New Braunfels Herald Zeitung (Newspaper) - July 30, 2000, New Braunfels, Texas
Page 8A— Herald-ZeiTUNG — Sunday, July 30, 2000WIVES/From 1A
punishment has been abolished or never existed in modem times.
Brigitte Cantu was 37 when she met her 30-year-old death row husband through a fairly typical route — a pen pals service that matches inmates with sympathetic letter-writers.
“I wrote other pen pals,” Brigitte Cantu said in a telephone interview from her Munich home. “But. w ith Domingo, it was just a better feeling. It was more like a friend.”
The letter writing began nearly IO years after Cantu was sent to death row for the June 25, 1988, brutal sexual assault and murder of Suda Eller Jones, at 94 one of the oldest capital murder victims in history.
“He (Cantu) was a good person,” Brigitte Cantu said. “He changed a lot.”
Brigitte Cantu, who has an 18-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter by two previous marriages (neither to inmates), said she visited two other inmates — one in Texas and one in Mississippi — before deciding on Domingo Cantu in November 1998.
After the marriage, Brigitte Cantu said she flew to Texas every three months, visiting Cantu each time for eight hours during two days.
“Its all a good memory. We got along very well at all times.”
Brigitte Cantu, speaking about her husband, Domingo Cantu Jr.
“It’s all a good memory,” Brigitte Cantu said. “We got along very well at all times.”
Larry Todd, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said the prison system allowed death row visits by family members and spiritual advisers.
“All visitations must be approved by the warden,” Todd said, “and the spiritual adviser must be a legitimate religious adviser. We limit the time unless there’s an execution date set.
When that happens, we are more lenient with visitations.”
Even with a date, inmates and visitors must follow the rules or the inmate risks losing visitation privileges.
“No hugs, no kisses,” Todd said. “These are non-contact visits.”
David Sergi, a San Marcos defense attorney who represented Cantu on appeal of DNA evidence, said Brigitte Cantil
“seemed like a nice enough lady.” But he contends that a “cottage industry” on the fringe of Texas capital punishment is feeding off foreign nationals like her.
“Those of us who do this work get beat up on all sides,” Sergi said. “Then there are people on the side who are taking advantage.”
Other skeptics have expressed concern that the women themselves are working angles that allow them to capitalize on Social Security survivor benefits once the inmates are executed.
Although the government has no method for tracking those cases, a benefits counselor said the money spent on such non-citizen benefits would be minuscule because most death row inmates do not contribute enough to qualify their survivors for substantial benefits. And few death row widows move to this country to assume citizenship.
Ninfa Fuentes, Walker County’s chief deputy clerk, said marrying an inmate involves the simple process of obtaining a notarized affidavit from the inmate agreeing to the union. If the prison warden approves — and he usually does — the bride can file the affidavit in the clerk’s office and secure a “proxy” marriage license.
Fuentes said her office, with jurisdiction over several state prison units around the county seat of Huntsville, handles about 30 proxy marriage licenses per year. But because the licenses only list the prison unit, determining how many of those involve death row inmates would be impossible.
Calculating the number of death row marriages also is complicated by the fact that prospective spouses can obtain proxy statements and licenses from nearly any county clerk in the United States.
Although TDCJ officials do not keep count of proxy marriages, death row chaplain Jim Brazzil said between 15 and 20 percent of the more than 120 executed since 1982 were involved in such relationships.
“Most of them (spouses) are from Europe,” said Brazzil, who once preached at Bulverde Baptist Church but turned to prison work after a 1992 mission trip to the Ukraine. “They are adamant (in their opposition), and they consider the inmates martyrs. They show a lot of compassion and send them money.”
Recently, Brazzil said, a death row widow' began writing intimately to another inmate. If they marry, the widow will become
the first repeat spouse on the row.
Brigitte Cantu said she had no desire to pursue another prison relationship.
“I promised Domingo,” she said. “I won’t do it again.”
Most inmates meet the future proxy brides through networks that facilitate communication through e-mail, Web pages and regular mail.
Texas death row inmates are not permitted the use of the World Wide Web or e-mail but many have proxy supporters on the outside that set up Web pages or post their names and addresses on centralized sites.
Todd said technology and the public’s curiosity were creating increased interest in the seven female death row inmates in Texas. On some Web sites, men seeking a female death row pen pal can find pictures and brief bios of the women.
Most death row marriages end
es which were approved but have not been received.
“We have enough buses for the routes nght now. but we're going to be hurting when we have field trips because we're going to have to pull them out of the routes,” Franklin said.
With the eight additional buses, CISD w ill have a fleet of 147 buses and will need about 114 drivers for those buses.
“We plan to have a full set of drivers by the time school starts,” Franklin said.
The shortage of bus drivers is more than just a local problem. Banners and advertisements for bus drivers are popping up in surrounding counties, including Hays County, and across the state.
“Everybody is feeling the crunch,” Franklin said.
Gary Schlather, transportation and safety director for New Braunfels Independent School District, said the department needed two more drivers for regular bus routes before school starts Aug. 23.
Both Schlather and Franklin said bnnging in new drivers was difficult when other full-time jobs, many w ith better pay, were available.
“There is still a lot of opportunity out there if somebody wants to work," Schlather said.
Franklin said, “It’s a killer. If every transportation department in Texas could ofter full-time, eight-hour jobs, we wouldn’t have a problem.”
Typically, bus drivers work either four and a half to five and a half hours per day.
But. because drivers must work a few hours in the morning and a few hours in the afternoon, it is difficult to find another part-time job to fit within that schedule, Franklin said.
The need for more drivers in C ISD stemmed from growth in the county, which prompted more bus routes, Frankin said. Bus drivers also are leaving the department for full-time jobs.
“They’re taking full-time, eight-hour jobs,” he said. “They’re all looking for full-time jobs, and if they can find them, they move on.”
But, Franklin said applications this year seemed to be picking up
compared to the same time this past year.
“It seems to be loosening up this year,” he said. “We’ve had more applicants coming in than any year in the past when the market has been good for employment.”
Franklin credited the recent interest in bus driving jobs to a pay increase approved this past year.
Starting pay for bus drivers in CISD is SIO per hour.
“I think that's why a lot of people have been coming in. We've gotten people from Seguin, San Marcos and San Antonio who have heard about it,” he said.
“I think that’s one advantage we have right now.”
Schlather said recruiting drivers at NBISD was diff icult because of higher w ages at surrounding school districts.
“We are competition with other school districts, many of them w itll higher starting pay,” Schlather said. “But, I think we have a good working environment here and I think that has allowed us to keep up in the job market.”
NBISD is $7.94, the same as this past year, but the board approved pay raises for current bus drivers.
Schlather said bus drivers who were with the district this past year and returned w ith at least a half a year of experience got a 19-cent an hour raise.
NBISD needs 37 drivers to man about 30 regular bus routes and seven special education bus routes next year, Schlather said.
“We have a couple of cover (permanent substitute) drivers who can help us out in case we don't get anyone for those two empty positions, so we w ill be able to run all the routes (when school starts),” he
Schlather said he wanted to get new people trained as soon as possible to be ready for the first day of school.
Typically, training a bus driver with no experience and getting the proper licensing can take up to four weeks.
“Someone who has some experience and some of the licensing requirements could take a minimum of two weeks w ith several hours of training a day,” he said.”
“We want to make sure the drivers are fully qualified before we put them on the road,” he said.
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in the execution chamber, sometimes with proxy wives joining family members as witnesses.
Earlier this year, inmate Michael McBride was executed for murdering ex-girlfriend Christian Fisher and James Alan Holzler, both 18, outside McBride’s Lubbock residence on October 1985.
McBride went to the death chamber clad in a bright purple shirt and green pants.
His proxy wife, Davina Wilson Steppen, also of Germany, wore a purple summer coat while his father, Thomas McBride of Austin, wore a dark green shirt.
Purple signified McBride’s passion for his proxy wife.
Green was his father’s favorite color.
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