Thursday, December 02, 2004

Moratorium Network Raises Money for Exonerated Man

Ernest Willis was released from Texas Death Row on October 6th. He will soon enjoy his first Christmas with his family in 17 years. When he walked off Death Row, Ernest was given $100, 10 days of medication, and the plaid shirt, green pants and white running shoes he had on. Acknowledging that nothing can make up for 17 years of wrongful imprisonment, the Texas Moratorium Network created Texas Death Penalty Innocence Freedom Fund to help him and future exonerated Death Row prisoners back on their feet. They're just over $400 short of their $1,000 goal, so if you're able, give him some love.

Willis' case is another example of the outrageous and unholy values exhibited by Texas worst court. Willis' attorney described what to regular Grits readers is a now-familiar chain of events:

Although Judge Brock Jones of the District Court, Pecos County, Willis’ original state court trial judge, who had imposed the death sentence in 1987, became persuaded of the constitutional defects in the conviction and sentence, and recommended to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in June 2000 that it vacate the conviction and sentence, that Court refused to do so.

As a result, Latham & Watkins took the case to the Texas federal courts. On August 4, 2004, Judge Furgeson granted Willis’ petition for a writ of habeas corpus, finding that the trial and sentencing were unconstitutional. Judge Furgeson ordered that the “State SHALL GRANT Willis a new trial in the 112th Judicial District Court of Pecos County on or before November 18, 2004 or the State SHALL RELEASE Mr. Willis from custody.”

The Texas State Attorney General’s Office declined to appeal Judge Furgeson’s order to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

So, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said, "Kill him," but this dog of a case was so pathetic, even the Texas Attorney General knew it wouldn't hunt. When the federal District Judge inevitably overruled the CCA, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott declined even to appeal it further, which usually would be done pro forma. That's what David Elliot calls a "Texas smackdown." Ernest Willis: Free at last.

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