PUBLIC AI Index: AMR 51/113/00
EXTRA 62/00 Death Penalty / Legal concern 24 July 2000
USA (Texas)Brian Keith Roberson, black, aged 36
Brian Roberson is scheduled to be executed in Texas on 9 August 2000. He was
convicted of robbing and stabbing to death his elderly neighbours in their
home on 30 August 1986. After his arrest the 22-year-old admitted that he had
killed James Boots (79) and Lillian Boots (75) while high on PCP and alcohol,
but could not recall exactly what had taken place or why.
Brian Roberson is black. The murdered couple were white. At jury selection
for Roberson’s trial, the prosecutor used his peremptory strikes (the right
to remove a prospective juror without giving a reason) to remove all but one
of the blacks in the jury pool. According to Roberson’s clemency petition,
the prosecutor, challenged about his apparently discriminatory use of
peremptory strikes, suggested that blacks who answered a question in a certain
way did not meet the standard of intelligence required to sit on a jury, and
referred to poorer education standards for blacks.
When Brian Roberson was 10 years old, his father was stabbed to death in a
grocery store by a white man who was high on drugs. The man turned himself
in to the police, was subsequently sentenced to 13 years in prison, and
reportedly released after three. At the time, Brian Roberson’s mother, Bettye
Roberson, had told the press that she did not want the death penalty for her
husband’s killer, because another killing would not bring him back.
Bettye Roberson, concerned by reports of ineffective court-appointed lawyers
for poor defendants, sold her home to pay for legal representation for her
son. However, neither of the two attorneys she hired with the meagre resources
she raised had any capital trial experience. Realising that they were out of
their depth, they subsequently asked the trial court to appoint an attorney
who had such experience. The additional lawyer was appointed less than a month
before the trial began.
At the sentencing phase of Roberson’s 1987 trial, his lawyers presented minimal
mitigating evidence. They failed to elicit mitigating testimony from the
witnesses they called, or to present expert or other testimony (such as from
his mother) to make the jury fully aware of how the death of Roberson’s father
had affected him and may have contributed to his descent into drug addiction.
In contrast, the prosecution painted a picture of a remorseless individual
whose juvenile criminal record meant that he would be a future danger to society
if allowed to live. After deliberating for about 90 minutes, the jury decided
that he should die.
Bettye Roberson wrote in 1995, “If my son gets executed a part of me will die
with him. The worst fear every mother has is losing her child. Every day I
have lived with that threat for the past eight years... This is the true torture
of the death penalty. I hope that Brian will get a life sentence. This would
be better than having to go to Huntsville to pick up my son’s dead body.”
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty unconditionally. This ultimate
cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment creates more victims and is a symptom
of, not a solution to, a culture of violence. Some 108 countries have abolished
judicial killing in law or practice, a statistic increasingly throwing the