After her November 2016 election as district attorney of Harris County, Kim Ogg said she would reduce the use of the death penalty with all its racial discrimination and unfairness.
Five and one-half years into the Ogg administration has taught everyone associated with the county’s criminal justice system not to listen to what the district attorney says but what she does.
The hallmark of her administration lies not in her ability to reduce racism and unfair practices. Instead, it lies in her galling determination to break every public promise she has made about improving the quality of justice in Harris County. She was elected as a reform Democrat but has run the office like a “tough on crime” Republican.
574 Executions in Texas Since 1976
Texas has executed 574 people since its resumed executions after a 1976 U.S. Supreme Court decision that effectively lifted a decade-long moratorium on the death penalty in the U.S. Five of those executions were carried out during the Ogg administration. Two of the executed men were 61-year-old Robert Mitchell Jennings and 78-year- old Carl Wayne Buntion.
Jennings, a Black man, was convicted for killing a Black Houston police officer named Elston Howard in July 1988. He had been on Texas’ death row for more than three decades by the time he was executed on January 30, 2019.
His execution at the Huntsville prison was attended by 100 police officers and a group of motorcyclists who find perverse pleasure in attending executions. The pro-death penalty bikers enjoy revving their engines so the roar can be heard in the death chamber at the moment of execution.
Buntion, a White man, was convicted for the killing of a White police officer named James Irby in June 1990. Like Jennings, Buntion had also been on Texas’ death row for more than three decades at the time of his April 21, 2022 execution.
And like Jennings, Buntion’s execution was attended by a large contingent of police officers and the same engine-revving, revenge-loving motorcyclists. The difference between the two executions is that DA Ogg attended the execution of the 78-year-old wheel-chaired bound Buntion, who was reportedly suffering from pneumonia at the time of his execution.
DA Ogg apparently saw more political mileage to be gained by attending the latter.
Then there are the executions of 57-year-old Rick Rhoades on September 28, 2021, and 55-year-old Anthony Shore on January 18, 2018.
Anthony Shore was a serial killer who, between September 1986 and July 1995, kidnapped and murdered five women—three of whom were teenagers, and one nine years old. At least three of the victims were sexually assaulted. All of the victims were Hispanic.
In a statement issued before Shore’s execution, DA Ogg told Houstonians:
“Anthony Shore is the worst of the worst. He’s a serial killer. He took pleasure in his victims’ suffering. He’s appropriate for the death penalty.”
Yet Ogg did not attend Shore’s execution as she did in Buntion’s execution.
Rick Rhoades was convicted for the double murders of two brothers in September 1991 during a burlary of a home. He had spent nearly 30 years on Texas’s death row before his execution.
In a statement issued after Rhoades’ execution, DA Ogg told Houstonians:
“We hope the [victims’] family finds peace after nearly 30 years of waiting for justice for their loved ones. The death penalty should be reserved for the worst of the worst, and a Harris County jury determined long ago that this defendant fits the bill. Let us honor the memory of the victims …, and never forget that our focus has and always will be on the victims.”
Raymond Riles spent 45 years on Texas’ death row for the murder of a used car dealership owner named John Thomas Henry in December of 1974. In February 2021, DA Ogg took the extraordinary step of telling the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that Riles deserved a new punishment hearing. The Court granted the new hearing, and Riles was resentenced to life imprisonment.
In a February 2021 statement, DA Ogg told Houstonians:
“Our prosecutors notified the crime victim’s son, and these cases are heartbreaking because the process takes so long that laws can and sometimes do change, and it just prolongs justice and healing for the families of the dead. Nevertheless, we believe the law requires a new punishment hearing for Riles.”
It can be assumed the victim’s son was not pleased with DA Ogg’s political statement about how “heartbreaking” the Riles case is.
In August 2008, the victim’s son sent this email to Houston’s KPRC TV following a news story about the case:
“As the only child of John Henry, I have grown accustomed to Houston news channels running Raymond Riles’ story at least once every decade since his crime. I grow more disgusted with our penal and judicial system every time his story airs. In a cowardly action, Riles shot my father in the back of the head and left him to die. This never would have been possible, except that our court system paroled him early from a prior conviction. Riles is nothing more than a career criminal and yet HIS story is the one that news agencies deem worthy of reporting.
“Your stories only breed sympathy for people who have participated in horrendous crimes. Whether Riles is mentally insane or not, he deserves to (and should) die for his crimes…”
And finally, there is the case of Danny Bible who was executed on June 27, 2018—more than 39 years after he raped and murdered a woman in his residence in May 1979. He had a prior murder conviction.
DA Ogg Takes Steps to Accelerate Execution
Today, at this very moment, DA Ogg has embroiled her office in yet another controversy with a Harris County criminal court judge.
This time the ire of the district attorney is directed at Judge Natalia Cornelio, who refused to immediately sign a death warrant and set an execution date for Arthur Brown.
Judge Cornelio declined to immediately sign the warrant because Mr. Brown was not represented by counsel and because he suffered from a severe intellectual developmental disorder that had not been previously investigated by his trial lawyers. Basically, the judge tapped the brakes toward the execution of a defendant to allow counsel to be appointed to investigate a potentially meritorious constitutional claim that would bar execution.
Following a recent court hearing, one of Ogg’s assistants, Josh Reiss, publicly accused Judge Cornelio of refusing to fulfill her legal obligation to sign the death warrant.
Ogg’s office has filed a writ of mandamus with the Court of Criminal Appeals to force the judge to set an execution date immediately.
In a disgusting attempt to inflame support for her rush to execute Brown, Ogg’s office took the unusual step of attaching graphic images of the victims’ deceased bodies to the filings in the appeals court to make them easily accessible to the public and inflame opinion against the judge. DA Ogg’s continued march to bully the courts represents a dangerous, unconstitutional usurpation of the judicial function.
It has become a familiar pattern with DA Ogg’s office that when they cannot convince or bully criminal court judges into ruling in their favor, she takes to the local media airwaves to criticize the judges for being too “liberal.”
Our problem with DA Ogg is this: if she is going to trot herself to the death house at Huntsville to witness the execution, and join in the circus of “bikers for the death penalty,” she should be honest in her political rhetoric. She is not a modern, progressive, reform-minded district attorney but rather a throwback to tough-on-crime prosecutors willing to use death penalty cases for cheap political points.
Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg has coined her own definition of “reform,” and it has nothing to do with decency, fairness, and equity.