- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 13, 2005

DALLAS — Texas stands ready today to execute the first black woman, and only the third female, to be put to death since the state resumed capital punishment in 1982.

Frances Newton, 40, was convicted of murdering her husband and two children in 1987. She always has maintained her innocence, though prosecutors convinced a Harris County jury that she killed her family for $100,000 in insurance money.

Only a last minute stay of execution by Gov. Rick Perry or intervention by the Supreme Court can halt the execution. Newton’s lawyers wrote a letter to Mr. Perry Monday, asking for a 30-day stay in their efforts to show that prosecutors erred in linking her to a presumed murder weapon.

Unlike the days preceding the executions of Karla Faye Tucker in 1998 and Betty Lou Beets in 2002, Newton’s plight has not elicited much interest from outside the state, although the president of the American Bar Association has asked the governor to intercede, citing “compelling new evidence” that “has not been evaluated by Texas courts.”

Michael S. Greco, the ABA president, said Newton was not properly represented by her court-appointed lawyer, Ron Mock of Houston — a lawyer who often has been reprimanded by the state bar and is now prohibited from representing clients in death penalty cases because of his inadequacy. Mr. Mock told the judge the day her trial began that he had not interviewed a single witness on behalf of Newton.

David Dow, a Houston lawyer who now represents Newton, wrote the governor saying courts had been “influenced by a lie” in the state’s assertion that a gun placed in an abandoned house was the one used to kill her family.

“Newton,” he wrote, “has always admitted she placed a gun in an abandoned house. We know, however, that the State recovered at least two guns and perhaps as many as three, and we have reason to believe that at least two guns, and possibly all three, were handguns manufactured by Raven Arms. What that means is that we have absolutely no reason to believe the gun Newton admits to having placed [made by a different manufacturer] was the murder weapon.”

One assistant district attorney testified that only one gun was found. A top police officer said he thought two had been recovered. Another assistant district attorney told a Dutch television newsman there had been two.

Few believe Mr. Perry will intercede and halt the execution. Last December he granted a 120-day stay.

In the past week, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted not to stop the scheduled execution and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted 7-0 not to recommend that the governor commute the sentence to life in prison. Mr. Dow has filed a final appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Austin American Statesman editorialized strongly Monday that Newton should not be executed. “Race, ethnicity, income and geography all are factors in the imposition of death sentences. As long as Texas has a death penalty, capital defendants should have access to competent legal counsel. Newton didn’t get that. For that reason she should be spared.”

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