Monday, October 24, 2005

While I'm thinking of it, here's a picture of Rick Halperin, president of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, holding up Abe's and Beth's newborn baby. (I should know the baby's name but can't remember it right now. Sorry Abe!)

Also, courtesy of Beth, here's the latest post from the Journey of Hope, which has moved from Dallas all the way down to San Antonio:

Hi All,

Today was a travel day. We left our Dallas home in the morning and
traveled to San Antonio. During our Dallas time, there were several groups
traveling around the State. All of the other groups traveled to San Antonio
today as well. It was good to be together again. The San Antonio activists
welcomed us with a delicious Texas dinner.

Yesterday, I drove Walt Everett and his wife Nancy to an event at a Catholic church in McKinney, Texas. Fr. Greg and his team warmly greeted us and were most gracious. Fr. began the evening by boldly reminding the audience that the church opposed the death penalty. Then, Beverly McKay, a parishioner of that Parish, told her story. Her brother was on death row but within 48 hours of his extermination, they received a reprieve. The reprieve led to a life sentence. She is very grateful that her brother is alive. She expressed the loneliness and isolation that her family
felt. We encouraged her to join the Journey!

Our second speaker was Walt Everett. Walt is a retired Methodist minister. His son, Scott, was killed by a man named Mike. He told us that in the beginning, he felt mind-numbing grief and terrible anger about the loss of his son. He repeatly asked God for direction but felt he wasn't receiving an answer. Then, he went to the sentencing and heard Mike apologize for his crime. He felt moved to write Mike a letter outlining the pain Walt had suffered. After he wrote this letter, he felt
able to work for the first time since the day that he learned of his son's murder. Mike wrote back and eventually asked Walt to visit. Walt reluctantly began the process.
He hoped the prison would say no to a visit but they said yes. He reluctantly did visit Mike. Again, as on the day of the letter, he felt a little healed. He and Mike developed a relationship over time. Then, the day for Mike's parole hearing came up. Mike asked Walt if Walt felt that Mike should be freed. Walt felt that Mike was ready to return to society and agreed to share that with the board. Because of Walt's testimony, Mike received an early parole date. Mike holds a job and has become a productive member of society. In fact, Mike and Walt have often spoken together, though not at the Journey. Walt feels that the death penalty erases the hope that a person can be reformed and re-enter society. He knows that reconciliation and forgiveness did not just help Mike but it set Walt free.

More Later...

Beth Wood

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Journey chimes in, again from Dallas

Another update from Beth here. I wanted to post a picture of Rick Halperin, who was phographed while holding Beth and Abe's newborn, but Blogger is being a bit uncooperative with picture hosting today. Maybe down the road!

Hi All,

We had the definite pleasure of seeing Rick Halperin at his University,
SMU. He opened the session with an overview of the death penalty situation in
Texas. As we approach the unfortunate 1000th execution in the modern era (Rick
predicts that we will hit this milestone in November of this year), he notes
that about one-third of those executions occurred in Texas.
Surely, this
gives one pause to wonder. As it obviously isn't the truth that Texas simply has
the most "worst of the worst" and their free use of the death penalty hasn't
reduced their crime rate to well below that of other states in the Union, it
obviously points to the fact that the death penalty is geographically unfair.
Where you live can affect whether you live or die! This is certainly not equal

In addition to Rick, Bud Welch spoke. You may or may not know that Bud
Welch has a daughter, Julie Welch, who was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing.
He begins his speech by telling the audience about Julie. She brought a stuffed
animal to college but when Bud tried to put it in her cart, she threw it back in
the car and said, "Don't put the damn bear in the cart."

Later she slipped the bear onto the cart covered with a towel. She later
discovered that other freshman brought their stuffed animals but Bud took to
calling it damn bear after that incident. Damn bear was buried with Julie. Julie
loved languages and traveling abroad, so she got a job in the Federal building.
The morning of the bombing, she was escorting a client to her office when the
bomb went off. If she had been in her office, she might not have died, but as
she was out and about, she was killed. Bud says that prior to all of this, he
was against the death penalty. But after he lost his beautiful girl, he just
wanted the men responsible to die. It was only after he met with Tim McVeigh's
father and sister that he came to know that Tim's father was a victim of his
son's crime as much as Bud was a victim of the crime through the loss of his
daughter. He knew then that killing another would bring pain not healing. Like
so many stories, I wept for the sorrow and pain this man carries every

More Later. . .
Beth Wood

...gettin' better all the time...

so tonight the exonerated opens in chattanooga as part of our state's national weekend of faith in action on the death penalty events and i'm preparing to get on the road and drive to the home of the "choo choo..."

it's rather exciting actually - the unitarian universalist church in chatty (does anyone else affectionately refer to them as "unicorns?") decided to produce the play after seeing it at their last national conference ... the producer/director is the wife of the minister and she is an adjunct teacher of theater at a local university (i think i got that right)...

so joyce house, the mother of paul house whose case is of national interest and being argued before the us supreme court, will be there for the first two of what will be five performances over two weekends... she will be there to participate in the afterplay talk-backs... she's also a member of our board...

for the event (and for a different production of the same play next weekend in knoxville) we created a couple of new table displays to work with ... like this one on innocence and highlighting paul's case...

as to the national weekend of faith in action (nwfa) we in tennessee are very proud of the concrete organizing we have done around the event... in other words, we feel that for the first time ever we have adequately seized upon an organizing tool provided to states for their own benefit and maximized its utility based on our organizational capacity to do so...
last year we registered 3 communities as participants... this year we set a specific goal and developed an outreach strategy to achieve the goal... we set a goal of 30 registering communities and organizations and if i'm not mistaken we registered 31 AND we have 9 events posted on the aiusa-padp-nwfa web site...
the other display we made is for our emergent campaign on "stopping the legal killing of the mentally ill" which we are moving forward with as we develop a "wall of opposition" to the scheduled february 7th execution of greg thompson here in tennessee... we are working with nami to move other mental health care advocates, providers, consumers, and social workers to take a lead public position in challenging his execution... one expert says he's mentally incompetent and shouldn't be executed... meanwhile the state says it doesn't matter so long as he passes the threshold test... and then a witness says she couldn't kill him but if someone else will do it then okay - but she's conflicted about it...
cases can be of vital importance... especially one like this that has multiple issues we want to work with... we're fortunate here in tennessee, we've only had one execution since 1960 but we continue to flirt with the floodgates of disaster...
but in the final analysis, due to focused work, an ever increasingly active board of directors, and a second staff person in the form of a jesuit volunteer, it appears that indeed, things are gettin' better all the time...
peace out...

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Another new blog!

The Austin chapter of Campaign to End the Death Penalty has launched a new blog. You can see it here.

Journey of Hope moves from Bryan to Dallas

Another update from Beth, on the road with the Journey of Hope...From Vioence to Healing:

Hi All,

Sorry for the late post -- we didn't arrive in Dallas until 12:30 Central time. It was 2:00 am before we were organized and ready to sleep so I'm moving a little slowly today.

We spent our day in Bryan, Texas. We were traveling with Felicia Draughon and her beautiful daughter Alivia. Felicia's brother, Martin in on Texas' death row for a murder he did commit. She told of being 16 years old when she found herself attending the trial of her brother. She was told it was a capital trial but she didn't know what that meant or really understand the severity of the charge. She talks of her utter disbelief when they found her brother guilty of capital murder. Although he did shoot the gun, it wasn't at a specific person and he didn't deserve capital murder. The victim was killed by a ricochet bullet - a fact that was hidden by the prosecution.

She reports how her mother staggered from the room and collapsed on the floor. Felicia says that she can still here the haunting sound of her mother's head slapping against the floor. Felicia says that she doesn't always feel like she has a "story" because for her there is no end -- her brother currently sits on death row in Texas. In fact, she spent time with him just prior to the Journey. She has been devastated by having a family member just waiting for the state to kill them. She told the audiences about her brother's life of 23 hours of solitary confinement and that he NEVER gets to go outside. She would give anything just to touch her brother again.
We spoke at a University and then were interviewed for a radio program. The interview was recorded and will be aired later. Then we went to dinner with a group of folks from the local abolition groups and churches.

More Later . . .

Beth Wood

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Another Journey update

Another update from Beth, who is travelling in Texas with the Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing. The Journey will wrap up its activities next week when it converges with the annual NCADP conference in Austin:

Hi All!

This is our last day in Houston. The accomodations here have been
fantastic. This hotel has the best free breakfast buffet that I have ever seen.
They have it all and it is fresh, hot and delicious. The Drury is, according to
other veteran Journeyers, the best place they've ever stayed.

Yesterday, our team began the day at Thoreau Unitarian Universalist Church
here in Houston. Our team included two sisters, Bess Klassen-Landis and Ruth
Andrews. Their mother was murdered in 1969.

Although Ruth has joined the Journey before, this was Bess' first time. She
surely didn't seem like a first timer, as she mesmerized the audience with her
Prarie-home like talk of her utter devastation at the loss of her mother. We
learned in Ruth's talk that their 11 year old sister came home to find the naked
body of her raped and murdered mother. Ruth and Bess were spared the sight
because their sister called authorities before they arrived home. Bess was 13
years old at the time and Ruth was 16. Two days later, their father told the
girls that they needed to put on a brave face for the rest of the community.
However, Bess tells how her brave face only covered her fear of continuing to
live in the house and in the community where her mother had met such a brutal
end. The murderer was never caught and several of the suspects continued to live
in her neighborhood. She tells how her world stopped yet everything else
continued on unabated.

But, despite this brutality, she is sure that her mother's love and legacy
should not include revenge and retribution. She believes that love and hope are
the only answers to violence. She ended her speech with a song she had written
for children. I was struck by how joy, beauty and creativity were a hallmark of
Bess. Despite the tragic loss of her mother, her legacy lived on in the inner
beauty of this daughter. She so moved Abe and I that we suggested that she speak
at the evening event. She again gave an amazing talk.

The evening event was at a Catholic Seminary here in Houston. Sadly, the
event was not well-attended. A myriad of reasons were given including publicity
and the baseball game. In addition to Ray Krone and Bess, Bud Welch and Shujaa
Graham spoke -- more on them later.
Those that did not attend really missed a
thought-provoking evening.

We had to say goodbye to Ruth, Bess and Sue Norton, who were only able to
attend for the weekend.

I'm excited to hear Tracy Spirko speak today -- I'll give you the details
of her talk tomorrow.

More Later. . .

Beth Wood

Checking in with the Journey of Hope

Things have been incredibly hectic lately, with NCADP's upcoming annual conference in Austin. I have not been able to blog as often as I would have liked on the ongoing Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing.

But here, courtesy of Beth Wood, Abe's significant other, is an update. Stay tuned for more as time permits!

Good Morning All! We hail from Houston, Texas this morning. Governor left
us yesterday for Kamp K-9. It was a great facility and I believe he will have a
great time.

We arrived to a greet a big group of murder victims families last night.
Although Abe knew most everyone, it was exciting for me to meet so many people
I've seen in movies and read about in books. We began the evening by introducing
ourselves and giving a brief introduction. I hadn't prepared myself for the
amount of sadness that most of the Journey participants have suffered. Although
I had heard or read about most of them, hearing their story in person is much
more moving. I spent most of the time in tears.

As I chronicle this journey, I thought I would try to focus on one person
per day and help you to get to know them. I had not heard the story of a woman
named Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins. Her sister, her sister's unborn child and her
sister's husband were murdered by a teen who just wanted to see what it would be
like to kill someone.

Jennifer told of how her sister lived long enough to see her husband and
unborn child murdered and then eventually bleed to death. As she lie dying, she
traced a heart in the blood above her husband's head.

This, according to Jennifer, is the reason for her opposition to the death
penalty for this killer. Even having watched all of that, the last thought her
sister had was of love for her family. Having just had a baby and having a very
excited sister, who shared our joy, I can't imagine the pain Jennifer has
suffered. Yet, like all of these people, she is a bubbly woman filled with joy.
Forgiveness for her seems to be an elixir. She is scheduled to speak at a
synagogue with Abe this morning and I look forward to getting to know her

More Later . . .

Beth Wood

Monday, October 17, 2005

Ray Krone and the Journey of Hope

This is kind of an experiment. I've never posted a picture to the blog before, but Abe just sent this from the road in Texas. The picture is of Ray Krone, the nation's 100th death row exoneree, speaking at rally in Huntsville, Texas. You can't tell it from the picture, but the rally is in front of the Walls Unit, which is the place where Texas carries out its executions.

Some day, the place will be a museum.

Ray is part of The Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing, sort of a walking tour that is traveling around the state educating people about the death penalty. The Journey completes its tour at the NCADP conference ten days from now.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

William Nieves - After Innocence, an untimely death

When William Nieves was released from prison on October 23, 2000, after six years on death row for a crime he did not commit, Philadelphia County gave him a SEPTA token and a set of clothes. At 1 A.M.

In the five years between his release and his passing on October 8, William had ongoing health problems, problems stemming from his wrongful incarceration, during which he claimed he did not receive proper medical care. This lack of care is ultimately what killed him at the young age of 39. William also did not have health insurance, and his numerous doctor's visits and hospital stays created a tremendous financial burden on himself and his family.

And now his family has the additional costs of funeral and burial arrangements to say goodbye to their son, brother, and father who left us much too early.

It was inevitable that the question be asked: How can we help?

Friends of William have created, especially those with whom he worked after his exoneration, to create The Innocents Assistance Fund to try to help the family in this time of sorrow. To contribute, simply make a check payable to "Innocents Assistance Fund" and note in the memo "William Nieves memorial". Checks can be sent to:
Innocents Assistance Fund
c/o Central Pennsylvanians to Abolish the Death Penalty
315 Peffer Street
Harrisburg, PA 17102
All donations to the Innocents Assistance Fund are tax-deductible. I suspect a way will eventually be arranged to take care of this online, but that option is not yet available.

Friday, October 14, 2005

New blog in town

As we approach the 1000th execution carried out in the United States since 1976, a coalition of folks are making plans to use this occasion to discuss what's wrong with the death penalty.

As part of this effort, there is both a new web site, and a new blog. Check them out!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Here's my take on the Harriet Myers nomination

Here's my take on the Harriet Myers nomination:

'Astounding ignorance'

I can't help but blog again on the sudden prominence the issue of the death penalty is playing in the Virginia governor's race. Here's an editorial from the Roanoke Times:

If his television ads are to be trusted, Jerry Kilgore believes that
serving as a court-appointed attorney to a death row inmate disqualifies someone
from serving as governor of Virginia.

That demonstrates either astounding ignorance of the American judicial
system and the vital role played by defense attorneys in capital cases, or it
constitutes an offensive and vile attempt to manipulate an emotional issue for
base political gain.

Either way, Kilgore drags the governor's race to an insulting new low
with his attack on Tim Kaine's principled stance on the death penalty.

Kaine has repeatedly said that, while religious convictions lead him
personally to oppose the death penalty, as governor he would follow the law and
would exercise his clemency powers sparingly.

In an interview with The Roanoke Times Editorial Board this week, Kaine
explained that he is a pragmatist. He knows he cannot change the death penalty
culture in Virginia, but believes he can make a radical difference on other
issues of vital importance.

Kilgore, if elected, would also be faced with following state laws he finds
personally objectionable, such as those dealing with abortion. As Kaine has
said, governors don't have the luxury of picking and choosing which laws they
will follow.

Most voters trust Kaine to keep his word. A recent Washington Posts poll
found that 63 percent of Virginians said they trusted Kaine to uphold the law on
the death penalty.

Kilgore would like to erode that trust. He launched a series of ads that,
among other things, falsely accuse Kaine of saying he believed that not even
Adolph Hitler deserved the death penalty.

Kilgore based that accusation on an opinion essay in the Richmond
Times-Dispatch. But the Kaine campaign refuted that by releasing a transcript of
the interview that prompted the column. Kaine was asked if even people like
Hitler or Josef Stalin, who were responsible for the deaths of millions of human
beings, deserved to be executed.

Kaine said, "They may deserve it. Of course they may, for doing something
heinous. They don't deserve to live in civilized society. They deserve the death

One of the Kilgore ads features Stanley Rosenbluth, whose son and
daughter-in-law were murdered during a drug deal. Kaine represented their
murderer as a court-appointed attorney during a death-row appeal.

"Tim Kaine voluntarily represented the person who murdered my son,"
Rosenbluth says in the ad. "He stood with murderers in trying to get them off
death row."

In a teleconference with reporters, Kilgore tried to step around the ad's
implication that death row inmates should not receive counsel. "Everyone is
entitled to representation, but not every activist defense attorney is entitled
to be governor of Virginia," he said.

So, a lawyer who takes three court assignments to represent death row
inmates suddenly becomes an "activist defense attorney" who can't be trusted to
uphold the law of Virginia.
Such demagoguery is reprehensible, and it betrays
a callous disregard by Kilgore for the rule of law that as state attorney
general he once took an oath to protect and defend.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Death penalty smear

It's interesting to see what some folks will do to get elected. The Washington Post had this editorial today. (I'm excerpting, for reasons of brevity.)

Death penalty smear
FOUR WEEKS before Election Day, the campaign for governor in Virginia has reached a new level of nastiness. As strategists for Republican nominee Jerry W. Kilgore promised nearly a year ago, they are trying to make the death penalty -- and Democratic nominee Timothy M. Kaine's opposition to it -- the centerpiece of the race as it enters the homestretch.

But their chosen method -- including a TV ad suggesting that Mr. Kaine, the
lieutenant governor, is morally suspect for having served as a court-appointed
attorney representing a death row inmate a decade ago -- is loathsome.

The Kilgore campaign unveiled the ad yesterday, shortly after Mr. Kilgore, the former attorney general, held a conference call with journalists. He was careful not to imply, as he has in the past, that there is something wrong with representing defendants or convicts in capital cases. Rather, he said that attorneys such as Mr. Kaine who have taken an active public stance against the death penalty are not "entitled" to be governor.

But Mr. Kilgore's ad blurs that distinction. In it, an elderly man, Stanley Rosenbluth, whose son was murdered by one of Mr. Kaine's former clients, says emotionally: "Tim Kaine voluntarily represented the person who murdered my son. He stood with murderers in trying to get them off death row."


No one can feel anything but compassion for Mr. Rosenbluth, whose son, Richard, and daughter-in-law, Becky, were brutally murdered 12 years ago. The murderer, Mark A. Sheppard, was executed in 1999. But the insinuation that court-appointed
lawyers for death row inmates are morally remiss is off the mark. In fact, lawyers who agree to do defense work in capital cases are critical to ensuring that
justice is carried out.


In Virginia, which has carried out more executions than any state save Texas, Mr. Kaine's stance on capital punishment has caused him no end of grief. As a practicing Catholic, he is morally opposed to the death penalty, and in the past he has backed a
moratorium on executions. But he has pledged that if elected he would carry out the law and allow executions to proceed, barring glaring legal problems.

Mr. Kilgore has said that Mr. Kaine's activist public record in opposing the death penalty strips his position of credibility. He's entitled to argue that case. But to use Mr. Kaine's courtroom work as an appointee of the state Supreme Court is beyond the pale. That work should be lauded as a public service, not smeared by Mr. Kilgore.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Sad news

39-year-old William Nieves, a death row exonoree from Pennsylvania and a former NCADP board member, has died. Here's part of a statement from Pennsylvania Abolitionists United Against the Death Penalty:

In a tragic loss for the abolitionist community, death penalty opponents
around the Commonwealth this week mourn the death of William Nieves. William,
who spent six years on Pennsylvania’s death row for a crime he did not commit,
died Saturday in Philadelphia. He was 39.

"William Nieves will not be forgotten," said Andy Hoover, executive
director of Pennsylvania Abolitionists United Against the Death Penalty. "We
admired him for his perseverance during his wrongful conviction and for his
strength of conviction upon his release. His case is an example of government
run amok."

William was convicted and sentenced to death in 1994, despite a
complete lack of physical evidence to tie him to the crime and only one witness
who accused him. After researching the law during his imprisonment, he learned
that he had received poor advice from his attorney, who was paid a total of
$2,500 for the case.

The trial judge ordered a new trial, but the Philadelphia District
Attorney’s Office fought the order for three years, taking the case all the way
to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled in William’s

While preparing for the second trial, William and his new lawyer learned
that key evidence had been withheld from the defense. Three eyewitnesses had
told Philadelphia police that the shooter was short and African-American.
William was Puerto Rican and of average height.

Several months after the murder, one of the witnesses was charged with an
unrelated crime, and her story suddenly changed to finger William. After the
jury heard this evidence, William won his acquittal on October 20, 2000. After
his release, he traveled the country and the world telling his story and
advocating against the death penalty.

"Some will say that William’s case shows that the system works," Hoover
said. "When a jury convicts and sentences to death an innocent man, the system
fails. When a man loses six years of his life for something he didn’t do,
the system fails. When a father loses his relationship with his daughter because
he’s been wrongly imprisoned, the system fails. "William’s case shows that
government officials cannot be trusted with such awesome power."

Friday, October 07, 2005

...and speaking of providence...

as an issue based organizer-activist not all speaking gigs are equal ... such was the perception after i spoke to the united methodist communications (umc) workers in nashville on wednesday the 5th...

it was - um, a fundraising gig ... tcask is a member of community shares of tennessee ... which is a workplace charitable giving federation - like a united way for social change non-profits... and the "campaign" season begins in the fall at various points of the new school year... the federations are asked to speak at the "kick-offs" of various workplace campaigns (e.g. vanderbilt university, state board of regents schools, state employees) and they usually bring one or two agency reps to tell stories about the work they do...

the community shares rep, beverly, had an agency lined up to speak to umc but they cancelled at the last minute... rather than send an e-mail blast to all middle tennessee agencies as she normally did beverly just called me and i agreed to speak on short notice (less than 24 hours)...

i started wondering what felt unique about this gig ... i've done dozens of these in the past 3 years... later that night, after a nashville tcask chapter meeting i dropped someone off at the state office where he was meeting our board chair ... and when i mentioned the gig to amy she clued me in on why this was not your ordinary circumstance... i arrived early at umc and set up still thinking about what i was going to say ... the goal is to pitch our agency, its work and ask people to consider designating a gift to tcask as a part of their charitable giving for that year - fine...

i sat through a united way video which, i must say, is 100% corn syrup (g_d bless em'), and an nccj pitch that went on too long , then beverly made a short intro and a madd video played (one of our new cs agencies) - much more somber, and then it was my turn...

i joked that if the 2 federations were radio stations united way would be top 40 while community shares would be more of a jazz and blues station ... everyone laughed and that gave me a connection to the audience ... important for what was about to come...

so i told them what i'm telling you and that normally i would say, "blah, blah, blah..." (and i in fact said blah, blah blah which i thought acutely ironic), and then came to, "and tennessee doesn't execute many people - in fact we've killed only one person in the last 45 years ... but we do have a real date set for february 7th, a man named gregory thompson..."

and i gave some background on thompson, his mental illness (schizophrenia, undifferentiated) and how the attorney general had a conservator appointed for him in 2001 so he could be medicated and how the vampire of a public official had the conservator removed in 2004 so that he could kill thompson ...

and then i dropped the bombshell, "and the person whom greg thompson killed 20 years ago - for whose tragic death he is scheduled to die for in a few months was one of your colleagues here at united methodist communications - brenda blanton lane..."

well talk about silence...and some nodding heads...

so i told them about the press release we issued state wide when thompson's day was set and how the shelbyville gazette times ran a fair story the next day based on our release and that the following day a friend of brenda lane's wrote an op-ed the day after that and shared some of her thoughts with them...

brenda's friend said that she believed that brenda would have been one of the first people to forgive thompson, her killer, for what he had done - and there was some nodding in the audience... but that she didn't think she could do that, she didn't think she had that in her... but then she added that she didn't believe that she could be the one to inject lethal chemicals into thompson's body and kill him...

boy, was i a bummer! i had really let the air out of united way's little cute party... oh well...

the rest is a blur, i remember, drawing some sort of parallel between brenda blanton lane's family and gregory thompson's family and the grief that they would eventually hold in common if the state does in fact kill the severely mentally ill thompson...

in the end i was told that i hadn't done a presentation at all but delivered a powerful witness - nuff said'...

anyways, not all speaking gigs are equal...

peace out <3

Thursday, October 06, 2005

...better to hold your tongue and leave people guessing as to whether you are a fool...

...than to open it and leave no room for doubt like poor james brown who works for the government of new zealand...

From: TCASK Office 1 <>
Date: Thursday, October 06, 2005 9:03 AM

Dear Representatives of the Government of New Zealand,

I recently received an e-mail from one of your government's employees. I found it interesting on two counts.

The writer, one James Brown (presumably no relation to the American entertainer), e-mail address, sent to our organization a sick and taunting e-mail expressing his disappointment that a human being on death row in Tennessee, Sedley Alley, wouldn't experience an agonizingly slow death should he be killed by the state of Tennessee (which is very possible).

Because your government has abolished the death penalty for all crimes I thought that you should know that one of your government's employees, while certainly free to support capital punishment as an individual, was using government property (and presumably while being paid by the government of New Zealand) to oppose your government's official position.

I suppose it would be somewhat less offensive if he had done so in the voice of an adult rather than that of an adolescent child struggling through the hormonal ravages of puberty.

I truly do not wish for such a petty individual to damage formal or informal relations amongst peoples of the free world.

Thank you in advance for your acknowledgement of the poor judgment utilized by a representative (and ambassador) of the government of New Zealand.


Randy Tatel
Executive Director
Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing
PO Box 120552Nashville, TN 37212

"The death penalty is a public policy that fails victims, the accused and our core constitutional value of fairness. The best solution is to use alternatives and simply abolish the death penalty."

----- Original Message -----
From: James Brown
Sent: Wednesday, October 05, 2005 11:22 PM
Subject: re Sedley Alley:

Hi from New Zealand!

The world awaits, champagne on ice,
for this monster to die.

Sadly, it won't be the slow agonizing
death his victim endured,
but hey, you can't have everything.

Have a good day.

James Brown

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Introducing: The Abolition Blog Committee

Folks who pay close attention to this site may have seen some changes lately -- and believe me, more are coming.

We've established an Abolition Blog Committee that, initially at least, will consist of five of us. Please allow me to make a round of introductions:

I'm David. If you've been here before, you know me. I do communications work for the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

There's Abe Bonowitz. If you're active in the movement, you probably know Abe. Abe wears many hats, serving as director of both Citizens United for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. Abe is also a member of the board of directors of NCADP and Journey of Hope: From Violence to Healing. In addition, last year Abe was honored with NCADP's annual Abolitionist of the Year award.

There's Karl Keys. Karl operates the most highly-trafficked blog in the abolition movement, capital defense weekly. He is a lawyer operating out of the northern New Jersey/New York City area and has handled a number of death penalty appeals. He also has the interesting perspective of having served in the first Gulf War. He spent six years in the U.S. Marines. To see Karl's whole bio, go here.

Tennessee dude doesn't like his full name to be used, so we'll just lovingly refer to him as "randy." We believe "randy" is associated with NCADP's Tennessee affiliate, the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing. Check out their web site -- it rocks!

Last -- only because we haven't technically added her name yet -- there's my talented friend Carrie Johnson, founder and author of Lonely Abolitionist. Truth be known, Carrie and I actually haven't met in person. She's a lawyer in Minnesota and I "found" her through her blog, which she started before this one. Carrie is a feminist, a passionate advocate of lesbian and gay rights and a defender of civil rights in general and we're glad to have her on the Abolition Blog Committee.

Why the ABC? At first, I decided we needed a committee just to keep this blog going in case something happened to me -- after all, I was the only person with the password to this blog! But then the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that we need the energy that Abe, Carrie, Karl and Rand- er, Tennessee dude can bring. We need Abe's grassroots perspective and penchant for pictures. We need Karl's technological expertise and ability to embrace new ideas for outreach. We need Tennessee dude's vision and writing ability. And we need a perspective that only an outsider can bring -- someone who staunchly opposes the death penalty with every last fiber in her body but isn't connected to the movement. That's where Carrie -- our "lonely abolitionist" -- comes in!

So that's the why and the who of the Abolition Blog Committee. Stay tuned for further developments!


Yesterday, in a post entitled "The First Monday in October," I wrote the following about the 84 pages of cert denials issued by the Supreme Court yesterday:

Today's list included denials of cert for 37 people on death row. Not all of
these people have exhausted their appeals. But a number of them have and we will
soon see at least a small flurry of execution dates set, pushing upward the
number of executions that will take place in November and December.

Actually, I was in error because somehow I only got the first page of a two-page fax. There were actually cert denials handed down in 63 death penalty cases yesterday. We soon will see execution dates for people such as Robin Lovitt in Virginia, Reggie Clemons in Missouri and 75-year-old Clarence Ray Allen in California.

Have a nice day.

Monday, October 03, 2005

'Tis the Season....

Greetings All,

Having recently been asked to join the Abolish the DP Blog team, I thought I'd take a minute to invite folks reading this to participate in some of the things that are keeping me too busy these days.

First, coming up a week from Friday, on October 14, will be the Texas Journey of Hope ...From Violence to Healing. This event is a public education tour that will visit schools, churches, and other public venues over the latter half of October. Led by murder victim family members who reject the idea of the death penalty as a balm to heal their pain, joined by death row family members, death row survivors and activists, we'll be sharing personal experiences to help people understand the full collateral damage of the death penalty, and why the death penalty is a failed public policy. Learn more about it at

Then, coinciding with the end of the Texas Journey will be the national conference of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. We're experimenting this year with new models for making this annual event as useful and inspirational as possible. More info is at

And, sometime in November or December, we expect the 1000th extermination of a prisoner by the state in the current death penalty era (since 1972). That web site and plans for activities around the 1000th killing are still in the works, but keep checking at

Meanwhile, there is stuff happening all over the US, and you can search for events by state at

And if you want to keep up with the latest list of upcoming executions, join the For Whom the Bells Toll Campaign e-mail update list - the most comprehensive regularly updated list of upcoming exterminations scheduled within the U.S. You can sign up for the list using the sign-up box at

What more can I say? I believe that it is for each person who calls themself an abolitionist to figure out what activities work best for them, and then to DO IT -- early and often. For some people that means being on the road at events like those listed above. For others it means acting locally. For some, they do their part by being checkbook or credit card activists - meaning that they support the efforts of others by giving money - if that is you, go to and click on "Donate."

The title of this post is "'Tis the Season." What I mean by that is "'Tis the season to be DOING SOMETHING to stop executions." And in my book, the season for abolition is every hour of every day. What's on YOUR agenda today?


PS - Best wishes to those celebrating Rosh Hashana and also those celebrating Ramadan...

The first Monday in October

The first Monday in October is an exciting time for Supreme Court watchers. It's when the court finally returns from its summer recess and hears its first arguments of the new term.

Unfortunately for those of us in the abolitionist movement, the first Monday in October means something altogether chilling. For this is the day that the court releases its lengthy list of cert denials from cases that built up over the summer.

Today the cert list was 84 pages long -- hundreds, if not thousands, of denials, for only a very small percentage of cases are accepted by the court for review.

Today's list included denials of cert for 37 people on death row. Not all of these people have exhausted their appeals. But a number of them have and we will soon see at least a small flurry of execution dates set, pushing upward the number of executions that will take place in November and December.

That's one certainty that comes from the first Monday in October.

How do YOU respond to the WHACKOS...

so one good thing about our work in tennessee now is that i'm not the only staff person working out of our state office

...see, we applied for a jesuit volunteer placement and our app was accepted and now we have alex working 40, 50, 60, or so hours a week to help us end this shameful exercise in futility that policy wonks call capital punishment ...

so here's how cool it is ... last thursday i'm working on a press release which will take all afternoon for me to write, edit, e-mail and start to fax out (at age 47 or 8 i work more slowly than say alex does who is 22) ...

so in the olden days (pre-jv) that's all tcask would've done that afternoon - get out the release, which hey, don't get me wrong, that's a pretty good day's work (see previous entry) ...

but with alex around the organizing, the outreach, the productivity skyrockets - here's what i'm talkin' about...there was a first degree murder trial that resulted in lwop rather than a death sentence ... and some tn bumpkin wrote a letter to the editor excoriating the jury for their unbelievable decision not to kill this mentally ill guy ...

so while i'm doing the press release thing alex composes a letter to the editor in response and sends it in ... and it gets published in the tennessean...great!only alex is 22, rather idealistic (as 22 year olds are prone to be) and doesn't realize that half the inbred population of tennessee is going to write to him explaining how we should KILL THEM ALL AND LET G_D SORT IT OUT ...

i mean, in his defense, how was a nyc boy supposed to know this, he reallllllly gets into responding to these whackos in the great jesuit tradition of enlightening the populace with theological verse and rational discourse ...

well, the first counter reply says,

"While more than half of death row inmates are black, this is due to the fact that 75% of all murders are committed by blacks. Their representation of the population is not an issue least you imply that people commit crimes in proportion to their population. I would image that most criminals cannot affordhired attorneys simply that if they had the money for a lawyer they would not have the need to commit the crime. My comment that the mentally ill are the most dangerous is based that these persons are without reason and commit the worst of crimes. Can we concur that no sane person would murder children? Ed psi: BTW, I do not normally use the term "African-American" as it is not a race although used by those of color as a means of separating themselves from the whites. A true believer of civil rights would denounce this term and refer to those of color born in the U.S. as "Americans". For example, A white person born in Africa and immigrating to the United States would be "African-America."

uhhhh, excuse me for a moment while i glue the fragments of my blown mind back together ... phew, okay...

so here's my question: "How do YOU respond to the WHACKOS..."

these whack-jobs, in my humble southern opinion are not even mainstream hard-core pro-death penalty types ... no, these people have fallen off the far edge of that camp and are clinging to it by the barest of threads and should simply be ignored ...

or, if you're feeling mischievous you might send a response such as:

Kit -

If I think you must be insane and are therefore a threat all the time to society -should I execute you to save the gene pool?

Dude - you need serious help - seriously - can you or your wife make an appointment with a mental health professional today?

Seriously, if neither of you know how to do this e-mail me back and i will take the time to see that you get the mental health care you so desperately need - do it for your family - do it for your friends - do it forAmerica - just do it!

but really i think you just blow these people off - but i can't tell a young, energetic jesuit volunteer anything so we agreed to let YOU be the arbiter of how to respond...

oh yeah, one more thought ... if there is a list serve where some of our own hard-to-control supporters hang out perhaps posting the letters there and letting them haggle with each other is a possible scenario...

anyhoo - i gotta go feed the cage free hens my niece liberated from tyson farms...