Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Frances Newton revisited

Frances Newton,the only black woman on Texas' death row, received a reprieve late last year . She has maintained her innocence all these years since the 1987 slayings of her husband and her 2 children. Since Governor Perry issued her that reprieve in December 2004, the gun the Houston PD said they found in her napsack was retested, and was found to be the murder weapon.

fromthe Dallas Morning News:

Her attorneys are waiting for word from the U.S. Supreme Court, where they filed an appeal Monday after Texas courts, lower federal courts and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected their arguments that she was innocent.

[Her attorneys say]... that evidence used at her trial was improperly destroyed and that the gun linked to the slayings was not the only weapon recovered by police.

Three weeks before the slayings, Newton took out $50,000 life insurance policies on herself, her husband and her daughter. She named herself as the beneficiary and signed her husband's name to prevent him from discovering she had set aside money to pay for the premiums.

Prosecutors said the insurance payoff was the motive for the slayings. Newton believes the real killer is or may be related to a drug dealer she knew only as ``Charlie,'' who she said was upset with her husband for not repaying a $500 debt.
Her attorneys claim that evidence used at her trial was improperly destroyed and that the gun linked to the slayings was not the only weapon recovered by police.

N.B. Frances’ court-appointed trial attorney, Ron Mock, did nothing to prepare for trial. He interviewed no one & investigated nothing. He is the same attorney that represented an innocent, Shaka Sankofa, a.k.a. Gary Graham, who was executed. The State Bar of Texas has sanctioned Mock several times.

[some of the above re Ron Mock is from a now dead link from the Houston Chronicle: ]


she would have had, at most, 20 minutes to shoot her husband and children, clean herself up, compose herself, and leave the apartment to go to her cousin's home. There was no blood found on Frances Newton's clothing, hands, or car, despite the fact that the victims had been shot at close range. No gunpowder residue was found on her hands or sweater. There was also no evidence that someone had undertaken a cleanup at the apartment.

Frances Newton was prosecuted in Harris County, in Houston. In March 2003, an independent audit of the Houston Police Department (HPD) crime laboratory revealed serious defects in the lab's DNA analysis section, including poorly trained staff relying on outdated scientific techniques. Several cases suggest that the lab's problems extended beyond its DNA section, for example into its ballistics expertise.

The ballistics evidence central to the Newton case was processed at the HPD. On 21 October 2004, a judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said that there should be ''a moratorium on all executions in cases where convictions were based on evidence from the HPD crime lab until the reliability of the evidence has been verified''.

The Houston Chronicle has a brief history of the HPD's crime lab's screwups, including some useful links, here. Did they switch the guns, inadvertently or otherwise? The Supreme Court may well regard that as an outlandish theory offered in desperation.The exculpatory other circumstances don't stand much of a chance when you're talking about a death row inmate. Things look a lot worse for her than they did in 11/2004--

she is scheduled to be executed today.

see also: Guardian(UK) story about Newton, here.

from the TCJC: Texas Offenders on Death Row.


Contact Njeri Shakur at 713-222-0749 or at SHAPE Center – 713-521-0749