People can change. Will Texas?

That’s the title of Amnesty International’s short report on David Lee Powell, a man who is scheduled to be executed in Texas on June 15 despite demonstrating great remorse and having been a model inmate for the 32 years he has been in prison. David Powell was sent to Texas death row for killing Austin police office Ralph Ablanedo in May 1978. In the midst of a methamphetamine addiction when the crime occurred, Powell cleaned up in prison. Included in Powell’s clemency petition is a statement from an Austin police officer who states:  “… the man who will be put to death for the killing of Ralph Ablanedo is not the man who committed the crime.”

In Texas, death sentences hinge on a concept called “future dangerousness”; that is, the jury has to determine whether or not the defendant will commit violent crimes in the future. If they decide he will, then, and only then, can they sentence him to death. Clearly, once off drugs, David Lee Powell has not been a danger to anyone and no longer qualifies for execution.

The problem with the death penalty (well, one of the problems) is that it doesn’t allow for the fact that people can change and improve. In fact, it cancels out the very possibility of human redemption. Capital punishment is based on a depressing philosophy that bad people (or people who do bad things) will always be bad. Certainly, human beings are capable of doing terrible things, but they are also capable of doing remarkable good, or at least doing better, if we don’t execute them first.

One of the purposes of executive clemency is to consider factors like this (remorse, redemption) that are out of the purview of the courts. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles has a chance to recommend clemency in David Powell’s case, and assert on behalf of the people of Texas that, yes, sometimes people can change.

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9 thoughts on “People can change. Will Texas?

  1. David Powell deserves to live. He may be guilty of the crime but he is not guilty of the sentence.

    Terry McCaffrey

  2. David Powell deserves to live. He may be guilty of the crime but he is not guilty of the sentence.

    Terry McCaffrey

  3. I was a high school senior in Austin in 1978, and I remember well the shock and horror we all felt, hearing the news of Officer Ablanedo's murder. What's interesting is that history seems to have forgotten that on the following afternoon, 13-year-old John Daniel Christian, son of former LBJ press secretary, George Christian, walked into a classroom at Murchison Jr. High and fatally shot his teacher, Rod Grayson, with his father's rifle. References to this crime are scant, but as children were not often tried as adults back then, and DA Ronnie Earle and George Christian were friends, John Christian was apparently sentenced to confinement in a Dallas psychiatric hospital until he reached the age of 18. Truth is,even that didn't happen. John Christian was allowed to live with a Dallas physician while completing high school at Highland Park. He earned a law degree at the University of Texas, and according to his father's 2002 obituary, he's now an attorney in Austin.

    Clearly, people CAN change, and both John Christian and David Lee Powell are proof of that. Both snuffed out the lives of young men, and truth be told, John Christian's acts were far more pre-meditated. Who's to say how Mr. Powell's life might have turned out, had he enjoyed the same advantages as Mr. Christian?

  4. I was a high school senior in Austin in 1978, and I remember well the shock and horror we all felt, hearing the news of Officer Ablanedo’s murder. What’s interesting is that history seems to have forgotten that on the following afternoon, 13-year-old John Daniel Christian, son of former LBJ press secretary, George Christian, walked into a classroom at Murchison Jr. High and fatally shot his teacher, Rod Grayson, with his father’s rifle. References to this crime are scant, but as children were not often tried as adults back then, and DA Ronnie Earle and George Christian were friends, John Christian was apparently sentenced to confinement in a Dallas psychiatric hospital until he reached the age of 18. Truth is,even that didn’t happen. John Christian was allowed to live with a Dallas physician while completing high school at Highland Park. He earned a law degree at the University of Texas, and according to his father’s 2002 obituary, he’s now an attorney in Austin.

    Clearly, people CAN change, and both John Christian and David Lee Powell are proof of that. Both snuffed out the lives of young men, and truth be told, John Christian’s acts were far more pre-meditated. Who’s to say how Mr. Powell’s life might have turned out, had he enjoyed the same advantages as Mr. Christian?

  5. The state of Texas is committed to carrying out every execution it possibly can and to make it worse for Mr. Powell, who may well truly be repentant for his crime, this is an election year. None of the good Republicans here would upset the death-penalty loving base by not providing their circus. As you may remember from the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, executed a few years back, even though he was quite likely innocent, Texas really doesn't care about such unimportant things as guilt or rehabilitation.

    Our marvelous Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia must be a Texas at heart. He's the one who said that it would be acceptable to execut an innocent man as long has he ad a "fair" trial.

  6. Sorry about the misspellings in the last paragraph of my previous post. I hit "Submit" too soon.

  7. The state of Texas is committed to carrying out every execution it possibly can and to make it worse for Mr. Powell, who may well truly be repentant for his crime, this is an election year. None of the good Republicans here would upset the death-penalty loving base by not providing their circus. As you may remember from the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, executed a few years back, even though he was quite likely innocent, Texas really doesn’t care about such unimportant things as guilt or rehabilitation.

    Our marvelous Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia must be a Texas at heart. He’s the one who said that it would be acceptable to execut an innocent man as long has he ad a “fair” trial.

  8. Sorry about the misspellings in the last paragraph of my previous post. I hit “Submit” too soon.

  9. John Christian was politically connected kid and his parents paid for private psychic treatment. David Powell was smart kid from poor family so he must die. That is the Texas way. Christian has not killed again nor has Powell so apparently both are considered successes.