Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Go vote!

Earlier today, a North Carolina House committee passed a bill calling for a two-year moratorium. Right now, a local TV station has one of those online polls asking people what they think. Go here to vote.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Dead man walking into life

There's a new mini-blog out there. Dead Man Walking into Life, a sub-blog of Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty, NCADP's Alabama affiliate, tells the story of Gary Davis Hart, a 32-year-old who has been on Alabama's death row since he was 17. Gary was among the approximately 72 people on death rows across the United States for crimes committed before they turned 18 years old. These people were spared by the U.S. Supreme Court's March 1 ruling in Roper v. Simmons. That ruling struck down the juvenile death penalty.

Gary is now preparing for his transition to general population and that's what his blog is all about. Here's how he got the news of the March 1 Supreme Court ruling:

March 1st, 2005, shortly after 9:00 a.m., I was returning from the death row exercise yard when an officer told me to call my lawyer. Immediately the fear gripped me, had something happened to my family? What was wrong? A neighbor said, I hope it’s good news, and I quickly replied, I just hope that it’s not bad news. He said, what’s the difference? To that I stated, bad news involves my family. He got the point and I dialed the number with speed and nervousness.

My lawyer answered excitedly and told me that the U.S. Supreme Court had affirmed the Simmons v. Roper case, which meant it’s unconstitutional to execute juvenile offenders, those under 18 years old at the time of their crimes. My heart rate slowed and the fear was leaving my body, nothing was wrong with my family and I was getting off death row. Three of my lawyers were on the phone, all excited as children on Christmas morning, and they shared how my mother screamed and praised God upon hearing the news. While on the phone, I had to pause to answer another of Alabama’s juvenile offenders, a total of 13. He yelled through the tunnels behind our cells and told me he’d heard the news on the radio. So I was not dreaming, this was really happening. The joy spread throughout death row and everyone was talking at once.

For the last 15 ½ years I have thought my name would be amongst the dead. To not be facing death by the hands of the State is a very strange feeling. The only way to describe it is relief. Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976 the U.S. has killed 900+ men and women, including 22 juveniles and several of my friends. I have read about or known men that had less evidence against them than myself, surely I’d follow in their footsteps? Walking the walk of hope was difficult but I tried to follow the examples set around me, all the time thinking I was doomed—that my death was only a matter of time.

Now I awake knowing my thoughts of the future aren’t just wishful thinking. Unless my health fails me or something else cuts my life short I can live to be an old man. Such possibilities never existed on death row. I no longer have to imagine saying good-bye to my mother on the day of the execution, which was my greatest fear. I can stop worrying about my death killing my mother, who developed hypertension and depression over the years. Maybe her next trip to the doctor will show signs of improvement.

To read more go here.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

72 hours on death watch

Since 1973, 119 people formerly on death row have been released after evidence of their innocence emerged. That number is going to go up this year.

But here we have something completely different: An admittedly guilty person who asked for and received forgiveness from the victim's family -- and who went on to make something of his life.

Billy Neal Moore, who spent 16 years on death row, came within days of execution, and was subsequently freed due to exemplary behavior, has written I Shall Not Die: Seventy-two hours on Death Watch.

Read more:

Only 22 years old when he committed murder, Moore confessed and was sentenced to death. While in prison, a minister baptized him, and he was so overcome with remorse for the murder that he wrote a letter to the victim's family. They were so moved by his sorrow that they forgave him. In turn, Moore vowed to transform the lives of anyone he could by showing them what Christ had done for him. He studiously pored over the Bible and began writing religious articles for the outside world. Soon he was writing about 300 letters a week to lost souls around the country, from fellow inmates to teens in crisis.

As his death date edged closer, Moore lost a series of three appeals. His fate seemed to be sealed until the victim's family vehemently opposed his execution, and a last-minute request by Mother Theresa helped grant him a life sentence. Because of exceptional behavior, Moore was released a year later.

His breathtaking and awe-inspiring ordeal not only speaks of the power of forgiveness and compassion, but also of people's ability to stare evil in the face and fight for goodness. It is proof that each human being is capable of redemption. I Shall Not Die adds a compelling case study to the raging controversy over the death penalty, the judicial system and punitive culture that exist in America.

In Moore's successful struggle to overcome his past, readers learn how this brave man faced his demons and fought against them in a dignified and honorable fashion. As audiences around the country hear his story, Moore moves them with his tenacity, his dedication and the lessons of his personal transformation.

Currently a minister with the Christ Assembly of Evangelistic Ministries, Moore has spoken at dozens of locations, including Harvard, Yale, USC, UCLA, Stanford, Georgia state ,University of Georgia, American, Georgetown University, Ithaca College, Emory Law School, Northeastern, Tufts College and the University of Massachusetts. A father and husband, he lives 14 Wildwood Lane NE, Rome, GA .30161, and the cost for each books is $11.95 or $15.00 for a signed copy.

To read more go here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Hypocrisy, Chapter 37

NCADP is a single-issue organization and this is a single-issue blog. Period. We take no position on issues such as stem cell research or abortion. Our members include those who feel strongly on either sides of these debates. In fact, our staff in Washington, D.C. is split over these issues. What unites us is our firm and principled opposition to capital punishment.

That said, from time to time, opportunities arise to present hypocritical fissures. Here's one:

"Dr. Zerhouni shares my view that human life is precious, and should not be exploited or destroyed for the benefits of others."

—President Bush, March 22, 2002

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer: "The president believes that we need to welcome and create a culture that respects life in this country."

Q: "How can he be in favor of showing how much we disapprove of killing, by killing?"

Fleischer: "You're referring to the death penalty?"

Q: "I'm referring to the death penalty."

Fleischer: "Because the president's opinion is the death penalty ultimately saves lives."

—May 7, 2001

To view the hypocrisy table published by Slate.com, go here and scroll down.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Texas passes life without parole

The Texas House of Representatives moments ago passed a bill allowing for life in prison without parole. The bill passed of a 104 to 37 vote.

After the measure passes on final reading, probably tomorrow, it will go back to the Senate, which must concur on amendments passed by the House. That's pretty much a technicality. The fact is that this bill will soon be headed for the governor's desk.

Assuming that Gov. Perry signs it, we can assume that this ultimately will lower the execution rate in Texas. Texas -- along with New Mexico, which has executed all of one person in modern history -- is the only death penalty state that does not have life without parole.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Last words

Last week, Richard Cartwright was executed in Huntsville, Texas. There were questions about the legitimacy of Cartwright's death sentence (especially in light of claims by his co-defendant that Cartright didn't do it) but that is not the purpose of this blog entry.

Rather, the purpose of this entry is to share a few of Richard's final thoughts in a message he wrote days before his execution. Richard wrote the following:

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, this fight is not about one man. Therefore this fight is not over with one man’s death. It ain’t over with 100 men’s deaths, or 1000 for that matter. This fight is not over until the death penalty is completely abolished in the USA, and the rest of the world. Totally abolished is when the fight is over. When we no longer kill in the name of justice, then the fight is over.

As I take this walk towards my death I do it with a good friend of mine, Bryan Wolfe, who has a date for May 18th, the day before my own date. We are neighbors now and we have had some pretty wild and crazy talks about what is going down, but most on our minds is the pain and suffering our families are going through. And here I thought we were all cold blooded and heartless killers, eh? HA!HAH!HA!

I have to laugh at that, because I’ve met some very loving and caring people behind these walls. It is just like in the free world. There are good and bad everywhere. You cannot possibly write off a group of people as evil and heartless.

To read more, go here.

Friday, May 13, 2005



The blog is taking a much-needed break! We'll be back on Monday, May 23.

Until then, if you're new to this site, or to this movement, I'd like to encourage you to consider making a donation to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. To donate, please go here

To join NCADP's email activist list (now 13,500 strong and growing!) please go here.

The Michael Ross saga is over

After what can only be described as a circus-like atmosphere, the first execution in all of New England in 45 years has been conducted. Here's an eyewitness account from an Associated Press reporter who was there:

With a deep gasp for air and a body shudder it appeared to be over.

Michael Bruce Ross, inmate number 127404, was officially pronounced dead at 2:25 a.m. But by all accounts the convicted serial killer had passed on within seconds of the 1st of 3 chemicals entering his body through an intravenous line.

Few sounds could be heard among the 21 witnesses standing in a narrow observation room peering through a window into the execution chamber at Osborn Correctional Institution.

"Inmate Ross, do you have final statement?" came a disembodied voice over speakers mounted behind witnesses.

"No thank you," Ross replied when a gooseneck microphone was bent towards his head by prison warden David Strange.

They were Ross' last words.

For some witnesses the death of the serial killer was anticlimactic. There were no wailing cries of sorrow among witnesses invited by Ross. There were no yells or cheers among family members of some of his victims.

Through curtains separating media witnesses a woman could be heard saying, "oh, feeling some pain?" in a mocking tone. Someone else whispered it was too easy. But that was it.

Media witnesses strained to find signs of life in the 45-year-old who was strapped to a gurney with arms spread wide when curtains hiding the execution chamber were opened at 2:08 a.m.

Ross never opened his eyes and never gave any outward signs of life, until he uttered his last words. He was covered with a white sheet to his chest and appeared resigned to his fate.

After a 4-minute call to check for any last minute impediments to the execution, the Warden took his position against the wall with three other observers.

The curtains closed at 2:21 a.m. Months of legal battles to save Ross life ended in that instant.

Some of the family members of Ross 8 victims said the death would provide them a sense of closure. They will cherish the fact there will be no more court appeals and no more Ross headlines.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

A stirring dissent in Connecticut

A member of Connecticut's Supreme Court issued this impassioned dissent regarding the scheduled execution of Michael Ross:

In most ordinary litigation, civil or criminal, a party's decision to
accept or to stipulate to a certain result either simplifies greatly or
resolves finally the proceedings. The defendant, Michael Ross, is,
however, no ordinary defendant, and this is no ordinary case.

This case illustrates, however, the sheer irrationality of the capital
punishment system because this defendant's election to forgo further
appeals or collateral relief, a decision that in any other context would
lend some economy to the proceedings, has in fact spawned seemingly
endless litigation over his fate.

I do not dispute the need for an abundance of caution given the tremendous
stakes of this case; indeed, after the execution has taken place, no court
will have the option of reconsideration. These proceedings have, however,
been cruel and traumatic for the victims' families and a significant part
of the punishment for the defendant himself, and also have come at great
financial cost for all parties involved, as well as the courts. And yet,
at the end of the day, the question remains: After the execution, what
will the state of Connecticut have gained from all of this? The answer
seems to be that, minimally, the state has secured the proverbial pound of
flesh for the crimes of this one outrageously cruel man. But now, what is
to be? Has our thirst for this ultimate penalty now been slaked, or do we,
the people of Connecticut, continue down this increasingly lonesome road?

I opened this opinion by mentioning that my opposition to the death
penalty has often been set forth in the Connecticut Reports. I close with
my belief that the totality of the costs that are attendant to capital
punishment vastly outweigh its marginal benefits.

Hopefully, the death penalty jurisprudence reported in those volumes soon
will become nothing more than legal artifacts of interest and import not
to the active bench and bar, but only to historians. Until such time,
however, I respectfully dissent.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

On Michael Ross

Someone posted this to the Abolish listserv and I think it is one of most brilliant things I have read in some time.

You may know that Michael Ross has dropped his appeals and is scheduled to be executed by the state of Connecticut at about 2 a.m. Friday. Ross has been convicted of murdering four women, has confessed to murdering four more and three times since his original conviction he has tried to kill himself.

Here's what was written on Abolish about this whole sordid affair:

Ross, who has demonstrated on at least 8 occasions that he has no regard whatsoever for the preciousness of human lives, and has shown on at least 3 other occasions that he has no regard for his own life, has decided that he will have the State of Connecticut kill him.

Let's look at this closely. A guy who doesn't care about life at all (his own or others') manages to require the state's killing aparatus (read: us) to kill him. And the Governor, the courts, his father, his sister, his lawyers, the people of Connecticut, including the families of his victims, either are not inclined to do so, or are powerless to think of a legal way to prevent the suicide.

That's right. Powerless. Exactly what Ross did to his victims he is now doing to us. He's making us know we are powerless to stop him. He's telling us that his desires are important and that ours are irrelevant. And that he can do whatever it is he wishes to us despite (to borrow a phrase from the rape statutes) our earnest resistance.

As long as there is a death penalty law, as long as people are sentenced to death, they will be able to do this to us. If the death penalty makes sense at all, and I don't think it ever does, it's when the person to be killed resists. But when someone with no value for life manages to get us, that's you and me, to mete out to him the very murderous behavior we condemn in him, something is very, very wrong. Are we the new Michael Ross? Do we share his values? Do we act as he would have us act?
Yesterday we blogged about an unusual investigative report by the Associated Press that found fundamental problems with Ohio's death penalty system. Today we see that one Ohio newspaper, the Akron Beacon Journal, has renewed its push for the Ohio Legislature to pass a law establishing a death penalty study commission:

Martin Frantz correctly assessed the legal landscape: ``Our criminal justice system doesn't always mete out justice and fairness in neat little packages -- sometimes it's a little rough.'' The Wayne County prosecutor knows that two defendants facing charges for the same crime often enough fare very differently. The outcome can turn on the quality of legal representation, the makeup of a jury, the temperament of the judge.

Frantz made his comment to the Associated Press as part of its three-part series of articles on the death penalty in Ohio. The thinking is that variations are expected. Yet when the punishment is death, a community, or state, has a greater obligation to seek a certain element of fairness and consistency.

The Associated Press found familiar disparities. Those defendants who killed a white person were twice as likely to receive a death sentence as those who killed a black person. Location can be a telling factor. The wire service reported that 8 percent of those charged with a capital crime received the death penalty in Cuyahoga Country. The figure in Hamilton County is 43 percent. Counties vary significantly in the resources provided court-appointed attorneys for the defense of indigent clients facing the death penalty. The gap isn't merely between heavily populated and smaller counties. The state's largest urban counties reported wide differences.

Ohio isn't alone. Other states have encountered similar trends. Illinois discovered so many flaws in its death penalty that it suspended executions. A former governor commuted the sentences of all those on death row, declaring the system arbitrary and immoral. Justice Paul Pfeifer of the Ohio Supreme Court called the Associated Press analysis ``very disconcerting and alarming.''

Pfeifer knows how to fight crime. As a state senator in the 1980s, he helped to forge legislation reinstating the death penalty. Of late, he has joined Democrats and fellow Republicans in calling for the state to study carefully how the death sentence is applied. A year ago, the Ohio House actually authorized such an assessment. The effort collapsed in the Senate.

The Associated Press reporting should spark a renewed effort. This newspaper has long advocated getting rid of the death penalty. If Ohio chooses to keep capital punishment, it has a moral obligation to be as consistent and fair as possible in its use.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Bias in Ohio

The Associated Press has launched an unusually in-depth look at the death penalty in Ohio. Reporters analyzed 1,936 capital murder indictments from 1981 to 2002. A three-part series on their findings was published this past weekend. Here's a summary of what they found:

Study finds Ohio's death penalty unfair

Associated Press May 05, 2005

Lawmakers writing a new capital punishment law 2 decades ago wanted a fair system for prosecuting the worst of the worst: killers whose crimes were so terrible there would be no question they deserved to die.

That didn't happen.

Ohio's death penalty has been inconsistently applied since it was enacted in 1981, according to a 1st-ever analysis by The Associated Press. Race, the extensive use of plea bargains and even where a crime has been committed all play a role in who is sentenced to death.

In its research, the AP analyzed 1,936 indictments reported to the Ohio Supreme Court by counties with capital cases from October 1981 through 2002.

Among the findings:

-Offenders facing a death penalty charge for killing a white person were twice as likely to go to death row than if they had killed a black victim. Death sentences were handed down in 18 % of cases where the victims were white, compared with 8.5 % of cases where victims were black.

-Nearly 1/2 of the 1,936 capital punishment cases ended with a plea bargain. That includes 131 cases in which the crime involved two or more victims. 25 people had killed at least 3 victims.

-In Cuyahoga County, a Democratic stronghold, just 8 percent of offenders charged with a capital crime received a death sentence. In conservative Hamilton County, 43 % of capital offenders ended up on death row.

State Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer, who co-sponsored the death penalty law in 1981 when he was a member of Ohio's Legislature, said the findings are disturbing.

Pfeifer, a Republican, is among many who have long called for a study of how the state's law is working. He said the analysis reaffirms early concerns that race would come into play.

"That has to be very disconcerting and alarming to all of us," he said.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Another death penalty blog!

Andy from Pennsylvania has made a nice, crisp contribution to the death penalty blogosphere: The Central Pennsylvania Abolitionist. Check it out!

Happy birthday, Lonely Abolitionist

Lonely Abolitionist turned one year old this week. Happy birthday, C!

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Sister Helen has a blog!

Just found out this morning, courtesy of Lonely Abolitionist, that Sister Helen has a blog! You can get there by going here. Also, if you look at the list of death penalty blogs on the left side of this page, we've linked to her. (Disclaimer notice: In addition to of course being the best known abolitionist in our movement, Sister Helen is a former chairwoman of the NCADP Board of Directors, although that was unfortunately before my time here.)

15,000 and counting

Last night we had our 15,000th visitor to this site. When we started this thing last June, it was just a little experiment, inspired by the success of the 2000 Dean campaign with their blog. Little did we know!

So, to the readers, whoever you are and whereever you are, thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

A day in the death of inmate No. 918

Recently I was invited to speak to a group of college students about the death penalty. The event was entitled Still Surviving: Youth, Prisons and the Death Penalty and was held at Cafe Mawonaj near Howard University in Washington, D.C. "Still Surviving" is a reference to a book written by Nanon Williams, a juvenile offender on death row in Texas.

The invitation presented a dilemma. Everyone, or nearly everyone, in the audience was solidly anti-death penalty and I feared that if I simply went through my litany of reasons why I personally oppose the death penalty, the audience would be bored.

So I decided to do something I had not done before. I did a reading from an article I wrote a long time ago for the Austin American-Statesman, back in my days as a newspaper reporter. The article depicted an execution in Texas.

(Apologies to those of you who have followed this blog for a long time, as you may have already seen this.)

Here is what I read:

"HUNTSVILLE – Execution of Inmate No. 918 was nothing if not efficient.
At the stroke of midnight Tuesday, the inmate took the last steps of his life on Earth from a holding cell into the death chamber.
By 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, five thick tan straps secured his legs, waist, and torso to a stainless steel gurney with a cushion on top.
His arms were stretched wide. Intervenes tubes were quickly inserted into each.
His head lay flat. His eyes blinked rapidly. He stared into the microphone, suspended two feet above his mouth. Above the microphone was a bright fluorescent light.
At 12:03, a harmless saline solution began flowing into his left arm and, at 12:05, into his right.
Witnesses quickly were ushered into the adjoining room with drab brown carpet and white curtains around the walls. A glass partition and bars separated the witnesses from inmate No. 918.
The instant the last witness was in the room, a figure appeared from a room behind the death chamber. The figure nodded to Warden Morris Jones, standing by the gurney. It was 12:08.
“We’re ready warden,” he said.
Warden Jones asked Inmate No. 918 if he had any final words.
“Yessir,” Cook responded. He licked his lips once and stared at the bright fluorescent light. “I just want to tell my family I love them and I want to thank the Lord and savior Jesus Christ for giving me another chance and for saving me. That’s it.”
At 12:08 a.m., a mixture of pancuronium bromide, which relaxes the muscles, potassium chloride, which stops the heart, and sodium thiopental, which induces unconsciousness, began flowing into Inmate No. 918’s veins. The average cost of the drugs is $71.50 per execution.
Inmate No. 918 gulped, blinked. His stomach moved up and down strangely. The effect of the drugs seemed immediate. Inmate No. 918 strained against the heavy tan straps and coughed or chocked, as if seeking air.
At 12:10 a.m., the flow of the drugs subsided. No one moved. The chaplain, inside the death chamber, stared at the floor.
The witnesses watched the corpse intently, as if expecting Inmate No. 918 to arise. The reflection of their faces could be seen in the glass partition separating the rooms.
Finally, Warden Jones made a motion toward the door to the death chamber. He admitted a medical doctor, who pulled out a stethoscope. He several minutes hunched over the body, probing, listening.
He removed his stethoscope, looked at his watch and looked at the warden.
“I’ve got 12:15,” he said.
“12:15,” the warden repeated.
Three hundred and sixty inmates remain on Texas’ death row. More than 600 capital murder cases are pending on the dockets of the state’s six largest counties."

A couple of notes: First, Texas now carries out its executions shortly after 6 p.m. Back when I wrote this, almost 12 years ago, they did them at midnight. There are now around 450 people on death row in Texas, even though this particular execution was several hundred executions ago.

My purpose in identifying the person being executed as "Inmate No. 918," if it is not obvious, was to try to demonstrate how the state, as part of the execution ritual, stripped the person of his humanity. It's difficult to execute people. It is easier to execute that which is less than human.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Of blogs and human rights

Amnesty International just posted an interesting article about how blogging can contribute to the international human rights movement. Thanks to our friend Scott Taylor for pointing this out to us.

The article begins:

The new media landscape is evolving at unprecedented speed and one of its most powerful weapons yet is the mighty blog. It is arguably the year of the Blogosphere, a phenomenon that has profound implications for press freedom and human rights.

This online community is made up of over eight million people who regularly post material on the web-logs (blogs). It is built on the foundations of its predecessors -- newsgroups, websites, web forums and chatrooms -- but with some crucial differences. The network of blogs is more interactive than websites, more interconnected than newsgroups or web forums and more permanent than chat.

Blogging opens up unprecedented opportunities for the media and its ability to cover issues around the world. This was clearly shown in the aftermath of the Asian tsunami at the end of last year. It took only a few hours for text and video from Thailand, Sri Lanka and Indonesia to be distributed across the web. These provided not just details for the news story, but also the individual stories that added a powerful personal element to the images of disaster.

To read the entire article, go here.