Texas Executes First African American Woman

San Francisco Bay View, Commentary, by Kiilu Nyasha Posted: Oct 03, 2005

As the Clinton legislation – the Anti-Terrorist and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1995 – indicates clearly, “innocence is of no consequence” when it comes to appeals of state rulings. The high court honored this law and refused to hear new, exonerating evidence that could have saved Frances Newton’s life. The state of Texas executed her on Sept. 14.

The following statements from Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and American Bar Association president Michael Greco make the case for why this execution should have been commuted. (I have taken the original message sent out by the International Action Committee and modified it to reflect the new reality. I’ve left the text quotes intact.)

Coming on the heels of the mass murder following the hurricane in New Orleans, if this state murder ain’t a wake-up call for revolutionary movement, I don’t know what it will take. Frances is the first African American woman to be executed by Texas in modern history. New evidence affirms her innocence.

Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark wrote to the president, the governor and the Pardon Board. Here is what he wrote:

“Every element of law, morality, human dignity and reverence for life compel commutation of the death sentence of Frances Newton scheduled to be executed in Texas on Sept. 14, 2005. Evidence not presented at trial, but now known to have existed, would have caused an acquittal.

“Her trial attorney was not competent and can no longer appear in death cases, but too late for her. A person of financial means would never have been convicted and probably never even tried in such a case. At 22, Frances Newton lost her husband and two children and, most cruelly, has been condemned as their murderer.

“Her mother and father-in-law, the parents of her dead husband and grandparents of her dead children, could have testified in her behalf at her trial, but no one called them. They pray every day that her life be spared.

“Frances Newton, a poor African-American woman unable to defend herself, who lost her family to violent death, has now spent 17 years in prison on a conviction unsupportable in law and fact.

“Surely if there was ever time, now in the wake of Katrina with its devastating exposure of the fate of poor Americans caught in calamity, American officials can find the understanding, courage and compassion to commute this damnable death sentence. I ask you to use all your authority and persuasion to see that happens.

“Sincerely, Ramsey Clark”

And Michael Greco, president of the American Bar Association, wrote in part: “(S)ignificant and compelling new evidence ... has not yet been evaluated by the Texas courts. ... This evidence was not discovered earlier because of the negligence of her appointed lawyer. He did no investigation whatsoever and therefore did not place before the jury the evidence that now casts doubt on Ms. Newton’s involvement in this crime. ...

“We believe that carrying out the execution of Frances Newton without a full review of this new evidence is inconsistent with principles of fundamental fairness and due process. Because reasonable doubt exists, we urge you to vacate her execution date so that the newly discovered evidence can be tested and properly evaluated by Texas courts.”

International solidarity is the key to defeating this monster.

In memory of Frances Newton, we should remember the last words spoken by Shaka Sankofa, who had been represented by the same incompetent attorney as Frances and who, like Frances, was executed by the state of Texas despite overwhelming evidence of his innocence.

“This is nothing more than pure and simple murder. This is what is happening tonight in America. Nothing more than state sanctioned murders, state sanctioned lynching, right here in America, and right here tonight. This is what is happening, my brothers. Nothing less.

“They know I’m innocent. They’ve got the facts to prove it. They know I’m innocent. But they cannot acknowledge my innocence, because to do so would be to publicly admit their guilt. This is something these racist people will never do. We must remember, brothers, this is what we’re faced with.

“You must take this endeavor forward. You must stay strong. You must continue to hold your heads up and to be there. And I love you, too, my brother, all of you who are standing with me in solidarity.

“We will prevail. We will keep marching. Keep marching, Black people. Black power! Keep marching, Black people. Black power! Keep marching, Black people. Keep marching, Black people. They are killing me tonight. They are murdering me tonight.”

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