We Protected Terrance from Society’s Harshest Punishment

Dear Friends:

We have saved another life. Because of Texas Defender Service’s years-long, intricate investigation, a Texas District Attorney has agreed to drop capital charges against our client Terrance. Terrance’s is the 33rd life we have saved from the death penalty in four years.

I have shared Terrance’s full story with you at the end of this email—a story that our team assembled in partnership with people who know and love Terrance. It is a story of 1990s New Orleans, of the crack epidemic, of Hurricane Katrina, and of our country’s eviscerated mental-health system.

Terrance was charged with capital murder for allegedly killing a woman while he was experiencing delusions and hallucinations.But Terrance’s full human story is more complicated than a single crime committed in the midst of a mental-health crisis.

And Terrance’s story shows what we know to be true about the death penalty: that it disproportionately targets people of color and manifests the racism that has been a part of our country since it was founded.

At Texas Defender Service, we believe in human stories. We believe in the power of stories to reveal how our society is hurting and how our society might heal. We believe in the power of stories to help us end excessive punishment and guide us toward a future where we address violence and crime in ways that support historically marginalized communities rather than enhance their pain. We believe in humanity and we believe in hope.

Thank you to you, our friends and supporters, forbelieving in us.

With gratitude,

Burke Butler
Executive Director
Texas Defender Service


This is Terrance’s Story

Photo Credit: Andrew Callaghan
For Terrance, childhood was a struggle for survival. One of six children, Terrance was raised in Hollygrove, a historically Black neighborhood in New Orleans.
Like many other families in Hollygrove, Terrance’s family experienced poverty and racism.

When Terrance was a boy, Hollygrove became afflicted by the crack cocaine epidemic. Like so many others, Terrance’s mother became addicted to drugs, and she spent Terrance’s childhood in and out of jail. Terrance’s father abandoned the family, and Terrance and his siblings bounced between relatives’ homes.

Terrance saw violence everywhere he looked. When he was nine years old, Terrance’s uncle was murdered. When he was ten years old, Terrance’s best friend, an eight-year-old boy, committed suicide. Neighborhood gangs targeted Terrance, bullying and assaulting him.

Terrance’s Unheard Cries for Help
Terrance first started to experience severe mental health symptoms in elementary school. He heard voices and had visual hallucinations and delusions of grandeur. At age 11, he started to contemplate suicide. But Terrance learned to keep his mental-health symptoms to himself. When Terrance asked for help from his family, they told him he was “crazy” and left him alone, even though Terrance’s family had an extensive history of diagnosed bipolar and schizophrenia disorders.

Hurricane Katrina and the Misery of the Superdome

In August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana and devastated New Orleans, the only home Terrance had ever known. Terrance was evacuated to the Superdome with his mother and two siblings. His other brothers and sisters stayed in their home and had to be rescued by a boat when water consumed their house.

Terrance witnessed unspeakable horrors in the Superdome. He saw women and children raped. He saw people survive for days without medicine or food. He saw dead bodies pushed into corners because there was nowhere to bury all of the people who died from injuries or suicide.

For a week, Terrance and his family slept in the Superdome’s stadium seats, waiting for rescue. Male family members took turns staying awake to watch over the women and children.


Facing a New Life in Houston as a Katrina Refugee
Rescue came in the form of an evacuation bus to Houston. The Superdome’s horrors were behind Terrance, but he now faced a new life in an unknown city. Terrance and his family stayed in a Red Cross facility and a hotel before securing Section 8 housing in Houston and moving into a home of their own.

Terrance struggled in his new life. He excelled in sports, but he couldn’t keep up with his school work. His mother drank and verbally abused Terrance, calling him a “bastard” and “no good and worthless” and leaving him and his brother alone for days. Terrance’s mother became so unwell that Terrance felt unsafe in her home and fled.

Homelessness, Mental-Health Crisis, and the Failure of Texas Jails to Act
Terrance’s mental health continued to unravel. He started hearing voices telling him to hurt people. He felt anxious and worried about the voices, but he didn’t know where to turn for help. He smoked kush to try to control the voices in his head. The kush helped with the voices, but it devastated his ability to care for himself. Terrance became homeless. He was repeatedly arrested and jailed for drug use. Although the jails knew Terrance was a drug user, they focused on punishment rather than treatment and care. Corrections officials never connected Terrance to the substance-abuse and mental-health treatment he desperately needed to stop the voices in his head.


The Texas Defender Service team could not go back in time and provide Terrance with the mental-health care he needed. But by sharing Terrance’s human story, we were able to protect him from society’s harshest punishment.

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