Letters

Death Row railroad
"Deathtrap" [July 9] was well-written, carefully considered, and needed to be written. The criminal "justice" system needs a free and vigilant press. Somehow, such things seem to work better when the media "looks" at them. Thanks for doing this one.

Maurice Healy
Via e-mail

I read your article with much interest. I have had the opportunity to meet with the women on Death Row, including Karla Faye Tucker. I have always found Erica to be most pleasant and a talented singer. I know that many feel that the only way to stop crime is to kill the killers, but I cannot help but think that we issue death warrants without fairness and in the heat of emotions.

No one is blessed or, as the saying goes, "given closure" by the death sentence. The act remains in our brain, so we need to stop the lie. If there is any way--and I believe there is--that a person can be made a useful part of society, we need to stop being God and start being encouragers and builders.

Erica is 24. There is the possibility that much is left of her life that could be used for good.

Anonymous
Via e-mail

I can't fathom why you guys put some goddamn murderer on your cover. Even if she didn't commit the actual murder, she sure as hell did nothing to stop it. I am not an NRA member, Young Republican, member of any racist group, or a Bible-toting Southern Baptist. My views are my own. I just think everyone is accountable for what they do. In the case of murder or any injustice, my sympathy usually goes to the family of the victims. How do you think they feel about seeing the person who took their loved one's life on the cover of your mag displayed as some martyr?

William Truly
Via e-mail

Your writer misstated the law concerning jury instructions during the sentencing phase of a capital murder trial in Texas. She stated that "under Texas law, for a person to be sentenced to death...the jury must answer 'yes' to three questions: Did the defendant act deliberately? Was the defendant's conduct unreasonable in response to any provocation offered by the deceased? Was there a probability that the defendant would commit future acts of violence that would pose a continuing threat to society? If the jury answers "no" to any one of these questions, the defendant will be sentenced to life in prison."

The following two or three issues are in fact those that are submitted to a jury in the sentencing phase of a capital murder trial in Texas: 1. Whether there is a probability that the defendant would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a threat to society; 2. Whether the defendant actually caused the death of the victim, intended to kill the victim, or anticipated that a human life would be taken; and 3. Whether, taking into consideration all of the evidence (including the personal moral culpability of the defendant), there are sufficient mitigating circumstances to warrant that a sentence of life imprisonment rather than death be imposed.

Question 2 is submitted only if the jury instruction at the trial permitted the jury to convict the defendant as a party rather than as a "triggerperson." The jury is told not to consider question 3 unless it arrives at affirmative answers to questions 1 and 2.

If the jury returns answers of "yes" on questions 1 and 2 and an answer of "no" on question 3, the judge must impose the death penalty. In all other situations, the judge must impose life imprisonment.

Considering the focus of your story (the lack of mitigating circumstances asserted on behalf of Ms. Sheppard at the sentencing portion of her trial and her alleged incompetence of her trail counsel), I feel that the actual jury issues are particularly relevant to any discussion of her sentence.

Michael W. Hubbard
Dallas

Editor's note: Mr. Hubbard is correct, though the mistake was made by the editor of "Deathtrap," not the writer. The article incorrectly stated the applicable law regarding the punishment phase of a death penalty case. Had Erica Sheppard been convicted of a capital crime committed before September 1, 1991, she would have been punished under the law that we recite in the article. Sheppard, however, was convicted of a crime that occurred on June 29, 1993, and was punished under the statute as amended in 1991. The change in the statute, however, did not affect the substantive issue of mitigation in her trial.

Killer cypto
I appreciate your article on the many risks that people who are at risk take when drinking unfiltered tap water in Dallas (and other cities). Having watched people die from this horrible parasite ["Death on tap," July 2], I couldn't help but think that people who sit in their chairs at City Hall and the Dallas County Health and Human Services Department miss the human impact (the suffering and death) of their indifference to this problem. I also appreciate the fact that your reporter (Jim Schutze) made it clear that this problem will one day affect everyone. Thank you for saving some lives. I know this article will save people's lives.

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