Entries in Rick Perry (7)


US Supreme Court Stays Texas Execution of Duane Buck

Getty/David J. Sams(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Supreme Court late Thursday halted the scheduled execution in Texas of Duane Buck pending the disposition of his application for a hearing before the court.

That means his execution has been temporarily delayed until the court decides whether to take up his case.

It also means that the spotlight is back on Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who had declined to delay the execution.

Opponents of the death penalty were furious when, during the Republican debate last week, the audience applauded the fact that Perry has authorized 234 executions while serving as governor.

Steven Woods, executed Tuesday, became the first Texas prisoner executed after the debate. Buck would have been the second.

Buck’s supporters were elated by the temporary stay. His lawyers released a statement expressing hope that the Supreme Court might take up the case.
“We are relieved that the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the obvious injustice of allowing a defendant’s race to factor into sentencing decisions and granted a stay of execution to Duane Buck,” the statement said. “No one should be put to death based on the color of his or her skin. We are confident that the court will agree that our client is entitled to a fair sentencing hearing that is untainted by considerations of his race.”

Buck’s lawyers had argued in the lower court that he should not be executed because Texas relied on improper racial testimony that was a basis for his capital sentence.

At trial, psychologist Dr. Walter Quijano testified that Buck was African-American and his race increased the likelihood of his being dangerous in the future.

“You have determined,” a prosecutor asked Quijano during cross-examination, that ”the race factor, black, increases the future dangerousness for various complicated reasons; is that correct?”

“Yes,” said the doctor, according to court transcripts.

Buck’s lawyers also pointed out that the former Texas attorney general (and current senator), John Cornyn, had conceded error in Buck’s case and five other cases that had included Quijano’s testimony.

But lawyers for Texas successfully argued in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that Buck’s case was distinguished from some of the other cases that featured Quijano’s testimony in part because it was Buck’s lawyers who called the psychologist to the stand.

Buck was convicted on May 5, 1997, of capital murder in Harris County, Texas, for the shooting deaths of Debra Gardner and Kenneth Butler. He shot and killed Gardner in view of her children.

Between now and Nov. 16, five more executions are scheduled in Texas. Slated to die are Cleve Foster, Lawrence Brewer, Frank Garcia, Hank Skinner and Guadalupe Esparza.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Task Force Deployed to Fight Texas Wildfires

Tom Pennington/Getty Images(BASTROP, Texas) -- An elite search team has been deployed to look for more victims of the Texas wildfires that have killed two people and forced thousands to evacuate, as stretched-thin firefighters continue to battle the still-moving blazes.

Under orders from Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the state's most elite search team -- the 100-member Texas Task Force 1 -- will deploy on Wednesday to help local authorities in the hardest-stricken area of Bastrop, about 25 miles from Austin.

The Bastrop County wildfire, which has destroyed more than 600 homes and blackened about 45 square miles, is the most severe of the more than 180 wildfires reported in the past week across drought-stricken Texas.

Texas Forest Service officials said on Wednesday that the fire in Bastrop is now about 30 percent contained.

Lighter winds and increased humidity have helped and the weather conditions mean Wednesday "should be a good day for" those battling the wildfires, agency spokeswoman April Saginor said.

It was not until Tuesday that crews finally caught a break in battling the fires from winds pushed in by Tropical Storm Lee that whipped the blaze into an inferno over the weekend.

Texas Task Force 1, which includes a dozen search dogs, is the same elite team sent to New York following the Sept. 11 attacks and to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

In Bastrop, the team will be tasked with navigating the wall of smoke and flames, 16 miles long and four miles wide, that has resulted in the evacuation of more than 5,000 people.

While officials blamed the Bastrop fire and others throughout the state on nature, officials in another Austin suburb -- nearby Leander -- are treating a wildfire that broke out there Tuesday as arson.

Police in Leander are hunting three teenagers they suspect sparked a wildfire that caused over a million dollars in damage.  The blaze destroyed nearly a dozen homes and caused 500 residents of Leander to evacuate, according to residents and media reports.

The wildfire in Leander had been extinguished by Tuesday afternoon.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Texas Wildfires: 852 Homes Lost in 48 Hours

Erich Schlegel/Getty Images(AUSTIN, Texas) -- In the last 48 hours, 852 homes have been consumed in the flames of Texas wildfires as dozens of blazes continue to sear the drought-plagued state, according to the Texas Forest Service.

Officials say more than 1,000 homes have been destroyed and over 115,000 acres have burned in the past seven days.

The largest wildfire is raging just east of Austin and has burned at least 600 homes and blackened 30,000 acres.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry set aside his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination to focus attention on the emergency at home. He cut short a campaign stop in South Carolina and returned to Texas on Monday. He says his participation in Wednesday's debate in California is a "fluid situation."

"I'll be real honest with you, I'm not paying any attention to politics right now," Perry said. "There's plenty of time to take care of that. People's lives and their possessions are in danger. That's substantially more important."

The wall of smoke and flames, 16 miles long and four miles wide, has resulted in the evacuation of more than 5,000 people. Five shelters have been set up across the affected area.

The massive wildfire began Sunday afternoon in Bastrop County and is zero percent contained. Texas Forest Service spokeswoman Victoria Koenig said that they expect the wind that has been fueling the flames to die down today, but that it is still a "tough, tough fire."

The emergency is not limited to the one fire about 30 miles east of Austin. Roughly 35 other fires are actively burning across this drought-stricken state.

Many Texans prayed Tropical Storm Lee would bring rain, but instead only gusty winds made Texas' most active fire season ever that much worse. The state is experiencing its worst drought since the 1950s.

In the past nine months, Texas has experienced six of the 10 largest wildfires in its history, and since November 3,523 homes and structures have been lost to the flames, according to the Texas Forest Service. In that time there have been 20,906 fires that have scorched more than 3.5 million acres, accounting for 49 percent of all acres burned in the U.S.

Of Texas' 254 counties, 251 of them are under outdoor burn bans and many residents were forced to flee quickly with the fire right on their doorstep.

One of the homes that has been destroyed belongs to Dan Hugo, a veteran who returned from war less than a month ago. He came home to find his house in ruins. He and his family, along with hundreds of others, spent most of Labor Day housed in a shelter.

Tanya Henson, another evacuee, says that not knowing what is going to happen to her is the worst aspect of the emergency.

"It's just nerve-wracking, 'cause we don't know if we got a home to go home to or not," Henson told ABC News.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Arne Duncan Feels ‘Very Badly’ for Kids in Rick Perry's Texas Schools

United States Department of Education(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama’s education secretary, Arne Duncan, has taken aim at Texas Gov. Rick Perry for what Duncan describes as the abysmal quality of education in the state’s public schools.

“Far too few of their high school graduates are actually prepared to go on to college," Duncan tells Bloomberg TV’s Al Hunt of Texas in an interview set to air Friday. "I feel very, very badly for the children there."  

Texas ranks 43rd among states for high school graduation rate, according to the Legislative Budget Board’s 2010 Texas Fact Book.  Slightly more than 61 percent of students graduate each year.    

“You have seen massive increases in class size. You’ve seen cutbacks in funding. It doesn’t serve the children well. It doesn’t serve the state well. It doesn’t serve the state’s economy well. And ultimately it hurts the country,” he says.   

Duncan attributes the conditions to Perry’s policies during his decade-long tenure as governor, including a more-than-$4-billion cut to public school funding in the state’s most recent budget.

Perry, who's long been an outspoken critic of federal education standards, has rejected participation in Obama’s Race to the Top initiative, which he has said “could very well lead to the ‘dumbing down’ of the rigorous standards we’ve worked so hard to enact.”

Perry spokesman Mark Miner criticized Duncan’s comments, telling Bloomberg, “The president’s secretary of education may want to do a little more homework before commenting on education in Texas.

“Under Governor Perry, Texas has been a national leader in adopting college and career-ready curriculum standards that will ensure Texas students graduate prepared to succeed in college and the workplace,” he said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Supreme Court Refuses to Delay Texas Execution

USA Getty/David J. Sams

UPDATE: Humberto Leal was executed Thursday evening at a state prison in Huntsville, Texas. Prison officials pronounced him dead at 6:21 p.m. local time.

(WASHINGTON) -- A divided Supreme Court refused Thursday evening to delay the execution of a Mexican national on death row, despite pleas from top officials of the Obama administration.

Humberto Leal is scheduled to die Thursday night, and now only Texas Governor Rick Perry can delay the execution.

Leal argued that his rights were violated because he was never informed of his ability to seek legal assistance from the Mexican Consulate in violation of the Vienna Convention. The United States urged the Supreme Court to delay the execution long enough for Congress to pass legislation to facilitate U.S. compliance with consular notification and provide judicial review for Leal and others who were denied access.

But Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Samuel Alito, Justice Anthony Kennedy and Justice Clarence Thomas rejected the administration’s request.

“We are doubtful” wrote Scalia, “that it is ever appropriate to stay a lower court judgment in light of un-enacted legislation. Our task is to rule on what the law is, not what it might eventually be.”

The majority criticized the government for claiming that the execution could cause grave international consequences. “Congress evidently did not find these consequences sufficiently grave to prompt its enactment of implementing legislation, and we will follow the law as written by Congress.”

Justice Stephen Breyer, writing a dissent joined by Justices Elena Kagan, Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said he would have granted a delay of the execution.

Breyer writes that the majority “ignores the appeal of the President in a matter related to foreign affairs, it substitutes its own views about the likelihood of congressional action for the views of Executive Branch officials who have consulted with Members of Congress."

Leal is currently in state prison in Huntsville, Texas, awaiting his execution.  He’s been given his last meal of fried chicken, pico de gallo, tacos and fried okra.

Sandra L. Babcock, Leal’s attorney issued a statement saying, “Today the United States stumbled in its commitment to the rule of law.  Mr. Leal, tragically, will suffer the consequences.  He will be executed tonight, despite the fact that his right to consular assistance was violated.  If he had had the assistance of the Mexican consulate at the time of trial, Mr. Leal would have had a meaningful opportunity to show that he was not guilty of capital murder."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Man Set for Execution in Texas Despite Obama's Pleas for Delay

David J. Sams/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Lawyers for the Obama administration are taking the unusual step of asking the Supreme Court to delay the execution scheduled for Thursday of a Mexican national who is on death row in Texas.

Humberto Leal, who has lived in the United States since he was 2 years old, is set to be executed for the 1994 kidnapping, rape and murder of Adria Sauceda, a 16-year-old girl.

But Leal's case has been complicated by the fact that he and other Mexican nationals on death row across the country were never informed of their right to seek legal assistance from the Mexican consulate.  Such a failure of notification is a violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations -- a treaty that the United States is a party to -- which says that foreigners in custody have the right to consular notification, communication and access.

"The violation of the Vienna Convention in Mr. Leal's case was no mere technicality," said Sandra Babcock, who serves as Leal's lead counsel. "The Mexican consulate would have provided experienced and highly qualified attorneys who would have challenged the prosecution's reliance on junk science to obtain a conviction and would have presented powerful mitigating evidence at the penalty phase, including expert testimony regarding Mr. Leal's learning disabilities, brain damage, and sexual abuse at the hands of his parish priest."

The case is generating interest at the highest levels of the U.S. government from officials who do not want to send a message abroad that foreigners in custody have no right to consular notification.  But it also has stirred a debate about the role of international courts and state death penalty convictions.

In 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the principal judicial body of the United Nations, determined that Leal and some 50 other Mexican Nationals on death row in the United States were entitled to judicial hearings to determine whether there had been a breach of their rights.

After the ruling, then President George W. Bush directed state courts to review the cases.  But Texas pushed back, arguing that U.S. state courts were not subject to the rulings of an International Court.

In 2008, the issue reached the Supreme Court, which said that Congress would have to pass legislation in order for the ICJ decision to be enforced.

But it was only last month that Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced the Consular Notification Compliance Act, which was meant to facilitate U.S. compliance with consular notification and provide judicial review for these particular foreign nationals who were denied access to their consulate.

As things stand now, the law has no chance of passing before the planned execution of Leal.  Only the Supreme Court or Gov. Rick Perry of Texas have the power to delay the execution and Perry has indicated that he is not sympathetic to the international court's finding.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Gov. Rick Perry Asks Texans to Pray for Rain

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(AUSTIN) -- As wildfires continue to scorch the state of Texas, Gov. Rick Perry is asking for prayer.

The unprecedented droughts, strong winds, and low humidity are to blame for the severe conditions spreading throughout Texas. Hundreds of homes have fallen to ashes and the once lush acres of trees have turned into charred sticks.

Since the beginning of the year, wildfires have burned over one million acres of the drought-stricken state.

Perry says the dangerous plumes of more than 8,000 wildfires are engulfing land and lives -- and it is time for Texans to join together in prayer. He has declared the next three days as "Days of Prayer for Rain" in Texas.

Perry made the proclamation on his website, stating: "I urge Texans of all faiths and traditions to offer prayers on that day for the healing of our land, the rebuilding of our communities and the restoration of our normal way of life."

Perry is not the only state lawmaker to ask for prayer. In 2007, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue hosted a prayer service for the southeastern drought.

Perhaps it's working. The first day of prayer began on Good Friday, and is forecasting isolated thunderstorms Friday and Saturday -- with a 30 percent chance of rain in Fort Worth.

Several public pages have popped up on Facebook over the past few days. One event named "Pray for RAIN in Texas!" has 306 participants so far who plan on praying for precipitation.

The page's wall drew several comments, not only from people in cities across the state of Texas, but also New Jersey, the Caribbean, and Morocco. One person posted, "Lord, please send us rain to quench the land, relive our firefighters, and help our ranchers and farmers. You are great O' Lord and you hear our cries."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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