Category Archives: Death Penalty News

Death Penalty Opponents host “Day of Innocence” at the Texas State Capitol featuring Death Row Exonerees

On Tuesday, March 3, a group of death row exonerees called on Texas lawmakers to abolish the death penalty. Witness to Innocence members Ron Keine and Sabrina Butler were joined by Texas State Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston), family members and friends of death row prisoners, and Mark Clements, board member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and one of Rodney Reed’s fiercest advocates.

The group lobbied Texas lawmakers to approve legislation that would abolish the death penalty and prohibit the “law of parties” from being used in capital cases. This controversial law, unique to Texas in its application, allows people convicted of aiding or abetting in a murder committed by another person to be sentenced to death.

Sabrina Butler is the first and only woman to be exonerated from death row. Convicted when she was just 17 years old, she served over six years in prison in Mississippi before being cleared of all wrong doing.

Reports Austin’s KVUE:

Despite being the only woman in the U.S. exonerated after being sentenced to death, Butler’s life will never be the same. She has trouble finding employment, because she must still admit her conviction on job applications.

“That’s the part that makes me feel still like I’m in prison, because this will affect my life, not only my life, my children’s life,” Butler said.

Ron Keine spent two years on death row in New Mexico before being exonerated after a police officer admitted that he had actually committed the murder. “[The cop] went to the nearest church and confessed,” Keine said. “That’s what got me out. It wasn’t any maneuvering by lawyers.”

Texas State Rep. Harold shakes hands with Mark Clements at a press conference to show his support for abolition of the death penalty in Texas. Mark Clements spent 28 years in prison serving a juvenile life without parole sentence before he was finally cleared as Sabrina Butler looks on. Scott Cobb of the Texas Moratorium Network is at the podium.  Photo by Ralph Barrera for the Austin American Statesman

Texas State Rep. Harold shakes hands with Mark Clements at a press conference to show his support for abolition of the death penalty in Texas. Sabrina Butler looks on. Scott Cobb of the Texas Moratorium Network is at the podium. Photo by Ralph Barrera for the Austin American Statesman.

Ron Keine, assistant director with Witness to Innocence, speaks in support of abolishing the death penalty at a press conference at the state Capitol on Tuesday, March 3, 2015. Photo by Ralph Barrera for the Austin American Statesman

Ron Keine, assistant director with Witness to Innocence, speaks in support of abolishing the death penalty at a press conference at the state Capitol on Tuesday, March 3, 2015. Photo by Ralph Barrera for the Austin American Statesman.

Rep. Harold Dutton told the Dallas Morning News, “I don’t want the state executing people in my name. You can go all the way through the system and be factually innocent and end up on death row, which is evidence by some of the people here. How many people has Texas executed who might have been innocent?” The Dallas Morning News, whose editorial position has been firmly anti-death penalty since 2007, created this revealing graphic  that, in their words, “gives a lot to chew on”. Texas has executed 521 men and women since capital punishment was reinstated in 1973.

People with the Witness to Innocence speak in support of abolishing the death penalty including Mark Clements, right, who spent 28 years in prison serving a juvenile life without parole sentence before he was finally cleared, and Sabrina Butler, the only woman  exonerated from death row, at left.  Photo by Ralph Barrera for the Austin American Statesman

Mark Clements speaks in support of abolishing the death penalty. At left is Sabrina Butler, the only woman exonerated from death row. Photo by Ralph Barrera for the Austin American Statesman.

The Austin American Statesman posted a  short video clip of Mark Clements, who was freed based on police misconduct after serving 28 years in prison. Mark attended the lobby day on behalf of Rodney Reed’s family. “Don’t reject these men and women [lobbying their representatives]. Give them their chance. Free Rodney Reed”. A photo gallery is available here.

At the day’s news conference, Terri Been tearfully pleaded for her brother, Jeff Wood, to be removed from death row. Wood was convicted under the state’s law of parties for a killing committed by his partner in a 1996 robbery in Kerrville. In 2008, Wood, who was found not mentally fit to stand trial, won a stay from a federal judge just hours before his scheduled execution. He remains on death row.

Rodney Reed’s supporters can email Rep. Dutton and thank him for his continued commitment to justice and ending the death penalty in Texas. Dutton has filed bills opposing the death penalty every legislative session since 2003. 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”

(Many thanks to the Texas Moratorium Network for their continued work around Lobby Day)

Organized by the Texas Moratorium Network, the "Day of Innocence" brought together exonerated death row prisoners, Rep. Harold Dutton, and friends and family members of men and women on Texas death row.

Organized by the Texas Moratorium Network, the “Day of Innocence” brought together exonerated death row prisoners, Rep. Harold Dutton, and friends and family members of men and women on Texas death row. Photo by Scott Cobb.

Mark Clements, Sabrina Butler, and Ron Keine stand in the House Chamber inside the Texas Capitol  Photo by Scott Cobb

Mark Clements, Sabrina Butler, and Ron Keine stand in the House Chamber inside the Texas Capitol.
Photo by Scott CobbSabrina Butler, who is the only woman to be exonerated from death row, holds a copy of her life story after she spoke along with people with the Witness to Innocence in support of abolishing the death penalty at a Capitol press conference Tuesday, March 3, 2015. Photo by Ralph Barrera for the Austin American Statesman Sabrina Butler holds a copy of her life story after she spoke along with people with the Witness to Innocence in support of abolishing the death penalty at a Capitol press conference Tuesday, March 3, 2015. Photo by Ralph Barrera for the Austin American Statesman.

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Gov. Abbott finally issues a statement about Rodney Reed

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has finally issued a statement about Rodney Reed. One day after Reed’s stay by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Abbott spoke to Austin’s FOX7:

“First, I think it’s important for us to have an effective death penalty in the state of Texas when needed to be certain that whenever it’s supplied the person did commit the crime. So I think this is a healthy process that the court announced what it did so we can put beyond the shadow of any doubt what-so-ever that he really is guilty of the crime for which he was convicted,” he said.

Fox also notes that  the office of new Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton says “they are reviewing the court’s ruling and did not immediately comment”

This blogger wouldn’t call anything about the Reed case a “healthy process”, but it’s notable that Abbott was finally forced to respond to the highest-profile capital punishment case of his new governorship. As Amnesty International says “Let’s keep the pressure up to ensure clemency!”

BREAKING NEWS: Rodney Reed granted a stay of execution by CCA

We have just learned that the execution of Rodney Reed has been stayed for now, by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA). The fight isn’t over until a new trial is granted, but this is great news!!

Says KVUE: “The ruling from the appeals court states Reed and his lawyers believe there is newly discovered evidence in Reed’s case that supports his claim that he is innocent.

The court placed a stay on Reed’s execution, scheduled for March 5, “pending further order of this Court.”

Reed’s lawyer, Bruce Benjet, released the following statement Monday:

We’re extremely relieved that the court has stayed Mr. Reed’s execution so there will be proper consideration of the powerful new evidence of his innocence. We are also optimistic that this will give us the opportunity to finally conduct DNA testing that could prove who actually committed the crime.”

You can read the full ruling from the CCA here.

Thanks to everyone who helped shine a light on this injustice. Public pressure and the work of Rodney’s attorneys is truly making a difference for Rodney and his family! 

Check back to this site for updates on this case and planned events as information comes in.

Amnesty International issues URGENT ACTION about Rodney Reed

Thanks to the efforts of the student chapter of Amnesty International at the University of Texas, Rodney Reed is the subject of an Amnesty International Urgent Action. We are thankful to Amnesty for recognizing the grave injustices in Rodney’s case and for sharing this information with its membership!

Their fact sheet is available as a pdf for easy sharing, and includes information for those who wish to write a clemency letter to Texas Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, asking them to stop Rodney’s execution. You can send an email asking for clemency through their website here. Thanks to Amnesty for helping us take Rodney’s case truly international!

amnesty-international-logo-1

Amnesty International is one of the world’s largest human rights organizations with offices in over 80 countries.

Breaking News: Forensic experts believe Stacey Stites died before midnight

Today, Rodney’s attorneys filed a motion to request a new trial based on the opinions of three forensic pathologists:

The filing comes on the heels of affidavits from forensic pathologists Dr. LeRoy Riddick (who has now written four opinions on Stites’s death since 2003), former Chief Medical Examiner of the City of New York Dr. Michael Baden, and Dr. Werner Spitz, whose textbook Medicolegal Investigation of Death is recognized as “the bible of forensic pathology.” All three conclude four inconsistencies [with the state’s version of events].

Attorneys also filed two affidavits that confirm that Rodney and Stacey were involved in a consensual relationship before she was murdered. Read the whole story at the Austin Chronicle 

 

Dean Smith: On the Passing of a Death Penalty Abolitionist

Dave Zirin, sports editor at The Nation, is a supporter of Rodney and has signed on to our clemency campaign. His newest piece, a memorial to Tar Heels basketball coach Dean Smith and his legacy as a death penalty abolitionist, is a reminder of the intersection between sports and social justice:

“Dean Smith was clear in his opposition to the death penalty. He knew death did not solve death and that the sentencing was racially biased. He knew that like a fixed game the results were unfair. Right now in North Carolina, we have had over seven individuals, mostly black, in recent years exonerated from death row declared wrongfully charged and convicted who would have been executed. This is more than any other state in the country. Based on this reality we can surmise that through the death penalty and the faults of racial and class bias we have probably killed innocent black and poor white persons in our state. We should have and still need to listen to Coach Smith’s vocal opposition and abandon the death penalty.”

RIP Coach Smith. We’ll keep fighting.

Micheal Jordan and Coach Dean Smith. Photo courtesy of StarNewsOnline

Micheal Jordan and Coach Dean Smith. Photo courtesy of StarNewsOnline

http://www.thenation.com/blog/197385/dean-smith-passing-death-penalty-abolitionist#

Don’t Let Texas Execute an(other) Innocent Man!

Greg Abbott has been governor of Texas for less than two weeks but he’s already overseen two executions. On Jan. 20, the day before Abbott was sworn in as the 48th governor of Texas, retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens acknowledged evidence that proved “beyond a shadow of doubt” that Texas executed an innocent man in 1989. Carlos de Luna was convicted of the murder of Wanda Lopez, a convenience store clerk, during a 1983 robbery in Corpus Christi. Stevens referred to a book The Wrong Carlos by Columbia Law School professor James Liebman, saying that it had sufficiently demonstrated that “there is a Texas case in which they executed the wrong defendant and the person they executed did not in fact commit the crime for which he was punished.”

Share this excellent summation of Rodney’s case published in The New Abolitionist, presented in the context of Texas’ shameful disregard of innocence claims and its bloody record. Don’t let Rodney become another innocent person executed by our state! Get the facts and send a clemency letter to save Rodney’s life.

http://nodeathpenalty.org/new_abolitionist/december-2014-issue-62/dont-let-texas-execute-innocent-man