Texecutions Roll On: Another Troubling Case
Texecutions Roll On: Another Troubling Case
Ray Jasper turned 18 just three months before he was arrested for killing San Antonio music producer David Alejandro. According to the state, on Nov. 29, 1998, Jasper conspired with two friends, Doug Williams and Steve Russell, to rob Alejandro. Indeed, because Jasper, an aspiring rapper, had recorded with Alejandro before, the producer obviously knew him, so he would have to "kill him," Jasper told his girlfriend.
And that, it seems, is what happened. After recording for a couple of hours inside Alejandro's studio, Jasper approached Alejandro from behind, pulled back his hair, and sliced him across the neck; Russell then stabbed Alejandro repeatedly. According to court filings, it was the multiple wounds inflicted by Russell that killed Alejandro, and not the neck wound, which was superficial. The trio then loaded Alejandro's equipment into a pair of vans – one registered to Jasper's parents – before attracting the attention of an off-duty police officer and fleeing the scene on foot.
Police soon caught up with Jasper and, according to court records, he confessed. Jasper's attorneys called just one witness in his defense, and in January 2000, after 90 minutes of jury deliberation, he was convicted; days later, the defense put on evidence that Jasper had never really been in trouble before and that he had matured greatly since being incarcerated. Nevertheless, after three hours of deliberation, the same panel sent Jasper to death row. Unless the courts intervene, Texas intends to execute him on March 19.
Questions about the legality of his conviction persist – and have yet to be vetted properly by the courts, Jasper's attorney John Carroll argues, in a new appeal filed with the Court of Criminal Appeals last week. At specific issue is whether Bexar County prosecutors unconstitutionally struck a black potential juror – without cause and because of racial bias.
Prosecutors had used a peremptory strike to excuse potential juror Vernon Galloway from service. In explaining to the court their opposition to Galloway – which the law requires, to ensure a race-neutral reason exists for the strike – the state, in part, told the judge that Galloway indicated on a written juror questionnaire that he could never vote for a verdict that imposed the death penalty. Galloway did indicate in written materials that he believed the "death penalty is appropriate in some murder cases" but that he "could never return a verdict which assessed the death penalty." But under questioning by prosecutors and defense attorneys, he qualified his answer, indicating that he could, indeed, follow the law and impose a death sentence if warranted. Over the objection of the defense, the court allowed the state to strike Galloway.
The CCA denied Jasper's original appeal, in which the juror issue was initially raised, and the federal district court followed suit, but Jasper's attorney argues that the issue has never been fully considered, because the court has never done a comparative analysis of juror questionnaires and in-court testimony, a requirement defined by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005. Such an analysis reflects that Galloway was treated differently from jurors who weren't black but who expressed the same kinds of reservations about imposing a death sentence. The written juror questionnaires were only recently located, in a file held by the Bexar County D.A.'s office, and have only now been filed with the CCA for review. "What matters is that we have shown that every one of the reasons the prosecutor gave for excluding Mr. Galloway is implausible, unreasonable, culturally biased and uninformed, or unsupported by the relevant facts," Carroll wrote in the appeal, filed March 3. "In sum, the reasons have been exposed as nothing more than pretexts. The prosecution excluded Vernon Galloway because of his race, and this entitles Mr. Jasper to a new trial." At press time, the CCA had denied Jasper's appeal; the case now returns to federal court.
Jasper's case has in recent weeks caught the attention of media from around the globe, because of a pair of letters he sent to the website Gawker. The letters include detailed descriptions of life on Texas' death row – "life on death row is like living in a black & white TV" – and condemn the criminal justice system as unjust and racist: "We look at slavery like it's a thing of the past, but you can go to any penitentiary in this nation and you will see slavery."
There remain other troubling aspects to Jasper's case, including the fact that he had just turned 18 at the time he was sentenced to death – had the crime happened just three months earlier, Jasper would have been ineligible for the death penalty; the Constitution bars the execution of youthful offenders, because they are considered too immature to be held fully responsible for their actions. "Maturity comes at different times for different people," attorney Jay Brandon, who represented Jasper for his first state writ, wrote in that appeal, arguing that Jasper's trial attorneys were ineffective for not raising the issue of Jasper's immaturity before the jury. "The cut-off at age  is so arbitrary that it offends the Eighth Amendment's proscription against cruel and unusual punishment. In spite of his calendar age, Ray Jasper was not mature enough to be held ultimately responsible." The courts have disagreed.
If the state is allowed to proceed with Jasper's execution as scheduled, he'll become the 511th inmate executed in Texas since reinstatement of the death penalty, and third executed this year. Jasper's execution is the first of five scheduled – one per week – over the next five weeks.
Ray Jasper's letters from death row are linked with this story online at austinchronicle.com.