Unusual Alliance of Former Governors, Legislators, Law Enforcement, Former Judges and Prosecutors, Victims and Exonerees Urge Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to Allow Death Penalty Hearing to Proceed

Dec 22, 2010, 17:24 ET from Dupont Circle Communications

Nearly Sixty Prominent Individuals File Amicus Brief Citing Concerns with Wrongful Convictions in Texas Capital Cases

AUSTIN, Texas, Dec. 22, 2010 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Today, a diverse group of nearly sixty prominent individuals from Texas and across the country, including former governors, legislators, law enforcement, former judges and prosecutors, victims, Innocence Network projects, and death row exonerees, filed an amicus brief calling on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) to allow Harris County District Court to continue hearing evidence in Texas v. Green. The unusual alliance submitted the brief to bring to the attention of the Court their shared concern over the risk of wrongful convictions in death penalty cases.  

Earlier this month, the district court had begun a serious examination of the substantial risk of wrongful conviction in the John Edward Green capital case. Two days into the hearing, on December 7, the CCA agreed to reconsider a motion by the Harris County District Attorneys Office and halted the proceedings.

"Wrongful convictions and the problems that underlie them are widely recognized and documented," the co-signers of the amicus brief state. "[U]nless Texas addresses the proven causes of wrongful convictions, including eyewitness misidentification, faulty forensics, unreliable informant evidence, among other documented factors, the state runs the grave risk of executing an innocent person."

The signatories include: three former governors, including Gov. Mark White (TX), Gov. Parris Glendening (MD) and Gov. Joe Kernan (IN); former prosecutors and law enforcement, including former Dallas Assistant District Attorney James A. Fry, who prosecuted an innocent man exonerated by DNA testing after 27 years, and former Texas Department of Public Safety Commander J. Patrick O'Burke; crime victims including Michele Mallin, who mistakenly identified Timothy Cole, who was posthumously pardoned this year by Governor Rick Perry; legislators, including Texas State Senator Rodney Ellis; and death row exonerees including Anthony Graves, who was freed from Texas' death row in October after new evidence proved his innocence.

The brief is also co-signed by current and former attorneys general, police chiefs, judges and prosecutors from Texas and states across the country.

Before the CCA stayed the hearing on December 7, the district court was prepared to hear testimony regarding the cases of Cameron Todd Willingham and Claude Jones, both executed for crimes that new evidence suggests they did not commit.

The brief cites a nationwide trend away from the death penalty due to concerns about wrongful convictions. The signatories are concerned that "confidence in the criminal justice system is shaken when problems go unaddressed," and they urge the CCA to allow the district court hearing to continue.

"[We] submit that the critical hearing that had been evaluating the accuracy and fairness of the Texas death penalty be continued. The trial court is the appropriate venue for hearing live testimony and gathering evidence. [We] petition this court to ensure that the public is informed by continuing this hearing and thereby providing information access to the public about the actual operation of the death penalty."

Since 1976, 138 people have been exonerated from death row nationwide. Twelve of them were in Texas. Furthermore, of the first 250 DNA exonerations (in capital and non-capital cases), 40 were in Texas. The Texas v. Green hearing would allow attorneys for Mr. Green to continue to present expert testimony and evidence regarding the substantial risk of wrongful conviction and wrongful execution in his case.

This release was issued by Dupont Circle Communications on behalf of the individuals filing.

Contact: Laura Burstein, LBurstein@ssd.com

SOURCE Dupont Circle Communications