Monday, May 31, 2010

Execution Watch: George Jones faces lethal injection Wednesday

By Elizabeth Stein
Producer, Execution Watch

Texas plans to execute George Jones by lethal injection Wednesday. Execution Watch will broadcast details, plus an interview with Scott Christianson, author of The Last Gasp: The Rise and Fall of the American Gas Chamber.


June 2, 2010, Wed., 6-7 pm Central Time
Listen on KPFT's HD2 channel, 90.1 FM Houston, or
Go to www.executionwatch. org at 6 p.m. CT, click on “Listen.”

  GEORGE JONES, 36, convicted in the 1993 robbery-murder of Forest Hall in Dallas.  Jones’ attorneys say his verdict and sentence were reached unfairly, because the trial judge wrongly allowed prosecutors to exclude a prospective juror seen as friendly to the defense. In a capital trial, a single holdout juror can mean the difference between life and death. (More at www.executionwatch. org > Backpage on George Jones.)

  Host: RAY HILL, an ex-convict who has lost many friends to the death chamber. His civil rights activism has included shepherding several cases to the U.S. Supreme Court. Ray hosts the Prison Show, now in its 31st year, Friday nights on KPFT, www.theprisonshow. org .

  Legal Analyst: JIM SKELTON, a retired attorney, contributes to the profession by teaching a weekly continuing education class in appellate law. He has worked as a prosecutor and as a defense attorney in capital cases.

  Featured Interview: SCOTT CHRISTIANSON, writer, investigative reporter, historian and author of The Last Gasp: The Rise and Fall of the American Gas Chamber, published by University of California Press. It includes little-known facts about the gas chamber, such as its links to the eugenics movements and the American-German collaboration to produce lethal hydrogen cyanide. Among his other books is With Liberty for Some: 500 Years of Imprisonment in America, winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award Distinguished Honors and a Choice Outstanding Book Award. (

  Reporter, Death House, Huntsville: GLORIA RUBAC, a leader of the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, which may be followed on Facebook.

   Reporter, Vigil, Houston: TBA.

  On June 15, Texas plans to execute a man who has been on death row nearly 32 years, DAVID POWELL. Execution Watch will broadcast:

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

Sunday, May 30, 2010

New Video of David Powell's Mother Marjorie Powell; Her son's execution is scheduled for June 15, 2010

Here is a link to a new video of David Powell's mother, Marjorie Powell. Her son's execution is scheduled for June 15, 2010. He has been on death row in Texas for 32 years. For more information, visit

Click here to send an email to Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg urging her to ask the judge to withdraw the June 15 execution date for David Powell.

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

Juan Melendez, Death Row Exoneree, to Speak at "Democrats Against the Death Penalty" Caucus at Texas Democratic Party State Convention June 25-26 in Corpus Christi

Juan Melendez, an innocent man who spent more than 17 years on death row for a crime he did not commit, will be coming to Corpus Christi, Texas June 25-26 to attend the 2010 Texas Democratic Party State Convention and to speak at the meeting of "Democrats Against the Death Penalty" at 1 PM on Friday, June 25. The meeting will be in room 225 D-E of the American Bank Center. The party is expecting more than 5,000 delegates, alternates and guests to attend the state convention.

Juan is traveling to Texas with the assistance of Witness to Innocence, which is the nation’s only organization composed of, by and for exonerated death row survivors and their loved ones. These individuals are actively engaged in the struggle to end the death penalty, challenging the American public to grapple with the problem of a fatally flawed criminal justice system that sends innocent people to death row.

Members of Texas Moratorium Network started the "Democrats Against the Death Penalty" caucus in 2004. In 2008, more than 300 people attended the caucus meeting at the state convention. In 2004, the Texas Democratic Party endorsed a moratorium on executions in the party platform. In 2008, the Resolutions Committee at the state convention approved a resolution in support of abolishing the death penalty in Texas, but the resolution was not voted on by the floor of the convention before adjournment.

Raised in Puerto Rico, Juan Melendez was working in Polk County as a fruit picker before he was sentenced to death in 1984 for the 1983 killing of an Auburndale beauty salon owner named Delbert Baker. A police informant implicated Melendez and another man. The second man cut a deal with prosecutors and testified against Melendez, but 12 years later, he recanted, saying he was coerced.
Juan Roberto Melendez-Colon spent seventeen years, eight months and one day on Florida ’s death row for a crime he did not commit. Upon his exoneration and release from death row on January 3, 2002, he became the 99th death row inmate in the country to be exonerated and released since 1973. There was no physical evidence ever linking Juan Melendez to the crime and his conviction and death sentence hinged on the testimony of two questionable witnesses. Despite his innocence, Juan Melendez’s conviction and death sentence were upheld on appeal three times by the Florida Supreme Court. In September of 2000, sixteen years after Juan Melendez was convicted and sentenced to death, a long-forgotten transcript of a taped confession by the real killer, was fortuitously discovered. Ultimately, it came to light that the real killer made statements to no less than sixteen individuals either directly confessing to the murder or stating that Juan Melendez was not involved. In a seventy-two page opinion in which she overturned Juan Melendez’s conviction and death sentence and ordered a new trial, Judge Barbara Fleischer went to tremendous lengths to underscore the injustices that had been bestowed upon Juan Melendez and to show that an innocent man was on death row. She chastised the prosecutor for withholding “crucial” evidence pertaining to the credibility of the State’s two critical witnesses and she set forth in meticulous detail the “newly discovered evidence,” including numerous confessions and incriminating statements made by the real killer to friends, law enforcement officers, investigators and attorneys that substantiated the defense theory that Juan Melendez was innocent. Without admitting any wrongdoing, the State of Florida declined to pursue a new trial against Juan Melendez because one of its key witnesses had recanted and the other had died.
Upon his release from death row, without bitterness, anger or hatred towards those responsible for wrongfully convicting and sentencing him to death, Juan Melendez has traveled throughout the United States speaking to audiences about his story of supreme injustice. When he is not speaking throughout the country or abroad, he works at home in Puerto Rico in a plantain field where he counsels troubled youth who work alongside him. As a former migrant farm worker, Juan Melendez’s idol and inspiration was and continues to be Cesar Chavez.

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

It's Tuesday, It Must be Time for Another Execution in Texas - Tuesday May 25 John Alba Becomes 219th Executed Person Under Rick Perry

UPDATE: May 25, 6:50 pm. John Alba has been executed.

Tuesday, May 25, Texas is scheduled to execute John Alba (TDCJ info). He has a 10th grade education.

If he is executed, Alba will be the 458th person executed in Texas since 1982 and the 219th person since Rick Perry became governor. He will be the 11th person executed in Texas in 2010. 

Use the Governor's email form to contact Perry to express your opposition to this execution. Or call Perry and leave a voice mail at 512 463 1782. If you live in Texas, call your state legislators and let them know that you support a moratorium on executions. Find out who your legislators are here

John Alba, 54, is set to die Tuesday for killing his wife nearly 19 years ago. He will be the 11th Texas inmate executed this year unless his attorneys succeed with an appeal filed Monday in state court.
The U.S. Supreme Court refused last week to hear an appeal in which Alba's attorneys argued his death sentence violated his civil rights because prosecutors emphasized the fact that Alba was Hispanic and his slain wife was white when they questioned potential jurors.
Another execution is set for next week in Texas. George Jones faces lethal injection June 2 for a fatal carjacking robbery in Dallas 17 years ago. 

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

Click here to join the Texas Moratorium Network Facebook page to stay current on death penalty news.

Below is an undated letter from John Alba from the website

Greetings from Texas death row

John and his daughter SabrinaLet me tell you a bit about myself: I am a 48-year-old Mexican man. I have been on Death Row (D/R) for 14-years. (I first arrived on D/R in May 8, 1992) I have 4-children, and 9-grandchildren. I have my mother, four brothers and one sister. My father died when I was 15. I never did finish school. I quit school after my father died so I could work full-time and help my family. Work was not a stranger to me, as I had worked since a young child in the cotton fields, chopping cotton and picking cotton. We were poor so all of the family had to work so we could eat and survive.I have been thinking back on these past 14-years and I am trying to remember how many men have been executed, but it's been so many that I have lost count? I know, at least, 250 men, some who were my friends, or most who I had met over the years. It was a sombre experience to be speaking to these men, knowing that in only a few days, sometimes the next day, they would be dead. Some accepted it, some didn't. One man, whose image stays in my mind, I will never forget. As they were taking him out of our wing to be executed, he stopped at my cell to tell me "good-bye". It was his eyes, his eyes were wide open with fear. I felt his fear (if that is possible to explain) it was so overwhelming. That, took place in 1997, and more than 5-years later, I still see his eyes
My days on Death Row (D/R) are spent locked away 23-hours-a-day in a 6-x-9 cell. We are allowed to recreate for one-hour each day. One shower a day. There are no TV's on Texas D/R. We are allowed to buy a small plastic radio from the prison commissary store, and that is our 'entertainment'. We are allowed to correspond with free-world people. So as one can imagine, mail-call in the evenings are our 'highlight' of the day, what we look forward to each day. We cannot receive packages from the free-world, we must buy everything we need from the prison store. We can only receive books from the publishers or website book sellers like We are allowed one (2-hour) visit every week. However, we are also allowed 2-special (4-hour) visits every month, as well - but only if our visitors are coming from over 350-miles away, which my family does not qualify.
Every 6-months, they lock down the entire prison and they search our cells and personal property. It is then that we are fed a sandwich 3-times a day. We are only allowed to shower on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. No recreation. It is hard to be locked away in prison, in a small cell, with nothing to do, nothing to occupy your time - and mind. A human mind needs to be stimulated. My cell is painted completely white, which can play havoc on ones eyes. I have had to put up magazine pictures on my walls so as to break the whiteness.
John and his grandson JohnnyMy daughter Sabrina wrote to me 2-days ago! She hopes to be coming to visit me soon - which I am looking forward to seeing her again. It has been almost 2-months since I last saw her because she recently gave birth to my youngest Grandchild, Thomas. It has been even longer since I last saw her other 3-children). But they have to go to school so I can understand. And it is a long drive (4-hours) to this prison, from their home. Children can get "cranky" on long trips! But I do love speaking to them, as they have so many questions to ask, and so much love to give. Yet, they still don't understand 'why' they cannot touch "Paw-Paw" (Grandpa) as we are always separated in the visit room by a thick glass. I too, wish I could hold them but we have to be content to press our fingers against the glass and somehow feel each other's warmth through the glass - or imagine it. My other children have had 5 kids between them, so I have 9-grandchildren total. I saw two of the youngest in December 2001. I hope to also see them again soon.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Breaking News: The U.S. Supreme Court just decided to hear Hank Skinner's case

Breaking news: The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether Texas death row inmate Hank Skinner should have access to evidence for DNA testing that could clear him of three murders.
The justices said they will use Skinner’s case to decide whether prison inmates may use a federal civil rights law to petition for DNA testing that was not performed prior to their conviction. Federal appeals courts around the country have decided the issue differently.

The high court previously blocked Skinner's execution while it considered his appeal. The case will be argued before the Supreme Court in the fall.

Saving David Powell: Sissy Farenthold

Here is a link to a new video testimonial from Sissy Farenthold about why David Powell should not be executed. His execution has been scheduled for June 15, 2010 after 32 years on death row. She has been visiting David Powell on death row for 20 years. For more information, visit

Click here to send an email to Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg urging her to ask the judge to withdraw the June 15 execution date for David Powell.

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

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Tuesday targeted for 11th Texas execution in 2010

   John Alba with one of his nine grandchildren,
in the death row visiting area of the Polunsky 
prison unit, Livingston, Texas.

By Elizabeth Stein, Producer
Execution Watch, KPFT FM Houston

Texas plans Tuesday make John Alba the 11th man executed in 2010 in the Lone Star State, putting it on track to carry out half of the executions in the United States.

Unless Alba is fortunate enough to receive a stay, Execution Watch will broadcast live coverage from Huntsville, Texas, a discussion of the issues raised by Alba's case, and an in-depth interview that illuminates one aspect of the death penalty. The Execution Watch begins.



"Shining a spotlight on Texas' badge of shame"

May 25, 2010, Tues., 6-7 pm Central Time
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.”
  JOHN ALBA, 54, was convicted in the 1991 shooting death of his wife, Wendy Alba. He was arrested in Plano, Texas, following a standoff with police in which he held a gun to his head and threatened to pull the trigger. A federal court in 2000 overturned the Plano man's death sentence because a psychologist testified improperly at his trial that jurors should consider the fact that Alba is Hispanic in deciding punishment. Alba had a second punishment trial, at which a Collin County jury imposed the death penalty. (More at www.executionwatch. org > Backpage on John Alba.)

  Host: RAY HILL, an ex-convict who has lost many friends to the death chamber. His civil rights activism has included shepherding several cases to the U.S. Supreme Court. Ray hosts the Prison Show, now in its 31st year, Friday nights on KPFT, www.theprisonshow. org .

  Legal Analyst: ROBERT ROSENBERG, a Houston attorney, has been handling death row cases since the 1980s. He also practices civil rights law and has represented several clients on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union.

  Featured Interview: CRYSTAL HALPRIN, an Austin business owner and wife of death row inmate Randy Halprin, she has made her voice heard at legislative hearings on the Texas law of parties. Texas is one of five states that have laws of parties, which hold accomplices accountable for the actions of killers. Only Texas permits the death penalty for accomplices. (

  Reporter, Death House, Huntsville: GLORIA RUBAC, a leader of the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, which may be followed on Facebook.

   Reporter, Vigil, Houston: TBA.

  On June 2nd, one week from tomorrow, Texas plans to execute GEORGE JONES. If that 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

   ** Media welcome to observe the broadcast, 419 Lovett Blvd., Houston 77006. **


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Austin Chronicle Says "Let David Live": The execution of David Powell will not serve justice

Click here to send an email to Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg urging her to ask the judge to withdraw the June 15 execution date for David Powell.

From the Austin Chronicle:

Point Austin: Let David Live

The execution of David Powell will not serve justice

How much pain is enough to make up for irreparable harm? – David Powell
If all goes according to plan, David Lee Powell will be executed by the state of Texas, in our names, on June 15. That's the date set by state District Judge Mike Lynch at the request of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg.
This is an execution more than 32 years in the making, and the story exhibits the tortured legal history of many Texas capital cases. The 27-year-old Powell was first convicted of the May 18, 1978, murder of 26-year-old Austin Police Officer Ralph Ablanedo in September 1978. The first conviction was overturned for legal reasons that included prosecutorial misconduct; he was tried and convicted again in 1991, and retried for sentencing only in 1999. Only then was it revealed that Travis County prosecutors (among them then young Assistant D.A. Lehmberg) had concealed potentially exculpatory information from his defense, including their belief that a chief state witness, Powell's companion Sheila Meinert, had participated in Ablanedo's murder. Nevertheless, Powell was again sentenced to die and has since exhausted all of his appeals.
Unless Lehmberg should decide to withdraw the execution request or the Board of Pardons and Paroles recommends clemency to Gov. Rick Perry and he concurs – none of which is at all likely – Powell will be executed. Had he been sentenced to life imprisonment in 1978, Powell would have been eligible for parole in 20 years. After 32 years on death row, much of it in solitary confinement, Powell will have effectively endured – in our names – both a life and a death sentence. As Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer has opined, "Where a delay, measured in decades, reflects the State's own failure to comply with the Constitution's demands, the claim that time has rendered the execution inhuman is a particularly strong one."

A Changed Man

Powell's crime was locally sensational, an assault-rifle execution of a police officer during a seemingly routine traffic stop, followed by a brief chase and another shoot-out with Austin Police. Ablanedo left a wife and two children, and the prosecutor's closing argument was attended by dozens of uniformed police officers wearing mourning ribbons. Even in execution-shy Travis Coun­ty, Powell's sentence was virtually inevitable.
Although there was little doubt of Powell's guilt, there should have been considerable uncertainty about the degree of his culpability. There was the clouded issue of "deliberateness" or premeditation; expert testimony that at the time of the crime he was deeply addicted to methamphetamine and likely suffering from amphetamine psychosis – the chemical equivalent of insanity – was ignored, as was the fact that he had never previously committed violence. The Texas death penalty requires a jury's conviction of "future dangerousness" – prosecutors summoned psychiatrists nominally to determine Powell's sanity for trial, then used their testimony to assert Powell's propensity for violence.
Yet Powell had never been violent before the Ablanedo murder, and by the time of his final sentencing, in 1999, he had spent nearly a dozen years in prison without ever engaging in violence. Testimony in his defense included not only former gubernatorial candidate Sissy Farenthold and attorney general candidate David Van Os (who knew Powell as a young man) but also several prison guards who testified that he was not violent and presented no future threat. We now have 32 years of evidence that, despite that sentence, and now a dozen years of solitary confinement due to prison policy changes, Powell has presented no threat to anyone at all and has served his time as a model prisoner.
Once, there might have been doubt concerning Powell's "future dangerousness" – now there is none. When we execute Powell next month, we will be executing a different person than the one who, in an irretrievable moment of mad frenzy, committed his terrible crime. If nothing else, Powell's execution will confirm that the Texas death penalty is not about justice but revenge.

Who We're Killing

Fair-minded people can certainly hold differing beliefs about the death penalty, though in my experience the more people learn about its actual practice, the less likely they are to believe that it serves justice, certainly in any equitable way. The political stakes (especially in a sensational case like Powell's) are inevitably so high that prosecutors persistently bend the rules to get convictions. The consequent appeals strain and distort the justice system and, more cruelly, the innocent family members on all sides. Restorative justice is essentially impossible, since to avoid a death sentence the accused must not acknowledge guilt or remorse of any kind. Only when his appeals were completely exhausted was Powell able to write an eloquent letter of apology to the Ablanedo family.
"I am infinitely sorry that I killed Ralph Ablanedo," Powell wrote. "I stole from you and the world the precious and irreplaceable life of a good man."
Beyond this, Powell has been an exemplary prisoner for 32 years, teaching other inmates, consulting with experts on the Texas criminal justice system, testifying on the rights of prisoners with mental disabilities, and more. He has managed to make something useful and important of his life even in the extreme confinement of death row and the Texas prison system; to kill him now is to surrender to the nihilistic belief that there is no such thing as redemption.
But whether or not you believe that we should execute Powell, you should spend some time reviewing the background and history of his case, available at the website, including an extended video interview with Powell on death row, members of his family, and people who have known him well. The history of the Texas death penalty is a lengthy one of obscure names and dates; it's a little less abstract when you get to know the person you're going to kill. It's undeniable that Powell took a life – "I'm so so sorry for having killed Ralph Ablanedo and stolen from him everything that he might have become," he says in the interview, "and stolen everything that he was from the people that loved him." What possible good can come from adding another name, and the inevitably reverberating sorrow, to the long list of the dead?
In December of 2009, David Powell wrote the following letter to the family of Ralph Ablanedo; Ablanedo’s wife, Judy, later married Austin Police Officer Bruce Mills, who also adopted their two children .Powell's letter to the family of Ralph Abla nedo is posted with this story here.
More information about David Powell's case and suggestions for potential public action are available at

Thursday, May 20, 2010

New Website for Texas Forensic Science Commission, but still no progress on Todd Willingham Investigation

The Texas Forensic Science Commission has redesigned its website. It is still not very modern looking, so its hard to tell why they bothered. Maybe it is because they are just trying to stall the investigation into the case of Todd Willingham. Remaking their website gave them something to do for awhile besides doing the work they are supposed to be doing - investigating the faulty forensic science used to convict Willingham.

The new website says all the terms of the Commission members are set to expire on Sept 1, 2011. However, the bill (HB 1068 in 2005) that created the Commission set the terms for the two members appointed by the Attorney General to expire in even-numbered years. Those members are probably Sarah Kerrigan and Arthur Jay Eisenberg. The TFSC website says their terms expire on Sept 1, 2011, but according to HB 1068 they would seem to expire on Sept 1, 2010. The information could be a just an error, but it could be that the TFSC doesn't really know when the terms expire. 

Also, we know that Rick Perry replaced some of his appointees last year two days before the commission was set to talk about the Beyler report, but does anyone know when the Lt Governor notified his appointees (Jean Hampton, Stanley Hamilton and Garry Adams) that they were being reappointed? Their terms also supposedly expired on Sept 1, 2009. They have probably been officially reappointed, but were they reappointed before or after Rick Perry made his move to replace his own appointees? Did the Lt Governor let them stay on as holdover appointments without officially reappointing them, and then after the Perry hullabaloo in late Sept 2009, did the Lt Governor then decide to just reappoint his appointees? If so, it speaks to the political nature of Perry's decision.
(b) Each member of the commission serves a two-year term.
The term of the members appointed under Subsections (a)(1) and (2)
expires on September 1 of each odd-numbered year. The term of the
members appointed under Subsection (a)(3) expires on September 1 of
each even-numbered year.

The Commission has still not changed its policy on holding secret meetings that are closed to the public and members of the press.

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 meetings 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.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Film Screening: Saving David Powell

“How much pain is enough to make up for irreparable harm?  I don’t know if you can make up for that.”


“Saving David Powell” is a call to action to stop the execution of David pwell in real time.  He is scheduled to be executed by the State of Texas on June 15, 2010, and there is no legal recourse left to stop this from happening.  He has spent 32 hard years on America’s most brutal death row, and even after all this time, with no history of violence for decades, they still mean to take him out and kill him.  David’s case is not one of straight innocence, but it is clear that this man does not deserve to be executed.  If ever there was a case for clemency, this is it.
--Sally Norvell, Director

Presented by the Campaign to End the Death Penalty

Texas Set to Execute Rogelio Cannady Today; Call Governor Perry at 512 463 1782

Today, May 19, Texas is scheduled to execute Rogelio Cannady (TDCJ info). He has an 8th grade education. Cannady has been sending a friend entries on a diary that his friend has been posting online at Death Watch Journal.  The entry posted on May 13th and written by Cannady in his cell on May 2 reads:
May 2nd, 2010 | Sunday
I was just speaking to my neighbor who is scheduled for execution a week before I am.  He says that it is over for him and he was asking about my thoughts of the afterlife.  Honestly speaking I have my two feet firmly set in this life and am not ready to give up on myself yet.  I entertained his conversation though because eventually death is just as certain as taxes.
 So the Afterlife…  God.  Heaven?  Nirvana?  Home.  Who can be sure where we go?  We talked about near death experiences.  He told me of having been in an auto accident and that he was medically dead for 5 minutes.  He says that he felt safe where he was and did not want to come back but was forced to.  I don’t understand why he has an ugly feeling in the pit of his stomach if he experienced such a profound calmness that he was forced from.  I told him that.  He says that he has become attached to this world again.  Of this I can understand.  I came close to being executed before and I recall the acceptance that I felt which gave me great relief in the face of death.  It was more than religion.  It was God’s will itself holding me steady.  I did not make it to the afterlife, obviously, and am really happy about that.  I can tell you about a man I met a month after my arrival on death row.  I was let out into a large recreation area among other men however next to this large recreation area was a smaller cage.  In that smaller recreation area was a man who was scheduled to be executed that night.  I walked past and he called me so I stopped to speak with him.  I had not known that he was to be executed that night.  I recall the glossy look in his eyes as he spoke of his pending death.  I thought that he was deranged when he told me that for years he had wondered about the afterlife.  He said that on this night he would finally find out.  His curiosity got a grip of me and he knew because he looked at me and said that if I wanted to know, at 6:00Pm when his execution was taking place for me to turn off my radio and to look around me for a sign.  He said if there was any way that he could communicate with me, he would.  That night I sat and concentrated on everything around me.  Nothing happened.  No screeching or sounds of chains.  No cup tipping over or the toilet flushing on it’s own.  Nothing.
If he is executed, Cannady will be the 457th person executed in Texas since 1982 and the 218th person since Rick Perry became governor. He will be the 10th person executed in Texas in 2010. 

Use the Governor's email form to contact Perry to express your opposition to this execution. Or call Perry and leave a voice mail at 512 463 1782. If you live in Texas, call your state legislators and let them know that you support a moratorium on executions. Find out who your legislators are here

Rogelio Cannady was serving a pair of life prison sentences for killing teenage sweethearts in the Rio Grande Valley when the fatal beating of his cellmate put him on death row.
Cannady, 37, was set to die Wednesday evening in Huntsville for the slaying nearly 17 years ago. He was the first inmate condemned under a state law that allowed prosecutors to seek the death penalty for inmates accused of murder. Cannady says his confession to the initial slayings had been coerced, and that the wrongful conviction led him to death row.
"I should never have been in prison to begin with," the soft-spoken Cannady said in an interview with The Associated Press.
On Monday the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal filed in February. His lawyers have another pending in the federal courts.
Cannady was condemned for the Oct. 10, 1993, killing of Leovigildo Bonal, 55, with whom he shared a cell at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice McConnell Unit in Beeville.
Records show Cannady punched Bonal, beat him with a padlock and kicked him repeatedly until he fell unconscious.
Cannady insists the older inmate — also convicted of murder — made sexual advances toward him and that the beating was in self-defense.
"I think anybody would have done the same thing, fight to protect themselves," he told The Associated Press recently from death row.
Corrections officers found Bonal on the floor of the blood-covered cell, and he died two days later.
Cannady was charged with capital murder under a 1993 law intended to ease prison violence.
He had arrived in prison about 2 1/2 years earlier, serving two life sentences, after pleading guilty to the 1990 murders of two runaways from a youth home.
Ricardo Garcia, 16, of Freer, and 13-year-old Ana Robles of Brownsville, were found dead in an irrigation canal near La Feria, about 30 miles northwest of Brownsville. Cannady was among four teenagers convicted in the slayings that left Garcia stabbed 13 times and Robles raped and strangled.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Execution Watch: Rogelio Cannady

By Elizabeth Stein
Producer, Execution Watch

On Wednesday, Texas plans to execute Rogelio Cannady, the first person prosecuted under a 1993 Texas law permitting a charge of capital murder against a prisoner who kills someone while serving 99 years or life. Execution Watch will broadcast details and cover the issues. Pass the word.


May 19, 2010, Wed., 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.”

  ROGELIO CANNADY was in prison on a life sentence in 1993 at the McConnell Unit in Beeville when he was charged with killing his cellmate, who was serving 15 years for murder. Cannady was the first Texas prisoner prosecuted under a 1993 statute permitting a capital murder charge against an offender serving 99 years or life on a previous murder conviction. Cannady said he killed his cellmate in self-defense and  the conviction that put him in prison was based on a coerced confession. (More at www.executionwatch. org > Backpage on Rogelio Cannady.)

  Host: RAY HILL, an ex-convict who has lost many friends to the death chamber. His civil rights activism has included shepherding several cases to the U.S. Supreme Court. Ray hosts the Prison Show, now in its 31st year, Friday nights on KPFT, www.theprisonshow. org .

  Legal Analyst: JIM SKELTON, a retired attorney, Jim continues to contribute to the profession by teaching continuing education classes in appellate law. He has worked as a prosecutor and as a defense attorney in capital cases.

  Featured Interview: CHRIS CASTILLO was recently appointed National/Texas outreach coordinator for Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation. He started his career as a reporter for a Texas newspaper and was covering the court beat when he learned his mother, Pilar Castillo, had been murdered in her Houston home. Soon afterward, Chris began working with crime victims, joining a group that takes them into prison to help inmates see the impact of their crimes. (

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

   Reporter, Vigil, Houston: TBA.

  On Tuesday, Texas plans to execute JOHN ALBA. If that 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

   ** Media welcome to observe the broadcast, 419 Lovett Blvd., Houston 77006. **


Drug shortage may imperil executions in Arizona

"Drug shortage may imperil executions in Arizona," is the title of Michael Kiefer's article for The Arizona Republic. Also read our previous blog post about our efforts to convince the Norwegian Oil Fund to divest from companies that produce the lethal drugs used in executions. Later, Norway's leading television station, NRK, picked up the issue and ran it as the lead story on the evening news.
A worldwide shortage of a drug used in lethal-injection procedures could jeopardize future executions in Arizona. The shortage became evident last week during a federal court hearing in Ohio. There, an Arizona-based federal public defender told the court that Ohio had admitted it did not have enough of the drug, thiopental sodium, to carry out an execution later that week.
According to court transcripts, attorney Dale Baich asked if the state would call off the execution if it did not find an ample supply. By the end of the day, the state had found an alternative source for the drug, and the execution was carried out as planned on Thursday. Baich declined comment. 

Texas Ahead of U.S. Supreme Court on Issue of Life Without Parole for Juvenile Offenders

The U.S. Supreme Court banned life without parole for juvenile offenders convicted of non homicide crimes today in a 5-4 vote. This is one criminal justice issue where Texas is ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court, because Texas has banned life without parole for juveniles even in cases in which a juvenile is convicted of a capital crime. Last session, the Texas Legislature passed and Governor Perry signed SB 839 authored by Senator Juan Hinojosa (photo) that banned juvenile offenders convicted of capital crimes from being sentenced to Life Without Parole, instead making them eligible for parole after 40 years.

More than 2,000 juveniles are serving life without parole for killing someone across the country. Those sentences are not affected by today's U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Here is what The Texas Observer reported about why Senator Hinojosa filed his bill last session: 
One of the Legislature’s leading voices on criminal justice issues has decided that teenage killers too young to face execution should also be exempt from being sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“To me it’s a matter of fairness and consistency,” said state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen. “If the U.S. Supreme Court said to Texas and all the other states, ‘You cannot give these juvenile offenders the death penalty’ [which the Supreme Court did in 2005], then I believe the state of Texas should not be sending them to prison for life without parole.”

Hinojosa, a long-serving lawmaker who sits on the Senate Criminal Justice Committee (and led the House Corrections Committee during his final years as an eight-term state representative), plans to introduce legislation this session that would cap sentences for youthful offenders convicted of capital murder at life in prison, with the possibility of parole after 40 years behind bars.

Such a sentence would be in line with non–capital punishment death sentences handed down before the 2005 Legislature’s enactment of the life-without-parole law. Hinojosa says he decided to push for the new legislation after reading a recent article in the Observer examining the effects of the law (“The Life Penalty,” Nov. 28, 2008).

That law draws no distinction between offenders who commit capital murder before turning 18 and those who kill as adults.

“I think, for someone so young, there is a chance to rehabilitate their lives,” Hinojosa said.

Four under-18 offenders are now serving life-without-parole sentences in Texas. All were sentenced before the 2007 Legislature required the state’s district courts to report demographic information on capital murder cases to the state Office of Court Administration.

Christian Ethics and Prisoners: "I was in prison and you visited me"

We ran across a couple of interesting articles about what Christian ethics teach about the importance of visiting people in prison. There are many people in prison who never receive visitors.

In the article, "Prisoners and Other Strangers", Jack Miles explains why Christian ethics demand we treat prisoners as we would the Lord in an excerpt from "Ethics of the Neighbor," a talk presented May 16 at The First Natalie Limonick Symposium on Jewish Civilization at UCLA's Center for Jewish Studies.
Prisoners have a special place in the Christian imagination. It matters that Jesus himself was a prisoner. To speak the language of American law enforcement, his death was a death in custody. His most influential followers, Peter and Paul, were also prisoners. They too died in custody. John the Baptist, who first acclaimed Jesus as Messiah, was beheaded in a Roman prison. Christianity is a religion founded by men in deep trouble with the law, men familiar with the inside of prisons, whose message was "the last shall be first, and the first last."

In religious ethics as formulated in our monotheistic traditions, what is owed to the neighbor is simultaneously owed to God himself. The Christian way of imagining this double duty exploits the fact that Christianity's God has appeared in human form. Thus, when doing good deeds for our fellow human beings, we as Christians seek to imagine that we are simultaneously doing them for Christ in person. Jesus taught his followers to imagine themselves hearing his voice saying, "I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you came to me," and finally: "I was in prison and you visited me" (Matthew 25:35-36).

Allow me, if I may, at this dark and shameful moment in our history, to linger over the last entry on that list: "I was in prison and you visited me." Jesus gives every item on his list twice-once in a positive formulation, for praise, and once in a negative formulation, for blame. Thus, "I was in prison and you did not visit me." Can you imagine what it is like to be in prison waiting for a visit that does not come? But let me ask an easier question: Do you know where the nearest jail is?
Read the entire article here.

We also found the site of a website of a husband and wife, Dale and Susan Recinella, who minister to people on death row and their families in Florida. Dale Recinella has also published an interesting book titled,  "The Biblical Truth About America's Death Penalty"

Statewide "Public Defender for Capital Cases" Office Could Grow Out of West Texas Office

Many people have long advocated for a statewide office in Texas to defend people accused of capital crimes. The Texas Democratic Party has endorsed such an office in its party platform (PDF) since 2004. Now, Texas may soon get a Public Defender for Capital Cases office that would handle cases from 240 of Texas' 254 counties. Last session, Texas saw the creation of a statewide Office of Capital Writs to handle death penalty appeals at the state level. The proposed Public Defender for Capital Cases office would handle capital cases at the trial level the counties participate in the office.

From the Lubbock Avalance-Journal:

A Lubbock-based capital defense office might soon need a name change.

County commissioners on Monday submitted an application for a $7.65 million grant from the Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense to greatly increase the scope of the West Texas Regional Public Defender for Capital Cases.
If approved, the office that has already saved member counties in West Texas an estimated $637,000 in its two-year existence would expand drastically and become responsible for indigent capital defense statewide.
"From a nationwide perspective, it really elevates Texas' standards to show Texas is willing to provide the best possible defense they can for individuals charged with capital murder and willing to take whatever steps that requires to make sure that happens," said David Slayton, director of court administration for Lubbock County.
Slayton said the expansion would be good for Lubbock County because, as host county, it would be spearheading the state's indigent capital defense initiative.
The grant for the Public Defender for Capital Cases would fund defense for 240 of Texas' 254 counties. That's every county with a population of less than 300,000.
The office would remain headquartered in Lubbock, but would have 10 satellite offices and include a chief public defender, assistant chief public defender, 29 attorneys, 16 investigators, 23 mitigation specialists and 18 legal secretaries.
"One of the benefits I see is we'll have some consistency from office to office around the state," said Chief Public Defender Jack Stoffregen.
Stoffregen would be responsible for increasing the staff from 15 to 90 people.
The West Texas Regional Public Defender for Capital Cases currently serves 71 counties in an 85-county region.
The current grant for the West Texas office runs through 2012 and would not be affected should the new grant gain approval, Slayton said.
Stoffregen said the office has been successful so far - both in defending clients and giving peace of mind to member counties who are buying what Stoffregen characterizes as an "insurance policy."
As someone involved in capital defense for years, Stoffregen said, he is proud of what the office has done.
"Something needed to be done in Texas and this is a huge step, in my opinion, in the right direction," Stoffregen said.
County officials expect to find out in June whether the grant was approved. If so, the expansion is scheduled to begin in October.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Call Texas Governor to Protest Two Executions in Texas This Week - Wednesday and Thursday

Texas is scheduled to execute two people this week. On Wednesday, May 12, Kevin Varga (left) is set to die (TDCJ info). He has a sixth grade education.

Thursday, May 13, Billy Galloway is set to receive a lethal injection (TDCJ info).  Galloway also only completed the sixth grade in school. 

If he is executed, Varga will be the 455th person executed in Texas since 1982 and the 216th person since Rick Perry became governor. Galloway will be the 456th since 1982 and the 217th under Perry.  They will be the 8th and 9th executions in Texas in 2010. 

Use the Governor's email form to contact Perry to express your opposition to this execution. Or call Perry and leave a voice mail at 512 463 1782. If you live in Texas, call your state legislators and let them know that you support a moratorium on executions. Find out who your legislators are here

Kevin Varga and Billy Galloway (left), who shared a prison cell in South Dakota, are set to be executed in Texas for the 1998 robbery-slaying of a man during a cross-country crime spree.
Varga was scheduled for execution Wednesday evening, while Galloway was set to die 24 hours later. Both were 41 years old. The back-to-back lethal injections would be the eighth and ninth this year in the nation's busiest capital punishment state.
Robin Norris, Varga's attorney, said Tuesday the seven-member Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles unanimously rejected his request that Varga's sentence be commuted to life. A companion request for a reprieve attracted only one vote, he said. No last-day appeals were planned.
Mick Mickelsen, Galloway's lawyer, said his legal efforts also were exhausted.
Varga and Galloway and two women — one of them only 17 at the time — left Sioux Falls, S.D., on Sept. 1, 1998. Evidence showed that over the following week, they robbed and fatally beat a man in Wichita, Kan., then robbed and killed David Logie, 37, an Army officer they met at a motel bar in Greenville, east of Dallas. Logie, from Fayetteville, N.C., was in Texas on business.
The four fled in Logie's car and were arrested days later in San Antonio. The two women were picked up at a Wal-Mart parking lot in the stolen car. The two men were at a strip club.
Their Kansas victim, David McCoy, 48, of Wichita, was found wrapped in sheets in Galloway's SUV abandoned a few blocks from the hotel where he'd been killed.
Varga and Galloway had been cellmates in prison in South Dakota.
Varga, a native of Kalamazoo, Mich., served about half of a 10-year term for grand theft then was paroled in May 1998. Galloway, originally from Onondaga, N.Y., was serving time for theft, parole violation and attempted robbery. He was paroled in June 1998, three months before the spree.
"I have no misconception or doubts about what my future holds," Galloway told The Associated Press.
"I'm gone."
Varga declined an interview request from The Associated Press.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Iran Executes Five Political Prisoners

AI Index: PRE 01/152/2010
11 May 2010


Amnesty International today condemned the executions in Iran of four Kurdish political activists and another Iranian man, all convicted of "moharebeh" (enmity against God)".
The four Kurds -- Farzad Kamangar, Ali Heydarian, Farhad Vakili, Shirin Alam-Holi - along with Mehdi Eslamian, were hanged on Sunday, 9 May at Evin prison in Tehran.
The five were accused of "enmity against God" for carrying out 'terrorist acts' and convicted of this vaguely worded charge which can carry the death penalty and is usually applied to those who take up arms against the state.
"We condemn these executions which were carried out without any prior warning. Despite the serious accusations against them, the five were denied fair trials. Three of the defendants were tortured and two forced to 'confess' under duress," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
"They were then executed in violation of Iranian law, which requires the authorities to notify prisoners' advance before carrying out executions."
Three of those executed - Farzad Kamangar, Ali Heydarian and Farhad Vakili - were sentenced to death for alleged membership and activities for the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) a Turkish armed opposition group that has been fighting the Turkish government.
Shirin Alam-Holi, the woman who was executed, was accused of belonging to another Kurdish group, the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (known by its Kurdish acronym PJAK), an Iranian armed group that is banned in Iran.
The fifth person executed, Mehdi Eslamian, was accused of providing financial assistance to his brother, who was executed in early 2009 for allegedly bombing a mosque in Shiraz in April 2008.
"These latest executions appear to be a blatant attempt to intimidate members of the Kurdish minority and other critics and opponents of the government in the run up to the first anniversary, on 12 June, of last year's disputed presidential election," said Malcolm Smart
Mehdi Eslamian is reported to have been tortured including by being flogged and beaten; he was denied medical attention for injuries sustained while in custody and forced to 'confess'.
Farzad Kamangar, a teacher, had been held for seven months prior to being allowed to meet with his family. According to a letter he wrote, circulated on the internet in April 2008, he was repeatedly tortured following his arrest in May 2006. He was whipped, held in a freezing cold room and guards played 'football' with his body, surrounding him and pummelling him as he was 'passed ' between guards.
In a letter from prison, Shirin Alam-Holi said she had had nightmares because of what her interrogators did to her.
She was repeatedly beaten, including on the soles of her feet, kicked in the stomach, causing internal bleeding, and when she went on hunger strike, force fed through nasal tubes which she ripped out in protest, damaging her nose. She said she had made a videotaped "confession" after she was hospitalised and given an injection.
Detainees are often held incommunicado for lengthy periods in detention centres outside the control of the judiciary, putting them at grave risk of torture and other ill-treatment.
Trials in Iran are frequently unfair, with detainees routinely denied access to a lawyer. Proceedings outside Tehran are often summary, lasting only a few minutes.
Iran has one of the highest rates of executions in the world. To date in 2010, Amnesty International has recorded over 80 executions.
"Amnesty International is calling on the Iranian authorities to halt all executions. In the meantime, there should be full transparency over the use of the death penalty in Iran, and - at the very least - the authorities should adhere to their own laws regarding the implementation of executions" said Malcolm Smart.
In resolution 2005/59, adopted on 20 April 2005, the UN Commission on Human Rights called upon states that still maintain the death penalty "to make available to the public information with regard to the imposition of the death penalty and to any scheduled execution".