HOUSTON — A convicted murderer was put to death Tuesday despite the efforts of capital punishment supporters and opponents alike to delay his execution until recently discovered evidence could be reviewed.
The case of Edward Green III gained attention -- more so than the 13 Texas convicts put to death before him this year -- because of the discredited police crime laboratory in Houston, where he was convicted.
The DNA section of the lab has been closed since a 2002 audit found possibly contaminated evidence and poorly trained technicians who had misinterpreted data. In August, Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt disclosed that 280 boxes of lost evidence involving thousands of cases -- including some murders -- had been found in a police property room.
Although Hurtt said it would be "prudent" to postpone executions until all of the evidence in the boxes was examined, Green's execution date remained on schedule. This week, former Texas Gov. Mark White and state Sens. John Whitmire and Rodney Ellis -- all Democrats from Houston -- asked Gov. Rick Perry to stop executions until workers cataloged all of the misplaced evidence.
"If you're going to administer the ultimate punishment, you can't allow room for error," said Whitmire, a death penalty supporter who chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. "It's nuts that we even have to debate the issue of using the ultimate caution."
On Tuesday, Green's lawyers for the second time petitioned Perry and the Texas parole board for a stay. The parole board denied the request to reconsider commutation or a 120-day reprieve, and Perry refused to issue a one-time 30-day reprieve. "The main evidence leading to Green's conviction is his own confession to these brutal and senseless murders," Perry said in a statement.
Appeals to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state's highest criminal court, and the U.S. Supreme Court also were denied.
Green, 30, was convicted in the 1992 shooting deaths of 72-year-old Edward Haden and 63-year-old Helen O'Sullivan. The couple were in their car when Green approached at an intersection and tried to rob them. He allegedly fired when Haden put the car in reverse.
In pressing for a stay of execution, David Dow, one of Green's attorneys, said that "out of all those boxes and 8,000 files, nobody can say with any degree of confidence and certainty that there is no evidence relevant to Mr. Green's guilt or appropriateness of his death penalty."
White said that because of the "ineptitude of the people responsible for maintaining evidence," the state finds itself in a position where "it should wait to make certain nothing is there that pertains to his conviction. No one will ever say the governor was weak on crime; no opponent will say that he didn't do his duty."
Whitmire cited the cases of two wrongly imprisoned Houstonians as reason enough to postpone executions of inmates from Harris County: Josiah Sutton was convicted in a 1998 rape case and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Four years later, he was freed on bond and pardoned by Perry after the Houston crime lab's DNA tests were found to be faulty.
And George Rodriguez, who has been in prison 17 years for kidnapping and rape, was denied a fair trial because of flawed testimony from a Houston Police Department crime lab supervisor, Harris County Dist. Atty. Chuck Rosenthal said last week. Officials now are evaluating whether Rodriguez should be released.
Perry has been loath to issue stays of execution, even rejecting a highly unusual recommendation from the Texas parole board to commute the death sentence of Kelsey Patterson, a diagnosed schizophrenic.
Patterson was executed in May, renewing the debate over executing the mentally ill; the U.S. Supreme Court has declared it unconstitutional to execute the mentally retarded.
Peter Miniel, a convicted killer from Houston, is scheduled for execution today.