A Democratic Houston judge who last week ruled that the procedures used to convict and sentence someone to death in Texas are unconstitutional has put his ruling in abeyance and scheduled a hearing on April 27 to hear evidence on the issue (Read more here). State District Judge Kevin Fine said he wants more information before making a final decision about whether the state's death penalty statute protects innocent people from execution. Judge Fine has asked Harris County prosecutors and defense attorneys to submit motions on the due process issue by April 12. Fine will then have an evidentiary hearing April 27 when testimony on whether innocent people have been executed in Texas is set to be presented. The defense attorneys are still determining whom they might call to testify at the April 27 hearing, but they said it might include officials connected to the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, whose 2004 execution for the deaths of his three daughters in a 1991 house fire near Corsicana is now being questioned.
With the hearing in Judge Fine's court looming on April 27, a group of people, students and non-students alike, are planning to spend their spring break next week learning about the problems in the Texas death penalty system and training on how to organize to change Texas public policy. Everyone is welcome to attend.
It starts at 4:30 PM on Monday, March 15 in the Jesse H. Jones Communication Center – CMA room 3.112 on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin. CMA is on the corner of Whitis Avenue and Dean Keeton (Google Map).
Guest speakers include six innocent, exonerated people who together spent 65 years on death row, Curtis McCarty, Shujaa Graham, Ron Keine, Derrick Jamison, Perry Cobb and Juan Melendez. (Speaker bios)
Other speakers include the national director of Sister Helen Prejean's Dead Man Walking School Theatre Project, a representative from the Washington D.C. office of Amnesty International, Bill Pelke, president of Journey of Hope … from Violence to Healing, Susannah Sheffer of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights, a student organizer from Campus Progress in Washington D.C., and several family members of people currently on Texas death row, some convicted under the Law of Parties even though they did not themselves kill anyone.
Participants will come away with firsthand knowledge of the anti-death penalty movement and a new understanding of how they can affect public policy. Plus, they will have an opportunity to form new friendships that could last a lifetime. During the spring break students will have plenty of free time to enjoy Austin, the Live Music Capital of the World and home of the University of Texas at Austin and the SXSW Music, Film and Interactive Festival, which takes place the same week as our alternative spring break.
The alternative spring break is designed to be an intensive experience for high school and college students interested in human rights, but all of the events and workshops are open to the public of all ages.
We will provide participants with workshops led by experienced, knowledgeable presenters who will teach them skills that they can use to go back home and set up new anti-death penalty student organizations or improve ones that may already exist. The skills participants will learn can also be used in other issues besides the death penalty.
Students will gain valuable training and experience in grassroots organizing, lobbying, preparing a rally and media relations. During the week, students will immediately put what they learn into action during activities such as an Anti-Death Penalty Lobby Day and a Justice Rally at the Texas Capitol on Thursday, May 18. Cory Session, the brother of Timothy Cole, will speak at the rally. Cole was an innocent person who died of natural causes in prison while serving a 25-year sentence for a rape he did not commit. He was posthumously pardoned by Rick Perry.
On Thursday May 18, there will be a panel discussion at the Texas Capitol in Room E2.016 at 12:30 with six innocent exonerated former death row prisoners, as well as two family members of murder victims.