To say that the recent events of Texas‘Attempted execution of a death row inmate Melissa Lucio had shaken his faith in the criminal justice system, an influential Republican state lawmaker said he would now support a moratorium on executions in the state.
In an April 29, 2022 interview on WFAA-TV Inside Texas Politics with Jason Whitely, Representative Jeff Leach (pictured), co-chairman of the Texas House of Representatives bipartisan criminal justice reform caucus, said “all options [for death-penalty reform] will be on the table, all the tools in the toolbox,” potentially including a moratorium on executions.
Leach, who was a founding member of the reform caucus, spearheaded a bipartisan legislative effort that resulted in majority signing of letters from the Texas House and Senate calling for the switching of Lucio’s pain. On April 25, 2022, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals interrupted the Lucio scheduled for April 27and execution and ordered a Cameron County trial court to hear evidence that she may be innocent of charges of murdering her two-year-old daughter and that her conviction was the product of prosecutorial misconduct and of false testimony. In the Inside Texas Politics interview, Rep. Leach said, “We have to look at every part of our system, and the case of Melissa, where the system failed her at every turn, is a great example of that.”
A self-proclaimed “pro-life conservative”, Leach said Lucio’s near-execution without regard to his strong declarations of innocence had “lulled” him and showed him that “it’s important to move on.” ‘before we get that right for all other cases. ”
One of the tools Leach said he intends to use would be legislative hearings in which “law enforcement, prosecutors, defense attorneys and other legislators and experts” would be asked to help the Texas Legislature “pursue the right reforms”. He told WFAA reporter Jason Whitely that after “having been through what I just went through and seen what I just saw” in Melissa Lucio’s case, he would support a moratorium on executions in Texas.
“I am, again, a supporter of the death penalty in the most heinous cases. But it depends on the system working, the system being trustworthy, fair and reliable, assuring us beyond a shadow of a doubt of the guilt of the inmate,” Leach said. “And right now, I’m not sure. My faith in the system is fragile. Leach told Whitely that he thinks several other pro-death penalty conservative lawmakers would also support a moratorium on executions.
Leach has strongly advocated reforms to the Texas capital punishment system since the scheduled execution of Jeffrey Wood in 2016. Wood was convicted and sentenced to death under Texas “party law,” which makes a defendant responsible for the acts and intent of everyone else involved in a crime. The undisputed evidence showed that Wood did not kill anyone or intended anyone to be killed and, according to his supporters, was not even aware of the robbery in which a co-defendant killed a store clerk was going to occur. At the time of Wood’s death warrant, Leach said, “I just don’t believe Mr. Wood deserves the death penalty. I can’t just sit quietly and say nothing.
Wood’s case led Leach to sponsor a bill, which passed the House in 2021, that attempts to end eligibility for the death penalty for accomplices in crime who neither kill nor had intent that a murder should take place and were underage participants in the conduct which led to the death of the victim. This bill was blocked by a Senate committee.
Leach also advocated stopping the planned execution of Rodney Roseau in 2019. Underscoring Reed’s strong claims of innocence, Leach, along with Democratic Criminal Justice Reform Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Joe Moody and 24 other members of the bipartisan House, drafted a legislative letter calling for Texas Governor Greg Abbott to commute. Reed’s sentence. In November 2019, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halted Reed’s execution and ordered an innocence hearing. After Texas state courts denied Reed access to DNA testing of crime scene evidence and lower federal courts declined to consider the matter on procedural grounds, the Supreme Court of United States on April 25, 2022 granted Reed’s motion for a writ of certiorari to answer the question of when the clock starts ticking on the federal civil rights trial of a state prisoner seeking access to DNA testing.