On April 27, one day before his 29th birthday Derrick Frazier is scheduled to be executed by the state of Texas. The crime for which he is convicted is an awful one involving the killing of a mother and child during burglary.
But how sure are we that Frazier did the crime, and what makes the April 27 killing any less awful when it is scheduled months in advance by the state?
According to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP): “Throughout the course of the investigation, Frazier’s accomplice in the burglary changed his story from an admission that he [the accomplice] killed both victims, to a claim that Frazier killed them. In fact, the details of the crime were so uncertain that the indictment charging Frazier with capital murder was a composite of five different theories as to how he was guilty. Frazier argues that he was denied due process because the judge submitted these theories to the jury in a disjunctive manner, i.e. to reach a guilty verdict, the jurors needed only to vote guilty on any one theory. It may be that six jurors believed Frazier guilty on theory one, but not theory two, and six believed him guilty on theory two, but not theory one. The jurors agreed he was guilty, but didn’t necessarily agree why!”
According to the Derrick Frazier Support Committee, “There was physical evidence to link Mr. Frazier to possession of stolen property from a neighbor residence, but not to the murder of the mother and child”
Mr. Frazier had an all white jury and his conviction was based largely on a taped confession that he made on a promise that he would not be put up for the death penalty. However; once the Texas Ranger, had the confession, the deal was called off and changed to the death penalty.
At the time of the so-called confession, Mr. Frazier made a statement to the Ranger “IF I COULD AFFORD ONE [an attorney] I WOULD….” But the Ranger abruptly cut him off.
The jury got to view a videotaped confession during the trial, however they did not get to view the video in which Mr. Frazier asked for an attorney.
“With capital murder cases,” asks the Derrick Frazier Support committee, “is not that breaking the law? Is that even called ‘JUSTICE’ in America ?”
“Mr. Frazier was twenty at the time of his arrest. The ONLY evidence that puts Mr. Frazier at the crime scene is the videotaped confession which he was coerced into making. The jurors asked to watch the video tape a second time, and then after two hours of deliberating, they came back with a GENERAL VERDICT” — not even clearly agreeing on which of the five scenarios for the killing they were convicting him for.
“Frazier also raises an ineffective assistance of counsel claim,” says the NCADP. “This is based on the fact that, although the prosecutor presented plenty of aggravating evidence, Frazier’s attorney did not investigate or present in court any mitigating circumstances. Frazier presented affidavits from his grandmother and aunt that argued that Frazier was basically a good person whose life had fallen into disarray upon the death of his mother. These affidavits suggest that there was genuine mitigating evidence available, had Frazier’s attorney bothered to search for it. What’s more, Frazier has been an exemplary prisoner since his conviction, providing further evidence to support the existence of mitigating information.”
Says the Derrick Frazier Support committee: “the attorney who represented Frazier has had public reprimands, several probations, and has been suspended from practicing law several times. While defending Mr. Frazier; he was being investigated by the Texas Bar Association. Shortly after Mr. Frazier’s conviction, he was found guilty of misconduct in another case.”
Killing is an awful thing. In the case of Derrick Frazier, the combined actions of the criminal justice system demonstrate once again, that Texas has no business killing people. Before April 27, it is time to stop this sickness once and for all.
Has Texas evern Executed an Innocent Person?
Ruben Cantu: an investigation by Houston Chronicle reporter Lise Olsen concludes that Cantu was innocent of the crime that he was executed for in 1993.
Reports Olsen: “Cantu’s long-silent co-defendant, David Garza, just 15 when the two boys allegedly committed a murder-robbery together, has signed a sworn affidavit saying he allowed his friend to be falsely accused, though Cantu wasn’t with him the night of the killing.”
Cameron Todd Willingham: Chicago Tribune reporters Steve Mills and Maurice Possley conclude that Willingham was right when he declared from the Huntsville death chamber that he did not kill his family by arson.
The reporters found that, “many of the pillars of arson investigation that were commonly believed for many years have been disproved by rigorous scientific scrutiny.” Another death row inmate, Ernest Willis, has since been exonerated for arson charges under similar circumstances.
But is Innocence the Real Issue? Remarks by David Dow in the Spring 2006 Newsletter of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (TCADP).
If the death penalty is immoral, as I believe it is, either in theory or in practice, it has nothing to do
with the issue of innocence. Only a fraction of the residents of death row are innocent, but the victim of
a murder is always innocent.
Clay Peterson, who was killed by my client Johnny Joe Martinez, was innocent and should not have died when he did. The same is true of Ed Thompson, who was killed by my client Carl Johnson, and DPS Trooper Bill
Davidson, who was killed by my client Ronald Howard.
Earlier in my talk and now, I am telling you who they are. These innocent victims of murder are not my enemy, and they are not our antagonist. We alienate their loved ones when we do not know their names. It is a mistake to oppose capital punishment by talking mostly about innocence, and it is a mistake
to ignore the horror that a murder is.
The Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) lists 18 categories of issues; here are some highlights to consider:
Arbitrariness: “the death penalty is still being unpredictably applied to a small number of defendants. There remains a lack of uniformity in the capital punishment system. Some of the most heinous murders do not result in death sentences, while less heinous crimes are punished by death.”
Clemencies: Since 1976, clemency has been granted to 229 death row inmates for humanitarian reasons, including doubts about the defendant’s guilt or conclusions of the governor regarding the death penalty process. Also since 1976, governors of New Mexico and Illinois have granted statewide clemency to all inmates.
Cost: For example in Indiana, the cost of the death penalty is 38% greater than the total cost of life without parole sentences.
Deterrence: A survey by the New York Times found that states without the death penalty have lower homicide rates than states with the death penalty. The Times reports that ten of the twelve states without the death penalty have homicide rates below the national average, whereas half of the states with the death penalty have homicide
Innocence: Since 1973, 123 Death Row Inmates have been exonerated after serving an average of 9 years in prison.
Life without Parole: Texas offers it, as do 37 of 38 death-penalty states.
Race: For example a study in Philadelphia showed that “Murders by blacks are treated as more severe and ‘deserving’ of the death penalty because of the defendant’s race.”
Representation: “Almost all defendants in capital cases cannot afford their own attorneys. In many cases, the appointed attorneys are overworked, underpaid, or lacking the trial experience required for death penalty cases. There have even been instances in which lawyers appointed to a death case were so inexperienced that they were completely unprepared for the sentencing phase of the trial.”