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Without Evidence: Executing Frances Newton

Posted by The man 
The man
Without Evidence: Executing Frances Newton
February 01, 2006 06:21AM
Without Evidence: Executing Frances Newton

Unless the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Gov. Rick Perry act to stop it, on Sept. 14 Frances Newton will become only the third woman executed by the state of Texas since 1982, and the first black woman executed since the Civil War.

Unique in that historical sense, in other ways the Frances Newton case is painfully unexceptional. For there is no incontrovertible evidence against Newton, and the paltry evidence that does exist has been completely compromised. Moreover, her story is one more in a long line of Texas death row cases in which the prosecutions were sloppy or dishonest, the defenses incompetent or negligent, and the constitutional guarantee of a fair trial was honored only in name.

As Harris Co. prosecutors tell the story, the now 40-year-old Newton is a cold-blooded killer who murdered her husband and two young children inside the family's apartment outside Houston on April 7, 1987, by shooting each of them, execution-style, in order to collect life insurance. Newton had the opportunity, they argued during her 1988 trial, and a motive – a troubled relationship with her husband, Adrian, and the promise of $100,000 in insurance money from policies she'd recently taken out on his life and on the life of their 21-month-old daughter Farrah. And she had the means, they say: a .25-caliber Raven Arms pistol she had allegedly stolen from a boyfriend's house.

From the beginning, Frances Newton has maintained her innocence. She has also offered a plausible alternative theory of the crime – a theory that neither police, prosecutors, nor Newton's own trial attorney, the infamous and now suspended Ronald Mock, have ever investigated. Newton and her defenders contend that Adrian, Farrah, and 7-year-old Alton were likely murdered by someone connected to a drug dealer to whom Adrian owed $1,500. The alternative theory has much to say for it – among other things, it explains the lack of physical evidence connecting Newton to the bloody murders.

In short, there is now even more doubt about Newton's guilt than there was when she was granted the stay – distressing Newton's many defenders, among them Adrian's parents, two former prison officials, and at least one of the jurors who heard Newton's case. "We never wanted to see Frances get executed," Adrian's parents Tom and Virginia Louis wrote to the BPP on Aug. 25. "When the trial occurred, nobody from the [DA's] Office ever asked ... our opinion. We were willing to testify on Frances' behalf, but Frances' defense lawyer never approached us," they continued. "We do not wish to suffer the loss of another family member."

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