Texas State Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr has filed legislation to abolish the death penalty in Texas. This is the first time a state senator has ever filed legislation to abolish the death penalty in Texas. It happened because organizations in Texas held the Statewide Texas Lobby Day to Abolish the Death Penalty on March 3 and death row survivors Ron Keine and Sabrina Butler from Witness to Innocence and Scott Cobb of Texas Moratorium Network met with Senator Lucio's general counsel and requested that the Senator file abolition legislation.
Here is a report from the Austin American-Statesman on our successful lobby day, which was widely covered in the media, including the Dallas Morning News, potentially reaching hundreds of thousands of people in Texas with our message.
Last summer, Senator Lucio attended the Democrats Against the Death Penalty caucus at the Texas Democratic Party state convention. The caucus has been held every year since 2004 when it was started by Scott Cobb. The caucus has proven to be an effective method for persuading Texas Democrats to make abolishing the death penalty a higher priority among both elected officials and ordinary people in the Texas Democratic Party.
In the coming weeks, we will be working with Senator Lucio's staff as well as staff of the House sponsor of the abolition bill, to prepare for committee hearings on the abolition bills. When a hearing is held in the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, it will be the first time ever for a hearing on abolishing the death penalty in Texas. It will be up to the chair of the committee to decide if a hearing is scheduled.
Here are links to the two pieces of legislation filed by Senator Lucio. One is a regular bill (SB 1661) and the other is a proposed constitutional amendment (SJR 54).
Thank you to all the groups and people from across Texas who participated in the lobby day, including Texas Moratorium Network, Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, Campaign to End the Death Penalty, Students Against the Death Penalty, and Witness to Innocence.
The highest criminal court in Texas has granted a rare hearing to review allegations of prosecutorial misconduct in the high-profile death row case of British national Linda Carty.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals' Wednesday decision is potentially a much-sought break for Carty, 56, who is facing the death penalty for a 2002 capital murder conviction. After new evidence is put before the trial court, it will decide if she will finally get an appeal.
Her three previous attempts at an appeal hearing were unsuccessful.
"My understanding is that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rarely grants a hearing in such matters," Carty's attorney, Michael Goldberg, told The Huffington Post by phone from Russia. “It’s tremendous. It’s unbelievable.”
Lynn Hardaway, a Harris County district attorney, agreed: "It does happen, but very infrequently."
Carty was convicted for the 2001 kidnapping and murder of her neighbor, Joana Rodriguez. Prosecutors claimed Carty was so desperate for a baby to save her common-law marriage that she schemed to steal Rodriguez's newborn son and pass him off as her own. Rodriguez was found dead a day after being abducted; the baby survived the ordeal unharmed.
Affidavits signed in 2014 by the state's star witness, Christopher Robinson, and a retired DEA agent who recruited Carty as an informant allege that Harris County Assistant District Attorney Connie Spence coached, coerced and otherwise threatened witnesses to seal a conviction, according to the Houston Chronicle. Robinson is among four co-defendants who testified against Carty; in doing so, he secured a life sentence without the death penalty.
Carty has maintained her innocence from the start, and her plea has attracted considerable attention from British media, celebrities and U.K.-based supporters. Carty, who was born in St. Kitts, then a British territory, emigrated to the United States and holds dual citizenship.
Assistant District Attorney Roe Wilson, who handles capital appeals for Harris County, previously told the Chronicle the state would launch an investigation if the court agreed Carty's case deserve a closer look.
Hardaway told HuffPost Wednesday the allegations of misconduct are "claims the office takes very seriously. We have been investigating and we will file a response."
She also noted that Carty's lawyers had requested the review hearing based additional counts as well -- including Carty's long-standing claim of innocence -- but the court rejected half of them.
Goldberg said his firm Baker Botts, which has fought pro bono for Carty for nearly ten years, is nonetheless pleased: "The entire Baker Botts team is so happy Linda is finally getting her first real, transparent hearing.”
A date for the hearing has not yet been set.
Once condemned to die for crimes they did not commit, two former death row inmates came to the Capitol on Tuesday to support a longshot bill that would shut down the nation’s busiest execution chamber.
Ron Keine, who spent almost two years on New Mexico’s death row before the real killer confessed in the mid-1970s, said he came to “the belly of the beast” to show Texas lawmakers that capital punishment is not universally loved.
Sabrina Butler, exonerated in the mid-1990s after almost three years on death row for the death of her 9-month-old son in Mississippi, said the stories of condemned but innocent men and women prove that the death-penalty system is too flawed to continue.
Ex-death row inmates push to end Texas executions photo
Sabrina Butler speaks at a Tuesday news conference with Ron Keine, right, in favor of a bill to abolish the death penalty in Texas.
“I do this because I don’t want anybody to be put in the same position I was in, to be put in a cell and told I was going to die,” she told a Capitol news conference. “I’m just here today to help.”
Keine and Butler lent their support to an uphill battle waged by Rep. Harold Dutton Jr., D-Houston, since 2003, when he filed the first of seven bills in consecutive legislative sessions to abolish the death penalty in Texas. None has made it out of committee, but Dutton said he refuses to give up.
“I think Texas ought not be in the death penalty business until we get the systems fixed … until we can guarantee that no one who is executed is innocent,” Dutton said. “We’ll keep pushing it. For some legislators, at least we’re causing them to think about it a little more than they have.”
Former death row inmates push to end executions, 03.03.15 gallery
Former death row inmates push to end executions, 03.03.15
Dutton’s House Bill 1032 would end capital punishment in Texas, converting current death sentences to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Keine and Butler also urged support for another Dutton proposal, House Bill 341, which would end capital punishment under the “law of parties,” which allows parties to a capital murder to be executed even if they did not personally commit the murder or murders.
Tuesday’s news conference also included Mark Clements, a Chicago man freed based on police misconduct after serving 28 years in prison, who spoke on behalf of Bastrop death row inmate Rodney Reed.
Reed, whose execution was halted last week by an appeals court, is innocent of the 1996 murder of Stacey Stites, Clements insisted. “Why am I in Texas? Texas is dirty. It enhances its laws to place people on death row,” he said.