Letters From Death Row: A Texas Inmate Remembers Ray Jasper – Travis Runnels

April 9, 2014

From time to time we publish letters from death row inmates. Today, Texas death row inmate Travis Runnels writes to us with a remembrance of his friend and fellow inmate, Ray Jasper, who was executed by the state of Texas.

Unlike most of our letters from death row inmates, we did not solicit this one. Travis Runnels wrote of us of his own volition to share his memories of Ray Jasper. Runnels was sentenced to death in 2005 after pleading guilty to the 2003 killing of Stanley Wiley, who was a supervisor at the Texas prison where Runnels was serving a 70-year sentence for aggravated robbery. His letter is below.

Dear Mr. Nolan,

This letter I send to you is in response to the letter from Ray Jasper. A friend of mine knew me and Ray-Ray were associates so she downloaded the letter and mailed it to me. Now that his state sanctioned murder has been carried out I feel its my duty to expound upon his letter due to the extraordinary person he was. Don’t get me wrong he had flaws just as every other person does, but he consciously applied himself to not let his flaws nor his incarceration define who he was or how he look at what he was capable of accomplishing.

The first time I met him and we had a conversation I was impressed with his speech and his ability to articulate. At first I was a bit skeptical because I’ve met many slick talkers who don’t actively apply to their own life or actions the information they are sharing. As the days went by and he started sharing books with me to read on self help, money management, investments, how to run a business and books on self reflection. Then he explained to me all the books he reads are directing him towards his goals and a more productive mind state. At that point that’s when I understood he knows what he wants out of himself and life and he’s doing what’s necessary to reach that point. I admired his strength not to be tempted by action and thriller best seller novels because these I enjoyed reading since it helped me cope with the isolation. But I took the time to study the books he sent me and my education expanded and my growth progressed.

You could ask guards or prisoners about Ray-Ray and they will all say he was quiet and didn’t talk to everybody or a lot of people. This he explained to me one day. The people you interact/ socialize with or either pushing you towards your goals or away from them. So frivolous socializing about nonsense or negativity was time wasted for our situation with the possibility of execution looming. The state did not execute a man named Ray Jasper, they killed a man who had the potential to impact lives. The world lost an asset. I pray his daughter can carry on in honor of her father who lead not by words but his actions despite all the negativity surrounding him.

Thank you for your time Mr. Nolan and I hope my thoughts can give your readers more insight on who Ray-Ray was, since thats what we called him.


Travis Runnels 999505

TEXAS – A Letter From Ray Jasper, Who Is About To Be Executed

march 3, 2014

Texas death row inmate Ray Jasper is scheduled to be put to death on March 19. He has written us a letter that, he acknowledges, “could be my final statement on earth.” It is well worth your time.

Read the whole story at Gawker

South Carolina – Inmate Released After Nearly 30 Years on Death Row – Edward Lee Elmore

Edward Lee Elmore was released from prison in South Carolina on March 2 after agreeing to a plea arrangement in which he maintained his innocence but agreed the state could re-convict him of murder in a new trial.  He had been on death row for nearly 30 years after being convicted and sentenced to death in 1982 for the sexual assault and murder of an elderly woman in Greenwood, South Carolina. The state’s case was based on evidence gathered from a questionable investigation and on testimony with glaring discrepancies. Elmore’s appellate lawyers discovered evidence pointing to Elmore’s possible innocence that prosecutors had withheld. Originally, state officials repeatedly claimed the evidence had been lost. The evidence included a hair sample collected from the crime scene. After being tested for DNA, the evidence suggested an unknown Caucasian man may have been the killer.  In February 2010, Elmore was found to have intellectual disabilities and thus was ineligible for execution; he was taken off death row.  In November 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit granted him a new trial because of the prosecutorial misconduct in handling the evidence. The court found there was  “persuasive evidence that the agents were outright dishonest,” and there was “further evidence of police ineptitude and deceit.”

Raymond Bonner, a former New York Times reporter who wrote a book about the case (“Anatomy of Injustice: A Murder Case Gone Wrong”), said Elmore’s journey through the justice system “stands out because it raises nearly all the issues that shape debate about capital punishment: race, mental retardation, a jailhouse informant, DNA testing, bad defense lawyers, prosecutorial misconduct and a strong claim of innocence.”  He noted, “Once a person has been convicted, even on unimaginably shaky grounds, an almost inexorable process — one that usually ends in execution — is set in motion. On appeal, gone is the presumption of innocence; the presumption is that the defendant had a fair trial. Not even overwhelming evidence that the defendant is innocent is necessarily enough to get a new trial.”

(R. Bonner, “When Innocence Isn’t Enough,” New York Times, March 2, 2012).  See Innocence and Intellectual Disabilities.

ALABAMA – Prison Guards Indicted in Fatal Beating of Handcuffed Inmate

FBI agents arrested three former Alabama prison guards on Monday after a federal grand jury indicted them on charges of beating a handcuffed prisoner to death and lying to investigators about the attack.

Michael Smith, 37, Matthew Davidson 43, and Joseph Sanders, 31, former guards at Ventress Correctional Facility in Clayton, Ala., are accused of assaulting Rocrast Mack, a 24-year-old Ventress inmate, and making false statements to state and federal investigators about the attack after his death.

Mack was sentenced to 20 years in state prison after pleading guilty to selling $10 worth of crack cocaine to an undercover cop in 2009.

The fatal beating occurred Aug. 4, 2010, after a female guard, Melissa Brown, accused Mack of looking at her inappropriately while she did evening rounds in one of the prison’s crowded dorms. Prison records obtained by the Huffington Post during a 2011 investigation into Mack’s death showed that Brown struck Mack, slapping him across the face, then called for assistance after he struck her, bloodying her lip.

Smith, Davidson and Sanders responded and severely beat Mack in several areas of the prison using their feet, fists and batons, the indictment says. During part of the beating, Mack was handcuffed.

After a comatose Mack was taken to an outside hospital, Smith, Davidson and Sanders conspired to create a story that the beating was done in self-defense in an effort to restrain an out-of-control inmate, authorities said. In written reports and interviews with state and federal investigators, the officers claimed that Mack had been fighting them and resisted efforts to subdue him.

Smith also faces state murder charges for his role in the attack on Mack. He faces up to life in prison or the death penalty if convicted on all counts, while Davidson faces up to 105 years in prison and Sanders, 75 years.

State authorities initially described Mack’s death as an “isolated incident” but ultimately acknowledged that Smith had been accused of brutality by numerous inmates. The Huffington Post investigation of Mack’s death uncovered allegations of repeated brutality by Smith and other guards at Ventress that had gone unchecked.

Monday’s indictments come as Alabama authorities struggle with the management of one of the most overcrowded and understaffed prison systems in the country. The state’s prisons are at 193 percent capacity, the highest rate in the country, according to the Alabama Department of Corrections.

Some Alabama lawmakers warn that the state risks a mass release of inmates if conditions do not improve. In 2010, the Supreme Court ordered California to release about 30,000 inmates after its prisons reached 170 percent capacity.

Alabama lawmakers have long resisted calls to increase funding for the state’s sprawling prison system, which grew by 468 percent between 1977 and 2009, due largely to a surge in drug-related arrests and the stiffening of prison sentences by state lawmakers.

Critics of Alabama’s justice system allege that overcrowding is responsible for high levels of guard abuse, brutality and inmate-on-inmate violence in the state’s prisons. Ventress, where Mack was killed, was one of the most crowded facilities in the state, at 225 percent of capacity.

source :  Huff post 13 march