'Express lane to death': Texas seeks approval to speed up death penalty appeals, execute more quickly

Texas is seeking to speed up executions with a renewed request to opt-in to a federal law that would shorten the legal process and limit appeals options for death-sentenced prisoners.
Defense attorneys worry it would lead to the execution of innocent people and - if it's applied retroactively, as Texas is requesting - it could potentially end ongoing appeals for a number of death row prisoners and make them eligible for execution dates.
"Opt-in would speed up the death penalty treadmill exponentially," said Kathryn Kase, an longtime defense attorney and former executive director of Texas Defender Services.
But a state attorney general spokeswoman framed the request to the Justice Department as a necessary way to avoid "stressful delays" and cut down on the "excessive costs" of lengthy federal court proceedings.
Robbie Kaplan, co-founder of the #TimesUp movement, says sweeping changes to laws in recent years have dissuaded attorneys from taking on har…

Recommended films

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➤ Thou Shalt Not Kill

Screenshot from Thou Shalt Not Kill
1988. Poland. Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski. Writers: Krzysztof Kieslowski, Krzysztof Piesiewicz. Stars: Miroslaw Baka, Krzysztof Globisz, Jan Tesarz. Running time: 1h24

Synopsis: A youth randomly and brutally murders a taxi-driver. Piotr has just passed his law exams and been admitted to the bar. He is to defend Jacek, the young murderer. There is no apparent motive for the brutal, senseless killing.

Jacek is put on trial, found guilty and sentenced to death. How hard it is to kill a human being? How ugly, messy, long, degrading and demeaning? What is the difference between plain murder and state-sanctioned killing? An expanded version of Kieslowski's Fifth Decalog, ''Thou Shalt Not Kill'' mercilessly challenges our conception of justice, crime and punishment by echoing Albert Camus' famous quote about capital punishment: “But what then is capital punishment but the most premeditated of murders?"

The plot couldn't be simpler or its attack on capital punishment (and the act of killing in general) more direct - a senseless, vicious, almost botched murder is followed by a cold, calculated, violent, brutally performed execution (both killings shown in the most graphic detail imaginable), while the murderer's idealistic young defence lawyer ends up as an unwilling accessory to the judicial murder of his client. (Source: IMDb) [Probably the most intellectually challenging, thought provoking - but also the most haunting - film I have ever seen about capital punishment. - DPN Editor]

➤ Rectify

Screenshot from Rectify
2013-216. American television series. Creator: Ray McKinnon. Stars: Aden Young, Abigail Spencer, J. Smith-Cameron. 4 seasons.

Synopsis: Sundance Channel's first wholly owned scripted series stars Aden Young as Daniel Holden, who spends nearly 20 years on death row for the rape and murder of a teenage girl, before new DNA evidence nullifies his conviction. He returns home, but he's far from welcomed.

He's an outsider now in a town that remains divided by his alleged crime, and contributing to his uncertain future is the man who prosecuted him -- riding that notoriety to become a state senator -- and who is plotting to reopen the case.

As he struggles to adapt, Daniel is comforted by support from his younger sister, Amantha, who has always believed in his innocence and has worked her entire adult life to secure his release. Not so for Ted Jr., Daniel's stepbrother with whom he has no relationship. Insecure and manipulative, Ted is skeptical of Daniel's motives and innocence; he will do anything to protect his family and return Daniel behind bars. (Sources: Google, IMDb)

➤ Dead Man Walking

Screenshot from Dead Man Walking
1995. USA. Director: Tim Robbins. Writers: Helen Prejean (book) (as Sister Helen Prejean C.S.J.), Tim Robbins. Stars: Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn, Robert Prosky. Running time: 2h20

Synopsis: A nun, while comforting a convicted killer on death row for savagely killing a teenage couple, empathizes with both the killer and his victims' families.

As death row inmate Matthew Poncelet (Sean Penn) nears his execution date, he calls upon Sister Helen Prejean (Susan Sarandon) to help him with one last appeal, maintaining that he is innocent of the murders for which he has been sentenced to die.

Poncelet begins to form a bond with Prejean, and she visits both his family and the relatives of the victims, hoping to learn more about the case.

As things begin to look bleak for Poncelet, Prejean does all that she can to comfort and console the hardened convict. On Poncelet's last day, Prejean encourages him to die with words of love instead of hate. She urges him to finally tell the truth about the killing and take responsibility for what he did. The Board of Pardons and Paroles, the governor and the US Supreme Court all reject his last appeals. (Sources: IMDb, Google)

➤ Apprentice

Screenshot from Apprentice
2016. Singapore. Director: Junfeng Boo. Writers: Junfeng Boo (story), Junfeng Boo, Raymond Phathanavirangoon (Story). Stars: Firdaus Rahman, Wan Hanafi Su, Mastura Ahmad. Running time: 1h55

Synopsis: A transfer to a maximum security prison eventually challenges the integrity and ethics of a young correctional officer.

Prisons officer Sergeant Aiman has just been transferred to the fictional Larangan Prison, the state's maximum security prison. Due to his vocational education background, he is assigned to watch the rehabilitating prisoners at the prison's workshop.

Later on, while helping a colleague, Sergeant Joseph, to clear some stores at the prison gallows, he encounters the Chief Executioner, Senior Chief Warder Rahim. Aiman volunteers to help Rahim find suitable rope for the gallows, and the two men soon strike up a friendship. (Sources: IMDb, Google)

➤ Sophie Scholl: The Final Days

Screenshot from "Sophie Scholl, the final days"
2005. Germany. Director: Marc Rothemund. Writer: Fred Breinersdorfer. Stars: Julia Jentsch, Fabian Hinrichs, Alexander Held. Running time: 2h

Synopsis. A dramatization of the final days of Sophie Scholl, one of the most famous members of the German World War II anti-Nazi resistance movement, The White Rose.

In 1943, student activist Sophie Scholl (Julia Jentsch) and fellow members of the White Rose resistance group work tirelessly to distribute anti-war and anti-Nazi propaganda in Munich. In Hitler's Germany, printing and distributing anti-regime flyers is regarded as an act of high treason punishable by death.

During one such risky mission at the Munich university, Sophie and her brother are arrested by the Gestapo and taken into custody; six days later, Sophie meets her fate. (Sources: IMDb, Google)

➤ Casque d'Or

Screenshot from Casque d'Or
1952. France. Director: Jacques Becker. Writers: Jacques Becker (scenario), Jacques Companéez (scenario). Stars: Simone Signoret, Serge Reggiani, Claude Dauphin. Running time: 1h34

Synopsis: Ex-convict Georges Manda (Serge Reggiani) returns to the free world determined to go straight and takes a steady job as a carpenter.

Unable to completely shake his connections with the underground, he meets with older gangster Félix Leca (Claude Dauphin), who introduces him to his mistress, the sweet but guarded Marie, aka "Casque d'Or" (Simone Signoret). This first encounter will prove to be fateful.

Marie Casque d'Or (Golden-Helmet Marie) and Georges fall into a passionate relationship, unknowingly driving Félix to do everything in his power to ruin the couple. When Georges kills a man in self defense in a bar brawl, he fortuitously triggers a sequence of events that will lead him to the guillotine. (Source: IMDb)

➤ Into the Abyss

Screenshot from Into The Abyss
2011. USA. Documentary. Director: Werner Herzog. With Werner Herzog, Richard Lopez, Michael Perry. Running time: 1h47 min.

Synopsis: Filmmaker Werner Herzog explores capital punishment through interviews with convicted killers, their victims' families, and members of the Texas criminal justice system.

This documentary was made 8 days before Michael Perry, a man on death row convicted of murdering Sandra Stotler, a fifty-year-old nurse, was to be executed.

He was suspected, but never charged, in two other murders which occurred in Conroe, Texas, with his accomplice Jason Burkett. Perry was convicted eight years earlier of the October 2001 murder, apparently committed in order to steal a car for a joyride.

Perry denies that he was responsible for the killings, blaming Burkett (also appearing in the film) who was convicted of the other two murders. Burkett, who received a lesser life sentence for his involvement, likewise blames Perry. (Sources: IMDb, Google)

➤ The Life of David Gale

Screenshot from The Life of David Gale
2003. USA. Director: Alan Parker. Writer: Charles Randolph. Stars: Kevin Spacey, Kate Winslet, Laura Linney. Running time: 2h10 min.

Synopsis: David Gale (Kevin Spacey), a University of Texas professor of philosophy and a life long campaigner against the death penalty, finds himself on death row after being found guilty of the brutal rape and murder of a fellow anti-execution campaigner.

Bitsey Bloom (Kate Winslet) is the reporter who interviews Gale during his last three days. She is convinced that he's guilty, but as she interviews Gale she begins to question his guilt, and gradually surrenders to the idea that the philosophy professor and political opponent has been framed by the powers that be.

The interviews between Gale and Bloom gradually unveil a more complex backstory, and a brand new plot builds as the reporter chases down new leads, including missing video evidence. (Source: IMDb)

➤ Deux hommes dans la ville (Two Men in Town)

Deux hommes dans la ville
1973. France. Director: José Giovanni. Writers: José Giovanni (original story), José Giovanni (dialogue). Stars: Alain Delon, Jean Gabin, Mimsy Farmer. Running Time: 1h40min.

Synopsis. Germain Cazeneuve (Jean Gabin) is an educator whose job is to help delinquents reform and adjust to a new life outside of prison. He pleads for leniency in the case of safe cracker Gino Strabliggi (Alain Delon) who is up for parole after 10 years inside. The parole board agrees to Cazeneuve's request on condition that he takes responsibility for Strabliggi. Gino, as an ex-con, is forced by French law to take residence anywhere but in a large city and so he settles with his young wife in the country, where fate gradually turns against him: He is hounded by his former crime gang to return to his former lifestyle and also by one of the arresting officers from his previous case. The now-chief inspector Goitreau is in charge of the area and has a grudge against him, and becomes even more suspicious when he finds out that Gino's new girlfriend Lucie has a job at the local bank. With the help of his now good friend Cazeneuve, the ex-convict tries to battle his demons and keep away from the troublesome cop. (Source: IMDb)

➤ Fourteen Days in May

Fourteen Days in May
1988. USA. Documentary. Director: Paul Hamann. Writers: Paul Hamann, Harold Manning (French adaptation). With: Clive Stafford Smith, Edward Earl Johnson. Running time: 2h20 min.

Synopsis: Fourteen Days in May is a documentary film directed by Paul Hamann and originally shown on television by the British Broadcasting Corporation in 1987. 

The programme recounts the final days before the execution of Edward Earl Johnson, an American prisoner convicted of rape and murder and imprisoned in the Mississippi State Penitentiary. 

Johnson protested his innocence and claimed that his confession had been made under duress. 

He was executed in Mississippi's gas chamber on 20 May 1987. (Source: IMDb)

Ronald Ryan - The Last Man Hanged in Australia

Ronald Ryan (center)
1992. Australia. Documentary. Director: Lewis Fitz-Gerald. Writer: Lewis Fitz-Gerald. With: Colin Friels, Lewis Fitz-Gerald, Angie Milliken. Running time: 1h00.

Synopsis: Ronald Joseph Ryan, age 41, was the last man hanged in Australia. It was 8:00 AM on Friday February 3, 1967 at Pentridge Prison in Melbourne. Five decades later, serious doubts still remain whether Ronald Ryan was guilty of murder beyond all reasonable doubt.

Despite a total lack of scientific evidence, missing pieces of vital evidence that would have cleared Ryan, serious ambiguities in the capital case, widespread inconsistencies of all fourteen prosecution eyewitnesses evidence, testimony from a prison officer that he fired the one and only single shot heard by hundreds, odd angle of the fatal shot, unrecorded and unsigned verbal confessions to the police, Ryan was found guilty of the shooting death of prison officer George Hodson during a botched escape from Pentridge Prison in Melbourne.

Later, seven of the 12 male jurors changed their mind and campaigned against Ryan’s hanging. Ryan was a small-time criminal with no history of violence who always maintained that he did not fire a shot at all. The Victorian Premier Henry Bolte was the key figure in his hanging. Since 1951, the Victorian government had commuted every death sentence to life in prison. Premier Bolte, facing an upcoming State election was determined Ryan would hang. He wanted to be seen to take the ‘tough on crime’ stance. (Source: Ronald Ryan - Hanged Innocent in Australia)

➤ At the Death House Door

At the Death House Door
2008. USA. Documentary. Directors: Peter Gilbert, Steve James. With: Carroll Pickett, Steve Mills, Maurice Possley.

Synopsis: An investigation of the wrongful death of Carlos DeLuna, who was executed in Texas on December 7, 1989, after prosecutors ignored evidence inculpating a man, who bragged to friends about committing the crimes of which DeLuna was convicted.

At the Death House Door had its World Premiere at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas. The focus is on the death penalty in the Lone Star state at the Death Chamber in Huntsville.

The film is a powerful indictment of the Texas death penalty. It presents an intensely human narrative about capital punishment, mostly through the eyes of Reverend Caroll Pickett who served as the Huntsville death row chaplain from 1982 until 1995, spending their final day with 95 death row inmates. Pickett is clearly haunted by what he has witnessed on death row and has become a fierce opponent of the death penalty.

The film's second parallel narrative follows the tragic case of Carlos DeLuna who appears to have been executed in 1989 for a crime he didn't commit despite significant evidence that another man actually committed the murder that De Luna was accused of. 

At the Death House Door is a compelling, emotional documentary that presents a strong moral and human case against the death penalty. One is certainly left to wonder if Carlos DeLuna was wrongly executed and how many others like him are still incarcerated. (Source IMDB)

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