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Napoleon Beazley


Beazley was executed by lethal injection in Huntsville, Texas, Tuesday, May 28 at 7:17 p.m.

**AMICUS CURIAE BRIEF: click here. (PDF Format)

Napoleon Beazley, an African American child offender, was sentenced to death by an all white Tyler, Texas jury, for the April 19, 1994 murder of John Luttig, a wealthy white Tyler community leader. Beazley was just 17 years old at the time of his offense. He is scheduled for execution on August 15, 2001 in Texas.

In order to obtain the death penalty, the State must prove that the defendant poses a risk of future dangerousness to others; one of the principal methods used by the State to meet this burden is by producing the prior criminal record of the defendant. Napoleon had no prior contact with the police. In fact, the prosecutors were unable to unearth any complaint or instance of physical aggression instigated by Napoleon against anyone. Numerous witnesses testified at the punishment phase of Napoleon's trial about their prior perceptions of his goodness and their belief that he was redeemable, even in light of his crime. Among these witnesses was Cindy Garner, who remains the elected District Attorney of Houston Country, where Grapeland is located. Further information on this case can be found at: http://www.abanet.org/crimjust/juvjus/beazley.html

Supreme Court denies stay of execution

August 13, 2001 Posted: 5:38 PM EDT (2138 GMT)
Justice Thomas knew the son of the victim.
By Terry Frieden
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. Supreme Court Monday denied a stay of execution for Texas death row inmate Napoleon Beazley who, at age 17, shot to death the father of a federal judge.

Three Justices who had personal relationships with the victim's son -- U.S. District Judge Michael Luttig -- recused themselves. Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and David Souter took no part in the deliberations. The brief order released by the high court said three of the justices, John Paul Stevens, Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, would have granted the stay. That clearly means Justices Anthony Kennedy, Sandra Day O'Connor and Chief Justice William Rehnquist opposed it. Such a split constitutes a denial.

In Austin, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted 13-3 against recommending a reprieve for Beazley and 10-6 against commuting his sentence. The board takes up all death penalty cases in the state.

The votes were done by fax. The board did not meet in person to consider the Beazley case.

The Supreme Court has not yet acted on a petition by Beazley -- now 24 -- to hear an appeal in the case on the basis of his "future dangerousness." Human rights groups and others opposed to the death penalty have rallied to stop the execution because of the killer's age at the time.

Beazley, whose father Ireland Beazley was the first black member of the city council in Grapeland, Texas, had no prior criminal record and at the time of the killing was president of his senior class -- as his father had been before him.

The execution by lethal injection is set for 6 p.m. (7 p.m. ET) Wednesday at the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville. Having rejected the stay, it's possible the high court won't even rule on the petition for an appeal. Four justices would have to approve the request.

The victim, John Luttig, was shot down in his driveway of his home in Tyler, Texas, during an attempted carjacking in 1994. It was not until later that his son became a federal judge.

Beazley was identified as the triggermen. Two henchmen sentenced to life in prison later recanted their testimony that Beazley had boasted of wanting to kill somebody.

Cindy Garner, district attorney in Houston County, which includes Beazley's hometown, had written letters to the governor and pardons officials asking that his sentence be commuted. She also testified in Beazley's behalf in the punishment phase of his trial.

"I'm devastated. There's a good possibility this is going to proceed," she said Monday.

"His family will be devastated. His mother really thought he would get at least 30 more days for some consideration."

Garner added, "Frankly, I thought the Supreme Court would have looked at the case more in depth. My main issue is the issue of future dangerousness. I was not convinced with the proof offered at the trial. Obviously, the Supreme Court was. There's no arguing that."

Justice Scalia, author of the 1998 Supreme Court ruling upholding the death penalty for 16- and 17-year-olds, recused himself because Judge Luttig had once been his law clerk.

Beazley's attorney, Walter Long of Austin, wrote a letter to the Supreme Court last week urging Thomas, who tends to side with Scalia, to step aside because of Luttig's efforts on Thomas' behalf during the partisan battle over his Supreme Court nomination.

As assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel, Lutting also had played an active role in winning confirmation for Souter. Both justices were nominated during the administration of President Bush's father.

"Justice Thomas and Judge Luttig have a close personal friendship, so close, in fact, that Judge Luttig risked ethical violation by representing Mr. Justice Thomas during the Senate hearings after he had been appointed to the federal bench," Long's letter said.

Supreme Court observers had predicted that recusals by both Thomas and Scalia, considered among the most conservative justices, might improve Beazley's chances for a stay. That turned out not to be the case. Fifteen states that carry out capital punishment prohibit executions of anyone under age 18.

Texas court grants stay of execution for death row inmate

August 15
(source:  CNN)

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted an emergency stay of execution in the case of Napoleon Beazley, just hours before he was scheduled to die by lethal injection, a spokeswoman for the court told CNN.

The court was considering a last-minute appeal filed Tuesday by Walter Long, Beazley's lawyer. Long alleges that Beazley did not receive competent representation from his lawyers after he was found guilty and the death penalty was imposed.

On Monday the Supreme Court denied a stay request for Beazley in an unusual 3-3 tie.  Three justices -- Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and David Souter -- recused themselves from this case because of personal relationships with J. Michael Luttig, son of the victim and a federal appeals court judge.

Pending before the Supreme Court is a previous application by Beazley's lawyer for a broader review of the case and whether those under 18 convicted of murder should be executed. The high court, though, does not have to act on that appeal request before the execution.

It is possible the Supreme Court won't even rule on the petition for an appeal.  4 justices would have to approve the request.

Supreme Court denies stay

On Monday the U.S. Supreme Court denied a stay of execution for Napoleon Beazley. Where the justices stand on the Beazley case:

The victim

John Luttig was a prominent businessman in Tyler, Texas.

Luttig and his wife were returning home to Tyler when the slaying occurred in front of their house. He was shot and killed in his driveway in 1994 during a botched carjacking. He was 63 at the time of the shooting.

Luttig's son, J. Michael Luttig, later went on to become a federal judge on the 4th U.S. Court of Appeals.

Earlier this week in Austin, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted 13-3 against recommending a reprieve for Beazley and 10-6 against commuting his sentence. The board takes up all death penalty cases in the state.

'Death is inevitable'

Beazley spent much of the day Tuesday visiting family and friends. He was seated in the small steel and glass cage at the Polunsky Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice near Livingston, according to The Associated Press. Family members spoke with him, two at a time on telephones, huddled on chairs in front of the window.

"I don't want it to happen by any means, but it's not something I spend a lot of time dwelling on," Beazley said in a recent interview about his impending execution, the AP reported. "Death is inevitable. It's not like it's my adversary. People do it every day."

Beazley was convicted of the 1994 murder of a prominent Tyler, Texas, businessman, John Luttig, as part of a carjacking.

Beazley was sentenced to death after the 1995 trial in which it was alleged that Beazley and two friends were searching for a carjacking victim and followed Luttig and his wife back to their house. It was not until later that his son became a federal judge.

Testimony at Beazley's trial showed he stood in a pool of blood while going through Luttig's pockets, searching for the car keys. He abandoned the car a short distance away after hitting a wall, damaging the vehicle. Beazley also fired at the victim's wife. He missed, but she played dead while her husband lay beside her.

2 other men sentenced to life in prison later recanted their testimony that Beazley had boasted of wanting to kill somebody.

Criticism at home and abroad

Death penalty opponents from around the world have sent letters and cards protesting the execution. The European Union, through the Belgian Embassy in Washington, urged Gov. Rick Perry to stop the execution, according to The Associated Press.

Amnesty International, using the Beazley case as a springboard, issued a report critical of the United States and Texas, in particular, for allowing executions in such cases, the AP reported.

Beazley does not deny his role in the murder but has sought a review of his case, including the question of whether the U.S. Constitution bars executing people who were under age 18 when they committed their crimes. In Texas, a capital murder committed at age 17 makes an offender eligible for the death penalty.

Cindy Garner, district attorney in Houston County, which includes Beazley's hometown, had written letters to the governor and pardons officials asking that his sentence be commuted. She also testified in Beazley's behalf in the punishment phase of his trial.

"I'm devastated. There's a good possibility this is going to proceed," she said Monday. "His family will be devastated. His mother really thought he would get at least 30 more days for some consideration."

15 states that carry out capital punishment prohibit executions of anyone under age 18.

"August 15, 2001: The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals have stayed the execution of Napoleon Beazley in order to review the constitutionality of his conviction and sentence. His lawyer, Walter Long has listed ten challenges to the conviction and sentence, crucial amongst which are inadequate representation during the trial, denial of due process and a fair trial and denial of the right to a fair and impartial jury. No date for a hearing has been scheduled as yet." Click here for the full story. (Found on CNN.com).

Court may be waiting on opinion in unrelated case.

According to a court clerk, the appeals court is waiting until an opinion is issued in an unrelated case before dealing with the Beazley case. That could take weeks, if not months.

Legal experts point to the case of another death-row inmate that is pending before the court as a probable explanation for the delay of Napoleon Beazley execution. Attorneys for Anthony Graves, who was convicted of killing 6 people in Somerville in 1992, have raised questions about the competence of his legal representation during a state "habeas corpus" review. A 1995 statute requires that the state provide a lawyer for a death-row inmate's habeas appeal, the stage at which new evidence or issues not raised during the trial can be introduced. The question before the court involves the adequacy of the court- appointed lawyer in habeas reviews. In addition to Mr. Graves, and possibly Mr. Beazley, two other death-row inmates have received stays pending the appeals court decision on the issue, expected this fall.

A petition seeking the stay of execution was filed in the appeals court, along with a sworn statement from an attorney who represented Mr. Beazley during his state habeas review who criticized his own performance. Robin Norris said his investigation and preparation for the case were incomplete. It was further argued that applying the death penalty to an offender who was a juvenile at the time of the offense is outside the bounds of international law and a violation of the Eight Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. The petition also alleged that prosecutors knowingly used false testimony, that one of the jurors who sat in judgment of Mr. Beazley was racially biased, and that another was biased because she knew the victim.

Just before the court ordered the delay, Beazley's trial judge, Cynthia Kent, faxed a letter to Gov. Rick Perry asking him to commute Beazley's sentence to life in prison. Although the trial was free of error, the judge wrote, Beazley's life should be spared because of his age at the time of the murder. Governor Perry can grant a 30-day reprieve from execution.

(see August 16, 2001, Beazley not alone in raising issue---Quality of counsel in appeal affects other death-row cases, Dallas Morning News & August 17th, 2001, Beazley Case Included Unusual Twists, Associated Press)

August 18, 2001

Dallas Morning News

Smith County's top 3 top law enforcement officials sent strongly worded letters to Gov. Rick Perry on Friday asking that he not commute Texas death row inmate Napoleon Beazley's sentence.

The letters were in reaction to a letter sent to the governor this week by State District Judge Cynthia Stevens Kent, who presided over Mr. Beazley's 1995 trial, asking that his sentence be commuted to life imprisonment.

Mr. Beazley was convicted in 1995 for killing John Luttig, 63, of Tyler, during a botched car-jacking. Because of his age at the time he committed the crime (17), his case has attracted international attention from human rights groups, and even foreign governments, that oppose the execution of juvenile offenders.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals this week stayed Mr. Beazley's execution just hours before he was scheduled to die. The stay was in response to a petition filed by Mr. Beazley's lawyers, and not to Judge Kent's letter.

His attorneys had asked Judge Kent to intervene on their client's behalf. She faxed a letter to Mr. Perry on Wednesday, saying that while she believed that Mr. Beazley was judged and sentenced "in accordance with the facts and law in the State of Texas," his death sentence should be commuted due to his age at the time of the offense.

Smith County District Attorney Jack Skeen, Tyler Police Chief Gary Swindle and Smith County Sheriff J.B. Smith sent letters to the governor on Friday opposing her request.

Mr. Skeen urged the governor "in the strongest terms possible to DENY the request of Judge Cynthia Kent to commute Napoleon Beazley's sentence to life."

Mr. Skeen argued that "the Texas Legislature decided long ago that an individual who is 17 years of age at the time he or she commits a crime is an adult under the law." The jurors were aware of Mr. Beazley's age, he noted, as well as all the other evidence when they rendered their decision.

Chief Swindle wrote: "It is obvious that Napoleon Beazley is a threat to society. There is no way he deserves anything less than the death penalty."

Sheriff Smith described Mr. Beazley as a "cold-blooded killer."

Edward Marty, a Smith County prosecutor who is fighting Mr. Beazley's appeals, said Friday that because of Judge Kent's letter, he believes it would be inappropriate for her to be involved in the case in the future.

If Mr. Beazley's appeals are unsuccessful, the case could return to Judge Kent's court, and it might become her responsibility to set a new execution date.

Judge Kent has declined to comment on the case.

Legal experts say that the state appeals court probably issued a stay based on allegations that Mr. Beazley had inadequate counsel at one stage in the appeals process, one of several claims included in the petition submitted by his current attorneys.

An appeal on his behalf also is before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Because of the action taken by the appeals court, Mr. Perry did not have to make a decision on whether to issue a 30-day execution delay. On the recommendation of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, he also can commute a death sentence.

A Timely Stay / We Should Rethink the Execution of Young Offenders

August 21, 2001
Editorial, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Football star, carjacker, senior class president, murderer -- all words that described Napoleon Beazley at 17, when he set out to steal a Mercedes-Benz and ended up killing its owner. He sits now, at age 25, in a prison cell in Huntsville, Texas, after last week's reprieve bought him a little more time to breathe.

It is ironic that the Texas Court of Appeals, after refusing to order new trials for defendants who were mentally retarded, has seen fit to grant a stay of execution to Beazley, who was a minor at the time of his crime. His case has become a rallying point for opponents of executing murderers who committed their crimes while juveniles, in part because his background is a study in contrasts. Despite his youth in April 1994, he admits to selling crack and to hanging around with a rough crowd. Yet he was also senior class president and was runner up for "Mr. Grapeland High School." At age 17, he was many things, and he had the opportunity to be so much more.

His heinous crime changed all that, however. Beazley deserves stiff punishment for accepting the carjacking dare from his friends, and then taking a life. But the public should not delude itself into believing that execution will deter others like him. Statistics, in fact, show otherwise.

A state-by-state analysis last year by The New York Times found that during the last 20 years, the homicide rate in states with the death penalty was 48 percent to 101 percent higher than in states without it. Further, 10 of the 12 states without capital punishment had murder rates lower than the national average.

The Post-Gazette has opposed execution because it's a practice that is out of keeping with a civilized society. In the case of youthful offenders like Beazley, capital punishment is especially indefensible. Individuals gain maturity and develop their powers of judgment at different rates.

Are all 18-year-olds, the age that often passes for adulthood, capable of taking full responsibility for their actions? What about someone who is 17, as Beazley was at the scene of the crime? The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1988, and again in 1989, that 16 was old enough to be sentenced to death; now 23 out of the 38 death-penalty states allow the execution of juvenile offenders.

But Americans should be very uncomfortable with the notion that someone the age of a high school sophomore should forfeit his life for murder. Juvenile killers must indeed be punished for their crimes. But the criminal justice system need not blur the distinction between adults and youths as it seeks to balance the scales of justice.

Stay of execution lifted for Napoleon Beazley

By NATALIE GOTT, Associated Press Writer

AUSTIN, Texas - A state court on Wednesday rejected an appeal filed by a man who was sentenced to death for a killing carried out when he was 17. The appeals court also lifted a stay of execution it had granted while reviewing the case.

Napoleon Beazley, who was four hours away from execution when he won the stay last August, was convicted of murdering 63-year-old John Luttig, a prominent businessman in Tyler and the father of a federal judge.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday rejected all of the issues Beazley raised in challenging his conviction and sentence.

Beazley's attorney, Walter Long, said he would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court (news - web sites) and ask the state Board of Pardons and Paroles to commute Beazley's sentence.

The case has drawn international attention because Beazley was a teenager at the time of the slaying and because of J. Michael Luttig's position as a federal judge in Virginia.

Beazley's own trial judge, Cynthia Kent, and 18 state representatives had asked Gov. Rick Perry to commute the killer's sentence to life in prison because of his age at the time of the killing. In Texas, juries rather than the judge decide whether convicted killers should be executed.

An offender is eligible for the death penalty in Texas if the murder is committed at age 17 or older.

Beazley, who does not deny his role in the murder, was a high school class president and star athlete who also had dealt drugs and carried firearms.

Judge Sets May Execution Date for Convicted Killer Beazley

By APRIL CASTRO / The Associated Press
April 26, 2002

TYLER, Texas - An East Texas judge on Friday set a May 28 execution date for Napoleon Beazley, a convicted killer who last year received a stay just hours before he was to be executed by lethal injection.

State District Judge Cynthia Kent, who presided over Beazley's trial and last year wrote Gov. Rick Perry in favor of commuting the convicted killer's sentence, set the date in the case that has received international scrutiny.

After the ruling, Beazley, who was 17 when he killed a prominent Tyler businessman, turned and apologized to a packed courtroom as his family members wept.

"This is a horrible crime," Smith County District Attorney Jack Skeen Jr. said. "We've gone as far as we can go in the justice system. Now it's time for the execution to be carried out and justice to be served."

Beazley, now 25, was a high school class president and star athlete at the time of the 1994 murder of John Luttig, 63. The victim's son, J. Michael Luttig, is a judge on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.

Defense attorneys argued that it was against international law to set an execution date for Beazley because he was 17 at the time of the killing.

Defense attorney David Botsford had requested a Sept. 17 execution date, which would give him enough time to file another appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Mr. Beazley is not going anywhere," Botsford said. "He's going to be down in Livingston, where he has been all along."

Beazley and brothers Cedric and Donald Coleman, all from Grapeland, about 120 miles southeast of Dallas, were arrested seven weeks after the shooting based on an anonymous tip.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which issued Beazley's stay in August, lifted it last week.

On Thursday, the Texas chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People asked that Beazley's sentence to be commuted to life in prison since he was 17 when he committed the crime.

Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP, said race may have played a factor with an all-white jury deciding the fate of Beazley, who is black. Luttig was white.

A group of 18 Democratic legislators and Houston County District Attorney Cindy Garner, who calls herself a strong advocate of the death penalty, also have written Perry urging commutation.

Under Texas law, Perry can grant a 30-day reprieve from execution but can't order a commutation without the recommendation of the state Board of Pardons and Paroles. The board voted 10-6 last year against commuting the sentence.

Beazley's attorneys filed a motion asking Kent to postpone the rescheduling hearing until after the 2003 legislative session, giving supporters time to lobby for changes in state law.

Click here for further information: http://www.abanet.org/crimjust/juvjus/beazley.html

Inter-American Commission Issues Precautionary Measures in the Case of Napoleon Beazley

February 2002

The American States have adopted numerous international instruments that have became the foundation for the promotion and protection of human rights. The Inter-American human rights system recognizes and defines those rights and establishes binding rules of conduct to promote and protect them, whilst creating organs to monitor their observance. The Inter-American human rights system encompasses the western hemisphere and is one of the two regional systems to have adopted a convention abolishing the death penalty (Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights to Abolish the Death Penalty). A number of Latin American nations have abolished the death penalty and the long-term trend is towards total abolition. Conversely, the membership of the OAS also includes avid supporters of the death penalty including, Jamaica, and the United States of America.

One of the bodies charged with furthering and ensuring observation of the Inter-American human rights system is the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The United States upon ratifying the Charter of the OAS in 1951, accepted the authority of the Commission. In February 2002, the Commission issued precautionary measures in the case of Napoleon Beazley. Precautionary measures are issued by the Commission in cases of extreme gravity and urgency and when it becomes necessary to avoid irreparable damage to persons in the matter before them. The Commission, therefore, requested that the United States preserve the life of Napoleon Beazley pending the their investigation of the allegations forwarded in the Beazley petition.