Magazine article The Crisis

Texas NAACP Helps Black Female Inmate on Death Row Get Stay of Execution

Magazine article The Crisis

Texas NAACP Helps Black Female Inmate on Death Row Get Stay of Execution

Article excerpt

At 4 p.m. on Dec. 1, Frances Newton received a phone call that literally saved her life.

Two hours before, Newton, 39, was scheduled to die by lethal injection, Texas Governor Rick Perry granted the death-row inmate a 120-day stay of execution. Newton was convicted in 1988 of murdering her husband and two children in their Houston apartment. She has always maintained her innocence.

The Newton case mobilized death penalty opponents throughout Texas. Gary Bledsoe, president of the NAACP Texas State Conference, wrote a letter to Perry in support of Newton.

"We're heartened by [the stay]," Bledsoe says, "because the Texas death penalty institution is out of control."

Since 1993, the NAACP Texas State Conference has lobbied state lawmakers for a death penalty moratorium, supported proposed legislation to prohibit the execution of juveniles and the mentally retarded, and filed briefs for prisoners like Newton appealing their sentences.

Bledsoe cites the racial and economic disparities in the application of the death penalty as the most pressing issue.

"In the short run," he notes, "a great victory would be to achieve the passage of a statute to limit, to the extent possible, the impact of race in these proceedings."

Currently, African Americans account for about 40 percent of the 444 inmates on death row in Texas. Another 28 percent are Latinos. Newton would have been the first African American woman and the fourth woman executed in Texas since the Civil War.

John LaGrappe, one of Newton's attorneys, says laws that send disproportionate numbers of minorities and poor people to death row need to be reformed. …

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