Thursday, April 18, 2013

Bill on Racial Testimony Reviewed in Austin

Posted in Longview News Journal - Click here for full story.

AUSTIN (AP) — Rallying around the case of a black man sentenced to death on racially charged testimony, opponents of capital punishment asked state lawmakers Tuesday to create a new avenue of appeal for death row inmates in Texas.

But despite national attention to the case, including support from a surviving victim, a lawyer who worked for the prosecution and a former governor, several members of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee called the proposal unnecessary.

Under House Bill 2458, convicted murderers could challenge their sentences by proving that race played a significant role in the decision to seek or impose the death penalty. While statistical evidence of a district attorney’s record on seeking the death penalty could be offered, other evidence particular to the case would be required. To qualify for a hearing, defendants would have to accept an alternate sentence of life without parole. Kentucky and North Carolina have enacted similar laws.

Of the 304 inmates on death row in Texas last year, according to the most recent count by the Death Penalty Information Center, 122 were black, 89 were white and 89 were Latino.

“We know,” said Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, “that blacks and Hispanics are overrepresented in Texas on death row.”

At the hearing Tuesday, Rep. Steve Toth, a Republican from the Woodlands, expressed a lack of familiarity with the case. He called the use of race as a factor “shocking.”

Yannis Banks, a spokesman for the state chapter of the NAACP, offered statistics dating from the 19th century to the present day.

“Race continues to play an undeniable role in Texas’ use of the death penalty,” he testified.

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