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USA: Texas urged to halt execution of man for crime committed as teenager

*Racial bias claims have dogged Anthony Haynes case
*A judge was reprimanded for assembling guns during jury selection

Amnesty International has called on the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and state governor Rick Perry to grant clemency to man due to be executed in Texas next week.

Anthony Haynes, a 33-year-old African-American man, is due to be executed on 18 October for a crime committed when he was 19 years old. Haynes was sentenced to death in 1999 for the fatal shooting of off-duty police officer Kent Kincaid - who was white - in Houston a year earlier.

Claims of racial discrimination, inadequate legal representation and judicial and prosecutorial misconduct have marked the case. Only one of the 12 jurors at his original trial was African American after the prosecutor summarily dismissed four of six black prospective jurors.  In 2009, a federal appeals court ruled that Haynes should get a new trial because of such racial discrimination claims, but the US Supreme Court later overturned the ruling saying that to let it stand would have “important implications”.

Judicial misconduct also tainted the proceedings - the judge who oversaw the controversial jury selection process dismantled and cleaned two guns in full view of the would-be jurors. He was later reprimanded by the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct - which found that he had “disassembled and reassembled two revolvers” - but Haynes’ death sentence was allowed to stand.

Meanwhile, at the trial, the jury never learned that Haynes had taken crystal methamphetamine two days before the shooting, or what effect this had had on him. No expert testimony was presented on his history of mental health problems or on the mitigating effect of youth. The prosecutor was able to argue to the jury that “no mitigation” had been presented and that Haynes was “a dangerous predator that nothing can mitigate”.

Since his conviction, over 30 people have signed sworn statements filed in court saying that, if asked, they would have been willing to testify that the crime was shockingly out of character for a teenager they knew as non-violent and respectful.

Haynes is said to have been a model inmate and to have long expressed deep remorse for the death of Sergeant Kincaid. On 24 September, Haynes’ lawyer filed a motion in federal court seeking a stay of execution, but otherwise his ordinary appeals have been exhausted.

Amnesty has written to the Texas parole board and submitted a report on the case (see: ).

Amnesty International USA researcher Rob Freer said:

“To obtain a death sentence for Anthony Haynes, the prosecution had to persuade the jury that he would be an ongoing threat to society, even in prison.

“The state’s case was weak - the defendant had no prior criminal record - but it was helped by the failure of the defence lawyers to present compelling mitigating evidence available to them.

“The culture of capital justice in Texas is such that executive clemency is a rarity there, but here is another case that should give even ardent death penalty supporters pause for thought about the killing the state does in their name.”

Among those appealing for clemency is Haynes’ father, a retired Assistant Chief Investigator with the Houston Fire Department:

“The execution of my son by the State of Texas will have a devastating effect on my whole life …. Since Anthony is my only child, one of my main purposes for living will be taken away from me by his execution. I am asking you to spare my son’s life, because I know the decisions he made as a teenager are not the decisions he has made as a man. My son is a changed person who has a heart of remorse for taking Sgt Kincaid’s life.”

More than 100 of the inmates currently on death row in Texas were prosecuted in Harris County, the jurisdiction where Haynes was tried. Of the 486 people put to death in Texas since the USA resumed executions in 1977, nearly a quarter - 116 - were convicted in Harris County. If it were a separate state, the county would have the second-highest execution total in the entire USA, second only to the rest of Texas.

More than 70 of the 486 prisoners put to death in Texas were 17, 18 or 19 years old at the time of the crimes for which they were condemned. Forty were African American, 28 of whom were executed for crimes involving white victims. Nine out of 30 executions in the USA so far this year have taken place in Texas.

Amnesty opposes the death penalty in all circumstances.

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