QUOTE OF THE DAY: "The death penalty landscape in Texas continues to change dramatically. Prosecutors, juries, judges, and the public are subjecting our state's death penalty practices to unprecedented scrutiny and, in many cases, accepting alternatives to the ultimate punishment."
Kristin Houlé: Executive Director: The Texas Coalition to abolish the death penalty;
STORY: "Texas Is No Longer America's Death Penalty Capital," by Casey Tolan, published by VICE News on December 15, 2016.
SUB-HEADING: "The fewest people were put to death in the state this year since 1996, but race and mental health were still disturbing factors in who ends up on death row."
GIST: "Texas has long been the heartland of the death penalty in America. Since capital punishment was reinstated by the Supreme Court in 1976, the Lone Star State has executed 538 people—more than the next top six states combined. But 2016 saw a precipitous drop in the number of executions in the state. Thanks in part to new judicial scrutiny of death sentences, just seven Texans were executed this year, the fewest since 1996. For the first time since 2001, Texas is not the most execution-happy state in the country—that grisly title belongs to Georgia, which executed nine people. This is the first year since 1984 that Texas didn't execute a single black person. And juries sentenced just three new Texas defendants to death for the second year in a row. The data was highlighted in a report released Thursday by the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. "The death penalty landscape in Texas continues to change dramatically," said Kristin Houlé, the coalition's executive director. "Prosecutors, juries, judges, and the public are subjecting our state's death penalty practices to unprecedented scrutiny and, in many cases, accepting alternatives to the ultimate punishment." The Texas numbers mirror a nationwide downturn in executions and death sentences......... "The rising number of stays suggests that the Court of Criminal Appeals is registering the concerns about the fairness and accuracy of our state's capital punishment system," Kathryn Kase, executive director of the nonprofit criminal justice legal group Texas Defender Service, told me in an email. "These stays give the court opportunities to remedy the failures of past death penalty practices for which Texas has been roundly criticized." In several of the cases where inmates received stays, the court leaned on a 2013 state law that gives inmates whose convictions were based on discredited science the opportunity for a new trial. Reformers say the law is among the most progressive in the country at fighting junk science in the courtroom. Charles Flores was sentenced to death in 1999 for a murder in a Dallas suburb based largely on the testimony of a single eyewitness who was hypnotized by police officers trying to help her regain her memory. The court stayed his execution in May after hearing expert testimony that hypnosis can actually lead witnesses to believe in false memories. And in 2003, Robert Roberson was convicted of killing his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter based on a scientific theory known as shaken baby syndrome—the idea that certain symptoms in a dead child conclusively prove they were violently shaken to death. Four medical experts testified this year that the theory had been debunked, and new research suggested Roberson's daughter could have died of a fall. The court stayed his execution in June. Gregory Gardner, an attorney who represented two Texas death row defendants who received stays of execution this year—and a third client who was executed—believes the junk science law to be a powerful tool for defendants. "It shows how many convictions in the late 90s and the turn of the century were based on this crappy science that's been discredited," he said. "It's scary because we know people in Texas have been executed because of it in the past." "The courts are finally being more careful with these cases," Gardner told me. "We've seen the number of death sentences plummet, and I think that trend will continue."
The entire story can be found at:
PUBLISHER'S NOTE: I am monitoring this case/issue. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog for reports on developments. The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at: http://www.thestar.com/topic/