Friday, September 29, 2006
NCADP of course cannot and does not endorse candidates. But elections will very significantly affect our work in 2007 and beyond.
Go here to read what's at stake.
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
They do not. Challenges to lethal injection largely come from lawyers who are looking for a lifeline for their clients, some of whom face imminent executions. That's the lawyers' job -- to explore and pursue every possible challenge in an effort to save their clients' lives. Bravo to them.
But, but, but a lawyer's job is not always exactly the same as an abolitionist's. And there is no grand strategy, no secret strategy, no strategy whatsoever that I know of to use the issue of lethal injection to attack the death penalty.
Anyway, with all this mind, I just dropped the following letter to the editor on the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Who knows whether they will print it. But I can print it here:
To the editor:
Your editorial (“Challenging lethal injection: But will anything satisfy death penalty opponents?” Sept. 27) contains several fallacies.
First, challenging the constitutionality of lethal injection is not, and has never been, the primary or even a secondary strategy for those of us organizing to end capital punishment. It is certainly true that some lawyers use this tactic as a lifeline to try to save the lives of clients with rapidly approaching execution dates – such is their duty as lawyers.
However, those of us who engage in public education and lobbying on the state legislative level invoke other strategies. These include discussing the exorbitant cost of the death penalty, the geographic and racial discrimination, the lack of deterrent value and the number of people who have been sent to death row and later found to be innocent (a list that includes Roberto Miranda, who spent 16 years on Nevada’s death row before charges against him were dropped and he was set free).
Second, contrary to the editorial’s premise, we have not “lost the public debate.” Last year, New York effectively abolished the death penalty. Soon New Jersey will follow. In New Mexico and North Carolina, bills to either abolish the death penalty or declare a “time-out” on executions have passed a legislative chamber. Public opinion against the death penalty has declined, as have executions. And the number of death sentences handed down each year has decreased sharply. Indeed, we find ourselves winning – not because of debate over whether lethal injection is cruel or whether other execution methods are better but because the U.S. public is becoming better informed on the issue.
Former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall said it best: “People are largely unaware of the information critical to a judgment on the morality of the death penalty . . . if they were better informed they would consider it shocking, unjust and unacceptable."
National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Well, that might be oversimplifying things a bit. Actually, it was a judge who ordered Cory Maye of Mississippi removed from death row. But were it not for the efforts of Libertarian blogger Radley Balko, this case would have gone unnoticed. Here is Radley's first-hand report:
A Small But Lovely Victory
Cory Maye will not sleep on death row tonight. Nor, for that matter, any night for the foreseeable future.
At the conclusion of the hearing today, Judge Michael Eubanks ruled on
two of the defense team's battery of arguments. Both rulings from the bench tonight dealt with Rhonda Cooper's competence. Judge Eubanks found that Ms. Cooper was competent for the trial, but incompetent for the sentencing.
I have my quarrels with that ruling, obviously. But in the short run,
it means that Cory will at the very least get a new sentencing trial. And until and if that happens, he will no longer be on death row -- and for the moment is no longer condemned to die.
Judge Eubanks did not issue a ruling on any of the other defense arguments -- and there were lots of them. It may be a month or more before we hear what he has decided. That said, I am cautiously optimistic. Empahsis on the "cautiously." I'll get into the "why" on that -- once again -- a bit later. There is also some reason to think that today's ruling may very well permanently spare Cory's life. I'll get into that later, too.
It's been an amazing couple of days. I felt at times as if I were watching
I have about 60 pages of notes from the hearing. Once I get back to D.C.
tomorrow, I plan to sit down at the computer, and over the weekend, walk you through the last 48 hours.
But now? I have something to celebrate. And my hotel is, literally, right
on Bourbon Street. You should be able to figure out where I go from here. Be back when I'm sober.
Go here to read more about the Corey Maye case on Radley's blog. All I can say is, wow. WOW!
Saturday, September 23, 2006
Thursday, September 21, 2006
You can read more about the book and purchase it by going here. We recommend it!
What would happen if the United States abolished the death penalty and
emptied its death rows? If killers were released from prison? What would they do
with their second chance to live? Would they kill again?
Back From The Dead is the story of 589 former death row inmates who, through a lottery of fate, were given a second chance at life in 1972 when the death penalty was abolished; it returned to the United States four years later.
Back From the Dead also includes new, up-to-date recidivism data and statistics from 1972 to 2005 – on these inmates who escaped their date with death in the summer of ’72 when the U.S. Supreme Court abolished the death penalty in the case of Furman v. Georgia.
During the years she represented Walter Williams on Texas’ Death Row,
Cheever always wondered what would happen if his death sentence was reversed and he was eventually released from prison. Would he have killed again? Two years
after Williams’ execution, Cheever was determined to find the answer. Leaving
her young family and comfortable life in suburbia, she traveled across the U.S.
and into the lives and homes of former death row inmates, armed only with a tape
recorder, notepad, a cell phone that didn’t always work, and a lot of faith. In Back from the Dead, Cheever describes her own journey and reveals these
tales of second chances: of tragedy and failure, racism and injustice, and
redemption and rehabilitation.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
A columnist for the Myrtle Beach, South Carolina newspaper named Isaac Bailey recently took on this issue when he interviewed an individual named Tom Clark of the Center for Naturalism. With no further comment from me, here's their q and a:
People such as Stephen Stanko, who was convicted of murder and sexual assault, don't deserve the death penalty because they are a product of their environment and genetic makeup.
That's essentially what Tom Clark of the Center for Naturalism in Somerville, Mass., told me through e-mail after reading about Stanko'strial and the local reaction to it. It's more nuanced than that, though, which is why I wanted to provide him space to explain a belief he says is grounded in solid scientific reasoning and research.
According to the center's Web site, it is a nonprofit "devoted to increasing public awareness of naturalism and its implications for social and personal well-being."
Bailey: Why do you believe Stanko had no control over his actions?
Clark: Stanko had no control over his genetic endowment and his upbringing, the combination of which gradually created his character and propensities for criminal behavior. I think it's incorrect to say Stanko had no control over what he did. Rather, it's that his capacity for conforming his conduct to the law - what we mean by self-control in this context - was severely compromised by various causal factors having to do with his genetics and upbringing. He wasn't completely insane or out of control. Had a police officer been present, he wouldn't have committed his crimes. Yet he lacked enough impulse control, plus had other dysfunctional, antisocial characteristics, for this horrific behavior to occur. All this could be explained if we knew enough about his genetics and life history.
Bailey: I believe things such as genetics and the environment influence behavior but doesn't cause them, meaning it might be harder for someone like Stanko to resist the urge to commit violence but he can choose to resist nonetheless.
Clark: Then you believe, as do most people, that there is this 3rd thing, this uncaused free will independent of genetics and environment, that does cause behavior. But then you have to explain where that will comes from, and what makes it choose the way it does. If you can't answer those questions, you're appealing to a mystery, and if you do answer those questions, you'll see that it all ultimately boils down to environment and heredity as they create the person, since there's nothing besides these that figure in causal explanations, according to science.
The significance of all this for the death penalty, of course, is that if you suppose Stanko has free will, and just chose not to refrain from killing, then he deserves to die, since he's a self-made monster. But if we take the causal story of his character and behavior seriously, we can't suppose that he could have done otherwise.
Bailey: Given that view, what, exactly, should be done with the Stankos of the world, given the crimes they commit?
Clark: If, as I believe, we should be creating a less punitive, less dangerous society, then we want to reinforce nonviolent models of behavior and make inmates better, not worse. Right now, the death penalty and many prisons model the worst sort of behavior imaginable - killings, rape, isolation, degradation - and thus further damage inmates, many of whom will eventually be released, helping to perpetuate the sort of society that's causing crime in the first place. Once we drop the free-will-based, retributive justification for punishment, there are still valid objectives of criminal justice, including public safety, deterrence, rehabilitation, community restoration, and victim restitution.
My recommendation for what we do with Stanko:
To ensure public safety, Stanko should be securely segregated from society.
To help deter others contemplating similar horrific crimes, his sentence should be a minimum of 20 years.
To help rehabilitate him to the [fullest] extent possible, the facility housing him should provide effective, evidence-based programs that teach him social and job skills of the sort he should have had in the first place. Treatment for addiction, mental illness and other behavioral health problems should be provided as well.
For community restoration, his work requirement should be designed to produce some tangible benefit to the communities he terrorized, such as participating in a supervised crew doing clean-up, construction and other necessary work he's capable of doing.
For victim restitution, Stanko should, with proper counseling and guidance, be led to understand just how badly he's damaged his victims' lives and those of the victims' families. He can then be required to apologize directly to his victims and their families, and provide continuing restitution to them in the form of work done on their behalf. All this takes the victims' needs into account, a very important aspect of criminal justice.
Conditions of release: Stanko's release from segregation should be contingent on the determination that he no longer presents a risk to society and that he has fulfilled the obligations of his sentence related to community restoration and victim restitution.
Focusing on Stanko is just part of the solution, assuming we're interested in solutions to crime and not merely on meting out just deserts. You could challenge your readers to reconsider their retributive instincts by visiting www.naturalism.org/criminal.htm, and suggest they address the vital questions of what social conditions create Stanko and others like him, and what can we do to prevent other such human horrors. The basic issue is, what sort of a society do we want to be? A society that executes those unfortunate individuals who are caused to become murderers or a society that addresses those causes?
Monday, September 18, 2006
Pastor-in-training takes on the death penalty
By JILL CALLISON
September 17, 2006
Six years ago, Karl Kroger was a high school student in Lead when the lives of two young men not much older than he tragically collided. Elijah Page, then 18, and two other men brutally murdered 19-year-old Chester Poage.
Page was scheduled to be executed for his role in the killing Aug. 29; Gov. Mike Rounds issued a stay because of issues with state law. Last year, Kroger interned at the South Dakota State Penitentiary chapel. Every week, he walked past the cells that confined Page and three other death row inmates.
"I abhor what each of those four men did, but when I think about that table in the execution room, that room that I have been in, I abhor what my government does in continuing the violence," Kroger said. "Why do we teach people that killing people is wrong by killing people?"
His abhorrence of the death penalty led Kroger, then attending Dakota Wesleyan University, to organize students to lobby in Pierre to end the juvenile death penalty. It passed by two votes.
Kroger has e-mailed Rounds, urging commutation of Page's death sentence. Kroger, who will follow in his father's footsteps and become a pastor in United Methodist churches in South Dakota and North Dakota, also wrote a resolution opposing the death penalty. The UMC's Dakotas Conference passed it in June 2005.
Other social justice issues that engage Kroger's heart, mind and soul include erasing poverty, fair wages for workers worldwide, good stewardship of the environment and AIDS prevention.
Jeanne Koster, retired director of the South Dakota Peace and Justice Center, calls Kroger a natural-born diplomat who doesn't compromise his principles.
"The leadership he exercises in coming years will be persuasion, not coercion," she said. "He has a firm sense of what is right, and yet he can work and manage not to compromise that and bring people around without being abrasive."
The Rev. Cody Schuler of Fargo first met Kroger when Schuler was a church camp counselor.
"Karl is not a loud person. He's not the voice that you hear above everybody else's voices, but Karl is someone with a very caring heart," Schuler said."To look at what he's accomplished and where he can go in the future is exciting."
Friday, September 15, 2006
As anyone who follows the news knows, Ann Richards died the other night after a brief illness. Courtesy of Texas Students Against the Death Penalty, I stumbled across the following funny quote:
Bowing to the reality of the pro-death penalty Texas Legislature, Ann Richards was not a vocal critic of the Texas death penalty law while Governor. While campaigning for Governor, she was asked if she supported or opposed the death penalty. She said, "I will uphold the laws of the State of Texas." The reporter then asked, "But what would you do if the Legislature passed a bill repealing the death penalty?" to which she replied, "I would faint."
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Nussle says he'd push for death penalty as governor
Republican candidate for governor Jim Nussle said Tuesday that reviving the death penalty in Iowa would be one of his legislative priorities next year if he wins the November election.
Although Nussle and his Democratic rival, Chet Culver, each support capital punishment, Culver has said he would not actively push for reinstatement.
Nussle said the issue will be on his crime-fighting agenda, along with beefing up funding and staffing for the Iowa State Patrol and at the state's prisons. "I believe the death penalty should be an option for judges and juries inIowa, in particular for heinous crimes involving felony murder. That's where I believe we should head," Nussle said in an interview. "I think a lot will be determined in the election for the Legislature," Nussle said.
Culver was as the only pro-death penalty candidate in a 4-way Democratic primary contest in June. He sought to de-emphasize the issue then and that hasnt changed, according to his spokesperson Taylor West. She said he favors capital punishment in a limited number of cases, such as the abduction and murder of a child. "He's not running for governor to reinstate the death penalty," West said.
Death penalty proposals have faced an uphill struggle at the Statehouse in recent years. And it's much less likely that the issue will reach the next governor's desk if Democrats succeed in winning control of the Senate, House or both.
Democrats are favored to take over the now evenly-divided Senate, where Republicans are defending 6 open seats this fall. During the past 2 legislative sessions Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs has blocked votes on the death penalty. An analysis by Lee Newspapers and Radio Iowa news in February found that 29 of 50 state senators opposed reinstatement.
Gronstal said it's uncertain whether elections will change the equation. "Republicans are big about talking about the death penalty in October of even-numbered years," Gronstal said. "I expect the Republicans to attempt to make that an issue."
(source: Globe Gazette)
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Recently an alternative weekly in Milwaukee published this article on Ray Krone, who was the 100th person freed from death row due to new evidence of innocence. (Later, a DNA "cold hit" would apprehend the guy who actually committed the crime.)
Hat tip to my friend and former NCADP intern Kurt Rosenberg for sending the article my way.
It starts off like this:
A Former Death Row Prisoner Speaks Out
Why Wisconsin should not bring back the death penalty
Ray Krone was convicted for murdering a woman in a Phoenix bar and sentenced to death in 1992. He maintained that he was innocent. The courts disagreed. But after more than 10 years, DNA evidence exonerated him of the crime and he became a free man.
Krone was in Wisconsin this week as part of the organization Witness to Innocence, telling everyone far and wide about the dangers of reinstating the death penalty in the state. Wisconsin’s voters will be able to weigh in on an advisory referendum in November that would allow capital punishment to be used in cases of first-degree intentional homicide, “if the conviction is supported by DNA evidence.”
Krone said the referendum is pure politics. “Your state had no death
penalty for 150-some years and I think that’s very wise and insightful,” he said. “But people act on emotions and politicians want your vote and this is a way to use emotions to get your vote and get the voters to turn out.”
The article then asks a series of compelling questions and Krone answers them:
But why not allow the death penalty to be used in cases that are proven by DNA evidence?
“DNA is only present in 20% of homicide cases,” Krone said. “There’s also
been proof that DNA, if not handled properly, can come back with false positives
and lead to wrongful and erroneous convictions. Human error is inevitable. But
the death penalty is not revocable, it’s not reversible. If you kill somebody,
you can’t bring them back when you realize that you’ve made a
But doesn’t the death penalty deter crime?
“No. Very rarely do murderers go on to commit murder again,” Krone said.
“If it were true that the death penalty deterred crime, then your state would be
overrun with murderers because you don’t have it and surrounding states would be
free of murders.”
Doesn’t the death penalty give closure to the families of victims?
“Actually, it leaves them open to a lot of things,” Krone said. “Because of
all of the appeals, the process [drags] out for a while and the families have to
go through that emotional state again. Whereas if you sentence someone to life,
you’re not going to really hear from them again.”
But isn’t a life sentence easy, compared to facing death?
“When I was on death row and they were executing people around me, they
took those men off to be executed and none of them was fighting it or putting up
any resistance,” Krone said. “They all said, ‘Kill me, because it’s got to be
better than living here.’ So if people are all about punishment and making
people suffer, if you make them [convicted murderers] get up every day in
prison, with its horrible conditions and the violence that goes on there, that’s
If you're in Wisconsin or are interested in the referendum, check out No Death Penalty Wisconsin's new site.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
And by "someone," we do not mean Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed, who, having signed the order authorizing Cantu's [wrongful] execution, is singularly unqualified to lead the investigation into what terrible things went wrong.
For those who have just stumbled across this blog and are unfamilar with the Cantu case, let us recap: Last year the Houston Chronicle published a two-part investigative series strongly suggesting that Ruben Cantu was innocent of the crime for which he was tried, convicted, sentenced to death and executed. You can read part one of the series here and part two here.
After the story ran, Reed announced that she would conduct an investigation into Cantu's execution. Many legal observers said, well, an investigation would be a Good Thing (to use the legal term) but why should it be conducted by the very person who once signed Cantu's death warrant? One thing led to another, and eventually the pro-prosecutor Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was asked to step in, which it, of course, refused to do. (You can read about this little controversy here.)
Many Texas newspapers, waking up to the fact that Texas in recent years has carried out not one, not two but three executions of innocent people, protested loudly. This week, the conservative Dallas Morning News joined the fray:
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals could have struck a blow for justice
this week in a smarmy death case. Instead, the state's highest criminal court
sat on its hands, essentially blessing Bexar County DistrictAttorney Susan
Reed's investigation of her own office. Worse, in her previous job as a judge,
she personally set the execution date for the man in question, Ruben Cantu. He
was put to death in 1993 for a robbery-murder that has come into question
because of witnesses' changed accounts. Is a disinterested inquiry really too
much to ask for?
Yes, apparently. But we'll keep blogging.
Update: I just saw that the Houston Chronicle this week editorialized on this as well. Here's what they had to say:
Court's decision to leave a wrongful execution inquiry with a
tainted DA clouds Texas justice.
In order to determine whether the state might have executed an innocent man, Texas needs a clear-eyed, objective investigation into the circumstances surrounding the conviction and capital punishment of Ruben Cantu in 1993.
When Texas' highest court for criminal matters declined to halt the
tainted, conflict-burdened investigation, it provided only more uncertainty. The facts in the Cantu case are troubling. Convicted of a 1984 robbery in which one victim was killed and the other wounded, Cantu's execution is clouded by three witnesses' recent claims of Cantu's innocence. One witness is the surviving shooting victim.
The integrity of the criminal justice system depends on a thorough vetting of the evidence, old and new, to determine the truth of those disturbing claims. What's more unsettling, this investigation is being undertaken by the woman who, as a state district judge, reviewed one of Cantu's appeals and signed his death warrant. The court's decision, predictably supportive of the prosecution regardless of the facts, allows Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed to roll forward with an investigation that is tainted by her clear conflict of interest.
Concern for the validity of the investigation grew with the revelation that 2 of Reed's top investigators were recorded on a public police phone line calling Cantu's convicted co-defendant, David Garza, a bastard and declaring that all the witnesses, who include Garza, were lying. That recording prompted Garza's attorney to ask the Court of Criminal Appeals to remove Reed from the inquiry in favor of an independent special prosecutor.
In refusing the lawyer's appeal, the court disregarded a letter submitted to the court and signed by 22 legal scholars calling for an independent inquiry. And the judges left the impression that a clouded investigation into even credible allegations of a wrongful execution is good enough for Texas justice. The judges issued no written opinion.
The situation is made worse by other Texas death penalty cases crying out for review. A "statement of concern" by the heads of 7 justice advocacy organizations points out that the state has executed 2 other men under murky circumstances, Cameron Todd Willingham (based on arson evidence now thought to be unreliable) and Carlos De Luna (possibly because of mistaken identity).
The statement calls on the Legislature to fund the Texas Forensic Science Commission to review the Willingham case and others that raise similar questions of forensic science. It also calls on lawmakers to establish an Innocence Commission to "conduct fair and independent investigations in cases where plausible claims are raised that Texas executed an innocent person."
If Cantu was guilty of killing a man, as the San Antonio district
attorney's office confidently claims, it shouldn't bother the lead prosecutor to have an investigator without ties to the case giving it a comprehensive review. Stubbornly refusing to give up the case only underscores Susan Reed's conflict of interest. Her investigation can't promise that, at the end of the investigation, justice will have been done.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
NEW JOHN GRISHAM BOOK:
AN INNOCENT MAN (Doubleday, hd. 28.95)
Release date: October 10
In 1971 Ron Williamson left Ada, Oklahoma, to join the Oakland A's. He returned to his mother's house six years later with an injured arm and addicted to alcohol and drugs, unstable and unemployed. In 1982, a woman was raped and murdered, and the police were unable to make arrests until five years later, when they arrested Williamson and a friend. Despite the lack of evidence, Williamson was convicted and sent to death row until he was freed in 1999 as a result of DNA testing.
John Grisham was inspired to tell the story of Ronald Williamson, his trial, imprisonment and eventual exoneration. "Not in my most creative hours could I imagine a story as compelling as Ron Williamson’s," Grisham says.
This first work of non-fiction published by John Grisham has been called his most compelling legal thriller yet. THE INNOCENT MAN will profoundly affect our perception of justice in America today.
We are now taking advance orders for signed copies of this momentous new book. Visit us or call us at 800-648-4001 or 662-236-2262. No email orders please.
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Monday, September 04, 2006
or, as in the following case, other forms of ineffective assistance of counsel did not justify overturning a death sentence upon appeal resulting in another questionable texecution...check this out courtesy of ...the death penalty information center...
Justin Fuller was executed in Texas on August 24. He was the 19th person executed this year, equaling the total number of people executed last year in the state. The San Antonio Express-News reported that Fuller had been represented by an attorney who "filed an appeal with incoherent repetitions, rambling arguments and language clearly lifted from one of his previous cases, so that at one point it described the wrong crime."
The appeal filed for Fuller copied wording that the attorney had filed for a different client and references blood on a gun used in a case seven years earlier. The brief contains irrelevancies, repetitions, and numerous typographical errors. Even the assistant district attorney was disturbed by the quality of the legal brief.
After Fuller lost his appeal, his representation was taken over by another attorney, but the original attorney continued to represent death row inmates. In one subsequent brief, the lawyer "spends 13 pages naming seemingly every document filed in the case. It then makes five claims that are almost word-for-word identical to claims in Fuller's case. The next 24 pages seem copied from his client's letters, so that they seldom if ever cite case law and occasionally lapse into first-person narrative." The lawyer is still on the list of "competent counsel" for Texas death penalty appellate work. (Maro Robbins, San Antonio Express-News, Aug. 24, 2006). See Representation.
uh, peace out, i think... <3
Saturday, September 02, 2006
in no instance should we refer to this as state assisted suicide...this is a case of prisoner assisted homicide because such an occurrence is only speeding up what the state has planned for this individual all along...
in tennessee we just missed such an execution in the person of the severely mentally ill paul dennis reid...amnesty international put out the following action (see below) for elijah page...when i come across these instances of state assisted homicide i yearn for the wisdom of the late justice thurgood marshall...
"A defendant's voluntary submission to a barbaric punishment does not ameliorate the harm that imposing such a punishment causes to our basic societal values and to the integrity of our system of justice. Certainly a defendant's consent to being drawn and quartered or burned at the stake would not license the State to exact such punishments.Whitmore v Arkansas, US Supreme Court, Justice Marshall dissenting, 1990.
elijah page, age 24, was scheduled to be south dakota's first execution since 1947 on august 28...he is the 7th inmate this year to waive his appeals or "volunteer"...he was only 18 at the time of the crime, and a co-defendant received life imprisonment...sentencing him to death, the judge acknowledged mr. page's childhood of deprivation and abuse, saying "your early years must have been a living hell...most people treat their pets better than your parents treated their kids."to learn more about so-called volunteers for execution click here...
fortunately south dakota gov. mike rounds stopped this execution so that the state of s. dakota could review its lethal injection protocol...
perhaps people do live on through the remembrance of the good works of others...thank you justice marshall...
peace out... <3
Friday, September 01, 2006
Well, Anthony could soon be gaining his freedom. The state of Texas apparently has until mid-September to retry him or set him free. Lawyers right now are pushing for Anthony to be released on bail.
In addition to the above link, you can read a CBS Evening News report about Graves' case here.