By Adam Liptak, New York Times

WASHINGTON — A state judge in Texas ruled that Areli Escobar, a death row inmate there, had been convicted based on junk science produced by a police DNA lab so riddled with problems that it had to be shut down.

“It would be shocking to the conscience to uphold the conviction of Mr. Escobar,” Judge David Wahlberg of the Travis County District Court wrote in an 86-page decision in 2020. “Mr. Escobar’s trial was fundamentally unfair.”

Death Row Inmate, His Prosecutor Ask SCOTUS to Intervene in Bad DNA Case

By Marcia Coyle, National Law Journal

False DNA evidence dominated the 2011 trial of Texas death row inmate Areli Escobar. In an unusual alignment of interests, Escobar and his prosecutors, backed by a state habeas court decision, are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to swiftly overturn a state appellate court decision that the evidence did not justify a new trial.


Texas Court Overturns Beaumont Death Sentence

By Megan Ellsworth, Beaumont Enterprise

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has overturned the conviction of a Beaumont man who was sentenced to death for capital murder five years ago. Now he will now get a new trial.

Texas Appeals Court Takes Up Legal Fight Over Judge's Delay In Signing Inmate's Execution Order

By Nicole Hensworth, Houston Chronicle

A judge’s delay in signing a death warrant — which effectively sets the date of a defendant’s execution — has led to a series of volleys in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals between the defendant’s lawyers, the jurist herself and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, who contend that a judge’s duty is to sign the order without discretion.


By Jerry Iannelli, The Appeal

Dubious DNA evidence--and a potential coverup by the Travis County DA's office--are at the heart of a judge's recommendation that Areli Escobar gets a new trial.

Concerned over DNA evidence, judge recommends new trial to Austin man on death row for 2009 slaying

By Katie Hall, Austin-American Statesman

A Travis County state district judge has recommended that an Austin man on death row get a new trial, after his attorneys raised concerns that a former Austin crime lab technician incorrectly analyzed DNA evidence collected in the case.  

Texas court denies death row inmate’s hypnosis appeal

By Dave Boucher and Lauren McGaughy, The Dallas Morning News


Charles Don Flores argued he would not have been convicted of murder if police had not used hypnosis in the investigation of the crime. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied his appeal but he can continue to fight in federal court.


By Max Rivlin-Nadler, The Appeal

When Steven Shockey was arrested at a San Diego port of entry in December 2011, he knew his luck had run out. The 52-year-old was trying to re-enter the United States after jumping bail and fleeing to Mexico because of an arrest in Williamson County, Texas, for the aggravated assault of his ex-wife.

Because of his long criminal record — which included state and federal arrests and convictions in both Texas and California — Shockey was eligible for Texas’s “habitual offender enhancement,” which could have landed him a maximum sentence of life or 99 years in prison instead of a maximum of 20 years for the second-degree felony.

Shockey’s late 2011 arrest at the border sent him right back to the Williamson County Jail. And then, like many other defendants facing lengthy sentences, Shockey decided to become a jailhouse informant.

As luck would have it, Shockey was in an ideal jail to do so.

Texas judge removed from death row case over racial remarks

HOUSTON (AP) — A Houston judge has been removed from overseeing the appeal of a black death row prisoner because of prior racially charged comments the jurist made about black defendants.

The Houston Chronicle reports that defense attorneys in March had asked McSpadden to recuse himself, but he refused. A judge was called in to hear the dispute and he determined McSpadden, who is white, should be removed.

Harris County prosecutors did not oppose McSpadden's removal.

He came under fire earlier this year by saying, among other things, that young black defendants were getting bad advice from "rag-tag organizations like Black Lives Matter."

Death Row Inmate Gets New Sentencing Hearing Because Lawyer Refused to Present His Case

By Jolie McCullough
Texas Tribune

Hector Medina was sentenced to death in 2008 after killing his two young children. Now, he's getting a new sentencing trial because his lawyer refused to present evidence to persuade jurors to opt for the lesser sentence of life without parole.

Appeals Court Halts Texas Man's Execution in Shaken Baby Syndrome Case

By Jonathan Silver
Texas Tribune

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Thursday halted the upcoming execution of Robert Roberson. Roberson's legal team argues that Roberson's conviction in the death of his daughter was based on junk science.

Texas Is Scheduled To Execute This Man In Six Days--But Four Experts Say He Was Convicted Based on Junk Science

by Casey Tolan

Update: On June 16, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed Roberson's execution, sending his case back to a trial court for a hearing on the new scientific evidence.

Randall Mays Receives Stay of Execution: CCA rules Monday that Inmate Might be Too Insane to Die

by Chase Hoffberger
Austin Chronicle

Texas' Court of Criminal Appeals issued a stay on the execution of 55-year-old Randall Mays Monday, citing questions concerning the death row inmate's mental competency. The state's Code of Criminal Procedure bars executions for those who don't understand why they're being killed (or that its occurrence has become imminent).

Cargill Appeals Capital Murder Conviction, Seeks to Dodge Death Penalty With New Evidence

by Field Sutton
KYTX, Smith County

A convicted murderer from Whitehouse wants a second chance. At least one medical expert now backs up the story Kimberly Cargill has been telling for the last four years.

Death Watch: The Capital Aggravation Question

by Chase Hoffberger
Austin Chronicle

On Friday, Sept. 5, the Office of Capital Writs (the state agency charged with representing inmates appealing a death sentence) filed an application for retrial with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on behalf of Lisa Ann Coleman, a 38-year-old Arlington woman found guilty in the July 2004 kidnapping and subsequent starvation death of 9-year-old Davontae Williams.

Lawyers Seek New Trial For Death Row Inmate Areli Escobar

by Jazmine Ulloa
Austin American Statesman

Lawyers for death row inmate Areli Escobar are seeking to overturn his conviction, contending that one of the jurors who sentenced him in May 2011 hid the fact that he had once worked with the defendant before his murder trial.

Thuesen Attorneys to Appear Before Judge in Writ Hearing (Multiple Articles)

by Maggie Kiely
Bryan-College Station, The Eagle

Attorneys for Brazos County death row inmate John Thuesen continued presenting evidence Tuesday in an attempt to prove he had ineffective representation during his 2010 trial.

Agency Defends Capital Murder Convict

by Robin Y. Richardson
Marshall News Messenger

A state writ of habeas corpus hearing in the capital murder case of death row inmate Cortne Mareese Robinson began here in the 71st District Courtroom Monday with visiting judge Joe Clayton of Tyler presiding.

Robinson, who was brought last Friday to the Harrison County Jail from the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, is being represented by attorneys from the State Office of Capital Writs. The office is state government agency tasked with representing defendants in Texas who have been sentenced to death.

Considering the Toll of War in a Death Penalty Debate

by Brandi Grissom
Texas Tribune - New York Times

Dennis and Patty Thuesen look through photos of their son John from his childhood and his service in the military. John, an Iraq war veteran, is appealing his death sentence for the murders of his girlfriend and her brother, Rachel and Travis Joiner, claiming that lawyers at his original trial did not adequately inform jurors about his PTSD.

Year-Old state office challenges death sentences

by Michael Graczyk
Associated Press - The Houston Chronical

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Brad Levenson wasn't thrilled to watch the condemned prisoner die, but he believed it was his duty to his client - and to the state-funded agency he now leads, charged with defending people who have been sentenced to death.

It was the first execution he'd ever seen.

"No matter how many pictures you see and other attorneys describing it, it's just a surreal experience," Levenson said of the lethal injection earlier this year of convicted killer Cary Kerr.

New State Office Handling Convicted Baytown Murderer's Death-Sentence Habeas Appeal

by Stephen Thomas
Your Houston News

Posted: Thursday, July 21, 2011 

The capital murder conviction of a Baytown man is a new case for a relatively new state office charged with habeas corpus appellate representation of death-sentenced convicts.

The Texas Office of Capital Writs, which will mark its first anniversary Sept. 1, advocates on behalf of indigent individuals sentenced to death in Texas, and Joseph Francois Jean is one of them.

President's Message: We Ought to Be Ashamed

by William Harris
Voice For The Defense - Online

Posted Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

On May 3, 2011, the State of Texas executed Cary Kerr from Fort Worth. Brad Levenson and his staff at the newly created Office of Capital Writs (OCW) made a valiant attempt to get the Court of Criminal Appeals and the Supreme Court to halt the execution and consider fully mitigation evidence developed by OCW after Mr. Kerr's state habeas counsel failed to do so in the original state proceeding. Brad and his staff performed to the highest standards of our profession. We should all be proud of their work.

What we should be ashamed of is the holding of the Supreme Court and the lower courts following its lead: that an indigent capital defendant has no constitutional right to the effective assistance of counsel on the post-conviction review of his case. Post-conviction review of trials in which a death penalty is imposed is required by the United States Constitution. It is beyond question that every defendant tried in our criminal courts for non-petty offenses is entitled to competent, effective assistance of counsel as a matter of constitutional right. In cases where the death penalty is imposed, we require that new counsel review the process for constitutional error, including the effectiveness of trial and direct appeal counsel. Yet the Court blithely says there is no right to effective, competent performance by the lawyer performing that post-conviction review.

Execution Challenge Is First for Texas Appeals Office

by Brandi Grissom
The Texas Tribune

Posted Thursday, May 3, 2011

Less than a month before his scheduled execution, Cary Kerr had no attorney. And the ones he had had up to that point, he argues, didn't do him much good. Now, he's asking the U.S. Supreme Court to stop his execution - scheduled for tonight - and allow him another opportunity to argue for his life.

"This was a life history that wasn't told," says Brad Levenson, Kerr's new attorney. "No one has done this investigation."

Levenson is director of the state's new Office of Capital Writs. Created by lawmakers in 2009 to provide better representation for people on death row who can't afford to pay their own lawyers to challenge their sentences, the office opened in September 2010. Kerr's case is the first the office has taken with an impending execution date. And prophetically, the appellate lawyer whose previous work Kerr lambasts is the same one who helped spur lawmakers to create the office of writs in the first place.

Cuts Challenge New State Office for Death-Row Appeals

by Chuck Lindell
American-Statesman Staff

Published: 7:09 p.m. Friday, Dec. 31, 2010

Troubled by revelations of second-rate work by court-appointed attorneys, Texas legislators in 2009 created a state office to improve appeals on behalf of death-row inmates.

Now staffed with four lawyers and two investigators, the Office of Capital Writs is beginning work on its first cases - but it's facing an uncertain future.

Two rounds of budget cuts have already cost the office a part-time worker and prompted remaining staffers to cut corners by supplying their own ergonomic chairs, buying office supplies and traveling on the cheap by staying with friends or declining to be repaid for meals.

But additional budget cuts of 10 percent, likely to hit almost every state agency next year, could leave little choice but to lay off a lawyer or investigator. Such a reduction could jeopardize the agency's mission and the state's long-standing - but often broken - promise that no inmate will be executed without first getting help from a competent appeals attorney.

Updated Monday, November 14, 2022