Living Texas Death row, By Gerald Marshall

By Gerald Marshall


I never forget the first feeling that I had when I came to death row. It was an experience of different realms. No one was touching me but it felt as if I was burning. The sensation was all over my skin. Like someone had a hold of my soul. It’s something I have never experienced before.

I was led off a white van similar to a minivan that people use for their families. It had no windows, all I could do was look at myself through a mirror that I didn’t have. I thought to myself over and over “How did I end up here?” Then, “When would they kill me?” I kept asking myself this over and over as the tires rolled towards Polunsky Unit, where they house death row prisoners.

The way to the prison for prisoners is through the back of the prison. It passes over water puddles and rocks. It makes the van shake forcing you to brace yourself because there is no seat belt. When we finally get to the back of the prison there is a convoy waiting for me.

They shackled me from my waist to my ankles to make sure that I did not run. I doubt if I would have tried that because the guards were heavily armed. The shackles make you have to bend over to walk like someone in pain. The convoy is all white with country accents. “I’m in a small country town” I thought when I talked to them. There were white guards and black prisoners everywhere.

I went to a small room to be orientated. The warden at the time over death row was black. He, like many other wardens used death row as a stepping stone to running his own prison. Once you’ve run death row you can run any prison. In reality it is more dangerous in regular prison because the prisoners are not isolated. We went through a ritual where they asked me all types of questions and then took photos of my tattoos so that they can be on file. They also began to ask me questions about my case but I didn’t answer those. After I was done they escorted me to a pod.

Death row is comprised of six pods. A through F pods. I was escorted to B-Pod. While there, I saw a few blacks working the pod. The guard looked at me and said that I’d be recreating outside. Two prisoners played basketball on the recreation yard. Each prisoner had his own recreation yard. All prisoners on Texas death row are isolated.

The first time I said something on death row was when I saw the cage they were putting me in. The prisoner who worked with the guard – They are called SSI’s – was taking some magazines from the cage which had been left by the prisoner before me. I stopped him from taking the magazines. The guard smiled and said “Oh, I guess he can talk.” He told the prisoner to leave the magazines there in the cage.

The pods are built in six different sections, A through F sections. Each section has a day room in it. The day room is bigger than the cage. It has nothing but a pull up bar and a table in it. Prisoners have the option of going to recreation every day for two hours. The other two days – the weekend—we are stuck in our cages all day.

The way the sections are built you can communicate with other prisoners all day. There are fourteen cages in each section. Some prisoners play chess all day long. It can sound like a recreation yard with kids.

One can go outside to the recreation yard too. There is two basketball goals on each side with a ball on each side. There is a game we play called “run and shoot.” It consists of each player running from corner to corner shooting the ball. The first person to make ten shots wins. There is two hours for recreation so in between that time you see how many games you can run. It’s a pretty good work out, especially during the summer. You can also talk on a personal level outside.

During the day time they feed us lunch and dinner around running recreation. Because we are on death row we are always escorted in handcuffs. There is also two guards with us. Because the guards are taking prisoners to and from recreation the time fluctuates from pod to pod on when we get fed. Sometimes it is 9 or 11am. Other times it can get later than that.

Food is a constant problem on death row. It’s not just death row though. Can you imagine having to feed thousands of people every day? You’re not trying to feed these people the best food, you’re just trying to get them fed. So this makes the food naturally uneatable most times. It varies from being undercooked, which, is okay because you can heat it up in your hot pot. Sometimes it is spoiled. They are most times trying to feed some leftovers from a week ago. Often the food is heated up spoiled and then delivered that way, the smell is horrible. Most times we have to force them to get us better food because the ranking officers smell the food and won’t allow them to serve it.

Breakfast is fed at three in the morning. The guards who have no morals about themselves know that many of the prisoners are asleep so they go by their cages without feeding them. Forcing the prisoners to miss breakfast.

These are regular things that we go through on Texas death row and get from the state. Then there is the commissary. It is a state run store where they allow us to buy things. This is optional and only available if the prisoner has funds in his trust fund account.

I would say that death row is a mental war that you go through with yourself and the administration. You lose some battles and you win some battles. You remember at all times, that you have to make sure that they don’t kill you.





By Gerald Marshall

Tears fall, in the midst
Of dry heaves.
Footsteps scuffle
Around the moving light
That pierces the door creases
Lighting up the tears
That fall
From the next man
To be executed.

This poem is about a prisoner on Texas Death Row scheduled to be executed. The light is from the guards flash light as they check on him to make sure he is not killing himself.


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Erick Davila

Erick Davila

Death row inmate scheduled for execution files appeal claiming he was high at time of slaying

With weeks to go before his scheduled execution, defense lawyers for Erick Davila are arguing that he should be spared death because he was high at the time of the slaying and didn’t intend to kill more than one person.

The Fort Worth man was convicted of killing a rival gang member’s mother and a 5-year-old girl at a children’s birthday party in 2008. He was sentenced to death in 2009 and is slated for execution on April 25. But his lawyers have long argued that Annette and Queshawn Stevenson were not his intended victims, according to court filings.

Instead, lawyers say in a Tarrant County court filing, he was aiming for rival gang member Jerry Stevenson. When he opened fire on a children’s birthday party, he missed his mark – in part due to bad vision, lawyers say – and killed a grandmother and young child instead.

He was sent to death row for killing more than one person – but his attorney, Seth Kretzer, says he only meant to kill the one. And killing just one person is not necessarily a death-eligible crime.

“The jury never learned that at the time of the shooting Davila was heavily intoxicated, likely to the degree that it would have rendered him temporarily insane,” Kretzer wrote in a court filing.

In February, lawyers questioning Davila’s codefendent learned that the convicted triggerman was on a cocktail of PCP, weed, and ecstasy the day of the crime.

“The fact that Davila was high on such powerful chemicals at the time of the shooting would have been the perfect compliment to Davila’s defense that he did not intend to harm any women or children,” Kretzer wrote.

But, he argued, due to bad jury instructions, the jury didn’t realize that they needed to find Davila intended to kill two people to find him guilty of capital murder in the case presented. Defense lawyers at the time failed to raise the issue.

Now, in a petition filed last week requesting a stay, Kretzer raises claims from bad lawyering to withheld evidence to bad jury instruction and targets Texas’s capital sentencing scheme as unconstitutional.


Juan Castillo

Juan Castillo

San Antonio lovers’ lane killer gets fourth execution date in less than a year

A San Antonio killer this month was handed his fourth execution date in less than a year.

Juan Castillo, who was sent to death row for his role in a 2003 lovers’ lane slaying, is now slated to die by lethal injection on May 16, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Last year, his string of death dates were called off for everything from Hurricane Harvey to a witness who recanted.

But before the setting of the most recent date, defense attorneys say they never got to weigh in.

Instead, when the appeals court bounced the case back to the trial court in November to examine false testimony claims, prosecutors filed a brief – and the judge decided against Castillo one day later, according to court filings.

“It’s really unusual and strange,” said Amanda Marzullo, executive director of Texas Defender Services, which is representing Castillo. “It’s a clear due process violation.”

The Bexar County District Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The 36-year-old condemned man was originally convicted in 2005 of killing teenage rapper Tommy Garcia Jr. during a botched robbery.

Castillo’s then-girlfriend lured the targeted man to a secluded spot with the promise of sex and drugs. But while the two were making out in his Camaro, Castillo and another man attacked.

Wearing ski masks and carrying weapons, they dragged Garcia from the car – and Castillo shot him seven times in the process.

Castillo was one of four people convicted in the crime, but the only one hit with a capital sentence. During the punishment phase, he represented himself.

He was found guilty on what would have been his victim’s 21st birthday.

Last May, he was scheduled for execution, but saw the date cancelled after prosecutors failed to give 90 days notice to the defense. In September, he was scheduled to die, but the date was pushed back again, this time in light of the impacts of Hurricane Harvey.

Then in November, his December execution date was canceled and his case remanded to the trial court in light of claims of false testimony from a jailhouse snitch.

“I described what Juan Castillo supposedly told me about the capital murder,” former Bexar County inmate Gerardo Gutierrez wrote in 2013, according to court records. “Juan Castillo never told me this information about this capital murder case. This testimony was untrue about Juan Castillo. I made up this testimony to try to help myself.”

Although prosecutors argued that appeals based on the 2013 revelation were procedurally barred and not credible, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals looked to a 2009 decision mandating that – whether or not it’s intentional – the use of false testimony violates due process. Accordingly, on Nov. 28, the appeals court sent the case back to Bexar County.

There, the trial court on Dec. 1 decided that Gutierrez’s testimony wasn’t what made the difference in Castillo’s conviction, as everything he testified to matched statements from other witnesses. The decision came one day after the judge voluntarily recused himself and was replaced.

Although the prosecution was able to file its recommended findings before the court ruled, the defense was not able to do the same.

Now, Castillo’s defense has plans to file a motion for reconsideration, Marzullo said.

The next scheduled execution in Texas is Thomas “Bart” Whitaker, a Sugar Land man convicted in a murder-for-hire plot to kill his own family. If his appeals fail, the 38-year-old will be the fourth Texas man executed this year.

Rosendo Rodriguez

Rosendo Rodriguez

Texas executes Lubbock “suitcase killer”

Rosendo Rodriguez was executed Tuesday for killing a Lubbock prostitute and tossing her body in a dumpster in a suitcase. His final appeals questioned the medical examiner’s testimony that she was sexually assaulted before her death.

The man dubbed Lubbock’s “suitcase killer” was executed Tuesday evening, one day after his 38th birthday.

Rosendo Rodriguez was sentenced to death in the 2005 murder and sexual assault of Summer Baldwin, a newly pregnant prostitute, according to court records. Baldwin’s body was found folded inside a suitcase at the city’s landfill. Rodriguez was also implicated in the 2004 murder of 16-year-old Joanna Rogers, whose body was also found in a suitcase in the landfill after Baldwin was discovered.

Just minutes before his execution was scheduled at 6 p.m., the U.S. Supreme Court denied his final appeal, and the process to put Rodriguez to death began on time. He was placed on a gurney, connected to an IV, and uttered his last words while his family and the parents of Baldwin and Rogers watched on through a glass pane.

In his final statement, Rodriguez called for an investigation into the Lubbock County district attorney and medical examiner, saying they were involved in thousands of wrongful convictions. He also called for a boycott of Texas businesses until the death penalty is stopped.

“Yesterday was my birthday. Today is the day I join my God and father,” he added, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. “The state may have my body but not my soul.”

He died at 6:46 p.m., 22 minutes after a lethal dose of pentobarbital was injected into his veins. He was the fourth person executed in Texas this year and the seventh in the nation.

Lubbock County Criminal District Attorney Matt Powell told The Texas Tribune on Monday that he found no joy in the execution but that Rodriguez was a man who deserved the ultimate punishment.

“Who sticks a human being in a suitcase and throws them out with the trash?” Powell questioned. “This was a guy that, left unchecked, was going to hurt somebody else again and was going to continue to terrorize women.”

At the time of Baldwin’s death, Rodriguez was in Lubbock training for the U.S. Marines, according to court opinions. He was tied to the murder after investigators found the suitcase she was in had been purchased with Rodriguez’s debit card. Further investigation found Baldwin’s blood and a tag for the suitcase in his hotel room.

Rodriguez told police the two had consensual sex but that when he fought with her over her drug use afterward, she lunged at him with knives and he put her in a chokehold, accidentally killing her. But the medical examiner, Sridhar Natarajan, said Baldwin’s body showed injuries consistent with sexual assault, upping the charges and making the murder case eligible for the death penalty.

Prosecutors offered to accept a life sentence instead of the death penalty if Rodriguez also confessed to the murder of Rogers the year before and helped authorities find her body, according to court documents. He was already connected to her disappearance before Baldwin’s murder based on internet chats and phone records. Rodriguez confessed to Rogers’ murder and told investigators he had also put her body in a dumpster in a suitcase. She was eventually found in the same landfill as Baldwin.

But before the court appearance to finalize the plea deal, Rodriguez backed out, claiming he couldn’t understand anything he was being told by his attorney. Though they couldn’t use the Rogers confession, Lubbock County prosecutors decided to seek the death penalty in Baldwin’s case.

He was found guilty of capital murder and, during his punishment trial, though attorneys presented evidence of an abusive, alcoholic father and his family portrayed Rodriguez as a prior Texas Tech student who could have become president, ex-girlfriends and other women said he raped or assaulted them. The jury chose death.

But Rodriguez’s lawyers fought to the end. His last appeal argued that a recent lawsuit calls into question the credibility of the medical examiner’s testimony that defined the Baldwin case as sexual assault — which is what made the case a death penalty case. (Prosecutors at trial also argued Rodriguez’s case could be death-penalty eligible because Baldwin was pregnant, but the argument was pushed aside in appeals because there was no indication Rodriguez knew she was pregnant.)

Last year, Natarajan and Lubbock County paid $230,000 in settling a wrongful termination lawsuit after a former employee claimed she was fired for speaking out on the medical examiner’s habit of leaving the office, delegating autopsies to unqualified staff and then signing off on them. Rodriguez’s lawyer, Seth Kretzer, said Monday the lawsuit and settlement raised suspicion of Natarajan’s testimony in Baldwin’s case and should have been evaluated in federal court.

“At the minimum, we should be allowed to take the good doctor’s deposition and find out if he actually did the autopsy or not,” Kretzer said.

Natarajan, who still serves as the county’s chief medical examiner, did not return phone calls Monday. But Powell said the appeal was nonsense, adding that he was there while Natarajan performed Baldwin’s autopsy.

“I have no trouble with his lawyers exhausting every avenue that they can, but there’s no question that the right guy got the punishment, and he got the punishment he deserved,” he said.


By Gerald Marshall


I can’t breathe
Because Texas death row air
Is contaminated
by TB.

I can’t breathe
Because Texas is on my back
Choking the life from me.

I can’t breathe
Because this small American cop
Decided to choke the life from me.
The hatred in his eyes
Reminded me of evil
Slaves endured during captivity.

I can’t breathe but I try
Because I remember Eric Garners

  • This poem is dedicated to Eric Garner. Legacy is the name of Garner’s young daughter who will never know her father.


By Marcus Garner

With the touch of a breeze
you came to me,
embraced with an
electrifying energy – you
captured me
with the grace bestowed
queens _ you restored
given to me by the heart of
supplying the missing
piece to my puzzle on why
“God created me”
I see when I think of you
how truthful it is how
deeply connected 2 people
can be,
for the magnetism
raidratiny within you,
draws me _ like the love of
God _ draws the children,
even though we can be
separated by distance _ I
always feel the essence of
your presence _ like the
beautiful aromas
escaping your
grandmothers late hon,
you make an everlasting
blessing me with the
completeness of peace until
embraces me,
with the innocence of a
child you believed in me
inspiring in me the
strength to believe that
exist a reality to my
you ignite something within
me that urges me to
Higher they into to
happiness paths never
before _ so maybe now
you can understand why I
you so deep _ it feels like
we were meant to be …
Like God whispering
fulfilled prophecy …



By Marcus Warner


If I reach out 4 you _ would you reach 4 me?

While knowing he steps I took to get here held
no beauty,
claiming perfection _ is something I’ve never done,
but because I’m flawed _ am I never to be loved,

A man alone can only be so strange,
before life claims him … mind, body soul,
am I wrong to desire a home I wish my own,
with family to love me in turn,

There’s so much of me _ nobody seems to know
because to do so they must be prepared to face the
infinite love consuming my soul,
I realized now _ how afraid love makes people,
because it demands more from an individual on a deeper
level than just a casual effort,

Venturing out into unknown realms takes grounded
so reaching for me _ is me asking “ you” to believe that
I have what it takes …  2 love someone unconditionally …