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Read the 2013 Newsletter!

37 Mitigators & Lawyers come to GRACE's Mitigation Skills Bootcamp!

November 20-22, 2013: GRACE held our unique intensive, in-house, skills-based training which we have, in recent years, opened up to mitigation specialists and capital counsel from around the country at no cost to their organizations. The Bootcamp is an intensive, interactive workshop to develop or hone the practical skills needed for working within a multi-disciplinary team to identify, develop and present social history evidence.  It is required of all attorneys, mitigation specialists and interns joining GRACE as attorneys, mitigators, fellows or volunteers, so it is designed for folks with a wide range of experience and it addresses the roles of all core defense team members.

GRACE continues to play a pivotal role in the national capital defense community in developing, articulating and protecting a high quality standard of care for capital counsel and mitigation specialists by developing and presenting our unique, skills-based, mitigation bootcamps for attorneys, investigators and mitigation specialists across the U.S.

GRACE gets Capital Murder Charges Dismissed!

August 3, 2013:  GRACE client Kathryn McMahan was released from jail after a year of pretrial detention when capital murder charges that had been hanging over her for 26 years were finally dismissed!  Kathryn accepted responsibility for a theft and had an emotional meeting with family of the man her former husband murdered over two decades ago.  

Then, she paid a visit to GRACE, a rare treat in an office where every client faces capital murder charges so that none receive bond. 

Kathryn's representation was entirely pro bono and made possible only due to the recurring monthly donations of small individual donors whom we call our Steadfast Friends.

Life plea for long-time Texas death row inmate

After almost 23 years on death row, yesterday Rodney Charles Rachal accepted responsibility for two capital murders and two aggravated robberies, agreeing to serve four stacked life sentences and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office finally ended its 23 year quest to take his life.

Originally sentenced to death in 1992 for the 1990 capital murder of Charles Washington, Rodney had been returned to Harris County for resentencing after Rob Owen and Anthony Haughton won a reversal on Penry/Tennard grounds.  GRACE’s donor-funded Retrial/Resentencing Project stepped in to represent Rodney for free, ultimately negotiating a resolution that saves Rodney from returning to death row, gives finality to the victims and survivors of all four crimes, and spares both families the re-traumatization of a second trial.
But what's really remarkable is what happened after the judgments were entered . . .

In her victim impact statement, Mr. Washington's mother told Rodney that she never hated him and long ago forgave him because that is what God asks of her. With the case finally over, the families of Charles Washington and Rodney Rachal spent over an hour together in a remarkably powerful and healing dialogue in which Rodney’s family shared his and their own remorse and Mr. Washington’s mother explained how much she had needed their apology, that it helped her heal and keep her promise to God that she would not hate or be swallowed up by anger.  Both families shared their recollections of the tragic night that changed all their lives and their experience of the decades of litigation, coming to the conclusion that, while the adversarial system had treated them as adversaries and sometimes made them feel or act as adversaries, they are not. In fact, they understand one another's pain and regret more intimately than anyone else ever could, sharing a terrible and constant longing to turn back the clock so things could be different.

After the words and tears of remorse, apology and forgiveness came talk about the future.  Pictures of the grand kids, bragging about graduations and weddings -- proof that life continues.  Which brought them naturally to Rodney's capacity for redemption and the shared hope of everyone that he could also now move forward as a changed man and better father. Both families said that having the case resolved and being able to talk with one another free of legal consequences had changed their understanding of one another, brought them peace and would allow them to get “unstuck” and move forward.

This is the 16th life-saving plea that GRACE’s donor-funded Retrial/Resentencing Project has successfully negotiated for a Texas death row inmate. The work of the Retrial/Resentencing Project wouldn’t be possible without our “Steadfast Friends” – those who keep GRACE’s doors open by enrolling as automatic monthly donors. We don’t ask our friends to give until it hurts -- we ask for whatever you can give comfortably again and again.

23 mitigators and lawyers come to GRACE's Mitigation Skills Bootcamp!

May 22-24, 2013: GRACE held an intensive in-house training on our methods and protocols.  In recent years, we have opened it up to anyone from the capital defense community, space permitting. The Bootcamp is an intensive, interactive workshop to develop or hone the practical skills needed for working within a multi-disciplinary team to identify, develop and present social history evidence.  It is required of all attorneys, mitigation specialists and interns joining GRACE as attorneys, mitigators, fellows or volunteers, so it is designed for folks with a wide range of experience and it addresses the roles of all core defense team members.

GRACE is contributes to the development, articulation, and protection of a high quality standard of care for capital counsel and mitigation specialists by developing and presenting our unique, skills-based, mitigation bootcamps for attorneys, investigators and mitigation specialists across the U.S.


GRACE Executive Director, Danalynn Recer, secures a life-saving plea for Dominic Robinson

In June 2012, GRACE secured a life in prison without the possibility for parole plea for Dominic Robinson. Click here to read the The Times-Picayune article.

Delma Banks takes a life-saving plea

GRACE staff are honored to have worked with NAACP LDF and lead counsel George Kendall of Squire Sanders in securing a life-saving plea for Delma Banks and a bringing a final resolution to the case for the Whitehead family. Click here to read more.

May 2012

Todd Wessinger granted new hearing in the Fifth Circuit

The combined efforts of GRACE, Soren Gisleson, and the Federal Public Defenders secured a new hearing for Louisiana death row inmate Todd Wessinger in the federal district court on May 16th. The Court granted the hearing to reassess Mr. Wessinger's ineffective assistance of counsel claim due to the "significantly stronger" defense evidence of such mitigating factors as mental illness, childhood abuse, and low intelligence presented by the team. Click here to read more.

Columbia University uncovers new evidence suggesting Texas executed an innocent man.

New York, May 15, 2012--A groundbreaking investigation by Professor James Liebman and a group of Columbia Law School students has uncovered new evidence that Texas most likely executed an innocent man in 1989.

The investigation, published by the Columbia Human Rights Law Review (HRLR) and at the website, represents one of the most comprehensive collections of materials and evidence about a criminal case ever released to the public. It describes the case of Carlos DeLuna, a poor Hispanic man in his twenties with childlike intelligence who was convicted on the thinnest of evidence for the 1983 murder of a convenience store clerk. The materials include video and notes from hundreds of interviews with witnesses and key participants, the complete case files from police and prosecutors, and previously unreleased police audiotape of the manhunt that resulted in DeLuna's arrest.

The HRLR has devoted its entire Spring 2012 issue to this book-length anatomy of a wrongful execution, titled Los Tocayos Carlos.

"No one cared enough about the defendant or the victim to make sure they caught the right guy," said Liebman, a leading death penalty litigation expert and the Simon H. Rifkind Professor of Law at Columbia Law School. "Everything that could go wrong in a death penalty case did go wrong for DeLuna."

The article documents how DeLuna was convicted on the basis of a single, nighttime, cross-ethnic eyewitness identification with no corroborating forensic evidence. He claimed from the start that another man named Carlos--Carlos Hernandez--stabbed clerk Wanda Lopez to death with a lock-blade buck knife at a convenience store in Corpus Christi, Texas. DeLuna's assertion was denied by some as the "some other dude named Carlos" defense, and the lead prosecutor told the jury that Hernandez was a "phantom" of DeLuna's imagination.

Liebman and his co-authors, however, uncovered evidence showing that not only did Carlos Hernandez exist, but he was known to the police and prosecutors at the time of the trial as someone with a long history of crimes similar to the one for which DeLuna was executed. The police audiotape that Liebman and his authors have released--suppressed during DeLuna's trial--shows that police chased another man who matched Hernandez's (but not DeLuna's) description for 30 minutes immediately following the crime.

Hernandez had been arrested for murdering another woman with a lock-blade buck knife, and he stabbed and attempted to rape another woman while DeLuna was confined to death row. Hernandez spent years bragging around Corpus Christi that he, not his tocayo ("twin" or "namesake"), Carlos DeLuna, committed the murder. Indeed, families of both Carloses mistook photos of the men for each other.

"Sadly, DeLuna's story is not unique," Liebman said. "The very same factors that sent DeLuna to his death--faulty eyewitness testimony, shoddy legal representation, and prosecutorial malfeasance--continue to put innocent people at risk of execution today."

The astonishing collection of primary documents and interviews allows readers to come to their own conclusions regarding DeLuna's guilt or innocence. "My co-authors and I present the story as best we can tell it, and invite readers of all stripes to consider for themselves what happened and how concerned we should be about it," Liebman said.

The materials presented on the website include:

  • complete files of police, sheriff’s office, district attorney, county court, trial transcripts, and federal court records
  • all of the police photos (which, via digital enhancement, revealed key evidence never recognized by the police, including the assailant’s bloody footprints)
  • a police audiotape of the 40-minute manhunt that led to Carlos DeLuna’s arrest
  • full criminal records of the key actors
  • a raft of television news clips and newspaper articles
  • 20 videotaped interviews of key participants
  • notes from 100 witness interviews
  • an interactive map tracking key people, places, and events

For more information, please visit

April 2012

GRACE secures temporary stay for death row inmate in Louisiana!

Danalynn Recer obtained a temporary stay of execution on April 25 for GRACE client Todd Wessinger, pending reconsideration of the Fifth Circuit's previous verdict in his case. Click here to read the whole story.


December 2011

Read the 2011 Newsletter!

GRACE is ranked 9th in Local Criminal Justice Charities!

GRACE is ranked in this years Philanthropedia list of Local Criminal Justice Charities. The list consists of non-profit organizations that make an impact on criminal defense on the state and federal level. To see GRACE and the rest of the non-profits Click Here.

November 2011

GRACE board member represents British women on Texas death row and is featured in documentary.

Read about the the documentary and about GRACE board member Clive Stafford Smith representing Linda Carty a British women on death row. Read Here

November 2011

Have a GRACEful Cyber Monday!!

Here's how you can save lives while saving money: Use to access virtually any online merchant, and choose "Gulf Region Advocacy Center" (GRACE) as your charity. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to us, but it does NOT come out of your pocket! And, you still get to take advantage of the huge Cyber Monday sales at big retailers like Best Buy, Macy's, Neiman Marcus, Target, J.C. Penny's, Toys R Us, Brooks Brothers, Bed, Bath & Beyond, etc., online sellers like Amazon, EBay, Expedia, etc., as well as smaller businesses and even local restaurants near you.

You know you are going to be spending money anyway, and virtually anything you could possibly be looking for can be found on this site, so please check it first before buying anywhere else!

Not quite ready for holiday shopping? Get your office supplies on through Staples, Office Depot, HP or Dell and take advantage of huge sales going on right now.

Here at GRACE, we squeeze a dime of value from every nickel we get. Your holiday shopping donations (which cost you nothing) will go directly to services for poor people facing the death penalty in some of the most lethal jurisdictions in America.

There's no need to feel guilty about holiday excess when you are shopping for justice!

Remember to type in "Gulf Region Advocacy Center" (not just GRACE) at and save lives while saving money!!!

With gratitude,

Danalynn Recer 

October 2011

Watch the GRACE director discuss the way race effects the sentencing of a death penalty case at the New Yorker Festival

Click Here to watch full video.

July 2011

GRACE director represents victim in attempt to gain a stay of execution for the shooter

GRACE director, Danalynn Recer, represents surviving victim in 2001 homicide in suit against Governor Rick Perry for violating his rights under Texas Victim Rights Act. Rais Bhuiyan was shot in 2001 and is now fighting to save his shooters life.

The Hated and the Hater, Both Touched by Crime [New York Times - Timothy Williams - July 18, 2011]

If victim can forgive, why can't Texas? [ Houston Chronicle - Patricia Kilday Hart - July 17, 2011

Victim of 2001 attempted murder begs clemency for his shooter [The Daily Texan - Jillian Bliss - July 14, 2011]

Rais Bhuiyan: Another Irrelevant Victim? [ - Tanya Greene - July 15, 2011]

Bhuiyan: Forgiveness teaches us the value of life [ - Rais Bhuiyan - July 14, 2011]

Victim Seeks to Halt Assailant’s Death Sentence [ - Axel Gerdau-July 14, 2011]

May 2011

GRACE featured in New Yorker Article

Click here to view full version of The New Yorker article "The Mitigator" featuring GRACE's work in Harris County.

April 2011

GRACE board member Tanya Greene writes about the needs of victims families

“Listen to Murder Victims' Families – Not in Our Name!”  GRACE Board member Tanya Greene, the Advocacy and Policy Counsel for the ACLU Center for Justice and family of two murder victims, describes the ways in which capital punishment interrupts the healing process and fails to address the needs of victim’s families.

April 2011

GRACE board member John Holdridge secures a life sentence for Adrian Estrada

GRACE board member John Holdridge secured a life-saving resolution for former death row inmate Adrian Estrada, who had been returned to Bexar County for a new trial after his death sentence was reversed.

ACLU Client Agrees To Life In Prison After Death Sentence Thrown Out Because Of False Testimony [ - April 21, 2011]

Former death row inmate agrees to life without parole [ - Craig Kapitan - April 22, 2011

April 2011

GRACE board member Dick Burr's testimony persuades Dallas Judge that death cannot be sought

GRACE Board Member Dick Burr's Testimony Demonstrated that Dallas County Cannot Seek a New Death Sentence When Prosecutorial Misconduct Caused Two Decades of Delay.  the Court found that Jonathan Reed's defense had been unfairly hampered by the loss of witnesses and documents due to the decades of delay caused by the District Attorney's insistence upon defending an indefensible conviction and sentence.

Judge rules Dallas County prosecutors can't seek death penalty in third trial for man in 1978 slaying [ - Jennifer Emily - April 22, 2011]

April 2011

GRACE's clients featured in Dallas Morning News blog Urging Dallas County DA Craig Watkins to Take Sentencing Integrity Seriously

Scores of former death row inmates have had their sentences (and sometimes convictions) reversed due to prosecutorial misconduct and unconstitutional jury instructions.  GRACE has focused on these retrial and resentencing cases since our successful 2002 representation of Calvin Burdine.  In most of these cases, a life-saving resolution is in the best interests of all parties.  But, Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins has distinguished himself by his insistence upon pushing these cases to retrial.

Review of unfair death penalty sentencing as important as innocence[ - Lisa Graybill - April 4, 2011]

February 2011

GRACE succeeds in convincing federal prosecutors to not seek death

On February 17th 2011, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced that he will not be seeking death against Armando Sauseda.  GRACE mitigation specialist had investigated Mr. Sauseda's life history and, in November, presented the U.S. Department of Justice with reasons to choose life.


February 2011

GRACE board member victorious in stopping the UK exporting drugs used in lethal injection

Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve Director and GRACE board member told the British all-party parliamentary group on the abolition of the death penalty that "More than 100 people will die thanks to British drugs."  Reprieve has recently been putting pressure on the British to put controls on the export of drugs that are used in the lethal injection.

See articles below:

UK sells US enough drugs to execute 100 death row inmates, inquiry told [ - By Owen Bowcott - February 15, 2011]

Lethal Deal: BBC News has learned that a drug provided by a tiny pharmaceutical company in West London is to be used this week in the execution by lethal injection of a convicted murderer by the state of Georgia [ – By Andrew Hosken. - January 24, 2011]


January 2011

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stops death penalty hearing that Dick Burr, GRACE board member is involved in.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has permanently halted a Houston judge's hearing on the constitutionality of the death penalty in Texas, saying accused killer John Green cannot object before he is convicted and sentenced to death.  In the judgment the Court recognized the serious risk of wrongful convictions but was unwilling to make a move to stop the serious injustices experienced by defendants facing the death penalty in Texas.

Read these media articles for more information:

Court permanently halts death penalty hearing in Houston [Houston Chronicle – By Brian Rogers - January 12, 2011]

Texas Appeals Court Stops Death Penalty Hearing [Death Penalty Focus - By James Brockway, Guest Blogger - January 12th, 2011]


December 2010

GRACE board member, Dick Burr, files a brief with Texas Criminal Court of Appeals asking that hearing be allowed to continue

On December 22, attorneys for John Green filed a brief with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals asking that a pre-trial hearing concerning the constitutionality of the state's death penalty be allowed to continue.  An amicus brief in support of continuing the hearing was also filed by former governors, legislators, former judges and prosecutors, victim family members and freed death row inmates, all of whom shared a concern over the risk of wrongful executions in Texas. [Death Penalty Information Center]

Click Here to read the full amicus brief.


December 2010

GRACE board member, Dick Burr has death penalty hearing stopped by Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

The Court of Criminal Appeals temporarily halted the hearing, which began on Dec. 6, after 2 days of testimony.  Harris County prosecutors had elected to remain silent during the hearing, but requested that the hearing be stopped. Evidence had been presented about the risks of executing the innocent and about problems with eyewitness identification and informant evidence, exactly the kind of evidence likely to be used against Green for a 2008 robbery and murder. 

Read articles:

Appeals court halts death penalty hearing [ABC – By Christine Dobbyn
December 08, 2010]

Stay in Texas case continues culture of silence around the death penalty [Death Penalty Focus - By James Brockway, Guest Blogger - December 8, 2010]

Historic Death Penalty Hearing Halted [Fox News – By Kristin Kane
December 7, 2010]


December 2010

GRACE Board Member Dick Burr wins hearing on constitutionality of the death penalty in Texas

Texas District Judge Kevin Fine scheduled a hearing in a death penalty case to consider whether there is a substantial risk that Texas's death penalty laws could result in the execution of an innocent person. The hearing, expected to last two weeks, will likely include testimony from experts around the country. Casey Kiernan, one of the attorneys for the defendant, John Green, filed a pre-trial motion regarding the issue of innocence, which led to the hearing. [Death Penalty Information Center]

Click on the below media articles to find out more:

Death penalty prosecutors in Texas to 'stand mute' during hearing [Washington Post - By Juan A. Lozano - December 6, 2010]

Legal Challenge to the Death Penalty Begins in Texas [New York Times – By James C McKinley - December 6, 2010]

Death penalty hearing begins in Harris County Courtroom [Houston Chronicle – By Brian Rogers - December  6, 2010]

Prosecution stands mute at death penalty hearing [Houston Chronicle - By Juan A Lorenzo - December 6, 2010]

Bold move by DA: DA tells her prosecutors to stay silent during judge's inquiry[Houston Chronicle – By Brian Rogers - December 6, 2010]

Prosecutors Won't Take Part in Death- Penalty Hearing [Wall Street Journal
December 6, 2010]

A Texas Case Puts the Death Penalty on Trial [Time Magazine - By Nathan Thornburgh December 06, 2010]

Texas death penalty hearing starts in Houston court [USA Today
December 6, 2010]

Texas judge to hold hearing on death penalty law [Washington Post
December 5, 2010]

Death penalty on trial: An examination of the flawed Texas capital punishment system is long overdue [Houston Chronicle - December 4, 2010]


November 2010

GRACE board member Clive Stafford Smith puts pressure on UK government not to export drugs used in lethal injection

GRACE board member Clive Stafford Smith, Director of Reprieve, has successfully campaigned for the UK to put stricter controls on the export of drugs that are used in executions in the US.  

Read these articles for more information:

Vince Cable restricts export of drug used in US executions [ – By Peter Walker - November 29, 2010]

John Duty: human guinea pig in Oklahoma's cruel experiment [ – By Clive Stafford Smith - November 23, 2010]

Death Penalty Drug Suit to Block US Execution? [Findlaw Blog - By Jason Beahm
November 5, 2010]



December 31, 2009

A Year of GRACE

It has been a year of extreme highs and lows for GRACE. In March, we secured a life sentence for a severely mentally ill man who had been returned for resentencing after 23 years on death row. But, in April, Michael Gonzales was resentenced to die despite our mitigators’ efforts. In May, I wrote to announce our “Best Day Ever” when we secured life-saving resolutions in three unrelated trial level cases and a remand in a post-conviction case. But, six weeks later, I asked you to envision “A Day Without GRACE” when we failed to meet our payroll and were in grave danger of shutting down. Your response to that S.O.S. helped us limp along, with an exciting record of successes set against the backdrop of a brutal economic struggle for survival of the office.

In July, I was privileged to stand beside Deryl Madison in a Houston courtroom as he hugged his mother for the first time after 21 years on death row. GRACE’s Retrial/Resentencing Project provided pro bono legal services to negotiate a resolution that spared him from again facing death.

In September, we had another amazing, life-affirming, week. First, longtime GRACE client Michael Toney walked out of the Tarrant County Correctional Facility when the state dismissed the charges against him after more than a decade on death row. Then, just days before the trial of a terrible case where the state had been entirely unwilling to negotiate, the client finally received a life-saving plea -- offered in response to a mitigation presentation prepared by GRACE. In an inspiring act of grace and faith, the victim’s widow publicly forgave our client, causing us to forget for a moment the anxiety of our financial peril and remember why we do this work.

A month later, Michael Toney was killed in a car accident. Then, our mitigation presentation on behalf of a federal client persuaded Attorney General Holder not to seek the death against him.

All told, in 2009 GRACE mitigation specialists persuaded prosecutors to accept life-saving plea offers from two pretrial clients and take death off the table in four pretrial cases. This is in addition to the seven unrelated Retrial/Resentencing cases successfully resolved through GRACE’s pro bono legal services. GRACE staff also provided faculty to over a dozen capital training programs around the US and individual mentorship to five new mitigation specialists in Texas and Oklahoma.
But, always, these victories were tempered by the reality that GRACE may soon be forced to cut back or even eliminate the programs that made them possible. Please help us continue this work.


December 12, 2009

H Freezes Over!

Houston, that is. It snowed! Real snow that accumulated all day! And, there were no new death sentences in Harris County for the second year in a row.

And the Dallas County DA is spending his office resources to set innocent people free. Plus, the new Harris County DA punishes prosecutors in her office for racial discrimination in jury selection.

So, this holiday season, we can cautiously celebrate a sudden and unexpected climate change in Texas. However, the 'ole Lone Star still ain' t so shiny for the fifty men and women living in peril of execution for convictions secured under the old, unconstitutional, Texas statute.

Between 1976 and 1991, nearly 500 Texans were sentenced to die by juries that had been unconstitutionally prohibited from considering their life histories as a reason to choose life. Only about 50 of those prisoners survived to see the day, in 2004, when the Supreme Court finally ruled that Texas courts had been misinterpreting the Constitution for decades. Around two dozen of those inmates have since been granted new sentencing trials and another 20 await similar rulings.

GRACE's Retrial and Resentencing Project has now successfully resolved eleven of these cases, negotiating agreements that saved the client’s life, gave finality to the victims’ survivors and spared both families the retraumatization of a second trial. In several of these cases, GRACE mitigators were court appointed, but in every case our attorneys provided legal services for free -- funded entirely by private donations and grants.

Unfortunately, in some counties, the new commitment to ensuring that the wrong people are not convicted does not extend to making sure that the wrong people are not sentenced to die. Indeed, the same Dallas County District Attorney’s Office that leads the nation in "conviction integrity" has also leapfrogged over Harris County to take the lead in securing death sentences.

Despite the new awareness of junk science in the context of wrongful convictions, the threshold for death eligibility in Texas continues to turn on the testimony of prosecution "experts" endowed with the supernatural ability to see into the future and determine that a defendant (even one they have never met) will, more likely than not, commit criminal acts of violence in the future.

In a resentencing trial, this process of “predicting” a defendant’s behavior in prison becomes even more preposterous given that his prison adjustment has already happened. Sorta like asking a psychic to predict whether you will give birth to a boy or girl – after your child has graduated from college. And, worse, crediting the psychic’s prediction against the evidence of real life.

But, yet, prisoners returned for resentencing are finding little interest among some of the new “smart on crime” regimes in revisiting the capital authorization decisions made decades ago by the old “tough on crime” cowboys responsible for all those wrongful convictions.

This year, Dallas County became the most lethal county in the state, with three new death sentences and one resentencing after reversal. Next year, Dallas County plans to again seek death against two other prisoners returned for resentencing after 22 years and 34 years -- despite the fact that neither of them committed a single violent offense in their decades on death row!! 

GRACE represents both these men, on a pro bono basis, through our Retrial/Resentencing Project – a program funded entirely by private donations.

And, we need your help.

Fall From GRACE Award

Our 2009 Fall From GRACE Award goes to Governor Rick Perry for rejecting the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles’ recommendation that he spare the life of Houstonian Robert Thompson, who was condemned under Texas’ arcane “law of parties” for a murder actually committed by his co-defendant. The execution of defendants who did not kill or intend to kill is not permitted in most states and not supported by public opinion here in Texas. Nor does it serve the purpose most often given in favor of the death penalty. (Since a “non-triggerman” didn’t think once about killing, you can’t say the threat of the death penalty will make him think twice!!) The Texas legislature came close to repealing the law, but was deterred by Perry’s threat of veto. Shame on him!

September 15, 2009

Free & Painless ways to help GRACE!

GRACE is registered as a charity with two websites that will make donations, at no cost to you, every time you use them.

Just set your preferred charity as "Gulf Region Advocacy Center", then shop and surf the net just as you do already:

This operates just like any other search engine, except that funds raised from advertising are donated to charity IF you so designate. Use it just like google and send a few cents to GRACE with every click!!! 

When you shop online, please go through to access all the major retail outlets and online vendors, including Amazon, Travelocity, 1800Flowers, Avon, various rental cars, department stores, name brand outlets, etc.. Vendors donate anywhere from 1% to 15% to the charity of your choice if you purchase through this website.

Thanks for your support!


September 14, 2009

Another week of GRACE

Last week was another life-affirming reminder of why we do what we do here at GRACE. Just days before the start of jury selection in a terrible case where the state had previously indicated no interest in negotiation, the client finally received a life-saving plea -- offered in response to a mitigation presentation prepared by GRACE after nearly a year of mitigation investigation by three of our amazing staffers -- John Fox, Gilly Ross and Matt Silverman, along with numerous interns.

This came the day after another GRACE client, Michael Toney, who spent more than a decade on death row, walked out of the Tarrant County Correctional Facility after the state had dismissed the charges against him. It was then GRACE employee Tena Francis who, along with several other GRACE staff and interns, first investigated Michael's case six years ago, became convinced of his innocence and recruited lawyers from the Innocence Project to represent him in post-conviction. After Michael's conviction and sentence were overturned, GRACE also provided mitigation investigation and I enrolled as penalty phase counsel. But, thanks to the amazing work of Michael's team of pro bono lawyers, our services have been happily terminated!!

Back in May, when GRACE had what I called "the best day ever", I wrote that "[a]bout the only thing that could spoil this moment is the knowledge that GRACE may soon be eliminating several of the projects and positions that made these victories possible." 

Though we have made some progress in the three months since that posting, I am feeling much the same today as I did then. It is work such as our long involvement in Michael Toney's case and other retrial/resentencing cases, which are put at greatest risk by recent cut backs in both private and court-appointed funding.

As I noted in May, GRACE is attempting to continue our current level of pro bono services and hang on to our current staff by recruiting a large base of small private donors who will enroll to make automatic monthly donations. The idea is to stabilize GRACE and replace our dependence upon a few large, unpredictable, funders with a big community of small, steady donors. These automatic monthly donations of $10, $20, $50 or $100 a month from private individuals will add up to give us a reliable monthly income that can be used to fund our pro bono work and to compensate for slashed vouchers in our court appointed work.

Since the beginning of this funding campaign, many of you have signed up to become automatic monthly donors, and others have made generous one-time donations to our building fund. But, the numbers have not added up as quickly as we hoped. We have not reached our recruitment targets in any month this year. Many of you have written or spoken of your intention to enroll as an automatic monthly donor. I'm writing today to give you a little nudge. It just takes a few minutes to set up an automatic monthly withdrawal of any amount you choose from your checking, savings, credit card or debit card. Once you establish the transaction, you never have to think about it again, except to know, whenever you see mention of GRACE's work, that you made it possible.

It's a tough economic time for everyone, of course, but if you can spare even as little as $10 a month, please enroll as an automatic monthly donor at or on Facebook at "GRACE Saves Lives". And, please invite all your friends to join you in supporting this life-saving work.


July 24, 2009

GRACE client pleads to Life after 20 years on death row

Today, Deryl Madison hugged his mother for the first time since his 1988 arrest for the capital murder of Beulah Jolivet in Houston, Texas. Tonight, Deryl will fall asleep without the specter of a death sentence hanging over him for the first time in 21 years.

Deryl is one of nearly 500 Texas prisoners sentenced to die by jurors who had been unconstitutionally prohibited from considering their life histories as a reason to choose life. Only around 50 of those prisoners survived to see the day, in 2006, when the Supreme Court finally ruled that Texas courts had been misinterpreting the constitution for decades. Around two dozen of those inmates, including Deryl, have since been granted new sentencing trials and another 20 await similar rulings.

Through our Retrial and Resentencing Project, GRACE was able to provide a pro bono lawyer to join Deryl's team for the purpose of negotiating an agreed resolution that saved Deryl's life, gave finality to the survivors of Beulah Jolivet and spared both families the retraumatization of a second trial. GRACE mitigator Gillian Ross also provided mitigation services to the team through a court appointment, building the life history narrative that the team presented to the prosecution as a basis for sparing Deryl's life.

GRACE's Retrial and Resentencing Project has now successfully resolved nine of these cases and currently represents three other inmates facing new trials or sentencing hearings. In several of these cases, GRACE mitigators have been court appointed, but in every case our attorneys provided legal services for free -- funded entirely by private donations and grants.

Please help us continue this work. Become a Steadfast Friend of GRACE by establishing an automatic monthly donation of any amount. Make the temperature rise on our fundraising thermometer at FB Cause "GRACE Saves Lives".


June 30, 2009

Imagine A Day Without GRACE

We've certainly had our fair share of ups and downs as we struggled to build GRACE from scratch into an award-winning, case-winning, non-profit capital defense office. Many times we have been on the verge of laying off staff, cutting our caseload or even closing the doors when a donor, a grant or payment for appointed work arrived just in the nick of time. By hook or by crook, we have managed to meet our payroll without interruption since 2004. Until today.

This past Saturday was the 7th Anniversary of GRACE's incorporation and today is the first time we have failed to make our payroll since our earliest days.

They say that if a non-profit survives five years, it has long-term staying power. When we reached that mark, I breathed a sigh of relief for GRACE. But, I'm holding my breath again as I fear the current economic crisis, which has reduced donations and slashed vouchers on appointed cases, may be too much for this scrappy little office.

We have attempted to respond by shifting to a new funding base. Inspired by the Obama Campaign and other grass-roots efforts, we began this year with the announcement of our Steadfast Friends program -- an effort to establish a base of small, individual donors who will enroll to make automatic monthly donations of any amount they can afford from $10 to $100 per month. We hope that these small donations, automatically withdrawn from individual checking accounts, will be a relatively painless way (even in uncertain economic times) for our friends to hold us up and give GRACE a steady, reliable income base insulated from the economic and political vagaries of big donors and court funding.

Some of you immediately joined us as automatic donors. Others have given what they could on a one-time basis and still others have pledged to join us as soon as they are able.

I'm writing today to give you a little nudge. If you've been "meaning to" set up an automatic monthly donation, today is the day. If you are already doing what you can, but you've been "fixing to" send out a fundraising plea to your own email list and FB friends, please do it today. If you are already an automatic monthly donor and are willing to make a recruitment pledge to sign up other automatic monthly donors, please call or email me today and we will send materials immediately.

Whatever you can give or whatever you can do to spread the word -- today is the day to move GRACE to the top of your "to do" list.

If GRACE has made a difference in the life of one of your clients or loved ones; or if it comforts you to know that GRACE is here to provide representation and mitigation services to indigent defendants fighting for their lives; or if you are relieved to know that GRACE is here to provide team consultation and training to underfunded and over-committed capital defenders in the most deadly jurisdictions in America, please take a moment to imagine what a day without GRACE would look like. And, then, please take action. Today.

See us on Facebook at "GRACE Saves Lives" or go to our website at and read the instructions for making sure your donation repeats automatically each month on any day of the month that you choose.

Thanks for helping keep GRACE alive!

June 25, 2009

George Rodriguez Awarded $5 Million

GRACE Board member, Mark Wawro, won $5 million for George Rodriguez, who spent 17 years in prison for a rape he did not commit. GRACE provided the fact investigation in 2004, which helped exonerate Mr. Rodriguez.

Read more about George Rodriguez here.

Read the story in the Houston Chronicle here.


June 3, 2009

Danalynn Recer receives NLADA Kutak-Dodds Prize

Danalynn Recer, executive director of GRACE, was awarded the Kutak Dodds Prize on June 3 by the National Legal Aid and Defender Association at the Exemplar Awards Dinner.

The award is given if recognition of her efforts to ensure equal justice for all, regardless of ability to pay.

"Recer’s dedicated efforts toward improving the standards of defending capital punishment cases" said Jo-Ann Wallace, NLADA president and CEO, "has not only helped provide clients with a fair and appropriate defense but has also served to bring a new awareness to the issue. She has acted as attorney, advocate, investigator and leader in improving the prospects of those facing the possibility of death.”

Click here to read the press release.


Danalynn Receives the Kutak Dodds Award

Click Here to see pictures from the evening.

Fragile Gavel Award Presented to
Judge Jeannine Barr

“Fragile as reason is (and as limited as the law is as the institutionalized medium of reason), that's all we have between us and the tyranny of mere will and the cruelty of unbridled, undisciplined feelings.”
              --U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter

In 2009, GRACE is proud to present the Fragile Gavel Award to Harris County District Judge Jeannine Barr, who had the courage to prohibit prosecutors from using their peremptory strikes to bar African-American citizens from jury service.  In refusing to wink and nod at the “race-neutral” explanations of two prosecutors who used 60% of their strikes to eliminate all African-Americans from a jury panel, in resisting the gravitational tug of business-as-usual and “this is how we’ve always done things,” Judge Barr’s firm adherence to the letter of the law sent a clear message that the Harris County District Attorney’s Office would be no longer be immune from constitutional imperatives and that Houstonians of color will no longer be excluded from one of the most important roles a citizen can play in our democracy.

Judge Barr is a native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana and a graduate of LSU law school (1985).  A former English teacher, she served as a Harris County Assistant District Attorney (1986 –1994) before being elected to the 182nd District Court in November 1994.  She is currently serving her fourth term.  Judge Barr is a longtime member of the Houston Bar Association’s Night Court cast, which performs an all-lawyer musical review each year.  She is married to former District Judge Jim Barr and together they enjoy traveling as much as possible.

Click Here to Read more about the Fragile Gavel Award.

May 15, 2009

What a Day!!!

Here at GRACE, we've been fortunate enough to savor quite a few victories in our seven years, but the past 24 hours must top the list as BEST DAY EVER!!!

Yesterday morning, a young man with whom we have been working for almost a year entered a life-saving plea bargain. That afternoon, we learned that our presentation to the US Attorney General on behalf of a federal capital defendant was successful and that the death penalty would be waived. This morning, we entered into an agreement with the Harris County District Attorney to spare the life of a client who had served 20 years on death row and been sent back for a new sentencing trial three years ago. And, an hour ago, one of our few post-conviction clients, whom I have been representing for over a decade, won a new hearing on four issues!

What a wonderful feeling to see the hard work of all the GRACE staff and volunteers result in such life-saving outcomes! About the only thing that could spoil this moment is the knowledge that GRACE may soon be eliminating several of the projects and positions that made these victories possible. Due to loss of donors, elimination of funded programming and state court judges who cut our vouchers, GRACE may soon be forced to greatly reduce our pro bono services -- including the Retrial Project which has been so successful at negotiating life sentences for former death row inmates.

In an attempt to continue our current level of pro bono services and hang on to our current staff, GRACE is completely reworking our funding plan. We are seeking to develop a large base of small private donors who will enroll to make automatic monthly donations. The idea is to stabilize GRACE and replace our dependence upon a few large, unpredictable, funders with a big community of small, steady donors. These automatic monthly donations of $10, $20, $50 or $100 a month, from private individuals will add up to give us a reliable monthly income that can be used to fund our pro bono work and to compensate for slashed vouchers in our court appointed work.

It's a tough economic time for everyone, of course, but if you can spare even as little as $10 a month, please enroll as an automatic monthly donor, and please, invite all your Facebook friends to join GRACE Save Lives and support this life-saving work.


April 2, 2009

Jose Briseno Receives a Stay of Execution

Congratulations to GRACE board member Dick Burr!

On April 2 the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted Mr. Briseno a stay of execution to consider whether the jury was given proper instructions to consider mitigation evidence during the sentencing phase of his trial.

Below is a statement from his attorney and GRACE board member, Dick Burr:

 The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals today stayed the April 7 execution of Jose Briseno to consider whether Mr. Briseno’s jury was allowed to give appropriate effect to the mitigating evidence of childhood deprivation, abandonment by his parents, limited intellectual functioning, alcoholism and drug abuse, and lifelong poverty introduced on his behalf in the penalty phase of his trial.  The Texas courts have wrestled with this issue in numerous cases since 1989, when the Supreme Court first addressed this problem with the Texas capital sentencing procedure.  A 2004 decision by the Supreme Court has given the Court of Criminal Appeals reason to revisit this issue in cases involving crimes that occurred before September 1991.

Mr. Briseno has gained worldwide support, with people petitioning the Governor and Board of Pardons and Paroles from 22 countries in his quest for clemency, due to his extraordinarily positive contributions to the lives of many people since his incarceration on death row in 1992." 

Read the story in the Houston Chronicle here.



Our Congratulations to GRACE Board member Robert McGlasson and the entire Nichols team!

Posted December 12, 2008

After the four days of deliberations, the judge in Brian Nichols case declared the jury hung.  GRACE board member, Robert McGlasson, served as second chair attorney along with first chair Henderson Hill.   

At 5pm on November 12th, over the objections of the defense, the judge sent the jury back for two more hours of deliberation when the foreman explained that they had not reached a unanimous verdict, required for the death penalty in Georgia.  They returned at 7:00 pm, divided 9 - 3, and the judge declared the jury deadlocked.  The judge will impose a sentence on Saturday. 

Brian Nichols was convicted of murdering four people in a courthouse shooting in 2005.  Mr. Nichols life was saved by the hard work, compassion, brilliance of his attorneys.  

Read the an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution here.


Danalynn Recer named Best Criminal Defense Attorney

The Houston Press named Danalynn Recer as Houston's Best Criminal Defense Attorney in their Best of Houston 2008 issue. Click here to read the article.


Read the 2007 Newsletter

GRACE Receives the Torch of Liberty Award

GRACE was recently honored by the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association. It was given at the HCCLA Annual Banquet. Several staff members attended to receive the award. The inscription on the award reads "In Grateful Recognition of Your Efforts in the Pursuit of Justice." We are honored to receive the award.



Danalynn Recer Receives National Award

Danalynn was recently awarded the National Legal Aid and Defender Association’s Life in the Balance Achievement Award. This award is given yearly by the NLADA to an attorney or investigator who has shown exceptional dedication to death penalty defense. The Award reads: in recognition of her tireless commitment to ending the death penalty in America, fearlessly laboring both as an attorney and to teach investigators, mitigation specialists, and lawyers the value of thorough mitigation investigation and defense teamwork.  Danalynn has embodied effective advocacy with respect for every client and their unique circumstances, first as a staff attorney at the Louisiana Crisis Assistance Center in New Orleans and then by having the vision and courage to create the non-profit Gulf Region Advocacy Center out of her home in Houston.  Danalynn has been described by her colleagues as “a force of nature” who has raised the quality of capital defense representation and provided a model for cooperative team defense that has saved countless lives.  


Read the 2006 Newsletter

Eric Matthews Plea

This year GRACE played an instrumental role in the long and hard-fought battle to save the life of Eric Matthews, a young schizophrenic Louisiana man charged with murdering his wife and young step-son who awaited trial for over eight years despite the fact that he had confessed, fully cooperated with officials, and was willing to plead guilty in exchange for life without parole.  Eric was represented by the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center, our sister office where Danalynn Recer worked prior to founding GRACE, and where she remains of counsel.  Along with LCAC Director Neal Walker and mitigation specialist Melanie Carr (now the Director of A Fighting Chance, or AFC), Danalynn represented Eric for most of those eight years, during which the elected DA of Tangipahoa Parish ignored the wishes of the victims' family, ignored overwhelming evidence of Eric's severe mental illness, ignored Eric's profound remorse and his willingness to accept responsibility for his actions, and pressed for a death penalty that no one impacted by the crime actually wanted.  After extraordinary pre-trial litigation, numerous hearings, and an extensive mitigation investigation conducted by staff from LCAC, AFC and GRACE, the DA finally relented, and Eric entered a plea in exchange for a sentence of life without parole on August 30, 2006.

GRACE Board Member Helps Stay Carlton Turner's Execution

On September 27 , the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the execution of Carlton Turner in light of their recent cert grant to consider whether lethal injection violates the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel or unusual punishment.  Two nights previously, another Texas man was executed despite having raised the same issue and many worried that might be an indication that Baze was a hostile cert grant.  But, the stay seems to herald a national moratorium pending resolution of this issue.  The difference?  Turner lives and Richard died only because Turner exhausted the issue in state court -- thanks to the overnight heroics of our own Secretary of the Board, Morris Moon.

Read the Houston Chronicle article

Governor Perry Commutes Kenneth Foster's Sentence

On August 31st, Governor Perry commuted the sentence of Kenneth Foster to life imprisonment. This is only the third time that the governor has done so during his time in office. Foster did not participate in the killing, but due to the Texas statute known as the law of parties, he had been sentenced to death for driving the car when another man shot and killed Michael LaHood.

Read the Houston Chronicle article for more information.



NEW VOICES: Victims Organizations Issue Joint Statement

for National Victims' Rights Week

Three organizations whose memberships include family members of murder victims recently issued a joint statement in conjunction with National Crime Victims' Rights Week, which takes place April 22 - 28, 2007. The statement, issued by the leaders of  Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights, Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation, and Journey of Hope, called for governmental policies that serve the true needs of family members.  The groups called for an end to the death penalty, noting that alternatives to capital punishment "provide the certainty and punishment that many families need while keeping our communities safe."

Their statement read:

April 22 – 28, 2007 is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. The theme for this year is “Victims’ Rights: Every Victim, Every Time.” As victims, and survivors, we strongly support efforts to ensure that the needs of victims’ don’t fall through the cracks or fall prey to politics.

The death penalty does not serve victims’ families. It draws resources away from needed support programs, law enforcement and crime prevention. And the trials and appeals endlessly re-open wounds as they are beginning to heal, and it only creates more families who lose loved ones to killing.

Alternatives to the death penalty provide the certainty and punishment that many families need while keeping our communities safe. Critically, alternatives ensure attention is cast where it is needed most – on the survivors – and not on sensational trials or suspects.

As murder victim family members we also share the same concerns as other Americans with the death penalty. We are concerned about innocent people being sentenced to death, about racial and economic disparities and about arbitrariness. But for us the stakes are higher because an innocent person might be executed in a misguided attempt to give us justice. Losing one innocent life to murder is one too many, the taking of another innocent life because of the first is beyond comprehension.

Those who argue for the death penalty often claim to do so on behalf of us, the victims’ families. They say it will give us “closure.” We don’t want the death penalty, and closure is a myth. Every victim, every time needs help, understanding, resources, and support. We don’t need more killing.

Since 1981, the Justice Department's Office for Victims of Crimes has helped lead communities throughout the country in their observances of
National Crime Victims' Rights Week (NCVRW). Rallies, candlelight vigils, and a host of commemorative activities are held each year to promote victims' rights and to honor crime victims and those who advocate on their behalf.

(MVFHR, MVFR, and Journey of Hope Statement, April 19, 2007).


Case Dismissed!

GRACE is proud to report that the Harris County District Attorney dismissed all criminal charges against our client Shantia Jackson in March 2006.  GRACE agreed to represent Tia pro bono at the request of co-counsel Tony Haughton when Tia was initially charged with capital murder in the tragic and sudden death of her infant son in 2005.  Tia was later indicted for injury to a child, despite her documented history as an excellent and attentive mother who had never mistreated any of her three children.  After a thorough investigation and consultation with experts, GRACE was able to demonstrate to the prosecution that a flawed autopsy report, which mistakenly exaggerated the extent of injury to the child, lead the Medical Examiner to erroneously conclude that he must have been intentionally injured.  GRACE staff members Aimee Solway, Danalynn Recer and John Fox, along with interns Scarlet Granville, Caroline Harvey and Sarah Mendola, all contributed to this victory.  We hope that Tia will finally – and permanently -- be reunited with her two surviving sons in the near future.

Tia Jackson and her family

Tia and her legal team



Read the 2005 Newsletter

George Rodriguez Exonerated

George Rodriguez was convicted of a rape that he did not commit in 1987. His conviction was obtained through faulty scientific evidence. Read More


Mental Retardation and the Death Penalty

On June 20, 2002 the Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling ending the execution of those with mental retardation. In Atkins v. Virginia, the Court held that it is a violation of the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment to execute Death Row inmates with mental retardation. The decision reflects the national consensus which has formed on this issue and influenced a 2005 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the execution of juvenile offenders, Roeper v. Simmons. Read More



Read the 2004 Newsletter

Danalynn Recer Awarded PETRA Fellowship

Danalynn Recer, GRACE's founder and director, was awarded a Petra Fellowship in November 2004. Read More



Read the 2003 Newsletter



Read the 2002 Newsletter

GRACE Opens New Doors Next Door

When GRACE opened its doors in 2002, our staff of one attorney and three volunteer interns were able to work comfortably out of a rented attic apartment not far from the jail.  Over the next two years, as we grew to a staff of six, that cozy little space became cramped and overcrowded.

Looking for new space, we discovered that inner-city gentrification would push us out to the burbs if we remained renters.  Thus we followed in the footsteps of the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center in New Orleans, the Equal Justice Initiative in Birmingham, the Public Interest Law Clinic in St. Louis and the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, and launched a campaign to raise $75,000 toward a place of our own.  Thanks to Tom Lorenzi, Bill Davis, Nancy Pemberton, Hough Southy, Hilary Sheard, Jill Norgren, Philippa Strum, Johnathan Hochhauser, and Chris Pyle, we raised $6,000 over the 2004 holidays and began the New Year by entering into a contract to buy two lots in the historic Sixth Ward, a few blocks west of the Courthouse and jail. 

Our contract gave us just over 90 days to raise the remainder of our down payment.  This effort was kicked into high gear by the incredibly generous matching funds challenge issued to our Board members by an Anonymous donor.  Our Board rose to the challenge and personally donated $17,500, which the Anonymous donor doubled!  Adding to this the donations by Richard Helyer, Nali Dinshaw, Jan Arriens, Dave Keefe, and Sean O’Brien, and we had raised over $42,000 by March, but were still far short of our goal until Steve Bright, of the Southern Center for Human Rights, stepped in to donate the stipend he received for teaching a capital punishment clinic at Yale.  Steve’s $25,500 closed the gap, and we signed the papers on our new space in April!!!

2307 Union Street                                                        2305 Union Street

But, that was just the first step! Read More


Director's Corner