Protesters speak out against death penalty

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Sylvia Garza’s son Robert has spent the last seven years on death row in Texas. Garza walked Saturday in the 11th annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Leaders of anti-death penalty groups at the rally focused on the Texas Law of Parties, which allows defendants to be executed for crimes for which they are not directly responsible. Robert Garza was sentenced in 2003 to death row under the law after he was convicted of being involved with the shooting of four women in Hidalgo County.

“It’s a nightmare,” Garza said. “You always think that because they are your children you want to protect them but under these circumstances your hands are tied and you can’t do anything for them.”

Organizers hold the march each October. The march this year fell during the middle of contentious discussions of the forensic science used to convict Corsicana resident Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004.

Family members of current death row inmates, six former death row inmates cleared of charges and anti-death penalty advocates participated in the march.

Participants marched from the Capitol down Congress Avenue, chanting “State of Texas, you can’t hide. We charge you with homicide.”

The Texas Moratorium Network, Arkansas-based Journey of Hope, the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement and Students Against the Death Penalty sponsored the march. Elizabeth Gilbert, a Houston teacher profiled on Frontline and in The New Yorker for her activism in the Willingham case, participated in the march.

Erica Surprenant, the special projects director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, a nonprofit that works on criminal justice policy reform, is currently trying to end the Law of Parties.
Surprenant said she opposes capital punishment because it predominantly targets minority groups and the poor, and does not reduce nor deter crime.

The state of Texas has executed 17 people this year. Currently 333 people sit on death row in Texas.

According to statistics from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, 70 percent of those on death row in Texas are minorities.

Criminal justice lawyer Stefanie Collins, a 2008 UT Law graduate, who helped organize the march, said during her time at UT she worked on three cases involving capital punishment that went to the Supreme Court.

Collins said the state could reduce crime and improve citizens’ lives if it used funds for capital punishment on neighborhoods and education instead.