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Bipartisan Panel Releases 'Required Reforms' in Texas Death Penalty Law

A national commission headed by former Texas Gov. and Attorney General Mark White has made several key recommendations to reform capital punishment in the United States, News Radio 1200 WOAI news reports.

The bungled execution of a killer in Oklahoma last week and the refusal of Texas and other states to reveal the source of the drugs they use in carrying out lethal injections has driven public support for the death penalty to its lowest level ever.

The panel, put together by the non partisan 'Constitution Project' has released a dozen recommendations to restore public faith in the death penalty, pointing out that the Texas system 'requires significant reforms.'

Number one, according to Meghan McCracken, a law professor at the University of California and a member of the commission, is full transparency in executions.

"The procedures are shrouded in secrecy, and the necessary information about the drugs has not been revealed," she said.

McCracken also called for one uniform single-doze execution protocol to be used in all states which carry out lethal injections.  She points out that Oklahoma uses a 'three drug cocktail,' which led to the problems last week.

"They're changing the protocols, using new drug combinations, using different doses," she said.  "We used to see that every state used a three drug protocol."

But most of the recommendations involve getting to the execution date.  The panel recommends, for example, that so called 'unintentional felony murder' crimes, or what is known in Texas as 'the law of parties' not be eligible for execution.  That is when a person participates in a crime that leads to death, but is not the person who actually causes the victim to die.

The panel also said there needs to be a fair system of review of all lawyers who advise people facing the death penalty.  They pointed out that many 'public defenders' provide low quality representation, pointing to a Texas case where a court appointed lawyer admitted he slept through portions of the trial.

One member of the commission who has a truly unique viewpoint is Anthony Graves.  Graves spent 16 years on death row in Texas for a crime he did not commit before he was completely exonerated. Graves says the 'tough on crime' political system is the biggest problem.

 "When a man walks into that courtroom he should be innocent unless proven guilty, not until," Graves said.  "That is a set up, because you're saying we are going to get there eventually."

 

 

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