Clemency Letter for Frances Newton
December 3, 2004
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The Honorable Rick Perry
Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 12428
Austin, Texas 78711-2428 (by Fax)
Re: Frances Newton
Dear Governor Perry:
On behalf of the Capital Punishment Project and the Texas Affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union we are writing to thank you for staying the execution of Frances Newton.
As you know, questions remain about Ms. Newton's guilt in the murder of her husband Adrian and their children. Because of inadequate representation by her original counsel Ms. Newton has not had a fair opportunity to establish her innocence. Commutation of her sentence could enable her to prove her innocence and enable the state to establish her guilt or innocence with moral certainty.
Ms. Newton was inadequately represented at trial by attorney Ron Mock. Mr. Mock, who frequently had been accused of shoddy work, and 16 of whose clients had ended up on death row, infrequently met with Ms. Newton. At a hearing in September 1988, Ms. Newton testified that "Mr. Mock never sat down with me and went over the case in depth at all." She requested to be allowed to substitute counsel of her own choice. While the judge granted this request, he denied the new counsel's motion to continue the trial, so the new counsel had to withdraw from representation because they did not have time to prepare. According to the Houston Chronicle, "his pre-trial preparation was minimal, he filed no motions, failed to submit a subpoena list when the trial started and interviewed none of the witnesses." When asked at a pre-trial hearing whether he could provide the names of state or defense witnesses with whom he had talked, Mr. Mock said "? no I can't."
In the words of Professor Kenneth Williams, "she's had bad representation at every stage of the process. That's partly how she got where she is today."
What makes Ms. Newton's case even more disturbing is that the evidence against her is largely forensic evidence. There are no eyewitnesses to the crime and Ms. Newton has maintained her innocence from the beginning. The forensic tests for the state's evidence were conducted by the now thoroughly discredited Houston Police Department Laboratory. Furthermore, the type of evidence used against her is coming under increasing scrutiny. For instance, the scientific basis underlying the testimony by the ballistics expert that identified the murder weapon has frequently proven to be erroneous. Similarly, expert testimony regarding traces of material found on her clothing as proving that Ms. Newton fired a weapon is open to misinterpretation. Additionally, the reliability of "future dangerousness" testimony is also coming under scrutiny as well by the scientific community.
Concerns about the Houston Forensics Laboratory have caused several prominent Texans, including police chiefs and judges, to call for a moratorium on executions of cases where the forensic testing was done in the Houston crime lab. Given that Ms. Newton's conviction is based almost entirely on forensic evidence from this lab, it would be unconscionable to proceed with her execution.
If a new execution date is set, we urge you to consider granting clemency in this case.
Rachel King, Esq.
ACLU Capital Punishment Project
ACLU of Texas