• Exonerees leading the annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty

Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr

Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr

Senator Eddie Lucio has filed legislation to abolish the death penalty. This is the first time a senator has ever filed legislation to completely abolish the death penalty in Texas. On the recent Statewide Texas Lobby Day to Abolish the Death Penalty on March 3, death row exonerees Ron Keine and Sabrina Butler from Witness to Innocence and Scott Cobb of Texas Moratorium Network met with his aide and spoke to him about filing an abolition bill. Thank you to all the groups and people from across Texas who organized and participated in the lobby day, including Texas Moratorium Network, Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, Campaign to End the Death Penalty and Students Against the Death Penalty.

(There was an abolition bill filed in the Texas Senate in 1969, but it would not have completely abolished the death penalty.)

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 our lobby day, including Texas Moratorium NetworkTexas Death Penalty Abolition MovementCampaign to End the Death PenaltyStudents Against the Death Penalty, and Witness to Innocence.

Thank you also to State Rep. Harold Dutton, who sponsored the Day of Innocence and who has filed an abolition bill in the Texas House of Representatives every session since 2003.

SJR 54
84R61 MEW-D

By: Lucio S.J.R. No. 54

A JOINT RESOLUTION
proposing a constitutional amendment abolishing the death penalty.
BE IT RESOLVED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS:
SECTION 1. Article I, Texas Constitution, is amended by
adding Section 13a to read as follows:
Sec. 13a. A penalty of death shall not be imposed against
any person.
SECTION 2. Section 4(b), Article V, Texas Constitution, is
amended to read as follows:
(b) For the purpose of hearing cases, the Court of Criminal
Appeals may sit in panels of three Judges, the designation thereof
to be under rules established by the court. In a panel of three
Judges, two Judges shall constitute a quorum and the concurrence of
two Judges shall be necessary for a decision. The Presiding Judge,
under rules established by the court, shall convene the court en
banc for the transaction of all other business and may convene the
court en banc for the purpose of hearing cases. The court must sit
en banc during proceedings involving capital cases [punishment] and
other cases as required by law. When convened en banc, five Judges
shall constitute a quorum and the concurrence of five Judges shall
be necessary for a decision. The Court of Criminal Appeals may
appoint Commissioners in aid of the Court of Criminal Appeals as
provided by law.
SECTION 3. Section 5(b), Article V, Texas Constitution, is
amended to read as follows:
(b) [The appeal of all cases in which the death penalty has
been assessed shall be to the Court of Criminal Appeals.] The
appeal of all [other] criminal cases shall be to the Courts of
Appeal as prescribed by law. In addition, the Court of Criminal
Appeals may, on its own motion, review a decision of a Court of
Appeals in a criminal case as provided by law. Discretionary review
by the Court of Criminal Appeals is not a matter of right, but of
sound judicial discretion.
SECTION 4. This proposed constitutional amendment shall be
submitted to the voters at an election to be held November 3, 2015.
The ballot shall be printed to provide for voting for or against the
proposition: “The constitutional amendment abolishing the death
penalty.”

SB 1661

Exonerees Ron Keine, Sabrina Butler and Mark Clements.

Exonerees Ron Keine, Sabrina Butler and Mark Clements.

duttonRep. Harold Dutton of Houston today filed HB 1032, a bill to abolish the death penalty in Texas.

Rep Dutton first filed a bill to abolish the death penalty in 2003, which was the first abolition bill filed in the Texas Legislature in a long time up to that year. When no one else was willing to file a bill to abolish the death penalty, Rep Dutton stepped up in 2003 and filed an abolition bill. Everyone opposed to the death penalty should thank Rep Dutton for his leading role in the effort in the Texas Legislature to end the death penalty.

It was an exciting day back in 2003 when Dutton’s abolition bill was heard in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. That was the first time an abolition bill was heard in a Texas legislative Committee in the modern era, and maybe ever.

Rep Harold Dutton is pictured speaking at a Day of Innocence rally to Repeal the Death Penalty.

Below Rep Dutton speaks at the 2011 Day of Innocence. Behind him are six death row exonerees who spent years on death row for crimes they did not commit.


 

 

Scheduled Executions in Texas

Texas has passed 500 executions in the modern era since the 1976 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the death penalty was constitutional. Texas conducted its first execution after the ruling in 1982.

To express your opposition to any execution, you can contact the Governor’s office at 512 463 2000. If you call after business hours, you can leave a voice mail message. During business hours, someone should answer the phone.

Richard Vasquez’s January 15, 2015 date was STAYED on Jan 5 and reset for April 23.

519) Arnold Prieto, January 21, 2015   (First Execution Under Gov. Abbott)

520) Garcia White, January 28 ,2015

521) Robert Ladd, January 29, 2015

522) Donald Newbury, February 4, 2015

523) Lester Bower, Jr, February 10, 2015

524) Rodney Reed, March 5, 2015

525) Manuel Vasquez, March 11, 2015

526) Randall Mays, March 18, 2015

527) Kent Sprouse, April 9, 2015

528) Manuel Garza, April 15, 2015

529) Richard Vasquez, April 23, 2015

530) Robert Pruett, April 28, 2015

531) Charles Derrick, May 12, 2015

Scott Panetti is a severely mentally ill man who has suffered from schizophrenia for more than 30 years. He is scheduled for execution in Texas just weeks from today, on December 3rd. This is the enduring image of Mr. Panetti is from his capital trial, at which he was permitted to represent himself despite his obvious mental illness: dressed in cowboy costume with a purple bandana and attempting to call over 200 witnesses to the stand, including the Pope, Jesus Christ and JFK. Mr. Panetti’s mental illness is extreme by any standard; the infographic below shows his history, which includes over a dozen hospitalizations for mental illness which predate the offense for which he was convicted and sentenced to death. Today, Mr. Panetti’s attorneys filed a clemency petition with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Rick Perry asking them to commute Mr. Panetti’s sentence to life in prison. Dozens of mental health organizations and experts, former prosecutors, evangelicals, the American Bar Association, and others are also expressing support for clemency in the case. (More here.) Additionally, Mr. Panetti’s sister launched a Change.org petition for people to join the call for justice in her brother’s case. Background on the case, including a video, can be found at http://texasdefender.org/scott-panetti/. 2a64902203c12cf3d8937bcc3b4fded425c20e85_original

This video was taken Nov 2, 2013 at the 14th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty. Where will you be on Saturday October 25, 2014? Why not come to Houston that day for the 15th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty. That’s right. Texans opposed to the death penalty, and our friends from around the U.S. and from other countries are converging on Houston this year. M.E.C.A., 1900 Kane in Houston’s 6th Ward is the location.Here are exonerated death row survivors Ron Keine, Shujaa Graham and Albert Burell of Witness to Innocence, at the 14th annual march in 2013. Don’t miss this year’s march in Houston for more great speakers!

Texas executed 16 people in 2013, one more person than in 2012. 69 percent of the people Texas executed in 2013 were people of color, eight African-Americans and three Hispanics. There were five white people executed by Texas in 2013.

Two people were executed from Dallas County, two from Harris County, two from Hidalgo County, two from Lubbock County, one from Leon County, one from Brazos County, one from Victoria County, one from McLennan County, one from Jefferson County, one from Cherokee County, one from Navarro County and one from Smith County.

Since December 7, 1982, the state of Texas has executed 508 people. There have been 269 executions in Texas since Rick Perry took office in December 2000.

The highest number of executions in one year in Texas was 40 in 2000.

So far, 9 people have been sentenced to death in 2013 in Texas. New death sentences have declined from their high in the late 90s. In 1999, there were 48 people sentenced to death.

88.8 percent of the nine new death sentences handed out in 2013 in Texas have been given to people of color. Of the nine people sentenced to death so far in Texas in 2013, seven are African-American, one is Hispanic and one white.

New death sentences came from Dallas County with three, Harris, Hays, Hunt, Jefferson, Brazoria, and McLennan Counties all had one new death sentence.

The number of new death sentences has declined over the last several years in large part because people who serve on juries are increasingly choosing life without parole as an alternative to the death penalty because members of juries have read about so many mistakes in the system when innocent people have been convicted only to be exonerated years later.

woodlandsThe Woodlands Compounding Pharmacy letter to TDCJ demanding Texas return execution drugs for a refund.

Woodlands Compounding Pharmacy Letter to TDCJ by Scott Cobb

Previously the AP reported that The Woodlands Compounding Pharmacy was where Texas bought its execution drugs.

The nation’s most active death-penalty state has turned to a compounding pharmacy to replace its expired execution drugs, according to documents released Wednesday, weeks after Texas prison officials declined to say how they obtained the drugs amid a nationwide shortage.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice, responding to a Freedom of Information request from The Associated Press, released documents showing the purchase of eight vials of the drug pentobarbital last month from a compounding pharmacy in suburban Houston. Such pharmacies custom-make drugs but aren’t subject to federal scrutiny.

Texas’ previous supply of the sedative expired last month, but prison officials wouldn’t say where they were getting their new supply. Several companies have been refusing to sell the drug for use in executions, leading to a shortage in death penalty states, though at least South Dakota and Georgia have also turned to compounding pharmacies.

Texas — which carries out far more executions than any other state — now has enough pentobarbital to carry out scheduled executions into next year, department spokesman Jason Clark said. Pentobarbital has been used as the lone drug in lethal executions in Texas for more than a year.

“The agency has purchased a new supply of the drug from a Texas pharmacy that has the ability to compound,” Clark said.

A message left by the AP for the pharmacy, The Woodlands Compounding Pharmacy, wasn’t returned Wednesday.

Texas’ purchase invoice shows that the warden from the Huntsville Unit, which houses the state’s death chamber, bought eight 2.5-gram vials of pentobarbital on Sept. 16. Five grams, or two vials, are used in each execution, with another 5 grams available should they be needed to complete the execution.

Clark said the agency also has purchased from the same pharmacy another eight vials that will expire April 1. The recently purchased supply will expire in March.

The disclosure came a day after a federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of three death-row inmates who are challenging the state’s use of the new drugs. Among the plaintiffs is death-row inmate Michael Yowell, who is scheduled for execution on Oct. 9 for killing his parents at their home in Lubbock.

The lawsuit, filed in Houston, contends that Texas’ use of untested drugs during an execution would violate the U.S. Constitution’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

“Use of compounded pentobarbital would constitute a significant change in the lethal injection protocol, a change that adds an unacceptable risk of pain, suffering and harm to the plaintiffs if and when they are executed,” the lawsuit says.

Clark said he had not seen the lawsuit and would not comment on it.

The lawsuit also alleged that prison officials have been trying to obtain execution drugs in the name of the “Huntsville Unit Hospital,” though a hospital at the prison hasn’t operated since 1983. Clark said the state corrections department had a current federal drug agency number registered to the Huntsville Unit.

Texas switched to a lethal, single dose of the sedative pentobarbital last year after one of the drugs used in its previous three-drug execution process became difficult to obtain. Legal challenges were filed to that revision but failed.

Other death-penalty states have encountered similar problems after some drug suppliers barred the drugs’ use for executions or have refused, under pressure from death-penalty opponents, to sell or manufacture drugs for use in executions.

South Dakota has carried out two executions using the sedative from a compounding pharmacy. Georgia has said it’s taking that route, but it’s difficult to tell exactly how many states have used or are planning to use compounding pharmacies for execution drugs because states frequently resist disclosing the source of the drugs.

Georgia’s first use of an execution drug obtained through a compounding pharmacy was put on hold in July after the condemned inmate challenged a new state law that bars the release of information about where Georgia obtains its execution drug.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers products from compounding pharmacy unapproved drugs and does not verify their safety or effectiveness. But such businesses came under intensified scrutiny after a deadly meningitis outbreak was linked to contaminated injections made by a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy.

The 14th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty is Saturday November 2, 2013 at 2 PM in Austin, Texas at the Capitol.

Meet at the Texas State Capitol Building on the South Side (11th and Congress). After a short pre-march speaker’s program, we will march through the streets of downtown Austin with a stop in front of the Texas Governor’s mansion and return to the Texas Capitol to hear more speakers against the death penalty.

Each autumn since 2000, people from all walks of life and all parts of Texas, the U.S. and other countries have taken a day out of their year and gathered in Austin to raise their voices together and loudly express their opposition to the death penalty.

The annual march is organized as a joint project by several Texas anti-death penalty organizations working together with leading national organizations: Texas Moratorium Network, the Austin chapter of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, Texas Students Against the Death Penalty, Texas Death Penalty Education and Resource Center, Kids Against the Death Penalty, and national organizations including Journey of Hope … from Violence to Healing, and Witness to Innocence.

TMN_2013POSTERMarchtoAbolishDeathPenalty

The American-Statesman had an article Sunday entitled “Texas prison suicide rate high among inmates in isolation“. Everyone on Texas death row is held in solitary confinement. The term for solitary confinement is “administrative segregation”.

Between 2007 and 2012, the 8,000 to 9,000 state prisoners housed in administrative segregation made up between 5 and 6 percent of the total prison system census. Yet in a given year, the analysis shows, their suicides have accounted for as high as 40 percent of the self-inflicted deaths. Some years, the rate of suicide among administrative segregation inmates is more than 10 times that of the general prison population.

The deaths also add to the debate over confining mentally ill inmates for long periods in relative isolation. About a quarter of Texas inmates held in administrative segregation have a diagnosis of mental illness or mental retardation.

Below are the names of the 12 people on Texas death row who have committed suicide in the modern era. This list does not include attempted suicides, which would of course be a much higher number. It also does not include cases of self-mutilation that may not have been classified as suicide attempts, such as the case of Andre Thomas, who in 2009 used his bare hands to pull his one remaining eye out and ate it.

Suicides on Texas Death Row

John Devries committed suicide on July 1, 1974 by hanging himself with bed sheets. In 1973, revision to the Texas Penal Code had once again allowed assessment of the death penalty after the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled it unconstitutional nationwide in 1972. Under the new statute, the first man (#507 John Devries) was placed on death row on February 15, 1974.

Kenneth Palafox, December 17, 1980

Stephen Mattox, June 26, 1983

Joseph Turner, July 5, 1986

James Gunter August 24, 1997

Deon Tumblin hanged himself in his cell on November 2, 2004.

Christopher Britton hanged himself in his death row cell on February 4, 2005.

Michael Johnson committed suicide by cutting his neck and arm on October 19, 2005, 15 hours before his scheduled execution. He wrote on the wall in blood “I didn’t do it”.

Jesus Flores bled to death after he cut his throat with a razor in his death row cell in Livington’s Polunksy Unit on January 29, 2008. He tried to scrawl a note with his blood on the cell wall. “It appeared he had tried to write something on the wall but it appeared largely illegible, said Michelle Lyons, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

William Robinson, 49, a psychologically troubled inmate, hanged himself with a bed sheet in his Jester 4 Unit cell on Feb 1, 2008.

Ronnie Neal, 39, committed suicide inside his death row cell at the Polunsky Unit by taking pills that he had saved up, June 12, 2010.

Selwyn Davis committed suicide on July 29, 2012. He apparently had accumulated a bunch of pills of some kind and then took them all at once. This was not his first suicide attempt on death row.