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Senator Eddie Lucio Jr Files Historic Bill in Texas Senate to Abolish Death Penalty

By , March 15, 2015

11-Eddie-Lucio-MUG_1176019a (1)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 completely 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 Senator Lucio file abolition legislation.

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

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 the Texas Senate. 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 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.

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

If anyone would like to thank Senator Lucio for filing his abolition proposals, you can contact himthrough this form on his website.

Media Coverage of 2015 Statewide Texas Lobby Day to Abolish the Death Penalty

By , March 10, 2015

Exonerated death row inmates fight execution in Texas

KVUE – ‎Mar 4, 2015‎
AUSTIN — Texas leads the nation in the frequency of the use of the death penalty, and every year, one state legislator works to abolish it. On Tuesday, Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) filed bills, for the seventh time, that aim to abolish the death penalty in …

Death penalty opponents take uphill battle to end executions to the Texas Capitol

Dallas Morning News (blog) – ‎Mar 3, 2015‎
AUSTIN—Death row exonerees on Tuesday called for lawmakers to abolish the death penalty—a long-shot bid in Texas where capital punishment has broad support. Death penalty opponents declared it the “Day of Innocence,” with about two dozen …

The state of the death penalty in Texas

Dallas Morning News (blog) – ‎Mar 3, 2015‎
Today is the Statewide Texas Lobby Day to Abolish the Death Penalty at the state Capitol — a good time to revisit the state of capital punishment in Texas. This great graphic by DMN artist Michael Hogue gives a lot to chew on: As a reminder: “Getting it right …

Ex-death row inmates push to end Texas executions

Austin American-Statesman – ‎Mar 3, 2015‎
“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 …

Statesman News App

Austin American-Statesman – ‎Mar 3, 2015‎
Texas State Rep. Harold Dutton speaks at a Capitol press conference to show his support to abolish the death penalty in Texas and call for a moratorium on the penalty. He has authored HB 1032 and HB 341 in hopes of doing just that. People with the …

Texas Lawmaker Wants State To Kill Death Penalty

KEYE TV – ‎Mar 3, 2015‎
On Tuesday, people who once faced a death sentence called on Texas lawmakers to end to the state’s death penalty. They were supporting House Bill 1032, proposed by State Representative Harold Dutton, which would abolish the death penalty in Texas.

15th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty: Saturday October 25, 2014 in Houston

By , August 3, 2014

The 15th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty is Saturday October 25, 2014 at 2:00 PM in Houston, Texas.

Details on the exact location in Houston will be announced later.

Complaint Filed Against Prosecutor John Jackson for Perjury in Todd Willingham Case

By , July 25, 2014

From the Houston Chronicle:

Houston lawyers Friday filed a complaint against a former North Texas prosecutor, claiming he lied about cutting a deal with a witness that helped send a possibly innocent Corsicana auto mechanic to his execution.

The complaint against John Jackson was lodged with the State Bar of Texas to spotlight the former prosecutor’s alleged perjury during a 2010 court of inquiry called to review the murder case. Cameron Todd Willingham, 36, was executed in 2004 for the December 1991 murder of his three young children in an arson fire at his Corsicana home.

Neal Mann, a lawyer with Susman Godfrey LLP, said Jackson cut a deal with a jailhouse informer whose testimony was key to Willingham’s conviction, then hid it from the court.

Jackson has denied that he offered special consideration to the informer in return for testimony, but Willingham supporters said they have documentation that Jackson intervened for the man when he later was incarcerated in state prison.

Willingham’s conviction and execution gained international notoriety when three expert reviews questioned the accuracy of state and local arson investigations in the case. Friday’s action marked Willingham supporters’ most recent attempt ‑ over a period of six years ‑ to establish that irregularities occurred in the investigation and prosecution.

Jackson, who later became a state district judge and now is in private law practice, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Below is a video of John Jackson on Nightline a few years back in which he says some petty crazy things.

2014 Texas Democratic Party Platform Endorses Abolishing Death Penalty

By , June 28, 2014

10461983_10104760054479540_6300413581893838390_nAccording to the 2014 Texas Democratic Party platform:

“In order to promote public confidence and fairness in the Texas Criminal Justice system, Texas Democrats call for the passage of legislation that would abolish the death penalty in Texas and replace it with the punishment of life in prison without parole.”

Todd Willingham’s name has been mentioned for many years in the Texas Democratic Party platform since Scott Cobb wrote the section on the death penalty ten years ago. Todd’s name is mentioned as an example of an innocent person already executed.

Democrats Against the Death Penalty held a caucus meeting at the TDP State Convention that was attended by more than 150 people. Scott Cobb moderated the meeting. Speakers included Jeanette Popp, whose daughter was murdered in Austin in 1988. Two innocent people were wrongfully convicted of her daughter’s murder. They were in prison for 12 years before their exoneration. Jeanette met with the real killer in the Travis County Jail before his trial and told him that she did not want him to receive the death penalty.

The UT-Arlington newspaper The Shorthorn reported on the meeting of “Democrats Against the Death Penalty:

Speaker Jeanette Popp said she lost her daughter at the hands of a murderer. However, she said she does not support the death penalty because it is still taking the life of another human being.

She stated she will not stain her or her daughter’s hands with the murderer’s blood.

“Today, I want to ask you in memory of my daughter to stand together, united and strong,” Popp said. “Speak in one loud voice they can’t ignore. We will not tolerate being made accessories to murder.”

 

BrJay1DCIAAx594

Democrats against the death penalty #ShorthornPol#txdems #dallas pic.twitter.com/GOJJhlmLEJ

— Kayla Stigall (@kayllila) June 27, 2014

Also speaking at the meeting was Delia Perez Meyer, whose brother is on Texas death row. Delia visits her brother every weekend. Her story is the subject of a new film, “The Road to Livingston”.

Part of the crowd at the Democrats Against the Death Penalty meeting listening to Jeanette Popp.

Part of the crowd at the Democrats Against the Death Penalty meeting listening to Jeanette Popp.

All-Rick Perry Appointed Board Denies Posthumous Exoneration for Todd Willingham

By , April 3, 2014

PageLines- PerryWillinghamLogo.pngIn a development that should not surprise anyone, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, of which every single member was appointed by Governor Rick Perry, has voted not to recommend a posthumous full pardon for Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed a decade ago after being convicted of setting a house fire that killed his three young daughters.

Rick Perry in 2009 thwarted the investigation into the Willingham case when he replaced the chair of the Texas Forensic Science Commission two days before it was to hear from the author of a scathing report in the case of Cameron Todd Willingham. Perry replaced the chair with John Bradley, whose mean-spirited, unethical behavior as chair of the Texas Forensic Science Commission lost him support in the Texas Senate for his confirmation as chair, although by the time he was replaced Bradley had done his job of delaying the investigation into the Willingham case while Perry was preparing to run for president.

More from the Texas Tribune:

“This whole process is, unfortunately, typical of this board, where they don’t demonstrate that they’ve actually considered the substantial evidence that we’ve put before them,” said Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, which has led the charge to clearn Willingham’s name in the case.

New Evidence Discredits Witness Against Todd Willingham

By , March 1, 2014

Citing New Evidence, Innocence Project Calls for Pardon

Updated, Feb. 28, 2014, 2:30 p.m.: 

Attorneys working on behalf of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed 10 years ago after he was convicted of setting a house fire that killed his three young daughters, say they have new evidence that suggests he was innocent.

Lawyers from the New York-based Innocence Project say a newly discovered note in the files of John Jackson, the prosecutor who oversaw his conviction, suggests that Jackson made a deal with a jailhouse informant, Johnny Webb, who testified against Willingham. At Jackson’s prompting, Webb told jurors during the trial that he received nothing in exchange for his testimony implicating the Willingham in the case.

Webb, then an inmate serving time for a first-degree robbery charge, said Willingham had confessed to him.

The note, scribbled within the district attorney’s file folder, said “based on coop in Willingham,” Webb was to receive a less severe second-degree classification, as opposed to the first-degree charge he was convicted on, according to the Innocence Project.

Jackson, who is now a state district judge, did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

Webb told a jury in the case that he had not received any incentive for his testimony. Jackson has said that he made no promises to Webb. He has called the Innocence Project’s claims a “complete fabrication” and said he remained certain of Willingham’s guilt.

The Innocence Project received Jackson’s file after the current district attorney, R. Lowell Thompson, released it. The note is not dated or signed.

The Innocence Project has sought a posthumous pardon for Willingham from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Gov. Rick Perry. Evidence that Webb had received a deal for his testimony could have prompted the jury to decide differently about Willingham’s guilt, said lawyers working on his behalf.

Updated, 1:06 p.m.: 

Cameron Todd Willingham’s stepmother and cousin, along with exoneree Michael Morton, joined the Innocence Project on Friday to call on Gov. Rick Perry to order the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to investigate whether the state should posthumously pardon Willingham, who was executed in 2004.

“We are forever passionately committed to the mission of clearing Cameron’s name,” said Patricia Cox, Willingham’s cousin.

Willingham was convicted in 1992 of intentionally igniting a blaze that killed his three daughters. Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, said the organization has uncovered new evidence that the prosecutor who tried Willingham paid favors to the jailhouse informant whose testimony — along with arson science that has since been debunked — was a key factor in the young father’s conviction. 

“We think it is very important for the governor himself to take a look at this,” Scheck said.

Morton, who was convicted of his wife’s murder in 1987 and spent nearly 25 years in prison before DNA testing led to his exoneration in 2011, appealed to Perry as a Christian to examine whether human errors led to a wrongful execution. 

“We’re here for one simple reason,” Morton said. “As believers, we’re asking him to consider this. We’re not asking for promises.”

Josh Havens, a spokesman for Perry, who has previously expressed his belief in Willingham’s guilt, said that the governor’s office had received the letter and was reviewing it.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said the Willingham case illustrates the need for reform in the state’s clemency system, because the process failed to identify several mistakes that could have prevented the execution.

Former Navarro County Judge John Jackson, the former prosecutor who tried Willingham, denied allegations of any prosecutorial misconduct in the case and said he remains convinced of Willingham’s guilt.

Terry Jacobson, who worked on the Willingham case as Corsicana’s city attorney, said allegations that Jackson acted inappropriately or extended benefits to a jailhouse informant were “baloney.”

“That’s just not the kind of guy he is,” Jacobson said. “It’s easy take pot shots at prosecutors these days.”

Original story:

Armed with what it says is new evidence of wrongdoing in the prosecution of Cameron Todd Willingham, the Innocence Project on Friday will ask Gov. Rick Perry to order the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to investigate whether the state should posthumously pardon Willingham, whose 2004 execution has become a lightning rod of controversy over the Texas justice system.

“This is a terrible thing to not only execute somebody who was innocent; this is an individual who lost his three children,” said Barry Scheck, cofounder of the Innocence Project, a legal group that focuses on wrongful convictions.

The organization says it discovered evidence that indicated the prosecutor who tried Willingham had elicited false testimony from and lobbied for early parole for a jailhouse informant in the case.

The informant, Johnny Webb, told a Corsicana jury in 1992 that Willingham had confessed to setting the blaze that killed his three daughters. The Innocence Project also alleges that the prosecutor withheld Webb’s subsequent recantation. The organization argues that those points, combined with flawed fire science in the case, demand that the state correct and learn from the mistake it made by executing Willingham.

Former Judge John H. Jackson, the Navarro County prosecutor who tried Willingham, said the Innocence Project’s claims were a “complete fabrication” and that he remained certain of Willingham’s guilt.

“I’ve not lost any sleep over it,” Jackson said.

Willingham was convicted, largely on the testimony of a state fire marshal, who said Willingham had started the 1991 fire that killed his daughters.

Several fire scientists, though, have concluded that the science underpinning that conclusion was faulty. In April 2011, the Texas Forensic Science Commission agreed.

Now, Scheck said, his organization has discovered that prosecutors went to great lengths to secure false testimony from Webb, to repay him for helping secure the conviction and to hide the recantation.

During the trial, Webb, who was in jail on an aggravated robbery charge, said he was not promised anything in return for testifying. But correspondence records indicate that prosecutors later worked to reduce his time in prison.

In a 1996 letter, Jackson told prison officials Webb’s charge should be recorded as robbery, not aggravated robbery.

But in legal documents signed by Webb in 1992, he admitted to robbing a woman at knife point and agreed to the aggravated robbery charge.

In letters to the parole division in 1996, the prosecutor’s office also urged clemency for Webb, arguing that his 15-year sentence was excessive and that he was in danger from prison gang members because he had testified in the Willingham case.

In 2000, while he was incarcerated for another offense, Webb wrote a motion recanting his testimony, saying the prosecutor and other officials had forced him to lie.

That motion, Scheck said, was not seen by Willingham’s lawyers until after the execution. Meanwhile, he said, prosecutors used the testimony to stymie efforts to prove Willingham’s innocence and prevent his death.

An investigation is needed, Scheck said, to improve the judicial process.

Jackson said he made no promises to Webb. He also said Webb had sent him a letter explaining that the recantation motion was untruthful but that he was forced to submit it by prison gang members who supported Willingham.

“There’s no doubt the arson report was based on archaic science, but from a practical standpoint I think the result was absolutely correct,” Jackson said.

The Innocence Project has worked for years to exonerate Willingham, but Perry has argued that he was guilty.

Scott Henson, author of the criminal justice blog Grits for Breakfast, believes the current effort may be successful when a new governor takes office in 2015, he said.

Henson added, “Perry has made his position on the case pretty clear.”

Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/02/28/citing-new-evidence-innocence-project-calls-pardon/.

With New Evidence, Calls for Pardon Increase

By , September 27, 2013
Poster of Todd Willingham at Texas Capitol October 24, 2009

Poster of Todd Willingham at Texas Capitol October 24, 2009

Citing New Evidence, Innocence Project Calls for Pardon
by Brandi Grissom, Texas Tribune

Updated, 1:06 p.m.:  

Cameron Todd Willingham’s stepmother and cousin, along with exoneree Michael Morton, joined the Innocence Project on Friday to call on Gov. Rick Perry to order the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to investigate whether the state should posthumously pardon Willingham, whose was executed in 2004. 

“We are forever passionately committed to the mission of clearing Cameron’s name,” said Patricia Cox, Willingham’s cousin. 

Willingham was convicted in 1992 of intentionally igniting a blaze that killed his three daughters. Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, said the organization has uncovered new evidence that the prosecutor who tried Willingham paid favors to the jailhouse informant whose testimony — along with arson science that has since been debunked — was a key factor in the young father’s conviction.  

“We think it is very important for the governor himself to take a look at this,” Scheck said. 

Morton, who was convicted of his wife’s murder in 1987 and spent nearly 25 years in prison before DNA testing led to his exoneration in 2011, appealed to Perry as a Christian to examine whether human errors led to a wrongful execution.  

“We’re here for one simple reason,” Morton said. “As believers, we’re asking him to consider this. We’re not asking for promises.” 

Josh Havens, a spokesman for Perry, who has previously expressed his belief in Willingham’s guilt, said that the governor’s office had received the letter and was reviewing it. 

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said the Willingham case illustrates the need for reform in the state’s clemency system, because the process failed to identify several mistakes that could have prevented the execution. 

Former Navarro County judge John Jackson, the former prosecutor who tried Willingham, denied allegations of any prosecutorial misconduct in the case and said he remains convinced of Willingham’s guilt. 

Terry Jacobson, who worked on the Willingham case as Corsicana’s city attorney, said allegations that Jackson acted inappropriately or extended benefits to a jailhouse informant were “baloney.” 

“That’s just not the kind of guy he is,” Jacobson said. “It’s easy take pot shots at prosecutors these days.” 

Original story: 

Armed with what it says is new evidence of wrongdoing in the prosecution of Cameron Todd Willingham, the Innocence Project on Friday will ask Gov. Rick Perry to order the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to investigate whether the state should posthumously pardon Willingham, whose 2004 execution has become a lightning rod of controversy over the Texas justice system. 

“This is a terrible thing to not only execute somebody who was innocent; this is an individual who lost his three children,” said Barry Scheck, cofounder of the Innocence Project, a legal group that focuses on wrongful convictions. 

The organization says it discovered evidence that indicated the prosecutor who tried Willingham had elicited false testimony from and lobbied for early parole for a jailhouse informant in the case. 

The informant, Johnny Webb, told a Corsicana jury in 1992 that Willingham had confessed to setting the blaze that killed his three daughters. The Innocence Project also alleges that the prosecutor withheld Webb’s subsequent recantation. The organization argues that those points, combined with flawed fire science in the case, demand that the state correct and learn from the mistake it made by executing Willingham. 

Former Judge John H. Jackson, the Navarro County prosecutor who tried Willingham, said the Innocence Project’s claims were a “complete fabrication” and that he remained certain of Willingham’s guilt. 

“I’ve not lost any sleep over it,” Jackson said. 

Willingham was convicted, largely on the testimony of a state fire marshal, who said Willingham had started the 1991 fire that killed his daughters. 

Several fire scientists, though, have concluded that the science underpinning that conclusion was faulty. In April 2011, the Texas Forensic Science Commission agreed. 

Now, Scheck said, his organization has discovered that prosecutors went to great lengths to secure false testimony from Webb, to repay him for helping secure the conviction and to hide the recantation. 

During the trial, Webb, who was in jail on an aggravated robbery charge, said he was not promised anything in return for testifying. But correspondence records indicate that prosecutors later worked to reduce his time in prison. 

In a 1996 letter, Jackson told prison officials Webb’s charge should be recorded as robbery, not aggravated robbery. 

But in legal documents signed by Webb in 1992, he admitted to robbing a woman at knife point and agreed to the aggravated robbery charge. 

In letters to the parole division in 1996, the prosecutor’s office also urged clemency for Webb, arguing that his 15-year sentence was excessive and that he was in danger from prison gang members because he had testified in the Willingham case. 

In 2000, while he was incarcerated for another offense, Webb wrote a motion recanting his testimony, saying the prosecutor and other officials had forced him to lie. 

That motion, Scheck said, was not seen by Willingham’s lawyers until after the execution. Meanwhile, he said, prosecutors used the testimony to stymie efforts to prove Willingham’s innocence and prevent his death. 

An investigation is needed, Scheck said, to improve the judicial process. 

Jackson said he made no promises to Webb. He also said Webb had sent him a letter explaining that the recantation motion was untruthful but that he was forced to submit it by prison gang members who supported Willingham. 

“There’s no doubt the arson report was based on archaic science, but from a practical standpoint I think the result was absolutely correct,” Jackson said. 

The Innocence Project has worked for years to exonerate Willingham, but Perry has argued that he was guilty. 

Scott Henson, author of the criminal justice blog Grits for Breakfast, believes the current effort may be successful when a new governor takes office in 2015, he said. 

Henson added, “Perry has made his position on the case pretty clear.” 
 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2013/09/27/citing-new-evidence-innocence-project-calls-pardon/.

Urge Rick Perry and the State of Texas to Pardon Todd Willingham

By , October 24, 2012

Support Todd Willingham’s family as they request a pardon for Todd. Call Texas Governor Perry to urge him to pardon Todd Willingham. Say something along the lines of “I’m calling to ask Governor Perry to posthumously pardon Cameron Todd Willingham. Todd was wrongfully executed–despite overwhelming evidence of his innocence–by Texas in 2004, and his final wish was that his name be cleared.”

Call Governor Perry: the number is 512-463-2000.

A petition to Texas Governor Rick Perry and to the State of Texas to acknowledge that the fire in the Cameron Todd Willingham case was not arson, therefore no crime was committed and on February 17, 2004, Texas wrongfully executed an innocent man.

13th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty Nov 3 Austin at Texas Capitol 2 PM

By , October 5, 2012

The 13th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty will be Saturday November 3, 2012 at 2 PM in Austin, Texas at the Capitol.

2012_MarchtoAbolishDeathPenaltyLayered

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