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Old 03-14-2003, 03:38 PM
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Default National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

There are 8 executions scheduled in the United States in the next two
weeks; please visit www.ncadp.org/html/alerts.html for NCADP's alerts and
contact authorities to speak out against the executions.

Execution Alert Texas

Kenneth Morris (TX)
April 15, 2003
6:00 PM EST, 7:00 PM CST

The state of Texas is scheduled to execute Kenneth Morris April 15 for the
1991 robbery and murder of James Moody Adams in Harris County. Morris, a
black man, allegedly shot Adams, a white man, four times after kicking in
the door of his house and robbing him of $1,800 at gunpoint. Despite
unresolved issues concerning racial bias in his jury selection process and
a lack of appellate review on his death sentence's proportionality, Morris
is now facing a very serious
execution date.

On Feb. 25, 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court sent a strong message to the
Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals by ruling 8-1 in the case of Thomas
Miller-El, another Texas death row inmate, requiring lower courts to hear
evidence of systemic racial bias during jury selection. Like Morris,
Miller-El had accused prosecutors of striking jurors based on racial
grounds, a practice deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in
Batson v. Kentucky (1986).

Harris County prosecutors struck Robert Dreannan, a prospective black
juror, from the selection pool - seemingly on racial grounds. They argued
that Dreannan had been deceptive in answering questions concerning the
death penalty in regard to the young age of the defendant. Aside from the
fact that the entire selection process - which excludes death penalty
abolitionists from serving on capital juries - discriminates against
people of color (because they are generally less in favor of the death
penalty), this particular instance marks a perfect example of the racial
discrimination prevalent in jury selection processes in Texas.

Evidence brought forth in the Miller-El case proved that during that time
(1980s), the Dallas County district attorney's office provided newly hired
prosecutors with a memo entitled "Jury Selection in a Criminal Case." The
manual explicitly advised prosecutors to remove all minorities from juries
with peremptory challenges. It seems improbable - if not impossible - that
Harris County, the leading death penalty jurisdiction in the nation, never
promoted such useful prosecutorial tactics, and even more unlikely that
many cases, including that of Kenneth Morris, moved through the system
without facing discriminatory obstacles along the way. The Miller-El
demands that lower courts hear evidence of racial bias in jury
selection, and the Texas courts would be wise to stay this pending
execution to allow a complete and fair judicial review. Even before the
Miller-El decision, Morris had a strong case for a stay from the courts,
primarily on his argument concerning the appellate review of his sentence.
During the penalty phase of his trial, he presented significant mitigating
evidence, including testimony concerning past abuse, mental illness, and
drug addiction. He also made note of his intoxication at the time of the
crime, as well as his remorseful attitude in the aftermath. Over the past
decade, Morris has argued that the courts never gave his case a
meaningful appellate review, thus sacrificing an integral safeguard
against the arbitrary and capricious nature of the death penalty system.

When Morris unsuccessfully appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
in 1996, Judge Charles Baird dissented, recognizing the court's failure to
give meaningful consideration to the appropriateness of the death
sentence. Judge Baird opined that the process for arriving at a death
sentence, under the Eighth Amendment, must include three necessary steps:
1) the eligibility decision, in which the jury decides whether the death
penalty is proportionate for the crime, 2) the selection decision, in
which the jury decides
whether the death penalty is appropriate given the circumstances and
mitigating factors, and 3) the appellate review, in which the courts
decide whether the decisions of the jury are fair, just, and
constitutional. Elaborating on this third and critical step, Judge Baird
wrote: "This appellate review includes...whether mitigating circumstances
outweigh aggravating ones ... [and] whether the sentence is excessive."

Unfortunately, the court never fully evaluated this death sentence, and
instead ruled: "Because the weighing of mitigating evidence is a
subjective determination undertaken by each juror, we will not review
mitigating evidence for sufficiency. This lack of appellate review is a
direct violation of the Eighth Amendment, and is one of the root
causes of the injustices plaguing the capital punishment system.

With the state of Texas continuing to lead the nation in executions,
government officials and judges must accept the responsibility of
protecting people from legal injustices that result in the death penalty.

Please write the state of Texas and protest the pending execution of
Kenneth Morris.

Juan Rodriguez Chavez (TX)
April 22, 2003
6:00 PM EST, 7:00 PM CST

The state of Texas is scheduled to execute Juan Rodriguez Chavez April 22
for the robbery and murder of Jose Morales. Chavez, a Hispanic man,
allegedly shot Morales at a phone booth in Dallas on the night of July 2,
1995. The state sentenced him to death in 1996, following one of the most
bizarre trial episodes in Texas history.

On March 18, 1996, just two days into Chavez's trial, his "stun belt"
inadvertently activated. The mechanism, designed to subdue defendants in
case of an escape attempt, delivered a 50,000-volt electrical shock to
Chavez, who was quietly seated at the defense table. In front of the
entire court and the jury that would eventually determine his fate, he
began jerking his arms in the air screaming, "I'm getting shocked!"

A bailiff rushed forward and pulled the belt off Chavez after eight
seconds of electrical shock. Meanwhile, the jurors watched in horror
before the judge shuffled them out of the courtroom. Revelation of the
"stun belt" - which was otherwise inconspicuous - clearly eliminated the
presumption of innocence the jurors needed to fairly assess the evidence
brought forth in the trial.

This event should have undoubtedly caused an immediate mistrial. The
court's solution - to simply interview the jurors and officers in charge
of the "stun belt" - fell far short of re-establishing a fair environment
for a capital trial. Not surprisingly, the same jurors that watched Chavez
squirm like a caged animal under electrical shock in the middle of his
trial sentenced him to death shortly thereafter.

The mere fact that this case has survived the appeals process for seven
years offers quite a commentary on the appellate courts' degree of concern
for death row inmates and the fairness of their convictions and sentences.
Chavez fully deserves a new trial, in which his jurors do not hold
pre-conceived opinions as a result of an event over which he had no

Please write the state of Texas and request a stay for Juan Chavez so that
he can exercise his right to a fair trial.

Robert Ladd (TX)
April 23, 2003
6:00 PM EST, 7:00 PM CST

The state of Texas is scheduled to execute Robert Ladd, a black man, April
23 for the 1996 murder of Vickie Ann Gardner, a white woman, in Tyler.
Ladd allegedly robbed and assaulted Gardner inside her home, then lit her
on fire. Although the severity of this crime is unquestionable, this death
sentence is not a product of justice, but rather an end result of a
viciously discriminatory system. Throughout the United States, cases
involving black defendants and white victims result in the death penalty
far more than any others. This is a sad,
but clear, indication that this country places a greater value on the
lives on white people than people of color.

According to a study conducted by the Texas Defender Service, only 0.8
percent of murder victims in the state of Texas between 1995 and 1998 were
white women. However, in that same time, 19.3 percent of those arriving on
death row in Texas were convicted of killing white women. The report
released at the conclusion of the study included this fact: "Taking into
account age, race, location, occupation, prior arrests, education of the
defendant, age of the victim, and whether a weapon was used, the combined
races of victim and offender
were the strongest predictors of a death sentence in Texas."

Ladd's case demonstrates both the causes and effects of this
discriminatory phenomenon. Prior to jury selection in his trial, the
prosecution requested a jury shuffle, which the court granted. It is very
likely no coincidence that 7 of the first 34 prospective jurors were
black, and that number drastically decreased after the shuffle. Although
prosecutors have the right to request a shuffle, they cannot alter the
jury's composition for race-based purposes under Batson v.
Kentucky (1986). The appellate courts have held that Batson does not apply
to jury shuffles, which is a legal technicality that has no place in a
system committed to equality and justice. Any actions that aim to adjust
the racial composition of a jury - either through shuffles, peremptory
strikes, or any other means possible - are thoroughly unconstitutional and
should be determined so by the courts. The prosecution continued its
strategy to strike blacks from the jury during the selection phase as
well, and the appellate courts have continuously ignored its racist

As with most death penalty cases, economics played a major role in Ladd's
death sentence as well. His defense lawyers, appointed by the state,
presented no mitigating evidence at the penalty phase of his trial. If
shared with the jury, certain factors could have likely earned him a life
sentence instead of the death penalty. Ladd had a troubled childhood,
spent much of his time unsupervised, and scored very low on IQ tests.
While spending time in a juvenile facility, the state gave him a
psychological evaluation, and as a young boy, doctors diagnosed him with
mental retardation. The jury learned none of these facts, and found no
factors to soften the aggravating
circumstances of the case.

This case epitomizes the inherent problems of the death penalty
system both in Texas and the United States as a whole. The process itself
cannot escape racial, economic, and geographic disparities, and its
arbitrary and biased nature make it entirely unjust.

Please write the state of Texas and speak out against the pending
execution of Robert Ladd.

Please Contact

Governor Rick Perry
Office of the Governor
PO Box 12428
Austin, TX 78711﷓2418
Phone: (512) 463 2000
Fax: (512) 463 1849

Board of Pardons and Paroles
Attn: Gerald Garret
Executive Clemency Section
PO Box 13401, Capitol Station
Austin, TX 78711
Phone: (512) 406 5852
Fax: (512) 467 0945

Write Op-Ed

The Austin American-Statesman
P.O. Box 670
Austin, TX 78767
Phone: (512) 445-3667
Fax: (512) 445-3679
Email: letters@statesman.com

Dallas Morning News
2726 S. Beckley
Dallas, TX 75224
Phone: (214) 977-8494
Fax: (972) 263-0456
Email: www.dmnweb.dallasnews.com/letters

Houston Chronicle
P.O. Box 4260
Houston, TX 77210
Phone: (713) 220-7491
Fax: (713) 220-6806
Email: hci@chron.com

For More Information

Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
3400 Montrose Blvd.
Suite 312
Houston, TX 77006
Contact: David Atwood
Phone: 713-520-0030 (day)
Phone: 713-529-3826 (eve)
Fax: 713-942-8146

Amnesty International State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator
SMU PO Box 750172
Dallas, TX 75275
Contact: Rick Halperin
Phone: (214) 768-3284
Fax: (214) 768-3475
Email: rhalperi@mail.smu.edu
many hugs
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