Death row inmates appeal for competent lawyers


Lawyers for three death row inmates are to ask a US appeals court to force the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to ensure condemned prisoners are given competent lawyers to contest their sentences.

The petition has been forwarded to the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of inmates Johnny Martinez, Napoleon Beazley and Gary Etheridge, who are scheduled for execution in the next six weeks.

"We are alleging that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has a policy of appointing incompetent counsel to represent people on death row and that they are violating constitutional rights to due process of law," said Mr David Dow, a University of Houston law professor who is representing Martinez. Martinez is set to die Wednesday for killing a Corpus Christi convenience store clerk. Beazley is scheduled for execution on May 28th for killing a man during a carjacking. Etheridge is scheduled to die on June 27th for fatally stabbing a Texas girl.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled 6-3 in January that condemned inmates deserve an appointed lawyer who is qualified but not necessarily one who performs effectively.

But the inmates maintain that the ruling is a violation of their right to legal representation, and they are asking the 5th Circuit Court, located in New Orleans, Louisiana, to set aside the execution dates until the matter is resolved.

A lawyer for Beazley, Mr Walter Long, said that just because a lawyer is qualified in some aspects of criminal law does not mean he or she has the expertise to adequately represent an inmate in a death penalty proceeding, which is considered more demanding than the typical criminal case.