Thursday, July 15, 2004

The highlights...
From the Houston Post...
Actress visits death row inmate
Sarandon meets pen pal, set for execution Aug. 26

...With a brisk walk, actress Susan Sarandon made an unannounced trip Wednesday to Texas to visit her pen pal--a convicted murderer on death row.

She had corresponded with the inmate, James Vernon Allridge III, for several years after buying some of the detailed drawings of flowers and animals he creates with colored pencils.

Prison officials said she had only recently been put on his visitation list, and she would not tip her hand as to why she had come to see Allridge, who is scheduled for execution Aug. 26.

"I'm trying to be as low-profile as possible. It fits the strategy at this time," Sarandon said, declining to comment further. She wore tennis shoes and a loose pants outfit without a belt to avoid setting off the metal detector.

The 41-year-old inmate has spent the past 17 years on death row--much longer than the average inmate, including his older brother, Ronald, who was executed in 1995.

James Allridge was sentenced to death for fatally shooting Fort Worth convenience store clerk Brian Clendennen while robbing the store of $300 in 1985.

"In 1985, the two brothers had gone on a spree of robberies and killings. Each was driving the getaway cars for the other when their capital murders happened," said Mike Parrish, the Tarrant County prosecutor in James Allridge's case.
About Sarandon's visit, Parrish said, "Nothing surprises me anymore. Like all those people from Europe who send (Allridge) money. It's surreal."

On a Web site where Allridge sells his art, he writes about his past and does not deny killing the clerk.
He, along with Atwood (founder of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty) and Sarandon, wants his sentence commuted to life.

"Susan has written to him for a number of years and sees him as a person who has changed and developed. She is impressed by his accomplishments like his art and intelligence," Atwood said.