Death Row

Austin Price for KUT

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice will no longer share the last written words of death row inmates after criticism from a Houston lawmaker.

Stephanie Tacy/KUT

From Texas Standard:

Texas news outlets often report on death penalty stories, given that the state leads the nation in prisoner executions. But rarely do reports tell the stories of women on death row. Those women are housed in a prison in Gatesville, and as I wait for the guards to bring over inmate Linda Carty, I notice the room is very different from the crammed spaces where I’ve interviewed men on death row. There’s still glass separating us, but this room is spacious and well-lit.

Joy Diaz/Texas Standard

From Texas standard:

It's not common for a teenager to hang out in the office of a pro bono attorney whose clients are Texas death row inmates. But, that's where 15-year-olds Sebe Shearer and Heidi Ellis are.

 

"I've known Sebe for a really long time now since elementary school and I also needed volunteer hours – so I decided to come with her,” Ellis says.

Courtesy Anthony Graves Foundation

Public radio stations from across the state collaborated on this series looking at the death penalty in Texas – its history, how it’s changed, whom it affects and its future. The following story is from KERA.

Texas is slated to execute Terry Edwards on Thursday evening. Barring an unexpected reprieve, Edwards will be the second man executed by the state this year. In Texas, 242 people sit on death row awaiting execution. Long the leading executioner in the U.S., the Lone Star State put to death fewer people last year than it has in two decades.

Jorge Sanhuez-Lyon/Texas Standard

Public radio stations from across the state collaborated on this series looking at the death penalty in Texas – its history, how it’s changed, whom it affects and its future. From Texas Standard:

Death row inmates often spend decades between the day they're sentenced and the day they're executed. That can be due to many factors – from lengthy appeals to the state being unable to get the drugs it needs to carry out executions.

America's death penalty is under scrutiny after a series of botched executions, drug mix-ups and difficulty acquiring lethal injection drugs. Just last month, President Obama called certain parts of capital punishment "deeply troubling."

Some say long waits and repeated last-minute delays are tantamount to torture.

Flickr/Chris Miller CC BY 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

For 35 years, Jerry Hartfield sat in a prison awaiting trial — and now he’s finally getting one. Hartfield was convicted in 1977 of murdering a woman in Bay City. He was sentenced to death, even though by today’s standards, his IQ of 67 is considered mentally impaired.

Three years after that conviction, in 1980, it was overturned because of problems with jury selection. The governor of Texas at the time, Mark White, commuted the sentence to life in prison. The problem? The underlying conviction has been invalidated, so there wasn’t even a conviction to commute. Hartfield waited for years in prison for a trial that never came.

Filipa Rodrigues/KUT News

Sunday is Father's Day, and as we celebrate the fathers in our lives, we realize that roles are changing.

Little by little, more men are participating in the upbringing of their children. Of course, some fathers are more hands-on than others.

Court of Appeals Stays Execution of Rodney Reed

Feb 23, 2015
Filipa Rodrigues/KUT News

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted a stay Monday afternoon in the case of Death Row inmate Rodney Reed. Reed was accused of the 1996 murder of Stacey Stites, and he was scheduled for execution on March 5. Since Reed's conviction, many have come out in support of his innocence and argued that, at the very least, further DNA testing is necessary to determine what happened.

Reed's attorney Bryce Benjet, who works with the Innocence Project, said in a statement:

Supreme Court Stays Next Texas Execution

Feb 5, 2015
Filipa Rodrigues/KUT News

The U.S. Supreme Court Thursday put a stop to the upcoming execution of convicted killer Lester Bower.

Bower, 67, was scheduled to be executed in the Huntsville facility on Feb. 10, next Tuesday. He murdered four men at an airplane hangar outside of Dallas in 1983. He was one of the longest serving inmates on death row, having resided there for more than 30 years. The length of his stay may be one of the reasons that the court decided to halt the execution and consider the prisoner's three-part appeal.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday put off the execution of Russell Bucklew, a Missouri inmate who has maintained that his rare congenital medical condition would make the lethal injection procedure excessively painful.

Update at 4:57 p.m. ET. Federal Court Halts Execution:

With just hours to go, a federal court has halted the execution of Texas inmate Robert Campbell.

The execution would have been the first since Oklahoma botched one in April.

The ruling has nothing to do with the drug shortage that's dominated the narrative over the death penalty in the country. Instead, Campbell's lawyers argued that the state knew that Campbell was intellectually disabled but did not let his defense team know that.

Update: After Tuesday night's botched execution in Oklahoma, Texas corrections officials say they have no plans to use midazolam in future executions. Midazolam was the first component of a three-drug cocktail administered to death row inmate Clayton Lockett yesterday. Read more about the execution here.

As KUT first reported in February, the state has supplies of midazolam on hand. But the Texas Department of Criminal Justice says in a statement that it "has no plans to change our procedures. Texas does not use the same drugs as Oklahoma as we use a single lethal dose of pentobarbital and we have done so since 2012.” 

Attorneys for death row inmates in Texas have unsuccessfully tried to find out who is selling compounded pentobarbital to the state. They're suing in civil court and making a case to the Open Records Division of the Office of the Attorney General that TDCJ should disclose its source. 

The botched execution of death row inmate Clayton Lockett on Tuesday in Oklahoma is sparking a reassessment of lethal injection.

Texas Tribune

A federal judge in Houston on Wednesday blocked two Texas executions, deciding that the state prison system’s refusal to disclose detailed information about drugs that will be used to kill them violates the inmates' constitutional rights.

U.S. Judge Vanessa Gilmore issued a preliminary injunction that effectively blocked the Thursday execution of Tommy Lynn Sells and the execution of Ramiro Hernadez Llanas, which was scheduled for April 9.

The Attorney General’s office notified the inmates' attorneys and the court that the state's attorneys will appeal Gilmore’s decision.

Wednesday's execution of a Mexican national in Texas revived a long-running diplomatic row between the United States and its southern neighbor.

Updated at 10:50 p.m. ET: Execution Carried Out

The Associated Press reports:

"A Mexican man has been executed in Texas for killing a Houston police officer, despite pleas and diplomatic pressure from the Mexican government and the U.S. State Department to halt the punishment.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Update: Kimberley McCarthy was put to death via lethal injection Wednesday evening, becoming the 500th prisoner to be executed in Texas since the state resumed carrying out capital punishment in 1982, following a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court. McCarthy was condemned for the murder of her neighbor, 71-year-old Dorothy Booth, during a robbery.

Earlier: Kimberly McCarthy is scheduled to die by lethal injection in Huntsville, Texas this evening. Her upcoming death has caught national and international attention because – if the execution is carried out – she will be the 500th person executed in Texas since the death penalty was reinstated and the fourth woman.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News.

Getting married nowadays can be really pricey. But getting divorced can be just as expensive.

In Austin, a good divorce attorney can charge anywhere between $150 and $500 an hour. When parties disagree, cases can drag on, and raise costs into the thousands of dollars. But there is one divorce attorney in Austin who offers her services for free – to a very exclusive clientele.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice

The State of Texas executed 48 year-old Carl Blue Thursday night. He was put to death for killing his former girlfriend in 1994.

Blue was convicted of setting 38 year-old Carmen Richards-Sanders on fire at her Bryan apartment.

According to information on the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's death row website, Blue threw gasoline on Richards-Sanders when she opened the door to her apartment. He then ignited her clothes with a lighter. Blue also threw gasoline on a man in the apartment—who caught on fire when he tried to help Richards-Sanders.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice

Update: Thursday, Oct. 11, 6:04 a.m.:

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a last-minute appeal to spare Green from execution. Green received a lethal injection Wednesday night before 11 p.m. The warrant for his execution was set to expire at midnight.

Jonathan Green was the 10th inmate executed in Texas so far this year.

Original Story: Wednesday, Oct. 10, 4:13 p.m.:

A Texas death row inmate is once again facing execution this evening.

Jonathan Green’s execution was blocked on Monday when a federal judge ruled on Monday that due process was violated in Green’s competency hearing.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice

Update: Wilson was executed. The lower courts agreed with state lawyers that the results of the IQ test were faulty. The Supreme Court denied the request to stop the execution. Wilson was the seventh prisoner executed in Texas so far this year.

Earlier: Attorneys for a Texas man scheduled to die Tuesday evening are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the execution.

Marvin Wilson, 54, was convicted for the 1992 abduction and shooting death of a police informant – 21-year-old Jerry Williams – in Beaumont.

A psychological test found Wilson’s IQ was 61 – which defense lawyers say indicates mental impairment and makes him ineligible for execution. State lawyers argue that the test result was faulty and that all other tests showed his IQ above the impairment threshold of 70.

Photo by Caleb Bryant MIller/Texas Tribune

Reversing its decade-long objection to testing that death row inmate Hank Skinner says could prove his innocence, the Texas Attorney General's office today filed an advisory with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals seeking to test DNA in the case. 

"Upon further consideration, the State believes that the interest of justice would best be served by DNA testing the evidence requested by Skinner and by testing additional items identified by the state," lawyers for the state wrote in the advisory.

Skinner, now 50, was convicted in 1995 of the strangulation and beating death of his girlfriend Twila Busby and the stabbing deaths of her two adult sons on New Year’s Eve 1993 in Pampa. Skinner maintains he is innocent and was unconscious on the couch at the time of the killings, intoxicated from a mixture of vodka and codeine.

Gavel photo courtesy flickr.com/safari_vacation; cattle photo courtesy Fox News 4 Dallas; Paramount photo by Teresa Vieira for KUT News

Poll Finds Most Texans Support the Death Penalty

A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll shows that a majority of Texans support the death penalty.

The poll found 73 percent of respondents were strongly or somewhat supportive, while 21 percent were somewhat or strongly opposed. Five percent were unsure.

According to the poll, 51 percent of Texans believe the death penalty is fairly applied. Some 28 percent disagree, and 21 percent were unsure.

Image courtesy Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled today to stop the scheduled execution of a convicted killer because of his mental health issues.

The state's highest criminal court gave a reprieve to 49-year-old Steven Staley. Staley’s execution was set for Wednesday. He was convicted of the 1989 shooting death of a Fort Worth restaurant manager during a botched robbery.

Staley's attorney argued that the prisoner's IQ of 70 likely meant he was mentally impaired and therefore ineligible for execution. 

Photo illustration by Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

Supreme Court Decision Affects Death Row Inmates?

Two Texas death row inmates, including one who is set to be executed next week, hope a ruling yesterday from the U.S. Supreme Court will give them another chance to prove their innocence or that their crimes don’t warrant the death penalty.

KUT’s reporting partner, The Texas Tribune, reports the high court’s ruling in a case out of Arizona, Martinez v. Ryan, could expand appeals access for inmates:

The nation’s highest court ruled that the failure of initial state habeas lawyers to argue that their client’s trial counsel was ineffective should not prevent the defendant from making that argument later on.

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear the case of Texas death row inmate Duane Buck, who alleged that race played an improper role in his death sentence. In September, the court issued a rare stay of execution while it considered the merits of the case. Monday's action lifts the stay and allows the state to set a new execution date.

Photo by Caleb Bryant Miller for KUT News

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has granted a request to stay the execution of death row inmate Henry 'Hank' Skinner. The decision comes after two letters were filed on Skinner's behalf.

Skinner's defense attorneys sent a letter to Governor Rick Perry, requesting he hold off Skinner's execution long enough to conduct DNA testing. The Innocence Project sent a similar letter to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

Photo courtesy of Andres Rueda/via Flickr

Lawyers for two condemned Texas prisoners are asking the U.S. Justice Department to investigate how the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has obtained drugs used in executions.

Their argument hinges on what sounds like a technicality: the address used to register the state's drug supply.

Photo by Caleb Bryant Miller for KUT News.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a Texas death row inmate who is seeking to have DNA evidence in his murder case tested.  The court's decision means Hank Skinner won't be executed any time soon.

At issue in the case was not whether the DNA should be tested, but rather what procedures can be used in asking a court to order the testing.  Skinner's lawyers argued their client has a right to pursue a civil rights claim for the testing.

The decision reverses an appeals court ruling, and sending the case back to district court in Amarillo.

Pages