Since late 2021, Texas has been working to rehabilitate death row inmates through a new project known as the Faith-Based Program.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice writes that the Faith-Based Program “is based on the belief that individuals, no matter their past, can change if given the right tools and opportunity to do so.”
Inmates and their attorneys have praised the program. They say it’s helping to improve relationships on death row. But that success hasn’t had any noticeable effect on executions. In fact, from late October until mid-November, TDCJ has scheduled lethal injections for three of the Faith-Based Program’s enrollees.
Will Speer, the first of the three, has been spared for now. His Oct. 26 execution was overturned by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to allow more time to examine his claims that prosecutors at his 1997 murder trial withheld evidence and presented false testimony. Speer has resumed his duties as the Inmate Coordinator of the Faith-Based Unit – mentoring fellow inmates, helping to teach classes, and mediating conflicts.
Still facing execution as of this writing is Brent Brewer, scheduled to die on Thursday, Nov. 9. Brewer argues that an expert at his murder trial – Austin doctor Richard Coons – was wrong when he promised Brewer would be dangerous for the rest of his life. “Brent’s 34-year record of non-violence proves that Dr. Coons’ testimony was a fraud,” said Brewer’s attorney, Shawn Nolan, as they were seeking an appeal. Tuesday, the appeals court denied the challenge, so Brewer’s execution will happen as planned, barring intervention from the Supreme Court.
Brewer was admitted into the Faith-Based Program in September of 2022. He has attended 30 hours of classes per week, completed homework, and met with field ministers. “It’s about addictions and toxic behavior,” he said in a five-minute video released to the public last week. “They have a whole different vocabulary, these things they call ‘certain wounds’ when you grow up, like an ‘absent father’ wound and like the ‘loner’ wound that comes with that. I didn’t know any of this language, none of that vocabulary, I’d never read about it. … But these classes teach you how to relate to other people, and how to see yourself, and help you develop a moral compass.”
Brewer is asking the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to commute his sentence to life without parole or at least delay his execution to allow him to complete the Faith-Based Program. He also hopes to apologize to the family members of the man he murdered in Amarillo three decades ago – Robert Laminack.
“The narrative for us being here is that we’re not fixable, or not teachable – that, legally speaking, we’re throwaways,” Brewer said. “But I am sorry for what I did. I don’t even know if they want to hear that but that’s something I would like to tell them personally.”
David Renteria is the third Faith-Based Program enrollee scheduled for execution. His attorneys say he is deeply committed to his Roman Catholic faith and remorseful for his role in the murder of five-year-old Alexandra Flores in El Paso in 2001. The Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty recently wrote in a message to its supporters that, “in his over twenty years of incarceration, Renteria has been a model inmate who has never once committed a violent or aggressive act.”
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