Sunday, 9 November 2008

Exonerated inmates ask Texas to halt executions

20 men ask state to formally study wrongful convictions

Twenty wrongly convicted men, freed from death rows across the country, stood in the state Capitol on Friday to ask Texas to acknowledge that innocent people have been — and will be — sentenced to death.

The exonerated men, members of Witness to Innocence, a Philadelphia-based organization that is holding its annual meeting in Austin, want Texas to create a commission to search for wrongful convictions. And while the commission works, they want a moratorium on executions in the busiest death penalty state — with 419 executions since 1982 and six more scheduled this month.

"It's not something to be ashamed of, not something to be embarrassed by," said Ray Krone , who spent three years on Arizona's death row. "It's something to grow from and be proud of, that you can and will take that step to acknowledge mistakes and make it better."

Sam Millsap, former Bexar County district attorney, said he slowly came to believe that the death penalty must be abolished because of the growing number of exonerated death row inmates — 130 since 1973, including nine in Texas, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. "I am no longer convinced that our courts will in fact guarantee the protection of the innocent," Millsap said.

Millsap said he has taken responsibility for the 1993 execution of Ruben Cantu , a San Antonio man who Millsap said might have been innocent of a 1984 murder. The conviction was based on one eyewitness who later recanted, and no physical evidence tied Cantu to the crime, he said. "My decision to seek the death penalty was a mistake."

The most recent Texas exoneration was in September , when a Collin County court dismissed the capital murder case against Michael Blair, sentenced to die for the 1993 murder of 7-year-old Ashley Estell.

"It's a national problem, but a problem that has a distinct Texas face," state Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, told the members of Witness to Innocence. Naishtat said he will introduce a bill next session to give the governor the power to declare a temporary moratorium on executions. He also promised to work on behalf of a bill by state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, to create a Texas innocence commission.

However, any bill to halt executions stands no chance of passing the Texas Legislature, Naishtat said. Capital punishment has substantial support in Texas. The 2007 Texas Crime Poll by Sam Houston State University found 74 percent of Texans support the death penalty. And 66 percent said they were confident that innocent people are protected from execution.

Source: The Statesman, Saturday, November 01, 2008

Picture: Former Florida death row inmate Juan Melendez, left, greets former Texas death row inmate Clarence Brandley at a news conference Friday.

No comments: