48 hours to save Arthur Brown Jr
I have never made a secret of my position on the death penalty. For many years, I have argued that it is an inhumane and barbaric form of punishment that should have no place in modern society whether in Texas or anywhere else in the world.
But even those who believe that there are crimes deserving of a death sentence can’t deny that its application is marred by error, bias and injustice. In the US alone, nearly 190 people have been exonerated and freed from death rows since 1976 – many after decades of anguish behind bars. That’s an unacceptable rate of error, especially when it comes to the death penalty, where errors have irreversible, fatal consequences.
One case that bears all the hallmarks of this broken system is that of Arthur Brown. If the State of Texas gets its way, Mr. Brown, a Black, intellectually disabled man, will be killed this Thursday in the execution chamber at Huntsville Prison, following a death sentence he was given for four drug-related murders committed in 1992.
I hope prosecutors and courts will stop this execution. Harris County’s District Attorney has recently released new, exculpatory evidence suggesting that other people, not Mr. Brown, committed the murders – supporting what he’s been saying for the entire 30 years he has been incarcerated: “I am innocent.”
This latest revelation casts a dark light on Mr. Brown’s conviction and the fundamental flaws of a criminal justice system bent on conviction at all costs. His lawyers suggest it was a combination of poor police work, false and outdated forensic techniques, and convoluted eyewitness testimony that landed him on Texas’ death row. As if that wasn’t enough, Mr. Brown’s case was also marred by egregious racial bias: one juror in his original trial claimed that she knew Mr. Brown was a “thug” as soon as she saw him and decided that he was guilty and would kill again before hearing the evidence. With the odds stacked against him, he never really stood a chance, especially in a county were 21 of the last 22 people sent to death row were people of color.
But even without the latest evidence, Mr. Brown’s intellectual disability alone should be reason enough not to execute him. He has tested with an IQ of 70 and experts agree that he meets the threshold that would make him ineligible for the death penalty under the Eighth Amendment. It may have also contributed to his conviction in the first place: people with intellectual disabilities are at a heightened risk of receiving a wrongful conviction because their limitations make it more challenging for them to adequately defend themselves in court.
Standing up against wrongful convictions and against bias and injustice shouldn’t be a partisan issue. The justice system must work for everyone, it’s fundamental to a functioning society. Thankfully, opposition to the death penalty is growing, and its bringing together people from across the political spectrum who agree that there are better alternatives to this state-sanctioned machinery of death.
For Mr. Brown, this movement may come too late. His life is on the line. In light of what we all know now, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office needs to do the right thing and withdraw their original request for an execution date. And the Texas courts need to halt the execution to allow for DNA testing and for Mr. Brown’s new lawyers to present evidence of his innocence. The good people of Texas should not stand for the death of an innocent man.