Two Inmates Set To Die This Month

September could boost Perry's execution tally

Unless the U.S. Supreme Court steps in to stop it – or the Board of Pardons and Paroles recommends and the governor grants clemency (a remote chance) – inmate Steven Woods will be put to death Sept. 13, even though there is scant evidence suggesting that he actually killed anyone. Woods was sentenced to death for a 2001 double murder in The Colony, near Dallas. After his conviction, a co-defendant, Marcus Rhodes, made a deal with prosecutors, pleading guilty in exchange for two life sentences. Nonetheless, while there was clear physical evidence linking Rhodes to the crime, there was no such evidence linking Woods. "There is no physical proof linking him to the crime," says attorney Alex Calhoun, who has represented Woods on appeal and who has filed a clemency petition with the parole board, seeking to have Woods' sentence commuted to life. That would be far more equitable, he argues; while that is a good argument against sending Woods to death, it's been the argument in two out of the three cases in which the board has recommended clemency under the leadership of Gov. Rick Perry. Perry only granted clemency in one of those (that of Kenneth Foster), and he said he did so because Foster and a co-defendant had a shared trial, not because Foster literally was not guilty of killing anyone.

Meanwhile, Brad Levenson, director of the state's Office of Capital Writs, responsible for representing indigent death row inmates on appeal, late last week filed a final appeal in Woods' case. In the appeal, Levenson argues that Calhoun rendered ineffective assistance when he failed to pursue in a timely manner evidence that one of Woods' jurors was so biased that his presence on the jury violated Woods' right to an impartial panel. (Should the ineffective assistance claim fail, Levenson argues that the presence of the juror alone should render the Woods verdict unsound.) The appeal comes on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court announcing that it would hear two cases this fall that relate to the right to effective counsel on appeal. Whether Texas courts will see fit to stay Woods' execution until the high court has an opportunity to weigh in on the topic remains to be seen.

Also scheduled to die this month is Duane Edward Buck, convicted of a 1997 double murder in Houston. His attorneys, with the Texas Defender Service, are asking the parole board to commute Buck's sentence to life. Part of the problem is that Buck was convicted with the aid of a blatantly racist testimonial exchange between prosecutors and a defense psychologist: Asked by the state if the fact that Buck is black would increase his likelihood of presenting a danger to the public in the future, psychologist Walter Quijano replied that it would. In 2000, then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn called for the retrial of six prisoners who had been sentenced to death based on the improper introduction of such racially biased testimony. Buck is the only one of those six whose case was never addressed. "The State of Texas cannot and should not tolerate an execution on the basis of an individual's race," the lawyers argue in their brief to the BPP, "particularly where this State's highest legal office has acknowledged the error, not only in similarly situated cases, but in this case."

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