Must He Die?
I have been trying to access the commentary by Bishop Reymundo Peña in The Monitor newspaper on Friday, April 6, 2007, so that I could post it here on Reflections. Try as I may, I have been unable to do so.
This article is one of the first in recent years that Bishop Reymundo Peña has publicly spoken out against the Death Penalty. The article was very well done. My compliments to our Bishop!
Now all we need to do is get him to join us on every execution day, at 5:30 in front of the Hidalgo and Cameron County courthouses, to protest this very unchristian law.
The following article from the Austin American Statesman discribes just how unjust the State of Texas is towards the Death Penalty.
Oh, one other thing… I would suggest that Bishop Peña not express his attitude towards the Death Penalty on any of his visits to Holy Spirit parish. All of the parishioners that I know of that have openly expressed objection to the Death Penalty at Holy Spirit have been removed from ministries by their pastor.
Austin American Statesman
Saturday, April 07, 2007
Condemned should know that justice was served
A series of articles in the American-Statesman last fall illustrated the shockingly poor work by some court-appointed lawyers representing death row inmates appealing their convictions.
From the first steps after a defendant is convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death, the process is broken. If they are indigent, as most are, their appeals fall to a court-appointed attorney selected from a list of lawyers maintained by the state Court of Criminal Appeals. Studies show that one-third of the condemned inmates had incompetent appeals counsel.
The State Bar of Texas knows many of those appeals lawyers are not up to the job of representing someone facing death, but says it doesn't have the resources to evaluate the abilities of the lawyers on the list. Worse, the Court of Criminal Appeals generally accepts even the sloppiest work as adequate for condemned inmates.
It's a system that needs to be scuttled and replaced with one providing adequate defense for indigents facing execution. Senate Bill 1655 by Sens. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, is a good effort to repair a broken system.
Their bill would create a committee to set standards for attorneys filing writs for condemned inmates and establish the Office of Capital Writs to represent indigent defendants applying for writs of habeas corpus. Those writs are where inmates raise issues of new evidence, prosecutorial misconduct or ineffective defense. It is often the last hope for condemned prisoners.
In their statement of intent accompanying SB 1655, Duncan and Ellis wrote, "The performance of Texas capital habeas lawyers is neither regulated nor monitored by any court or government agency. Thus, if the habeas representation amounts to the functional equivalent of a lawyer sleeping through the trial, the lawyer is nonetheless reappointed to more cases and the death-sentenced inmate has no remedy or recourse."
Last fall, American-Statesman writer Chuck Lindell found that some appellate lawyers did little or no investigation, filed appeals copied from previous, unrelated cases and filed claims that had been repeatedly denied as grounds for appeal.
An Office of Capital Writs would help solve that problem with a staff of qualified, competent attorneys to represent indigent capital murder defendants in their habeas writs. A fiscal note accompanying the bill calls for only 4.5 new employees for the office, a number that seems way too low for such important work.
But it's a good start. The bill also provides that when a staff attorney is unavailable or can't take a case for other reasons, only competent, experienced outside counsel would be hired and paid to represent the inmate. The current list of lawyers, Ellis and Duncan noted, includes those who have been accused of neglecting clients, have no experience with capital murder cases, have no experience in habeas corpus writs, have mental illness or abandoned their death row clients.
Even the most ardent supporter of capital punishment should expect a defendant to be guaranteed competent counsel. A good appeal lawyer not only protects the innocent but assures that those who are on death row belong there.
The senate bill would be a huge improvement in the administration of justice in the most serious cases, those where a life is on the line. Lawmakers should pass this bill and Gov. Rick Perry should sign it into law.
Like mercy, the quality of justice should not be constrained.