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JUNE 12, 1998
6:32 PM
CONTACT:  Death Penalty Information Center
Richard Dieter, DPIC, 202/293-6970
Rita Radostitz, Attorney for Henry Lee Lucas, 512/320-8300 (Austin)

Execution Looms Even As State Admits Guilt 'Highly Improbable'
Henry Lee Lucas Scheduled for Execution In Texas on June 30 Despite Exculpatory Investigation by Atty General's Office
WASHINGTON - June 12 - One of the most important and compelling death penalty cases in years is quickly  progressing toward an execution in Texas. Henry Lee Lucas is to be executed on June 30 for a murder which two successive Texas Attorneys General concluded he almost certainly did not commit. While Mr. Lucas is probably guilty of other offenses for which he will never be released from prison, the offense for which he now faces lethal injection occurred at a time when he was hundreds of miles away in Florida.

Death row inmates often raise claims of innocence prior to their execution, but rarely   are these claims confirmed by the state's own investigation. And when that does happen, the execution is stopped and the inmate is taken off of death row. But in a strange legal irony, the state is claiming that it is powerless to stop Mr. Lucas's execution, leaving the matter to the courts. The courts, on the other hand, are consistently reluctant to entertain claims of innocence after a person is convicted. Mr. Lucas's conviction was made easy by his own confession to the murder of the unnamed hitchhiker 19 years ago.

For years, Mr. Lucas has said that his confession was made up. On this score, he is extremely credible. Mr. Lucas, a former mental patient, confessed to literally   hundreds of murders, including the murder of Jimmy Hoffa and the murder of his   fourth grade teacher (who is, in fact, still alive), and it is well established that many, if not all, of these confessions were fabricated. But neither the courts nor those considering his possible clemency need take Lucas's word as decisive.

Texas Attorney General Dan Morales conducted an investigation of the alleged murder by Lucas two years ago and concluded that it was "highly unlikely" that he committed the murder in question. Numerous pieces of evidence, such as labor records showing him working as a roofer in Florida at the time of the crime, interviews with neighbors, and a cashed check, all indicate that Mr. Lucas was far away from Texas. No physical evidence linked him to the crime and the only reason to believe that Lucas committed the Texas murder was his own confession, which is clearly suspect.

Morales's investigation followed an earlier inquiry by then Attorney General Jim   Mattox who likewise concluded that "in all probability Henry Lee Lucas did not   commit this crime." In a deposition, Mr. Mattox stated that if impartial law   enforcement procedures had been followed, "no rational juror could have found   Henry Lee Lucas guilty . . . ."

Once before the U. S. Supreme Court looked at the issue of executing a man from Texas whose chief claim was his innocence. In that case, Herrera v. Collins (1993), the state had vigorously rejected the evidence of innocence which Herrera offered. The Justices then concluded that the Constitution may indeed bar the execution of the innocent-but-convicted defendant, but Herrera's evidence failed to convince them that his innocence was established. Now there is a capital case where innocence is not seriously in dispute.

In Herrera, the Court held that even if the courts failed to provide an innocent   defendant relief, there was still executive clemency as a safety valve. But since that decision, no Texas death row inmate has been granted clemency, nor have the courts stopped an execution solely on the basis of the defendant's innocence.

In his dissenting opinion in Herrera, Justice Harry Blackmun said that "Nothing   could be more . . . shocking to the conscience, than to execute a person who is actually innocent." Henry Lee Lucas may not be the most sympathetic defendant to   appeal to the nation's conscience, but he may be the most clearly innocent of the crime for which he is about to be executed.

Since the death penalty was reinstated, about a third of all executions have occurred in Texas, including 37 last year alone.


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