Thursday, July 29, 2004

'Deadline' on Dateline

If you follow the death penalty issue closely, you know that something unusual is going to happen Friday night. NBC's Dateline will show "Deadline," a two-hour documentary about Gov. George Ryan's decision to commute the sentences of 156 people on Illinois' death row to life in prison. (Ryan pardoned another four people on death row, freeing them immediately, because of factual innocence.)

Today the New York Times looks at this unusual development. And I'll be back either later today or tomorrow with another Deadline-related development...

LOS ANGELES, July 28 — Early this year a group of struggling documentary
filmmakers who had just completed a film about capital punishment borrowed
money from family and friends and used frequent flier miles to buy plane
tickets to Park City, Utah, to enter the Sundance Film Festival.

Katy Chevigny, the co-director and co-producer of the film, "Deadline,"
said, "We tried to make the best film we could, but we actually didn't know
if anybody would ever see the film outside of Sundance."

Ms. Chevigny and her colleagues don't have to worry.

In a highly unusual move for a broadcast network, NBC has purchased the
two-hour documentary for an undisclosed price and will present it on Friday
on "Dateline NBC." Although HBO and other cable networks buy documentaries
at film festivals like Sundance, it is rare for a broadcast network like NBC
to buy a documentary and present it in its entirety, because these networks
have news units themselves. The filmmakers said that about 10 minutes of the
documentary had been trimmed, mostly to make room for commercials.


To read the whole story, go here.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Sweet Home Alabama

So earlier this week I and some of my NCADP colleagues had the good fortune to attend the annual awards luncheon hosted by the Death Penalty Information Center. DPIC uses this event to hand out its Thurgood Marshall Journalism Awards, and it was the third year in a row for me to attend.

The keynote speech was given by this hero in the anti-death penalty movement. His name is Bryan Stevenson. He is the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama, and he has spent his career representing people on death row in their post-conviction appeals. Alabama is an important place to be doing this kind of work; the state is the worst in the U.S. for not supplying lawyers for people on death row. (Currently, 40 people on Alabama’s death row have no lawyers. Some of them could get execution dates soon. According to our legal system, there is no constitutional right to an attorney after you have been convicted.

As DPIC Executive Director Richard Dieter said of Bryan, “Many people talk about the times that are changing. Bryan Stevenson is the one who is helping them change.”

In his speech, Bryan talked a lot about race and the death penalty. He knows a lot about racial discrimination – his grandmother, born in Virginia in the 1880s, was the child of slaves. And certainly racial discrimination plays a role in Alabama: 60 percent of that state’s murder victims are black, yet 85 percent of death sentences handed down in Alabama are given for the murder of a white victim. We’ve seen this same pattern play out in other states as well.

The DPIC awards luncheon was quite moving. One of the other award winners was Sound Portraits Productions, a company that produces special features for, among others, National Public Radio. This company did a piece called “Parents at an Execution.” It focused on the impending execution of Delma Banks Jr. of Texas, who came within 10 minutes of execution last year before the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in. One of the producers recalled Delma’s call to his mother when he found out he had received an execution date. “Momma, I hate to tell you this,” Delma said, “But they want to know who’s gonna attend my execution, they want to know who’s gonna claim my body, they want to know what clothes I’m going to die in and what I want for my last meal.”

Fortunately, Delma – who has a strong innocence case – lives to fight another day.


Monday, July 26, 2004

Updates coming soon!

Friends:

Sorry for the lack of updates. However, we have two exciting updates coming soon.

The first will deal with a really inspiring luncheon I attended Monday that was sponsored by the Death Penalty Information Center. I'll be posting some very inspirational comments by their keynote speaker, Bryan Stevenson.

Also, look for some upcoming synergy between NCADP and the folks behind "Deadline," which will be broadcast on NBC's "Dateline" this Friday.

Down the road, we will have some very, very, very exciting announcements. But that is down the road. Check back next week!



Wednesday, July 21, 2004

A Day in the Death of Inmate No. 918

A long time ago, back in my newspaper reporting days, I covered politics and state government for the Austin American-Statesman. I wrote fairly often on the death penalty and once found myself assigned to cover an execution. This was back in 1993, when the State of Texas conducted executions just after midnight. Here's my account:

The phone rang. It was almost time. The witnesses were summoned to a visiting room less then a minute form the death chamber.
           
Guards pat-searched the witnesses for contraband – male guards for the male witnesses, female guards for the women. A beeper was confiscated from a reporter, to be returned after the execution.
           
Again, the phone. “That could be the call,” one reporter said.
           
“We’re ready,” a guard said. Another walk, this one down a white corridor, outside through two chain link fences into yet another building, past the holding cell that kept Cook for seven hours and a few precious minutes.
           
The witnesses were whisked into a room. The figure stepped out from the hidden room. Signaled. Stepped back in.
           
Warden Jones asked Inmate No. 918 if he had any final words.


To read the full account, go here.
 



Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Battle of the States

As previously noted, Monday was the deadline for filing amicus briefs in the Roper v. Simmons case, which will test the consitutionality of executing juvenile offenders.
 
Here's one thing I found interesting. Seven states filed friend-of-the-court briefs supporting abolition of the juvenile death penalty. Six states filed friend-of-the-court briefs defending the juvenile death penalty. (This is in addition to Missouri, which is the plaintiff in the case and is asking that the death sentence of Christopher Simmons be reinstated.)
 
The anti-juvenile-death penalty brief was filed by the New York attorney general and joined by the attorneys general for the states of Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, New Mexico, Oregon and West Virginia.
 
The pro-juvenile-death penalty brief was filed by the attorney general of Alabama and joined by the attorneys general for the states of Delaware, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Virginia.
 
It's not quite the Civil War revisited, but it does point to an interesting cultural divide.
 
 

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Parents by Lottery

Right now, a team of lawyers are putting the finishing touches on a set of amicus (amici?) briefs in the case of Roper v. Simmons. For those who don't know, this is a case out of Missouri that will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, probably in October. The case will test the constitutionality of the death penalty for juvenile offenders, i.e., whose who commit murder when they are 16 or 17.

The approaching deadline for briefs to be filed reminded me of the last time a juvenile offender was executed in the United States. That would be Scott Hain, executed by the state of Oklahoma in April of 2003.

The following is something I wrote shortly after Scott's execution for another blog (demagogue, which is managed mostly by friends of mine at another nonprofit advocacy group, which for the protection of the innocent shall remain nameless):

Steve Presson waved at his client, Scott, through the window. Scott’s arms and legs were tightly bound, but he acknowledged Steve with a slight nod.

They asked Scott if he wanted to make a statement. He did not.

And moments later, at 8:39 p.m. April 3, 2003 on a warm spring evening in McAlester, Oklahoma, Scott Hain became the first person executed this year anywhere in the world for a crime committed before he turned 18 years old.

Only the United States, Congo and Iran are currently among the world’s countries that execute youthful offenders. (Update: Iran's Parliament banned the practice in December 2003; this action is awaiting approval by that country's Governing Council.) Countries that recently have abolished the juvenile death penalty include Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Yemen and the Philippines.

If you want to learn more about the issue of youthful offender executions, go here: http://www.ncadp.org/html/juveni_1.HTM

If you want to learn more about the moratorium movement in the U.S. go here: http://www.quixote.org/ej/

But this rant isn’t about youthful offender executions or even about the death penalty, really. It’s more about scummy parents.

In the days leading up to Scott’s execution, Steve spent several hours on the phone with him, as many as he could when he wasn’t frantically working on new appeals. Scott told Steve that should it come down to it, he wanted his parents to witness his execution, and he wanted them to take possession of his ashes after he was cremated.

It’s ironic, really, but the approximately 15 years that Scott spent on death row were the most normal years of his life. His father, a heavy drinker, physically abused him and introduced him to marijuana when he was nine or ten. He was sexually molested by a babysitter when he was eight years old, and he dropped out of school at 14 and, with his father’s help, began a life of burglary and petty crime. He was released from juvenile detention facilities at age 17, and began to drug and drink heavily.

That’s when the horrifying murder took place. He and another guy kidnapped this couple, put them in the trunk of a car and set the car on fire. If one were to believe in the death penalty, and I don’t under any circumstance, never, ever, that’s the kind of crime it was probably invented for.

All that by way of background. Flash back forward to a conversation Steve and Scott had on Wednesday the week before he was executed. Scott met with his parents the previous day, and they informed him that they would not be hanging around for his execution, and they did not want his remains. This devastated Scott, even though his parents had not visited him in more than a decade. Scott and Steve talked about what kind of person Scott could have been if he had been fortunate enough to be born to other parents. Scott knew that Steve had recently married, and asked him if he planned to have children.

Steve said he did.

“You’ll be a good father,” Scott said. “Your kids won’t turn out like me.”

Scott’s execution came the following evening, after a flurry of appeals that actually had some of us thinking his life might be at least temporarily spared. His parents, true to their word, weren’t there to bear witness.

But then, they needn’t have been there. They helped kill Scott long ago.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

The Witness

Today we bring you our final reports from the recently completed 11th Annual Fast & Vigil to Abolish the Death Penalty. Today's reports, written by NCADP Maxine Moffett, both involve people who have lost loved ones to murder -- but who nonetheless organize against the death penalty. These people are involved with groups such as Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation and Journey of Hope...from Violence to Healing.

Both of these groups are playing a vital role in changing how this country thinks about the death penalty. They are changing the conventional thinking that has long held that if you lose someone to murder, you automatically are going to support execution for the murderer.

Here is the story of SueZan Bosler:

Inside of the confines of her home, SueZan Bosler witnessed her father, Reverend Billy Bosler, being brutally attached and stabbed over 24 times by an intruder. When she tried to come to her father’s aid, she was stabbed in the back and the head. To survive, she had to pretend to be dead. As she lay limp on the floor while the intruder ransacked the house, she heard her father take his last breath.

“I could vividly remember my father saying that if he were ever killed, he would not want his killer to receive the death penalty,” Bosler says. “His favorite quote was, ‘let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.’”

Bosler’s memory of these words acted as a living halo for grace – and it is only through grace and forgiveness that Bosler was able to forgive James Bernard Campbell, the murderer of her father. She went one step further by aiding Campbell in his commutation process. “I actively fought for 10 years, during 3 trials and 2 sentencing to save his life. I found myself in the enemies’ chair of the Florida DA, who proactively attempted to keep me from expressing my sentiments of ‘life in prison’ to the jury. On June 13, 1996, Campbell’s sentence was commuted to life in prison.

The Man from the Big Red Truck

Early in our coverage of the 11th Annual Fast & Vigil, we referenced a mysterious man who, when asked where he was from, said only that he was from "a big red truck."

That would be George White. This is his story, brought to us by NCADP intern Maxine Moffett:

George White is haunted by the man who on Feb. 27, 1985 entered his business and shot both him and his wife, Charlene, injuring him and killing her. And he was haunted twice by the criminal justice system, which thought he was the killer. Within one year, White was tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison. “It was a mockery trial, evidence was lost and some was purposely hidden,” White recalls. “I sat and rotted in prison for over two years, before my innocence was proven. If I left it up to the state of Alabama I would be dead, and my children would have been orphans.”

White said he “had to choose if I was going to let the hatred and vengeance that I held in my heart for the killer, the district attorneys, and the state of Alabama destroy me….What began with a horrible act of violence should not be memorialized by an act of vengeance. Hate is a continuation, not an ending.”

White went on to become an activist against the death penalty. He co-founded Journey of Hope…From Violence to Healing, a grassroots organization that believes the death penalty only prolongs suffering, prevents healing, perpetuates the cycle of violence and thus creates more victims. To learn more about the Journey of Hope, go here.


Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Death...for Speaking Very Little English

Among those participating in the recent Fast and Vigil to Abolish the Death Penalty was Juan Melendez. Juan is a member of the board of directors of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and was the 99th person freed from death row due to actual innocence.

NCADP intern and Howard University journalism student Maxine Moffett brings us this account:

Within the confines of a small, cold, and gray concrete square sat an innocent but incarcerated man who did not merely wear black and white prison stripes, but who instead depended on the stripes of justice within America, while he simultaneously looked to the stars for God’s grace, and mercy. “I prayed for 3 things, that my innocence would be found, that hate would be released form my heart, and that I would one day be free,” recalls Juan Melendez.

For 17 years, 8 months, and for 1 day this was Juan Melendez’s unfathomable reality. “My jury was selected on a Monday and Tuesday, on Wednesday the evidence was heard, Thursday I was found guilty of killing a white business owner, and on Friday I received the death penalty.”

Closing his eyes, and quenching his fist, Melendez cried out that, “There wasn’t even any physical evidence. And one of the eyewitnesses was also tried as an accomplice to the crime, but with his 15 confessions, one of which was against me.”

Today, the fifty-something Melendez says that he has two birthdays, the day he was born and the day he was released from death row and was able step on grass, and see the sun. “When I first came to America, I really did believe that 'Justice' was for all, but now I know that minorities, and the poor are absent from the American equation.”

So now Melendez fights, he fights for life and the right to voluntarily breath under all circumstances. His message is strong, and he stands as a living testimony to the fallibility of the justice system. “I will continue to tell my testimony on every single mountain that I can find.”

Monday, July 05, 2004

Can You See the Moon?

Here are two additional updates from the recent 11th Annual Fast & Vigil to Abolish the Death Penalty. As before, these updates come to us courtesy of NCADP intern Kristen Bell. I would like to thank Kristen for her diligence in reporting on the F&V activities. I think this might help my friend Abe help publicize next year's fast. At least, this is our intention.

I also would like to thank the fast and vigil participants for their efforts. I think we might still have a couple of additional stories to tell next week, so check back late Tuesday or on Wednesday!

“Do you ever see the moon?” asked Aba Gayle when she was visiting a
person on death row.

The man said no, except maybe one time when he was taken from his cell at night to go see the prison dentist. He thought he might have caught a glimpse of the moon then, but couldn’t be sure.

So Aba took pictures of the moon and sent them to the prison. Then she started taking pictures of the daffodils, tulips, azaleas, and any other beautiful things that she could capture in the viewfinder of her digital camera.

“When I see the moon now, I’m not looking at it for myself, I’m looking at it for all those men and women I visit,” Aba says in her calm, grandmotherly voice as she looked up at the sky above the Supreme Court.

She visits Mickey Douglas, Billy Ray Rigs, James Scott, Peter Edelbacker, Ramone Salcido, David Martinez—inmates who are or were on death row in San Quentin, California.

Aba explains that this is her first Fast and Vigil. Her primary passion is not the abolition of the death penalty, but rather teaching the healing power of forgiveness. Prison ministry is at the heart of that passion.

Since she moved from California to Oregon, it has been harder to visit San Quentin. But she finds the time. She talks to them about her family and friends (especially her grandchildren), her travels, her new life in Oregon, and…well, the moon. She wears bright clothing since the prisoners only ever see drab gray and blue. And Aba always makes sure she is well-groomed and well-dressed because she wants the guards to know that a man on death row is being visited by a nice lady.

When she began visiting prisons about twelve years ago, she visited in an open room with lots of other inmates and visitors. Due to heightened security, she now has to pass through three doors and enter alone into a locked cage with the inmate she is visiting. Although she was terrified on her first visit to prison, the seventy-one-year-old is now comfortable, even locked alone in a cage with a person convicted of murder.

“When I look around in there I don’t see any monsters. I only see the
face of God,” Aba says.

The first person Aba visited in prison was Mickey Douglas, the man who
murdered her nineteen-year-old daughter Catherine. During the first
visit, Aba and Mickey just sat side by side and cried. They cried for
both the life Catherine had lost and the future Mickey had lost. Twelve years later they sometimes still cry together.

For Aba’s full story of forgiveness, please go here.

There's Something About Ruth

Something about Ruth Cunnings told me that she was a teacher before I asked. Maybe it was the streaks of silver running through her short, black hair or maybe it was the fact that she conscientiously wore a
cap and sunscreen everyday (Ruth was one of the few fasters who wasn’t sun burnt after four days in the sun). Her eyes carried both warmth and a potential for sternness, something that would likely be useful in teaching fifth to eighth graders at an all-girls middle school. Or maybe she just reminded me of my seventh grade science teacher.

After graduate school in theology at Notre Dame, Ruth is now a
religion teacher at a Catholic school, Academy of the Sacred Heart, in
Michigan. She organizes annual fasts for Catholic Relief Services with junior and senior high school students, but she did not travel alone from Michigan just to fast for four days.

Why did she come? “Because I believe in the cause,” she said.

Ruth Cunnings always opposed the death penalty theoretically. As
a Catholic, she agreed with her church’s position on capital punishment; her faith told her it was wrong to take the gift of life when it was not necessary. But when her brother was murdered 12 years ago, she had to face her beliefs.

“I saw first hand how much pain and suffering an unnecessary death
causes,” Ruth said. “I don’t want the government to cause that kind of pain and suffering…murderers have families too.”

Ruth’s parents were also strongly opposed to the death penalty and
her entire family asked the state prosecutor to pursue life in prison
rather than a death sentence. “An execution wouldn’t solve anything or bring us healing…and it would not bring honor to [my brother’s] name,” Ruth said.

The state, however, pursued the death penalty against their
wishes. The prosecutor failed to secure an execution and a life sentence was handed down.

Twelve years after the murder of her brother, Ruth speaks about
her experience of healing through forgiveness at high schools and on the Journey of Hope with other Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation. Although speaking about her brother’s murder can be painful, she says “it is worth the discomfort if it helps people and lets them see something in a different way.”

The hardest questions she gets about her story are those asked in anger. “Some people just think revenge is the answer,” said Ruth. “But when they’re angry, they are not open to hearing anything.”

Friday, July 02, 2004

'Left Leg'

The latest from the 11th Annual Fast & Vigil, again from Kristen Bell:

“Left leg,” Steve Earle said was the response of a guard who had been asked about what it’s like to work on death row. “I strap in the left leg. That’s my job,” quoted Earle. The words inspired Earle’s song, Ellis Unit One, which was the highlight of Earle’s concert last night. Part of the Dead Man Walking soundtrack, the song describes the story of a guard who works on death row.

On the third day of a fast to stop the state from delivering lethal injections, this was a time to reflect on the actual people who insert the needle. Or strap in the left leg.

“This is for all those people who are in Huntsville, all those people who were there last night [at David Harris’ execution on June 30] because they are victims too,” said Earle. Then he began singing:

…So I hired on at the prison
Guess I always knew I would
Just like my dad and both my uncles done
And I worked on every cell block
Now, things're goin' good
But then they transferred me to Ellis Unit One

Swing low
Swing low
Swing low and carry me home…

Well, I've seen ‘em fight like lions, boys
I've seen 'em go like lambs
And I've helped to drag ‘em when they could not stand
And I've heard their mamas cryin' when they heard that big door slam
And I've seen the victim's family holdin' hands

Last night I dreamed that I woke up with straps across my chest
And something cold and black pullin' through my lungs
‘N even Jesus couldn't save me though I know he did his best
But he don't live on Ellis Unit


The fast and vigil ends in just over eight hours.

Correction!

Friends:

Seems I was a bit premature when I wrote in the last post that the Fast and Vigil ended at midnight Thursday. It actually ends at midnight Friday. Hang in there, vigilers!

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Saving Starfish

The 11th Annual Fast and Vigil to Abolish the Death Penalty is winding down. Less than seven hours to go and those poor fasters and vigilers can eat again! Here's the latest from Kristen, our chronic blog chronicler:

Hate to disappoint, but the electric blue hair mentioned in the “Last Supper” blog was a wig. Mikhaela Payden-Travers is actually a redhead. Looking at the large banner she was holding, the twenty-three year-old said she had never pictured herself holding a sign when she was in high school or even in her first three years of college. She had always disagreed with the death penalty theoretically, but had never felt like actively protesting against it (let alone fasting for four days as she is doing now).

“I was a politically apathetic nihilist…I saw my parents do all this activist stuff and I didn’t see much change happening,” she said bluntly. Her mother is an Episcopal minister and her father is the current director of Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. “I’d always say, ‘Oh, you’re going out there with your signs again.’” When Mikhaela used to hear the popular story of a woman who walked the beach everyday to throw a few individual starfish into the ocean to save them from death in the sun, she typically responded, “Why not just get a bulldozer and toss ‘em all back in there at once?” I laughed because I used to think about that too.

Mikhaela has since changed her mind about the starfish.

She still considers herself a pessimistic nihilist, but she also knows that she can make a real difference in the lives of individuals. As part of her work as office director of Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty over the past two years, she corresponds with people on death row. She does not cook, but tried to make some of the recipes that one of the inmates sent her. Recently, she received and forwarded some poetry from death-row inmate Robin Lovitt. “Would I put it in an anthology of contemporary poetry? Probably not,” said the English literature major. “But it is really heartfelt and you really get to see into his life.” Mikhaela plans to pursue a career in teaching literary cultural studies, but has also decided to continue to be involved in the abolitionist movement by becoming a death-row pen-pal.

She attributes her change of heart in part to a course she took on the Holocaust during her senior year at William and Mary. “It really showed me what this post-modern nihilistic ethos could lead to—not caring about other human beings’ lives.” Maybe she thinks about that as she watches dozens of people walking by the Fast and Vigil without taking a second look. “Most people just don’t pay attention because it doesn’t affect them—its not their family member or friend being murdered or executed,” she said when I asked her about the reactions she gets from passersby. “I’m guilty of that too sometimes…it speaks to why we still have the death penalty.”

After our conversation, I told Mikhaela a bit about myself. As a philosophy major interested in academic arguments against the death penalty, I too had never really pictured myself protesting until I picked up my first anti-death penalty sign this summer at NCADP. “It’s good to have some signs with your theory,” Mikhaela said. And we both laughed in agreement.





No f__d in Florida!

It's not just the people on the sidewalk in front of the U.S. Supreme Court who are fasting! This blog entry just came in from Jupiper, Florida. Carolyn is fasting in support of abolition along with her friend Rosie, who is in Miami. We're pleased to provide Carolyn's entry below -- and we note that this is Abolish the Death Penalty's first submission from outside the Beltway!

Greetings to you great abolitionists in Washington, DC! This is the first F&V I could not attend in five years; however, I am in fasting in solidarity with you! I want to tell you about my inspiration for this years’ F&V: my friend Rosie. Rosie is a 15 year old wonder who contacted me by email several weeks ago that she planned to fast this year and wanted to know what the dates were! Armed with instructions for fasting and a reminder to visit CUADP's web site for useful information, Rosie started her fast - for the first time in her life - with me at midnight on June 29.

Even though I’ve participated in several fasts before, Rosie is the reason why, in this 56th hour of the fast, I have not caved… Via emails, she has sent support that has brought laughter, tears, and warmth (but no f__d dammit). Here’s her latest advice: “i wanted to let u know that if u had found free time during ur day, reading has really helped ... u get so into the book, ur mind goes off the f__d topic....and another thing ... if u havent been wearing ur death penalty pin... WEAR IT!!!!!!! even if no one else is seeing u, it reminds u not to eat and helps u stay on the topic of "sacrifice for a good cause" ....

Rosie has been a good abolitionist since she was about 9 years old – wearing both death penalty abolition-wear and anti-war messages to school. (Kudos to Mom and Dad for fostering this type of activism in both of their children)… Rosie doesn’t just talk the talk, she walks the walk. As do all of you. And WE will prevail in our quest for abolition - it is only a matter of time…

I just wanted to share my story with you in DC - and those starving in solidarity elsewhere. This has been the hardest fast of all because at home all around me there are visual and olfactory reminders of what I can’t have! You know you are in trouble when, while f__ding the dogs and cats, you become a little jealous…

Carolyn Gray


Carolyn, thanks for your entry. I am quite sure that the fast and vigilers here in D.C. appreciate the support. Together, with people like you, it is not a question of whether we will abolish the death penalty but when.

The Libertarian Perspective

Another report from the front lines of the 11th Annual Fast & Vigil to Abolish the Death Penalty, again by NCADP's Kristen Bell:

Most people at the Fast and Vigil wear shorts and t-shirts with slogans like “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” or “I oppose the death penalty, don’t kill for me.” So when Dane vonBreichenruchardt walked up to the front table in a full suit and tie I looked twice. He had stopped to sign a petition against the death penalty after picking up some files at the Supreme Court.

When I asked his name, he whipped out a business card from his briefcase. “Bill of Rights Foundation,” I read, “Protecting our rights against Constitutional Contraventions.” Dane is a public interest attorney who says the death penalty is “a barbaric, totally irresponsible reaction in civil society…it is planned homicide.” A conservative libertarian, Dane has been opposed to capital punishment since his father taught him about the Nazis. Mr. VonBreichenruchardt Senior deserted the German army in World War II to fight in the Dutch and Norwegian underground against his own people.

“My father always said that Hitler was just a maniacal, incompetent boob except for his henchmen…Suppose no one did Hitler’s dirty work…And suppose everyone refused to put the needle in the arm of the people we execute,” Dane argued in a voice that re-affirmed the fact that he is an attorney. “People have to take personal responsibility for this barbaric practice. Don’t say the government ought to do something or pass a law—you do something.”

After hearing his words, I could not resist offering him one of my NCADP business cards. He gladly filed it in his briefcase. I also asked if he had any recommendations for furthering the abolition movement.

“You’ve got to look good,” he replied. I looked a bit confused so he explained. “It’s the anal retentive right wing that’s keeping the death penalty alive and they look at this stuff as fringe. The more they think they can identify with you, the closer they’ll come to seeing your point of view…I understand it’s hot, but it is possible to look professional in shorts and a polo shirt.”