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After new trial

Howard Guidry sent back to death row

Published Mar 8, 2007 10:15 PM

Political activist Howard Guidry is back on Texas death row—after having won a federal-court appeal that ordered the Houston trial court to release or retry him.

Howard Guidry

Guidry won a new trial because Houston police had denied him the right to see an attorney when he was arrested for capital murder, and tricked him into signing what he later discovered was a confession of guilt.

Guidry’s family, friends and supporters felt that finally justice would be done in the February retrial and Guidry would walk out of court a free person.

But according to Njeri Shakur, a leader of the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement:

“Texas refused to let that happen. Using lie after lie and even paying two witnesses for testimony, Houston District Attorney Kelly Siegler, with the cooperation of a compliant retired judge, knowingly sent this innocent man back to death row. Because Howard had become politicized during his years on death row, they could not allow him to be free, despite his innocence.”

During his decade on death row, Guidry educated himself, and studied with experienced political activists like Emerson “Young Lion” Rudd, Ponchai Kamau Wilkerson and Harvey “Tee” Earvin. He joined the Panthers United for Revolutionary Education.

A little more than a year after arriving on death row, Guidry attempted to escape with six other men. When Workers World asked him why he would try to escape if he was innocent, he said: “I kept seeing the racism and the unfairness in the criminal justice system. I knew I was innocent but I learned that didn’t matter. They wanted to kill me so I thought I had to take the chance of escaping.”

In late 1999, Texas death row was moved to a new super-maximum prison where conditions went from bad to worse. The 400 men were put into a sterile environment of isolation and sensory deprivation. After being there just a few days, Guidry wrote to Shakur: “Sister, this new prison is terrible. The conditions are so bad that I fear it will totally destroy our minds and spirits and our will to live.”

In early 2000, Guidry and another Panther activist, Wilkerson, decided drastic action had to be taken to try to call attention to the oppressive conditions. Risking their own lives, they took a guard hostage to call attention to the horrific conditions, and demanded to speak with community leaders.

Kofi Taharka, chair of the National Black United Front-Houston Chapter, S.H.A.P.E. Center Executive Director Deloyd Parker, and Shakur went into the prison that night. They met with Guidry and Wilkerson as well as the warden and discussed conditions. The hostage was safely released but conditions only slightly improved. Wilkerson was later executed.

While awaiting a new trial for almost a year, Guidry was in the Harris County Jail in downtown Houston, where he was able to meet and become friends and comrades with many of the city’s activists.

His political poetry was read at local poetry slams and on the Pacifica radio station. His message for the annual commemoration on the anniversary of Shaka Sankofa’s (aka Gary Graham) execution was read on June 22 at the NBUF’s office.

Guidry wrote a commentary on July 4 entitled “What to the Prisoner is Your Fourth of July?” that was widely disseminated. His taped greeting was played to the crowd of hundreds at the annual Texas March to Stop Executions in Austin last October.

Guidry became a part of the revolutionary movement for social change from his cell at the county jail. It is widely believed that this is the real reason why the ruling elite of Houston and Texas unjustly returned him to death row.

Hours after his new death sentence, Guidry told Workers World: “Please thank all the comrades for their support. I appreciate it. And tell them that this is not over. I remain strong and I will walk out of here, just not today. We have more reasons for appeal now and eventually I will win. Until then I will continue to fight from the inside, but I will get out.”

Go to www.workers.org to read more on Guidry’s case.