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 here.
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.
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.
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.
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