Thursday, April 28, 2011

Abolitionist Tim O’Brien, Presente!

By Gloria Rubac

Timothy O’Brien, a father, husband, son, brother, and comrade / friend of  so many died at home Tuesday morning with his family present.  Tim was an activist, scholar, and fighter for all workers and oppressed.  As much as he loved his family and friends, he hated war, racism, exploitation and executions.

Tim had cancer, the same thing that killed his father exactly two years ago, in April of 2009.  It had spread–to his brain and more–and he lost this battle.

Tim realized that the end was nearing when doctors said there was no more treatments for him.  But he lived life to the fullest each and every day he had left, finishing his manuscript for a book on Lightning Hopkins, spending special time with Yuna and Kyong Mi, attending one last conference on sweatshops, going to Austin to hear some good music only a few weeks before his confinement to bed, and having friends over for a last visit.

The Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement is forever indebted to Tim for so much energy, for setting up this web page, and for energizing our movement.  Tim attended a demonstration for Todd Willingham last winter before the Court of Inquiry that Judge Charlie Baird held that proved Todd was an innocent man executed by Gov. Rick Perry.

He attended the January hearing that Judge Kevin Fine held where attorneys presented compelling evidence that the use of the death penalty in Texas is unconstitutional.

Tim organized a protest of former Harris County D.A. Carol Vance at a book reading–which caused Murder by the Book and Vance to cancel, rather than face the truth.  Then when Vance appeared at a book festival in the Heights, he was confronted!

Tim was a man with a PhD like no other!  He was at home in academia and as well as in Freedman’s Town.  He could carry on with professors as well as with poor people with no initials behind their names, like his mentor Lenwood Johnson, who, like Tim, was educated AND a friend to the oppressed.  Tim’s PhD in African American History was put to good use for the community, despite the efforts of those in the ivory towers at UH to stop Tim.

Tim won many battles, inspired many young activists, and left a legacy for us all:  Dare to struggle, Dare to Win!

Members of  the Free Radicals will welcome those attending Tim’s funeral with New Orleans jazz funeral music.  The funeral will be Friday morning, April 29, at 11 AM at St. James Methodist Church in Freedman’s Town, 1217 Wilson St., 77019.


Tim O'Brien died peacefully at home yesterday morning at 10:43 with his wife and mother with him. Tim was not only a father, husband, brother and son, he was a fierce activist for the oppressed and lover of justice. The funeral will be Friday morning at 11 AM at St. James Methodist Church in Freedman's Town, 1217 Wilson St., 77019. 

To send a card to Tim's wife, Kyong Mi and his daughter Yuna, the address is: 1303 Ruthven, Houston 77019.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Busted: Texas caught illegally dispensing lethal injection drugs under the name of a hospital that closed 30 years ago

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) has today been reported to the US Attorney General Eric Holder for illegally purchasing and dispensing lethal injection drugs under the name of a hospital that closed in 1983.

In a letter to Holder and to the Texas Department of Safety, lawyers for death row prisoner Cleve Foster describe how the state's prison agency has been purchasing controlled substances – including drugs used for lethal injections – under a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) registration certificate assigned to Huntsville Unit Hospital, which has not existed for 30 years. "[A]s a result, we believe that TDCJ is unlawfully in possession of and unlawfully dispensing controlled substances," the lawyers write.

Under US drug laws, DEA registration numbers must be renewed every three years. Yet Foster's legal team, Maurie Levin and Sandra Babcock, have discovered that the TDCJ “has failed to advise the DEA for the past twenty-eight years of the fact that the Huntsville Unit Hospital no longer exists," or to admit that what actually exists at that location is a prison unit with a warden "purchasing and dispensing controlled substances".

The lawyers further report that Texas’s drugs are not kept at a pharmacy or by a DEA-registered handler: "At no point is an appropriately licensed or authorized practitioner involved in the dispensing process, and at no point is a prescription written to transfer the controlled substances to a member of the execution team”.
Levin and Babcock have asked Attorney General Holder to direct the DEA to conduct a prompt and thorough investigation, noting "the potential for abuse is rampant." If violations are found, they request the immediate revocation of agency registration and seizure of the ill-obtained drugs. Any such action would disrupt Texas’s busy execution schedule; seven executions are slated for August, with Cleve Foster due to die on April 5.

Reprieve Director Clive Stafford Smith said: 
“Every day, the US capital punishment system looks more ridiculous. If the Texas Department of Criminal Justice can’t even manage to obey the law, why on earth should they be granted the extraordinary power to kill prisoners?”
For more information please contact Katherine O’Shea at Reprieve’s Press Office / 020 7427 1099 / 07931592674.
Notes for Editors:

Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 27 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.
Reprieve has represented, and continues to represent, a large number of prisoners who have been rendered and abused around the world, and is conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’
Reprieve is a charitable company limited by guarantee; Registered Charity No. 1114900 Registered Company No. 5777831 (England) Registered Office 2-6 Cannon Street London EC4M 6YH; Chair: Lord Ken Macdonald QC; Patrons: Alan Bennett, Julie Christie, Martha Lane Fox, Gordon Roddick, Jon Snow, Marina Warner, Vivienne Westwood


Forensic Science Commission Meeting April 14-15 in Austin to Adopt Todd Willingham Report

StopExecutions blog

The Texas Forensic Science Commission will meet, Thursday and Friday, April 14 and 15 in Austin. The last item on the agenda is to "Consider Willingham/Willis (#09-01) report draft and adopt final report". The hearing starts at 1 PM on Thursday and at 9:30 AM on Friday. It is likely that they will not get to the major discussion on the Willingham case until Friday, since it is last on the agenda.

There is a public comment period on the agenda for this meeting right before the discussion on the Todd Willingham report. 

The chair of the Commission, John Bradley, has lost support in the Texas Senate because of the way he has performed his duties as chair, so this will likely be his last meeting.

The hearing is in the Central Services Building, 1711 San Jacinto Boulevard Room 402 in Austin. 
Before his execution, Todd Willingham said, “Please don’t ever stop fighting to vindicate me.”

From the Austin American-Statesman:
During a two-day meeting to begin Thursday afternoon, the Texas Forensic Science Commission will discuss a draft report on the arson science used to convict and execute Cameron Todd Willingham for a 1991 fatal fire at his Corsicana home.
The report, compiled after input was sought from all nine commissioners, is at the end of the committee agenda, so the discussion might not begin until Friday.
The report’s scope will be limited while the commission awaits answers about whether it has jurisdiction under state law to investigate the Willingham case. The attorney general’s office has until July 30 to provide an answer on that.
The report is expected to focus on advances in arson investigation techniques while avoiding questions about whether Willingham’s investigators were negligent in basing their arson finding on fire conditions now known to be found in accidental and natural fires as well as intentionally set blazes.
Unless another meeting is scheduled before the legislative session ends May 30, this will be the last meeting led by Chairman John Bradley, who is also the Williamson County district attorney. Because Bradley’s nomination does not have enough support in the state Senate, his time on the commission will end when the session closes.
Forensic Science Commission Chair John Bradley

Jeanette Popp and Christopher Ochoa in Austin for Upcoming Discovery Network Program

Scott Cobb, Chris Ochoa and Jeanette Popp
in Austin on April 11, 2011
From TMN blog. 

Christopher Ochoa and Jeanette Popp were in Austin to film interviews for an August 2011 program on the Discovery Network about wrongful convictions. Also in town was John Pray of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, which led the effort to exonerate Chris Ochoa.

Chris is an innocent person who was wrongfully convicted of murdering Jeanette's daughter, Nancy DePriest, in Austin. He spent 12 years in prison before another person confessed to the crime. He and a co-defendant, Richard Danziger, received a settlement of about 14 million dollars from the City of Austin for misconduct by the Austin Police Department leading to their wrongful convictions.

Jeanette Popp signed and wrote a note inside the front cover of her book "Mortal Justice: A True Story of Murder and Vindication" to one of the members of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee (We only had one copy of the book with us.) The note urged State Rep. Stefani Carter to read the story of how two innocent people were wrongfully convicted of her daughter's murder and urged Rep Carter to vote HB 1641, the bill for a moratorium on executions. We will drop the book off to Rep Carter's office.

Mortal Justice: A True Story of Murder and Vindication was published March 1, 2009. Jeanette has worked long and hard for many years against the death penalty. She served several years as chairperson of Texas Moratorium Network. Her book tells the story of her daughter's murder, the wrongful conviction of two innocent men Chris Ochoa and Richard Danziger, their eventual exoneration, the subsequent conviction of the real killer, and Jeanette's long activism against the death penalty, including a jailhouse meeting with the real killer and her successful efforts to prevent him from being sentenced to death.

In her new book, Jeanette includes an account of a jailhouse meeting with the man who actually killed her daughter before his trial because she wanted to convince him to take a plea bargain and accept life in prison istead of going to trial and risking the death penalty. 

In the jailhouse meeting, she told him, "Mr Marino, you know I don't want you executed?"

"Ive heard that," he answered stoically.

"It's the truth. I don't want you to die."

He shook his head and told her, "Mrs Popp, I'd rather be executed than spend the rest of my life in prison."

Ms. Popp asked prosecutors not to seek the death penalty, because she says she did not want her daughter's memory stained with someone's blood. "I'm not a bleeding heart liberal," she says. "But I do have a heart."
Since the exoneration, she has been an outspoken opponent of the death penalty. That doesn't mean she wants Mr. Marino to ever walk free.

Innocence Commission Bill Set for Texas House of Representatives Vote on April 14

The Calendars Committee in the Texas House of Representatives has voted to send the bill to create an Innocence Commission to the floor of the Texas House for a vote on Thursday, April 14. It is HB 115 by Ruth McClendon and Pete Gallego. The vote in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on March 22 was 7 for, 1 against, and 1 absent. 

This was one of the issues we advocated for on the "Day of Innocence" and Statewide Lobby Day Against the Death Penalty on March 16.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Indian company halts U.S. sales of execution drug

An Indian company that supplied an anesthetic used to execute murderers on death row said on Thursday it has stopped selling the drug for use in capital punishment as it goes against the "ethos of Hinduism."

Reuters has more on this story.  

House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee Approves Innocence Commission Bill

The Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee has voted in favor of a bill to create an Innocence Commission. It is HB 115 by Ruth McClendon and Pete Gallego. The vote was 7 for, 1 against, and 1 absent. It now goes to the Calendars Committee, which will vote on whether it gets scheduled for a floor vote.

This was one of the issues we advocated for on the "Day of Innocence" and Statewide Lobby Day Against the Death Penalty on March 16.

HB 115


A failure occurs in the criminal justice system when a person convicted of a crime is determined through post-conviction DNA testing or the discovery of new evidence to have been innocent of the crime.  The number of exonerations in Texas has increased since a previous legislature enacted legislation authorizing a convicted person to request a motion for DNA testing in the person's case. Currently, the Texas criminal justice system does not have the institutional means to adequately evaluate wrongful convictions or the factors contributing to those convictions. Wrongful convictions have been attributed to false eyewitness identifications, unreliable or limited science, false confessions, forensic science misconduct, government misconduct, unreliable informants, and ineffective legal representation for defendants. A wrongful conviction can lead to the loss of an innocent person's family, employment, and parental rights and can also affect the families and friends of the innocent individual.

C.S.H.B. 115 creates the Texas Innocence Commission to thoroughly investigate all post-conviction exonerations to ascertain errors and defects in the criminal procedures used to prosecute the defendant's case at issue, identify errors and defects in the criminal justice process in Texas generally, develop solutions and methods to correct the identified errors and defects, and identify procedures and programs to prevent future wrongful convictions.  The establishment of this commission will cast light on the causes of wrongful convictions, promote the adoption of positive reforms to enhance the accuracy of criminal investigations, strengthen the reliability of criminal prosecutions, protect the innocent, and enhance public safety.

h/t Stop Executions blog

U.S. Supreme Court Issues Stay of Execution for Cleve Foster

The United States Supreme Court on Tuesday morning granted a temporary stay of execution to Cleve Foster, a former Army recruiter convicted of killing a woman he met in a Fort Worth bar who was scheduled to be executed Tuesday evening in Texas. It is the second time he has been spared hours before his appointed death by the Supreme Court.
The reprieve, in place while the court examines the case of Mr. Foster, 47, is based on whether he received adequate counsel during the course of the case, as well as questions related to his guilt, said Maurie Levin, one of Mr. Foster’s lawyers.
Ms. Levin has also challenged the execution of Mr. Foster based on one of the drugs that is to be used to kill him.
“I’m thrilled that the Supreme Court stayed Mr. Foster’s execution, and we hope they will be looking at the issues raised, including effective Habeus counsel and Mr. Foster’s claims of innocence,” Ms. Levin said. “I am also relieved that at least today that we will not be seeing an execution in the midst of the chaos surrounding questions about lethal injection.”
Mr. Foster, 47, a veteran of the Persian Gulf war of 1991, was convicted in 2004 of killing Nyanuer Pal, 28, a Sudanese immigrant who was known as Mary. Mr. Foster’s roommate, who was also convicted in the murder, died in prison last year

Tonight at 7 PM at UT'Austin: Anthony Graves and Lawrence Foster to Speak on CEDP Panel Discussion

Lethal Injustice: Standing against the death penalty and harsh punishment.

Featuring Anthony Graves, who was wrongfully imprisoned for 18 years on Texas death row before he was freed just last year. Lawrence Foster, grandfather of Kenneth Foster who spent 11 years on death row before his sentence was commuted in 2007 by Governor Perry. Laura Brady, abolitionist and activist with the Campaign to END the Death Penalty. 

Come hear their powerful stories about the criminal INjustice system. 

A speaking tour to look at what’s behind our massive prison build-up, why so many people of color are locked up and what we can do about it.

From death rows to super-maxes, over 2.3 million men and women sit behind bars today. "Lethal Injustice" speakers are organizing on the front-lines of the fight against criminal injustice, taking a stand against the racist, prison build-up and harsh sentencing.

This national speaking tour of the Campaign to END the Death Penalty will be featuring panelists including exonerated prisoners, family members, activists, lawyers and scholars.

This event is being held at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas in The University Teaching Center, room UTC1.102. A campus map to this building can be found here.

UTC is located at the corner of University Ave. and 21st Street.

A $5 suggested donation is encouraged, help keep events like this one happening in your area!

Event to begin promptly at 7pm, discussion will follow the speaker's presentations.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Execution Watch: April 5, 2011 Cleve "Sarge" Foster

Texas is gearing up for the execution Tuesday of U.S. Army veteran Cleve "Sarge" Foster, even as court challenges continue. Foster's lawyers are questioning the type of execution drug to be used, as well as the way the state acquires such drugs. Unless a stay is granted, Foster will be put to death April 5, just after 6 p.m. Central Daylight Time. Execution Watch will provide live converage and analysis. Details below. Spread the word.

KPFT FM 90.1, Houston, 6PM CT
"Providing the facts about the Texas death penalty"
Streaming live at  &    
Broadcasting during each execution:
April 5, 2011, Tues., 6-7 pm CT
Tune in on KPFT's 90.1 FM Houston, or
Listen online: Go to www.executionwatch. org at 6 p.m. CT, click on “Listen.”


  CLEVE “SARGE” FOSTER, 47, a former Army recruiter condemned in the 2002 slaying of a Sudanese woman in Fort Worth. Foster has maintained his innocence. Co-defendant Sheldon Ward, who claimed sole responsibility for the murder, cheated the executioner by dying of a brain tumor May 13, 2010, while on death row. Foster’s attempts to appeal his conviction reached as far as the U.S. Supreme Court. The Kentucky native's execution was still being challenged by his attorneys, who claim the state has made numerous errors in designating and acquiring execution drugs. More background is at  > Backpage on Cleve 'Sarge' Foster.


  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 founded, and hosted for 30 years, KPFT’s Prison Show,

  Legal Analyst: JIM SKELTON, a Texas native and attorney who has sat at the defense table or the prosecutor's table in various capital cases. Now retired from the courtroom, he is a popular legal educator in Houston.

  Featured Interview: SYLVIA GARZA, Ms. Garza heads the Rio Grande Valley chapter of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. She has led contingents from the Valley to Houston or Auston many times, to testify, lobby or protest against the Texas death penalty. Her son, Robert Garza, was condemned for taking part in a crime in which someone else committed a murder. No other state allows the death penalty for law-of-parties murder convictions. Foster's conviction was obtained under the Texas law of parties. Ms. Garza is one of several people featured in the documentary, DON'T KILL MY FATHER (2010), about the ordeals of families with loved ones on Texas death row. The film will screen April 8 at Rice Cinema, Houston, as part of the Prison Reform Film Festival. Details at > Film Festival.

  Reporter, Death House, Huntsville: GLORIA RUBAC, leader of the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement and long-time activist against the death penalty,

  Reporter, Vigil, Houston: DAVID ATWOOD, board member of Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. 

  On, May 3, Texas plans to execute TERRY KERR. If that happens, Execution Watch will broadcast. Details: 
PRODUCER: Elizabeth Ann Stein, eliza.tx.usa
TECHNICAL DIRECTOR: Otis Maclay, omaclay  
THEME SONG: “Death by Texas,” Victoria Panetti of SheMonster International