Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Steve Earle has a blog!

Just found out that Steve Earle, noted musician and abolitionist, has a blog! Check it out here.

California is golden

Good news from California! The California Senate has approved the creation of "the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice."

That's kind of a mouthful, huh? In short, it is a study commission. The commission will study, among other things, wrongful convictions. The commission is to conclude its business and make its report by Dec. 31, 2007 -- a year that I predict we will see a bunch of abolition and moratorium bills advancing.

Lance Lindsey is the executive director of Death Penalty Focus, NCADP's California affiliate (and also the largest membership-based organization specifically devoted to abolish the death penalty in the world). Here's what he had to say about the study commission:

"We applaud the Senate’s vision in taking this important step,” Lindsey says. "But the only way to be 100% sure that California doesn't wrongfully execute someone is to declare a ‘time out’ on executions until we know for sure whether our criminal justice is working or not."

Meanwhile, more than 630 people await execution on California’s death row.

Monday, August 30, 2004

From Iowa to Iraq

In the early 1990s, Pat Minor-Nidey co-founded the eastern state chapter of Iowans Against the Death Penalty. Now Pat is continuing in her quest for social justice by planning a trip to Iraq. Here's the beginning of an article that ran in her local newspaper:

Pat Minor-Nidey is taking her passion for peace and social justice from the streets of West Branch all the way to Iraq.

The West Branch resident says traveling to Iraq will give her the opportunity to learn more about the Iraqi people and be able to bring that information back to the area.

"I hope to get a better view of what's going on in Iraq," Minor-Nidey said. "When I come back, I'll be able to share with people what I learned."

Minor-Nidey's trip to Iraq is being arranged through an international organization known as Christian Peacemaker Teams. She is one of five people going from the United States. Her delegation will be in Iraq from Oct. 2-16. She will be stationed in Baghdad.

To read the whole story, go here.

Friday, August 27, 2004

James Allridge III

As coincidence would have it, three of the six friends of James' who witnessed his execution last night are current or former NCADP board members. Here is a letter from Dave Atwood, who used to be on NCADP's board and is now chair of our Texas affiliate.

Dear friends of James,

There were six witnesses for James at his execution yestereday: Stanley Allridge, Darren Allridge, Christa Dold, Sr. Helen Prejean, Bill Pelke and myself. James remained faithful and focused right up to the last moment - you have read his last words in the newspaper articles.

Ten pieces of James' art were held by his supporters outside the prison walls as he was being executed. What a wonderful witness. This is what James wanted.

Although this was an extremely painful experience for all of us, we know that James' life was not in vain. He is a shining example of human transformation. We are all indebted to him for this. We can all honor his life by telling his story and showing his art whenever we have an opportunity.

I can't put into words my admiration for the Allridge Family: Mr. and Mrs. Allridge, Stanley, Darren and Gary. They have gone through so much with the loss of Ronald and now James. Keep them in your thoughts and prayers. There will be a wake in Ft. Worth tonight (Friday) and a funeral service on Saturday morning. I am waiting for details from Stanley Allridge.

Bill Pelke with the "Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing" came to Texas in early August to tell his personal story of forgiveness and have people sign petitions for James. Bill spoke to at least 15 different groups throughout the state. James' story of transformation was heard by hundreds of people throughout the state.

Jim Marcus and the legal team at Texas Defender Service did a marvelous job in preparing the appeals to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and U.S. Supreme Court. They could not have done more. They deserve our respect and support.

Our appreciation to Sr. Helen Prejean, Susan Sarandon, Christa Dold, Margery Layton, Abby Harmon, Chauncy Ashburn, Ruth Westfall, Ralph McCloud, the Sisters of St. Mary, Melissa Barker, Joe Gindratt, the Cliftons, Priscilla Atwood and the hundreds of supporters of James over the years.

Keep the Clendennen and Allridge families in your thoughts and prayers.

In love and appreciation for the work of so many people,
Dave Atwood

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Two executions tonight


Both the Oklahoma and Texas executions were carried out tonight. Some friends of ours witnessed James' execution in Texas. We will update tomorrow.

Bloggers unite!

Exciting news to report!

My old friend Steve Hall, who runs a pro-moratorium organization called Stand Down Texas, has launched a blog. Check it out here.

As soon as I can get to it, I am going to link to Steve in my links list.

I should point out that although Steve's group is not an abolitionist organization -- his mission statement is very clear about this -- it does call for an immediate moratorium on executions in Texas. Many states will pass legislation abolishing the death penalty. Other states will pass legislation establishing a moratorium. I was once in an audience listening to Sister Helen Prejean speak. She endorsed the moratorium approach, explaining that it is a "politician's easy way out."

With moratorium, a politician can tell his or her constituents, "I support the death penalty in principle. But I have deep-rooted concerns about the manner in which the death penalty is applied. For this reason, and because I believe the death penalty discriminates on the basis of race and class, I believe we need to step back and study the issue."

As I have previously noted, New Jersey may soon be on the verge of passing an abolition bill. That is wonderful news. But in other states, particularly in the South, moratorium is going to be the way we want to go. This is why Steve's organization is so very important, so critically needed.

And I would like to welcome Steve to blogsville!

Wither the death penalty?

We have two executions scheduled tonight, one in Texas, the other in Oklahoma. That's the bad news.

The good news is that the number of death sentences being sought by prosecutors and handed down by juries really seems to be on the decline. Our friends over at the Death Penalty Information Center brought this to my attention with something they just posted to their web site:

Death sentences have declined across the country. The following four cases are recent illustrations of this trend:

In Cook County, Illinois, a judge sentenced Ronald Hinton to life without parole, citing abuse in the defendant’s background and his remorse for the crimes. Hinton admitted to three murders. (Chicago Tribune, August 25, 2004).

In Butler County, Ohio, a three-judge panel sentenced Tom West to life without parole for a shooting spree at a trucking company in which two people were killed and three others wounded. Costs of the trial, the agreement of the victims’ families, and the defendant’s mental illness were cited as reasons for the plea agreement. (Cincinnati Enquirer, August 24, 2004).

In Crown Point, Indiana, Stephen Richards pleaded guilty and will be sentenced to life without parole for the shotgun slaying of two people over a sack of coins. Victims’ family members agreed to the plea arrangement. (NWITimes.com, August 24, 2004).

In San Mateo, California, prosecutors announced that they would not seek the death penalty against Seti Scanlan despite Scanlan’s begging the jury to sentence him to death. Prosecutors cited costs and the uncertainty of getting a death verdict. A victims’ family member was quoted as agreeing with the decision. (San Jose Mercury News, August 24, 2004).

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Principles for social action

Something interesting showed up in my mail box today, courtesy of Frank McNeirney, who runs an excellent group called Catholics Against Capital Punishment.

Frank informs us that this Friday, August 27, is the 20th anniversary of the death of Geno Baroni (1930-1984), a Washington, DC-based Catholic priest who in the 1960s and 70s was a well-known activist in the fields of civil rights and community organizing, and who served as an assistant secretary of housing and urban development in President Jimmy Carter’s Administration.

A 1994 article by Fr. William Byron, S.J., listed 50 “principles for social action” that Baroni routinely cited in his talks. Here are a few of Franks's favorites, which may be of interest to others working to end the death penalty:

Social action begins in the individual heart.

Apathy and violence come from the same font: despair.

Events do not happen until they are duly reported in the newspaper; power feeds on news, and news feeds on power.

Politicians do not deal with problems until the problems are forced upon them.

“Try it” is a consistent principle; not all ideas that look good in theory work out in practice.

Surround yourself with strong people willing to challenge the conventional wisdom, and work with them as a team, not as an academic debating society.

An organizer must have deep respect for the ordinary in ordinary people.

Know where you come from; it’s part of what you are.

Tell stories, and listen to the stories of others.

Never rent a hall you can’t fill.

Talk to anyone, friend or foe; you can never tell when someone is ready to be won over.

Values are at the core of any organizing effort; respond to people’s deepest hopes and aspirations.

When you make a mistake, admit it; then pick up the pieces and move on.

It is easier to obtain forgiveness than to get permission.

For the full text of Fr. Byron’s article, which includes all 50 “Baroni principles,” go here.

Monday, August 23, 2004

'There is no mercy in Texas'

The state of Texas is scheduled to execute James Allridge III this Thursday, at about 6 p.m. Texas time. Many groups down in Texas, including the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, have launched a comprehensive clemency campaign on his behalf. My friend Bill Pelke, NCADP board member and director of Journey of Hope, is down in Texas, traversing the state, pleading for James' life to anyone who will listen.

In a nutshell: James is guilty of capital murder. No question about that. He also is one of those people on death row who has comprehensively turned his life around. If executive clemency exists, James should not only be a candidate for it but THE candidate.

Executive clemency is a tradition that dates back to the English kings. Kings could grant clemency for any reason, but the most common reason simply was mercy.

If you scroll back through the U.S. history of the death penalty, you can see that we inherited this tradition. Many governors in the U.S. through the centuries have granted clemency simply because of mercy. But that practice came to a screeching halt in the 1980s, as crime and the death penalty became increasingly politicized. (Even in the 1970s, Florida's governor was occasionally granting executive clemency. But as Florida became a two-party state and the two political parties found themselves scrambling for every vote, crime became more of a high-profile issue and executive clemencies became a thing of the past.)

In the past two decades, we have seen the occassional death sentence commuted to life in prison. However, the reasons largely have to do with possible innocence on the part of the person on death row, or mental retardation or severe mental illness. The possibility of rehabilitation -- the concept of mercy -- has seldom factored in.

As the Austin Chronicle put it, in the modern era of the death penalty in Texas, rehabilitation has never formed the basis of a board commutation recommendation.

This is a case where mercy should be granted. To see a letter written by James, go here. To send a message urging executive clemency, go here.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Exonerated by DNA

The American public has this misplaced fascination with DNA technology. The public tends to think that DNA is the make-or-break evidence in capital murder cases, when in fact DNA plays a role in a slim minority of cases. (Of the 115 people who have been feed from death row due to newly discovered evidence of innocence, DNA has only been a factor in some 12 to 14 of the cases.)

But as new DNA techniques surface, it has become a tool for both defense lawyers and prosecutors.

I mention this because the other day, the postal carrier very kindly brought me a book that's hot off the presses. It's called Bloodsworth: The True Story of the First Death Row Inmate Exonerated by DNA. It's about Kirk Bloodsworth, who used to be on Maryland's death row before winning his freedom several years ago. Here's a blurb about the book:

This fall Algonquin Books will publish Tim Junkin's Bloodsworth: The True Story of the First Death Row Inmate Exonerated by DNA, the gripping account
of perhaps the most significant capital murder case in American history.
The outcome of this tumultuous case forever changed the tenor of the death
penalty debate in America. Bloodsworth's experience, from conviction to
exoneration, is recorded in this page-turning story of a legal system gone
awry and in which justice is almost incomprehensibly elusive. It's
impossible not to read this gripping and cautionary tale without feeling
bewilderment, rage, doubt, hopelessness, and bittersweet happiness for a
man who fought the most powerful criminal justice system in the world and
prevailed. Most of all it's about the strength of the human spirit in the
face of unrelenting injustice. What Kirk Bloodworth makes of his life in
freedom is a stunning example of grace.

Kirk is going to be signing books and participating in a panel discussion at NCADP's upcoming annual conference. Meanwhile, to read more about his story go here and here.

Good news down in Texas!

The Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, one of NCADP's affiliates, has long been an all-volunteer organization. But Scott Cobb, a member of TCADP's executive committee, informs me that the group is now in the process of hiring their first-ever staff member! This is going to strengthen both TCADP and the anti-death penalty movement in Texas. It is also a sign that the abolition movement in this country continues to attract greater levels of funding, although we still lag far, far behind other social justice movements.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Keeping up with Lonely Abolitionist

Lonely Abolitionist has been updating a lot lately. (Trivia quiz: Can anyone tell me what state she is in? And whether or not they have the death penalty? Heh. I bet you can't!)

Her recent updates include examining the cost of prosecuting one death penalty case in New York; discussing the possibility of life without parole (as an alternative to the death penalty) in Texas; and reporting yet another death penalty conviction thrown out in North Carolina. Check it out and tell your friends to bookmark Lonely Abolitionist!

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Abolition in New Jersey?

Everyone has heard by now of the political earthquake that has rocked the Garden State. Gov. James E. McGreevey is resigning after having an affair with his former homeland security advisor.

What some people might not be aware of is how this could play out in the death penalty debate. McGreevey, for now, is saying that he will not resign until November. This would mean that the president of the Senate would be interim governor for a year. That guy's name escapes me, but his record on the death penalty is mixed: On the one hand, he supports capital punishment. On the other hand, he was a SPONSOR of a bill (vetoed by McGreevey) that would have authorized a two-year study of the death penalty.

But wait, there's more....

U.S. Senator Jon Corzine, a committed abolitionist, is the frontrunner for New Jersey's next gubernatorial election (New Jersey, like Virginia and a few other states, elects its governors in odd-numbered years. The next election is November 2005.)

But wait....there's STILL more....

Now both Democrats and Republicans are lobbying McGreevey to step down quickly, which would allow a special election to be held this November. Such an election would work to Corzine's advantage because the Republicans would not have time to run anyone serious against him -- and because Dems are going to wipe out Repubs on the New Jersey ballot this year anyway.

Right now, McGreevey is holding firm, saying he will not resign until November. But I think he'll cave. Just you watch.

Of course, if Corzine is elected, it will still be up to our activists to get an abolition bill through the New Jersey Legislature. Corzine can't do that for us. But we're getting organized. And I think New Jersey may just be our next abolition state!

Saturday, August 14, 2004

'Coming out' as an abolitionist

We've received our first submission from an NCADP affiliate! The following comes from Glen Anderson, a member of the steering committee of the Washington Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Glen prepared the following document for use at a gay pride event in Seattle. It is important because the abolitionist community will never be large enough to eliminate the death penalty by ourselves. We simply must reach out to, and join in coalitions with, other social justice movements.

Here is Glen's message:

Do Your Friends Know You Oppose the Death Penalty?

"Coming Out" Against It Can Help Turn the Tide!

Social science has tipped us off on some powerful possibilities. It turns out that a modest number of individuals can create powerful social movements
by energetically spreading the word.

Epidemiologists know that epidemics of diseases can spread through a few virulent carriers, and sociologists know that the same is true of ambitious and well connected activists.

For many years the death penalty has been the status quo - a given - the accepted norm. Most people assume that other people accept the death penalty. If more people who quietly oppose it would come out of the closet
and tell their friends they oppose it, public erceptions will shift and the public will sense that public opinion is shifting against the death penalty. This will help move public opinion - and politicians and the media - toward abolition.

Coming out of the closet can be a powerful affirmation. Coming out against the death penalty will help make history!

Friday, August 13, 2004

America's new Poet Laureate is anti-DP???

Courtesy of Abe Bonowitz, we discover some truly amazing news. Yesterday, a guy named Ted Kooser was named America's 13th Poet Laureate. Kooser is from Nebraska, which, as the discerning abolitionist knows, is the only remaining state to use the electric chair as its only means of execution.

Kooser once wrote the following:

Electric Chair

Ours in Nebraska is not as nice as some,
but Omaha is, of course, not Boston,
and most of the furniture here was made
heavy enough to endure a long ride
on the United Pacific. Ours is, I suppose,
Mission Oak, its blocky design straight out
of the Arts and Crafts movement, but not
as nice as a Stickley or even a Morris.
really, yet one that would comfortably fit
in a high-ceilinged Victorian parlor
somewhere in Bellevue, next to a window
creamy with lace, looking out over
the smooth Missouri; the kind of chair,
straight-backed and hard-seated, that a person
might choose to sit in to work on a speech
on the meaning of life, a chair that means
business. And yet, despite its blockiness,
it's a handsome thing, with its open arms
gleaming with oil and the black straps draped
like doilies. One can imagine a matching
smoking-stand with a rack for pipes,
a leather-bound volume of verse on one arm,
a few poems marked by red ribbons of silk.
It's a chair that belongs to the ages;
a chair, as we decorators say, that makes
a real Statement; a chair that should sit
in each Nebraskan's house, for it is a part
of our dark, oppressive furniture,
and does not have a drip-pan to clean
as those in some other states do.

To read more about Kooser, go here.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Ryan Matthews: No. 155

Ryan Matthews became the 115th person to be released from death row due to actual innocence this week. He is from Louisiana. Interestingly, while researching his case for a press release, I found that he is the THIRD African American juvenile to be wrongly convicted and sentenced to death. Think about that. Of the 115 people we now know to be innocent, three of them were put on trial when they were 16 or 17 years old by Louisiana prosecutors. And all three were black. You think they've got a problem down there?

Saturday, August 07, 2004

NCADP featured as Site of the Week!

This is exciting....The Moving Ideas Network has selected www.ncadp.org as its Featured Site of the Week! We'll be the featured site until Friday, Aug. 13. Check it out at www.movingideas.org

(Sorry that I cant hyperlink...that thingy is broken right now.)

Friday, August 06, 2004

Welcome, NCADP affiliates!

In a few minutes I'm going to be sending an email to our NCADP affiliates, inviting them to contribute to the NCADP blog. I imagine that some of them will stopping by here for a visit. I'd like to take this opportunity to welcome them and thank them for the work they do.

You see, the death penalty will not be abolished from here where we sit in Washington, D.C. It's going to happen on the ground where people are working, often anonymously, usually without pay, to pass moratorium resolutions, to organize vigils, to try to convince legislators to sponsor abolition bills. Sometimes, to the people on the ground doing the heavy lifting, it must seem that our numbers are few and the task before us insurmountable.

But it will not always be that way.

Lonely Abolitionist

Carrie over at Lonely Abolitionist has done a few updates. She opines on Hubbard and on James Vernon Allridge III, a rehabilitated person on Texas' death row who faces execution Aug. 26. Check it out!


One of the arguments often used in favor of the death penalty is that it brings closure for the families of murder victims. But sometimes closure does not seem to be all it's cranked up to be.

Consider this quote from today's Washington Post. I see quotes just like it at least once a month. The quote is from the son of the woman who James Hubbard was convicted of murdering; Hubbard, as you probably know by now, is the 74-year-old man executed last night by the state of Alabama:

"I'd just as soon see the electric chair or the firing squad; it looked like he went kind of peaceful, just dozed off," Montgomery said. "I would have just loved to see him suffering a little more."

We abolitionists abhor violence -- and our heart goes out to the loved ones of murder victims. But this person waited 27 years for this execution to occur -- and once it did occur, he expressed a let down.

I don't really think that's closure.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

And now, 'Deadline' has a blog!

This is only for the good...last week, we told you about "Deadline," which was shown Friday evening on NBC's Dateline (and won the ratings battle for that time slot, by the way....Sorry, Joan of Arcadia! Sorry, Bernie Mac!)

Now the folks who have been working so, so hard to promote "Deadline," (and have promoted a number of anti-death penalty groups in the process) have their own blog!

Check it out.

This way to the Blog, please!

NCADP now has a link to the blog on its front page, so we should be getting some more traffic. Also, NCADP has joined the Moving Ideas Network and NCADP's site is getting traffic from them as well. It sure is an exciting time to be doing Internet advocacy!

At some point in the future, we'd like to launch a serious Internet advertising campaign to let the progressive online community know about NCADP's web site. But it will have to wait until after the election. Those in the know tell me that progressives (including progressive blogsters) aren't really paying any attention to anything except Bush vs. Kerry.

Another thing the general public isn't paying attention to is James Hubbard. He's the 74-year-old guy in Alabama who faces execution this evening. He suffers from colon cancer, prostate cancer, hepatitis, dementia, stomach ulcers. You can read an LA Times story about his case here.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

74-year-old faces execution

James Hubbard is on Alabama's death row. He has colon cancer, prostate cancer, stomach ulcers, plus he suffers from dementia. I'm told that he spends almost all his time in bed (or, you know, what passes for bed when you are on death row.)

He's scheduled to be executed this Thursday. Go here to read more.

(I know, I know, they somehow spelled both my name and the name of my organization incorrectly. But I'm used to it and the important thing is, at least we got quoted.)

The L.A. Times is scheduled to publish a story on this Wednesday.

Monday, August 02, 2004

A conversation with Gov. Ryan

Last week, NCADP intern Kristen Bell had the opportunity to interview former Illinois Gov. George Ryan. The purpose of the interview was to get a statement from Gov. Ryan for NCADP's web site in connection with the airing of the documentary "Deadline," which many of you know aired on NBC's Dateline Friday evening. (To see Gov. Ryan's statement, go here.)

Here, in two parts, is Kristen's account:

Last year I cut an article out of the New York Times and taped it to the back of a binder that I use almost everyday at school.

The article describes Governor Ryan’s blanket commutation of Illinois’ death row on January 11, 2003: an act of courage that spared 156 men from death by lethal injection. The picture of Ryan delivering his commutation speech is something like an icon for me. It inspires me in my work and reminds me that people can and do make real change, that justice can and will be done when given the proper care.

Last week I had the opportunity to talk to the man whose face I always see on my binder. I took down a dictation of his statement on the “Deadline” documentary for the NCADP website and asked him a couple questions afterwards.

I was a bit nervous on the phone at first, but my fears subsided when I realized that the person behind the imposing newspaper picture was really a kind, grandfatherly man. When I told him my name was Kristen at the beginning of our conversation, he said that he has a daughter named Kristen—apparently he calls her Kiki. He spoke slowly and was more than willing to talk with me after the dictation. “Ask me as much as you like!” he replied heartily after I had ventured to ask, “Can I ask you just one or two questions sir?”

Part Two: Questions and Answers

Part two from NCADP's Kristen Bell:

I wanted to ask Governor Ryan two basic questions: What really made him start questioning the death penalty system after being a capital punishment advocate for so long? And why does he think other governors are not doing as he has done?

Ryan began to question the death penalty system when he read about Anthony Porter, a mentally retarded man who was exonerated after journalism students proved his innocence after 17 years on Illinois’ death row.

“But what if you had not been governor when you read about Porter?,” I asked, feeling a bit braver. “Would you have been similarly concerned if you had simply been a citizen at the time?”

Ryan responded that his position as governor did make him feel particularly responsible for the state’s death penalty system. It was that feeling of heavy responsibility coupled with Porter’s case which really made him start questioning the machinery of death in Illinois.

“There are plenty of Anthony Porters in this country,” I thought to myself. “If only every citizen could be made to feel that same weight of responsibility, we might start to take a serious look at the system that produces those Porters.”

On to question two.

The reason why most governors don’t take a serious look at the death penalty system, Ryan said, is that they feel a great deal of political pressure to maintain an image of being tough on crime. In a country that generally favors the death penalty, a record of executions certainly comes in handy during election years. Ryan himself was on his way out of office when he made his blanket commutation.

“How do we overcome that hurdle of political pressure?” I asked.

“Young people like you will carry the torch,” he responded. He added that the younger generation has different opinions about punishment and issues of social justice. When that generation comes of age, they will reform the death penalty system or abolish it if need be.

Thinking about my peers at university and looking around at the average age of staff here at the NCADP, I think Governor Ryan may be right.

At least I hope so.

“It will take time and the changes probably won’t happen in my lifetime,” Ryan said at the end of our talk. “I did all I could in my time.”

Then we switched roles and he asked me a question: “What will you do when you graduate?”

I guess it’s my turn to answer.

'This blog is your blog, this blog is my blog...'

A new development: This is now the official blog of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. I'm hoping that NCADP affiliates will begin to post things to it -- and I'm getting ready to email affiliates to invite them to blog with me.