Texas Death Row is the most restrictive Death Row in the country. The men are in isolation 23 hours a day in cells that measure 6X10 ft. Their access to recreation, they only get 1 hour a day. They don’t have access to… they have limited access to art supplies and to any other kind of luxuries such as, they don’t have televisions, the radios are very expensive. They’re one of the only death rows in the country that doesn’t have a TV. They don’t have contact visits. Almost every other, even in California the death row inmates have contact visits. They only get one phone call every 6 months, and that’s a 5 minute phone call.
So these men, they are living, again in the most restrictive conditions in the entire United States. And like I said, these are conditions that are designed to break people down, to make them, to make their lives as miserable as possible while they’re on death row. My name is Kelly Booker and I’m an anti death penalty activist in Austin Texas. I actually first got involved in 1999 around the case of Shaka Sankofa here in Houston and have been doing stuff against the death penalty ever since.
Robert Will is a young man from Houston, who was wrongly convicted of killing a Harris County Sherriff’s deputy in 2000. He was sent to death row in 2002. Robert has always maintained that he was not the man who shot this officer and due to grossly ineffective counsel and a botched appeals process he is still on death row, even though the information about the real shooter is out there, and even though there is no forensics evidence that actually connects him to this case.
So he’s been campaigning, trying to prove his innocence for some time now, since 2000, and I think, you know, we want to say, especially with the case of Troy Davis making national news, that innocence matters and Robert is innocent, and not only that, he didn’t receive the kind of representation that he is entitled to here in United States. And his case is in a really critical juncture, he has used up his appeals, we’re looking for once last chance to prove that he was not the man who shot this officer. In 2000 Robert was involved in an altercation with a cop in which he was shot, Robert was shot, and the cop was shot dead. Robert has always maintained that there was another shooter. The investigation has been compromised from the beginning because this other shooter is related to a higher ranking cop in Harris County, beyond that he was given, Robert was given 2 court appointed attorneys who did very little to try to prove his innocence. He himself, Robert was tried by Chuck Rosethal, the chief DA of Harris County, so they brought out the highest ranking prosecutor in Houston.
So, Robert was prosecuted by Chuck Rosenthal, the chief DA in Harris County. Rosenthal is a man who in 2008 was forced to step down from his role, his position as DA because of scandalous materials that were found on his work computer. In the wake of that scandal, he said that he was under the influence of pharmaceutical drugs that impaired his judgment. There’s no comment on how long perhaps his judgment has been impaired. Also in 2002 he was the DA when the Houston Crime Lab scandal first broke and he was one who refused to investigate that the way it should have been investigated. In addition to Robert’s ineffective counsel, Rosenthal went after Robert very harshly. Robert was tried right after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and in his closing statements, Rosenthal compared Rob to the 9-11 terrorists saying that the events of 9-11 prove that there is evil in this world, and that evil is embodied in Robert Will. And I think that now we can say, that a statement like that is emotionally manipulative, used to prey on the feelings of insecurity and fear in this country at that time, and to compare Robert to suicide bombers is ridiculous.
Other events connected to Robert’s trial: Because the victim was a police officer, the police officers union had many many police officers pack the court room with ribbons to show their support for their fallen comrade, but what that does is, it influences the jury’s opinion of what’s going on. Also there were two members of the jury with very close connections to Houston police officers, which we believe made them biased against Robert from the onset. Again if he had had better counsel these would not have been issues, but his lawyers did nothing to prevent that from happening and they didn’t call on key witnesses who would have told them that the man who was the shooter actually confessed to this while he was in jail.
Robert is a father too. I met him, I believe in 2005, he was already incarcerated. He is a very loving, sensitive and generous person. He’s also, you know, Gloria talked about the conditions on death row, and those are conditions that can bring out the worst in people, they can also bring out the best. Robert is one these men on death row, who is very selfless, very happy to help people on death row and also happy to help people out here in the world. He is a certified yoga instructor, he is also an activist. He was involved with a group of men at Polunsky, the Death Row in Texas, organizing for better conditions on Death Row there. The conditions at Polunsky are some of the worst of any Death Row in this country.
Robert is also unique because he’s pursuing a University degree while he is on Death Row from Louisiana State. He is actually also only the second person on Death Row to attempt to do that while being incarcerated. And I think it just goes to show that even though he is locked up in there for something he didn’t do, he is still using this time to do something to try to better himself and the better lives of other people.
Robert is an artist. And that’s one of the few outlets available to someone inside to express their emotions and their feelings. And I think you can get a sense of again, the feelings and the sensitivity and the awareness that he has, comes out in that artwork. It’s also impressive because Texas Death Row inmates are not allowed access to art materials in a very open, they’re not allowed many art materials.
When Death Row moved from Huntsville to Livingston in 2000 there were very many restrictions put on them, so the amount of materials allowed is very small. Especially compared to other prison systems. So a lot of the stuff that they make, or the materials they use are materials that they make themselves. In one of these paintings he actually uses the casings from a gas canister to create the materials there. I think the trend is for things to become much more restrictive, and I can definitely see in the future they would have no access to art supplies. The purpose of the incarceration is to break them. The administration knows that the art, it builds prisoners up, it makes them feel better, the prison doesn’t want that, and I think that’s the main motivation, they site security concerns, but I think it’s definitely part of a program to sap the prisoners of their humanity and to make their incarceration harder on them. And I think their art is one of the few things they have to recapture their humanity and express themselves as human beings.
You know, I’m not much of an artist myself, but what’s impressive about Rob’s art is that he is self-taught, obviously, and creating these things with the basest materials. But I think, like I said, you can see pieces of him, the real inner him, coming out in that art, but I think it’s also a reflection of, because so much of the art is political, but it’s also in some of those other pieces, I think reflects a desire to transcend this tiny cell that he’s in and be a part of something bigger.
Robert is a very spiritual person and I know that Yoga and meditation is something that he uses to help center him and keep him grounded while he is living in essentially solitary confinement for 23 hours a day. The Yoga has helped him to transcend the immediate confinement that he’s in. It helps keep him sane in an environment that is designed to make him go crazy. I think you also see that in his art is very much influenced by Yoga principles and ancient Indian spirituality tenets and things like that. He’s always been very drawn to the Indian side, well he’s interested in all religions but especially this kind of Yoga and Ohm influenced.
I think Robert’s situation right now, because he’s at the end of his appeals process, what he really needs is exposure. He needs people to know that this is happening and we need people to pressure the government to do the right thing. I think, Texas likes to carry out its dirty work in the dark, and when we can shine a light on that is when we can make the government back down.
We’ve seen that most notably in 2007 when we won in the case of Kenneth Foster, who is one of Rob’s friends and one of his fellow activists on Death Row, and his Death Sentence was commuted because of pressure that activists and the communities and the world put on Governor Perry. So we would like to have a similar thing repeated here, where so many people know about Robert’s situation that they can demand that Perry and the state of Texas actually look into his case and don’t just steamroll him into the execution chamber. But actually take a look at all the evidence that we have, that we are begging them to look at and to make a decision that the evidence proves that Robert is innocent. And with enough help and enough exposure, phone calls, letter writing, I believe that we can make that happen. I think that in addition to pressure that we want individuals to put on Perry and the state of Texas, we also could be very much benefited by having a law firm take on Robert’s case Pro Bono. We really need a law firm to take on this work and to help rectify the mistakes that were made before. So we have a two-pronged approach.
One is from individuals that can help us take on the government and the other is that we very much need legal assistance in this matter.
If anyone wants to get involved we very much would like your help.
You can find us on the web.
Rob has a web site it’s www.freerobwill.org
We’re on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/FreeRobWill
And you can just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
We can talk to people about how to get involved, joining his defense committee and helping Rob get the freedom he deserves.
We have information to give to the media, we have a beautiful press kit and press release. The materials are there, we have all the information about the case. We have all the details of the crime. We have the information about both Rob’s original trial and the problems with his appeal, all the dirt on Rosenthal and also the man that we believe is the original shooter. We’ve got photographs and also information about the crime scene as well. So the information is there and ready to give to anyone who would like to make articles or materials with it. And if we are contacted, then we can email that directly. If anyone is interested in doing interviews with me or any other activist involved with Rob’s case, we can be reached at any time, in locations all over the state. You can contact me at email@example.com or Gloria, and there’re other people we can put folks in contact with.
I want to be clear that sympathize immensely with the family of the fallen officer, I just think that, we know Robert is not the man who killed Deputy Hill, he is not the man who took away their father, their brother and their son. But we do know who did do this, and by going after Robert, justice is not served. All it has done is, in addition to the pain the Hill family has gone through, it also means that there is another family who has gone through something terrible. Robert’s family has been through a lot, and he had a girlfriend and two young sons, and their lives have been torn apart by this event as well. And what we are trying to say is that while we have immense sympathy for the Hills, if one thing can be put right in this whole terrible situation, it’s that the state can look into Robert’s case and make sure that it does the right thing. And that will be the justice that can be served in this case.