Unless the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Gov. Rick Perry act to stop it, on Sept. 14 Frances Newton will become only the third woman executed by the state of Texas since 1982, and the first black woman executed since the Civil War.
Unique in that historical sense, in other ways the Frances Newton case is painfully unexceptional. For there is no incontrovertible evidence against Newton, and the paltry evidence that does exist has been completely compromised. Moreover, her story is one more in a long line of Texas death row cases in which the prosecutions were sloppy or dishonest, the defenses incompetent or negligent, and the constitutional guarantee of a fair trial was honored only in name.
As Harris Co. prosecutors tell the story, the now 40-year-old Newton is a cold-blooded killer who murdered her husband and two young children inside the family's apartment outside Houston on April 7, 1987, by shooting each of them, execution-style, in order to collect life insurance. Newton had the opportunity, they argued during her 1988 trial, and a motive – a troubled relationship with her husband, Adrian, and the promise of $100,000 in insurance money from policies she'd recently taken out on his life and on the life of their 21-month-old daughter Farrah. And she had the means, they say: a .25-caliber Raven Arms pistol she had allegedly stolen from a boyfriend's house.
To the state, it is a simple, open-and-shut case, which requires no further review. "Her case has been reviewed by every possible court," Harris Co. Assistant District Attorney Roe Wilson told the Los Angeles Times in November. "She killed her two children and her husband. There is very, very strong evidence of that."
Yet despite Wilson's insistence, Newton's case isn't simple at all -- and such "evidence" as there is, is far from strong. "The State's theory is simple, and it is superficially compelling," attorney David Dow, head of the Texas Innocence Network at the University of Houston Law Center, argued in Newton's clemency petition, currently pending before the Board of Pardons and Paroles. "As we will see, however, appearances can be misleading."
The above is from Jordan Smith's "Without Evidence: Executing Frances Newton" (The Austin Chronicle) and was e-mailed by Ned. I heard on the radio today (Pacifica) that, although many services were overloaded due to the influx of the victims of Hurricane Katrina, this aspect of the court system will not be delayed. More information can be found at the Free Francis Newton web site.
Those new to this issue can also check out Democracy Now!'s "From Death Row: Texas Set to Execute First African-American Woman Since Civil War:"
The State of Texas is scheduled to execute Frances Newton on September 14. She was convicted of the 1988 murder of her husband and two children allegedly to collect a $100,00 life insurance policy. Newton would be the first African American woman executed by the state since the Civil War. Supporters say the courts should grant Frances Newton another trial based on new evidence.
Two Dutch journalists recently interviewed the state prosecutor in charge of Newton's case. In that interview, Assistant District Attorney Roe Wilson contradicted a key piece of evidence that led to Newton's conviction. While prosecutors linked one gun to Newton, it now appears that there was a second gun that was never tested in a crime lab.
Texas leads the nation in the number of executions performed since the moratorium on capital punishment was lifted in 1974. Almost half of the people on death row in Texas are African-American though only 12 percent of the population is. And in Harris County, where Frances Newton is from, the police crime lab is notorious for botching capital cases.
Another hurdle in Newton's case was her state-appointed attorney. She was originally represented by the infamous defense attorney Ron Mock, who has lost so many capital cases that he is known as "death row Mock." At least sixteen of Mock's clients have gone to death row and he has never won an acquittal in a capital case. He has been suspended from the bar twice. A colleague in Frances Newton's case says Mock told her that he had not thoroughly examined the evidence. In another high profile capital case, Mock has been accused of inadequately defending Shaka Sankofa, or Gary Graham, in court.
At Jess' request here are the upcoming stops on the Bring Them Home Now Tour.
Cleveland, OH: Fri, Sep. 9th - Sun, Sep. 11th
Pittsburgh, PA: Sun, Sep. 11th - Wed, Sep. 14th
Harrisburg, PA: Wed, Sep. 14th
Philadelphia, PA: Wed, Sep. 14th - Sun, Sep. 18th
Baltimore, MD: Sun, Sep. 18th - Wed, Sep. 21st
Detroit, MI: Fri, Sep. 9th - Sun, Sep. 11th
Buffalo, NY: Sun, Sep. 11th - Tue, Sep. 13th
Rochester, NY: Tue, Sep. 13th
Syracuse, NY: Tue, Sep. 13th
Albany, NY: Tue, Sep. 13th - Wed, Sep. 14th
Amherst, MA: Wed, Sep. 14th - Thu, Sep. 15th
Boston, MA: Fri, Sep. 16th - Sun, Sep. 18th
New Haven, CT: Sun, Sep. 18th
Providence, RI: Sun, Sep. 18th
New York City, NY: Sun, Sep. 18th - Tue, Sep. 20th
Newark, NJ: Tue, Sep. 20th
Baltimore, MD: Tue, Sep. 20th - Wed, Sep. 21st
Athens, GA: Sat, Sep. 10th
Savannah, GA: Mon, Sep. 12th - Tue, Sep. 13th
Charleston, SC: Tue, Sep. 13th
Columbia, SC: Tue, Sep. 13th - Thu, Sep. 15th
Raleigh-Durham, NC: Thu, Sep. 15th - Sun, Sep. 18th
Fayetteville, NC: Fri, Sep. 16th
Williamsburg, VA: Sun, Sep. 18th
Richmond, VA: Sun, Sep. 18th - Tue, Sep. 20th
Alexandria, VA: Tue, Sep. 20th - Wed, Sep. 21st
More information can be found at Bring Them Home Now.
The e-mail address for this site is firstname.lastname@example.org.