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Death row prisoner Howard Guidry

Published Jun 4, 2006 1:52 PM

When an 18-year-old African American from Abbeville, La., named Howard Guidry was arrested in Houston on a murder charge in 1995, he was not given the kid glove treatment that Enron criminals Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling have received.

Howard Guidry

He was interrogated, berated, mistreated and called the racist “n” word. He was told exactly how lethal injections work, and that he was on a fast track for being executed if he did not confess to a capital murder he knew nothing about. He kept asking to call his mother and a lawyer but was not allowed to make a phone call.

Houston cops told him that his attorney wanted him to sign a confession in exchange for a 25-year prison sentence. He was shown statements from two people who said he had committed a murder for hire, and the cops said they would testify against him.

With no counsel, this scared young man did as he thought his attorney wanted him to do. He signed a confession.

His father, Alvin Guidry, was a truck driver who couldn’t afford to post his son’s bail. Ken Lay’s family just posted a $5 million bail for him.

Snapshots taken with
a cell phone. We are
using them despite the
poor quality because
they show the hard work
and solidarity of those
fighting to save
Guidry’s life.

Shown are Joyce Guidry,
mother of the prisoner,
and supporters distributing
literature about his
unjust case at the
Texas Death Penalty
Abolition Movement table
during the Pan African
Culture Festival in the
end of May.

Guidry didn’t have well-known, high-powered lawyers like Lay’s, but rather court- appointed attorneys. While awaiting sen ten cing, Guidry did not get three months to vaca tion in Vail, Colo., as Lay is now. He became another poor Black youth railroaded to death row after being found guilty. Unlike Lay and Skilling, however, Guidry was totally innocent.

The only evidence used to convict Guidry was the coerced confession and hearsay testimony from the suspected killer’s girlfriend. Both pieces of evidence were thrown out in September 2003 by Federal Judge Vanessa Gilmore, who ordered Harris County in Hou ston to release or retry Guidry within 180 days.

The State of Texas appealed Gilmore’s 2003 ruling, but it was upheld by the Fifth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals in New Orleans. This past spring, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case, letting Gilmore’s ruling in favor of Guidry stand.

Yet Guidry is still waiting for the Houston district attorney to either retry or release him.

Learning about revolution

During his decade on death row, Howard Guidry began to study with experienced activists like Emerson “Young Lion” Rudd, Ponchai “Kamau” Wilkerson and Harvey “Tee” Earvin. He joined the Panthers United for Revolu tionary Education and was named its Minister of Defense.

In 1998, Guidry participated with six others in a failed escape from the Ellis Unit Prison outside of Huntsville, Texas. The body of one of the men, Martin Gurule, was found in a river several days later.

In 1999 death row was moved from Huntsville to a super-maximum prison in Livingston. According to first-hand accounts, inmates suffer from total isolation and sensory deprivation, and as a result often lose their grip on reality. They live behind a solid steel door. There are no church services, no television and no work program. Food and medical care are inadequate. They go to rec rea tion alone in a fenced area like a dog run.

The daily degradation, gassings, slammings, harassment and racist taunts destroy spirits and minds. Several have com mitted suicide. Some give up their appeals. Many are just too mentally ill to even function.

In early 2000, Guidry and another Pan ther, Ponchai “Kamau” Wilkerson, decided to take a guard hostage to call attention to the horrific conditions. They demanded to speak with community leaders.

Kofi Taharka, National Black United Front chair, Houston Chapter; Deloyd Parker, executive director of S.H.A.P.E. Center; and Njeri Shakur, Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement leader, met with Guidry and Wilk erson as well as Livingston’s warden to discuss conditions. The hostage was safely released but conditions only slightly improved.

Six years later, the court has set a new trial for July 17. Guidry is appealing for support.

“I don’t want my activism on death row to be used by the media to convict me before I ever get to court. I had good reason to attempt to escape. I had no faith in the justice system. I have seen my comrades executed who were innocent, like Shaka San kofa and Odell Barnes,” Guidry told Workers World. Wilkerson was also executed.

“When we took the guard hostage, we had no intention of hurting her. And we didn’t. But we could not sit by and watch other men on the row be tortured by the isolation and begin to lose their minds. We knew we had to take drastic action. We did it for the 450 other men being tortured and forced to live like animals.”

“I am charged with capital murder and I had nothing to do with this crime. I am innocent, and if justice is finally done, I will walk out of here!” Guidry said.

Like Malcolm X and George Jackson, Guidry has educated himself in prison. He is 30 years old now, and has studied history and revolutionary theory. He possesses courage and integrity.

Guidry’s goal, if he wins his release, is to fight for change for all poor and oppressed people, not only in the criminal justice system but also in capitalist society in general.

Send letters of support to:

Howard Guidry SPN # 01446317
Harris County Jail, 701 N. San Jacinto St.
Houston, TX 77002

(No cards, books, postcards, newspapers or magazines —but articles cut from papers or magazines, photos, and information off the Internet are okay.)