Do not execute Derrick Sean O'Brien sign now


Derrick Sean OBrien was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death for the 1993 rape and murder of two teenage girls, Jennifer Ertman, 14, and Elizabeth Pena, 16, in Houston. On the night of June 24, Ertman and Pena were walking home from a friends house when OBrien, along with five others, attacked them. According to court documents, the attack was part of a gang initiation. The bodies of the two girls remained undiscovered until police received an anonymous tip from the brother of one of OBriens accomplices four days after the attack. OBrien was arrested at his home the following day. OBriens trial began on April 4, 1994 and he was found guilty of capital murder only two days later. On April 9, 1994, OBrien was sentenced to death.

There are circumstances surrounding the punishment phase of OBriens trial that do warrant closer consideration. For one, OBriens defense counsel presented only one witness. In the punishment phase of a death penalty trial a jury is asked to weigh mitigating factors, such as certain aspects of a defendants character or background, including moral culpability, as a basis for a sentence less than death. The one witness brought to testify on OBriens behalf was a records custodian employed by the Harris County Jail who testified that there were no disciplinary actions taken again OBrien during his time at the jail. In other words, OBriens counsel did not call to the stand family, friends of the family, or anyone else that could have testified on OBriens behalf.

The ability of the jury to properly weigh mitigating factors against the potential sentence of death is further called into question by the fact that the prosecutor repeatedly told the jury that there must be a connection between the mitigating evidence and the crime. Contrary to the prosecutors statements otherwise, the Supreme Court has set a low threshold of mitigating circumstances. Therefore, both the fact that OBrien was 18 at the time of the crime, as well as evidence regarding his good behavior while in jail, are relevant mitigating factors.

It is likely that the jury, believing the prosecutors statement that there must be a connection between the mitigating evidence and the crime, did not properly weigh the mitigating evidence that they were presented with and ultimately decided upon a sentence that they would not have otherwise.

In December of 2005 the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals denied OBriens request for a certificate of appealability despite the evidence presented in support of the issues outlined above. There is no way to say for sure that a different jury, one that had been spared the prosecutors commentary, would not have decided upon a different fate for OBrien. Cases such as this prove just how arbitrary the death penalty is.

An execution date has now been set for him: July 11, 2006.
In view of the above-mentioned information, we ask the Governor of Texas to act quickly to correct this situation and spare the life of this human being.

Thank you for your time and consideration in this important and urgent matter.

Sincerely,

Elena Gaita

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Judy LongBy:
International PolicyIn:
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To: The Governor of Texas Rick Perry

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