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.
According to the court order postponing Reed’s execution for the 1996 murder of Stacey Stites, Reed’s new defense team has newly discovered evidence that supports his claims of innocence and there is new “scientific evidence” that establishes his “probable innocence.”
Reed, who was scheduled to be put to death March 5, has always maintained his innocence. Reed’s family, including his brother Roderick, has campaigned for the stay of execution, the inclusion of more DNA evidence and for Reed’s exoneration. Roderick said this ruling is a major turning point in the case.
“We’re happy about the stay, but we’re still fighting to free Rodney Reed,” he said. “The fight goes on, but the stay is wonderful, great news and is a step in the direction we’re trying to get.”
Prosecutors have said all along that Stites was killed around 3 a.m., April 23, 1996, and her body was found about 12 hours later. They say Reed abducted, raped and strangled her.
However, Reed’s defense attorney says their new evidence shows she was killed hours earlier, the night before. And he says the only person with her was her fiancé, Jimmy Fennell. The defense also says Stites and Reed had been in a relationship for a few months, and that is why his DNA was found.
“I would hope that the state would want to execute someone only after it was certain that that person was guilty,” said Andrew MacRae, Reed’s defense attorney. “What the state is trying to do here, in our view, is rush the execution date, before we can get to the evidence that establishes Mr. Reed’s innocence.”
In briefs filed by attorneys MacRae and Bryce Benjet, an attorney with The Innocence Project, the defense lists several flaws in the case against Reed and new pieces of evidence that could prove his innocence. In addition to the inaccurate chronology presented by the prosecution, the state did not test DNA on the murder weapon, a black belt, among other items found at the crime scene that could have proven Reed’s innocence, according to court briefings.
According to the defense’s briefs, the state’s key forensic witness has retracted his opinion offered at trial and now contradicts the state’s scientific proof that Reed raped Stites. Three forensic experts have also weighed in on the case and found the evidence does not prove Reed raped Stites, the briefs state.
Fennell is now in prison for a sexual assault he was convicted of as a Georgetown police officer in September 2008. At the time of Stites’ murder, Fennell was a Giddings police officer.
Stites’ cousin, Heather Stobbs, says while many of her family members believe Reed killed Stites, she’s convinced otherwise.
“With as many doubts about the case as I have, I don’t feel like I could live with not saying anything,” Stobbs said. She and many others who think Reed is innocent believe Fennell killed her. “There was always that doubt going around in the back of my mind…I surely hope I didn’t sacrifice my relationship with my aunt and my cousins and all that.”
An attorney who has represented Fennell says Reed made up the story of an affair after investigators found his DNA on Stites’ body.
Raif Badawi started a blog where readers could openly discuss religion, politics and other topics in Saudi Arabia. For this peaceful act, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes. On January 9, the first of these floggings was carried out.
Raif is at-risk of further floggings each week. His wife hasn't seen him and fears for his life. So do we at Amnesty.
Call the Saudi Arabian authorities and ask them to end Raif's floggings and release him immediately.
To reach a Saudi official:
Please call the Saudi embassy by calling (202) 342-3800. Press 2 for English, then 0 for the operator. If the operator is not available, you can also try 3 for Public Affairs. You might say something like this:
My name is [first name], and I am profoundly disturbed by the flogging of Raif Badawi. Flogging is a flagrant violation of the prohibition on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment in international law. I urge you to prevent any future flogging of Raif Badawi and to release him immediately and unconditionally.
Please use the form provided to let us know how the call went.
Please note: If you do not reach an operator upon the first time you call, please try again. The Saudi embassy is not used to receiving a large volume of phone calls, but trying again will often put you in touch. Thank you for your resilient efforts!
On Wenesday January 21st, 2015, we gathered in front of Saudi Arabia Consulate for freeing Raif Badawi condamned to 10 years in prison and beeing flogged 1000 times for writing a blog.
Pictures from MLK Day: we marched with BLAC MOM, End Mass Incarceration and TCADP.
URGENT ACTION FOR RAIF!
Amnesty has learned that Raif Badawi is to be flogged again this Friday.
Please help us generate another round of pressure on the Saudi Embassy in DC by doing these 3 things today and tomorrow:
1) Call the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington D.C. at (202) 342-3800. Press 2 for English, then 0 for the operator. (Or, if that doesn't work, press 3 for Public Affairs or 6 for the press office)
Sample call script:
Hi, my name is _____________, I'm calling from [City, State] about Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi. I ask that embassy officials act now to ensure that he is not publicly flogged again. Raif if a Prisoner of Conscience, and should be immediately and unconditionally released. I am also disturbed that the Saudi Authorities are using flogging as punishment, as it is a violation of international law.
2) Take and share the online petition at http://www.amnestyusa.org/stop_public_flogging_of_raif
3) Tweet @SaudiEmbassyUSA using the hashtags #FreeRaif #Istandwithraif and this URL http://www.amnestyusa.org/stop_public_flogging_of_raif
→ Please let us know if you make a call so that we can keep a tally.
Send us an e-mail at email@example.com
Click here for Amnesty's latest press release https://t.e2ma.net/click/pdo6h/d4sm2i/hzjfgc
Click here to see the last Urgent Action on Raif Badawi's case https://t.e2ma.net/click/pdo6h/d4sm2i/xrkfgc
Please note that Amnesty sections around the world are pressuring Saudi embassies in their countries as well. Together, we can use the power of collective action to free Raif to his wife and children in Canada.
Thank you for taking action with us!
Saudi Authorities Must Put an End to Horrific Public Flogging of Bloggeract.amnestyusa.orgOn January 9, Saudi Arabian authorities publicly flogged blogger Raif Badawi. They plan to subject him to 950 more lashes over the coming...
Leave Your Faith at the Door.
I once had a supervisor (who will remain nameless) where I interned at a faith and community service based organization that (will also remain nameless) during my senior year at University of St. Thomas whom I quoted a number of times stating that “One should never judge a faith by those whom claim to practice it”. It just works better to leave it as anonymous.
He (or maybe she) was entirely correct about his observation in that every faith has been misused to pursue other less virtuous agendas. One’s religious faith is not a bad or evil thing by itself and can be used for many admirable virtues including kindness, compassion, justice, mercy and forgiveness among others. It provides many the inspiration to live selflessly and serve a greater purpose. The problem is that when humans enter the picture that faith (along with guns or alcohol) is misused for other purposes. This generalization is not some random stereotype but applies to all faiths that are practiced by humans. My boss was correct not to distinguish any specific faith in his statement as all faiths through the course of human history have been misused to do ill will against humanity. Common examples include the classic Jihad (all of them), Christian crusades, Spanish Inquisition, Salem witch hunts, mass slaughter at the Aztec temples to the sun deity and thousands more.
I bring up humanity’s misuse of religion for the sake of understanding the problem of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi and his problems with the government of Saudi Arabia. The government maintains that as a result of his violations of Islamic Law, he is to suffer public flogging of 50 lashes every Friday during a term of 10 years of prison. This barbaric punishment sounds like something that the Roman Empire or Attila the Hun dreamed up but make no mistake as to the fact that this still happens today. I believe that the cause of these human rights and human decency violations are not a direct result of Islam or Islamic law but rather the governments misunderstanding and misuse (or abuse) of Islam or Islamic law. The reality is that Muslims are not evil people or at least no more than any other ethnicity but rather have subjugated to a government wanting for find justification for violence (much in the same as the Aztecs did when the thought it was productive to offer human sacrifices to spur desired weather for agriculture). All of us know that human misuse and abuse of various faiths is reminiscent of world history to such a degree that I do not have time to publish my own encyclopedia to the subject. That means that for a full indictment as to how humans misuse religion one may recourse to Wikipedia for more details.
You may accuse me of picking on Muslims for their reprisals against female drivers, females walking the streets alone or for their simple lack of respect for the most basic freedom of speech but this is not the case. Even my very own Catholic faith did this too. Many were tortured and executed during the Middle Ages, Renaissance, regime or the Tudor kings of England, and Spanish inquisition for daring to imagine challenge to authority. As a Roman Catholic I have a high regard for my faith and church and do believe that it has come a very long way from barbaric brutal history to the global institution that it is today. It has certainly become less violent but there remains significant progress ahead for equal human rights. Such things include the prohibition of female clergy (to preform sacraments), the acceptance of the LBGT population and better serve justice. As good as my faith is I also know that the worst two insults that I could ever do to it would be to use it as an excuse to justify violence or to force that faith belief upon someone else. Both of these things are a misuse of any religion because faith is a wholly exclusive concept to violence and faith is a human choice that one has the free will to make.
All of this is the reason that when our government in the United States was put together the very first amendment put together by James Madison was to prohibit Congress from establishing a national religion. Our founders wanted to avoid all of the mass slaughter in the name of faith that had happened through human history and thought that this was a substantial leap forward in doing so. It would be nice to see other nations renounce their theocratic delusions and to accept people of all ethnicities and faiths. There is no place for religion or faith of any kind in our government in the United States and thank the heavens for that. Oh, the many ways faith could be abused if it were in Congress….. just look at other theocratic societies to put the fear of God into you (poor choice of words - no pun intended).