Another Troubling Texas Execution: Statement by Diann Rust-Tierney, Director, ACLU Capital Punishment Project

Affiliate: ACLU of Texas
August 27, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON-Today’s scheduled execution of juvenile offender, Toronto Patterson in Texas epitomizes that state’s determination to proceed with an execution despite mounting concerns.

Pending a last minute stay, Patterson will become the third juvenile offender executed by Texas in four months and the 23rd person executed by Texas in 2002. Two-thirds of U.S. juvenile offenders put to death in the past decade have been in Texas.

There are serious questions as to Toronto’s guilt of the three murders, which resulted in his capital conviction. At trial, and continuing today, Toronto has maintained that he is not guilty of the murders. Toronto told police, and testified at trial, that two Jamaican men threatened him and his girlfriend, forcing him at gunpoint, to assist one of the men in the theft of the automobile tires.

Numerous voices throughout the United States are questioning the practice of executing juvenile offenders. The U.S. Supreme Court has stated in its opinions that youth, like mental retardation, can reduce a person’s criminal culpability. Also popular support for the imposition of the death penalty on juveniles is declining. A May 2002 Gallup poll found that only 26% of Americans support the execution of juvenile offenders.

Indeed, 16 states have banned the death penalty for juveniles, including most recently Indiana. Just last year, the Texas State Legislature considered a bill to eliminate the death penalty for offenders under 18. This bill passed the House and gained significant support in the Senate before it was procedurally barred from reaching a vote on the Senate floor.

The United States’ use of the death penalty is a repeated source of conflict with the international community. For example, the European Union sent a letter to Gerald Garrett, Chairman of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, urging this execution to not proceed. Furthermore, two weeks ago, Mexican President Vincente Fox cancelled a scheduled trip to meet U.S. President George Bush because Texas executed Javier Suarez Medina.

While signs of progress have been displayed by the Texas legislature in its recent attempt to ban the execution of juveniles, we are dismayed that Toronto’s execution will likely proceed. This is especially disturbing since Texas may ban the execution of juveniles.

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