A death-sentenced prisoner whose appeal was lost for thirty years was resentenced to life with parole on November 14, 2023, when the Harris County, Texas District Attorney’s office said it is no longer pursuing the death penalty. Syed Rabbani, a Bangladeshi national, has been on death row since 1988 for a fatal Houston shooting. Mr. Rabbani filed his appeal in 1994, but it remained pending in the Harris County Court system until 2022, when the Harris County District Clerk’s Office rediscovered the filing among 100+ other ‘forgotten’ cases. Although severely ill, he is now eligible for parole due to the thirty-five years he has already served in prison.  

In September, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals had overturned Mr. Rabbani’s life sentence because the trial judge had failed to properly instruct jurors regarding mitigating factors, including evidence of Mr. Rabbani’s mental illness. Mr. Rabbani has schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder, and after more than three decades of confinement, his mental and physical health has worsened. He now “also suffers from a variety of other medical issues that have left him in a vegetative state since early 2022,” according to his legal team, including untreated seizures and potential diabetes. Post-Conviction Writ Division Chief Joshua Reiss told the court there are “some very serious mental and physical health issues affecting Mr. Rabbani some three decades after the capital murder.” Mr. Weiss called Mr. Rabbani’s case a “due process disaster,” and told the court they “need to make sure this doesn’t happen again.” Chief Reiss previously told reporters that “we are all poorly served when potential cases of wrongful conviction get lost by a court clerk for decades. And, unfortunately, persons like Mr. Rabbani… are powerless in the face of such incompetence.”

Mr. Rabbani’s counsel, Ben Wolff, provided the court with medical records from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice that indicate prison staff have repeatedly recommended Mr. Rabbani’s transfer to hospice care. Mr. Rabbani was deemed ineligible for transfer because he was serving a death sentence. Mr. Wolff, who was visibly emotional while detailing the current condition of his client, told the court that Mr. Rabbani “is confined to a prison bed in probably the most disgusting prison circumstances [he’s] ever seen.” Mr. Wolff detailed the unsanitary and hazardous environment to the court, telling Judge Lori Chambers Gray that “continued confinement for Mr. Rabbani amounts to torture.”

Mr. Wolff has urged the court to consider transferring his client to hospice care, granting parole, and returning him to the care of his family in Bangladesh. Mr. Rabbani’s siblings lost touch with him following their father’s death in 1995 but reconnected in early 2023 after reading about Mr. Rabbani’s case in the Houston Landing. Syed Fasaini, Mr. Rabbani’s youngest brother, wrote to Judge Lori Chambers Gray from West Shikarpur, Bangladesh, detailing the affection his family has for Mr. Rabbani and his desire to take care of his brother, despite his illness. Co-counsel, Heather Richard, wrote to the court that the family is “aware the Mr. Rabbani has pronounced medical and psychiatric issues, but, if given the chance, they hope to take care of him for the rest of his life.” Judge Chambers Gray indicated her willingness to consider hospice and will review the full case record before making a decision regarding parole.


Clare Amari, Forgotten’ inmate Syed Rabbani tak­en off death row after wait­ing near­ly 30 years, Houston Landing, November 14, 2023; Clare Amari, Appealing and inex­plic­a­ble’: District clerk uncov­ers about 100 delayed Harris County appeals, Houston Landing, June 282023.

See coun­cil for Mr. Rabbani’s let­ter to Judge Lori Chamber Gray, here.