TX Lawyers Miss Deadlines, Murderers Are Executed


Three men on Texas' death row – and six others already executed – lost their federal appeals because attorneys failed to meet life-or-death deadlines, in effect waiving the last constitutionally required review before a death sentence is carried out, the Houston Chronicle reports. Johnny Johnson, executed in February, was the most recent: His lawyers missed a federally mandated filing deadline by 24 hours. One of his attorneys made the same mistake in the case of death row inmate Keith Steven Thurmond, a former mechanic now on death row awaiting execution. In both cases, the lawyer waited until after business hours on the last day an appeal could be filed and then blamed a malfunctioning filing machine for his tardiness, said a 5th Circuit Court of Appeals opinion issued last week.
The court chastised the attorney for using the same excuse twice. The opinion noted that based on the problems in the previous capital case, the lawyer already knew the machine was broken and could have easily filed electronically by using his computer. The Chronicle reviewed records in nine appeals that were filed too late. In some cases, lawyers or judges appear to have miscalculated or misunderstood the dates of the deadlines, which generally fall one year after state appeals are concluded. In others, computer failures or human foibles are blamed. “Any decent judges would be deeply ashamed of the quality of legal representation in most capital cases in Texas,” said Stephen Bright, a leading specialist in capital case law and who directs the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta. “The very least they could do about it would be to prohibit lawyers who miss the statute of limitations from taking another case and referring them to the Bar for disciplinary proceedings.” A federal writ of habeas corpus – a right guaranteed by the Constitution – usually gives an inmate a last chance to have the courts review errors or overlooked evidence that could invalidate a conviction or death sentence.

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