In a sign that states are ready to restart executions after a monthslong hiatus during the pandemic, Texas plans to put a convicted murderer to death Wednesday evening — unless Gov. Greg Abbott or the courts grant a last-minute reprieve.
Quintin Jones, 41, is set to die by lethal injection at 7 p.m. ET at the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville. The Fort Worth man was found guilty of fatally beating his great-aunt, Berthena Bryant, in 1999 with a baseball bat and stealing $30 to buy drugs.
Jones, who was 19 at the time, does not deny committing the murder and isn’t asking to be released, but says he has turned his life around in prison and shouldn’t be executed. In a video published by The New York Times last week, Jones asked Abbott to “find it in your heart to grant me clemency.”
On Tuesday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recommended against clemency. Abbott, a Republican, could still choose to do so, but he has only once commuted a death sentence since assuming office in 2015. In the past six years, Texas has put more than 50 people to death, most recently in July, the last time any state held an execution. (The federal government under the Trump administration resumed executions during the pandemic.)
Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Jones’ case has gained renewed attention for other reasons: His family members have publicly supported his clemency petition, writing that he “is remorseful and has changed for the better” and that killing him “can’t bring her [Bryant] back.”
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In addition, the case required that the jury, in applying the death penalty, determine that Jones posed a “future dangerousness” — a concept that critics say is based on disputed science and inaccurate data, and could be clouded by racial bias. Jones’ clemency application says he has had a “nonviolent history during his two decades of incarceration.”
Texas is the only state that requires juries to weigh “future dangerousness” in capital punishment cases after Oregon did away with the practice in 2019.
David Dow, a law professor at the University of Houston who has represented death row inmates, said the idea of “future dangerousness” can be subjective and vague, with jurors needing to predict whether a defendant could pose a threat again and where they might lash out, such as in prison or out in society if they were released.
The American Psychiatric Association, the nation’s largest psychiatric organization, has filed briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that the “unreliability of psychiatric predictions of long-term future dangerousness is by now an established fact within the profession.”
A 2004 study by the Texas Defender Service, a group that represents defendants in capital cases, found that of the more than 150 cases it reviewed, only 5 percent of inmates later engaged in serious assaults, while 75 percent had infractions that did not involve serious assaults or were for minor incidents like having food in their cells, and the remaining 20 percent of inmates had no disciplinary violations. In addition, only two inmates were later prosecuted for crimes while behind bars.
Dow said Jones was “sentenced to death, not for what he did, but because of what a jury predicted he would do, and that prediction has proven false — that is, Jones has been a nonviolent and model prisoner, demonstrating he could in fact be kept in prison with no risk to the outside population, or to the inmate or guard population either.”
Jones was implicated in two other murders in Fort Worth in 1999, with prosecutors saying he and another man, Ricky Roosa, sought to rob people for money to buy drugs. But a capital murder charge in that case against Jones, who is Black, was later dismissed because he was already sentenced in his great-aunt’s death. Roosa, who is white, was sentenced to life in prison for the two murders.
Jones’ twin brother, Benjamin, wrote in March in his support for clemency that his brother’s drug and alcohol addiction and suicidal feelings at a young age dramatically changed him, and that Roosa, who was about 20 years older, was a bad influence.
“I was angry at him for years for what he did to Aunt Bert, who I know he loved just like I loved her,” Benjamin Jones wrote, adding that he and his great-aunt’s sister have “long forgiven Quin” and he is “deeply remorseful.”
“Please don’t cause us to be victimized again through Quin’s execution,” he concluded.