HOUSTON, Texas – It has been nearly two months since the Texas Board of Pardons and Lyrics, in a surprising and unanimous decision, recommended that George Floyd be pardoned for a problematic drug conviction in 2004 in Houston. Gov. Greg Abbott, who has the final say, has since sat on the recommendation without public comment.
For those who hope forgiveness will be granted, the governor’s silence has been deafening.
“I just don’t want this to die on his desk,” said Allison Mathis, the Houston public attorney who filed the request before the parole board. “Up or down, one way or another, just give us an answer. “
Abbott’s office did not respond to questions from the Texas Tribune about Floyd’s case. Mathis said she repeatedly called and emailed the governor’s office without a response.
Floyd, a black man who grew up in Houston, was murdered in May 2020 by a white Minneapolis policeman who knelt on Floyd’s neck long after he passed out. Immediately thereafter, Abbott called Floyd’s murder insane and wrong. He promised change and hailed a potential Texas George Floyd law to prevent police brutality in the state.
Throughout the summer of 2020, however, Floyd’s murder continued to spark a new wave of nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice, and the Houstonian became a symbol of the Black Lives movement. Matter. Calls for widespread change by the US police included efforts to reduce police budgets and shift law enforcement responsibilities to other government programs.
Quickly, Abbott began to advocate for law enforcement funding and “support the blue” while silencing potential changes in policing practices. The state’s George Floyd Act, an omnibus proposal announced by the Texas Legislative Black Caucus unrelated to the governor, failed at the start of the legislature this year. Narrowly focused elements of the larger bill, such as restrictions on strangulation and requirements for officers to provide first aid, were ultimately passed with broad bipartisan support. Abbott did not comment on them when he promulgated them.
As the Republican governor continues to harden on the right while facing conservative primary opponents in his re-election campaign, those pleading for Floyd’s forgiveness believe Abbott’s policies are behind the delay.
“Does he plan to wait until the end of the GOP primaries … when is that safe?” “Asked Cory Session, vice president of the Innocence Project of Texas whose brother, Timothy Cole, is the only person in Texas to have been posthumously pardoned.
Mathis asked the governor to exonerate Floyd of a conviction resulting from an arrest in 2004 after he was discovered to have less than half a gram of crack. The arresting officer Gerald Goines said Floyd gave the drugs to an anonymous person, and Floyd eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 months in state prison. But since a botched and murderous raid in 2019 that led the officer to face a murder charge, Goines has been accused of repeatedly lying or inventing confidential informants to bolster his word against the defendants.
The charges have led Harris County prosecutors to re-examine thousands of old Goines-related convictions, with potentially hundreds to be dismissed, according to The Houston Chronicle. Last June, four drug trafficking convictions were overturned, and two men were declared innocent by the state’s highest criminal court. Mathis said Floyd should also be pardoned, and the Harris County District Attorney agreed, saying Goines was not credible.
“[Goines] invented the existence of a confidential informant who provided crucial evidence to support the arrest and no one bothered to question the word of a veteran police officer against that of a previously convicted black man ” Mathis wrote in his request to the parole board in April.
Aside from Floyd, only two other people were pardoned in Texas after their deaths, according to parole board records. In 2010, Cole was pardoned by Governor Rick Perry more than a decade after his death in prison, falsely accused of rape of Lubbock. Another man confessed to the rape before Cole’s death, but Cole wasn’t ultimately cleared by DNA evidence until 2008.
Perry granted the pardon six days after the council’s recommendation, according to council records. He did so only after Abbott, then Attorney General of Texas, gave the green light for posthumous pardons.
(In 2014, the parole board voted against recommending a pardon for Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed for the deaths of his daughters in a house fire. After his death, the Innocence Project said debunked arson science and a paid prison informant led to Willingham’s wrongful conviction.)
Still, the cases of Cole and Floyd differ considerably. Cole was cleared by DNA evidence, while Floyd’s conviction is linked to ongoing criminal investigations into Goines. Floyd had also pleaded guilty or uncontested to eight other crimes in Houston between 1997 and 2007. Most were for minor offenses like drugs, trespassing and misidentification, but he was also sentenced to five years in prison. after pleading guilty to aggravated theft.
Mathis and Session said they weren’t looking to forgive Floyd for all the crimes, just the Goines-related culprit. Comparing Abbott’s behavior towards his brother Cole and Floyd, Session’s voice hardened with anger and grief. He recalled the speech by the then Attorney General when unveiling a statute for his brother, and how Abbott said Cole would remind him to always seek justice no matter how long it takes .
“Justice delayed is justice denied, and in this case it is denied by Governor Abbott,” Session said.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texatribune.org/2021/11/29/texas-greg-abbott-george-floyd-pardon/.
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