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Roger's history

Who is Roger?

Born in 1964 in Houston, Texas, Roger is an African American who has spent 25 years on death row for a crime which, according to his lawyer and his International Support Group,  (14 individuals in 7 countries) he never committed. His only error is that after 6 hours of Texan-style, tough police questioning during which he repeated constantly that he was innocent, he admitted to the crime committed so as to “cover” his elder brother Charles (who was the real murderer) as he had made a promise to his mother on her death bed that he would take care of his brother. Roger hoped that by admitting to the latter’s crime, this would cause his brother – who at the time was a petty criminal – to come back on the straight path. However, it did not work out that way, and shortly after Roger’s arrest, his brother was killed by the police in another hold-up before Roger even went to trial.

In the Texas justice system, poor Afro-Americans like Roger who cannot pay for a decent lawyer have limited chances of a proper trial. After a totally botched trial (his lawyer, a known alcoholic, regularly fell asleep in the courtroom during his client’s own trial and prepared his “defense” on the basis of the police report falsely accusing Roger), the doors of death row closed behind him. He no longer was Roger W. McGowen, but henceforth simply death row inmate 889.
Plunged in a hell where everything led to hate and despair, he had no idea that his life was to take a totally different direction.
Of course Roger later appealed his case, but he had to come to terms with the fact that the system would do its best to keep him in jail so as to one day execute him. However, years were necessary before he would come to the conclusion that the anger, hate and accusations which gnawed at him were only leading to his own destruction.
So there came a solemn moment in his life when he decided that no circumstance or person would make him succumb to hatred, and that he would attempt to grow through every event in his existence, however painful it was.


This decision changed his life well beyond his hopes. Following a request for correspondents he posted in the Amnesty magazine in the US, little by little people started writing to him and supporting him. One of his correspondents wrote a book of his letters from jail which had an immediate impact on many readers, who started sending in funds for his defense. An international support group was set up. The committee decided to hire a most dedicated and competent lawyer with a long experience in the defense of death row inmates (2006). After six years of appeals, Roger left death row end 2012.
And between the members of Roger’s international support group, the most amazing story of friendship started, all generated by a remarkable man called Roger McGowen, as Roger has an uncanny knack of creating instant links between people who have met him or simply read his story. And this continues today, 15 years after the first book came out (2003).

Legal history

April 1986
Roger is arrested and accused of murder


May 1987
Roger condemned to death in Harris County, Texas


A date of execution is set for Roger


End 1996 
Friends of Roger hire lawyer Charles Taylor who manages to get the date of execution cancelled.


Early 2006: 
Creation of the International Support Group (ISG) founded by Ron and Robin Radford (USA) and Elly and Pierre Pradervand (Switzerland).


April 2006:  
The ISG hires the services of lawyer Anthony Houghton of Houston


2008 : 
A Texan judge suspends Roger’s death sentence. The District Attorney (DA) of Harris County immediately appeals the sentence. Twice a federal court upholds the judge’s sentence.  Finally the DA appeals the sentence to the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. 


November 2012: 
The Supreme Court upholds Roger right to have a new trial, given the serious irregularities of the first trial. Roger is soon after transferred to the county jail of Harris County.

So as to avoid a trial he is not certain to win given, given the extremely tough record of the Harris County court, Roger’s lawyer enters a “plea bargain”, a uniquely American practice whereby Roger accepts, with a very heavy heart, to exchange a new trial with the real possibility of being condemned to death against a life-sentence, with the possibility of parole after 20 years (2036). Harris County, where Roger would have been tried, is the county which, by very far, has executed the most inmates of the whole United States. (This single county has put to death more than any other US State outside Texas, and in recent years every single inmate who appealed his case was re-condemned to death, except one).

July 2016 
Roger is transferred to the Wynne unit prison in Huntsville, Texas, to purge his new sentence.

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