Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Exonerees, Texas Officials Call for Innocence Commission, Moratorium

Twenty four exonerated men gathered in front of the Texas State Capitol building last Friday in support of a statewide capital punishment moratorium. As members of Witness to Innocence, a Philadelphia-based organization, the group of former death row inmates also called for a state commission to investigate wrongful convictions. 

The men came from across the country (including Ray Krone of Arizona, Juan Melendez of Florida and Clarence Brandley of Texas) and were joined by former Bexar County District Attorney Sam Millsap and Texas State Representative Elliott Naishtat. 

Milsap, who took personal responsibility for the 1993 execution of San Antonio man Ruben Cantu that was based on one (later recanting) eyewitness and no physical evidence, said that he was "no longer convinced that our courts will in fact guarantee the protection of the innocent."

"It's a national problem, but a problem that has a distinct Texas face," state Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, told the members of Witness to Innocence. Naishtat said he will introduce a bill next session to give the governor the power to declare a temporary moratorium on executions. He also promised to work on behalf of a bill by state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, to create a Texas innocence commission. 

However, any bill to halt executions stands no chance of passing the Texas Legislature, Naishtat said. Capital punishment has substantial support in Texas. The 2007 Texas Crime Poll by Sam Houston State University found 74 percent of Texans support the death penalty. And 66 percent said they were confident that innocent people are protected from execution. 

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