In Unprecedented Change, No Death Sentences in Texas in First Half of Year
Friday, June 26, 2015
Texas, the nation's top state for using the death penalty, has not added a
single person to its death row so far this year, which is unprecedented.
Prior to 2015, the longest span Texas had gone was only three months,
according to Kathryn Kase, executive director of the Texas Defender Service,
a nonprofit organization of death penalty attorneys.
"This is the longest we've gone in a calendar year in Texas without a new
death sentence," Kase told the Texas Tribune.
Last year, Texas added only 10 prisoners to death row, quite a drop from
2000 when 40 were sentenced to execution.
The adoption of a law in 2005 that gave state prosecutors the option of
pursuing life-without-parole sentences in capital murder cases has clearly
had an effect. Since then, the size of Texas' death row has been shrinking.
It currently stands at 260 individuals, down from 460 in 1999. The death row
population is now dwarfed by the number of people serving a
life-without-parole sentence in the state: 745.
So far this year, Texas courts have had three cases that had the potential
to hand down a death penalty sentence, according to Kase, but all of them
resulted in life-without-parole decisions.
Back to Square 1
Many of us in Houston have seen the news of Alfred Dewayne Brown. He was recently released from death row after having his conviction overturned. There was significant alibi evidence withheld by the authorities in prosecuting him and he has consistently maintained his innocence.
Even after his release Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson, Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland and Joe Grimaldi of the Houston Police Officers Union still maintain that they have the correct suspect in the murder of Officer Charles Clark and yet at the same time maintain that the evidence is not sufficient to obtain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt. They fear that if her were retried, he would be acquitted. If they think that Mr. Brown is responsible, then they should try him. If they believe that the evidence is not sufficient then they should keep their mouths shut, apologize to Mr. Brown for hiding evidence and reinvestigate the case. If the evidence is not sufficient to prove his guilt, then Mr. Brown remains innocent. Their continuing to stand at the microphone and write checks that they can’t cash, means that they need to be disillusioned substantially.
The way our criminal law system works is that upon arrest and being charged with a crime, the defendant begins at the starting point that is the presumption of innocence. They remain innocent through the length of the case until there is a conviction entered into their criminal record. This means that they are legally guilty (though maybe not scientifically or factually guilty). However then the conviction is reversed (on whatever grounds) the defendant then reverts back to the original presumption of innocence that they started from before the case began. Everyone starts off with this presumption of innocence and it is not the job or the defense team to prove innocence. The prosecution must prove guilt. Our system is not setup in a manner where one has to prove themselves innocent and most rational people would not want to live in a society that does have this system. There is no verdict in our system that established innocence because we start the case off from that point to prove guilt.
Mr. Brown now that his conviction has been discarded, returns to the same presumption of innocence that everyone else has.
This reminded me of horrid episode back in 2011 when Anthony Graves was similarly released from prison and applied for compensation from the state comptroller. While I think he would have been better off suing the state on more than a dozen human rights violations (including attempted murder and torture), Mr. Graves instead chose to submit an application for compensation under the pittance of statutes that the Texas Legislature has enacted. Comptroller Susan McCombs refused to process his application because in the order releasing him and overturning his conviction the word “innocence” was not present. She failed to realize that it was never Mr. Graves responsibility to prove his innocence and in the absence of a conviction, Mr. Graves always had his innocence. Again, in the absence of the conviction the defendant still retains the human right of innocence until proven guilty.
I imagine that Mr. Brown will also have a similar struggle with the state to receive compensation (of which I would recommend a civil suit for greater damages).
We will be living in a very sad state when we have to prove our own innocence.