Texas Death Row Prisoner Scheduled to Die Today: Lawyers Seek Last-Minute Stay

StorySeptember 14, 2005
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Frances Newton, death row prisoner in Texas, is scheduled to be executed later today but lawyers are seeking a last-minute stay on her execution. We speak to Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D–Texas) and an anti-death penalty activist about the case. [includes rush transcript]

In Texas, lawyers for death row prisoner Frances Newton are seeking a last-minute stay on her execution. She is scheduled to be killed later today. On Tuesday Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee held a press conference to urge Governor Rick Perry to stay the execution. On Monday one of the state’s main newspapers — the Austin American Stateman — came out in support of a new trial for Newton. The paper’s editors wrote “The public cannot be certain of her guilt, but she’s going to die for the crime anyway. Newton was denied a basic requirement for a fair trial–a competent lawyer.” Newton would be the 13th prisoner executed this year in Texas. She will be the first African-American woman killed in Texas since Reconstruction.

  • Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, (D-Texas)
  • Gloria Rubac, longtime death penalty and co-founder of the website Freefrances.org.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined on the phone by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and also long-time death penalty activist Gloria Rubac. Gloria Rubac, you co-founded the website, Freefrances.org. Why are you calling for the stay of her execution? Frances Newton, convicted of killing her husband and two kids.

GLORIA RUBAC: We’re calling for a stay, Amy, because there are so many unanswered questions in her case. We’re calling for a stay because she had one of the worst lawyers that Harris County has appointed. He has sent 16 people to death row, including Shaka Sankofa. Frances is one of four that are still alive. And we are calling for a stay because just this summer, the District Attorney admitted on camera that there were more than one gun recovered from this crime, and they have denied this for 18 years. So, given the lack of representation, the prosecutorial misconduct, you can’t execute people when there’s these doubts. And also, the Houston police crime lab, which has been discredited, processed evidence in her case.

AMY GOODMAN: I’d like to go to a clip of Frances Newton, and we’re going to do that in a minute. Frances Newton again on death row scheduled to die later today. Let’s hear what the prisoner herself has to say.

FRANCES NEWTON: It’s difficult being away from family anyway. I have always kind of been with all of my brothers and sisters, I have always kind of been insulated, you know, and always had family around me. So, it’s been kind of hard not having that, and then under the cloud of guilt that I am, losing my husband and my children. That’s been difficult. But I just take it one day at a time. You know, I cope with the support that I have, the love from my family and my friends that I have, the love that I have for my husband and my children, and just knowing my own innocence, that helps a lot. I cope knowing that I have people fighting for me that are believing in me and believing that the right thing will be done.

AMY GOODMAN: Frances Newton herself behind bars scheduled to die later today. We’re also joined by Congressmember Sheila Jackson Lee. We thank you for stepping out of this Department of Homeland Security meeting on Katrina to take our call. You held a news conference yesterday. Why?

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE: You know, as I listen to Frances, we cannot think of her as anything but a sister, a mother, who lost her children, a wife, and the catastrophe of Katrina equals the catastrophe of injustice that would occur if Frances goes to her death today. This is a last-ditch effort in association with Professor Dow, the Innocence Project, who is, as we speak, has sent a petition to the United States Supreme Court.

Today I will spend my time working with Congressman John Conyers and Congressman Bobby Scott, who I know are interested in this injustice, to try to reach the Governor of the State of Texas, Governor Perry, to reach the Solicitor General, who will petition to the United States Supreme Court. I’m asking the Solicitor General to join in Professor Dow’s petition for a stay of execution, and I’m asking the Governor to recognize, as the President of the American Bar Association has recognized, that injustice — or justice has not been served.

There is the discovery of multiple weapons. There is a complete violation of the Sixth Amendment and Fifth Amendment, the right to a trial by jury of your peers with information and the right to effective counsel and due process. Frances Newton received none of that. It is clear that if you have counsel that did not investigate or ask one question of one witness, posed no investigation and posed no defense, you did not have an effective trial under the Sixth Amendment or due process.

Why, when we are sharing our hearts and minds with the victims of Katrina, when the State of Texas has in essence opened its doors, the Governor at this point, and particularly the Board of Pardons and Parole, would refuse to allow a simple opportunity for a 30-day stay of execution for — I cannot understand it. I cannot accept it. I cannot stand idly by. And I would ask the listeners — I know you feel frustrated. Send emails to members of Congress. Send emails to the Governor of the State of Texas. Send emails to the Solicitor General of the United States. We must have some relief.

So, Amy, that is the basis upon which I’m operating. I wish this would be or could have been, if you will, a day by day, if you will, petitioning, but the point is that even with protesting and marching and press conferences, a simple act can answer the question, a simple fair act. Not one that says today we release Frances Newton, today we set her free. It is simply to say that what the court system, what the case law, what the Constitution demands is for the justice system not to send Frances Newton to her death on a lie, but to allow the new evidence to be presented to a jury of her peers.

AMY GOODMAN: And what exactly—

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE: Why can’t America accept that? I don’t understand.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Jackson Lee, what is the lie? What is the alternative scenario? She was convicted of —

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE: In essence, it is the fact that the weapon that was presented at the time of the presentation of her case is the only weapon or that there is not a confusion inasmuch as it is said multiple weapons have now been found.

The other one is the motive, which is to suggest that she would have received an insurance benefit, and she orchestrated it. We have come to understand that the insurance was sold to her, she did not ask for it, and it might not have gone to her anyhow. Those are the kind of facts that need to come out, but those are the facts, motive, monetary motive, to kill your children and your husband, a monetary motive? Because we all know that her children were under the age of majority. In that instance, those dollars would have come to the guardian parent. That would have been her. Why then kill the children? And so you don’t have the absolute fact of why a mother would have killed both the spouse and the children based upon insurance proceeds. Those are the lies that have consistently plagued this case.

The other thing that I would say, why would the board — which I’ve worked with extensively — just be a tracking device for a single point of view. As far as I’m concerned, it appears — and I will be calling them today, and I don’t know how welcoming I’ll be received — why they could not reconsider their decision to simply allow this extension. Now many people are saying she had a 120-day extension. There is no extension too long to ensure that the person who is ultimately executed, if you believe in that, is not the person who is guilty of the crime. In this instance, there is too much evidence to suggest that Frances Newton is not. It is time now to give her justice and to give her piece of mind to give this stay.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Jackson Lee, I want to thank you for being with us. Thanks for joining us, as well as long-time death penalty activist Gloria Rubac. Again, Frances Newton is scheduled to die today.

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