David Dow on WDR Fernsehen

I’m watching a DVD last night (Kieslowski’s Blind Chance; interesting but flawed) when a friend calls: "Turn on WDR Fernsehen, there’s a documentary about the death row in Texas"!  Since I used to be a death penalty lawyer myself, I tuned in. It was a documentary about the execution of Texas death row inmate Frances Newton, which took place on September 14th, 2005.

The first talking head I saw was Professor David Dow, who taught me the nuts and bolts of death penalty law lo those many years ago. He was talking about the terrible legal representation Ms. Newton got at her trial, where she was defended by a local Houston, Texas attorney who represented almost twenty hapless murder defendants in Houston, Texas in the 1980s, all of whom ended up on death row. Professor Dow sounded as smart as ever, even dubbed into German (not sure he’d be happy about that).

Prof. Dow is a fearless public critic of the many grievous shortcoming of the Texas death penalty justice system. His criticism is as sulfurously uncompromising as it needs to be in a State that has likely sent several innocent people to the lethal-injection gurney deaths in the recent past, but it is also based on careful research and almost two decades of experience.

Professor Dow continues to provide outstanding legal assistance to people on Texas’ death row and in Texas prison as Executive Director of the Texas Innocence Network. You can read about their achievements here — people released from prison after the TIN proved their innocence, moribund cases revived by TIN investigations, TIN attorneys and student investigators helping to create legal precedents that will benefit thousands of inmates. This is difficult and thankless work on many different levels, and it is not paid for by the government. If you would like to support the work, your donation will be gratefully accepted here.

Oh, and he’s also prolific author. His unsparing, behind-the-scenes account of Texas’ death penalty regime, Executed on a Technicality, can be ordered here. You’ll learn how bafflingly complex the law of death penalty appeals has become, and read mind-boggling stories of judicial incompetence and indifference, and read harrowing such as that of Cesar Roberto Fierro, who has spent almost three decades on death row trying to get any court to hear evidence of his innocence. Here is Prof. Dow’s account of his last visit to Fierro:

I used to think Fierro would walk out of prison because I thought it was quite likely that he is innocent. Now I hope he is not. I  hope I was wrong and that he committed the murder, because the alternative is that he has spent the last twenty-five years of his life going insane in a sixty-square-foot cell for a crime he had nothing to do with. His mother has died. His daughter no longer visits. He thinks his lawyers are trying to injure him. He is incapable of having friends and carrying on a conversation. The guards taunt him and laugh at him. Yet if Fierro dies in prison, it will not be because Texas proved that he killed Nicolas Catanon. It will be because Fierro did not convinct the state court that he did not, and because no federal court will even let him try. If Fierro is executed, it will be because a technicality allowed the authorities to coerce a confession from him and then get away with it.

[from p. 50-51 of the hardcover version]. Plus, if that weren’t enough, Prof. Dow has a blog, which he seems to be updating more frequently lately.

Anyway, it was good to know that hundreds of thousands of Germans were able to see Prof. Dow in action. He is the real thing, and if you want to make a meaningful contribution to helping people get justice in Texas, you can do no better than contribute to his organization. Here‘s that link again, in case you missed it the first time.

4 thoughts on “David Dow on WDR Fernsehen

  1. Thank you so much for letting us now how babarian those “Amis” are over there. Thankfully over here the number of people executed in NRW state prisons alone was only in the hundreds during the last decade. (http://www.heise.de/tp/r4/artikel/24/24010/1.html), including, according to the article, a person jailed for not paying the tab in the pub and another one for stealing a bottle of champagne.Always remember, Germans are Better People.

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  2. It seems the cycle has turned full circle. Thirty years ago there was also a crisis in the US legal system, but a different one. The US Supreme Court had reversed all existing death penalty sentences and seemed that a week didn’t pass without hearing about a state or federal judge throwing out another criminal case, frequently upon the most tenuous of reasoning or legal justification. The public eventuall responded and the tide turned.

    Now we have the opposite or so it seems. At least in Texas. So we need the cycle to turn again. Texas (and perhaps some other states) obviously need to fix the existing system to give current defendants a better defense. And Texas in particular needs to do something extraordinary to deal with the inmates currently on death row. A freeze on executions pending a complete review of all death row cases would be a good start.

    I don’t think the US Supreme Court should step in except possibly on a very temporary basis, however. The previous USSC intervention was a direct cause of the backlash which has created the current system. Unfortunately Governor Perry does not seem a likely candidate to lead this reform. That may have to wait until another governor (one with national political aspirations perhaps) is elected.

    In the meantime stopgaps like TIN are needed.

    One more thing; talk to the Texas evangelicals about this. If you could get a wave of evengilical christians behind death penlaty reform that would exert major political pressures in Texas and I think things would happen. It’s far from impossible to do this, I think.

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  3. The death penalty eliminates the scum of the earth one at a time, slow progress, but similar to building a house one brick at a time. Thank goodness those monsters are removed from society.

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