Execution Moratorium Called

On the eve of his scheduled execution, anti-death penalty supporters are calling for Peter Cantu's date with death be stopped. They made their plea at a memorial for his victims today. Pat Hernandez has the story.

It was one of the most shocking crimes in modern Houston history. Jennifer Ertman and Elizabeth Pena were raped and murdered during a gang initiation back in 1993. Of the six gang members convicted in their murders, two have been executed while two others had their death sentences commuted to life. Another gang member who was 14 at the time of the killings, is serving a forty year sentence. That leaves Peter Cantu, the gang leader who orchestrated the murders. At a memorial marker erected at Waltrip High for students Ertman and Pena, anti death penalty advocates like Scott Cobb with the Texas Moratorium Network, say Cantu's life should be spared.

Ron Carlson, whose sister was murdered by Karla Faye TuckerRon Carlson, brother of murder victim Deborah Thornton

"I am a graduate of Waltrip High School. I was personally affected by this neighborhood incident, and so that's why I think it was important to come out here and talk, because I know a lot of people in the neighborhood, I'm sure 80 percent are saying, execute them, no problem. There are a minority of view points that would say that all executions including Peter Cantu's, should be stopped."

He says the state's attitude toward capital punishment is changing.

"We know that in the entire state of Texas, if you give people the option, do you want a death penalty system, or do you prefer a system where the people can be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole? Then it splits fifty-fifty."

Ron Carlson's sister Deborah Thornton, was murdered by Karla Faye Tucker ten years before Ertman and Pena. He was hoping for closure when he witnessed Tucker's execution.

"Didn't happen. It is my hope that the Ertman and the Pena families can find peace in their lives. It is also my hope that the Ertman and the Pena families can find it in their heart to forgive. If they can do that, I believe they'll find that it will give them a greater sense of peace."

Andy Kahan : "To this day when you mention Ertman-Pena to people in this city, they stop and they shutter and they say I remember what happened to those two girls."

Crime victim's advocate Andy Kahan says the Ertman Pena murders helped change state policy.

"This is the first time that a victim was ever allowed to deliver what's commonly called a 'victim impact' statement in a courtroom. It's common today but back then, no one had ever done it until Judge Bill Harmon allowed Randy Ertman to have his say. The other significant change that the Ertman-Pena case lead to was the right for victim's families to witness the execution of the person that murdered one of their loved ones at their own request."

Kahan credits the parents of Ertman and Pena for turning a horrific tragedy into a positive for all crime vicvtims. He says he will be in Huntsville to witness Cantu's execution.

Pat Hernandez, KUHF News.
Bio photo of Pat Hernandez

Pat Hernandez

Reporter

Pat Hernandez is a general assignments reporter who joined the KUHF news staff in February of 2008...