max soffar clemency petition

How do you get mercy for a dying man on death row—a man who is also, by almost every account, innocent? You go to the governor. And around noon today, that’s just what the attorneys for Max Soffar did. Soffar’s attorneys, Andrew Horne and Brian Stull, visited the governor’s office in the State Capitol, bringing a petition started by famous anti-capital punishment advocate Sister Helen Prejean. Soffar has been on death row since 1980 but he was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer only last year. Sister Prejean worked with the ACLU and to create a petition asking Governor Perry to grant clemency to Soffar. More than 115,000 people signed the document, which reads in part, “Grant Max Soffar clemency so he can die at home, in the arms of his loving wife Anita, and with the support of his friends and family.”

Anita was there too, along with two exonerees from Dallas, Johnny Lindsey and Christopher Scott. Lindsey was found guilty of aggravated rape and served 26 years before being exonerated by DNA in 2008, while Scott spent almost 13 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit (he was released in 2010). Both men, who visited Soffar on death row Wednesday, made the trip to Austin from Dallas to support a man they sympathize with in a way few can. “I know exactly what he’s going through,” Lindsey said while standing outside of the Capitol Friday. “It’s a lonely road.” Lindsey and Scott both described Soffar as appearing physically weak due to his condition, the 58-year-old bound to a wheelchair and 25 pounds lighter than he had been just a month earlier. “I asked him which is more painful, the wrongful conviction or the cancer,” Scott said. “He said it’s the wrongful conviction, because he wants the family of the victims to know he’s not the one who killed them. I understand that. It’s about having your name cleared, letting people know you are innocent.”

Both Scott and Lindsey have become activists in the wake of their exonerations, making trips to Austin to talk with legislators and Governor Perry about how to change the criminal justice system. Both remember Perry being sympathetic to the cause of righting wrongs. “When Governor Perry was with Tim Cole’s mom,” Lindsey remembers, “he said, ‘If anything innocence-related comes to my desk I’ll sign it with no hesitation.’”

“That’s why we came here today,” said Scott. “If he’s going to stand behind his word, he should do it on this. We want him to be a man of his word and grant clemency to Max.”

(Photo: L-R Johnny Lindsey (exoneree), Andrew Horne (attorney), Brian Stull (attorney), Anita Soffar (Max’s wife), Barbara Budde (Diocese of Austin), Kristin Houle (Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty), Christopher Scott (exoneree))