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Old 06-02-2005, 04:47 AM
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Default Please write to the governor about passing LWOP (TEXAS)

Texas Moratorium Network
June 1, 2005

Greetings!
Please write Governor Perry to urge him to sign SB 60, the recently passed Life Without Parole bill. To make sure he gets the message, in addition to writing him, please call him and leave a phone message at (512) 463-2000. Please hit reply and send us an email if you contact Perry, so that we can count how many people have contacted him.

In March, we asked you to send a message to your Texas legislators asking them to pass the Life Without Parole bill. Many of you took action on that request. On Saturday, May 28, the Texas Legislature finally approved legislation giving juries the option of sentencing people convicted of capital crimes to Life Without Parole. The version that passed only has two sentencing options in capital trials, life without parole or lethal injection. We would have preferred keeping a third option of life with the possibility of parole after 40 years, but that version did not have enough support to pass.

The LWOP bill has been sent to Governor Perry, who has until June 19 to sign it, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature.

If you live within Texas, you can use our pre-written alert to send your message to Perry. Our system only works for Texas addresses, because it identifies the correct governor to send your message to based on your address.

If you live outside Texas, but within the U.S., you can use Governor Perry's online email form to urge him to sign the life without parole bill.

If you live outside the U.S., because Perry's online form does not seem to accept non-U.S. addresses, you have to either call him and leave a phone message at (512) 463-2000 or you can fax him at (512) 463-1849 (his fax line is often busy, so just keep trying) or you can write him at:

Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 12428
Austin, Texas 78711-2428

We believe that Life Without Parole will result in fewer death sentences and eventually fewer executions. Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal opposed the Life Without Parole bill, because he also thinks it will result in fewer death sentences. Here is an article that explains the recent decrease in death sentences nationwide and mentions LWOP as one of the reasons for the decline.

In other legislative news, a crime lab watchdog bill was approved and sent to Perry, Terry Keel's HB 268 died in the Senate, and HB 93, which changes the cause of death on death certificates of executed people from "Homicide" to "Judicially ordered execution" was passed and sent to Perry.

Thank you for taking action,
Texas Moratorium Network

Life without parole bill goes to governor
May 28, 2005
Senate approves life without parole
A bill that gives juries a new option in capital cases heads to Perry

By CLAY ROBISON
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau

AUSTIN - The Senate Saturday gave final approval to a bill creating a life without parole sentencing option for capital murderers and sent the measure to Gov. Rick Perry.

A spokesman said he didn't know if the governor would sign or veto the legislation, which is opposed by a number of prosecutors, including Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal.

Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, who has been trying for several years to get the legislation passed, won Senate approval of House changes to the measure, Senate Bill 60.

The bill would give juries two choices in capital cases: sentencing a defendant to death or life without parole. It would eliminate the current option of a life sentence which allows for possible parole in 40 years.

"I would hope he (Perry) would sign it. I think it is long overdue," Lucio said, noting that public opinion polls indicate there is strong support among Texans for such a law.

Lucio, who supports the death penalty, said life without parole would help give "closure" to victims' families in cases in which the death penalty isn't assessed.

He also said the new option was important in light of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in March banning the execution of murderers whose crimes were committed when they were younger than 18.

That ruling has raised concerns that juvenile capital murderers could one day be paroled.

Opponents say life without parole would make prisons more difficult to manage because inmates with no hope of parole wouldn't have any incentive to behave.

They also believe it would make capital murder defendants less likely to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence.

Among the 38 states with the death penalty, only Texas and New Mexico don't give juries the option of life without parole.

One House amendment (by Rep Harold Dutton), which the Senate accepted, would provide that capital murderers who kill when they are younger than 18 be sentenced to life without parole, satisfying the Supreme Court ban against executing youthful offenders.

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Session ends without guidance on death penalty application
May 30, 2005
By DAVE MICHAELS
The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN - At nearly every turn, legislators chose to block or water down efforts to address the U.S. Supreme Court's concerns about how Texas applies the death penalty.

Most significant, Texas will still lack a law that reflects the 2002 court decision banning execution of the mentally retarded. Senators could not reach a compromise this year on bills that proposed different ways to define mental retardation and when juries should consider the issue.

In a state that leads the nation in executions, that could create problems for courts, which lack specific instructions for dealing with defendants who may be retarded. Such issues can lead to endless, costly appeals.

"When the Supreme Court decides something, the Legislature cannot say, 'Oh, well, the Supreme Court has decided this,' " said David Dow of the Texas Innocence Network at the University of Houston Law Center, who advocates changes to the death-penalty system. "The Legislature has to change the law based on what the Supreme Court has said."

Lawmakers also did not take significant steps to investigate problems that led to the conviction of innocent people.

Although several innocent people walked off death row or out of Texas prisons last year, Sen. Rodney Ellis could not win support for creating an innocence commission that would study the system's failings.

"The real problem is there is not an organized constituency for criminal justice reforms," said Mr. Ellis, D-Houston. "That is not a vote-getter."

Some Republicans said that such actions weren't urgent because problems with the death penalty are exaggerated by its opponents.

"Many of the supposed reforms for the death penalty in Texas are really subterfuge for attempts to eliminate it," said Rep. Terry Keel, an Austin Republican who is the House's most influential voice on criminal justice.

Others, including Mr. Ellis, believe change could still be on the way.

They point to a new Criminal Justice Advisory Council created by the governor to advise state leaders on how to improve the system.

Thomas P. Sullivan, a former U.S. attorney who co-chaired the Illinois Commission on the Death Penalty, said the council should take up the "great inadequacy of the funding of defense services in Texas." The Illinois commission, created when that state's governor placed a moratorium on executions, studied how so many innocent people there had been sentenced to death.

Texas has not adopted American Bar Association recommendations that urge funding for statewide public defender offices. The ABA says such offices overcome regional disparities in funding and provide quality legal representation throughout the state.

"Until adequate funds are made available to defend criminal cases, funding at the same level as the prosecution, there is going to be a serious risk of injustice and incarceration of people who are not guilty," said Mr. Sullivan, who has worked with Mr. Ellis and others in Texas.

The state provided for about $12 million in 2004 for indigent defense. Counties provided about $140 million.

The Legislature did approve about $200,000 each for four innocence clinics at Texas law schools. The clinics, which subsist on private donations and foundation grants, investigate cases of prisoners who have persuasive claims of innocence.

On Sunday, the House short-circuited an attempt to channel additional money to poor defendants. Lawmakers did not vote on a bill that would have raised the pay of the state judiciary, which contained an amendment to put $13 million toward indigent defense.

The House's inaction was payback for the Senate killing a bill, authored by Mr. Keel, that would have changed qualifications for defense attorneys appointed to capital murder cases.

Mr. Keel and Mr. Ellis disagree about the impact of the bill. Mr. Ellis said it would have lowered standards by eliminating a requirement that appointed defense lawyers have experience in "a significant number of felony cases." Mr. Keel stressed that it would prohibit attorneys who had been found to be ineffective from serving capital-murder defendants.

Republicans and Democrats also disagree about the impact of a bill they both like - one that creates a sentence of life without parole. It was approved and will be sent to Gov. Rick Perry. Existing law allows prisoners under a life sentence to petition for parole after 40 years in prison.

The push for a life-without-parole sentence gained new momentum when, in March, the U.S. Supreme Court banned the execution of those who commit murder when they are younger than 18.

Democrats such as Sen. Juan Hinojosa of McAllen said the change would lead to fewer death sentences. Mr. Keel, a former prosecutor, disputes that, noting that state law still compels jurors to choose death for a killing they deem deliberate and if a suspect presents a "continuing danger to society." If nothing in the defendant's background mitigates against the use of the death sentence, jurors must choose death.

That sentencing scheme is a sore point among critics, who say it doesn't allow jurors to apply much discretion.

"Juries [here] are in the position of feeling that death is the only option they are allowed by law," said Andrea Keilen of Texas Defender Service, which represents death row defendants on appeal.

Eric Freedman, a law professor at Hofstra University, said Texas' death statute is so rigid that critics could argue it borders on a mandatory death sentence. That battle looms on the legal horizon, he said, for courts and future legislatures.

"We are still fighting the underlying constitutionality of the Texas death penalty," he said.

The Legislature passed several bills that tweak the state's death penalty and provide more resources to courts, though defense attorneys say their efforts are still underfunded. Among the changes:

Defendants found guilty of killing a judge could receive the death penalty.

Courts could maintain supervision of defendants found not guilty by reason of insanity, even after they are released to outpatient treatment.

Juries could sentence capital murder defendants to a sentence of life in prison without parole.

A new agency, the Texas Forensic Science Commission, would investigate claims of wrongdoing or incompetence at crime labs whose analyses and testimony are critical to prosecutions.

More money could be provided for innocence clinics at law schools, which look into credible claims of wrongful convictions. The University of Houston's Innocence Network has secured the release of innocent people from prison.

More money could be spent on defense resources for the poor as part of a bill that raises jury pay to $40 a day.

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