As Texas' 500th Execution Approaches, Death Penalty Opponents Ramp Up Calls For Reform

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Douglas Feldman

On an August night in 1998, Douglas Feldman pulled his Harley up next to an 18-wheeler that had just cut him off on a highway in Plano. Feldman shot and killed the driver, Robert Everett, then paused on his way home to murder an Exxon tanker driver named Nicholas Velasquez. A week or so later, he killed Antonio Vega for standing next to an 18-wheeler.

In 1999, he was caught and ultimately sentenced to die. With his last appeal exhausted, the execution is set for July 31, 2013. (As Brantley wrote about last week, Gawker recently caught up with Feldman, who politely requested some LSD.)

According to the Texas Death Penalty Education and Resource Center, Feldman's execution represents a grim milestone of sorts: the 500th execution in Texas in the modern era. As the Texas Tribune laid out in November, 253 of those have been under Governor Rick Perry, who's granted clemency just 31 times. Twenty-eight of those commutations were for minors, who the U.S. Supreme Court says we can't execute anymore, much as Texas might like to.

As Feldman's death date approaches, the TDERC and other anti-death penalty groups throughout the state want Texans to take notice. "We urge everyone in Texas and our friends worldwide to take action leading up to the 500th execution," they write. "To let Texas know that it should stop executions with a moratorium and begin the process of repealing the death penalty."

The Texas Moratorium Network agrees, although they count John Quintanilla Jr. as number 500 and Feldman as 502.

Quintanilla is slated to die on May 14, for a 2002 robbery of an arcade in Victoria, Texas. After sneaking through the back door of the arcade with two accomplices and demanding money from the arcade employees, Quintanilla ordered everyone down on the floor. He shot and killed a guy who tried to disarm him. He also shot a woman standing nearby, although her injuries weren't fatal.

TMN points to several factors to support their anti-death penalty stance, though lately they've focused intensely on innocence (141 Death Row inmates have been exonerated so far) and race (fully 70 percent of Death Row inmates in Texas are non-white).

Despite the urgings of anti-death penalty groups, though, there is roughly no chance that Texas will reconsider its stance on capital punishment any time soon. Yet on several fronts, we're seeing some incremental progress towards a slightly more humane and equitable stance on capital crimes. In late January, Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins announced his support for a Racial Justice Act, which would allow Death Row prisoners to appeal on the grounds that their convictions were based on race.

A study from last year found that under Harris County's previous two DAs, race has played a significant factor in applying the death penalty . Under Johnny Holmes, who served as DA from 1992 to 1999, the death penalty was more likely to be imposed against black defendants and in cases where the victims were white. Under Charles Rosenthal, who served from 2001 to 2008, the race of the defendants "disappeared" as a factor, the study says. And yet "death sentences were imposed on behalf of white victims at 2.5 times the rate one would expect if the system were blind to race," the author, Scott Phillips writes. "[A]nd death sentences were imposed on behalf of white female victims at 5 times the rate one would expect if the system were blind to race and gender."

Just a week ago, 51-year-old Kimberly McCarthy was granted a temporary reprieve, after being slated to die January 29 for the 1997 killing of former college professor Dorothy Booth in Lancaster. A hearing is set for April 3, to allow McCarthy's lawyers to argue that her all-white jury was improperly selected by race. McCarthy is black.

The same week, the execution of Larry Swearingen was stayed while his lawyers complete DNA testing they believe will exonerate him. Swearingen, currently being held in Livingston, says he was already in jail on other charges when the victim, Melissa Trotter, a Conroe college student, was murdered in 1998.



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34 comments
blowmetone
blowmetone

So when someone like @scottindallas decides to let someone like Willie Horton back on the streets(or even the opportunity to escape) and they kill someone else-- what is the cost then?

How about when they permanently injure or murder a guard?

brutherford
brutherford

The death penalty provides a bright line: you chose to commit a crime society deems so offensive that execution is the punishment.  Some argue the cost to execute a person convicted of the death penalty is generally higher than the cost to incarcerate for life without parole. 

But who is driving that cost?  It is the lawyers with an agenda, and those who oppose the death penalty.  The defense lawyers are making hundreds of thousands of dollars milking system by making last-minute appeals that restart the execution clock.  Their cronies, the anti-death penalty groups, then complain about how much it costs to execute someone, citing the legal costs run up by their buddies.  And, it will never stop there.  If we abolish the death penalty, the next step down the slope is life imprisonment.  "We can't imprison someone for life without possibility of parole!  That's cruel and unusual, and look at how much it costs!"  So, do away with life without parole, right?  Maybe make it forty years?

"But wait, we can't imprison someone for forty years!  That's cruel and unusual, and look at how much it costs!"  So, do away with forty year sentences, right?   At what point do we stop?  Thirty years?  Twenty?  Fifteen?  There has to be a bright line for certain criminal acts.  The death penalty provides that line. 

WatchingSouthDetroit
WatchingSouthDetroit

The number means nothing.  If people are guilty of killing innocent citizens, then execution is what they deserve.  Guilt or innocence should be the main factor in the death penalty.  In the cases cited in the article, are there any doubts on the guilt of the inmates?  If not then they need to proceed.

The anti-death penalty groups talk about being humane.  How were these convicted murderers humane towards their victims?    Why are these groups more concerned about convicted felons than about innocent victims?  Murderers intentionally committed acts of extreme violence on others who did NOT deserve it - truck drivers, arcade workers - who were just doing their jobs.  Their victims had no choice.  It is NOT equitable to spend so much time and effort on these murderers - they are responsible for the situation they are in.  Do these anti-death penalty groups ever think about the victims or their families?

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

On the other hand, when we let convicted murderers out on parole, they end up setting a fire and killing first responders when they arrive on scene.  So, rehabilitation isn't all that great of an option either.

This is a tough one.  With prosecutorial misconduct and race-weighted verdicts, it is unconscionable to condemn a person to die.  With recidivism, it is unconscionable to let a convicted murderer out on parole.  With our economy, it is untenable to support a criminal for life.  Progressive thinking just can't encompass that some people are inherently evil and deserve the death penalty.  Conservative thinking can't encompass that a convicted felon might be innocent.  Racial undercurrents in our culture either create victims or create scapegoats.  Public emotion is often the most compelling of legal arguments, leaving fact and evidence out in the cold, on both sides of the story.

As phelps said, I am a supporter of the concept of the death penalty, but our justice system is so crooked as to make the mention of justice and death penalty in the same time zone a mockery of justice itself.

NewsDog
NewsDog

'If you kill someone in Texas we will kill you right back.'  Ron White, not so making a joke

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

I would be all for the death penalty if we would stop trying to execute innocent men.

Seriously, I'm all about the concept.  We just have crooks and retards running the justice system, so I just can't justify handing that monkey a machine gun.

blowmetone
blowmetone

Don't want criminals punished. Don't want innocent people to be able to defend themselves from criminals.

Fucktarded morality. 

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@WatchingSouthDetroit even though it costs 5-7 times more to put someone to death than to incarcerate for life with no parole?  No, that's not how decisions are made in the real world.   We base decisions on the consequences, and their costs.  It's called an economic decision, and your desire for vengeance is too expensive, and too often misplaced. 

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

@WatchingSouthDetroit So when a prosecutor sends an innocent man to death row, and is "responsible for killing innocent citizens," and we prove it conclusively, do we execute the prosecutor instead?

Actually, if those were the stakes, I think I would go back to the pro-death penalty side.  If the prosecutors had some actual skin in the game, they would be a lot more careful about who they accuse and prosecute.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@RTGolden1 it costs 5-7 times more to put to death than to incarcerate for life, with no parole.  So, you're mistaken in your base assumptions. 

blowmetone
blowmetone

@RTGolden1 Why not follow the Soviet model? Those communists only got one thing right.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@everlastingphelps 

go one step further.

there is no way to be certain that every person convicted of a capital crime is guilty; consequently, it is impossible to be 100%% certain that under the death penalty the State is not executing an innocent citizen.

for that sole reason there should not be a death penalty.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@blowmetone don't want to blow money on your big vendetta shows.  I know how in your secret closet, you love a show, you're a closeted old Broadway Queen.  And, you love the pageantry.  Well, it costs 5-7 times more money to execute via the death penalty than to incarcerate a man for life with no chance of parole.  


Fucktarded logic, bigoted idiot.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@scottindallas @RTGolden1 You're patently wrong scott.  It cost more to carry out a death sentence, years of appeals, repeated re-examinations of evidence and expert witnesses, etc.  And these costs, against the alternative of executing an innocent, are acceptable to me.  However, the actual execution is relatively inexpensive, probably costing less than the trial itself.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@mavdog how about the fact that we can incarcerate for life, with no parole for 1/5-1/7th the cost of the death penalty?  Cynicism reigns!

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

@mavdog I don't require 100% certainty, but I do require a lack of prosecutoral misconduct, and we don't have that here.  Reasonable doubt would be sufficient if the state would actually follow the rules.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@blowmetone @everlastingphelps no, there's nothing racist in Phelps analogy.  You're racist, so when you start invoking monkeys, it more likely some racist epithet.  I can imagine your confusion.  It must he hard to discern, what with your biases.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

@mavdog @everlastingphelps BTW, I would like to point out that at the start of this thread, mavdog and I were <b>AGREEING</b> and he still managed to shit on it enough to turn it into an argument.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

@mavdog @everlastingphelps Is that seriously your stance?  EVERYTHING that you disagree with needs to be criminalized?  Or do you accept that there are things that are moral wrongs that shouldn't be a police matter?

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@everlastingphelps

you posted "I'm guessing the 54 million aborted fetuses were unavailable for comment?" recently. very clear your position on that issue.

uh huh. so much for you being "honest and consistent".

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

@mavdog @everlastingphelps actually, I am militant in my attacks on pro-abortionist hypocrites. As I've said many times, I think abortion is wrong but I don't think we should be throwing people in jail over it. I don't think that anti-abortionists are right, but they are at least honest and consistent, which I can't say for their opponents.

Also, you can't name a victim of a fetus that would warrant corporal punishment. Fwiw, I'm not for the mere existence of victimless crimes, much less the idea that they should be capital offenses.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@everlastingphelps 

you are very hypocritical on the issue of the sanctity of life.

you have been militant in attacks on abortion, yet you look the other way on the death penalty.

tsk tsk, exposed.

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