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The state of Texas executes an innocent woman
We won't forget Frances

October 7, 2005 | Page 4

SEPTEMBER 14, 2005, was a difficult and sad day for those of us against the death penalty. The state of Texas went forward with the state-sanctioned murder of Frances Newton, despite new and already existing evidence of her innocence brought to light by her lawyers.

This evidence was never heard in a trial. If it had been heard, could have exonerated Frances. Frances was the first Black woman to be executed here since the Civil War.

Frances was accused of killing her husband and two small children for insurance money in 1987, but there were many questions in the case, including ballistic evidence tested at the discredited Houston crime lab.

Evidence that could have been re-tested was destroyed by the lab, including the clothes Frances was wearing the night of the murders. In recent months, her lawyers had uncovered evidence of a second gun recovered at the scene.

If this wasn't enough, her court-appointed lawyer Ron Mock was notorious for his shoddy work on death penalty cases, has been sanctioned by the state bar, and is no longer allowed to defend in capital cases. In his career, he defended 16 capital cases that ended in execution.

The state of Texas executed Frances despite calls from people all over Texas and the world for a stay. Even the parents of Frances's murdered husband called on the state for a stay.

Tom and Virginia Louis told of how they had offered to testify on behalf of Frances at the trial, and that Ron Mock never called them, nor did he call any witnesses for the defense. "Losing Adrian and the kids suddenly was devastating to us," they wrote. "We do not want to go through that again with Frances...We don't want to lose another family member."

As I picketed and chanted in front of the gates of the governor's mansion in Austin, I remembered another time I stood in that very spot, protesting the execution of another innocent person. In 2000, when George Bush was governor, the state of Texas murdered Shaka Sankofa (aka Gary Graham). Like Frances, Shaka was Black, had evidence of innocence, didn't have any money, and his state appointed attorney was none other than Ron Mock.

As I attempt to write this, my eyes fill up and my heart swells with anger. I think about meeting Jewel Nelms, Frances' mother, just a few weeks before the execution. Jewel had come to Austin from Houston for a protest here, and after the protest, was going down to visit Frances at the prison. She spoke optimistically of a stay, and when I called her the Sunday before the execution date, she still had that hope.

"I'm confident that when they see the new facts, they will also realize that it really needs to go back to court. And I think they will do the right thing if they look at the facts," she said.

But the governor and the Board of Pardons and Paroles didn't do the right thing. That night of September 14, out yelling in front of the high gates toward the curtained windows of the governor's mansion, a member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty asked me, baffled, why they didn't see what we could plainly see?

There were tears and anger as 6 p.m. came and went, but then I listened to the speeches made by Delia Perez Meyer, whose brother is on death row, and Jeannine Scott, whose husband is serving life--both for murders they did not commit. These brave women spoke of the need to not only feel grief for Frances, but to take that grief and anger and use it as the fuel to keep on fighting this death penalty system.

Jeannine spoke of the need to let our voices be heard and never let the governor and the state of Texas forget that there are people who are against these executions. Delia relayed a message from some of the juveniles, who spoke of the relief they felt after finally being let off of death row. Others spoke of the executions that have been stayed, and the declining number of death sentences, even in Texas. And I spoke of Shaka--how strong he was and the way that he always said it wasn't just about him, but about all of the others, like Frances, that Texas wanted to murder.

As Shaka Sankofa said as he lay on the gurney about to be killed by the state, "This is nothing more than pure and simple murder. This is what is happening tonight in America. Nothing more than state-sanctioned murders, state-sanctioned lynching, right here in America, and right here tonight. This is what is happening, my brothers. Nothing less. They know I'm innocent. They've got the facts to prove it. They know I'm innocent. But they cannot acknowledge my innocence, because to do so would be to publicly admit their guilt. This is something these racist people will never do.

"We must remember brothers, this is what we're faced with. You must take this endeavor forward. You must stay strong. You must continue to hold your heads up, and to be there. And I love you, too, my brothers. All of you who are standing with me in solidarity. We will prevail. We will keep marching. Keep marching Black people, Black power. Keep marching Black people, Black power. Keep marching Black people. Keep marching Black people. They are killing me tonight. They are murdering me tonight."

At that time, I vowed never to let people forget about Shaka, just as now I say we can never let people forget Frances Newton and all those Texas has murdered in the name of justice.

Although we lost Frances, I know we are making a difference, and I believe through our movement, we can put an end to this sick and monstrous death penalty once and for all.
Lily Hughes, Austin, Texas

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