ad info

Editions | myCNN | Video | Audio | Headline News Brief | Feedback  





Bush signs order opening 'faith-based' charity office for business

Rescues continue 4 days after devastating India earthquake

DaimlerChrysler employees join rapidly swelling ranks of laid-off U.S. workers

Disney's is a goner


4:30pm ET, 4/16









CNN Websites
Networks image


Should Texas Execute Gary Graham?

Aired June 22, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET


MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: Tonight, the execution of Gary Graham. Did his case depend too heavily on a single eyewitness, and will there be any political cost for George W. Bush?


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm going to uphold the laws of the land, and if it costs me politically, it costs me politically.

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Mary Matalin. In the crossfire, Democratic Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois, a Gore supporter, and Republican Congressman Asa Hutchinson from Arkansas, a member of the Judiciary Committee and state vice chair of the Bush campaign.

MATALIN: Good evening and welcome to CROSSFIRE. The execution of Gary Graham was delayed 30 minutes and should be under way at this time in Huntsville, Texas. We now go Huntsville, Texas CNN's Charles Zewe, who is outside the prison.

Charles, can you tell us the nature of the delay, why, and exactly what's going on right now?

CHARLES ZEWE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Mary, it was all to give the U.S. Supreme Court a final chance to look at this case. They've looked at it four times and rejected appeals by Gary Graham. They did it again today after the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected Graham's pleas for clemency, that he should be given a stay, that he's an innocent man who was wrongly convicted.

After they rejected it, it went up to Justice Antonin Scalia, and the court on a 5-4 vote voted to deny Graham's petition for a stay in this case.

Now, here in Huntsville right now things have been very tense for the last hour. A number of demonstrators broke through police lines earlier, in fact within the last hour. They were arrested. Right now, along the barricades, things mostly quiet. An American flag was burned, but oh, about 20 minutes ago demonstrators tried to push through the barricades.

There are Texas State Troopers, some of them in riot gear, some of them armed with billy clubs. All of the 200 police officers on the scene right now are armed along with dozens more corrections officers, who are not armed, trying to prevent any outbreak of trouble here: all because Gary Graham has urged his followers, his anti-death penalty followers to try to resist, violently necessary, the attempts to execute him.

As you said, the execution is probably under way right now. It only takes about seven minutes. It was delayed for the high court. All of the witnesses are in place. Reverend Jesse Jackson is among the witnesses on Graham's behalf along with Bianca Jagger and the Reverend Al Sharpton.

Jackson told us earlier in the day he is a reluctant witness. He has never witnessed an execution before. He is a death penalty foe, and he says he's very uncomfortable being inside that prison right now watching what is likely going on -- Mary.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Charles, let me ask you -- this is Bill Press. There has been a lot of attention, of course, to the role of George W. Bush. What options did the governor have today? What specific options did he have?

ZEWE: Very little, Bill. Because Democrat Ann Richards, the former governor, had given Gary Graham a previous stay in 1993. Governors in Texas by law can only issue one 30-day stay one time in a death penalty case.

So he could not give a 30-day reprieve, as he did just a few weeks ago when the Supreme Court ordered a death row inmate, Ricky McGinn, to undergo further DNA testing to potentially prove his innocence. Bush couldn't do that in this case.

It all came down to the pardon board. He could only endorse the recommendation of the pardon board or veto it. Since the pardon board denied a stay request here, Bush had no options at all.

PRESS: All right, Charles. Thanks very much. We're going to continue our show here and come back to you as soon as there's any news. Thanks, Charles Zewe, in Huntsville, Texas.

Congressman Asa Hutchinson, you know, people who've been following the death penalty said that there was probably more evidence that Gary Graham didn't get a fair trial than anybody else they've ever seen across -- on death row. For example, there were two witnesses who came forward to say that they were with Gary Graham or saw Gary Graham at a different site at the very time that this murder took place. They were never called by his defense attorney. They have still not testified in any court. That deck was stacked against him, wasn't it, congressman?

REP. ASA HUTCHINSON (R-AR), BUSH ARKANSAS VICE CHAIR: Well, it's certainly a somber moment today and causes everyone to reflect. In this particular case, the allegation is the effective assistance of counsel. That was reviewed by the courts to determine that he had effective assistance of counsel.

You make the point that there were a couple witnesses that could have been called that were not called. But strategically that's a very tough one. The defense did not present any testimony at the trial, including the defendant himself, who did not take the stand and deny the allegations of the state. And the reason obviously is, is because that opens of the door to the proof of the very vicious seven- day crime spree that followed the murder of Mr. Lambert in this case.

And so, that was a decision that was mad, and ultimately the jury made the decision on the evidence that was presented to them.

PRESS: Well, let's talk about that. I do think that speaks to the incompetence of his defense attorney. But in terms of the evidence presented, there is zero physical evidence against this man. There is one eyewitness. Now, she says she saw him. And yet just the other day in The New York Times a woman by the name of Jennifer Thompson, who was raped, saw her rapist for a lot longer period of time than this woman claims to have seen Gary Graham in that act of murder. And here's just one thing that Jennifer Thompson said.

By the way, she testified. That man was convicted. He went to prison, served 11 years. DNA evidence found out that he had not committed that crime.

She wrote in The New York Times -- quote -- the man I was so sure I had never seen in my life was the man inches from my throat, who raped me, who hurt me, who took my spirit away, who robbed me of my soul. And the man I had identified so emphatically on so many occasions was absolutely innocent."

You really can't trust one eyewitness, can you, congressman?

HUTCHINSON: Well, and that broadens the debate, and I think we have to be careful about that. First of all, whenever you're talking about a witness, it's up to the jury and the system to make sure there's adequate protections. The jury has to weigh the credibility against the others who testify in the case, against the motives and the ability to see the case. The jury has to make that decision.

And then secondly, though, if you come to a conclusion that you have to have physical evidence in a case, in many times, assault cases, battery cases, cases in which women are the victims, they're going to be reluctant to come forward in the case by saying, well, eyewitness testimony really does have value in our system anymore and they're not going to come forward.

So I think it's a legitimate debate, but I think that in the broader context we don't want to diminish unduly the credibility of one individual eyewitness.

PRESS: At the same time, "The Chicago Tribune," which did an analysis of all the death penalty cases in Texas, found out there were 40 of them that were questionable and they were based on a single witness. I mean, is it worth not executing an innocent man based on a single witness?

HUTCHINSON: Well, I would trust the court system a little bit more than I would the review of "The Chicago Tribune." But I think that you have to -- well, the court system is the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. That's much broader in Texas. It is also the United States Supreme Court.

In each death penalty case, it's reviewed by the state court system, it is reviewed by the federal court system, and the Supreme Court. Many -- in fact, in the case in Texas, it's -- what was it? -- 19 years that it was in the court system.

I don't think you can say there hasn't been adequate review: 68 percent historically have been reversed on procedural grounds. I think it shows that there's close scrutiny given to those cases.

And so I think -- I'm not saying that we should not look in Illinois and in different states that need additional...

PRESS: Pardon me. I have to interrupt you, congressman, just to make sure our viewers know that we just received word that the execution has been delayed. We have no details as to why or as to when it is now scheduled to take place. But didn't mean to interrupt you.

HUTCHINSON: Well, let me just finish up on that point, Bill, that we're looking in Congress at additional assistance for attorneys in death penalty cases, additional assistance for the states in DNA testing. There are certainly things that we can do to help proof the system. We shouldn't be immune from that.

But by and large, we still have a good system, we have to trust it, and I think the death penalty is effective in a broad context. We have to look at them individually.

MATALIN: OK, Congressman Jackson -- and you'll understand, both of you, that we cut away as we learn more, and where your father is also down, Congressman Jackson. Let's talk about Gary Graham, or Shaka Sankofa, as he now calls himself.

His access to this system, this Supreme Court rejection was the 37th court and judges that have looked at this and rejected his appeal. He has had competent counsel throughout. He has had international media attention. The witnesses that Bill referenced came forward came forward years after the case, and they turned out to be his relatives.

His lawyer in the case said he offered no alibi or witnesses at the time. He said he was with a girlfriend that evening, a girlfriend whom he could neither describe, could not say -- did not remember her name or where she lived. And as for the charges of racism, his lawyer is black and the single eyewitness is black. And she has never wavered despite great pressure on her.

Just because some -- one other eyewitness in a totally different case wavered, that doesn't necessarily apply to this woman.

But the main thing is Gary Graham has had 37 different chances to bring evidence, and he has, before jurists across the country, at every level of court, including the Supreme Court. You don't think that's access to a system?

REP. JESSE JACKSON JR. (D-IL), GORE SUPPORTER: Well, let me say that I share Asa's concern that this is a very somber moment for two victims. One, Mr. Lambert, who was killed 19 years ago by someone. But also I feel a sense of remorse and a sense of somberness for Gary Graham, who I believe fundamentally is a victim of procedural injustice in our country and in our society.

And unfortunately, with the number of appeals that Gary Graham has had, part of the appellate process has not allowed the triers of fact at the trial court level to review that type of evidence that was not allowable at the trial court level.

And so when Gary Graham's lawyer, who was African-American, at the trial court level no one made the issues about him being not represented by a black person. It was whether or not his lawyer had ever tried a death penalty case, and he had never tried a death penalty case. It was also clear at the trial level that Gary Graham's lawyer had never called a single witness to rebut any of the prosecutions witnesses. That's unconscionable in a capital case.

Gary Graham's lawyer had ballistics evidence in a police report that said that the bullet that was found in the victim could not have come from the gun that the prosecutor had waved around at the trial, suggesting that that was the gun that had killed Mr. Lambert.

And so with that kind of clear evidence that could have exculpated Mr. Graham it raises questions most -- first and foremost about in adequate representation of counsel. And that's the basis of what -- it should be overturned.

MATALIN: But the system in Texas, which on this study that Bill keeps waiving around, Texas was the -- had the third-lowest error rate in the country. And in Texas these capital punishment cases go automatically to the next level, and in this case 36 different levels where facts are looked at to see that the death penalty there, there is evidence for the death penalty.

All of that business was submitted, was looked at, was considered, and the death penalty was never overturned. And these courts have, as this study shows, which I think proves, as Asa said, that the system works because it catches -- it has never caught or there's never been an instance of a wrong man catch, because there's not one single incident of an innocent man going to his death. But they have caught these technical cases, and in this case, up to 37 tries, there is no technical problem with this case.

JACKSON: Mary, the system is fundamentally broken. It's clear in the state of Illinois that it's broken, and that's why our governor decided that 13 people being exonerated on death froze, that he exonerated more people than he had tried.

It's clear that the state of Texas' system is broken. Any time that a parole board of 18 members appointed by the governor of the state of Texas, paid $80,000 a year by the governor and the state of Texas has the final decision over life and death, and a governor elected by the people, his arms are tied in this particular situation and can't make a decision, is an indication about the problem.

And furthermore, I would go one step further, Bill. I am not totally convinced when we look at these capital cases that people who are seeking higher, whether it is George Bush or Al Gore, should even be in a position to make decisions about life and death in a political environment, because I'm not totally convinced that they can make a right decision.

PRESS: Can I ask you to comment on this board of pardons and paroles in Texas, because it does seem to me they have a tremendous amount of power. I mean, they have power over life and death, and yet there are 18 members. They never meet in public. They never even meet in private. They never hear any witnesses. They don't hear testimony. They get their paperwork. They vote by fax.

Now, I mean, just in terms of improving the system -- which I salute, right -- don't you think that a board with that kind of power should have public hearings?

HUTCHINSON: Well, I heard the chairman of the board make the announcement today, and it was clear to me that they weighed it heavily. I think that they take this very seriously. The vote was not unanimous on every point. On the question of a reprieve, there were some that voted for a reprieve. So clearly they all weighed it very individually. They reviewed the transcripts on the case.

Does the system need to be improved? I think you have to look at every state differently. But I think Jesse...

PRESS: Well, congressman, you have hearings in Congress on stupid stuff, on silly stuff. If you have a hearing, you want to hear -- and some important stuff, I might add. I don't mean to put you all down. But you have people come forward. You want to hear them. You want to question members of both sides. You want to look them in the eye and see if they're telling the truth. And yet on a death penalty case you let these people do this at home, you assume they're taking this seriously, you let them vote by fax? You don't see a problem with that?

HUTCHINSON: Well, whenever you have our appellate system, they read the transcripts of the trial, they hear the arguments of counsel. Every board works a different way. I'm not saying it's a perfect system. But in this -- I mean, I would prefer that the governor have more power. I think it's certainly appropriate for a governor to have the power of pardon, as it has in most states.

But it is the law of the land and has to be followed.

Let me come back to...

PRESS: And congressman, I'm sorry, I have to interrupt you. We've just been -- we've just received word that the governor's office in Texas has issued a statement that the execution of Gary Graham has again been delayed because of a new court filing -- I believe I heard correctly -- in U.S. district court. A spokesperson for the governor said it is some kind of civil action, and that's the latest we have. We don't know again how long the delay will be, but there has been a new filing.

Before the show, we were told and we thought that all filings, possible filings had been made, that the Supreme Court was the last word. Obviously, there was another opportunity. That opportunity has been taken advantage of. And there has been further delay.

So just continue with that word -- Mary.

MATALIN: Well, let's go back to this broken system, because in this case, this board does not consult with the governor. This board is part of a process that in Texas comes after an average stay on death row, at least under Bush's tenure, of over 11 years, over the average appellate -- times before an appellate board or in an appeals process is 23 to 25 times.

Congressman, I just -- and I'll say again, the Columbia study, which is used by liberals, put together by liberals to -- to diminish the death penalty, had Texas third from the bottom. The lowest-third error rate in the country.

I agree with our home state governor -- we enjoy the same home state -- that there was a problem in Illinois. But that does not necessarily mean that there is a problem in Texas. In fact, all the data suggests just the opposite. Texas is doing this right, that the appellate process is so extensive that there has not been a single case that anyone can point to where an innocent person was killed.

JACKSON: Let's look at the case workload for the 18-member parole board that Bill indicated does not meet and faxes in their information. They have a case workload presently of 59,000 parole requests, 18,000 parole revocation requests, and plans to execute someone in Texas every week between now and the November election.

Is it possible for 18 people who do not meet to discuss these issues, that does not have public meetings to allow people to hear the decisions that are made in public, that fax their decisions into a location to be tallied, that they can possibly administer justice in a (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

MATALIN: You're leaving out, congressman -- I'll say it again. You're leaving out the 23 to 24 appellate steps before it gets to the board. That is the last stop. They're looking at the work -- work that preceded them by at least 22 judges, a jury of their peers at which point competent counsel, competent counsel is appointed in the appellate process.

Mary, are you aware of any millionaire on death row in the state of Texas or anywhere in the nation? Are you aware of anyone who's had the kind of counsel that most indigent defendants receive not only in the state of Texas but in the state of Illinois and states around our country?

This is not just a race issue; it's also a class issue, that if you can't afford a dream team of lawyers to help represent you when the trier of fact is paying attention to these details. And I might add that the appellate process in our nation pays a lot of attention to the detail that occurred before that 12-member jury. If jurors are stricken for issues of race or for issues of -- a number of other issues, it immensely complicates the appellate process.

PRESS: We're going to have to take a break now. We're still waiting words for more words from Austin, Texas on the details of this new delay. And when we have that, we'll bring that to our viewers right away. In the meantime, we're going to take a break here at CROSSFIRE. When we come back, we'll talk about the political implications of the death penalty and the executions in Texas for Governor George W. Bush.


PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

As we have reported, there is a new delay in the scheduled execution of Gary Graham in Huntsville, Texas. For more information on that delay, we go right now to Austin, Texas and CNN's Tony Clark.

Tony, what's the latest?

CLARK: Well, you know, Gary Graham's execution was originally scheduled for 6:00 local time. It was initially put on hold pending a Supreme Court decision on whether or not he would be granted a stay. The Supreme Court declined to stay his execution, but now the governor's office tells us that within the last hour, Gary Graham's attorneys have filed a civil suit near district court here in Austin. The states attorney general is trying to determine what kinds of response needs to be made. And so in the meantime, Governor George Bush is staying in his office, being kept abreast of the situation by the attorney general, but for now the execution remains on hold because of this civil suit.

PRESS: Tony, has the governor's office indicated -- I mean, it's been reported all day and most people feel that the Supreme Court is the highest court in the land and the last word on matters like this. How could a civil court in Austin, Texas undo what the Supreme Court just voted to do 5-4?

CLARK: I think that's the question that the states attorney general is wrestling with right now, just to make sure that the Supreme Court was the last word before anything proceeds in this case. I think that's what the attorney general is researching and that's why everything is on hold right now.

PRESS: All right, Tony Clark, thanks very much that's for that latest from Austin, Texas -- Mary.

MATALIN: Congressman, one of the reasons this case is getting the attention it is because of the political overtones. You referenced that topic earlier. Now Vice President Gore, the man who you support for president supports the death penalty. He has criticized Governor Bush on this. And he said earlier today that we should keep politics out of it, implying that opponents of the death penalty, such as yourself, are playing about politics with this highly visible case, visible only because of a presidential year. He's making the charges that you're making, that you shouldn't play politics.

JACKSON: Mary, this isn't the first time we have seen the death penalty play out in presidential politics. In 1992, we then saw candidate-Bill Clinton go back to his estate and executive Ricky Ray Rector as an effort to avoid the Gennifer Flowers controversy. As a result of that unfortunate incident, Bill Clinton actually went up in the polls. He was no longer referred to as a liberal. He was seen as a different kind of Democrat. And technically, he benefited in electoral terms from that.

Our concern is that if George Bush takes the Clinton strategy in an election year and uses this, and it's seen as using this, to benefit in purely electoral terms, it has that challenge.

I want to very clear, though...

PRESS: We're just about out of time, congressman. I have to get Congressman Hutchinson's response to that, too.

I mean, there are 135 now that may be that -- under George Bush, 15 more. Isn't that, as Congressman Jackson says, a legitimate political issue for George Bush?

HUTCHINSON: Well first of all, I think both sides have been good in diminishing the impact of politics. Politics should not be a part of this. I think they generally try to separate it. Whenever you look at the campaign, it is a legitimate issue. Our national policy on the death penalty will continue to be an issue.

PRESS: I've got to stop right there, Congressman Hutchinson and Jackson. Thanks very much for joining us.

And -- sorry -- Mary Matalin and I will be right back with our closing comments.




Back to the top  © 2001 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.