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.