Friday, April 30, 2010

Sharon Keller Fined $100,000 for Failing to Report Income and Property

Time to start the final countdown for Sharon Keller's time on the bench. Will she resign or be removed by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, which will have a hearing on her case on June 18 in response to the complaints filed against her that she has brought discredit to the Texas judiciary by closing the doors of justice to a late appeal by a man set for execution, including one filed by Texas Moratorium Network that was signed by about 1900 people.

Today, she was fined $100,000 in a complaint separate from the ones filed with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. The fine today comes from the Texas Ethics Commission and has to do with her failure to report income and property holdings.

From the Austin American-Statesman:
Sharon Keller, presiding judge of the state’s highest criminal court, has been fined $100,000 by the Texas Ethics Commission for failing to fully report her income and property holdings on annual personal financial statements.

It was the largest civil penalty imposed by the commission, according to Tim Sorrells, deputy general counsel for the agency.

The statements for 2006 and 2007 failed to list eight properties, valued at around $2.8 million; between 100 and 499 shares of stock; income from rents, interest and dividends totaling $183,000 over the two years; 20 certificates of deposit; and one money market fund, according to a commission order.

Keller also failed to list her participation on five board or executive positions and almost $10,000 in honorariums, the commission said.

Keller’s failure to fully list her properties, largely in the Dallas area, were revealed in articles by the Dallas Morning News and prompted the left-of-center watchdog group Texans for Public Justice to file a complaint with the ethics commission in March 2009.

A month later, Keller filed corrected versions of her financial statements, saying she inadvertently omitted certain holdings.

The commission gave Keller, top judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, until Aug. 10 to pay the $100,000 penalty.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Texas executed Samuel Bustamante on April 27; 215th Execution Under Rick Perry

Texas executed Samuel Bustamante on April 27. He was the 454th person executed in Texas since 1982 and the 215th person since Rick Perry became governor.

A Texas inmate was executed Tuesday evening for fatally stabbing an illegal immigrant during an attempted robbery a dozen years ago. 
Samuel Bustamante, 40, said nothing, shaking his head when asked by the warden if he wanted to make a final statement. He took several nearly inaudible breaths as the lethal drugs took effect, then slipped into unconsciousness as four female friends he invited to the death chamber watched. 
Eight minutes later, at 6:22 p.m. CDT, he was pronounced dead, making him the seventh prisoner executed this year in the nation's most active death penalty state.
No friends or relatives of his victim were present. 
Bustamante was convicted of the 1998 slaying of Rafael Alvarado, 27, a Mexican national in Fort Bend County, southwest of Houston, who became a target of what Bustamante and some of his friends called "shopping trips" where they would hunt illegal immigrants, then beat and rob them. 
The punishment came about 90 minutes after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a last-ditch appeal from Bustamante's attorneys. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state's highest criminal court, had refused a similar appeal Monday. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles also declined a clemency request.

Dallas Morning News Editorial says Forensic Panels Should Meet in Public

The Dallas Morning News had an editorial last week saying that the Texas Forensic Science Commission should hold public meetings of all of its committees, including the committee dealing with the Todd Willingham investigation.

We agree and after last Friday's meeting, Texas Moratorium Network started an online petition to allow the public to contact FSC Chair John Bradley and other members of the Commission to urge them to hold public meetings.

Click here to sign the petition, which sends an email to the Commission every time someone signs.

Today's DMN Editorial:

The Texas Forensic Science Commission has taken a step forward and then tap-danced behind a cloud of secrecy under the leadership of new Chairman John Bradley.
Disturbing philosophy
"I don't think that is in the best interest of trying to move forward on this, because the ability to discuss and resolve these issues requires us to have those discussions in private. ... All of our issues will be released publicly during full commission meetings."
John Bradley, chairman of the Texas Commission on Forensic Science, when asked about keeping committee meetings open
Meeting Friday for just the second time since Bradley was named in September, the commission resumed work on the four-year-old complaint filed in the Cameron Todd Willingham execution case.
That made good Bradley's promise to state lawmakers to advance the matter. He also should get credit for asking those commissioners who have been working two-plus years on the case to fully air their opinions.
None disagreed that much more information is needed beyond the searing critique from eminent arson scientist Craig Beyler.
Just how – and how much – information should be gathered is a matter of keen public interest, but Bradley wants the initial course to be charted in private.
That's an awful approach.
Everyone knows the Beyler report is a potential political grenade. In a report to the commission last summer, Beyler said state and local investigators ignored sound scientific techniques in concluding that arson caused the 1991 fire that killed Willingham's three daughters in their Corsicana home. Convicted of murder, Willingham was executed in 2004 – Rick Perry, governor.
Commissioners say they need to study a range of documents, including the full transcript of the trial, in which state and local arson investigators testified. Commissioners said they have questions for Beyler and probably for other experts.
Nearly all of the nine commissioners are scientists, and they should pursue the evidence they need. Their job is not to reconsider the verdict against Willingham, but to determine whether junk science was part of his trial.
The matter is now before a four-person committee that Bradley formed to guide the Willingham case. Bradely, the district attorney of Williamson County, named one defense attorney to the committee, which achieves balance. But limiting membership to four means the committee isn't a commission quorum and, therefore, doesn't trigger an open-meetings requirement.
Secret meetings run contrary to a basic principle of public service. State law and the Texas Constitution give some investigatory bodies authority to conduct business confidentially. The State Commission on Judicial Conduct is one. The forensics commission, however, is not.
Nowhere did lawmakers give the commission that latitude when they created it in 2005. Procedures the commission adopted in January are silent on the matter. Some commissioners said after Friday's meeting that they were surprised that committee sessions would be done in secret.
When Perry installed Bradley and three other new members last fall, critics hatched the theory that the governor wanted the Willingham matter frozen until after the 2010 election. Bradley has said he didn't accept Perry's appointment to be somebody's puppet, and we'll accept that at face value. At the same time, though, he must see that public confidence is at stake. The way to preserve that is to conduct state business where the state can see it.
"I don't think that is in the best interest of trying to move forward on this, because the ability to discuss and resolve these issues requires us to have those discussions in private. ... All of our issues will be released publicly during full commission meetings."
John Bradley, chairman of the Texas Commission on Forensic Science, when asked about keeping committee meetings open

poster4tomorrow Holding International Poster Design Contest "Death is Not Justice"

An organization in France, poster4tomorrow, is holding a poster design contest around the theme that "the death penalty is not justice. I don’t want it done in my name, my country, or our world".
The call for entires closes on July 18, 2010.
Download the competition rules and regulations here. 
Take a look at the jury here.

They will be holding exhibitions of the winning designs in 100 cities around the world on October 10, 2010. We have emailed them expressing interest in holding an exhibition in a Texas city, since Texas executes more people than any other U.S. state. 

October the 10th 2010 (10/10/10) is the World and European Day against the Death Penalty. On this day we intend to hold 100 exhibitions in 100 cities, curated by 100 local partner organisations. We want to make every exhibition locally relevant by allowing each local team to select part of the posters they want to display.

In this way we hope that every exhibition will become more powerful than was possible last year, as the posters will hopefully relate to, and resonate more powerfully in, every location.

But it's not just about local focus, we plan to encourage exchanges between the various events around the world by recording and streaming the talks given by hosts in different locations.

On the online side of things, we plan to add mapping and other features for anyone to easily explore all the events and take part. For instance, by making it possible for every poster to be freely downloadable, so anyone can hold their own exhibition in their window, school, wherever and everywhere.

The best 100 designs (as selected by the jury) will be exhibited in 100 locations worldwide on October the 10th in the poster for tomorrow 'death is not justice' exhibition.

The best 100 designs will be also be collected and published in a book to be distributed internationally. Every designer of the 100 final posters is entitled to a copy of the book free of charge, but will be asked to cover the postage costs at their own expense. Sorry.

Some of our sponsors have kindly agreed to help us reward the 10 most outstanding designs.
├ętapes magazine will award ten designers, as chosen by the jury, a subscription to the international issue of the magazine.

├ęcole intuit/lab in Paris will award three students, as chosen by the jury, with a free workshop on graphic design.
We’re particularly happy to be able to reward the 10 most outstanding designs, as chosen by the jury, by making them part of the permanent collection of the prestigious design museums in the list below. More design museums are expected to join in the next months.

What are the design requirements?
The designs must be previously unpublished. They must not include any material protected by copyright.
The designs must be portrait (vertical) format posters.What are the file specifications for the posters?
They must be portrait (vertical) format posters.
Please save your designs as RGB colour, JPG files.
File size specifications are 2953×4134 pixels at 150DPI resolution.
Can I submit designs that contain text in languages other than English?
Yes. We encourage you to express yourself freely, which is always done best in your own mother tongue.
Does my poster have to use the brief's text as title or body copy?
No, the brief is there to inspire you, not to provide you with content, so please do not feel obliged its text in your design. If you want to use it, fine. If you want to use your own words, even better.
Do I have to include a logo in my design?
No, you don not have to include any logo in the artwork. Not from our endorsing charities, nor poster for tomorrow itself.

How can I enter my design into the competition?
First of all you have to register (for free) on our website. Look for the "SIGN UP" link in the top left corner of the menu bar.
When you have an account and you're logged into the website, a "MY ACCOUNT" link page will be available from the top menu bar.
Click that link to access your own account page, where you will be able to manage your submissions.
Registering is the only way to ensure your artwork will be considered by the jury.Is there any registration fee?
No. poster for tomorrow is completely, absolutely, 100% free to enter.
We are a team, can we participate?
Yes, but I'm afraid you'll have to register as individual.
One member of your team will have to open an account in his/her own name. When they upload your entries you will be able to add the names of the rest of the team in the submission form.
We are a design studio, can we participate?
Yes, you're more than welcome to participate, but as a creative team or individual, not as a design studio.
So if you're an individual, please enter the contest in your own name. If you're a creative team, please register as normal, then you will be able to add the names of the rest of the team in the submission form when uploading your entries.

How many designs can I enter in the competition?
You’re welcome to submit up to 10 posters. This limit is for technical reasons more than anything else, but we feel 10 poster is enough to give your creativity as much space as it might need.When does the competition close?
The competition closes on July the 18th, 2010.
Designs will be accepted until noon, 12 p.m., (pacific daylight time) on that date.
Is the call for entries available in my own language?
You can see the list of languages in which the call for entries is available in the lefthand column on the home page.
A group of volunteers from around the world is helping us to translate it in many other languages, so it might be available very soon.
Please come back to check to see if your language becomes available.

Republican Judge in Houston Jailed Wife of Acquitted Murder Defendant for Expressing Relief After Verdict Announced

Rick Casey of the Houston Chronicle writes in his column today about a Republican judge in Houston who jailed the wife of a defendant who had just been acquitted of murder for reacting to the acquittal with relief. Judge Susan Brown of Houston's 185th Criminal Court  (see photo left), whose insensitivity and callousness brings to mind Judge Sharon Kelleris being opposed in the November election by Democrat Vivian King

Click here to join the Students Against the Death Penalty's Facebook page to stay informed about the Texas death penalty.

From the Houston Chronicle:

Last week she warned everyone in the courtroom not to react in any way when the verdict was read after a four-day murder trial.
When the jury pronounced the defendant “not guilty,” the defendant's wife nevertheless reacted with some combination of relief and delight.
The judge gave her three days in jail for contempt.
How sensitive? Judge Brown said the woman was “screaming and flailing and yelling,” adding she had “never seen anything quite like it.”
But four other witnesses described it differently.
The defendant, the defense attorney and two jurors had varying memories. One heard the woman say, “Thank God.” One heard her say, “Amen.” Two heard a brief scream or squeal. None saw her flailing about.
I'm not naming the defendant or his wife because her co-workers aren't aware her husband was accused of murder, and I think she need not be punished further.
The defendant had been in jail awaiting trial for about 18 months, so it was considerable relief to his wife when he was found not guilty.
“I think my wife said, ‘Amen.' She said it one time,” the defendant said.
“She was crying when they took her off to jail. She don't eat meat, so she couldn't eat the food they gave her.”
Though she was sentenced to three days, she was let out after 36 hours, spending Thursday and Friday nights in jail.
Tyrone Moncriffe, the defendant's attorney, remembered the woman as saying “Thank God.”
“She had been under a lot of stress and strain for almost two years,” said Moncriffe, a veteran defense attorney who is board-certified in criminal law.
He said he'd never seen a judge jail someone for such behavior.

‘Oh hell'

Juror Mark Enns said he heard the woman make a noise “like a quick squeal.” He said his view of her was partly blocked, but he didn't see any flailing about.
When I told him the woman was the defendant's wife and had been sent to jail, he said, “Oh hell.
Vivian King, Judge Brown's Democratic opponent in the November election, said:

“It wasn't an angry thing,” she said of the wife's outburst. “Every black preacher teaches us to thank the Lord.”
King, who like the wife is African-American, said of Brown's action, “I don't think it was racism, just a lack of cultural understanding.”

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Tell Forensic Science Commission to Hold Public Meetings of Todd Willingham Investigation Committee

The "Investigative Committee on the Willingham/Willis Case" of the Texas Forensic Science Commission is holding secret, private, closed door meetings without any public notice to discuss the Cameron Todd Willingham investigation.

Other committees of the TFSC are also being held in secret. Since the four-person Willingham/Willis committee does not form a quorum of the entire nine member Commission, it is not subject to the Open Meetings Act — which means it can legally deliberate in secret. However, the members of the Commission can vote to make all meetings public and to follow the rules of the Open Meetings Act.

Unless, the policy is changed, the public will not be privy to discussions by the four-member panel of the Commission that is responsible for scrutinizing the reliability of the arson investigation used to convict Todd Willingham.

Instead, the panel will report its conclusions to the nine-member commission, which will make the matter final.

Asked if he favored allowing the public to attend such sessions, TFSC Chair John Bradley responded, “No,”.

If you believe that all subcommittee meetings of the Texas Forensic Science Commission should be public and not private, secret closed door meetings, then please join us in writing commission Chair John Bradley and other Commission members urging them to make the meetings public and to post notices on the Commission website of when and where the subcommittee meetings will take place.

Shortly before Todd Willingham was executed in 2004 for an arson that killed his three young daughters, Texas Governor Rick Perry had received a request that he delay the execution based on an arson expert's report that evidence presented at the trial did not show that the fire had been deliberately set.

Dr. Craig Beyler, one of the nation's top arson experts, who after a search was hired by the Forensic Science Commission to investigate the case, submitted a report to the Commission in 2009 that the fire may well have not been caused by arson at all.

Secret, closed-door thwart transparency and erode public confidence in the commission's work, which has already been compromised by Governor Rick Perry's abrupt dismissal of the previous chair and three other members of the TFSC two days before the Commmission was scheduled to discuss the report by Dr Craig Beyler.

Cameron Todd Willingham Case: A Summary of David Grann's New Yorker Article

Created by Jeffrey medellin. (Prezi link)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Write Forensic Science Commission to Demand All Subcommittee Meetings are Public and Not Held in Secret Behind Closed Doors

If you believe that all subcommittee meetings of the Texas Forensic Science Commission should be public and not private, secret closed door meetings, then please join us in writing commission Chair John Bradley (photo left) and other members urging them to make the meetings public and to post notices on their website of when and where the subcommittee meetings will take place.
The address is:

Texas Forensic Science Commission
Sam Houston State University
College of Criminal Justice
Box 2296
816 17th Street
Huntsville, Texas 77341-2296

Fax: 1-888-305-2432

Report of today's meeting from the Dallas Morning News:

Bradley meets the press. Asked about the pace of the Willingham case ahead, he says it will proceed as appropriate. Asked if he would set a timetable, he says no. He says that would be arbitrary.
Asked about the newly configured, four-person Willingham committee, he says it will meet in private. Why not public? "I don't think it's in the best interest of how we choose to do things." Asked who decided the Willingham committees will meet privately, he says the committee did. (I should point out that the assistant AG attending today's session advised the commission that the committee were only made official today and that they couldn't have made official decisions at their organizing meetings last week.)
Bradley cuts off questions before I could ask him particulars of what the committee will tackle at its next meeting.
Talking with Commissioner Evans, the Fort Worth defense attorney, who says it was news to him that the committee will be meeting in private. Should it be? Evans says he would have no objection to public meetings, though he appreciates that there is a level of frankness that can help get things done behind closed doors. Overall, he says he's willing to listen to pros and cons.
Evans says he figures that committee members will be in contact to decide what materials to review and people to talk to for their next session -- whenever that is.
On his way out, Adams says it was news to him that committees will conduct business in private. He presumed they would be public. But don't worry, he says, other members of the commission will make sure business is above-board.
From last week's Grits for Breakfast, "Forensic commission's Willingham committee meeting in secret":
Committee meetings of the Forensic Science Commission are being held in secret, including a committee evaluating the Todd Willingham arson investigation which met yesterday. Death penalty activist Scott Cobb emailed FSC coordinator Leigh Tomlin to ask:

I heard your voice mail that the Complaint Screening Committee and the Investigative Committee on the Willingham/Willis Case held meetings yesterday in Dallas. When and where were they held? I didn't see any meeting notice posted on the website. I only knew about it because I had read in the Houston Chronicle that it was going to be held next Thursday. Did the Commission provide a public notice before the meetings were held? How can the public be aware of when these meetings are going to be held in the future? Are there minutes available of the meetings yesterday?
Tomlin replied with a single sentence: "The meetings were not public meetings."

They could be public, of course, at the discretion of the commission and the chair. But the new rules Chairman John Bradley rammed throughat the commission's last meeting allow him to opt to have closed sessions.

Having watched that meeting online, I seriously doubt the majority of commissioners understood that this would be the result or intended to close their deliberations. This is simply the chairman exercising his discretion in the convenient absence of any rule to the contrary. This is what happens when rules aren't publicly posted or even shared with commissioners before the day they're required to vote on them. One hopes the commission majority will override their chairman to revisit and amend those rules, making committee hearings public and publishing their agendas just like regular commission meetings.

The Forensic Science Commission never conducted its business in secret before. What do they have to hide?

Happy Birthday to Mumia Abu-Jamal



Cake & Ice Cream
Plus, Urgent Strategy Session
FILM: In Prison My Whole Life

The court system has closed its doors to the possibility of a new trial for Mumia and has left only two alternatives for him: execution or life in prison without parole. We demand the Department of Justice conduct a civil rights investigation into the outrageous frame-up of Mumia.

Sponsored by: Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement
713-503-2633 or
Meetings: 1st Tuesdays, S.H.A.P.E. Center, 3815 Live Oak, 7—9:00 PM


APRIL 24, 1-4 PM



Mumia Abu-Jamal is an award-winning journalist, author, humanist, advocate for social justice, and "Voice of the Voiceless" who has been wrongfully imprisoned on Pennsylvania's death row for the last 28 years. A recent Supreme Court decision has made Mumia vulnerable to execution. We need his life and voice. Come hear about the injustice of his incarceration, and the triumph of his existence. 


Saturday, April 24 - from 4-6 Special programming

The Block Report Radio show and the First Voice Apprenticeship program present a two hour special dealing with the life and work of prolific journalist  and political prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal. Voices from such notable people such as Philadelphia journalist Linn Washington, former presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney, the Prisoners of Conscience Committee Chairman Fred Hampton Jr, hip hop artist M1 of dead prez will be included in this historic broadcast.

Activists all over the world are organizing to celebrate Mumia and FIGHT for his release! There are events happening from San Diego to Chicago, Philly to London, and beyond. In an attempt at organization, we'll list the details of all cities we've heard from and follow with more information below. Wherever you are, there is something happening! If there's not, make it happen!!!

HRC hosting Mail Art 4 Mumia @ A-Space, 4722 Baltimore Ave, 6-9 pm.

ICFFMAJ hosting SPOKEN WORD UPRISING! @ AFSC, 15th & Cherry Sts, 12 noon to 5 pm.

New York:
NYCFMAJ and the NY Writers Union hosting Writers for Mumia! @ St. Mary's Church
512 West 126th Street (between Old Broadway & Amsterdam Ave.). 2:30 – 6 pm.

Malcolm X Grassroots Movement Presents: Celebrating the Life of Safiya Asya Bukhari
Community Service Society, 105 East 22nd St. at Park Ave. 1 – 4 pm.

San Francisco:
Pacifica Radio devotes programming to Mumia!

Earth Day Commemoration in honor of Marshall "Eddie" Conway and Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Maggie Quille Druid Heights Community Center, 2140 McCulloh Street, Baltimore (Harriet Tubman City), Maryland, 4:00 pm.

Washington DC:
11:30 Press Conference at New York Presbyterian Church, 1313 New York Avenue (between 13th and 14th Sts).
1 pm Rally at the Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania Avenue (between 9th and 10th Sts).
3:30 follow up at church.

San Diego:


6-8 PM
LA MESA, CA 91942-6059

S.H.A.P.E. Center, 3815 Live Oak, Houston, Texas 77004
6-8 pm.


Taina Asili y La Banda Rebelde will perform alongside Chicago's own spoken word artist Michael Reyes, in a special show in honor of the birthday of US political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. A percentage of the night's proceeds will go to the profound work of Intl. Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
El Batey Urbano, 2620 W. Division St., Chicago, IL. $5-10 sliding scale, all ages, wheelchair accessible. 8 pm.

The Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality will be holding our 2010 Defenders Fighting Fund & Community Awards Dinner on April 24. Defender Dieyah Rasheed, a former member of the Richmond Chapter of the Black Panther Party, will be making a special presentation on Mumia and urging people to attend the April 26 protest in D.C.

Throughout Germany:

Organised by:
George Jackson Socialist League, Pan Afrikan Society Community Forum, Democracy and Class Struggle.
(Third Right Street From Brixton Tube Station) at 7 pm.

Mexico City:
Information forthcoming.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Facts of Capital Punishment and Mental Disability or Mental Illness

A collection of clips created by five students at The University of Texas at Austin showing how the media portrays mentally ill or mentally disabled persons facing capital punishment. This video hopes to correct the misrepresentation of the said subject by bringing out the facts. Link to Youtube video.

Produced by:
William Brown
Ken Stambaugh (video editor)
Taha Ahmed
Shreya Sigdel
Steven Rodriguez

Click here to join the Texas Moratorium Network page to stay informed about the Texas death penalty.

Texas Executed 453rd Person Since 1982; 214th Under Governor Rick Perry

Texas executed its 453rd person since 1982 and the 214th person since Governor Rick Perry took office in 2000. The next Texas execution is April 27 when Samuel Bustamante is set to die.

From the Houston Chronicle:
A Texas inmate convicted of fatally shooting an El Paso high school senior after robbing and sexually assaulting her was executed Thursday evening in the nation's busiest death penalty state.

William Josef Berkley was condemned to death for the March 2000 slaying of 18-year-old Sophia Martinez, whose body was found in the desert outside El Paso after being robbed at a drive-through ATM. She had been shot in the head five times and there was evidence she'd been raped.

Berkley was the sixth Texas inmate to receive lethal injection this year. Ten other prisoners are set to die over the next three months.

In his final statement, Berkley thanked his girlfriend, a friend and his spiritual adviser, who were at the execution, for their love and support. But he did not mention Martinez or look at or speak to the victim's mother and two sisters, who were also in attendance.

“Warden, let her rip,” Berkley said after his brief statement.

As the drugs took effect, he gasped at least twice. Nine minutes later, at 6:18 p.m. CDT, he was pronounced dead.

Berkley, a self-described marijuana-smoking, baggy-jeans-wearing, “sarcastic smart ass,” denied involvement in the slaying during an interview with The Associated Press before his execution.

The U.S. Supreme Court turned down Berkley's appeal late Thursday. The high court last year refused to review his case. On Wednesday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected his appeal.

Martinez was robbed after pulling up to a drive-through ATM to withdraw $20 for spending on a Friday night.

A surveillance camera caught the robbery on tape and showed a man prosecutors said was Berkley forcing his way into Martinez's car. After being forced to withdraw $200 from the ATM, Martinez drove off with Berkley.

Two days later, Martinez's body was found in the desert about 10 miles away.

Berkley, who dropped out of high school in 10th grade, was born in Germany, where his father was posted with the U.S. Army. His family moved to El Paso when he was in the fourth grade.

Berkley said he had dual citizenship with Germany. The German government didn't step in to intervene in the case.

Scheduled next for the Texas death chamber is Samuel Bustamante, 40, facing execution Tuesday for the fatal stabbing of a 28-year-old man during a robbery in Fort Bend County.
To get more updates please become a fan of Students Against the Death Penalty at:

You can also become a fan of the Texas Moratorium Network.

Innocence Project Streaming Texas Forensic Science Commission Meeting Live - Willingham Case to be Discussed

The Texas Forensic Science Commission meeting is being streamed live on the website of the Innocence Project. Click on this link to go to a page on the IP site during the meeting to watch it. 

For background information on the Todd Willingham case, visit

Gloria Rubec of TDPAM, Scott Cobb of TMN and state Rep. Lon Burnam are present at the meeting. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Execution Watch: William Joseph Berkley

  Texas plans to execute German native William Josef Berkley Thursday. Execution Watch will provide live coverage from Huntsville, present a legal analysis of the case, and interview Arizona death row exoneree Paris Carriger.
   No punishment is the subject of more propaganda than the death penalty. The truth is in the details, and that's what the show intends to offer:


April 22, 2010, Thurs., 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.”

  WILLIAM JOSEF BERKLEY. The German native was living in El Paso and had just turned 21 when police arrested him and Michael Jacques in March 2000, charging them with the murder of Sophia Martinez. Jacques is serving a life term. (More at www.executionwatch. org > Backpage on William Berkley.)

  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 on KPFT: the Prison Show, now in its 31st year, www.theprisonshow. org .

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

  Featured Interview: PARIS CARRIGER. An exoneree who spent 17 years on Arizona’s death row, he came within hours of being executed in 1995 -- eight years after the real murderer confessed to the crime. Unfortunately, Carriger had exhausted his rights to appeal. State courts refused to grant him a new trial. Letters supporting a new trial poured into Arizona. At the last minute, a federal court issued a stay.

  Reporter, Death House, Huntsville: DENNIS LONGMIRE, PhD. A professor in the Criminal Justice Center at Sam Houston State University and activist against capital punishment. www.cjcenter. org.

   Reporter, Vigil, Somewhere in Texas: TBA.

  On April 27, Texas plans to execute SAMUEL BUSTAMANTE. If it happens, Execution Watch will broadcast. Details:

  PRODUCER: Elizabeth Ann Stein, steinea
  TECHNICAL DIRECTOR: Otis Maclay, omaclay
  THEME MUSIC: “Death by Texas,” Victoria Panetti, www.myspace. com/shemonster

Write Letter to DA Rosemary Lehmberg Urging Her to Seek Withdrawal of Execution Date for David Powell

If you live in Travis County, and especially if you are a member of an Austin Democratic Club, please write a personal letter and ask your club to send its own letter to District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg urging her to seek withdrawal of the execution date for David Powell now set for June 15, 2010. Rosemary Lehmberg was elected in 2008 with the endorsements of many Austin Democratic clubs, so those clubs should let her know that they do not want her to allow this execution to proceed.

To learn more about the case of David Powell, visit or watch a 30 minute documentary, divided into four parts on YouTube: Part one, Part two, Part three, Part four.

Watch David Powell expressing remorse in Part Four of Film.

Rosemary Lehmberg, District Attorney
509 W.11th St
Austin, TX 78701
Phone: (512) 854-9400
Fax: (512) 854-9695

Sample letter:

Dear District Attorney Lehmberg,

I'm writing you in response to the execution date which you asked the trial court to set for David Lee Powell. I am extremely disappointed because this is a time when the death penalty is beginning to fall into disrepute, and Mr. Powell’s case provides a significant opportunity to make a statement about the enormous waste – human and monetary – associated with the death penalty. You could have used this moment to lead society away from the death penalty but instead you acquiesced to the conventional wisdom of Texas’ death penalty politics. In a world that is increasingly turning away from the death penalty, Texas is out of step. I believe you know this, and as the District Attorney of the most progressive county in Texas, you could have helped take us in a different direction.

I am writing to urge you to reverse your course. You have the authority to ask the court to withdraw the death warrant and to use that act as an opportunity to lead the State of Texas into a more just and peaceful future. Other leaders like you have chosen to lead the public away from the death penalty, where they once believed in it, because they understand it to be wrong on so many levels. I believe you are that kind of leader.

It has been said that the penalty of knowing one’s evil deed is punishment enough. David Powell knows his evil deed, has shown true remorse for it, and has suffered immensely. He has led an exemplary life, even from the despair of Death Row. He no longer deserves the death penalty. I have reason to believe you feel the same way. I beg you to ask the court to withdraw the execution date and use this as an opportunity to move us in a different direction.

Let the public know that when the death penalty no longer serves any legitimate public interest, as in the case of David Powell, you will not embrace it.
Text of apology letter from David Powell to family of murder victim Ralph Ablanedo (Facebook readers: Click link back to original post on SADP blog to read letter).

"I am infinitely sorry that I killed Ralph Ablanedo ," wrote Powell, who shot Ablanedo 10 times with an AK-47, according to court records. "I stole from you and the world the precious and irreplaceable life of a good man."

Video from about setting of execution date, including statement by Scott Cobb of Texas Moratorium Network.

American Exceptionalism Jeopardy

This project is about the theory of American Exceptionalism which gives reasons as to why the US still uses the death penalty. The goal of this project is to inform the public about the death penalty in America and get feedback about the information we present. The project is set up as a PowerPoint and is a Jeopardy game show. There are 4 categories: Southern Exceptionalism, Cultural Exceptionalism, Federalism, and Crime as a Political Issue. Each category is a reason for why we still have the death penalty.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Todd Willingham Case: Public Comment Period at Next Meeting of Texas Forensic Science Commission April 23 in Dallas Area

The Texas Forensic Science Commission has posted its agenda for its meeting in Irving, Texas on April 23, 2010 at the Omni Mandalay Hotel at Las Colinas, 221 E. Las Colinas Blvd, Irving, Texas (Map and directions). The meeting starts at 9:30 AM, but is expected to last all day and the public comment period will be at the end of the meeting.

The agenda includes a period to accept comments from the public, although the proposed new rules on public comments say that the public comment period may be eliminated, reduced or postponed "if deemed necessary due to time constraints or other exigent circumstances". Each commenter will be given three minutes and must fill out a form and give it to the commission coordinator before the meeting.

Students Against the Death Penalty plans to attend the April 23 meeting and we encourage members of the public who wish to make comments to the commission to attend also. The commission needs to hear that the public wants them to speed up the process of investigating the Todd Willingham case and discussing the report given to the commission by Dr Craig Beyler, so that Texas can determine whether faulty forensic science lead to the wrongful conviction and execution of an innocent person.

Agenda for Texas Forensic Science Commission Meeting April 23, 2010

Rick Casey expects no major progress in the investigation until after the November election. He says in his Houston Chronicle column today:

The commission just posted its agenda for next week's meeting, again drawn up by Bradley though this time honoring some suggestions from commissioners. The first item: approval of Bradley's nominations for a number of committees, including an “investigative panel” for the Willingham case.
For that three-member panel, Bradley called his own number. The other two are Dr. Nizam Peerwani of the Tarrant County medical examiner's office and Sarah Kerrigan, the Scotland Yard-trained head of the forensic science graduate program at Sam Houston State University. Peerwani is one of Perry's new appointees. Kerrigan has been critical of Bradley's leadership.

Little progress expected

The group's first meeting is set for next Thursday, the day before the commission's meeting. Since it is scheduled for just two hours and is not expected to hear from Beyler or any other witnesses, don't look for it to advance the process much.
Bradley said he had planned to have the commission question Beyler at the October meeting, hear from critics of his report at the February meeting and then produce a final commission report by the spring or summer.
He said the nine members of the commission, a much smaller body than most congressional committees, were comfortable handling the matter as a whole.
If Bradley wanted to press the matter, I suppose he could push the investigative panel to produce a report by the July meeting and take action then or at the October meeting.
But to expect that, I suspect, would be doubly naive.
Scott Henson at Grits for Breakfast wrote a post critical of Bradley for creating the new three-person committee for the Willingham case instead of allowing the full commission to deal with it and for appointing himself as one of the members. Henson also suggested how the other commission members should handle the situation by making a motion to reconsider.
If one believes - as admittedly I do - that the Governor ousted his old appointees last fall and replaced them with Bradley and Co. for the purpose of scuttling the Willingham inquiry until after the election, then these new rules and committee assignments set them up admirably to accomplish the task. Particularly telling was the chairman's brazen decision to assign himself to the committee assessing the Willingham case. From the Startlegram: "The notion that he would be on this particular committee in light of everything that has gone on in the last year is particularly inappropriate," said Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth. "A suspicious mind would be concerned about nefarious activities."

Burnam's right about Bradley and the appearance of neutrality. The Williamson County DA has already been sharply, publicly critical of the arson expert commissioned to investigate the lack of scientific rigor in the evidence presented at the Willingham trial. Bradley even tried to prevent the scientist from testifying before a legislative committee that requested his views on the role of expert testimony unrelated to the case.

What's more, a second member of the three-person committee, Dr. Peerwani, was also appointed last fall after the Governor interceded tochange the direction of the commission. So two of the three committee members evaluating the Willingham case were people who, by all appearances, were appointed to the Commission primarily to impede the investigation, not get to the bottom of the matter. Given that, there's a decent chance the thing never gets voted out of committee - that's what I'd do if I just wanted to kill it.

That's why, IMO someone on the commission should bone up on their parliamentary procedure and make a "motion to reconsider" at their next meeting later this month, because they were sold a pig in a poke. The Commission made the decision to create this new committee structure based on false pretenses, believing it wouldn't apply to pending cases. I was liveblogging the hearing at the time, and here's how I recorded the exchange on whether the Willingham case would go through the new committee process:

Dr. Kerrigan asked whether these rules apply to pending cases or new ones. Good question! Bradley said new or recent cases would be affected but not those already in the pipeline. A commissioner asked particularly whether cases where they'd already spent money on outside consultants would now have to go through the new process. Bradley said "no."
Later, though, just before the meeting ended:

Bradley backtracked after the rules passed to say old cases like Todd Willingham's in fact will go through his new committee process. That's a complete 180-degree flip from what he told the commission members twenty minutes ago, back when Commissioner Kerrigan told the chair her vote depended on his answer.
The next day, in a post reviewing the meeting, I accused Bradley of:

Dissembling: When a commissioner told the chairman her vote hinged on whether old cases already in the pipeline - including ones where the Commission had already paid outside consultants (there are only two) - would be subjected to the new committee process, Bradley said no, they would not. After the vote, when the meeting had nearly ended, Bradley insisted that Willingham's case must go through "part of" the new committee process. If he'd been honest about that during the debate, IMO a majority of commissioners present wouldn't have supported his rules.
That's sufficient reason to initiate a motion to reconsider, which is allowable under Robert's Rules if the motion is made by anyone - say, Dr. Kerrigan or her allies on the board - who voted for the rules at the last meeting. I think the Commission should reconsider and clarify the rules to have pending, longstanding cases bypass this new committee, which is what they were told would happen before they voted to create it.

Report and Photos from Karen Sage Victory Party in Race to Replace Retiring Judge Charlie Baird

Mary Tuma has an article in the Community Impact Newspaper about Karen Sage's impressive runoff victory over Mindy Montford in the race to replace retiring judge Charlie Baird (photo left with Karen at victory party) for Travis County District Court 299. Montford lost by a wide margin last night despite having come out ahead of Sage on primary day on March 2. The article notes that Montford had a lot of name ID because of her failed campaign in 2008 to become District Attorney in Travis County. During that earlier campaign she had received about $200,000 in donations from Dolph Briscoe and $1,000 from Republican Williamson County Attorney John Bradley, as well as a lot of other donations that allowed her name to become relatively well known to voters.

From Community Impact Newspaper:

 From the onset assistant district attorney Karen Sage’s primary runoff election night party in downtown Austin bustled with high spirits as early voting totals, which showed the candidate up 16 percent, were announced at around 7 p.m. Staff, volunteers and supporters trickled in throughout the night to congratulate Sage for her consistent lead over challenger Mindy Montford, a criminal defense lawyer, at campaign offices on 10th Street.
Former State Representative Ann Kitchen and Judge Charles Baird, whose position Sage will soon succeed, stopped by to join the party.
“Karen is smart, ethical and hard working. The quality I know she has that will be very important in the court is compassion,” said Baird.
Sage served as a state and federal prosecutor, civil litigation attorney, federal judicial clerk, assistant U.S. attorney and currently teaches ethics of criminal law at the University of Texas. As the sole mental health prosecutor for Travis County, she works to find alternatives to incarceration for patients who suffer from mental illness.
“We need to start to look at the root of the problem, find some innovative solutions and break the revolving door of criminal justice for these patients,” she said.
While Montford led in the primary election by roughly eight percent of the vote, Sage pointed to name ID (initiated by her opponent’s unsuccessful campaign for District Attorney in 2008) as a key reason voters may have initially opted for the fellow Democrat. This type of recognition, said Sage, carries a lot of weight in a down ballot race, as voters saw in March.
Sage attributes her win to the door-to-door grassroots campaigning led by her team since June, a method she said is an unconventional approach to judicial races. The candidate employed four full-time field operators, a manager, director and several volunteers.
“We took the campaign out of the courthouse, out of the hands of political consultants and into the community,” she said. “It’s really about taking the campaign directly to the voters, which is a little new for judicial elections. I think today we are starting to see that that’s a good idea.”
Campaign Manager Jim Wick noted the race produced no staff turnover and hired no major political or fundraising consultant. Sage said she has personally spoken with 10,000 voters over the course of the campaign, either in person or over the phone.