Don’t Mess With Texas?

I’ve put off writing about the current situation in Texas, and Ted Cruz’ ignoble trip to Cancun to avoid the cold that his constituents were dying in, but Jeff has done a terrific job of covering the highlights. Thanks, Jeff!

On The Fence Voters

Former Mayor of San Antonio and Barack Obama’s Secretary of HUD Julian Castro put it best on Chris Hayes’ show on MSNBC the other day: “We need to stop electing people who don’t believe in government, to political positions in the government.”

I wonder how the people of Texas are feeling about their elected GOP leaders these days. Millions are freezing their asses off, being told to boil water, standing in line for groceries and propane, and seeing their neighbors dying after being forced into unsafe acts to stay warm. Is this what they signed up for?

One would think that this might be the final straw. After decades of corporate hack GOP leadership and deregulation on steroids, the state now resembles a failed third-world dictatorship. What more will it take for Texas citizens to throw these idiots out of office and try something different?

They had a chance in…

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Trying To Take Away Our Voice

Voting has already begun in many states, and mail-in ballots have been sent out in most states that allow mail-in voting.  The Republican Party has made no bones about the fact that they intend to make voting as hard as possible for most of us who prefer not to clog the polls, putting ourselves and our families at risk for a deadly virus, on November 3rd.  Well, it looks like they have started their campaign to keep us from voting …


Voting in Georgia …

Early voting began yesterday in Georgia, and long lines – as much as a ten-hour wait – were reported in some areas.Georgia-votersNow, let me ask you … do you notice anything about the people in this line?  Look closer … do you see any white faces there?  I saw one, possibly two, but the majority appear to be Black voters.  This was in Cobb County, a county that has voted Democratic for the last several elections, and the same scenario took place in DeKalb County, a majority Democratic county.  In addition, two counties briefly had problems with the electronic pollbooks used to check in voters. The issue halted voting for a while at State Farm Arena, in Atlanta. Voters who cast their ballots at the basketball stadium, which was being used as an early voting site, faced long waits as the glitch was resolved.  My suspicious mind wonders if the ‘glitch’ was, perhaps, manufactured?

Think about this one … you have a job, you either work afternoons, or arranged to go in to work later so that you could go vote.  Ten hours later, you are finally able to cast your vote, your shift has ended without you, your boss will be fuming tomorrow, your kids haven’t had their supper.  How many people left the line and did not vote because they couldn’t afford to miss work, or they had to pick up their children after school?  And yes, the majority of them are Black or Hispanic.

Luckily, most of these people were pretty darned determined!  Steve Davidson, who is Black, said the late US congressman John Lewis and others had fought too long and hard to secure his place at the polls for him to get tired and leave.  “They’ve been fighting for decades. If I’ve got to wait six or seven hours, that’s my duty to do that. I’ll do it happily,” Davidson said.

Adrienne Crowley, who waited more than an hour to vote, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution there wasn’t anything that would make her get out of the line to vote. “I would have voted all day if I had to.”

Nationally, more than 9.4 million people have already voted, an unprecedented number, according to data collected by Michael McDonald, a political science professor at the University of Florida.  Georgia has long been seen as a Republican bastion, but many believe recent demographic changes have made it a more competitive state. A recent poll shows Donald Trump and Joe Biden in a statistical tie in the state.  I believe that the high turnout and shift toward the Democratic candidates are the result of having the worst possible person in charge for the last four years, of having an incumbent who has point-blank stated that he does not care one whit for our lives … “It is what it is,” he said.  People listen, people understand, people are voting … in record numbers.


Meanwhile, down in Texas …

I told you yesterday evening about the fake ballot drop-off boxes the Republican Party had installed in areas of Southern California.  Well, down in Texas, Governor Greg Abbott issued a proclamation last week limiting each county to only one ballot drop-off site, regardless of size or population.  As I told you yesterday, the State of Ohio, among others, already had such a rule, but in Texas they already have multiple ballot drop-off boxes in most counties, and Governor Abbott’s order would require removing them.  The move would disproportionately affect larger, more diverse counties and hit communities of color, making it more difficult for them to vote.  Gee, what a surprise, eh?  The GOP is doing every damn thing they can to keep the poor and minorities from voting, for they know that in a fair and honest election, they are likely to become a shell of what they once were, and in fact may well be doomed to extinction if they don’t make some significant changes.Nick Anderson cartoon

Luckily, on Friday evening, US federal judge Robert Pitman blocked Texas governor Greg Abbott’s order to shut down mail-in ballot drop-off sites across the state as the election is currently under way.

Harris County, one of the largest in Texas with more than 4.7 million residents, breathed a collective sigh of relief.  In a statement, the Harris county clerk, Chris Hollins, said:

“Tonight’s injunction reinstating Harris county voters’ ability to hand-deliver their ballots at 12 county offices is a victory for voting rights. The governor’s suppressive tactics should not be tolerated, and tonight’s ruling shows that the law is on the side of Texas voters.”

The Law of Parties and Jeffrey Wood

Earlier this week I wrote about the Stand Your Ground law that originated in Florida in 2005, and has since been passed in 22 other states.  I find this to be one of the most dangerous laws on the books and subject to wide abuses as we saw in the case of Trayvon Martin.  I have now found one that is at least equally bad, if not worse.  It currently exists in only one state, Texas. (What is it with Texas these days?)

The law is called the Law of Parties and under this law, prosecutors are not required to prove that a defendant had any part in committing a crime, or even intended to commit it. Jurors only need to find that there was a plan to commit a crime and that the defendant should have anticipated that the crime would occur. What ever happened to “innocent until proven guilty”?  Worse yet, a person found guilty under this law can be executed, as Texas is one of 32 states in the U.S. that still use capital punishment.  And that is exactly what is set to happen on 24 August, a mere 11 days from today.

Briefly, before I get into the specifics of the case, allow me to state my opinion on capital punishment.  I am against it.  There was a time that I had mixed feelings about it, thinking, on the one hand, that some people were so evil that they needed to be removed entirely from the face of the earth, but on the other hand, death being a pretty permanent thing, fearing that someday we might actually execute an innocent person, which would be even worse.  My mind was changed a few years ago when, as a part of my ongoing education, I took a course in ‘wrongful convictions’.  I was amazed at the number of times innocent people have been sent to prison*, some even to death row, who were exonerated years, or even decades later by new technology, such as DNA, or by witnesses or the guilty party coming forward with the truth.  It is horrible to think of an innocent person spending years of his life in prison, but even worse if we executed that person, then later found he was innocent.  It was at that point that I decided I cannot support capital punishment under any circumstances.

Wood

Jeffrey Lee Wood

The man who is scheduled to be put to death on 24 August is Jeffrey Lee Wood.  Mr. Wood has been in prison since 1996 for the death of a man he did not kill — and, by some accounts, did not know was going to be killed. In January 1996, Mr. Wood, then 22,  was sitting in his pickup truck outside a convenience store in Kerryville, Texas, waiting for Daniel Reneau who he believed had gone inside to buy snacks and drinks.

Although there was an earlier plan between Mr. Wood, Reneau, and several others to steal a safe from the convenience store, the other collaborators had backed out of the plan, and unbeknownst to Wood, Reneau had taken it upon himself to steal the safe anyway.  Upon heading to the store, Wood had admonished Reneau not to take his gun, but Reneau did so anyway, without Wood’s knowledge. Reneau apparently entered the store with the intent of stealing the safe and in the process shot and killed the clerk, Kris Keeran.

Wood’s attorney, Jared Tyler, said his client could not have anticipated the death of Keeran, and was unfairly held responsible for Reneau’s actions and decisions. Nonetheless, both men were convicted of capital murder and Reneau was executed in 2002.  Wood’s attorney has filed a writ of habeas corpus — used to review the legality of someone’s imprisonment — asking the state’s highest court for a new sentencing hearing for Wood, saying the punishment should fit the crime. His punishment is based, in part, on “false and misleading” testimony from a psychiatrist who did not personally examine Wood.

Mr. Wood is considered developmentally delayed, and with an IQ of only 80, is borderline mentally disabled.  As such, his attorney claims he should have been declared unfit to stand trial.  He was initially admitted to a mental hospital for psychological evaluation, and a psychologist testified that Wood was delusional, unable to grasp the issues about his case and the reality facing him. He was released from the hospital, somehow found competent to stand trial, and the psychologist’s evaluation was withheld from the jury, who found him guilty of capital murder under the Law of Parties.

Since 1976, there have been 1,437 executions in the United States. More than a third of them have taken place in Texas, which has executed 537 people over that period. Executions of people who did not directly kill the victim are extremely rare: The Death Penalty Information Center lists just 10 such instances that didn’t involve contract killings. Half were in Texas under the law of parties. In 2009, the Texas House of Representatives passed House Bill 2267, which would have eliminated the death penalty in Law of Parties cases, but the bill failed in the State Senate.  Since it was not retroactive, it would not have helped people like Jeffrey Wood who were already on death row.

Earlier this month, 16 Roman Catholic bishops from across the state wrote a letter to Texas Governor Greg Abbott urging him to grant a stay on Wood’s execution. “Mr. Wood has never taken a human life in his own hands,” the letter reads. “He was not even in the building at the time of the crime. It is extremely rare for any person in the history of modern death penalty to have been executed with as little culpability and participation in the taking of a life as Mr. Wood.”

Abbott

Texas Governor Greg Abbott

Whether or not you support capital punishment, I think we would all agree that executions based on the Law of Parties, executions of people who simply did not take another’s life, and perhaps had no knowledge of a crime, are just wrong.  Morally, ethically, socially wrong.  It is to be hoped that enough Texans are outraged and raise their voices so that the governor will have little choice but to issue a stay of execution before 24 August.  There are rallies and petitions circulating throughout the State of Texas to try to sway the governor. Hopefully Governor Abbott is a man of good conscience and chooses to do the right thing, though from what I know of him, I have my doubts.  He is a conservative Republican who has sued the Obama administration over a dozen times.  He is sometimes referred to as Imperial Governor Abbot and was recently accused of threatening law enforcement if they did not support his harsh immigration policies. Humanitarian may not be his middle name.

The Law of Parties, first passed in 1974, makes no sense to me, and seems too open to abuse.  If you think back to the Columbine High School shooting in 1999.  If the Law of Parties had been operative in Colorado at that time, might the parents of shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold have been found guilty and sentenced to death, based on the fact that they “should have known” what their sons were planning?  I shudder to think of the potential abuses of this law.  Thankfully, no other states have a Law of Parties, and I would hope this case causes Texas to overturn theirs.

*  The Innocence Project  is an excellent source of information about wrongrul convictions and their work to exonerate the innocent.