Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Update: Execution put on hold

Today a federal district judge granted Dexter Johnson's request for a stay of execution - but not because of claims of brain damage and intellectual disability. The court stayed the execution so that federal public defender Jeremy Schepers can continue his investigation into whether or not Mr. Johnson's appellate attorney, Patrick McCann was ineffective.

For the time being, Mr. McCann and Mr. Shepers are both representing Mr. Johnson. The court will decide later whether to schedule a hearing to determine whether Mr. McCann should be removed from the case.

The stay could still be overturned by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Execution Watch: 5/2/2019

On Thursday night Texas will murder again...

DEXTER JOHNSON, condemned for the slaying of a couple in 2006 during a carjacking committed in Houston with four accomplices. Mr. Johnson has fought his conviction during his time on death row, filing appeals based on ineffective assistance of counsel, racial bias, intellectual disability, brain damage and his long history of schizophrenia and psychotic breaks.

On April 29, 2019, the Court of Criminal Appeals denied Mr. Johnson's request for a stay on the grounds that executing an intellectually disabled person is a violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.

At what point is one suffering from brain damage culpable for his bad acts? If a person's brain doesn't function normally, should that person be held accountable for his actions? It's a question, quite frankly, that the criminal (in)justice system isn't equipped to handle. As I have said in the past, a trial is not an arena to determine the truth. It is, instead, a performance of competing narratives with jurors being asked which one they accept. There is no room for the grey area of intellectual capacity.

As an aside, I know Mr. Johnson's former appellate attorney, Pat McCann. Pat is one of the finest lawyers I know. I find the allegations against him hard to believe.

See also:

Marloff, Sarah, "Death Watch: Was Dexter Johnson condemned by his own attorney?" Austin Chronicle (4/26/19)

Blakinger, Keri, "'I can't forgive till you're dead': Execution set for brain-damaged Texas man behind four killings," San Antonio Express-News (12/6/18)



Unless a stay is issued, Execution Watch will broadcast live:
Thursday, May 2, 2019, 6-7 PM Central Time
KPFT-FM Houston 90.1, HD 3 or online at:

Friday, April 12, 2019

In the name of god, I discriminate against you

If you listen to Republicans such as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Senate Bill 17 provides relief for those occupational holders who have sincere religious beliefs. Of course, getting past the fact that back in the day Mr. Patrick, when he was the sports director at KHOU in Houston, once painted himself blue on television, is a little bit difficult.

For the rest of us, Senate Bill 17 would allow license holders to discriminate against members of the public whose lifestyles offend their sincerely held religious beliefs.

This bill is aimed specifically at the LGBT community in Texas and it would legalize discrimination on the basis of religious belief. No word on whether a license holder who attends a white nationalist church would be able to refuse service to African-American or Latino customers if it offended his religious beliefs.

It's no surprise that the sponsor of the bill is from a most rural area of the state around Lubbock. In many ways, once you get too far west of I-35, you enter a land that time forgot.

Once again we see religion used as a justification for discrimination. I'm sure there are those of y'all who will tell me it's an abuse of religion to use it for hate and discrimination. I would beg to differ. 

Religion serves two purposes: first, it serves to justify the existing order as somehow ordained by god; second, it serves to divide the masses so that those in power can maintain their grip on power. 

As to the first point, all you have to do is listen to the charlatans standing in the pulpit telling their followers that their suffering is proof of god's existence and love. The point is to distract the masses from the underlying forces that keep them poor. You feed someone enough of this suffer on earth and live high on the hog in heaven and they will start to believe it. They won't question the relationship between capital and labor. They will resist scientifically-based arguments regarding the harm we are doing to the planet because they have been sold on the notion that man is the shepherd of the planet and it's all in god's hands.

As to the second point, all you have to do is look at the history of war on this planet. Religious difference has long been the justification for bloodshed and it will continue to be. The Catholic church went to war against native peoples in its never-ending quest for gold and material wealth. The protestants led the charge against the native peoples in this country in search of cheap land and resources. Major denominations split in the mid 1800's over the question of slavery. The Southern Baptist Convention owes its existence to its biblical defense of slavery. And let's not forget that white churches fought against the end of Jim Crow in the last century. Then there are the white, evangelical churches in the suburbs and rural areas who encouraged their members to vote for a racist man whose on his third marriage and paid off a porn star he was sleeping with.

Now we have companies such as Hobby Lobby who don't want to provide contraceptive coverage to their employees and justify their refusal with a call to religion. We have bakers who justify their refusal to bake cakes for gay customers on their religious beliefs. And now we will have more service companies in Texas who won't even try to hide their bigotry as they wave a bible at customers they don't wish to serve.

This is not a minority misusing religion to serve their own ends - this is the logical outcome for a society whose founders were religious extremists who left England so they would be free to impose their will on others.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

A look into junk science

On the way home from the office the other night I caught the current episode of the Murderish podcast - "Lime Street Fire." The episode concerns an arson investigation in Jacksonville. Jami Rice also covered the Cameron Todd Willingham case earlier this year.

The episode is important because it looks at the evolution of arson investigation. As anyone who has looked into arson cases knows, most of the knowledge an arson investigator has is what has been passed down over the years. There are a number of old saws they pull out of the bag such as pour pattern and v-pattern which they use to peg arson as a cause of a fire.

This case is remarkable because fire experts were brought in to conduct tests to determine whether (1) whether these pour-patterns or v-patterns had any real meaning and (2) whether the fire could have started the way the suspect said it did.

The results were astounding. The investigators found an identical home to the one that burned, set it up just like the home that got burned (down to the brand of furniture) and set it on fire -- not once, but twice. What they found was that the presence of v-patterns had nothing to do with where a fire was started and many so-called pour patterns were the result of flashover.

This episode also illustrates the problem with the introduction of new "forensic sciences" in criminal cases. Over on the civil side judges have no problem deeming scientific evidence inadmissible after Daubert  and Frye hearings. In the criminal courts, however, judges have never been all that keen on performing their gatekeeper roles with regard to scientific evidence.

For far too long the state has been able to introduce so-called scientific evidence without regard as to whether the new science has been thoroughly tested. We've seen bullet alloy analysis, tire track analysis, bite mark analysis and arson investigation, just to name a few, that have all been debunked for the junk they were. It is frightening that judges seem to be more concerned with saving insurance companies money than they do in protecting the rights of criminal defendants.