WASHINGTON - September 12 - The state of Texas is prepared to carry out the first
execution of an African American woman in modern state history, despite
resounding questions of whether she is guilty and whether she
received a fair trial.
Frances Newton faces execution Sept. 14 for the murder of her husband,
Adrian Newton, and her children, Alton and Farah Newton in Harris County.
Forensics evidence used to convict Newton is highly questionable and a
test at the crime scene concluded that the Newton had not fired a weapon the
night her husband and children were shot to death. This test, called an
atomic absorption test, was conducted just hours after the shootings and
found that there was no gunpowder residue present. Newton’s lawyers argue
that even if Newton had washed her hands after the crime, it would have been
impossible to remove all gunpowder residue.
“There is substantial doubt that Frances Newton committed the crimes for
which she has been sentenced to death,” said Diann Rust-Tierney,
executive director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
“No court has considered issues relating to her conviction on its merits,
nor were many of them addressed by the jury that convicted Newton.
Rust-Tierney added that Newton’s conviction was based entirely on
circumstantial evidence, and that testing of her hands shortly after
the murders took place showed she had not fired a weapon.
“Public confidence in the criminal justice system is eroded when sentences
are carried out despite doubts about guilt,” she said. “For this reason,
we call on the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Gov. Rick Perry
to commute this sentence.”
Rick Halperin, president of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty,
an NCADP affiliate, said Newton’s case “embodies the core problems with the
death penalty in Texas.”
“She has a strong innocence claim, her trial counsel was egregiously
incompetent, and her conviction rested in large part on the results of
ballistics testing conducted by the now-discredited Houston Police
Department’s crime lab,” Halperin said. “This sentence must not be carried out.”
Newton joins a growing list of people on death row from Harris County
who have raised questions about forensic testing used in their convictions.
This list includes:
****Nanon Williams. Williams was convicted and sentenced to death despite
the fact that a Houston Police Department firearms examiner misidentified
the type of gun used in the commission of a murder. Williams did not own
the type of gun that was used.
****Johnnie Bernal. A HPD firearms examiner deviated from professional
norms of ballistics examination by firing 25 test-fires rather than the
customary two or three, and even applied a solution to the barrel of the
gun mid-test in an effort to obtain a ballistics match.
****Anibal Rousseau. Rousseau was sentenced to death despite the fact that
a file, located by Rousseau’s habeas counsel 12 years after Rousseau arrived
on death row, revealed exculpatory ballistics evidence in the possession
of HPD and the Harris County district attorney’s office.
Williams and Bernal are no longer on death row because of a U.S. Supreme Court
ruling barring the execution of juvenile offenders. They remain incarcerated
despite questions surrounding their guilt. Rousseau remains on death row.
NCADP and TCADP are urging people to take action to oppose Newton’s execution
by visiting NCADP’s Action Center at:
NOTE TO REPORTERS, EDITORS AND PRODUCERS:
To receive a copy of Newton’s
54-page clemency application and an accompanying memo prepared by Texas Defender
Service, please email David Elliot at firstname.lastname@example.org