Separated At Death

Ernest Willis has one vice left: smoking. He smokes in his purple Lincoln Town Car, driving around Midland. He smokes while chatting with his neighbor in his front yard. He smokes at the kitchen table in his condo, which he shares with his son Shawn, who sells cars at a dealership in Odessa. Willis spends a lot of time in the condo. He likes to get up early, usually about six-thirty, and make a pot of coffee. Then he smokes a cigarette and turns on the news.

Motion to Dismiss

Four hours before convicted murderer Michael Richard was executed by the State of Texas on September 25, his lawyers notified the Court of Criminal Appeals that, because of computer problems, his appeal wouldn’t be filed until fifteen to thirty minutes after 5 p.m.—the hour at which the court’s offices closed. This was no ordinary appeal: That very morning, the U.S. Supreme Court had agreed to review the constitutionality of lethal injection as a method of execution.

Seven Women

TWO YEARS AGO I ATTENDED A TRIAL in Houston that resulted in the death penalty for a woman. At the time, there had been several national stories about the number of death sentences handed down in Harris County, more by far than in any other county in the country, and I was there to see what I thought about it. Erica Yvonne Sheppard, who was then 21, had helped murder a woman for her car.

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