Texas Board's Failure to Halt Execution Of Gary Graham is Deplorable, ACLU Says

Affiliate: ACLU of Texas
June 22, 2000 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union deplores the decision of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to allow the execution of Gary Graham to go forward despite powerful evidence of his innocence.

Right now, the world is watching how America deals out the death penalty and what they have seen so far is sickening. The Graham case is yet another example of a system that is riddled with fallibility, unfairness and racial discrimination.

Graham was convicted on the basis of one eyewitness and without any forensic evidence tying him to the 1981 shooting murder of Bobby Lambert in Houston. That the board would not even grant a 30-day reprieve in order to review evidence that no court has been allowed to hear is shameful.

We understand that Graham’s lawyers will be submitting a last-minute appeal to the United States Supreme Court and we hope that the Court will have the courage and the wisdom to administer justice where the Texas system has failed.

Since his conviction, Graham’s case has been submitted to dozens of state and federal courts which have consistently denied his application for a hearing to evaluate evidence raising serious questions that could prove his innocence.

It is by now painfully clear that racism and unfairness are the only consistent factors in the administration of the death penalty in America. Overall, the total number of death sentences imposed, about 300 a year, still represents only about one percent of all homicides known to the police. Of all those convicted on a charge of criminal homicide, only three percent – about one in 33 – are eventually sentenced to death.

Out of that three percent — almost 4,000 persons executed since 1930 — more than 50 percent have been black. Yet African Americans make up approximately 12 percent of the U.S. population. Other minorities also receive death sentences disproportionate to their numbers in the population.

In Texas, where people of color represent approximately one third of the population, two-thirds of those sentenced to die are black and Latino. This is not primarily because minorities commit more murders, but because they are more often sentenced to death when they do.

Poor people are also far more likely to be sentenced to death than those who can afford the high costs of private investigators, psychiatrists and expert criminal lawyers. Some observers have pointed out that the term “capital punishment” is ironic because “only those without capital get the punishment.” That is certainly the case in Texas.

Gary Graham has said that he hopes his state-sanctioned murder will serve as a springboard for the nation to reconsider the morality of the death penalty.

We fervently hope that it will not take the execution of yet another innocent person to awaken Americans to the travesty that is capital punishment in this country. Right now, we are waiting and watching with our colleagues here and around the world who have worked so hard to save the life of Gary Graham.

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