The Texas killing machine should be shut down!

By: Randi Jones

The Texas killing machine is out of control.

As of the second week in April, Texas had executed 12 people—which accounted for all but one of all executions throughout the U.S. so far in 2007. Eight more prisoners are scheduled to be put to death in Texas before August. Last year, Texas accounted for 24 of the 53 executions around the U.S.

Even with all the blows to the execution system nationwide, centered around the controversy over lethal injection, which caused 11 states to halt their death machines, Texas continues to buck the trend, with no indication of a slowdown. “The Texas Department of Criminal Justice does not have any immediate plans to change its execution protocol,” prison spokesperson Michelle Lyons said.

Not only is Texas not looking to fix its execution system, lawmakers are actually trying to expand it. Jessica’s Law, a bill already given preliminary approval by the state House, would expand the death penalty to repeat child sex offenders.

The legislation is proposed under the guise that lawmakers care about children, but given the recent sex abuse and cover-up scandal at the Texas Youth Commission—a juvenile corrections agency where top officials knew about rape and abuse, and did nothing—the expansion of the death penalty appears to be nothing more than a political move to appear “tough on crime.”

The Texas criminal justice system is riddled with problems. Recently, a man who spent 10 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit was released. DNA testing alone has exonerated 27 people in Texas, the largest number in any state.

Texas crime labs have also been under scrutiny. The worst is in Houston, where a leaky roof ruined 200 boxes of evidence, and incompetent DNA technicians misinterpreted data, were poorly trained, and kept careless records, affecting thousands of cases.

Substantial evidence has emerged to suggest that Texas murdered at least three innocent people—Cameron Todd Willingham, Ruben Cantu, and Carlos de Luna.

A grassroots campaign to save Rodney Reed, an innocent man on Texas’ death row, continues in full force, as we await a decision by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that could grant him a new trial.

The injustices in Rodney’s case expose the enduring legacy of racism in Texas, where 69 percent of death row prisoners are minorities. Rodney is a Black man from a small town convicted by an all-white jury of killing a white woman. The Campaign to End the Death Penalty in Texas and nationally is committed to seeing Rodney receive a fair trial and then be freed.

“Rodney has had eight years of his life taken from him, says Sandra Reed, Rodney’s mother. “Where’s the justice in this case? What happened to Rodney sheds a light on what has been going on forever here in Texas.”

The fight against the death penalty and inhumane prison conditions is happening inside prison walls as well. The Austin CEDP is working with a group of death row prisoners who are trying to improve deplorable conditions on Texas’ death row.

All this has not gone unnoticed. The Dallas Morning News, a longtime supporter of the death penalty, reversed its position in a recent editorial. “This [editorial] board has lost confidence that the state of Texas can guarantee that every inmate it executes is truly guilty of murder.

Here in Texas, we continue to mobilize for the fight. We organized a debate in January where 180 people turned out. We consistently hold demonstrations at the statehouse to oppose executions, and we continue to challenge the courts to grant Rodney Reed a new trial.

We take inspiration from the success of our movement overall, because a blow to the execution machine anywhere is a victory for abolitionists everywhere. And we intend to continue the fight for justice—right here in the belly of the beast!