Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Execution Watch: 11/18/2015

Tonight the State of Texas will murder...

RAPHAEL HOLIDAY, Convicted of capital murder in a Madison County fire, later determined to be arson, that resulted in the deaths of his young daughter and her two half-sisters in 2000. In 2014, The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused claims by Mr. Holiday's attorneys that testimony against him was allowed improperly at his trial in Huntsville in 2002, that his indictment was flawed and that a juror was removed improperly during jury selection.

For more information on Mr. Holiday and his case, click here.


Unless a stay is issued, Execution Watch will broadcast live:
Wednesday, November 18, 6-7 PM Central Time
KPFT-FM Houston 90.1, HD 3 or online at: > Listen

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Tonight on Reasonable Doubt

Tonight I will be a guest on HCCLA's public access show Reasonable Doubt along with Sarah Wood at 8pm on Houston Media Source TV. If you don't get that channel on your cable package (or if you've cut the cable), you can catch the live stream at

Reasonable Doubt is co-hosted by Jimmy Ardoin and Damon Parrish II. Topics tonight will include the death of Sandra Bland, how to handle a police encounter and why black lives matter.

Friday, July 3, 2015


Piling on? Maybe.

I'd like to think of it as more slowing down to see the aftermath of the wreck on the other side of the freeway, though.

Of course I must be talking about Christopher Dupuy, the former county court judge in Galveston County.

His latest brush with the law is both the funniest, and most pathetic. It seems that Mr. Dupuy got upset when two lady friends decided that they no longer wanted to be friends with one of the most unqualified people to ever sit on the bench.

Instead of moving on with his life, Mr. Dupuy allegedly posted fake ads on a website stating that his ex-girlfriends would perform sex in exchange for money.

Mr. Dupuy does, however, remain the poster child for straight-ticket voting Republicans in Galveston County. With the exception of a few devoted wingnuts, Mr. Dupuy would never have sat on the bench had the carpetbaggers in the northern end of the county not voted for anyone (and anything) with an "R" after it.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Exposing religion for what it is

Some time ago I wrote in this very space that the Supreme Court had no choice but to recognize same-sex marriage across the nation. Once the first state recognized it, the Equal Protection Clause left no wiggle room.

Not ones to let something as fundamental as the law get in the way, our wingnut governor, Greg Abbott, and wingnut attorney general, Ken Paxton, have announced that they think the Supreme Court got it all wrong. According to these two paragons of ignorance, the Court's decision infringes upon the religious freedom of all the hate-spewing, right-wing, bible-thumpers who are desperately holding on to an image of America that never really existed.

And I, for one, am glad they are all trumpeting the religious freedom angle because this argument shows, once and for all, what religion is really all about.

Gov. Abbott (who sometimes makes Rick Perry look like a scholar and a statesman) sent out letters to the heads of state agencies hours after the Supremes ruled, that it's okay to withhold benefits from same-sex couples if such an arrangement offends the religious sensibilities of the agency heads. What? Has Greg Abbott never read the Fourteenth Amendment? Has he never heard of Loving v. Virginia?

Just what part of every citizen being guaranteed equal rights under the law does he not understand?

Religion has been used throughout history to justify oppression and repression. It has been used to justify the stealing of natural resources. It has been used to justify slavery and Jim Crow. Invoking it to defend discrimination in the choice of marriage partners is the latest use of the "opiate of the masses" to justify the second class treatment of a group of people. So far as I know, the only purpose of religion is to indoctrinate the masses into believing that their state of repression is willed by god and that they will get their equality once they are dead.

And to think that millions of people have fallen for that. Just think about it. When you're dead, you're fucking dead and it doesn't matter whether there's equality or not.

At some point Abbott and his minions will get slapped down and the State of Texas will be dragged kicking and screaming into the modern era. Until then I can sit back and enjoy watching the curtain getting pulled back on religion and exposing it as the con that it is.

Friday, June 12, 2015

A small measure of justice

Maybe the name Charles Sebesta rings a bell. If not, maybe the name Anthony Graves will.

Mr. Sebesta was the prosecutor who withheld evidence at Mr. Graves' murder trial over 20 years ago. Mr. Graves spent 12 years on death row as a result of Mr. Sebesta's unethical and illegal conduct.

For all of the injustices our clients face, there are moments where justice does prevail. Sometimes it's a day late and a dollar short, but it prevails nonetheless. Yesterday was one of those days.

Yesterday Charles Sebesta was disbarred by the State Bar of Texas for his actions in prosecuting Anthony Graves. While Mr. Sebesta has lost his ticket to play, nothing can make up for the years Mr. Graves spent in prison for a crime he didn't commit. Nothing can make up for the years he lost and the moments he never got to experience.

But at least Mr. Sebesta is being held accountable.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Execution Watch: 6/3/2015

On Wednesday night the State of Texas will attempt to murder...

LESTER BOWER, whose recent interview with Execution Watch will air during the show. Bower may not be the longest-serving person on Texas death row, but he's close to it. Convicted in the 1984 execution-style murders of four men at an airplane hangar on a ranch north of Dallas, he had no previous criminal history and has steadfastly maintained his innocence. No fingerprints put him at the scene. No witnesses saw him there. The murder weapon never was recovered. Pointing away from him is the claim by an informant, whom police will not identify, that her ex-boyfriend and three others committed the murders in a drug deal. Courts have saved Bower from six previous execution dates.

For more information on Mr. Bower and his case, click here.


Unless a stay is issued, Execution Watch will broadcast live:
Wednesday, June 3, 6-7 PM Central Time
KPFT-FM Houston 90.1, HD 3 or online at: > Listen

Monday, May 11, 2015

Execution Watch: 5/12/2015

On Tuesday night the State of Texas will kill again...

DERRICK CHARLES, condemned in the 2002 slayings of three people at their Houston home. A Harris County jury decided he should die for the deaths of his 15-year-old girlfriend, her 44-year-old mother and the girlfriend's 77-year-old grandfather. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused Friday to stop the execution. Mr. Charles' lawyers say he is mentally incompetent for execution and that they need more time and money from the courts to pursue their claim. An appeal for him is at the U.S. Supreme Court.


Unless a stay is issued, Execution Watch will broadcast live:
Tuesday, May 12, 6-7 PM Central Time
KPFT-FM Houston 90.1, HD 3 or online at: > Listen

Since KPFT is in the midst of a fundraising drive it is highly unlikely that the program will be heard on the broadcast channel so look for the HD channel or find it online.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Execution Watch: 4/28/2015

Tonight, the State of Texas will kill again...

ROBERT PRUETT., Condemned in the 1999 slaying of a prison guard at the McConnell Unit in Beeville, Texas, Mr. Pruett had been slated for execution on May 21, 2014, but was granted a stay so he could appeal a judge's previous ruling. Mr. Pruett has steadfastly denied that he had any role in the guard's death. 

Mr. Pruett recently recorded a 20-minute interview with Execution Watch. If his execution is carried out, the interview will air unedited and in its entirety.

See also:

"Inmate set for execution seeks Supreme Court stay," Texas Tribune (April 28, 2015)


Unless a stay is issued, Execution Watch will broadcast live:
Tuesday, April 28, 6-7 PM Central Time
KPFT-FM Houston 90.1, HD 3 or online at: > Listen

Since KPFT is in the midst of a fundraising drive it is highly unlikely that the program will be heard on the broadcast channel so look for the HD channel or find it online.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Execution Watch: 4/15/15

On Wednesday night, the State of Texas is planning to kill...

MANUEL GARZA, JR., Convicted in the 2001 slaying of a San Antonio police officer after a foot chase in which the men struggled and Mr. Garza grabbed the officer's gun, then shot him, according to court documents. His trial attorneys said he acted in self defense. Appellate lawyers said his trial attorneys failed to properly question jurors about their opinions on the death penalty, didn't submit enough mitigating evidence and failed to include complaints of excessive use of force that had been filed against the officer.

For more information about Mr. Garza's case, click here.


Unless a stay is issued, Execution Watch will broadcast live:
Wednesday, April 15, 6-7 PM Central Time
KPFT-FM Houston 90.1, HD 3 or online at: > Listen

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Execution Watch: 3/11/2015

On Wednesday night, the State of Texas is planning to use one of its two remaining doses of its death drug to kill...

MANUEL VASQUEZ, the last of three men arrested in the 1998 slaying of San Antonio drug dealer Juanita Ybarra. Vasquez, now 46, was the only defendant to receive the death penalty. One co-defendant was awarded a seven-year plea deal in exchange for his testimony against Vasquez. The other is serving a 35-year term. Vasquez was originally scheduled to be executed in August, but a paperwork problem led to a delay.


Unless a stay is issued, Execution Watch will broadcast live:
Wednesday, March 11, 6-7 PM Central Time
KPFT-FM Houston 90.1, HD 3 or online at: > Listen

Monday, February 9, 2015

Food for thought

Here are a few items I picked up the last week or so that seemed particularly relevant for one reason or another...

If you represent defendants who are under the age of 25, you might want to listen to this interview Fresh Air's Terry Gross had with Dr. Frances Jensen about her new book The Teenage Brain. Dr. Jensen explains why the judgment of a young adult may be a bit impaired due to both biological and environmental conditions.

Former CIA agent John Kiriakou was released from federal prison last week after serving almost two years for disclosing the truth about the CIA's torture program. Mr. Kiriakou is the only person who has been convicted or sentenced to prison regarding the torture program launched under President George W. Bush. To date, not one person who signed the orders, supervised the torture or penned a memo justifying torture has been punished. Amy Goodman interviewed him on Democracy Now!  this morning.

Here's a piece I wrote just before Mr. Kiriakou reported to prison.

Finally, I'm not much of a college basketball fan. The games are too micro-managed by coaches and the "action" on the court can put you to sleep. This weekend, the legendary North Carolina coach, Dean Smith, died. While he was celebrated in the media for winning championships the "Carolina Way," not much has been said about the amazing things he did off the court. Mr. Smith was responsible for integrating the ACC. He was also an outspoken critic of the death penalty. This piece from The Nation's Dave Zirin gives us a little more insight into the man.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Thoughts on the death penalty

I was recently asked by a commenter what I thought was a "fair" sentence for someone convicted of killing another.

The gentleman seemed to believe that the death penalty was appropriate - at least in that particular case. I won't put words in his mouth and assume that he supports the death penalty across the board.

I don't know the answer to his question.

I do know, as I have pointed out before, that killing a murderer doesn't bring any of the victims back to life. Killing him doesn't heal the wounds his actions caused. I also don't think it does anything to bring closure to the family and friends of his victim. The wounds will always be there - they just fade in and out in various degrees as time moves on.

There are three understood purposes of punishment in our criminal (in)justice system. The first is rehabilitation. Our penitentiary system owes much of its existence to religious sects who felt the best way to treat someone convicted of criminal activity was to remove him from the bad influences in his life and teach him another way to live. That's why most of our prisons are far removed from the "evil" influence of our major cities (in much the same way that most of our large land grant colleges are far removed from urban areas).

A second purpose is to deter others from breaking the law. If you see your buddy sent off to prison for breaking the law, maybe the message will hit home that it's best to obey the law. This, of course, only works for those folks who are able to weigh the costs and benefits of particular actions before deciding what to do.

The third purpose was to banish from civil society those who were blatant in their rule-breaking and expressed no remorse for their actions. One way to look at it is the folks we choose to banish from society are those folks that we're scared of.

I think it's a fairly safe bet to assume that our prisons long ago stopped serving any rehabilitative function. They have become warehouses for the mentally ill, drug addicts and folks who refuse to conform with the rules of civil society. We could add that prisons today are used as tools of social control to keep the poor and minorities from exercising any power.

Now our politicians and supporters of the death penalty will hang their hats on deterrence as being the reason we strap inmates to a gurney and murder them in cold blood. The idea is that the public sees what happens when you kill someone (well, kill someone whose life we've determined is more valuable than someone else's) and folks make a conscious decision not to do the same.

The only problem with that logic is that most murders aren't the act of rational actors. How many times is the victim of a murder an acquaintance of the murderer? How many times is the murder the result of an argument that two friends (or two relatives) had over a pool game or a bet or a small loan? How many times do we see someone killing their spouse or lover? Then you've got drug-related killings and "robberies gone bad."

We've been killing inmates for generations and we still  have people killing people. The death penalty never has been, and never will be, a deterrent.

The death penalty is about nothing more than revenge. Always has been and always will be. As such it serves no useful purpose within a criminal justice system.

Furthermore, the death penalty is forever. Once you've killed an inmate, they aren't coming back. It doesn't matter whether they were guilty or innocent. Just think about that for a bit. Over the past decade we have witnessed an incredible number of stories of inmates who spent decades in prison being exonerated when DNA evidence revealed the jury got it wrong.

Our system is run by people. We're fallible. We all get it wrong every now and then. Michael Morton was convicted of killing his wife. The district attorney hid evidence and his successor fought like hell to keep the evidence from being tested because he knew what it would reveal.

Innocent people have been murdered by the state. As long as we continue to strap inmates down and inject poison into their veins we will run the risk of another innocent man being killed. Is that a chance you feel comfortable taking?

I have no use for religion. I think it's nothing but a tool of oppression. But I'm not arrogant enough to say that I know who should live and who should die.

Are you?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Execution Watch: 2/4/2015

On Wednesday night, the State of Texas is planning to kill...

DONALD NEWBURY. While serving a 99-year sentence for robbery, Mr. Newbury joined six fellow prisoners in escaping from the John B. Connally Unit near Kenedy, Texas on December 13, 2000. He and the other escapees were convicted of shooting an Irving police officer, Aubry Hawkins, to death as they fled after robbing a store.

For more information on the background of Mr. Ladd's case, click here.


Unless a stay is issued, Execution Watch will broadcast live:
Wednesday, February 4, 6-7 PM Central Time
KPFT-FM Houston 90.1, HD 3 or online at: > Listen

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Update: White execution stayed

Yesterday the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed tonight's scheduled murder of Garcia Glen White. Mr. White's attorney, Houston's own Pat McCann, refused to give up while the CCA continued to deny his motions to stay the execution and for leave to file writs of habeas corpus and suspension.

Finally, on Tuesday the Court granted Mr. White's fourth application for a writ of habeas corpus. The work of a capital litigator is never finished until the drugs start to flow into his client's veins. Mr. McCann kept fighting - even when it looked its bleakest - and, in the end, he won (at least a temporary) reprieve for his client.

As Bum Phillips would say, Mr. McCann knocked on that door a few times before he kicked the son of a bitch in.

If I were ever in a fight for my life, Paddy McCann is one of people I would want to be fighting with me.

Execution Watch: 1/29/2015

On Thursday night, the State of Texas is planning to kill...

ROBERT LADD. Condemned in the sexual assault and slaying of a Tyler woman during a burglary in 1996. He appealed his conviction and death sentence, saying prosecutors used illegal tactics to exclude minorities from the jury and presented insufficient evidence at trial. Mr. Ladd also challenged the judge's instruction to the jury that they had the option to convict him under the Texas law of parties.


Ladd v. State, 3 SW3d 547 (Tex.Crim.App. 1999)

For more information on the background of Mr. Ladd's case, click here.


Unless a stay is issued, we'll broadcast live:
Thursday, January 29, 6-7 PM Central Time
KPFT-FM Houston 90.1, HD 3 or online at: > Listen

Since KPFT is in the middle of fund drive I believe the broadcast will only be available online or via HD radio.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Execution Watch: 1/28/2015

On Wednesday night, the State of Texas will kill...

GARCIA WHITE. Sent to death row for the 1989 slayings of 16-year-old twin sisters with whom he had an argument while smoking crack cocaine at their home. Mr. White asserted in appeals that jury selection, jury instructions, his statement to police and the judge's punishment charge were all improper. During Mr. White's trial, Houston Police crime lab analysts testified that DNA from the crime scene matched his. But retest results, made public in 2004 by the prosecutor's office indicated a private lab was unable to duplicate the results.

For more background information on Mr. Whtie's case, click here.


Unless a stay is issued, we'll broadcast live:
Wednesday, January 28, 6-7 PM Central Time
KPFT-FM Houston 90.1, HD 3 or online at: > Listen

Since KPFT is in the middle of fund drive I believe the broadcast will only be available online or via HD radio.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Execution Watch: 1/21/2015

On Wednesday night, the State of Texas will kill for the first time in 2015...

ARNOLD PRIETO. Convicted in the murder of three people, including his co-defendants' great-aunt and great-uncle, in a 1993 home robbery in San Antonio. Before Mr. Prieto's conviction, prosecutors offered him two 30-year terms in exchange for his testimony against a co-defendant. He declined.

For more background on Mr. Prieto's case, click here.


Unless a stay is issued, we'll broadcast live:
Wednesday, January 21, 6-7 PM Central Time
KPFT-FM Houston 90.1, HD 3 or online at: > Listen

Since KPFT is in the middle of fund drive I believe the broadcast will only be available online or via HD radio.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Trivializing racial injustice

Earlier this month in South Carolina, George Stinney's name was finally cleared. Mr. Stinney was fourteen years old when he was strapped into an electric chair and killed for a crime he didn't commit.

Mr. Stinney was charged with killing two little white girls in Alcolu, South Carolina in 1944. In the span of 83 days he was charged, tried and convicted. His appointed counsel, Charles Plowde, did everything he could to facilitate the legal lynching. Mr. Plowde failed to call Mr. Stinney's sister, an alibi witness, to the stand.

After a two-day hearing, Judge Carmen Mullen said that Mr. Stinney's case was a "truly unfortunate episode in our history."

No, Judge Mullen, a child dropping a fly ball is an unfortunate episode. A skinned knee from falling off a bike is an unfortunate episode. Spilling food on your best clothes is an unfortunate episode.

Murdering a fourteen year old child who had a confession beaten out of him is far more than an "unfortunate episode." Calling it such does nothing but cheapen the significance of what happened in the summer of 1944. What happened to Mr. Stinney is but another example of the ways in which our criminal (in)justice system has been used as a tool of social control and oppression.

A child was murdered at the hands of the state and no one was ever called to account for their actions. A jury of twelve white men considered what evidence was put before them and decided that the government had proven its case beyond all reasonable doubt. And once again we are confronted with the fact that our courts don't serve as a crucible of truth - they serve merely as a legal justification for the continued oppression of significant portions of our population.

Judge Mullen's decision does nothing to heal the damage caused to Mr. Stinney's family and friends. They knew he was innocent all along. It does nothing to change the facts. It also does nothing to erase the indelible image of a state that was so intent to enforcing social order that it would strap a teenager into an electric chair and burn him from the inside out.

And if you are under the illusion that there has been much change over the last 70 years, take a look at the population of most of our jails and prisons. Take a look at the disparity in drug sentencing. Take a look at the disparity in death sentences handed out. Take a look at the number of blacks and Latinos who languish in jail for weeks and months (and years) waiting for their criminal cases to be resolved because they can't afford to post bail.

Our criminal (in)justice system is still used as a tool of social control. The old order is desperately trying to hold onto to power and our courts are their last best tool.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Killing the frog one degree at a time

The other day I was leaving the Montgomery County Courthouse up in Conroe after court and noticed a state trooper behind me. As I turned onto the main drag the trooper flipped on his lights. I pulled over into a restaurant parking lot wondering why he pulled me over.

Soon I had my answer.

It turns out that the main bulb in the right taillight had burned out. I asked him if the center light was working. He said it was. He took my license and insurance and I dug through the pocket on the driver's side door for a spare bulb.

While I changed the bulb he printed out a warning and went on about his way.

I did appreciate him telling me my taillight was out - since equipment violations are an oft-used excuse to stop suspected drunk drivers. However, I was also a bit irritated since there was no equipment violation in my case. In Texas you are required to have two working taillights. Since all cars come equipped with three (one on each side and one in the middle), one can be malfunctioning and you aren't breaking the law. In other words, he had no legitimate reason to pull me over.

As I drove away my mind kept wandering back to the recent US Supreme Court case in which the Supremes upended precedent and decided that a traffic stop based on the officer's mistake of law is valid. In Heine v. North Carolina, No. 13-604 (2014), Mr. Heien was driving down the street when a law enforcement officer, Sgt. Matt Darisse of the Surrey County Sheriff's Office, stopped his car because he had a broken brake light. Of course Mr. Heien gave his consent when Sgt. Darisse asked to search the car.

Sgt. Darisse thought that Mr. Heien (who was laying down in the backseat) and Maynor Vasquez (the driver) were acting a bit suspicious so he asked to search the car after handing Mr. Vasquez a warning for the brake light. Well you don't have to be a genius to know what happened next. The search turned up a bag of cocaine. Both men were arrested.

At trial, Mr. Heien argued that the drugs should be suppressed because there was no legal basis for the traffic stop. It is (or, at least, was) well-established that a stop based on an officer's mistake of law was not reasonable, and was, therefore, illegal. Surprisingly enough the trial court didn't see it that way because, by golly, there was cocaine in the car and we must keep that shit off the streets.

On appeal the conviction was reversed because it wasn't illegal to drive a car in North Carolina with only one functioning brake light. The State Supreme Court then reversed the appellate court on the grounds that even though Sgt. Darisse was ignorant of the law, the stop was reasonable.

In an 8-1 decision, based more on looking at the outcome rather than on the process, the US Supreme Court held that a stop (or detention) based on an officer's mistake of law was, nonetheless, reasonable. So, even though we've been told for years that ignorance of the law is no defense against a criminal charge, it is, apparently, an excuse to detain someone illegally.

This decision has turned the Fourth Amendment on its side and is yet another example of how our rights are slowly being taken away from us without anyone noticing. We are the frog in the pot of water that doesn't even realize the temperature is being turned up until it's too late.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

On torture, war crimes and hypocrisy

So Democrats in Congress are up in arms about revelations that our government tortured inmates as part of the War on Everything Terror. It's not like this was new information. We've known about it for years. Books have been published based on government documents. Those senators and representatives on the various intelligence committees and oversight committees knew all about it.

But now that the Senate Intelligence Committee has released a summary of its findings, we must all show a renewed sense of indignation. I'm sure there are a few poor souls out there who had no idea this kind of thing must be going on and who are relying on Fox News to shape their opinions and give them some talking points to defend illegal behavior.

Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Cal), among others, has railed at the CIA and the Bush Administration for implementing the program. But, where is that same indignation at the innocent bystanders killed by unmanned US drone attacks in the Middle East? Where is that same indignation when a Hellfire missile tears apart the bodies of women and children out in the fields?

For all of her pontificating about the evils of the torture program (and don't misunderstand my point, those who carried out the program are all guilty of war crimes and should be held to account for their actions), Ms. Feinstein has been a champion of killing innocent men, women and children in illegal missile attacks in foreign countries.

And where has President Obama been through this? He stood in front of a microphone and said we needed to look forward instead of placing blame for past sins. Of course this is the standard line uttered by all presidents when confronted with the illegalities of the prior administration. His pledge to look forward only serves to protect those who have committed illegal acts in his administration - for if he isn't looking to prosecute those who did bad before him, whoever next occupies the White House won't throw the book at members of the Obama administration.

And that's how we undermine the idea that our nation operates under the rule of law.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The end of the season is nigh

Today the college football regular season comes to a close.

The end of the season will also bring us a brand new playoff format to determine football's national champion. But is there any need for a playoff?

For most of the 20th century, college football was regional sport. The rare intersectional game between college football powers was a special treat. Since there was no centralized authority in charge of the game, schools made up their own schedules and no one worried about winning a mythical national title. The goal was always to beat your rival, win your conference and hope you get invited to a bowl game.

Sportswriters were the only folks who followed more than just a local team and they banded together to vote for a national champion. This system (later amended with a coach's poll) worked until 1984 when Brigham Young University (BYU) ran the table and beat a mediocre Michigan team in a pre-New Year's Day bowl game. BYU was named national champion, much to the chagrin of the football powers. Something had to be done to prevent that from ever happening again.

The result was something called the Bowl Alliance in which four major bowls worked out a plan to match the best teams against each other in bowl games regardless of which conference they were from. That system was later replaced by the Bowl Championship Series which set about to match the top two ranked teams first in a bowl game and then in a stand alone championship game.

After years of questionable decisions regarding who got to play for the title (and threats of an anti-trust lawsuit from the non-football factory schools), the BCS was scrapped and replaced by a four-team playoff which debuts this season.

The "clamor" for a playoff came mostly from the networks who broadcast college football games. Since the playoff would involve but four out of 120 teams, most fans had nothing at stake and went about their lives as if nothing happened.

But the system was flawed from the beginning. The five conferences containing the biggest schools formed an alliance and decided to pick four teams to challenge for the championship. Hmm. Five conferences. Four slots. The math didn't add up. If the problem with the polls and the BCS was that the championship wasn't being decided on the field. But, by devising a system that leaves out one conference champion, the decision who plays for the title is being made in a boardroom, not on the field.

From the opening kickoff this season commentators kept saying the Big 12 would be at a disadvantage because the conference didn't have a "true" championship game. It's true there is no conference championship game, but that's because unlike the other four major conferences, every Big 12 team plays every other team during the course of the season. Therefore there was no need for a championship game - in the event two teams ended the season with the same record, the team who won the game between them would be the champion.

Earlier this season, in Waco, Texas, Baylor came back from three touchdowns down in the last ten minutes of the game to beat TCU on a last second field goal. In the event that both Baylor and TCU win today, Baylor would win the conference because they beat the Frogs earlier this season. In fact the conference ran commercials all season long bragging about ten teams, nine games, one "true champion."

That was until the possibility of both Baylor and TCU advancing to the playoff arose. Now the conference has rolled over on cue when the money was waved under its nose. Should both the Bears and Frogs win today, they will be declared co-champions. So much for deciding it on the field.

For the last few weeks a playoff selection committee has been releasing a poll ranking their top 25 teams. Sports talk radio and sports talking heads have been arguing the merits of the top four teams ever since.

But the poll is an idiotic idea. If the job of the committee is to pick the top four teams at the end of the season, the in-season poll serves no purpose other than fueling debate on radio and television.

If we really want to determine a champion (and there is no good reason we have to do so), the only role of the selection committee should be to select the best team from outside the so-called Power Five conferences and then seed the six teams. The committee doesn't need to pick the teams that are participating from the major conferences - just take the champions. If you aren't the best team in your conference, you can't be the best team in the country. Period.

For those bloviators like Colin Cowherd who says that head-to-head doesn't matter (he ranks TCU above Baylor), what would he do if the top-seeded team lost on a fluke last second play to an inferior team in the first round? Would he still vote for the top seed for champion because they passed the "eye ball" test? If you want a single elimination playoff then the conference championship games are the de facto first round. So there.

On a related note, today we will find out whether the safety of a player is more important that winning a football game. Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty suffered a "mild" concussion (sorry, a concussion is a concussion is a concussion). He was taken out of the game - though he said he would be back on the field today against Kansas State.

The medical evidence is overwhelming that once a person suffers a concussion they are more susceptible for future concussions. While Mr. Petty may want to play today, the coaching and medical staff at Baylor should have enough regard for his safety to keep him off the field. I would love to see Baylor win, but if that win comes at the expense of Mr. Petty's health, it is a hollow victory. The coaches and doctors are adults and should be looking out for the health of their charges.

There was a day when Art Briles sat down at the table with Mr. Petty's parents and promised he would take care of their son. It's time to see if that promise was sincere.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Talking heads are missing the point

Daniel Pantaleo killed Eric Garner by putting him in a choke hold on a Staten Island sidewalk. But Mr. Pantaleo faced no legal sanction for his act because he wore a badge.

In yet another example of how prosecutors manipulate the grand jury process, a New York City grand jury followed the lead of District Attorney Daniel Donovan and returned a no bill against Mr. Pantaleo.

According to the DA's Office, the grand jurors deliberated for about two months, interviewed 50 witnesses and viewed four videos. And, at the end of the presentation, I'm pretty certain the prosecutor said something along the lines of "do what y'all think is right." That's the prompt to return a no bill.

In the aftermath of the DA's decision not to pursue an indictment, talking heads have been calling for increased training for police officers. They have called for an end to the use of choke holds. They have talked about working to change the image the police department has in minority communities.

But all of these suggestions miss the larger point. Mr. Garner was murdered because he was selling single cigarettes on the sidewalk. The very fact that a police officer would take a man to the ground and choke him to death for selling cigarettes on the street isn't a problem with training.

Far from it, in fact.

The Garner case is yet another episode that illustrates the simple fact that the police are but tools of social control for the ruling class. Until we come to understand this, the killings of unarmed black and brown men will continue.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Update: 5th Circuit halts scheduled execution

Based on my specialized knowledge of this process, I now conclude that the death penalty as a form of punishment should be abolished because the execution of individuals does not appear to measurably advance the retribution and deterrence purposes served by the death penalty; the life without parole option adequately protects society at large in the same way as the death penalty punishment option; and the risk of executing an innocent person for a capital murder is unreasonably high, particularly in light of procedural-default laws and the prevalence of ineffective trial and initial habeas counsel. 
- Judge Tom Price, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals; Ex parte Panetti (No. WR-37,145-04)
Yesterday, just hours before he was scheduled to be murdered at the hands of the State of Texas, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals halted Scott Panetti's execution in order to review the legal claims made by his attorneys.

Last week the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied Mr. Panetti's writ seeking to halt the scheduled execution. Judge Tom Price, who is retiring from the bench at the end of this term, wrote a dissenting opinion in which he questioned the value of the death penalty. He said it served no penal purpose. He also expressed his reservations on the death penalty in light of the number of exonerations that have taken place over the past few years.

But Judge Price is a little bit late to the dinner table. If his concerns are enough to motivate him to question the legitimacy of the death penalty at the end of his time on the bench, where were those concerns when Mr. Panetti's case came before the Court on direct appeal and on prior writ applications? Where were those concerns when other inmate's lives were on the line?

The one question I can't seem to get out of my head is why on earth the trial judge would allow a diagnosed schizophrenic to fire his appointed counsel and proceed to trial pro se. Even if the initial decision could be justified, once it became apparent that Mr. Panetti hadn't the slightest clue as to what was going on, counsel should have been appointed. We're talking about a man's life here. This isn't about moving a docket along.

If we are going to continue to try to take away people's lives in the courtroom, then we damn well better be sure every procedure is followed and every protective measure is taken with regard to the accused. Anything less just shows us to be a bunch of ignorant rednecks holding a noose in the courtyard square.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Execution Watch: 12/3/2014

"[T]his has been like a slow-moving train wreck since 1995."  -- Kathryn Kase, attorney for Scott Panetti
On Wednesday night, the State of Texas will kill again...

SCOTT PANETTI. Convicted in the September 1992 shooting deaths of his in-laws inside their Fredericksburg home, Mr. Panetti told police it was his alter ego, Sarge, who committed the slayings. Mr. Panetti's previous execution date was put off by the Supreme Court, though the justices refused last month to hear his latest appeal, clearing the way for a new execution date to be set. He was diagnosed as schizophrenic and hospitalized multiple times in the 10 years leading up to the slayings. Mr. Panetti was allowed to represent himself at trial. He wore a purple cowboy outfit and called witnesses including John F. Kennedy and Jesus Christ. Mental health professionals who have evaluated Mr. Panetti say he believes the State of Texas wishes to kill him to prevent him from preaching the gospel.

For more information see:

"Can Ron Paul and conservative evangelicals save a Texas death row inmate?" Mother Jones (11/26/14)

"Texas execution of a severely mentally ill man would be an outrage," Los Angeles Times (11/29/14)

"Lawyers try to save 'delusional' death row murderer, 56, who tried to subpoena Jesus Christ and JFK at his trial, from Wednesday execution," Daily Mail (11/29/14)

Unless a stay is issued, we'll broadcast live:
Wednesday, December 3, 2014, 6-7 PM Central Time
KPFT-FM Houston 90.1 Online...

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Something to think about while we gorge ourselves

In 1975, in Cleveland, Ohio, Harold Franks, a money-order salesman, was murdered in a robbery. Ronny Bridgeman, Wiley Bridgeman and Ricky Jackson were all arrested, charged with capital murder, tried and convicted based on the eyewitness testimony of a 12-year-old named Eddie Vernon.

All three men were sentenced to die in Ohio's electric chair. Mr. Jackson received a reprieve due a paperwork error while the Bridgeman brothers were still on death row when Ohio declared the death penalty unconstitutional in 1978.

For almost four decades, Mr. Jackson proclaimed his innocence. And, for almost four decades, few listened and even fewer cared.

In 2011, Mr. Vernon recanted his testimony to his pastor. He said his testimony was coerced by the police who threatened to arrest his parents if he didn't testify the way the police told him. He told the pastor he was on a school bus at that time of the robbery.

Lawyers with the Ohio Innocence Project filed a motion for new trial in March of this year.

As a result of Mr. Vernon's recantation, and the prosecutor's admission that without an eyewitness the case against Mr. Jackson cannot be prosecuted, Cuyahoga County Judge Richard McMonagle, dismissed the charges against Mr. Jackson and ordered him freed from prison.

While Mr. Jackson is no doubt thankful that his 39 year ordeal is over, this exoneration leaves us with more troubling questions.

Once again we have a man sent to prison for decades because a jury thought the government had proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt - when they were wrong. The conviction was based upon the eyewitness testimony of a child. There was no physical evidence connecting any of the men to the murder. Nothing but the word of a child who was coerced by the police.

This is what happens when we allow the government to lower its burden of proof. If you've ever picked a jury in a criminal case you've heard the prosecutor tell the panel what he or she thinks beyond a reasonable doubt isn't. If you're in Harris County you've probably seen the prosecutor put on the PowerPoint display with the puzzle of the gun with a few missing pieces. If you've ever tried a criminal case you've heard the prosecutor tell the jury to "add it up" (or something similar) when discussing the evidence (or lack thereof).

Every new exoneration points out the deficits in our criminal (in)justice system. Every new exoneration points to the fallacy of the infallibility of eyewitness testimony. And every new exoneration points out how low the state's burden of proof in criminal cases has been allowed to fall.

Mr. Jackson's case isn't the triumph of our system of (in)justice. It's an indictment of it. It should give us all pause whenever we step into the courtroom. It should give us all pause when we sit down to decide whether the state has met its burden of proof.

Ricky Jackson lost 39 years of his life for a crime he didn't commit. That's 39 years that can never be replaced. There is no amount of compensation that can make up for the time that was stolen from him. Meanwhile, those who conspired to convict him walk free.

Some system, huh?