NEW VOICES: Major Texas Newspapers Call for a Halt to Executions in Cases from Houston

Following a call from the Houston Police Chief and from state legislators to halt executions in cases from Harris County, four of the state's largest newspapers published editorials in support of a moratorium on executions. The Houston police crime lab has been plagued with errors in DNA testing and preservation of evidence. There have been far more executions from Harris County (Houston) than from any other county in the country.


AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN

(N)othing can justify an execution if there is any good reason to question the evidence upon which the death sentence relies.

That's why we urge Gov. Rick Perry to honor the requests from Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt, Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and state Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, to suspend all scheduled executions of inmates from Harris County until the justice system can review the cases against them.

Such a review is necessary because of the wretched work of the Houston Police Department's crime lab.
. . .
There's no harm in waiting, and there could be enormous wrong in not waiting. No one should be executed for a crime he or she did not commit.

Not even in Texas. (Austin American-Statesman, October 7, 2004)


DALLAS MORNING NEWS

We respect Republican Gov. Rick Perry's support of the death penalty. But we don't understand his shrugging off Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt's request for a moratorium on executions until the problems with Houston's notorious crime lab get cleaned up.

No less a death penalty supporter than state Sen. John Whitmire understands the significance of Chief Hurtt's request. If the state executes a person who, it later turns out, was convicted based upon faulty evidence from the troubled crime lab, the state will be responsible for an injustice of unimaginable magnitude. And death penalty opponents would have more reason to decry Texas executions.
. . .
If Texas is going to keep executing prisoners, it needs to make sure the cases are solid. As a death penalty supporter, you'd think Gov. Perry would see it that way. (Dallas Morning News, October 7, 2004)

HOUSTON CHRONICLE

It is a travesty of justice for Texas to continue administering lethal injections to death row inmates from Harris County even as forensic tests on hundreds of pieces of questionable evidence remain to be carried out. Even more disturbing, Houston police have only just begun a review of the contents of 280 mislabeled and previously unaccounted for boxes of evidence they discovered in August.
...
On the same day that Miniel was executed, the state released Ernest Ray Willis, a death row inmate for more than 17 years. Willis was convicted of setting a fatal fire. Modern analysis failed to find that arson had been committed.

Fortunately for Willis, capital punishment in Texas is not so swift. If gross injustice can be detected 17 years after the fact, a pause of a few months to recheck boxes of newly discovered evidence is surely justified. (Houston Chronicle, October 8, 2004)


SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS

Members of the Harris County judiciary should stop setting execution dates for Texas death row inmates until next spring.
...
Gov. Rick Perry refused a request by Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, this week to halt the executions of Harris County inmates until March because of the quality of work at the crime lab.

Those valid concerns warrant a suspension of the executions.
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Because the executive and legislative branches of state government refuse to address the issue, the judiciary is the last resort. (San Antonio Express-News, October 9, 2004)

See Innocence and Editorials.