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.