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Capital Punishment in the United States Explained

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In our Explainer series, Fair Punishment Project lawyers help unpackage some of the most complicated issues in the criminal justice system. We break down the problems behind the headlines - like bail, civil asset forfeiture, or the Brady doctrine - so that everyone can understand them. Wherever possible, we try to utilize the stories of those affected by the criminal justice system to show how these laws and principles should work, and how they often fail. We will update our Explainers monthly to keep them current. Read our updated explainer here.
To beat the clock on the expiration of its lethal injection drug supply, this past April, Arkansas tried to execute 8 men over 1 days. The stories told in frantic legal filings and clemency petitions revealed a deeply disturbing picture. Ledell Lee may have had an intellectual disability that rendered him constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty, but he had a spate of bad lawyers who failed to timely present evidence of this claim -…

Texas: Family sues in jail suicide of death row inmate who hoped to overturn conviction

Antonio Williams
Antonio Williams
Assistant county prosecutor accused of pressuring witnesses to name him in double murder

The family of a death row inmate who died at Harris County Jail while in Houston to appeal his conviction are suing county officials for his wrongful death by suicide two years ago.

Antonio Williams' mother who filed on behalf of herself and children and heirs unknown asserts that the county sheriff, county judge and an assistant district attorney involved in Williams' conviction should be liable for the cruel and unusual circumstances of his imprisonment at the county facility and for failing to protect him.

In addition, the suit singles out former Assistant District Attorney Lance Long for conspiring "to pressure witnesses to lie about their identification of Mr. Williams as the perpetrator of the capital murder."

The Harris County Attorney's Office plans to file a response on behalf of the sheriff, the county judge and the county itself. Officials at district attorney's office were not immediately available for comment.

At the time of Williams' suicide in 2015, Patrick McCann, the family's attorney called it "a bizarre story" because Williams had been assigned to 23-hour-a-day isolation where he should not have had access to the shoelaces he used to hang himself.

Williams, 34, was taking psychotropic medications for depression, but he was not supervised by mental health providers at the jail, according to the allegations.

Williams was convicted of capital murder in 2007 in the shooting deaths of Vincent Williams, 18, and Yolanda Styles, 22, in northwest Houston. 

Testimony at trial revealed that a gunman with an assault rifle fired about 30 rounds at the victims in a killing spree related to a drug ring.

Two witnesses testified that Williams was the gunman, but later recanted, saying they were pressured to lie by prosecutors and investigators. 

The two women who saw the shooting from a second floor patio said they were told to identify Williams despite their claims that the killer was a man named Keith who had dreadlocks with blond tips, according to court documents in Williams' defense.

Williams was found hanging by shoelaces from the exposed ledge of an inset grate at about 1 a.m. on Feb 19, 2015, and he was pronounced dead shortly thereafter. 

A Sheriff's Office spokeswoman at the time said she did not know why Williams would have had shoelaces in his cell.

Source: Houston Chronicle, Gabrielle Banks, February 22, 2017

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