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  Texas: The Death State
Column Written 5/2000 Mumia Abu-Jamal - All Rights Reserved

Amendment VI
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense - from the Bill of Rights, U.S. Constitution (1791).

As the issue of the death penalty in the U.S. stirs and quickens the storms of controversy, the Lone Star state of Texas, in its hunger for death, causes even some proponents of capital punishment unquiet moments of pause. If the American South is the nation's Death Belt, then Texas is the buckle of that belt. With its 215 executions since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the resumption of capital punishment in 1976, the Lone State leads the nation in executions.

Texas may also lead the nation in another way: the highest number of cases where lawyers slept during death penalty trials! While perhaps no one knows the exact answer (it being not important enough to note or record), Texas has no shortage of cases where court-appointed lawyers were assigned to serious death cases where they spent most of their time, not investigating the case, not cross-examining witnesses, nor preparing the case for mitigation, but sleeping. Sleeping!

Consider the case of Joe Cannon, court-appointed counsel for the defense in Harris County, Texas. Cannon, known as a "court-house legend" in the county, slept soundly at many of the trials to which he was assigned. Cannon's "clients" were those who were most apt to be executed by the state, and according to one scholar's count, a dozen of them went to death row in a decade. David R. Dow, a University of Houston law professor who handled an appeal from a conviction where Cannon was counsel, took a look at the trial record and was flabbergasted.

"It was like there was nobody in the room for [his 'client']," Prof. Dow recalled. Dow, in an interview, spoke of reading the transcript, and finding that it "goes on for pages and pages, and there's not a whisper from anyone representing him" [The Washington Post National Weekly Edition, 5/22/2000, p. 9].

Small wonder.
This is the system that Texas Governor George W. Bush defends as one in which he is "absolutely confident" [Washington Post Weekly, p. 8]. Despite the corporationist press sweet slant on the issue, there are a growing number of folks who are vigorously opposed to the death machine, and the candidacy of Bush for U.S. president.

When Bush made a May 13, 2000 appearance at the historically black college Prairie View A & M University, he met messages of resistance from a number of groups, among them N'COBRA (National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America), the National Black United Front, the Nation of Islam's Muhammad Mosque #45, and supporters of Texas death row captive Shaka Sankofa (né Gary Graham), who were protesting for either a pardon or clemency.

Administrators at Prairie View, according to some published reports, were not pleased with the protests. The university, established shortly after the Civil War in 1878, is a prestigious place, and its administrators were justly proud of its 300+ graduates.

Yet activists from various movements were also justly concerned that the grads, embarking on a career of privilege, not forget the 70,000 African-Americans held captive in the Texas Department of Corrections, under draconian conditions. Some grads joined the protestors in shouting "Bush Go Home!," and booing the governor.

Such protests are a good beginning, but must be the seeds of movements to come. Free Shaka!

©MAJ 2000

More Resources:
Life and Freedom for Shaka Sankofa (Gary Graham) - By Mumia Abu-Jamal; May 31, 2000
A Man Called "SHAKA" - Column Written 1/3/2000 Mumia Abu-Jamal

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