year-old Joana Rodriguez.

The crime took place on 16 May 2001, when three men broke into the apartment of Rodriguez and her partner Raymundo Cabrera, demanding drugs and cash. They abducted Rodriguez and her four-day-old son, Ray, who was later found unharmed in a car, while Rodriguez had suffocated.

The prosecution’s rather implausible theory was that Linda was afraid of losing her common-law husband and thought that if she had another baby he would stay. Unable to get pregnant, they allege she had hired three men to kidnap Rodriguez and that she planned to steal the child - a baby of a different race to Linda.

Linda's court-appointed lawyer was Jerry Guerinot, whose incompetence has already led to twenty of his clients ending up on death row, more than any other defence lawyer in the US. His approach to her case was at best, slapdash, at worst, wilfully inept.

Jerry  Guerinot - the worst lawyer in the world?

Guerinot's catalogue of serious failings in Linda's case includes: failure to meet Linda until immediately before the trial, failure to inform Linda or her husband of their rights; failure to spot obvious flaws and inconsistencies in the prosecution case; failure to interview witnesses; and failure to investigate key mitigating evidence.

After her conviction, investigators from Reprieve visited St Kitts and learnt that Linda was still remembered as a passionate teacher who frequently held extra classes for children with special needs. She also taught at Sunday school, sang in a national youth choir and led a volunteer social-work group.

This information would have enabled Guerinot to present her to the jurors as a dedicated teacher and community leader – factors that might well have induced them to vote to spare her life. But although Guerinot applied to the court for funds to go to St Kitts before Linda’s trial, neither he nor his staff made the trip.

By the time the Carty family emigrated to the US in 1982, Linda had a daughter Jovelle, then two (born 10 September 1979). Shortly after Jovelle was born, Jovelle’s father emigrated to New York, leaving Linda to care for the child alone. A year after Linda moved to Houston her cousin Harriet died suddenly. Linda and Harriet were very close and Linda was devastated.

During the 80s, Linda had begun to work as a confidential informant for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), befriending suspected traffickers in order to get information and sometimes to make test purchases of drugs. Linda has always asserted her innocence, and believes that she was framed because of her work with the DEA.

In 1988 Linda was raped in a University of Houston car park. The rape resulted in a pregnancy and Linda gave birth to a baby girl (born 23 June 1989) who was given up for adoption. Linda felt a deep sense of shame and concealed the rape and the pregnancy from her family. Two months prior to giving birth, Linda’s beloved father died, Linda was distraught. Later, she found herself in an abusive relationship and was a victim of domestic violence.

Linda is now incarcerated at Mountain View Unit, one of ten women on death row in Texas.

Will Linda be killed?

Linda's case is now before the Supreme Court; this is the last chance for the legal system to save her life. The Supreme Court hears only a tiny number of cases per year.

It is time to get very worried about Linda. She needs all the support she can get.

What else can I do?

After signing the petition and sending it to your friends, you can write a letter of support to Linda at: Linda Carty, # 999406, Mountainview Unit, 2305 Ransom Rd, Gatesville, Texas 76528, USA. Letters must include a return address.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

World Coalition Delivers 90,000 Petitions Against Juvenile Executions

A morning with the World Coalition in Paris. Activists preparing to visit the Embassies of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen in order to hand over more than 90,000 signatures on the petition demanding the complete stop of juvenile executions. Three of these countries have ratified the convention on the rights of the child, but do not follow it. The Iranian Embassy refused to accept the petitions. However it will be mailed directly to the authorities in Teheran.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hire A Lawyer, Escape the Death Penalty?

ACS is pleased to distribute an Issue Brief by Scott Phillips, Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminology at the University of Denver, entitled “Hire a Lawyer, Escape the Death Penalty?” In this Issue Brief, Professor Phillips describes the results of his study to test the claim made by death penalty opponents that wealthy defendants who hire legal counsel are exempt from capital punishment. His research focuses on Houston, Texas, and surrounding Harris County, which is the county with the largest number of executions in the United States and the largest jurisdiction that uses court-appointed lawyers instead of a public defender to represent defendants who cannot afford an attorney. Professor Phillips compares the outcomes in cases where the defendant hired a lawyer with cases where the defendant had a court-appointed lawyer and finds that, “[h]iring counsel for the entire case not only eliminates the chance of death, but also dramatically increases the chance of an acquittal.” He also finds that “[h]iring counsel for a portion of the case substantially reduces the chance of death,” and “hiring counsel does not appear to be the province of the wealthy because virtually all capital defendants seem to be poor.”

Professor Phillips argues that these dramatic findings “are not an indictment of appointed attorneys, but rather an indictment of the structural deficiencies inherent in the appointment method of indigent defense.” He discusses these deficiencies and reform efforts in Texas aimed at addressing them. He believes that the reform efforts have not succeeded, however, and argues that “the solution is to create a public defender office with resources proportionate to the DA’s office. Such a proposal is not meant to suggest that a public defender office would be a panacea. But a public defender would reduce differential treatment and eliminate the structural deficiencies inherent in the appointment method.” He concludes by asserting that, “Houston’s distinction as the capital of capital punishment creates a special obligation to provide the most rigorous system of indigent defense possible. The appointment method does not – and arguably cannot – meet such a standard.”

Click Here to Download the Issue Brief

Professor Phillips previously wrote an ACS Issue Brief entitled, “Racial Disparities in Capital Punishment: Blind Justice Requires a Blindfold.” His first issue brief described research he conducted on race and capital punishment in Harris County, and is available here.

Vote for " Abolish the Death Penalty " in the Ideas for Change contest at

Texas Moratorium Network sent an email out a few days ago asking people to vote for "Abolish the Death Penalty" in the Ideas for Change contest at 236 TMN members have voted so far, which is a little more than one-quarter of the total votes of 820 as of now. Thanks for everyone who already voted. If you have not yet voted, please do. We need another hundred votes or so to move into the top ten. The idea was started at by Gilles Denizot. Nice job Gilles!

Take a moment to vote for the Abolish the Death Penalty as an Idea for Change in America at (You will have to register to vote.) If the idea becomes one of the top ten, will host an event in Washington, DC, where each of the 10 ideas will be presented to representatives of the media, the nonprofit community, and to relevant officials in the Obama Administration. After the announcement, will mobilize the full resources of their staff, their 1 million community members, and their extended network of bloggers to support a series of grassroots campaigns to turn each idea into reality.

This is the second annual ideas competition powered by The first competition was launched immediately following the 2008 presidential election, during which time people submitted more than 7,500 ideas and 650,000 votes.

How it Works
Beginning January 20, 2010, individuals and organizations everywhere can (1) submit ideas for change they want to see implemented, (2) discuss these ideas with others, and (3) vote for their favorite ideas and promote them across the web.
During the first round of voting, ideas will be organized into 20 different issue-based categories. First round voting ends at 5pm ET on February 25th, at which point the three top ranked ideas in each category will advance to the second (and final) round of voting, starting March 1, 2010 . In this final round, all 60 qualifying ideas (top three in each of 20 categories) will be in open competition. The final round of voting concludes at 5pm ET on March 11th, and the 10 most popular ideas at the conclusion of voting will be named winners – the “Top 10 Ideas for Change in America.”
The Top 10 Ideas for Change in America
To formally announce the winners, will host an event in Washington, DC, whereeach of these top 10 ideas will be presented to representatives of the media, the nonprofit community, and to relevant officials in the Obama Administration. After the announcement, will mobilize the full resources of their staff, their 1 million community members, and their extended network of bloggers to support a series of grassroots campaigns to turn each idea into reality.
How to Turn this Idea into Reality?
We need to remain first and be amongst the Top 10 Ideas for Change in America on March 4th, 2010. We need to build a movement to support this idea and bring it to Washington D.C.
  • We need to VOTE NOW..
  • We need to TELL FRIENDS (click on email below).
  • We need to SHARE the idea around us, on Facebook, on Twitter, everywhere.
  • We need to POST the WIDGET on our personal webpages (find the code here, simply copy & paste it where you want it to appear).

We need to understand that it will ONLY happen if we do what we need to make it happen. And we only have until February 25th, 2010! Let’s get ready for Washington D.C.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Anti-Death Penalty Protesters Interrupt Rick Perry at Appearance in Denton

From the Denton Record-Chronicle:
Texas Gov. Rick Perry made a short stop in Denton Friday morning, during the “crush and rush” of campaigning leading up to the primary election on March 2, with early voting already under way.

Perry, a Republican seeking his third four-year term as governor, greeted more than 100 Denton County residents — most of whom were invited by Perry’s campaign through e-mail — at the Jupiter House coffee shop on the Square.

He debated against U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and GOP activist Debra Medina at the University of North Texas last month.

Frank Phillips, the county’s elections administrator, said Friday that 4,566 Denton County voters had cast ballots so far — 4,087 Republicans and 479 Democrats.

Perry said Denton County will be important for Republican candidates to win.

“Denton is a very dynamic community. … It’s a powerful GOP stronghold,” he said.

As Perry walked into Jupiter House, about a dozen protesters who were littered throughout the audience started clapping and yelling “Death row, hell no!”

The owners quickly and physically escorted the protesters out of the shop, but they continued to protest with banners on the sidewalk.

UNT student Laura Lamb, one of the organizers of the demonstration, said her fellow protesters attended the event to publicly disagree with Perry and his stance on capital punishment.

“We do not support state-sponsored murder,” Lamb said.
Also last November UNT students greeted Rick Perry at a fund-raising in Denton. Pictures by Liz Vilén.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Prosecution Files Objections to Findings of Special Master in Sharon Keller Case: Says Keller Deserves Punishment

The Austin American-Statesman is reporting that the prosecution, representing the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, has filed a document objecting to the findings issued by the Special Master Judge David Berchelmann.

Texas Moratorium Network filed a complain against Sharon Keller in 2007 that was signed by about 1900 people. For more information on the case visit

From the Statesman:
Seeking to revive their case against Judge Sharon Keller, prosecutors argued Wednesday that Keller deserves to be reprimanded or removed from office for refusing to accept a late execution-day appeal in 2007.
In documents filed Wednesday with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, which will weigh Keller’s fate, prosecutors objected to a special master’s conclusion that Keller was not to blame for failures that resulted in death row inmate Michael Richard being executed without his final appeal being heard in court.
Dismissing the findings by Special Master David Berchelmann Jr. as irrelevant and misguided, prosecutors said Keller’s conduct in Richard’s case “was clearly inconsistent with the proper performance of her duties … and cast public discredit on the judiciary.”
Keller’s lawyer, Chip Babcock, also filed objections to Berchelmann’s findings, issued last month after he heard four days of testimony in August.
Though emphatically in Keller’s favor, Berchelmann’s findings also criticized Keller for questionable judgment when she refused to keep the court clerk’s office open past 5 p.m. Richard’s lawyers had requested extra time to file an appeal based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision that morning.
Babcock urged the commission to disregard Berchelmann’s criticism as irrelevant, noting that Keller was charged with violating the code of judicial ethics and the Texas Constitution — not with exhibiting poor judgment or making questionable decisions.
“The special master explicitly found, based on a thorough and careful review of the evidence, that Judge Keller ‘did not violate any written or unwritten rules or laws,’” Babcock wrote. “The special master’s findings of fact plainly absolve Judge Keller of all of the charges leveled against her … (and) can only be read as an exoneration of her conduct.”
Babcock said he plans to file a formal response to prosecutors’ objections in the near future, and both sides will get a chance to argue their objections before the commission during an as-yet unscheduled meeting.
After that meeting, the 13-member commission will meet in private to decide whether to drop the charges, reprimand Keller or recommend her removal from office. That decision could take weeks, perhaps months, and a removal recommendation would kick off a new inquiry by a specially created seven-member panel of appellate court judges.
In Wednesday’s filings, prosecutors attacked Berchelmann’s two main conclusions:
  • That Keller violated no rule or law when she declined to accept the appeal after 5 p.m.
  • That lawyers with the Texas Defender Service, or TDS, were to blame for the missed appeal by failing to diligently prepare Richard’s court briefs and declining to pursue available options to file them with the Court of Criminal Appeals after 5 p.m.
Prosecutors argued that Berchelmann improperly portioned out blame as if he were presiding over a negligence lawsuit instead of charges of judicial misconduct.
“The issue here is not TDS’s conduct, but Judge Keller’s conduct,” prosecutors said. “Judge Keller’s conduct on Sept. 25, 2007 should be examined based on what she knew, heard, thought, said, did, decided and failed to do — and not on things that she did not know.”
Read more in print or on line tomorrow.

Statement of the Legal Defense Team for Hank Skinner Regarding Re-Scheduling of Execution

For Immediate Release
February 17, 2009

Contact: Rob Owen, University of Texas, 512-232-9391,


"Today, February 17, we received notice for the first time that the judge of the convicting court yesterday withdrew Mr. Skinner’s previously scheduled February 24 execution date, apparently upholding our challenge to the previously issued warrant of execution as void under Texas law.

We are dismayed that the court chose, in the same order, to re-schedule Mr. Skinner’s execution for March 24. This unseemly haste to execute Mr. Skinner ignores the growing public concern and outcry over the unanswered questions about Mr. Skinner’s guilt. Now, more than ever, DNA testing is necessary to resolve those doubts.

Setting a March 24 execution date also means that Mr. Skinner’s pending lawsuit against the Gray County District Attorney in the United States Supreme Court, seeking the much-needed DNA testing, must now be resolved under needless and entirely artificial time pressures. Given that the District Attorney stands to benefit directly from that undue haste, it is especially disappointing that the court chose to press forward with Mr. Skinner’s execution on March 24.

In addition, there is a very serious legal question whether the trial court even has the authority to set an execution date for someone, like Mr. Skinner, whose post-conviction challenges to his conviction and death sentence have never been heard by the Texas courts.

We remain committed to obtaining the DNA testing our client says will prove his innocence, and will take every available legal step to that end."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Breaking News: The execution of Hank Skinner postponed to March 24

The execution of Hank Skinner has been moved to March 24th, 2010.

The death warrant is void. The judge granted the motion to vacate the February 24th execution date on the ground that the warrent of execution was void. In the same order he re-set Hank's execution date for March 24.

More updates coming soon.

Action for Hank Skinner and 2010 Anti-Death Penalty Spring Break

Please scroll down to take action to help stop the execution of Hank Skinner, scheduled for February 24, 2010 in Texas. Read the article below for more information on Hank's case. Don't let Hank become the next Todd Willingham, an innocent person executed in Texas.

Also, take a moment to vote for the Abolish the Death Penalty as an Idea for Change in America at (You will have to register at to vote.) If the idea becomes one of the top ten, will host an event in Washington, DC, where each of the 10 ideas will be presented to representatives of the media, the nonprofit community, and to relevant officials in the Obama Administration. After the announcement, will mobilize the full resources of their staff, their 1 million community members, and their extended network of bloggers to support a series of grassroots campaigns to turn each idea into reality.

Finally, if you want to spend four days learning about the death penalty and training to take action, register for the Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break, March 15-19, 2010 in Austin, Texas. It is designed for high school and college students, but all the workshops and events are open to the public of all ages. We have arranged many interesting speakers, including four innocent, exonerated former death row prisoners, Curtis McCarty, Ron Keine, Shujaa Graham and Perry Cobb,
as well as the national director of Sister Helen Prejean's Dead Man Walking School Theatre Project, Bill Pelke of Journey of Hope, Susannah Sheffer of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights and Brian Evans from the Washington D.C. office of Amnesty International.

If anyone is interested, you can register at the website

Actions for Hank Skinner:

Sign and send this online petition/email to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Write, call, fax or email your own letter to the Board of Pardons and Paroles and Texas Governor Rick Perry. Urge them to stay the execution to allow testing of DNA. In the subject line of your emails or in any letters to the Board of Pardons and Paroles, write "Attention Case of Hank Skinner #999143"

Hank Skinner is scheduled to be executed in Texas on February 24 for three murders he maintains he didn't commit. Several key pieces of biological evidence from the crime scene have not been tested. DNA testing could prove Skinner's innocence or confirm his guilt, but prosecutors are opposing Skinner's appeals and seeking to execute him.
There are several pieces of probative biological evidence from the crime scene that haven't been tested. Among this untested evidence are hairs from one victim's hand, a rape kit, fingernail clippings and a windbreaker that could have been worn by an alternate suspect. It is crucial that this testing be conducted before Texas carries out a sentence it can't reverse.
DNA testing can prove the truth. It is not a delay tactic or a diversion -- it has the potential to confirm Skinner's guilt or prove him innocent and you would be making a grave mistake to allow Skinner to executed without first conducting DNA tests.

Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 12428
Austin, Texas 78711-2428
Fax: 512-463-1849
Main number: 512-463-2000
Website email contact form
Clemency Section
Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles
8610 Shoal Creek Blvd.
Austin, TX 78757-6814
Fax (512) 467-0945

Will Texas Soon Execute Another Innocent Man? Our Reporting Challenges Verdict As Clock Ticks

February 12, 2010
Texas Gov. Rick Perry is under fire for allegedly obstructing an investigation into the wrongful execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was put to death in 2004 -- despite forensic tests proving he did not murder his three young children.
Four years earlier, Gary Graham was carried to Texas’ death chamber defiantly proclaiming his innocence in the face of new evidence that even the murder victim’s widow called “reasonable doubt.”
Investigative stories have revealed that Ruben Cantu in 1989 and Carlos DeLuna in 1993 likely suffered the same unjust fate at the hands of Texas executioners.
Now the clock is ticking on another Texas death row inmate who has steadfastly maintained his innocence – with credible evidence to support his claim. The condemned man is Henry Watkins “Hank” Skinner, and much of that evidence was unearthed by the Medill Innocence Project and reported in the January 28 and 29 editions of the Texas Tribune, "Case Open" and "Case Open: The Investigation". Yet, Skinner faces death by lethal injection on February 24, less than two weeks from now.
Texas continues to lead the nation in executions. But will the state earn the dubious distinction of executing five innocents in two decades? Hank Skinner’s fate lies in the hands of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, Gov. Perry and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Here is a synopsis of the case, spotlighting the evidence developed by Medill student-journalists who traveled to Texas’ death row and to the crime scene in search of the truth. For a more detailed account, read my testimony to the Board of Pardons and Paroles, and today'sappeal by Skinner's lawyers to the Supreme Court.
I will continue to report about the Skinner case on this site until it reaches finality.
Hank Skinner, January 20, 2010.  Photograph courtesy of The Texas Tribune.Hank Skinner, January 20, 2010
Caleb Bryant Miller, The Texas Tribune
Hank Skinner, age 47, was convicted of bludgeoning to death his live-in girlfriend, Twila Busby, and fatally stabbing her two adult sons in their Pampa, Texas home on New Year's Eve of 1993. Skinner was convicted of the crimes in 1994 and sentenced to death in 1995. He is scheduled to be executed on February 24.
The state's case against Skinner was entirely circumstantial. He has consistently professed his innocence, there was no physical evidence linking him to the murder weapons and no eyewitness or apparent motive for the crime. Skinner indisputably was in the home at the time of the murders, but claims he had passed out from mixing large quantities of alcohol and codeine. When he awoke, he stumbled to a neighbor’s residence to report the murders, according to Skinner.
But the neighbor, Andrea Reed, testified that Skinner made incriminating statements about the crime and ordered her not to call the police. That was enough for the jury to find him guilty, and, although Skinner had no history of violence that would remotely explain the horrific murders (his worst offense was a conviction for assault), he was sentenced to death.
Our investigation
The Medill Innocence Project first became involved in the case in the fall of 1999 when a reporter at the Associated Press in Houston raised questions about Skinner’s guilt. Eight investigative reporting students made two trips to the Panhandle town in 1999-2000 to interview sources and plow through documents. They returned with grave reservations about whether justice had been done.
For one thing, Andrea Reed, the state’s star witness, recanted her trial testimony in an audio-taped interview. Reed told the student-journalists that she had been intimidated by the authorities into concocting a false story against Skinner. “I did not then and do not now feel like he was physically capable of hurting anybody,” Reed said.
For another, toxicology tests on Skinner's blood and statements by experts revealed he would have been nearly comatose on the night of the crimes, certainly lacking the strength, balance and agility to commit the triple homicide. This finding is consistent with Reed’s observation of Skinner when he entered her home after the crime: “He was falling into the walls and stuff. He was staggering, falling into stuff,” she said in the taped interview.
Other residents of Pampa told the student-journalists in videotaped interviews that the more likely perpetrator was Robert Donnell, Twila's uncle. Donnell had been “hitting on” his niece at a New Year’s Eve party shortly before the slayings. Rebuffing his advances, she left the party frightened, her uncle following behind, according to the witnesses. (A close friend of Twila’s said she confided to being raped by her uncle in the past.)
The day after the crime, another witness claimed to have seen Donnell scrubbing the interior of his pick-up truck, removing the rubber floorboards and replacing the carpeting. Perhaps most telling, a windbreaker just like the one the uncle often wore was found at the scene – directly next to his niece’s body. The jacket was covered with human hairs and sweat.
Yet evidence from the windbreaker has never been scientifically tested. Moreover, prosecutors have steadfastly opposed DNA tests on two blood-stained knives, skin cells found underneath Twila’s fingernails, vaginal swabs and hairs removed from her hand – even though forensic tests on one of the hairs proved it did not come from Skinner. (The physical evidence remains sealed, but the courts have acceded to prosecutors’ demands not to conduct the tests.) In a death row interview with the student-journalists, Skinner said he was innocent and welcomed new tests on the old evidence.
"They have no right to kill me because I'm innocent, innocent, innocent."
Hank Skinner to the Texas Tribune, January 28, 2010.
Another troubling aspect of the case is the background of Skinner's trial lawyer, Harold Lee Comer. Formerly the District Attorney of Gray County, Comer had prosecuted Skinner for two offenses, theft and assault. After resigning from office and pleading guilty in a drug scandal, Comer was appointed at taxpayer's expense to represent Skinner at his capital murder trial -- without the required hearing to determine whether he had a conflict-of-interest.
The trial judge, a personal friend of Comer's, paid him roughly the same amount to represent Skinner as the former DA owed to the IRS. Comer failed to request DNA testing, or present compelling evidence about the alternative suspect. And, at the sentencing hearing, he failed to object to using Skinner's prior convictions -- which he had prosecuted -- to justify the death penalty.
When the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the claim that Skinner had been ineffectively represented by Comer, a Texas court set his execution date. In light of the cases of Cameron Todd Willingham, Gary Graham, Ruben Cantu and Carlos DeLuna, the specter of wrongful executions now hangs over Texas' system of capital punishment.
Will Texas next put to death a man who has steadfastly professed his innocence and whose lawyer was his legal adversary -- without even conducting DNA tests to be sure the right man will be punished for the crime?
Not much time will tell.

Register Now for the 2010 Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break March 15-19

Join us March 15-19, 2010 in Austin, Texas for the award-winning Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break. It's free, except for a $25 housing fee for those who need us to arrange housing for you. We will house you in a shared room with other spring breakers in either a hotel or dorm. You are responsible for your travel, food and other expenses, but the program and most of the housing costs are on us, except for the $25 housing fee.

Alternative Spring Breaks are designed to give college and high school 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. The specific purpose of this Alternative Spring Break is to provide five days of anti-death penalty activism, education and entertainment. 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.

We will provide participants with 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.

Students will gain valuable training and experience in grassroots organizing, lobbying, preparing a direct action and media relations. During the week, students will immediately put what they learn into action during activities such as an Anti-Death Penalty Lobby Day and a Protest Day with a rally at the Texas Capitol. There will be opportunities to write press releases, speak in public, meet with legislators or their aides, and carry out a protest at the Texas Capitol.

The list of speakers and special guests at the Alternative Spring Break includes:

Shujaa Graham was exonerated in 1981 from California’s death row. As a prisoner at San Quentin in the 70’s, Shujaa became part of the prison activist movement, a reflection of the struggles against racism and injustice in the outside communities. In 1973, because of his leadership in the prison movement, Shujaa was targeted and framed in the murder of a prison guard at the Deul Vocational Institute in Stockton, California. The community became involved in his defense and supported him throughout four trials. Shujaa and his co-defendant, Eugene Allen, were sent to San Quentin’s death row in 1976, after a second trial in San Francisco. The district attorney had systematically excluded all African-American jurors, and in 1979, the California Supreme Court overturned the death conviction.
After spending three years on death row, Shujaa and his co-defendant continued to fight for their innocence. A third trial ended in a hung jury and after a fourth trial, they were found innocent. As Shujaa often says, he won his freedom and affirmed his innocence in spite of the system. He is a member of the Journey of Hope … From Violence to Healing.

Curtis McCarty was exonerated in 2007 after serving 21 years – including 19 years on death row – for a 1982 Oklahoma City murder he didn’t commit. Curtis was convicted twice and sentenced to death three times based on prosecutorial misconduct and testimony from forensic analyst Joyce Gilchrist, whose lab misconduct has contributed to at least two other convictions later overturned by DNA evidence. In 1986, Curtis was convicted of a 1982 murder in Oklahoma City and sentenced to die. Citing misconduct by the prosecutor and a police lab analyst, the Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the conviction, and Curtis was retried in 1989. He was again convicted and sentenced to death. In 1995, the appeals court upheld his conviction but threw out his death sentence; in 1996, he was sentenced to death again. In 2005, the Court of Criminal Appeals again overturned his conviction, citing the continued pattern of government misconduct – and new DNA tests showing that semen recovered from the victim did not come from McCarty. He has toured and spoken about his case, along with several exonerated prisoners with the Journey of Hope … From Violence to Healing
Ron Keine was wrongfully convicted of murder and sentenced to death in New Mexico. Along with three co-defendants, Ron Keine was convicted of the murder, kidnapping, sodomy and rape of University of New Mexico student William Velten in 1974 and was sentenced to die in New Mexico’s gas chamber. An investigation by The Detroit News after Ron and his co-defendants were sentenced uncovered lies by the prosecution’s star witness, perjured identification given under police pressure, and the use of poorly administered lie detector tests. Ron spent 22 months on death row until the real killer came forward and confessed. At one point, Ron says, he was so close to going to the gas chamber that an assistant warden came to talk to him about what he wanted for his last meal. In late 1975, a state district judge dismissed the original indictments and the four men were released in 1976 after the murder weapon was traced to a drifter from South Carolina who admitted to the killing. The murder weapon, a 22-caliber pistol, was found only after a search warrant was issued to open the sheriff’s safe. Not only was the murder weapon found, there was also dated evidence showing that the gun was hidden from the defense at the original trial. Since his exoneration, Ron has traveled the country to tell his powerful story of innocence with the Witness to Innocence Project.

Perry Cobb spent eight years on death row in Illinois. On November 13, 1977, Melvin Kanter and Charles Guccion were shot to death during a robbery of a hot dog stand on Chicago's north side. Perry Cobb and Darby Tillis, who knew nothing of the crime, were charged with the murders and sentenced to death. No physical evidence linked either one to the killing. Perry and Darby did not know one another. A 1987 bench trial resulted in the exoneration of Perry Cobb and Darby Tillis. They had endured a record five trials for the same charge and spent eight years on death row.

Bill Pelke is president of Journey of Hope ... From Violence to Healing. He recently authored a book entitled Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing, which details the May 14, 1985 murder of his grandmother Ruth Pelke, a Bible teacher, by four teenage girls. Paula Cooper who was deemed to be the ringleader was sentenced to die in the electric chair by the state of Indiana. She was fifteen-years-old at the time of the murder.
Pelke originally support the sentence of death for Cooper, but went through a spiritual transformation in 1986 after praying for love and compassion for Paula Cooper and her family. He became involved in an international crusade on Paula's behalf and in 1989 after over 2 million people from Italy signed petitions and Pope John Paul II’s request for mercy, Paula was taken off of death row and her sentence commuted to sixty years.
Bill, a retired steelworker, has dedicated his life to working for abolition of the death penalty. He shares his story of forgiveness and healing, and how he came to realize that he did not need to see someone else die in order to heal from his grandmother’s death. He also helps organize Journey tours nationally and abroad,
Bill has traveled to over forty states and ten countries with the Journey of Hope and has told his story over 5000 times
Steven Crimaldi is the National Coordinator of Dead Man Walking School Theatre Project.
Steven will give a presentation discussing religion and the death penalty. He will also explain the Dead Man Walking School Theatre Project and let students know how they can get involved in putting on a production of the play at their schools or in their communities.

DEAD MAN WALKING SCHOOL THEATRE PROJECT integrates the power of theatre arts and academic study into the national discourse on the death penalty to replace ignorance, apathy, and cynicism among young people regarding the death penalty with information, introspection, and inspiration.

Previously, Steven entered the Jesuit novitiate in Grand Coteau, Louisiana after earning a Master’s in Theological Studies in Cambridge, MA. Prior to his life with the Dead Man Walking School Theatre Project and the novitiate, Crimaldi worked for Sen. Chuck Schumer in Washington, DC. He is also a poet.

Susannah Scheffer of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights will present a workshop at Alternative Spring Break on mental illness and the death penalty and specifically on MVFHR's "Prevention, Not Execution" project. MVFHR last July issued a report entitled "DOUBLE TRAGEDIES: Victims Speak Out Against the Death Penalty for People with Severe Mental Illness".

Susannah has developed numerous written materials about victim opposition to the death penalty, including Dignity Denied: The Experience of Murder Victims' Family Members Who Oppose the Death Penalty and "I Don't Want Another Kid to Die": Families of Victims Murdered by Juveniles Oppose the Juvenile Death Penalty, both of which were co-authored with Renny Cushing. She is the author of four books, and in her work with MVFHR she draws upon two decades of experience interviewing, writing, and editing.

Brian Evans of Amnesty International USA’s Death Penalty Abolition Campaign. Before moving to Washington, DC, in 2006 and taking a job with Amnesty International, Brian was a founding member of Texas Moratorium Network.
Mary K. Poirier, B.S.W., M.S.W. (cand.) is a capital trials mitigation specialist. Her work saves people from being sentenced to death. She will talk about working on capital trial teams with lawyers and investigators, as well as how activists can support legal teams. She works for the McCallister Law Firm in Missouri and has worked on capital trials in several states, including Texas. She been a trial mitigation specialist for 5 years and a board member for Missourians to Abolish the Death Penalty for 2 years. Visit her law firm's website by clicking here.