A Troubling Week in Texas

November 19, 2009

The death penalty is always inhumane, and the past few days in Texas have brought to light some of its most worrisome aspects.

On Wednesday, The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recommended that Robert Thompson’s death sentence for his role in a 1996 robbery and shooting be commuted to life imprisonment. The shooter, Sammy Butler, was convicted and received life in prison, which raises serious questions about the arbitrary nature of how the death penalty works in real life. Why wait until the last minute to discuss the disproportionality of sentencing the accomplice to death while the man who pulled the trigger is sentenced to life in prison?

Earlier this week a federal judge in Houston granted a last-minute stay to Gerald Eldridge, allowing 90 days for a review of his mental state and capacity. Executing the mentally ill is extremely problematic, and the time to deal with such a serious issue is not during a prisoner’s last meal. Such jarring, nerve-wracking changes at the last second are traumatic for everyone involved, including the victims’ families.

Also this week, Danielle Simpson requested that his sentence be commuted to life in prison or that he be given a  180-day reprieve to appeal his case. Frustrated with life behind bars, Simpson had previously stated that he did not want to wait around to be executed, and so was considered a “volunteer.” Despite the alarming injustice of denying someone who has given up on appealing a death sentence a chance to reconsider, and despite claims that he suffered from “debilitating mental illness,” his requests were denied and Simpson was executed Wednesday evening. He thus became the 29th “volunteer” Texas has executed (around 6 and a half percent of all Texas executions), and the 134th “volunteer” executed in the US since the resumption of executions in 1977 (representing over 11 % of all executions).

As the week draws to a close, all eyes will be on Texas Governor Rick Perry as he decides the fate of Robert Thompson. Please contact Governor Perry and urge him to follow the advice of Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles by commuting Thompson’s sentence to life in prison.

UPDATE:  Governor Perry rejected the recommendation of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, and the execution of Robert Thompson was carried out as scheduled.