FEATURED POST

Why Texas’ ‘death penalty capital of the world’ stopped executing people

Image
Since the Supreme Court legalized capital punishment in 1976, Harris County, Texas, has executed 126 people. That's more executions than every individual state in the union, barring Texas itself.
Harris County's executions account for 23 percent of the 545 people Texas has executed. On the national level, the state alone is responsible for more than a third of the 1,465 people put to death in the United States since 1976.
In 2017, however, the county known as the "death penalty capital of the world" and the "buckle of the American death belt" executed and sentenced to death a remarkable number of people: zero.
This is the first time since 1985 that Harris County did not execute any of its death row inmates, and the third year in a row it did not sentence anyone to capital punishment either.
The remarkable statistic reflects a shift the nation is seeing as a whole.
“The practices that the Harris County District Attorney’s Office is following are also signifi…

Texas: Willingham case begs for justice

Cameron Todd Willingham awaiting his execution on Texas death row
Cameron Todd Willingham awaiting his execution on Texas death row
What Cameron Todd Willingham lost - his life, taken by the state - can never be restored. But, thankfully, there is some effort to make sure his case is accorded some measure of justice.

Given the evidence brought to light by the Marshall Project, a nonprofit group that focuses on the U.S. criminal justice system, and efforts by the Innocence Project, the State Bar of Texas was correct in filing a formal accusation of misconduct against the prosecutor in that case, John H. Jackson, on March 5.

This case begs for official examination by officials. This formal accusation, in fact, is likely not enough examination.

Since Willingham's execution by Texas in 2004, for the arson murders of his 3 daughters, re-analysis of that evidence - using more reliable tools - points to no arson at all. And other developments cast serious doubt on the significant other piece of evidence against him - testimony by a jailhouse informant.

The informant, Johnny E. Webb, has recanted testimony that Willingham told him he committed the crime. He told the Marshall Project that his testimony came in return for favors - reducing his sentence on an aggravated robbery charge. Later, a local wealthy rancher gave money to Webb, which the former informant said was also payment for his testimony.

Jackson has denied misconduct, saying he acted to protect a witness threatened by other prisoners.

The State Bar, filing with the court in Navarro County, accuses Jackson of obstruction of justice, making false statements and concealing evidence favorable to Willingham's defense.

The disciplinary petition says that "Jackson failed to make timely disclosure to the defense details for favorable treatment for Webb, an inmate, in exchange for Webb's testimony at trial for the State."

The petition alleges that Jackson told the court that he had no evidence favorable to Willingham. "That statement was false," it says.

This is a civil proceeding that could result in disbarment. But if a court finds the allegations about Jackson to be true and disciplines him, perhaps that shouldn't be the end of the matter.

We note that Ken Anderson, the prosecutor who won a conviction that sent Michael Morton to prison for 25 years in 1987 for a murder he didn't commit, was subject to criminal prosecution in Williamson County for withholding evidence.

Morton was accused of bludgeoning his wife to death. Another man was later convicted after a bandanna that the DA long refused to test was finally tested, exonerating Morton. Unfortunately, that evidence implicated a man in another murder 2 years after Christine Morton's murder - while Michael Morton sat in jail.

Another prosecutor, Charles Sebesta of Burleson County, accused of misconduct in the conviction that sent Anthony Graves to prison for 18 years for a crime he didn't commit, lost his appeal of his disbarment in February. Graves spent 12 of those years on death row. He was accused of killing 6 in 1992.

In the Morton case, Anderson agreed to 10 days in jail, disbarment and a $500 fine in 2013 - for contempt of court.

Yes, we know. That penalty doesn't quite stack up against 25 years in prison. And, in the Graves case, disbarment doesn't quite match those prison and death row years. But it's something.

Simply, prosecutors who knowingly and willfully withhold evidence and otherwise commit misconduct to win convictions should be held as accountable as the people they prosecute.

As in the Morton case, there was enough faulty, nonexistent or withheld evidence in the Willingham case to have at least won him a new trial. Instead, then Gov. Rick Perry refused to grant him a stay of execution, though he was presented an independent arson expert's conclusion that there was no evidence of a fire intentionally set.

Since the execution of Willingham - who maintained his innocence to the end - the evidence that he was telling the truth has continued to mount. This was strong enough that we called on Perry, who once called Willingham a "monster," to consider a posthumous pardon.

We now urge the same of Gov. Greg Abbott no matter how Jackson's discipline case turns out. The evidence that Willingham didn't get a fair trial is just too compelling - thanks largely to the Marshall and Innocence projects.

Source: San Antonio Express-News, Editorial, April 17, 2016

Recommended reading:

- Report an error, an omission: deathpenaltynews@gmail.com - Follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Most Viewed (Last 7 Days)

North Carolina death row becoming frail, aging

Trump calls for death penalty for anyone who kills a police officer

Nebraska: Omaha attorney signs on to help fight Jose Sandoval's execution

Bali jailbreak: US inmate escapes notorious Kerobokan prison

California: Riverside County leads U.S. in death penalty sentences, but hasn’t executed anyone in 39 years

States to try new ways of executing prisoners. Their latest idea? Opioids.

Georgia executes Emmanuel Hammond

Iran: Two Prisoners Hanged In Public

Law of Parties: Prosecutor who put Jeff Wood on Texas’ death row asks for clemency

Why Texas’ ‘death penalty capital of the world’ stopped executing people