Human Rights Watch urged Texas Gov. George W. Bush to halt the execution of Gary Graham, who was convicted of murder at the age of seventeen. He is slated to be executed on Thursday evening unless Gov. Bush intervenes.
Human Rights Watch sent letters this week to Gov. Bush and the Texas parole board requesting a stay to ensure that Graham not be put to death for a crime he committed as an adolescent. The international monitoring group also noted that fundamental questions remain about the evidence in Graham's case and the fairness of his trial.
Since the United States reinstated the death penalty in 1976, Texas has executed six juvenile offenders, more than any other state. Twenty-six juvenile offenders—a third of the national total—now sit on Texas's death row. This record makes Texas the worldwide leader in putting adolescent offenders to death. Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are the only countries other than the United States known to execute juvenile offenders, in defiance of international standards.
"Death is an inhumane punishment, particularly for an adolescent offender," said Lois Whitman, executive director of the Children's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. "Adolescents simply don't have an adult's experience, perspective, or judgment."
Graham's conviction and execution would raise serious concerns even if he were not a juvenile offender. He was convicted on the identification of a lone eyewitness who testified that she saw him for less than a second. In the judgment of some experts, the eyewitness may have been influenced by a suggestive police lineup. Two other eyewitnesses came forward after Sankofa's trial to say that he did not commit the murder for which he was sentenced to death.
His defense attorney never challenged the flawed lineup and failed to call a single witness in his defense. That attorney has since been disciplined at least four times by the Texas bar and was once jailed for contempt after he repeatedly mishandled a criminal case. When such issues have not been raised at trial, appeals courts generally cannot consider them.
In Graham's case, a federal court noted that he had presented "significant evidentiary support" for his claim of innocence. But no court has ever investigated those claims fully. At a minimum, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles should review this evidence before it rules on Graham's clemency petition.
Governor Bush has publicly stated that he would reconsider a jury verdict if the jury never heard critical evidence of innocence.
"This case gives Governor Bush the opportunity to make good on his word," said Whitman.