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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Justin Fuller Press Conference

Austin Activists Call Execution Into Question, Plead for Life of Justin Fuller

Austin, August 15--On Thursday, August 17, at 5:00 p.m., Austin anti-death penalty activists will hold a press conference to focus attention on a troubling death penalty case, that of Justin Fuller. The event will take place on the east (Colorado Street) side of the Governor¹s Mansion, on the front steps of the mansion.

Justin Fuller is scheduled to be executed on August 24. He was convicted of robbery and capital murder in the 1997 murder of Donald Harrison. Fuller was 19 at the time of conviction and 18 at the time of his crime.

The August 17 event will feature as a speaker University of Texas Law professor Robert Owen, who has defended people facing the death penalty since 1989. A Harvard Law graduate, he co-directs the Capital Punishment Clinic at the University of Texas. He is a recipient of the Thurgood Marshall Award, recognizing his work in fighting the death penalty, from the Association of the Bar of the City of New York.

Lily Hughes, a longstanding member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and close friend of Justin Fuller, will also speak.

The press conference will show that Fuller¹s case raises serious questions about the inaccessibility of adequate legal representation to indigent defendants. Fuller did not receive adequate representation from the state of Texas.

Of his two lawyers, second-chair James Volberding had minimal criminal court experience and was not qualified to try a capital case. Several months prior to the trial, his main lawyer Donald Killingsworth was suspended from practicing law because he had not paid his state bar dues. During this time, Volberding was lead counsel.

Killingsworth failed to mention to Fuller that the prosecution had discussed a possible plea bargain. This plea bargain would have offered Fuller life in prison rather than the death sentence he received.

Volberding wrote several memos that stated that he believed that Killingsworth was not providing adequate counsel to Fuller and that he was picking up the slack. The above claims were brought forth in appeals, all of which were denied.

Furthermore, Fuller¹s state habeas lawyer filed a writ for Fuller that was actually a writ he had done for a previous client named Henry Dunn. He didn't even change the name to Fuller¹s in parts of the writ, and the document contained facts that had to do with Dunn's case. To this day Fuller denies being the triggerman who shot and killed Harrison. He claims Samhermundre Wideman, another man arrested for his involvement, was the shooter.

Elaine Hays, another participant in the crime, has said publicly that Wideman was the shooter. She explains that after Fuller and Wideman returned to the vehicle, where she had been waiting for the two men, Wideman said, "It felt good to shoot someone." This fact was brought up in a later defeated appeal.

The state of Texas denied the appeal based on the ground that the state can still execute "non-triggermen." Wideman was sentenced to life for his involvement in the crime. Like Wideman, Fuller might have received a life sentence if he had been tried as a "non-triggerman" or even if his counsel had done their job properly.

"If the public only knew about the mistakes in the application of the death penalty and how it targets minorities and the poor, no one would support it," commented Lily Hughes, a member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty. "Justin should not die.

"And his case is just the tip of the iceberg."

Please join us for this press conference. After this, we will join others in protesting the execution of Richard Hinojosa at our usual spot behind the governor's mansion on Lavaca, in between 10th and 11th Streets.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Come to our Meeting Tomorrow

This is an exciting time to be an abolitionist. Join us this week for our weekly meeting at Kasbah, a coffeeshop on Guadalupe across from the Blockbuster. Please see our website for directions. The meeting starts at 7pm.

We strongly encourage you to join us this week, since we are beginning to get things ready for the new school year and will be planning many activites for the Fall. We want your input, and will need energetic and dedicated individuals to help implement our plans.

Since the school year is about to begin, we will soon be moving our regular weekly meetings back to the UT campus. As soon as we have a room reserved, we will announce the location. Please consider becoming involved.

Also, the state of Texas has plans to execute Richard Hinojosa on Thursday, August 17th. Join us behind the governor's mansion on Lavaca Street, in between 10th and 11th Streets, from 5:30-6:30pm as we protest this execution. More information about Richard Hinojosa can be found here.

Lastly, one of our members, Lily Hughes, sent out a message last week calling for an action opposing the execution of her friend and pen pal Justin Fuller. Justin is scheduled to be executed on July 24th. The CEDP is in the process of planning such an execution. We will send out an announcement in the next couple of days with those details.

We hope to see you at the meeting tomorrow.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

North Carolina gives Texas a model to follow

North Carolina's Innocence Commission is the first of its
kind in the nation. While far from perfect, it presents a
clear example of the kind of safeguards Texas is obligated to
implement based on the evidence that Texas has incarcerated and
executed innocent people.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/08/03/AR2006080300
801.html

N.C. Gov. Sets Up Innocence Commission

By GARY D. ROBERTSON
The Associated Press


RALEIGH, N.C. -- Inmates in North Carolina who claim they were wrongly
convicted got a new avenue of appeal Thursday as Gov. Mike Easley
signed a
law creating a state innocence commission described as the first of its
kind
in the nation.

The commission, modeled after one in the United Kingdom, was created
after
several high-profile convictions were overturned in North Carolina.

The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission will review innocence
claims
from people who can present new evidence that hasn't been considered in
court.

The eight-member commission will begin accepting claims in November. If
five
or more commission members agree there is enough evidence of potential
innocence, the case would be sent to a panel of three Superior Court
judges.
Overturning a conviction would require a unanimous decision by the
three
judges.

Easley, a former prosecutor and attorney general, said North Carolina
residents should be proud of the commission.

"Its creation gives our criminal justice system yet another safeguard
by
helping ensure that the people in our prisons in fact, belong there,"
Easley
said in a statement after signing the bill without a public ceremony.

Among the high-profile cases of wrongful conviction was that of Darryl
Hunt,
who served 18 years in prison for the 1984 murder of a Winston-Salem
newspaper employee before he was exonerated in 2003 by DNA evidence.
Easley
later pardoned him. In 2004, Alan Gell, a onetime death row inmate, was
retried and acquitted in a 1995 killing after it was revealed
prosecutors
withheld key evidence.

While other states have created panels to improve legal procedures to
reduce
the likelihood of wrongful conviction, North Carolina's commission will
consider individual cases.

"It is the first of its kind in the nation," said Eric Ferrero with the
Innocence Project, a New York-based legal clinic that handles cases
where
DNA testing can lead to overturning a conviction.

Convicts who pleaded guilty in their original cases will not be
eligible to
submit their claims for two years. After that time, the eight-member
commission would have to agree unanimously to send the case to the
judges'
panel.

The North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys had objected to
that
provision because people who pleaded guilty in court can now proclaim
their
innocence. Garry Frank, the group's president, said it was "kind of
making a
mockery of the system."

The legislation allows the commission to hear claims filed through
2010,
after which the law that created it would have to be renewed.

© 2006 The Associated Press

Monday, August 07, 2006

In Memoriam: William Wyatt, Jr.

The following message was sent to us by Delia Perez Meyer, a long-time friend of William Wyatt, Jr. Delia's brother, Louis Castro Perez, is on death row as well. Please email us if you'd like to learn more about Louis's case and how you can get involved.

I wanted to say a few words about William Wyatt's execution yesterday.  I went to visit my brother, so that he could say goodbye to William.  They were allowed to touch hands and say a little prayer together through the holes in their cages, and in handcuffs.  William was a strong warrior, as his family filed in to say their last goodbyes.  William was one of my pen pals for the last 8 years, he was a very good man, and was totally innocent of the crime he was accused of.  Because he is poor, he never had the proper representation and therefore, he never stood a chance against this killing machine!

As he was led away by 4 higher rank employees, his family was flanked by 4 guards as they were escorted off the property, and were told, "We know you're a little emotional, but you need to get off this property now!"  It was the most cruel and unnusual, disgusting, sickening treatment of a family I have ever seen.

We went with the family to the Hospitality House where we all awaited for a greuling 6 hours until it was time to go to the Walls Unit where William was murdered by this State of Texas.  I stood outside the prison walls by myself, because none of his family could stand to go and watch.  There were 3 other ladies from Spring, Texas - God Bless them!

His family and I cried, wailed, prayed all day - they were so sad, so hurt, so shocked, and completely unconsolable.  They all knew he was innocent and they all loved him so very much.

I spoke to William at length just before he was executed and told him that we loved him, we knew he was innocent, and we would continue the fight to abolish the evil death penalty, and to someday get to the truth in his case.

I have to tell you it was the most gut wrenching, horrific, disgusting day of my life.  We should all be ashamed, and livid, and horrified by what this state continues to do, day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year – executing, killing, murdering our loved ones!

I will never be the same again - we all have blood on our hands for not doing enough, for not fighting hard enough, for not coming to the aid of each and every single man being executed.  It has given me just the kick in the ass that I needed to say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! - a moratorium is not enough - we need to ABOLISH THE DEATH PENALTY NOW !!!!!!!!!!!!!

William's last words to me were, "Please tell everyone who is fighting against the death penalty that I said thank you"; and William's last words on this Earth were, "I did not kill that baby" and "I am going home to my heavenly Father." As William was executed, the skies opened up, a beautiful moon shone through the clouds, and incredibly, many beautiful birds poured in from the heavens, and hovered around the death chamber. God Bless William and God Bless his family today, as they bury their beloved son.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Has the Bexar County DA's office already made up its mind on Cantu?

Investigators from the DA's office looking into Ruben Cantu's
wrongful execution seem to have already made up their minds that
witnesses, who happen to be ex-cons, are "liars" and anyone,
such as Cantu's surviving family, who bring a wrongful execution suit
against SAPD, the DA's office, and/or TDCJ are "money-grubbing...bastards".

You can see this bias against those from the criminalized
classes all the time. It was present in the Rodney Reed trial and many others.
Certain groups, such as young black men and young, poor Latinos, are
incarcerated at much higher rates than other segments of the population.
If, therefore, you are a young Black or Latino man, like Reed or Cantu,
your friends and personal contacts, the only people usually
who can testify as to your whereabouts or facts concerning your personal life,
such as the existence of a sexual relationship, are probably going to be
young Black and Latino men, and because of the high incarceration rates,
they are more likely to have criminal records. This itself, whether
or not it is related to the crime or relevant in any way, automatically
discredits them and makes them bad witnesses.

Therefore, accused people from these groups are more likely to be
impeded in their ability to provide "believable" witnesses than
middle-class whites in both the trial and the sentencing
phases before the trial court. This is just another way racism
is a decisive factor in who becomes a victim of the criminal justice
system in the US today.


Candid phone calls cast doubt on Cantu review
Investigators are heard mocking the claim of wrongful execution, but DA
denies any bias

By LISE OLSEN and MARO ROBBINS
Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle AND San Antonio Express-News

SAN ANTONIO - The Bexar County district attorney's investigation into a
possibly wrongful execution had barely started earlier this year, but
already
DA investigators were scoffing at the three witnesses who contend Texas
sent
an innocent man named Ruben Cantu to his death.

"They're lying. They're all lying, and they know they're lying," Mike
Beers,
the senior DA investigator, told the retired sergeant who drove the
homicide
investigation against Cantu and whose actions, along with other
officers in
that case, are under review by the DA's office.

That was in February, before DA investigators had spoken with two of
the three
witnesses who say Cantu was innocent. By March, another top
investigator was
forecasting the outcome:

"It's going to go forward with the fact that it was justified and
everything
was correct, and that's the way it is," James Moore, one of the primary
DA
investigators on the case, told Bill Ewell, the retired sergeant, on a
routinely recorded phone line March 7.

Obtained through a public-records request, these recorded conversations
open a
window into one of the highest-profile and politically polarizing
investigations under way in Texas, a review of allegations that the
state made
a mistake when it executed Cantu for a 1984 robbery and murder.

Both DA investigators ridicule the case and openly mock the notion that
Cantu
might have been innocent. They describe the witnesses as liars and
bastards;
one dismisses the possibility of a future wrongful-execution lawsuit as
"chicken shit."

Together, the recorded statements stand in contrast to public
assurances that
the Bexar County DA's Office will fully and fairly examine assertions
that
Cantu played no part in the 1984 robbery that left one man dead and
another
bleeding from nearly a dozen wounds.

A spokesman for District Attorney Susan Reed characterized the
conversations
as harmless "shop talk" and speculation, sprinkled with the salty
language of
tough cops. First Assistant District Attorney Cliff Herberg said any
doubts
about the case are natural, because two of the witness who vouch for
Cantu are
ex-convicts and liars.

Herberg said the investigators did not disclose any confidential
information
or violate ethical rules and would not be disciplined. Yet, he did say
he
regretted the remarks had been made on a publicly recorded telephone
line
because they could imply that his office had "prejudged the case."

"We want people to have confidence in the integrity of the
investigation. This
obviously does not help that," Herberg said. "But all of the people
that are
involved are professionals ... and they will do the job that needs to
be done
to the best of their ability regardless of what their personal opinions
may be."

Several ethicists and lawyers asked to review the information are more
skeptical.

"I do think (the DA) needs to determine whether or not the lead
investigators
have done a good job, based on these phone calls. Because it sounds to
me that
this important team has prejudged the case," said Linda Eads, an
ethicist and
former prosecutor who is chairwoman of the professional disciplinary
rules
committee for the State Bar of Texas.

Investigators Beers and Moore work under the direction of Herberg and
other
attorneys in the DA's office. Through Herberg, both refused to comment
but
stressed they had done nothing improper. Herberg quoted Moore as
saying:
"There is no conspiracy by us to cover up any actions by anybody."
Ewell,
through an attorney, also declined to comment.

At the time of the conversations, Ewell served as police chief for the
North
East Independent School District, which routinely records calls on its
police-department phone line. Ewell, who is now retired from the school
district as well as the San Antonio Police Department, is not the
target of
any criminal investigation, Herberg said, though the actions of
officers
involved in the Cantu case are under review.

'They're all lying'
In 1985, it was Ewell and his detectives who, on the third attempt,
obtained
the key evidence against Cantu, an eyewitness identification from the
lone
surviving victim of the robbery, a witness who now says police
pressured him
to identify Cantu.

Reed reopened the case in December after the Houston Chronicle
published
wrongful-execution claims made by the shooting victim, along with
Cantu's
convicted co-defendant and a potential alibi witness who says Cantu was
in
Waco stealing cars about the time of the murder.

Reed testified in June that she hadn't formed any conclusions, but
months
earlier, her senior investigator already had given his opinion.

"They're all lying," said Beers, the DA's senior investigator, in that
February phone conversation.

"Yeah, I think so. I mean I know so," Ewell replied. "But, I mean, I
hope the
DA knows that."

"Oh yeah," Beers assured him. "All they're just trying to show is that
... the
case was handled ethically and it was done correctly."

A month later, Moore, the head investigator in the DA's
white-collar-crime
section, gave Ewell information and advice.

In one conversation, Moore, who informally interviewed Cantu's
co-defendant
David Garza, dismissed Garza with an expletive. In another call, he
predicted
the investigation would prove everything was "justified" and "correct."

In an interview, Herberg, the first assistant district attorney, said
that he
understood Moore's dislike of Garza, a convicted felon who through the
years
has flip-flopped about what happened the night of the murder. But
Herberg said
Moore's "forward looking" and "optimistic" prediction about the case
was
premature and did not reflect his bosses' views.

"We're not ready to make that kind of statement," Herberg said.

Legal experts and attorneys for the witnesses have challenged the DA's
objectivity in the case because in her previous job as judge, Reed
denied one
of Cantu's appeals and set his execution date. But no one has
previously
questioned the staff's conduct in the case.

Beers is a former motorcycle cop and mayoral driver who joined the SAPD
in
1969, two years after Ewell. The former colleagues occasionally lunch
together, according to the taped conversations.

Five days after his formal interview with the DA's office about the
Cantu
execution, Ewell invited Beers to lunch. Ewell told his friend he
wanted "to
see what you've heard."

Beers oversees all DA investigators but has played only a minor role in
the
Cantu review — retrieving some documents — and would know only what he
read in
the newspaper or heard around the office, according to Herberg. Still,
when
Ewell worried aloud about whether the Cantu case might later result in
a
wrongful-death lawsuit, Beers replied:

"That just tells me a whole lot about people like that. Y'know, just
money-hungry sorry bastards."

Police not suspects
Moore had been the one who formally interviewed Ewell for the Cantu
investigation Feb. 1. After that, Moore talked with Ewell on the phone
several
times.

On March 28, Ewell had a question for Moore.

"Am I being investigated, or what are we doing here? That's, that's my
concern," Ewell said. "Does the DA's office think that I'm guilty of
some
wrongdoing?"

"No," Moore said. "Not that I'm aware of, no."

Later, Moore added , "There's no investigation by us ... or anybody
else that
I'm aware of."

What Moore meant, Herberg said in an interview, is that the police
officers
are not suspects because the recanting eyewitness, Juan Moreno, who has
not
been interviewed by the DA's office since the case was reopened, has
never
publicly claimed that police did anything illegal.

But the DA has said Moreno could be prosecuted for the unusual crime of
murder
by perjury if he lied during Cantu's trial.

Ewell began contacting friends soon after the Chronicle and San Antonio
Express-News published investigations about new innocence claims in the
Cantu
case in late November, recordings show. He called the outgoing SAPD
chief, a
couple of deputy chiefs and the former judge in the Cantu trial, Roy
Barrera
Jr., among others.

First of many conversations
Ewell, who has refused to give an interview about his role in the Cantu
case,
gave his official sworn account to the DA's office Feb. 1.

The meeting introduced Ewell to Moore, who had joined the DA's office
after
years as an investigator with the state pharmacy board. Other calls
followed.

In one conversation, Moore described his informal interview with Garza,
one of
the men who now claims Cantu was wrongly executed.

Garza was convicted at 15 of being Cantu's accomplice in the 1984
murder and
robbery of a Mexican-born contractor. He originally pleaded not guilty,
later
entered a guilty plea on the robbery charge but never testified about
the murder.

Last year, Garza signed a sworn statement saying Cantu was innocent and
named
another teen as the killer. But when the DA's team went to interview
Garza,
then in prison for an unrelated crime, he initially refused a
lie-detector
test, Moore told Ewell.

"We went down there and interviewed that little bastard," Moore,
laughing,
told Ewell. " ... He's very anti-death penalty."

In an interview, Herberg said he understood Moore's low opinion of
Garza.

"David Garza is an admitted Mexican Mafia member. He's an admitted
liar. He's
an admitted participant in a capital murder. He's a three-time
convicted
felon," Herberg said. "What would you call him? I would not call him a
Boy Scout."

Garza refused to cooperate with the DA's office when he was in prison
because
he claimed its investigators and prosecutors are biased.

Now out on parole, Garza gave an interview to the DA's office June 28
after
having been summoned to testify in front of a grand jury.

In another March conversation, Moore called Ewell to give him a
"heads-up" at
Herberg's direction. A Chronicle reporter had requested the DA's file
on the
1981 robbery in which Ewell and others arrested two innocent people.

Moore told Ewell that reporters were "trying to smear you ... is what
it looks
like, trying to ... raise a bunch of doubt and all this stuff."

"Well, how does Judge Reed feel about me?" Ewell asked.

Moore again reassured him. "She doesn't pay any attention to that."

Reed refused to be interviewed for this report through Herberg, her
spokesman.

Defending the investigation
Instead, Herberg offered a nuanced defense of the investigators in a
two-and-a-half-hour interview about the recordings, which the
newspapers
provided for his review.

Herberg said he agreed with most of what the investigators said but
described
their remarks as idle speculation that doesn't warrant public airing.
He also
insisted that the investigation's outcome has not been predetermined
even as
he acknowledged that some in the office may have a bias toward Cantu's
guilt.

The investigators also have another predisposition: They're reluctant
to
believe ex-cons who, presumably, aim to discredit or abolish the death
penalty, he said.

"The problem with this article is it's going to make out this point
that
somehow this has been prejudged. ... We're looking at everything,"
Herberg
stressed. "But we are adults, we do have a little experience here and
didn't
fall off the turnip truck yesterday."

He said officials have yet to speak to the most intriguing witness,
Moreno.
Unlike the others, Moreno isn't an ex-con. Instead, he's a shooting
victim who
visibly bears the scars of the attack and whose testimony put Cantu on
death row.

In the recorded conversations, investigators also dismissed Moreno as a
liar
or speculated he'd been hoodwinked into recanting.

But Herberg insisted that no one's mind is made up.

"I hope, at least, the article conveys we understand the sensitivity of
the
investigation," he said. "I wish these (recordings) were not public. I
wish
they had not occurred. But that said, the officers can do their job.
And will
do their job."
- - - - -
lise.olsen@chron.com
mrobbins@express-news.net