Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Texas on Tuesday executed its 452nd person since 1982, the 213th person since Governor Rick Perry took office in 2000 and the 5th in 2010

Texas on Tuesday executed its 452nd person since 1982, the 213th person since Governor Rick Perry took office in 2000 and the 5th in 2010.

From the New York Times:
Franklin Dewayne Alix was executed Tuesday evening for fatally shooting a Houston man during a robbery.
Alix, 34, received lethal injection for the slaying of 23-year-old Eric Bridgeford, who interrupted Alix as he robbed the apartment of Bridgeford's sister. The sister also had been abducted and raped in what authorities said was part of a six-month series of crimes by Alix more than 11 years ago.
The execution was the fifth this year in Texas, the nation's busiest capital punishment state.
''I'm not the monster they painted me to be,'' Alix said from the death chamber gurney, saying he ''messed up and made poor choices.'' He denied responsibility for several rapes and said he ''did no drugs.''
''It is what it is,'' he said. ''I've got peace in my heart.''
Seven minutes later, at 6:20 p.m. CDT, he was pronounced dead.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

ACLU Asks Supreme Court To Review Case Of Innocent Man On Texas' Death Row

ACLU Asks Supreme Court To Review Case Of Innocent Man On Texas' Death Row

Max Soffar Never Given Opportunity To Present Evidence Pointing To His Innocence

NEW YORK - March 30 - The American Civil Liberties Union and the Texas Innocence Network (TIN) today petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the wrongful conviction of an innocent man who has sat on Texas' death row for nearly three decades.

In their petition, the ACLU and TIN argue that Max Soffar, whose conviction and death sentence in the killing of three people during an armed robbery at a Houston bowling alley in 1980 were based on a false confession, has never been given an opportunity to present evidence that points strongly to his innocence.

"The death penalty system in our country is impossible to trust when innocent people sit for decades on death row without ever being afforded a fair trial or the opportunity to present all existing evidence," said Brian Stull, staff attorney with the ACLU Capital Punishment Project. "The Supreme Court should take up this case and establish, once and for all, that when available defenses are hidden from the jury, the verdict cannot stand."

Soffar was convicted and sentenced to death in 1981, but a federal court in 2004 reversed the conviction because he was represented by incompetent lawyers who failed to show the jury that most of the details in his confession were contradicted by the account of the surviving witness and other evidence in the case.

Soffar was tried again in 2006 and again convicted and sentenced to death. In that trial, however, the trial judge refused to allow a statement of Paul Reid confessing to the murders. Reid, formerly of Houston, now awaits execution on Tennessee's death row for committing a series of similar robbery-murders in that state. A photograph of Reid taken at his wedding nine days after the bowling alley murders strongly resembles the police's composite sketch based on the description of the crime's sole witness.

Additionally, the only correct details in Soffar's false confession were widely disseminated in media reports that the trial judge refused to allow Soffar to utilize as part of his defense. Because the trial court refused to allow Soffar to present the media reports to the jury, prosecutors were able to claim that the details in Soffar's false confession could only be known by the person responsible for the crime.

False confessions are among the leading causes of wrongful convictions, and evidence shows that people like Soffar who are impulsive, have low self esteem and who are prone to fantasy and disassociation are the most likely candidates for false confessions. Soffar had a known history of giving police officers unreliable information, and the police knew that Soffar had falsely confessed to other crimes.

"The conviction of Max Soffar and the fact that he remains on death row exemplify all of the fundamental failures of our criminal justice system," said David Dow of TIN. "We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will examine this case and that Texas will not execute yet another innocent man."

A copy of today's petition is available online at:

Additional information about Soffar's case is available online at:

Lawyers on the case are Stull and John Holdridge of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project and Dow and Jared Tyler of the TIN.


The ACLU conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Call for papers/speakers for the Social Justice and Peace Conference at The University of Texas - Pan American


“Images/Voices from the Border”
MAY 7th - 8th, 2010

Priority Deadline for Submissions are APRIL 5th, 2010

The University of Texas-Pan American Department of Criminal Justice is sponsoring an event to promote human rights, social justice and peace. The goal of this conference/exhibition is to engage the students, the community, and the faculty in a dialogue about social problems which affect our lives here on the border, physically and metaphorically. We use the concept of border loosely and may refer to the geographical borderlands and/or Gloria Anzaldua’s Mestizaje.  Not only do we want to raise social consciousness, we want to provide an avenue for discussing solutions to these problems. The purpose of this conference is to provide a safe space for dialogue and protest. Activists and campus organizations are invited to share their struggles, as well as their visions for a better future, including solutions we can implement as individuals.

The Conference/Exhibition makes a call for artwork, poetry, music, photo-documentaries, documentaries, posters, presentations and other alternative forms of artistic expression. You may submit individually or may propose a panel or roundtable. Please submit an abstract of 150 words or less. Provide the title, contact information, and affiliation if any. Please email to or 

Priority Deadline for Submissions: April 5th, 2010

Final Deadline for Submissions: April 16th, 2010

Topics may include any problem or cultural aspect related to the borderlands:
Music/Corridos/Stories of Resistance, Folk Stories, History of Injustice, Texas Rangers
Narco-Corridos, Post-colonialism, Mestizaje, Chicana Feminism, Identity issues, Sexuality, Gendered Violence, Hate crimes, Inequalities, Discrimination
Dehumanization, Exploitation, Torture, Sex Crimes and Sex Trafficking
Environmental Justice, Ocean/River Pollution, Animal Rights, Endangered Species  
Healthcare, Education, Elderly Issues, Disabilities
Economic Justice, Poverty, Class struggles, Protest Movements
Imperialism, Violation of Peace Treaties,
Religious Tolerance, Spirituality, Empowerment
Peace and Legal Discourse, Criminal Justice and Peace-Making Criminology
Militarization of the Border, Immigration, Border Wall
Political Corruption, Policing, Gangs, Border Violence, Drug Trafficking, Death Penalty
Prisons, Overcrowding, Prison Gangs, Immigration Detention Centers

For more information or special accommodations, call the Department of Criminal Justice (956) 381-3566.

UT Law School Symposium Apr 9-10: The Direction of Legislative Change and the Prospects for Legislative Abolition of the Death Penalty

From the Courthouse to the Statehouse
Date:    Friday, April 9, 2010 & Saturday, April 10, 2010
Location:        Eidman Courtroom @ UT Law
Description:     From the Courthouse to the Statehouse: Politics Reshapes Capital Punishment
Audience:        Alumni, Faculty, Staff, Students, Prospective students, Public
Sponsor:         William Wayne Justice Center
The American Death Penalty in the 21st Century:
The Direction of Legislative Change and the Prospects for Legislative Abolition
April 9-10, 2010
Friday April 9th
10:15 — 10:30 Welcoming Remarks
        Dean Larry Sager, UT School of Law
        Jordan Steiker, Professor, UT School of Law
10:30 — 12:00: National Perspective on Recent Developments
        Shari Silberstein, Executive Director, Equal Justice USA
        Dick Dieter, Executive Director, Death Penalty Information Center
        Diann Rust-Tierney, Executive Director, National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
        Moderator: Maurie Levin, UT School of Law
12:00 — 1:30: Lunch
1:30 — 3:00: Abolition Achieved : The Experiences in New Mexico, New Jersey, & New York
        Shari Silberstein, Executive Director, Equal Justice USA
        Viki Elkey, Director, New Mexico Coalition to Repeal the Death Penalty
        Jonathan Gradess , Executive Director, New York State Defender's Association
        Moderator: Jordan Steiker, UT School of Law
3:15 — 4:30: Study and Reform of the Death Penalty: Maryland & California
        Dick Dieter, Executive Director, Death Penalty Information Center
        Amy Fusting — Program Director, Maryland Citizens Against State Executions
        Gerald Uelman, Dean, Santa Clara School of Law
        Moderator: Jim Marcus, UT School of Law
Saturday April 10th
8:30 — 9:45: Reintroduction, Expansion and Administration of the Death Penalty: Georgia, Virginia & Massachusetts
        Chris Adams, Law Office of Chris Adams, Atlanta, Georgia
        Beth Panilaitis, Executive Director, Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
        Renny Cushing, New Hampshire House of Representatives; Executive Director, Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights
        Moderator: Rob Owen, UT School of Law
9:45 — 11:00 Abolition Contested: The Experiences in Colorado, Kansas & New Hampshire
        Michael Radelet, Professor, University of Colorado at Boulder
        Donna Schneweis, State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator, Amnesty International
        Renny Cushing, New Hampshire House of Representatives; Executive Director, Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights
        Moderator: Jordan Steiker, UT School of Law
11:00 — 12:15: Reform to Redress Race Discrimination: The experience in North Carolina
        Rob Owen, Professor, UT School of Law
        Ken Rose, Senior Attorney, Center for Death Penalty Litigation
        Larry Womble, State Representative, North Carolina      
        Moderator:       Maurie Levin, UT School of Law

Monday, March 29, 2010

Live From Death Row with Stanley Howard

Live From Death Row with Stanley Howard, former death row prisoner and torture victim, still imprisoned in Illinois, and contributor to the New Abolitionist.

"Live From Death Row," featuring the voices of death row prisoners, live from their prison cell. Death sentences de-humanize the condemned, justifying the state-sponsored murder of the poor, the innocent and people of color. Death rows isolate those sentenced to die, denying them human contact and hope for justice. In our "Live From Death Row" tour, the voices of death row prisoners will reach from behind the walls to share their stories of loss, injustice, struggle, and hope for an end to the death penalty. At a time when the national chorus against the death penalty continues to grow, these voices are critical for the movement on the outside. 

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Breaking News: Stay of Execution for Hank Skinner

6:30 PM: AP has posted the following:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court has blocked the execution of a Texas man who says DNA testing could clear him of the triple slaying that has sent him to death row.

The justices' order Wednesday could allow Hank Skinner access to evidence that he says could demonstrate his innocence. The 47-year-old Skinner faced lethal injection for the bludgeoning and strangling of his girlfriend, 40-year-old Twila Jean Busby, and the stabbings of her two adult sons at their home in the Texas Panhandle town of Pampa on New Year's Eve in 1993.

6:15 PM: We were just informed from our friends in Huntsville that the US Supreme Court has issued a stay of execution for Hank Skinner. More details to follow!

Pictures From Paris Protest to Save Hank Skinner

Paris today, Place de la Concorde, a few hundred yards away from the US Embassy. Protest against the scheduled execution of Texas death row inmate Henery "Hank" Skinner.

Larry King Live to Focus on Hank Skinner's Case Tonight

Death Row Inmate's Last Request!
A death row inmate scheduled to be executed has one last request: Don't kill me until you test my DNA! He says it will prove his innocence in the murders of three people. His wife talks exclusively to Larry live outside the execution site.

Tonight, 9pm ET!

Live Streaming of Protest at Texas Capitol on March 24 if Hank Skinner Does Not Get a Stay

If there is not a stay of execution for Hank Skinner today either from the Supreme Court or by Rick Perry, then there will be a protest in Austin at the Texas Capitol starting at 5:30. Call the governor at 512 463 2000 and urge him to issue a stay.

We will be at the Capitol protest with a video camera and attempt to stream video of the protest here. The pictures may not be perfect and it may not work at all or we may run out of battery, because we will be streaming from a smartphone using 3G over But we will give it a try. If it does not work, at least we will have tried.

Our channel on Ustream is here.

Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break Students Get Legislators to Write Clemency Letters for Hank Skinner

CNN is reporting that Texas lawmakers have written letters to Rick Perry urging him to stop the execution of Hank Skinner today. Last Thursday, students participating in the Anti Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break visited several offices of Texas legislators in Austin with information on Hank Skinner and asked legislators to write clemency letters for Skinner to Perry. The students visited both Senator Ellis and Representative Naishtat, both of whom are mentioned in the CNN article as having written letters.

The students were trained in how to lobby last Wednesday in a workshop held by Alison Brock chief of staff to Rep. Sylvester Turner. James Tate, one of the students, reported on the lobbying training on the Dallas Morning News blog. The next day they put into action what they learned. They had intended to lobby for a moratorium on executions, but Thursday morning the plan was changed to lobby legislators to write clemency letters for Hank Skinner.

Thank you to the students for making a difference!

Read Rep Naishtat's letter.

Read letter by Senator Ellis.

If you have not yet called Rick Perry to urge him to stay the execution of Hank Skinner so that thee DNA evidence can be tested, call now!.

Rick Perry's Phone Number 512 463 2000.
(CNN) -- Texas state lawmakers are among those calling for a last-minute reprieve for a condemned inmate who is requesting DNA testing of evidence, even as he is set to die Wednesday night.

Henry "Hank" Skinner, 47, is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection at 6 p.m. (7 p.m. ET) for the New Year's Eve 1993 murder of his live-in girlfriend, Twila Busby, and her two sons, Elwin Caler, 22, and Randy Busby, 20, in Pampa, Texas.

"Since his arrest in the early morning hours of January 1, 1994, Mr. Skinner has always and consistently maintained that he did not commit the crimes for which he was convicted," defense attorney Robert Owen wrote this month in a 30-page letter to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, seeking a 30-day reprieve of Skinner's execution.

Skinner's attorneys maintain that DNA testing of the evidence could establish his innocence and determine the real killer.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling on a stay of execution in the case Wednesday. If the high court denies Skinner's request to review the case, the decision falls to Perry, according to David Protess, a Northwestern University professor and director of the university's Medill Innocence Project, which has investigated Skinner's case.

On Monday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recommended Perry reject a reprieve for Skinner on a unanimous vote and also voted against granting Skinner's request for a commutation of his death sentence.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis and state Rep. Elliott Naishtat both sent letters to Perry on Tuesday urging him to issue the reprieve.

"It has come to my attention that there are numerous problems with Mr. Skinner's case that raise serious questions regarding the fairness of his trial and whether or not he is guilty," Ellis wrote.

Perry has received more than 8,000 letters from Skinner's advocates urging a stay, according to the Innocence Project and, whose members and supporters have sent the letters through their Web sites.

Word about the case has spread as far as France, where demonstrations are planned Wednesday at the U.S. Embassy in Paris by supporters of Skinner's French wife, Sandrine Ageorges.
Since Skinner's conviction in 1995, he "has tirelessly pursued access to the untested physical evidence," according to court documents filed with the Supreme Court in February.

That evidence includes vaginal swabs and fingernail clippings from Twila Busby, hairs found in her hand and two knives found at the scene, along with a dishtowel and a windbreaker jacket, according to the filing.

Skinner has never denied being in the home when Busby and her sons were killed. However, he maintains he was incapacitated because of the "extreme quantities of alcohol and codeine" that he had consumed earlier that evening, according to the documents.

Prosecutors maintain forensic evidence gathered at the scene and witness statements point to Skinner. A female friend of Skinner's who lived four blocks away testified at Skinner's trial that he walked to her trailer and told her that he may have kicked Twila Busby to death, although evidence did not show she had been kicked. The neighbor has since recanted parts of her testimony.

Authorities followed a blood trail from the crime scene to the female friend's trailer and found Skinner in the closet, authorities said. He was "wearing heavily blood-stained jeans and socks and bearing a gash on the palm of his right hand," according to the Texas attorney general's summary of the case.

In addition, authorities said cuts on Skinner's hand came from the knife used to stab the men. Skinner claimed he cut it on glass. Some DNA testing was done, which implicated Skinner, but not on the items he now wants tested.

"DNA testing showed that blood on the shirt Skinner was wearing at the time of his arrest was Twila's blood, and blood on Skinner's jeans was a mixture of blood from Elwin and Twila," authorities said.
However, Owen wrote in the Supreme Court filing, "the victims' injuries show that whoever murdered them must have possessed considerable strength, balance and coordination." Twila Busby was manually strangled -- so forcefully that her larynx and the hyoid bone in her throat were broken. She then was struck with an axe or pick handle 14 times, hard enough to drive fragments of her "unusually thick skull" into her brain," the court documents said.

"While attacking Ms. Busby, the perpetrator had to contend with the presence of her six-foot-six-inch, 225-pound son, Elwin Caler, who blood spatter analysis showed was in the immediate vicinity of his mother as she was being beaten," the court filing said.

"Somehow, the murderer was able to change weapons and stab Caler several times before he could fend off the attack or flee." Randy Busby was then stabbed to death in the bedroom the two brothers shared, the documents said.

Evidence presented at trial suggested that Twila Busby's uncle, Robert Donnell -- who is now deceased -- could have been the killer. At a New Year's Eve party she attended for a short time on the last night of her life, Donnell stalked her, making crude sexual remarks, according to trial testimony. A friend who drove her home from the party testified she was "fidgety and worried" and that Donnell was no longer at the party when he returned.

"The defense presented evidence that Donnell was a hot-tempered ex-con who had sexually molested a girl, grabbed a pregnant woman by the throat and kept a knife in his car," according to Owen's letter to Perry.

An expert testified at trial Skinner would have been too intoxicated to commit the crimes, and a review of the evidence suggests that Skinner might have been even more intoxicated that initially thought, Owen writes.

Media outlets in Texas have been supportive of a reprieve for Skinner. "Before sending a man to die, we need to be absolutely sure of his guilt," the Houston Chronicle wrote in an editorial Friday.

Skinner's wife, Ageorges, told Radio France Internationale in a Tuesday interview that she began writing to Skinner in 1996 and they began visiting in 2000.

"They just need to do DNA and fingerprint comparison with that other suspect that was never investigated," she said in an audio clip of the interview posted on RFI's Web site. She does not name Donnell, but said the person died in a car accident in 1997.

Recently, questions have swirled in Texas regarding the 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham for a fire that killed his three daughters. And on March 19, Perry issued a posthumous pardon to the family of Timothy Cole, who was serving a 25-year sentence for aggravated sexual assault when he died in prison from an asthma attack.

Call Rick Perry for Stay for Hank Skinner; If No Stay Issued then Attend Protests at Texas Capitol or Huntsville


Texas State Capitol at 5:30 and at the Walls Unit in Huntsville
Wednesday, March 24th, if no stay of execution
11th and Congress in Austin

So far, no decision has been issued by the Supreme Court or Governor Perry. Time is running out, and Texas needs to do the right thing and TEST THE DNA!


Governor Rick Perry
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/

Monday, March 22, 2010

Statesman Editorial Says Hank Skinner Entitled to Delay for DNA Tests

Please call Gov Perry at (512) 463-2000 and urge him to stop the execution of Hank Skinner on March 24, 2010 by granting a 30-day stay of execution so that DNA evidence can be tested. Call anytime day or night and leave message on voice mail.

Austin American-Statesman Editorial Board:

If all goes as planned by the state of Texas, tomorrow will be the final sunrise Henry W. Skinner ever sees. Skinner, 47, is scheduled to be executed at 6 p.m. Wednesday for a brutal triple-murder committed in Pampa on New Year's Eve 1993.
We believe that even the most ardent supporters of capital punishment, confronted with the facts below, will join Skinner in asking Gov. Rick Perry for a 30-day reprieve.
In fact, the most ardent supporters of capital punishment — those most invested in making sure Texas does not execute an innocent person — are the ones who should be leading the call for the delay.
There are seven untested items that contain DNA that could be dispositive of Skinner's claim that he was falsely convicted.
The state has blocked that testing, noting that Skinner passed on a chance to have the testing done prior to his 1995 trial. That decision was made by Skinner's trial lawyer, who, noting that other DNA tests on items found at the crime scene damaged his case, didn't want further testing.
Now, Skinner — represented by the Capital Punishment Center at the University of Texas School of Law — wants Gov. Rick Perry to use his authority to delay the execution for 30 days and order the DNA testing. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, in a 7-0 vote, on Monday recommended against a commutation or reprieve.
Can there be anybody who does not see the reprieve request as a harmless one that should be granted, especially because there is Texas precedent for it?
Jurors, working with testimony including some crucial portions later recanted, convicted Skinner of killing his girlfriend Twila Busby and her sons, Elwin Caler, 22, and Randy Busby, 20, at the Pampa home the four of them shared. Circumstantial evidence offered at the trial was tainted by seeming inconsistencies, including evidence showing Skinner was so incapacitated by drugs and alcohol that it was doubtful he could have stood up, much less kill three people (including the 6-foot-6-inch, 225-pound Busby).
"Evidence developed since Mr. Skinner's trial raises the level of doubt to full-scale alarm that the jury's verdict may very well have been wrong," Skinner's lawyers told Perry in a letter dated March 11 in which they offer a compelling interpretation of facts pointing to another possible suspect — now dead — with possible motive to commit the crime.
And, Skinner's lawyers told the governor, DNA on the untested items could prove whether jurors erred.
"While Texans undoubtedly support capital punishment, they insist that it be reserved for those who are clearly guilty," the lawyers told Perry.
In December 2004, Perry granted a 30-day reprieve for Frances Newton, a death row inmate who maintained her innocence in the shooting deaths of her husband and two children. Newton claimed that retesting of gunpowder residue from the crime scene would clear her.
It did not, and Newton was killed by the state in September 2005.
In granting the Newton reprieve, Perry wrote that "Justice delayed in this case is not justice denied."
Perry is very familiar with the importance of DNA testing. He recently, as a result of DNA evidence, pardoned Tim Cole, who spent 13 years in prison for a rape the tests showed he did not commit. Sadly, as Perry noted, the pardon — the first posthumous one granted in Texas — came nine years after Cole died in prison.
Last Friday, Perry went to Fort Worth to present the pardon to Cole's family.
"It means the world to me to be here today to look you in the eye and tell you that your son is pardoned," Perry told Ruby Session, Cole's mom. "I know that nothing that anyone in this room, this state, or this world can do could restore Tim to life, but we can state clearly, with the full weight of Texas law behind us, that your son was no criminal."
By delaying the Skinner execution and ordering the DNA tests, Perry can make sure that no Texas governor ever has to apologize to Skinner's family.
We agree with former Bexar County District Attorney Sam Millsap, who, weighing in on Skinner's behalf, noted that "DNA evidence could show we've got the wrong man. ... but the state inexplicably has blocked that testing for more than a decade."
Millsap, in a column published in the Houston Chronicle, noted Skinner's lawyers also have asked federal courts to delay the execution.
"But frankly, I'd rather see Texas clean up its own house on this one," Millsap wrote. "Before we send a man to his death, shouldn't we do everything in our power to be certain of his guilt?"
It is not a rhetorical question.

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Hold up Hank Skinner Execution for DNA Tests

Please call Gov Rick Perry at (512) 463-2000 and urge him to stop the execution of Hank Skinner on March 24, 2010 by granting a 30-day stay of execution so that DNA evidence can be tested. Call anytime day or night and leave message on voice mail.

The state's determination to execute Hank Skinner tomorrow should make even death-penalty supporters go pale.
The Skinner case
The crime: Twila Busby, 40, was beaten to death in 1993, and her grown sons Elwin Caler and Randy Busby were stabbed to death, in her Pampa home.
Incrimination: Her boyfriend, Hank Skinner, 31, a petty criminal, had blood on his shirt the next morning and was charged with capital murder.
Defense: His attorneys said he had consumed too much alcohol and drugs to do the killings, and they pointed to another possible suspect.
Untested evidence: Appellate attorneys seek DNA tests on two knives found at the scene, a bloody dishtowel, hairs in Ms. Busby's hands, her fingernail clippings, a vaginal swab and a windbreaker jacket.
Key evidence in the 1993 murder case has never undergone DNA analysis. Skinner may be guilty of a bloody triple slaying in Pampa, but every sliver of doubt must be eliminated before the state exercises its life-or-death authority.
We trust that Gov. Rick Perry agrees with that, and we urge him to use the power of his office to postpone tomorrow's planned execution as insurance against miscarriage of justice. The TexasBoard of Pardons and Paroles decided against Skinner on Monday, which means a temporary reprieve by the governor may be the last chance to buy time to carry out critical forensic tests. State courts and the prosecution have thwarted proper DNA analysis, but Perry ought to send the message that Texas settles for nothing less than absolute certainty.
If Perry is concerned about appearing soft on crime during his re-election campaign, he could cite the example of his immediate predecessor.
It was June 2000, and Gov. George W. Bush was running for president. The national media and legal community were watching intently how he handled the case of death-row inmate Ricky McGinn, facing execution in the rape and murder of his stepdaughter in Brown County. McGinn, too, sought forensic tests on evidence in the case, and Bush granted a last-hour reprieve to allow for DNA analysis that was unavailable at the time of trial.
Bush said about his decision: "Any time DNA evidence can be used in its context and be relevant as to the guilt or innocence of a person on death row, we need to use it."
As it turned out, test results backed up prosecutors in the McGinn case. Less than four months later, McGinn went to the death chamber with no questions of innocence hovering.
The Skinner appeal is more complicated; it involves credible charges of falsified trial testimony as well as post-trial evidence that allegedly points to a different suspect, a relative of the victim with a history of violence.
What's more, there was no DNA testing of a long list of physical evidence, including hair found in the one of the victim's hands and fingernail clippings, which could point to the identity of the killer.
Any responsible person asked to pass judgment on Skinner's role in the slayings would want to see the results of tests on these items. Justice for the victims demands it as well.
The governor stands with the majority of Texans in support of the death penalty, a position this newspaper does not share. We think a fallible justice system should not be in the business of extinguishing life.
Despite that difference in philosophy, there must be common ground in one regard: The finality of Texas justice should be airtight.

Protest the Execution of Hank Skinner March 24th


Texas State Capitol at 5:30
Wednesday, March 24th, pending a stay of execution
11th and Congress

So far, no decision has been issued by the Supreme Court or Governor Perry. Time is running out, and Texas needs to do the right thing and TEST THE DNA!


Governor Rick Perry
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/

or use the online letter signing page set up by the Innocence Project

From our press release:

Members of Campaign to End the Death Penalty are in support of the call for full testing of the DNA evidence in the Hank Skinner case, and join the call for a stay of execution.

Why won't the State of Texas and the prosecutors in Gray County allow crucial DNA evidence in this case to be tested? Although Hank Skinner was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of his girlfriend Twila Busby in 1993, ample evidence DNA evidence exists that – if tested – could finally prove his claims of innocence.

At the crime scene police collected fingernail clippings, a rape kit, knives, a bloody dishtowel and a man's sweat soaked windbreaker (which was found near the body). None of this evidence has ever been tested. In fact the state and prosecutors have fought to keep the evidence untested, arguing that he missed his chance to request DNA testing during the original trial.

Recently, Skinner's request for relief from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was denied, and his execution date has been set for Wednesday March 24th. According to Hank's attorney Rob Owen "We remain hopeful that the U.S. Supreme Court, which has often found it necessary to correct egregious injustices in Texas capitol cases, will intervene to protect Mr. Skinner's right to pursue that DNA testing in federal court. We also trust the Governor Perry, having heard the voices of Texans insisting that the death penalty not be carried out while there are unresolved doubts about a defendants guilt, will do the right thing and postpone Mr. Skinner's execution until all the facts are in."

After the scandal that has erupted involving the case of Cameron Todd Willingham and the evidence that an innocent person has been executed in Texas, why would the state want to take a chance that they could be executing an innocent man? There is no logic to this, unless Texas is bent on upholding the use of the death penalty at all costs, including executing the innocent.

Alternative Spring Break: Learning how to participate in the legislative process

The following is the third and last blog post by James Tate, a student at the University of Texas at Dallas, for the Dallas Morning News. You can also read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series online.
It was the final day of the Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break, and they say that all good things must come to an end. But fortunately for us, our mission doesn't end here. We have gained essential tools and personal stories to share with a public that tends to develop generalized opinions based on a snap-shot of the issue.

On this final day, we were first introduced to Vincent Villano from Campus Progress (, that helps students on campuses around the country mobilize their student bodies for an array of issues and policies they believe in. He guided us through a workshop that loaded our tool belt with effective means of communicating with the press, some insight into giving press conferences, and how to speak in "sound bites" when giving an interview with a reporter. The media filters interviews in search of quick impactful statements that make for good viewing. Together the spring breakers collaborated on a message toolbox to develop our very own message, and the results would later pay off.

Media Workshop with Vincent VillanoVincent Villano of
Campus Progress
at the Center for American Progress.

Much importance was paid to conveying our message - and to the right people. Legislators and their staff are combated with a variety of issues by numerous lobbyists on any given day in the Capitol. We were obliged to spend some time with Alison Brock, Chief of Staff to Texas State Representative Sylvester Turner. She was just as humorous as she was knowledgeable and her demeanor brought some much needed laughter to the students. I was shocked to see how few students were aware of who their representatives were. She guided us to , and accordingly to to locate the legislators in our districts. "Relationships drive your agenda," Ms. Brock shared, and reminded us that it isn't always about what you know, but more importantly who you know. It was remarkable to get an inside perspective of the actions that will actually get a response from the representatives and their aides.

Lobbying Workshop with Alison Brock, Chief of Staff to Texas
State Representative Sylvester Turner.

Our official press conference and panel discussion began at 11:00 a.m. and the anxiety seemed to return to the students. The difference between workshops in the Communications building on the UT campus, and a media-filled room in the Capitol are incomparable. Our location was the Texas House Speaker's Committee room and poised in front of a wall mural of the Texas emblem, our eyes gazed as each exoneree delivered their story. Although we had heard each of these stories prior, the astonishment of these travesties resonates still. It is a humbling experience to stand in front of a man standing 6 feet 2 inches tall as tears roll down his face. I think the realness of this conference finally settled in.

Fox 7 coverage of the Alternative Spring Break.

We were given the opportunity to scatter throughout the Capitol in our grassroots attempt to lobby. Being that the Texas Legislature is not in session, few legislators were available, but just walking down the halls breeds confidence. The experience sparked something in the students and reminded us that the distance between us and our elected officials is not all that broad. The Capitol is an open public building and with names posted outside the door, one can literally walk right into their representative's office. Is it really that easy? Yes and no. Gaining access to staff seems to be considerably easier that gaining access to the representative themselves, but the ability is there and with a little determination gaining some one-on-one time is most likely reachable. Perhaps I will return during session.

The climax to our day, and the conference as a whole, occurred at 5:00 pm when we gathered on the South steps of the Capitol. Once again, at a podium, the exonerees along with guest speakers from other anti-death penalty organizations delivered quick impactful synopsis of their personal stories. The turnout was greater than I imagined. Media was in tow and amazingly tourists halted even if for a moment to hear the commotion. My attention caught an older woman who had stopped for a moment to listen. She appeared to be somewhat shocked by what she was hearing, perhaps a little appalled. Whatever her reasoning she picked up a protest sign and joined the others on the steps. Does it simply take a little understanding to grasp the injustice that is taking place? Our rally gave way to a march down Congress Avenue, through Sixth Street, and back again. The energy was electric, and the SXSW participants seemed more than welcoming to our sign and chants. Some applauded and some joined in for a block or two. This was a refreshing end to a loaded week. Our mission ended with a call for justice. Our voices were loud and our hearts pounded with the opportunity to be part of the process.

Bill Pelke of Journey of Hope from Violence to Healing, talks
during the capitol rally.

All in all, this experience was moving. I had the opportunity to learn details about the death penalty and it cemented by previous convictions of its wrongness. I met six people who had lived the hell that we had talked about all week. I met students from all over the country that shared my opinions and speakers from different organizations that donated their time to sharing their expertise. If someone unaware were to have looked into the room were meeting in all week, they would have witnessed our very own Breakfast Club. There was the ex-military, the preps, the outcasts, the overachievers, the laid-back "silent-but-deadly", and the amateur journalist documenting it all. Each from our own background, with our own ideals and stereotypes, we were most definitely unique. But however distinct we were, our purpose was common. We all believe that the death penalty is barbaric and archaic, and should be abolished in the same manner as slavery and lynching. I don't believe in murder in any form - be it a citizen or the State. Murder is murder, and it is not the right of any government to use it on its citizens.

Students leaving the Texas Capitol.

6th Street: A marching band and several SXSW attendees join the protest.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Write, Fax or Call Governor Rick Perry - Demand a Stay and DNA testing for Hank Skinner

Governor Rick Perry
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/

or use the online letter signing page set up by the Innocence Project


All the details of the case are available on the website, however, here are some of the points you can raise:

Hank was sentenced to die on the basis of a perjured testimony and circumstancial evidence.

The accusation theory relied on that one witness, who later recanted and explained how she was threatened to make a false statement to the police and give a deposition at trial which was based on a script supplied by the district attorney's office.

Both the State's star witnesses (Andrea Reed & Howard Mitchell) have testified that they believe Hank to be innocent.

The little forensic analysis done before his trial excluded him as the killer.

The additional and minimum testing done during his post conviction appeals excluded him too.

The available scientific evidence proves his physical incapacitation at the time of the crime.

The important quantity of evidence remaining to be tested is essential to reveal the truth about his innocence.

His motions for DNA testing have been denied although he has always offered to pay for the costs.

The state of Texas has a very poor record in terms of wrongful convictions and DNA exonerations.

The interest of justice is to find out the truth and to not execute an innocent.

The state is withholding the untested evidence that can prove Hank's innocence.

All three of the previous D.A.s have publicly stated that they believe the evidence needs to be tested.

The D.A. has admitted in Ch 64 DNA pleadings that the evidence is in a condition making testing possible, that the chain of custody has been maintained, that the evidence is capable of providing a probative result and idendity is an issue in Hank's case.

Texas should not execute a man it does not know for a fact to be guilty. After Andrea Reed's recantation, according to the state own's experts, the remaining evidence does nothing to prove guilt at all.

The A.G has stated through his spokesman that it would violate the constitution to murder someone who is innocent - that has got to apply equally to someone they do not know for a fact to be guilty.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Opponents of death penalty take protest to the Capitol

The Austin American-Statesman has published the following story by Isadora Vail about the Justice Rally during the 2010 Anti-Death Penalty Spring Break.

Sandrine Ageorges-Skinner's husband is scheduled to be put to death Wednesday. On Thursday, she came to Austin to join about 100 other people on the Capitol steps to protest the death penalty in Texas.

"We are in Austin, and you can do something to help him," Ageorges-Skinner said. "Human justice should not kill people."

The Justice Rally, which included marchers brandishing anti-death penalty posters and carrying a full-size coffin, was organized to try to abolish the death penalty, or at least ask for a moratorium. Since 1973, when Texas reinstituted the death penalty, the state has executed 451 inmates.

Ageorges-Skinner's husband, Hank Skinner, was sentenced to death in 1993 for murdering his girlfriend and two sons on New Year's Eve. His family has claimed that DNA found at the crime scene has not been tested. Skinner gained some notoriety in 2008 for being one of a string of death row inmates who had smuggled cell phones into their cells.

Sally Norvell spoke on behalf of David Lee Powell, who was convicted in of killing Austin police officer Ralph Ablanedo in 1978. After 30 years on death row, his execution is slated for June 15.

Norvell said that even when prisoners are guilty, the drawn-out death penalty process amounts to cruelty.

"To have him locked in a cell, in solitary confinement, for more than 30 years and then to bring him out into the light and publicly kill him is just torture," she said.

Powell's longtime attorney, Richard Burr of Houston, has said that in three decades behind bars, Powell has been a model prisoner, teaching other inmates to read and counseling other death row prisoners.

Another speaker, Regina Kelly, said she became interested in abolishing the death penalty after her own experience with the Texas criminal justice system. Kelly, whose story was depicted in the film "American Violet," was falsely accused of drug possession in a West Texas town in 2000.

"My duty is now to start holding each and every person — police officers, lawyers, law makers — accountable for the situations that they put us in," she said. "Until we do something to change the laws, we will forever be making the same mistakes."

Members of Save An Innocent Life, the Texas Moratorium Network, the Abolition Movement, Students Against the Death Penalty and several others participated in the speeches and march.

Radio Interview with Hank Skinner and his Attorney Rob Owen

Texas Matters from Texas Public Radio reports on Hank Skinner case. He is scheduled for execution on March 24, 2010 and maintains his innocence. His request for DNA testing of evidence that could clear him has so far been denied.

Click here to listen to the audio, including an interview with Hank Skinner as well as his attorney Rob Owen.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Hank Skinner Press Release: When is enough going to be enough?

PRESS RELEASE – March 19th, 2010

Witness to Innocence
Ron Keine –

The Journey of Hope from Violence to Healing
Bill Pelke –

When is enough going to be enough?

Following the press conference at the Capitol in Austin yesterday, six exonerated men from death rows in the USA speak out in support of Hank Skinner’s urgent plea for DNA testing.

The exonerated Shujaa Graham (CA), Curtis McCarty (OK), Ron Keine (NM), Perry Cobb (IL), Derrick Jamison (OH) and Juan Melendez (FL) demand justice for Hank Skinner, set to be executed by the State of Texas on March 24th.

We, who collectively served 67 years on death row for crimes we did not commit, demand that Texas enforces the founding principles of justice: transparency and fairness. Hank Skinner is set to lose his life for a crime he did not commit. In spite of the availability of untested evidence collected at the crime scene, 15 years after the crime, the identity of the killer remains unresolved. Curtis McCarty, exonerated after 21 years on Oklahoma death row: "In my case, the prosecutor said: we have all the forensic evidence we need to prove guilt. He did not. 21 years later, DNA testing proved my innocence. It is the duty of all concerned to pursue the quest for the truth. When evidence is available to be tested, it is criminal and unconstitutional not to test it. Dallas County is pursuing this avenue and exonerating prisoners, why isn't the State of Texas willing to do the right thing for Hank Skinner?" If the State is so certain of his guilt, why not order the DNA testing to confirm it? If Hank Skinner was guilty, why has he been relentlessly seeking DNA testing to prove his innocence? We are death row survivors and we owe our lives to those who fought for and with us to bring the truth to the light of day.

We stand by Hank Skinner in his quest to prove his innocence and we urge Governor Perry to do the right thing in granting him reprieve and ordering the DNA testing before another irreparable injustice occurs in Texas.


Governor Rick Perry
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/

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Alternative Spring Break: Lessons in activism

This is the second in a series of blog post by James Tate, a student at the University of Texas at Dallas, for the Dallas Morning News. After finishing his undergraduate degree, he plans to attend law school and pursue a career in international humanitarian law. He also volunteers for the Innocence Project. His e-mail address is

Yesterday was the second day of the Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break, and it was just as loaded as the first. As in most situations were there are large groups, students found their niche and relationships began to foster. Spring breakers were less nervous to ask questions and were much more eager to be a part of the process. It was interesting to take a step back and absorb fractions of conversations around the room. Some were amazed by the details of executions and the process, while others were outraged by the lack of determination and know-how by public defenders on these cases. However varied the opinions and ideals were in the room, it was evident that the light bulb had turned on. I suspect that it the real reason that we are here.

The day started off with a discussion on the religious views of the death penalty. Steven Crimaldi, National Director of Dead Man Walking Theater Project, captivated the room with a showing of the last ten minutes of the movie from which the play derived. A tearful Susan Sarandon walked behind a condemned to death inmate, played by Sean Penn. "I want the last face you see in this world to be one of love," she whispered. Mr. Crimaldi, who in his work is very close with the real-life Sister Helen Prejean, said it was essential to director Tim Robbins that the audience be aware that this criminal did indeed commit the crimes to which he was found guilty. Flashbacks to the violent rape and murders are intertwined with the execution itself, and the girl sitting next to me turned her head away more than once. This scene validated a poignant argument for those opposed to the death penalty. Even though this man participated in barbaric acts, a stranger had found compassion and love in his goodness. It was a story of humanity - of redemption and salvation. And the State chose to kill him anyways. It was certainly a way to wake up the audience.

We were introduced to Mary K. Poirier, a mitigation specialist from the McCallister Law Firm. Her job is to create a life story of the defendant to be used by the defense. It is her responsibility to paint a picture of the defendant and his or her upbringing, social and economic environment, and other factors that might have played a role in the crimes that their clients have committed. Her findings, unfortunately, are only utilized after a guilty decision has been entered and is used in the trial deciding whether the defendant will get a life sentence or the death penalty. I had a moment to speak with her after her presentation and her work has a striking similarity to that of Erin Brockovich. She is not an attorney, and she owns that, but her efforts take her in the face of danger at times and she gets closer than most to the clients. She has a background in clinical social work and finds herself on a slippery slope of befriending the defendants and their close relationships to compose her stories. The room, and myself included, were quite inspired by her character and the work with which she is involved.

The finale to our day was certainly the most eye opening thus far. We were charged with the task of collecting signatures for a moratorium on the death penalty. Myself and my two partners were hopeful. We had naively concluded that parallel to our conference was the worldwide know SXSW Festival and we were sure to capture a collection of young, liberal artists and musicians. Our mission was to collect 50 signatures on our petition and we had two hours to complete our task. So we set out to an energetic 6th Street, where smiles were abundant and laughter floated throughout the air. Our strategy was to approach our enthusiastic passer-bys with a quick "how about saving a life" tag line. Our first encounter was a young man at a bus stop whose only reply was that were were basically wasting our time and, "we can't do anything." He wasn't speaking to myself and my partners, rather he was speaking of citizens as a whole. We were little disappointed admittedly, but we pressed further. We engaged with people from all corners of the earth and our momentum picked up. We received everything from "Sure" to "I'd be happy to" to one "I love death". Ultimately our efforts paid off and we achieved our goal of 50 signatures. Unfortunately when we returned back to campus, we were told that we had only received 35 valid signatures as some had left out their address or additional contact information. We weren't disappointed however. We felt accomplished that we had broken the ice and had approached strangers with a purpose that is growing more and more personal to us. The climate is changing and I am sure that this experience will leave us forever changed.

Wednesday's Schedule for Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break

Below is the schedule of events for the second day of the 2010 Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break, Wednesday, March 17. You may come to all the events or just individual sessions. Everyone is welcome. You do not need to register, just show up for the events. It is all free.

It starts at noon on Wednesday. The location is the Jesse H. Jones Communication Center - CMA room 3.112 on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin. CMA is on the corner of Whitis Avenue and Dean Keeton, (Google Map). The room is located on the entrance level of the building.

Noon - 1:00 Media Workshop with Vincent Villano of Campus Progress. Workshop will give tips on communicating effectively with reporters, writing press releases, organizing press conferences and other topics.
1:00 - 2:00 PM Lobbying Workshop in preparation for next day's lobbying at capitol, with Alison Brock, Chief of Staff to Texas State Representative Sylvester Turner.
2:00 - 2:15 Break
2:15 - 3:15 “Art and Activism” with John Holbrook, photographer of Texas death row, whose work has been exhibited in the Europe and the U.S., including at the Texas Capitol in May 2009. A selection of John's photographs and other death penalty-themed artworks will be on display. John will talk about his experiences photographing people on Texas death row and his 17 years working as a private investigator on Texas capital murder cases.
3:15 - 3:30 Break
3:30 - 4:30 PM Campus Organizing and Coalition Building Workshop with Vincent Villano of Campus Progress. There’s so much more to working in coalition than inviting people to join you in your efforts. It’s hard work and requires skill, understanding and strategy, but the rewards for you, your partners, and your cause are endless (and fun!). Learn the importance of working in coalition, how to identify allies, how to engage non-traditional partners, where coalition building fits in with your campaign plan, and why it might be just what you need to take your issue campaign to the next level.
4:30- 5 PM Discussion of next day's press conference, lobbying visits and rally.·
Dinner break (on your own)
7:00 Screen Printing Workshop with Garry Spitzer of CEDP, plus sign-making session for next day's rally. Screen printing is a method of applying images to signs and t-shirts.
Free Time to enjoy Austin

Join us March 15-19, 2010 in Austin, Texas for the award-winning Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break.
Special guests will be six innocent death row exoneress: Shujaa Graham, Curtis McCarty, Ron Keine, Derrick Jamison, Perry Cobb and Juan Melendez. They are attending alternative spring break to speak with participants about how innocent people can end up on death row. Altogether, the six exonerees attending the alternative spring break spent a total of about 65 years on death row for crimes they did not commit.