Search About Support Us
Submitted 2:53 p.m.
01.03.2016
Letter to the Editor

Ms. Sween does a disservice to your readers when she criticizes lawyers for not winning a case, without revealing to the readers she was unwilling to take up the case herself when we offered her every opportunity.”

James W. Volberding of Tyler, Texas

When it dismissed Ms. Sween’s appeal for Raphael Holiday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals warned her: “in light of the district court’s explanations for not displacing court-appointed counsel, we warn the attorney here that subsequent attempts in this case to displace counsel will be viewed with skepticism.” Holiday v. Stephens, 806 F.3d 334, 335 n.2 (5th Cir. 2015).

Your readers might share the judges’ skepticism about Ms. Sween when they learn what she did not reveal in her recent article.

Ms. Sween claims she persisted in her appeal of denial of new counsel for Raphael’s clemency petition, even AFTER we filed his clemency petition, because our clemency filing was “a sham.”

In fact, the clemency petition we filed for Raphael Holiday was 146 pages long, presenting (1) sworn affidavits from Holiday’s family and mother of his dysfunctional upbringing, and (2) the residual doubt of his guilt in light of the disputed scientific testimony always at the center of his case. His disputed scientific testimony, however, had to confront the reality that the Texas Forensics Commission reviewed Holiday’s case in September 2014 and found no basis for retroactive review. Moreover, our clemency petition told the Board of Pardons and Paroles the sad tale of Raphael’s life that Ms. Sween laments in her article. Not a single member voted for clemency.

Further, Ms. Sween did not inform your readers that we repeatedly offered to let her (1) edit and contribute to the clemency petition before we filed, (2) file an amended clemency petition with us or on her own, or (3) file any successor writ she wanted in Texas state court. Ms. Sween refused every offer, under the ruse that she was “unqualified.” This is not any personal criticism, but rather her own words from her series of filings in which she made clear that the last thing she wanted as Holiday’s lawyer was any actual responsibility for his case.

The facts are these: only two Texas clemency petitions have been granted in 39 years. Since 1976, when executions resumed, the clemency rate is 00.00% for a “triggerman” like Raphael, absent politics. Gov. Bush granted clemency once in 1998 when he was looking to improve his image before his presidential run, having just denied it for an evangelical Christian inmate named Karla Faye Tucker over the pleas of such conservatives as Pat Robertson. Gov. Perry granted clemency once in 2007, but the inmate was not the “triggerman.” Hundreds of other Texas death row inmates have been executed, notwithstanding retardation, mental illness, race, age, youth, poor health, rehabilitation, or dysfunctional upbringing. When we said Raphael had zero chance of a successful clemency petition in Texas, we were stating the plain fact of reality.

We take no joy in these statistics. But Ms. Sween does a disservice to your readers when she criticizes lawyers for not winning a case, without revealing to the readers she was unwilling to take up the case herself when we offered her every opportunity.

Seth Kretzer, Houston, Texas James W. Volberding, Tyler, Texas