It’s time to halt executions in Texas. The flaws in our death penalty system have become too obvious to ignore any longer. Five times in the past seven years we’ve learned about a person wrongly convicted and taken off death row or a person convicted on bogus forensic science—and executed. It’s clear: Until the day comes when we are able to guarantee that our system will never put innocent men and women to death, we can’t continue to use a form of punishment that is irreversible.
You’re one of the only people to know what it’s like to be an innocent man on death row, but everybody else thinks you’re guilty. What did that feel like to you? When you had those two days left—we’re trying to put ourselves in the mind of [Cameron Todd Willingham] and what he was going through. What did that feel like?
Editors’ note: On October 27, 2010, just a month after the publication of this story, the Burleson County district attorney’s office dropped all murder charges against Anthony Graves and released him from the county jail, where he was awaiting retrial.
In 1992 Somerville authorities made a gruesome discovery in the charred remnants of a house fire: a woman and five children had been violently murdered and set ablaze. In nearby Brenham, the prime suspect—a prison guard named Robert Carter—identified 26-year-old Anthony Graves as the killer, even though no physical evidence or plausible motive linked him to the crime. Graves and Carter were both tried, convicted, and sentenced to death in 1994.
If it’s something you’d just as soon not think about, chances are Pamela Colloff has written about it for TEXAS MONTHLY. Here is a partial list of the subjects she’s covered since coming to work at the magazine thirteen years ago: murder, arson, abortion, heroin addiction, hate crimes, illegal immigration, murder, meth addiction, the Charles Whitman shootings, the Branch Davidian standoff, murder, and war.
The TDCJ doesn't want to release information on the size of the death penalty drug stockpile at the state’s disposal, because, as Allan Turner of the Houston Chronicle reports, the department believes that if it released this information, manufacturers and suppliers would be put at risk.
A couple of Fridays ago, Kerry Max Cook, who was released from Texas’ death row in 1997 after two decades, went to pick up his eleven-year-old son, Kerry Justice, from his North Dallas school. Class was just letting out. As Cook approached a group of children and their parents, a little girl squirmed out of her mother’s arms and ran toward him. “Mr. Kerry!” she called. He laughed as she jumped into his arms. “Haleigh!” he shouted, and began tickling her. “She adores Mr. Kerry,” her mother said.
The state's first execution of the year is scheduled for Thursday night. Rodrigo Hernandez, who was convicted of the rape and murder of Susan Verstegen, a 38-year-old single mother and Frito-Lay employee, is set to die.
In February 1994, Verstegen's body was found in a 55-gallon barrel outside of a San Antonio church. The case had gone cold until 2002, when DNA evidence collected in Michigan linked Hernandez, 38, to Verstegen's death.
No surprise here. Texas led the country in executions in 2011, putting thirteen prisoners to death, according to the Death Penalty Information Center's annual report. But executions were down by almost half since 2009, when the state executed 24 people.