I'm not sure I can do it. I'm not sure I can write about the end of Frances' life. She was just one woman. Yet, she was one of the individuals who has affected me the most in this endeavor. There have been three so far that have affected me like this. Two of them are now dead - killed by their own government (both in Texas). The first was James Allridge. James was completely rehabilitated. He admitted his crimes, but he was a changed man, and according to all accounts was a good hearted, kind man who had become a productive member of his society. The second was and is Paul House. Paul is on death row in Tennessee. His case will be argued before the United States Supreme Court this fall (Paul has a fairly strong innocence case with a DNA component). Paul also has active M.S. and his body is degenerating. Unfortunately, it seems likely Paul could die in prison (if he is innocent of the crimes for which he was convicted, as far as I'm concerned, locking him up on death row for the remainder of his days is murder whether he dies strapped to a gurney or if he dies of complications of his M.S.). The third was Frances Newton.
I don't mean to be a drama queen about any of this, but I really have been in a morose mood since last night. Any of the limited faith I had that the "system" cared about actual innocence or negligent prosecution was shattered last night. Frances Newton spent the last 18 years of her life behind bars waiting to die . She was convicted of killing her own family. With the additional evidence waiting to be tested and the evidence of her negligent prosecution, its possible Frances Newton was innocent of those crimes. At the very least, its HIGHLY possible that a more appropriately run prosecution of those crimes may have resulted in Frances being given a life sentence. If Frances was indeed innocent (as she fought to prove for 18 years), that means the State of Texas convicted an innocent woman of killing her own husband and her own two children and then placed her in an isolated death row prison cell to await her own murder. I don't think that's what the drafters of our Constitution envisioned when they imagined the results of due process. The government is supposed to protect its citizens, not kill them because their time has run out and no more appeals are "available." How can appeals "run out" when there is still more evidence to review?
Normally, I might mention the family of the victims in an obituary posting like this. Obviously, an execution is a painful time not just for family of the condemned but also for the families of those who were murdered to begin with. It is important to remember the lives of those that were taken at the hands of another. I have posted on this before. I will not repeat myself. However, in this obituary, the family of the victims WAS Frances Newton herself. The irony of all of this is that if Frances did not kill her husband and two children, today might have been the day that Frances would have been asked to witness the execution of whomever did kill them. She would have been the family member seeking closure through the murder of her daughter's killer. I don't know whether Frances would have agreed with capital punishment had she never been on death row. I do know, however, that Frances' trial and conviction were not exemplary. I do know that there was evidence that might very well have cleared Frances if it had been tested properly. If Frances was innocent, her time to grieve was taken by the state and she was forced to endure a trial for the very murders she may have needed to grieve. That also means that instead of serving as the family of the victim on execution day, Frances Newton died and the individual who might have been strapped to the gurney in her stead is walking free.
We may never know whether Frances was innocent or not. Ultimately, however, that should not be the point. Frances' death (or the death of the person who's execution Frances might have been asked to watch were she the victim instead of the condemned) served no purpose, guilty or not. Frances' death was not necessary even if she was guilty. Frances' death, like every other killing on death row, was a statement society did not need. Who did Frances Newton's death bring closure for? As Amnesty International asks "Why do we kill to show others that killing is wrong?" Its bad public policy to kill anyone. Its especially bad public policy to kill a possibly innocent individual.
This obituary has not even touched on the fact that Frances Newton was a black woman. I wonder how hard it was for a black woman accused of killing her black husband to get a "fair" trial with an "impartial" jury in Harris County, Texas in 1987. How hard is it in 2005? How hard is it anywhere in the United States?
Frances Newton died at shortly after 6:00 p.m. on September 14th. She was 40 years old at the time of her death.
Texas Executes Woman for Killing Family