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USA (Texas): Death Penalty / Legal concern for Brian Keith Roberson

, Index number: AMR 51/113/2000

Brian Keith Roberson, black, aged 36, is scheduled to be executed in Texas on 9 August 2000. There is concern that his trial was adversely affected by racial discrimination.

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
spotlight on the USA’s accelerating execution rate. Over 450 of the 653
executions carried out in the USA since they resumed in 1977 have been carried
out since 1993; 55 prisoners have been put to death this year, 25 of them in
The pace of execution in Texas is coming under increased scrutiny, especially
since the Illinois governor announced that he was suspending executions in
his state because of its “shameful” record of wrongful convictions. A recent
article in the Chicago Tribune, which had investigated the Illinois death
penalty prior to the January moratorium and found it to be riddled with
injustice, concluded that the same problems, including inadequate defence
representation and prosecutorial misconduct, were plaguing Texas capital
In a 1990 report, the General Accounting Office (an independent agency of the
US Government) concluded that 82 per cent of the 28 major studies into racial
discrimination and the US death penalty it had reviewed had found a correlation
between the race of the victim and the likelihood of a death sentence; that
is, that after taking all other factors into account, a defendant was several
times more likely to be sentenced to death if the murder victim was white.
Of the 224 prisoners executed in Texas since the state resumed judicial killing
in 1982, 181 (81 per cent) were convicted of killing white people. In 1998,
the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions
concluded that “race, ethnic origin and economic status appear to be key
determinants of who will, and who will not, receive a death sentence in the
United States.”
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send telegrams/faxes/express/airmail letters in
English or your own language, in your own words, using the following guide:
- acknowledging the seriousness of the crime for which Brian Roberson is
scheduled to be executed, and expressing sympathy for the relatives of James
and Lillian Boots;
- expressing concern at the prosecutor’s systematic exclusion of African
Americans from the trial jury;
- expressing concern that Brian Roberson’s lawyers presented only minimal
mitigating evidence to challenge the state’s contention that he should die;
- noting that more than half the countries of the world have abolished the
death penalty in law or practice, and that executions in Texas are increasingly
damaging the USA’s image internationally;
- calling for clemency for Brian Roberson, and urging the addressees to support
a moratorium on executions in Texas.
The Honorable George W. Bush
Governor of Texas
PO Box 12428, Austin, TX 78711-2428, USA
Faxes:+ 1 512 463 1849 or +1 512 637 8800
Telegrams: Governor Bush, Austin, TX, USA
Salutation:Dear Governor
Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles
PO Box 13401, Austin, TX 78711-3401, USA
Faxes:+ 1 512 463 8120
Salutation:Dear Board Members
COPIES TO: diplomatic representatives of the USA accredited to your country.
You may also send letters of concern (not more than 250 words) to:
Letters to the Editor, Dallas Morning News, PO Box 655237, Dallas, TX 75265,
Fax: + 1 972 263 0456
E-mail: letterstoeditor@dallasnews.com

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