BY: Henry E. Dunn Jr.

In 1997, 37 Texas Death Row prisoners were put to death by lethal injection, a record breaking year in executions for Texas. The year 1998, Texas put to death 20 more of its Death Row Prisoners, and 35 in 1999, almost breaking it's record of 37 executions. Now in the year 2000, Texas has already executed 20 of its death row prisoners, and have 18 more executions scheduled, and this is just the month of June. Texas is on a pace to break it's 1997 record of 37 executions this year, executing no less than 43 of it's Death Row prisoners. This article will explain the truth of how the death penalty is being used in Texas and why Texas is executing so many of it's Death Row prisoners at such a fast pace. This article will give you the insight as to the unequal justice under the law for Texas Death Row prisoners.

The laws and guidelines for death row prisoners in Texas are very limited. Congress passed the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. This law effected death row appeals because their life hangs in the balance of the appeals. This law when applied, gives the chance that an innocent person may be executed which constitutes plain murder! This law in short, is a death warrant for most prisoners on death row. The old state law process was long, but it often provided sufficient time to weed out those individuals who were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death. Innocent people are being taken to the death chamber and strapped down, then given a dose of lethal injection, which ends their life. History is full of people who were wrongly convicted of a crime. Texas has sentenced innocent people to die. The problem that lies here in Texas is racial prejudice, official misconduct, withholding favorable evidence, and counsel not qualified to represent a defendant in a Capital Murder case. Though it may be unconstitutional, this law enables the State of Texas to execute innocent people wrongly convicted of a crime.

The death penalty has become a mainstay of the American political diet. The courts, along with Congress and the President, continue to ignore the prevalence of racial bias. The political campaigns in Texas is based upon who can kill the most death row prisoners, or sentence the most defendants to death, each wanting to show that the death penalty is the main focus of their campaign, once again playing on the publics fear of crime. They campaign for office knowing that in today's climate, the tougher you are on criminal defendants, the greater your popularity with the voters. In Texas, which executes more people than any other state in the country, Judge Charles Cambell was voted off the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 1994 following the reversal of a highly publicized murder case. He served on the bench 12 years and was much more qualified than his winning opponent, Stephen Mansfield, who is still sitting on the bench of the Court of Criminal Appeals, and who had been fined for practicing law without a license and had virtually no criminal 1aw experience. The secret to Mansfie1d's success was that he promised to uphold more death sentences and kill more defendants. Many publicly elected officials, citizens groups, and legal experts would agree that death penalty trials have become showcases for judges. In order to avoid the stigma of being soft on crime and being subject to political attacks, some judges go out of their way to demonstrate their toughness and resolve to ki1l. Indeed, just as candidates for legislative office are campaigning loudly on the death penalty, judges and local prosecutor are also citing the number of people they have sent to death row in their campaign for office. No one does this better than Texas own governor, George Bush, who has executed 131 death row prisoners as of June 5, 2000, since he has been in office as the Texas governor, and flaunts those numbers with more to come as he runs for President of the United States.

The Death Penalty in Texas has been used to play on the publics fear of crime. The media convicts a person accused of a Capital Offense! before that person even makes it to trial. This is what gives people of society the assumption that a person is guilty, before being proven innocent. The media is not the only blame for society's way of thinking. You also have the court appointed lawyers, who because they are not being paid the amount of money he/she desires for representing a defendant for a Capital Offense. And the court does not furnish him with the funds for investigating the offense and other legal needs, he is not going to give 100% of his time working on a defense for when it is time to go to trial. He does not absolutely have what it takes for an adequate defense because of lack of funds.

The death penalty always leaves questions to be resolved. The one big question that no-one has an answer for is, "what about the DANGER of MISTAKE?" What if an innocent person is executed? Unlike a prison term, which can be commuted at any time, the death penalty, once executed, cannot be recalled. Thus, the irrevocability of the punishment heightens the dangers involved with wrongful conviction. Opponents cite studies concluding that there have been more than 100 cases of an innocent person wrong1y convicted for murder, in at 1east 31 of these, a death sentence was imposed. More important, it is c1aimed that at least eight innocent individuals have been executed. Opponents argue that the likelihood of executing even one innocent person warrants rejecting the death penalty.

The death penalty is a punishment for the poor as well as the black. Over half of those on death row are people of color, though they represent only 20% of the country's population. Black men make up nearly 40% of all U.S. death row prisoners, though they account for only 6% of people living in the U.S.

Nationwide, cases involving a white victim and a defendant of color are most likely to result in a death sentence. The Baldus study found that 6 out of 10 defendants sentenced to death in Georgia for killing a white person would not have received a death sentence had their victim been black. A white victim case was over four times more likely to result in a death sentence than was a comparable black victim case. In Maryland, the state with the highest percentage of African Americans on death row, a death sentence was eight times more likely in a case involving a white victim than one involving a black victim, according to a 1987 "Public Defenders Office study. A 1990 U.S. Genera1 Accounting Office report revealed "a pattern of evidence indicating racial disparities in charging, sentencing and imposition of the death penalty."

The death penalty also has other flaws in the way it is applied. Before a jury is asked to consider a death sentence, it listens to special issues in which it returns an answer of yes or no to each special issue. One of these issues deal with future dangerousness. Will the defendant commit future acts of violence in the future? The problem with this issue is, no one can predict the future. You may do something today, but you may never do that same thing again in your life. No one can predict what they will he doing 30 years from now. A jury has no other choice but to answer this question yes.

Things do get worse as Texas and other states convict and sentence the mentally ill to die by lethal injection. When a person is mentally sick and cannot control his actions, this is a person who needs help, not a death sentence which you will get here in Texas with a problem of this sort if convicted of a Capital crime. Texas has always been a state to use other means as a way to get rid of a prob1em, instead of treating the problem with it's proper remedy~. This is what this state does to the menta1ly insane and mentally retarded. On May 6, 1997, Terry Washington, a mentally retarded man was put to death by lethal injection. Governor George Rush and the State Board of Pardon & Parole rejected a request from Terry's attorneys, as did the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay of execution. Because the law had changed, the Court of Criminal Appeals rejected Terry's habeas petition because it didn't meet the 1995 requirements that a successive writ contain evidence that was factually unavailable when the first was filed. Johnny Penry, another mentally ill Texas Death Row prisoner sentenced to die by lethal injection. Terry was the 31st mentally ill person to be executed in this nation in the past 20 years, lets hope Johnny Penry is not the 32nd. Another Texas Death Row prisoner who has been found legally insane is Jermarr Arnold. Arnold has been diagnosed by a psychiatrist as having "gross psychotic schizophrenia." Texas, however, wants to use Arnold to close their case hook on a case which they have no evidence linking him to the crime. Arnold was found mentally insane in two other states, but not Texas. Instead of Texas giving him the treatment in which he should be given, they wish to use him to close their case when the real killer is still out there, but they wish to make Arnold pay for a crime someone else committed with his life.

In 1997, 37 executions took place at the Walls Unit in Huntsville, Texas. Out of 37 of these prisoners, not one was a woman. In the year 1998, Texas scheduled it's first execution of a woman since 1863. The prisoner was Karla Faye Tucker. Tucker's execution date gained widespread attention from groups allover the world who are against the death penalty. Why did Karla Faye Tucker's execution date attract so much attention? Through al1 the years Texas~ has been executing the men on death row with little local attention, less know widespread attention, and then there was Karla Faye Tucker, a born again Christian who said her life should have been spared, and yes, her life should have been spared, but what about all those men Texas has executed who too, said they were a born again Christian? Their execution dates and execution~ didn't receive widespread attention. No, that's really not why people were being so generous to Karla Faye Tucker. It was because Texas was attempting to execute it's first woman since the Civil War. The fact that Texas was attempting to execute a woman was why there was so much nationwide attention focused on Karla Faye Tucker's execution. Tucker admits that she committed her crime, but she had strayed away from the lifestyle that she was once committed to. So why did Karla Faye Tucker's execution gain so much attention, way much more than the men who are being escorted to the death chamber on a regular basis. That's simple. It's because Karla Faye Tucker is a woman. All the circumstances surrounding her case and the scheduling of her execution shows how the death penalty is being unfairly used. It shows that people think that the death penalty is an appropriate punishment for men, but not for women. There are 7 women on Texas Death Row, and over 400 men. How fairly do you think the death penalty is being used in Texas? Texas has executed 219 men, some whom were proven innocent after being executed, and 2 women. Texas second execution of a woman, was a 63 year old grandmother by the name of Betty Lou Beets. At 63 years old, how much of a threat or danger do you think she was to society? The Governor of Texas, George W. Bush is a staunch supporter of the death penalty and has just recently granted his first 30 day delay, and has commuted only one death penalty to life in prison.

On February 2, 1998, the Texas Board of Pardons and Pardons denied Ms. Tucker's commutation of her death sentence as expected. Ms. Tucker's lawyers, David Botsford and George Secrest, filed motions in states courts to delay the execution, saying the clemency process is unconstitutional, is rarely granted and excludes many humanitarian factors from consideration. The Texas Board of Pardon and Paroles, at the time of Tucker's execution, did not hear from the prisoner and most of the time, the pardons board did not even meet to vote. The board does not consider how the prisoner has changed and has been rehabilitated. 16 of 37 prisoners executed in 1997 sought commutation, but no hearings was held and no parole board members voted for commutation in any case.

Texas is no longer a state who wants to rehabilitate its prisoners. It's either you receive~ the death penalty, or you get locked away for the rest of your 1ife. This is all a part of the get tough on crime campaign in which elections are based on. If Karla Faye Tucker was a born again Christian, then this only raises another question about the death penalty and the Texas justice system. How does the death penalty when applied, constitute killing peop1e who can be rehabilitated? What about those people who are being wrongly convicted with unfair tria1s and sentenced to death? That question brings up a number of cases that has the people of Texas wondering about how the death penalty is being applied here in Texas. These cases are often forgotten about after over a long period of time, but to the men and women on death row, these cases remain in their minds for the fact that there are more innocent and wrongly convicted men and women sitting on death row at this very moment. On Tune 26, 1991 in Texas, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of James Edward Smith, but didn't issue a stay of execution. After Mr. Smith was executed, the Supreme Court dropped his case for the obvious reason, that Smith could no longer benefit from the high courts review because he was executed. Mr. Smith was also a death row prisoner with a mental illness. There is also the case of David Wayne Smith, better known for the Lake Waco murders, a crime investigators now believe Mr. Spence did not commit. None of the evidence in the case can link Mr. Spence to the Lake Waco murders, the most gruesome crime to ever happen in Waco, Texas. On April 3rd, a rainy Thursday evening in 1997, Mr. Spence was pronounced dead at 6:32 p.m. He was executed by lethal injection for the Lake Waco murders. No evidence ever showed he was guilty of the crime for which he was accused. His case was investigated by Brian Pardo who agreed to investigate the case until some evidence turned up that Mr. Spence was guilty of the Lake Waco murders. No evidence ever did. "There is no chance that he committed those murders," Mr. Pardo said. Another former death row prisoner who was bidding for his freedom is Danny Dean Thomas, whose conviction was overturned by a federal judge in July of 1997. The Attorney General's Office had 30 days to appeal, but a state attorney was a day late, automatically dismissing the appeal. After spending l5 years on death row, Mr. Thomas was granted a new trial. In his second trial, he was again sentenced to death. Who can forget the case of Ricardo Guerra, who was released after spending 15 years on death row for the murder of a Houston Police Officer, James Harris. He was released after an appellate court judge upheld a federal court ruling that cited police and prosecutorial misconduct in the murder investigation. The Ricardo Guerra case, in particular, reinforced Mexican public opinion against the death penalty because it showed that someone conceivably could be executed for a crime he or she didn't commit. Another Mexican citizen who was wrongly convicted and sentenced to die, was Tristan Montoya who signed a confession, written in English, that he could not read. When attorneys for Tristan Montoya filed Texas Open Records request for Article 36 advisories from the State Department on file, the Governor's Office, State Attorney General's Office, and Brownsville Police all replied they found no record of the advisories. The problem of getting article 36 enforced was underscored after attorneys for Tristan Montoya asked the State Department to investigate charges that Texas had violated the death row prisoner's treaty rights. On June 18, 1997, 2 hours before the scheduled execution, Tristan Montoya's attorney, Bonnie Goldstein, was faxed the Governor's Office response to the charge. An hour later, Governor Bush denied a stay and Tristan Montoya was put to death. Who can forget the most recent cases of death row prisoners with very strong claims of innocence. Cases such as Odell Barnes and James Bethard. Of course there are others, but the Governor of Texas, George Bush, actually went public and said that Texas does not sentence innocent people to death, and that there is no doubt that Texas has not executed any innocent people. He said the people of Texas are just bad. Here in Texas, an innocence claim is really no claim.

Texas is continuing to lead the nation in executions. When will people come to their senses and realize that murder is murder no matter how it is committed!? There is no such thing as a legal way to kill some- one. Texas has no sense of rehabilitation, and they are killing it's men and women by means to get political power. They are locking it's citizens up, guilty or not, and throwing away the key to get that tough on crime mentality. The next time you hear about a death penalty case, think about the things you have read here in this article, and remember the chances of sending an innocent man or woman to death row who may be innocent, or are you sending someone to death row who has a chance for rehabilitation, through the prison system such as Karla Faye Tucker. Remember, the courts don't always grant review, even when it thinks a lower court is wrong. A prison sentence can be commuted at any time, but unlike a prison sentence, the death penalty once executed, cannot be recalled.

Henry E Dunn Jr. #999165
Polunsky Unit
12002 FM 350 South
Livingston, Texas, 77351. USA

Note: This is a revised article by Texas Death Row Prisoner Henry Dunn Jr., from an article written by him in January of 1998. This article was revised June 13, 2000.