Tuesday, August 29, 2006

75,000 and counting

Sometime late last night Abolish the Death Penalty received its 75,000th visitor. Now, I know that's nothing compared with Daily Kos (who won't link to us cuz we're too small) or MyDD. But for a single-issue blog on an issue some people undoubtedly find depressing, it's not shabby.

It's certainly more than I expected when I launched this thing two years and two months ago. Back then, no one read it except maybe my girlfriend and my pet hamster. Okay. I don't have a pet hamster. But if I did, it would be a cool pet hamster. And it would be a good reader. And it would read my blog.

Anyway, thanks for stopping by. We'll try to keep it interesting and we promise we'll try to do a better job of updating!

Tuesday's Focus

Just a reminder that on Tuesdays you can hop over to our sister blog and read the stories of the members of Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing. Today's installment examines the story of Ray Krone, pictured above.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Finding redemption

Sean O'Brien, a capital appellate attorney in Missouri, recently won first place in an essay contest sponsored by the American Bar Association Journal. His essay is certainly worth posting in its entirety:


FINDING REDEMPTION----How Picking Up the Phone Can Change a Lawyer's Life
By Sean O'Brien

"Doyle Williams is on line 2." I debated whether to pick up the phone.

It was 3 p.m., April 9, 1996. Doyle was scheduled to be executed at midnight. Doyle was not my client; he was represented by Charles German, who was doing a heroic job of trying to stop Doyle's execution.

I met Doyle in 1990, when I became director of the Missouri Capital Punishment Resource Center. He was Missouri's finest jailhouse lawyer, a person who helped prisoners with pro se pleadings and other legal troubles. Doyle had landed on death row after he and another man kidnapped and murdered a witness. Doyle's co-defendant was given immunity to turn state's evidence, and he walked free as Doyle was sent to death row.

Doyle never talked to me about his own case; he was worried about his fellow prisoners. Some were mentally retarded. Joe Amrine and Larry Griffin were innocent. "I mean for-real innocent, not convict-innocent," Doyle explained. (Today, Amrine is free, but Griffin is dead.) We talked about life on death row. He called me "counselor" in a way that simultaneously conveyed respect and affection.

Doyle often called to alert me to emergencies. Once he sent me a habeas corpus petition filed by a lawyer appointed to represent Steve Parkus. It was a nine-page cut-and-paste job devoid of facts or issues. I mean literally cut-and-paste; you could see the edges of the Scotch tape on the photocopy. The lawyer had simply rearranged this mentally retarded prisoner's pro se filing and taped it to a preprinted form.

In February 1996, Doyle had called me about Amrine, whose attorney had missed the deadline for filing a notice of appeal. I was working on Amrine's case when Doyle called on April 9.

I am ashamed to say what went through my mind as I debated whether to pick up the phone. I was already not going to make it home for dinner with my family. I ran the risk of losing critical time on the pressing cases of Amrine and others.

What if he wants me to help with a desperate last-minute appeal? Then again, what if he just wants to say goodbye? With some hesitation, I picked up the phone. "Hello, counselor!"

"Hey, Doyle. How are you holding up?"

"Those silk-stocking guys are working pretty hard. You know, they are pretty decent human beings, in spite of what people say about them."

With some trepidation, I asked, "Is there anything I can do?"

Doyle replied, "Well, as a matter of fact, there is."

Uh-oh, I thought -- here it comes.

"Zein Isa needs your help."

Zein was a feeble, elderly prisoner who would not survive long enough to be executed. He was too ill to leave his cell. Zein would live out the rest of his days in virtually solitary confinement.

"Do you think Warden Delo would let us have a wheelchair for Zein so someone could roll him to the dining room to eat with the rest of the guys?"

I promised to look into it. We said our goodbyes, and that was the last time I talked to my friend Doyle. I found out later that Doyle spent his last day calling people with requests on behalf of other prisoners. I had wasted 3 full minutes of his precious time absorbed in my own selfish concerns.

As I hung up the phone, I experienced a profound awareness that no matter what each of us had previously done in our lives, at that moment Doyle Williams was a better human being than I. If a death row inmate can find redemption, maybe a lawyer can, too.
________________________________
Sean O'Brien is a professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. He is director of the school's Death Penalty Representation Clinic.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Part One: The Execution of Samuel Flippen

Former NCADP intern Rachel Lawler attended the vigil outside Central Prison in Raleigh, North Carolina before and during the execution of Samuel Flippen. As has been the case with recent North Carolina executions, some protesters were arrested for acts of civil disobenience although, as it turns out, Rachel was not among them.

She provides this account, brought to you in two parts:

Intense.

For several days after Sammy Flippen's death at the hands of the state of North Carolina, that was the only word I could use to describe my experience there. Since the 1,000th execution back in December, North Carolina has made local and national news because death penalty opponents there have taken a stand against executions by participating in direct action and risking arrest because of their convictions. They have risked their freedom and liberty because they so strongly believe that taking the life of another human being is wrong.

I've been involved with many anti-death penalty events, but prior to Sammy's execution, I had only been involved with one other execution event, that of Michael Ross in Connecticut – the event that had been the impetus for my immersion in and dedication to this cause. The events of Sammy's execution brought back many of the truly raw feelings that initially drew me in.

On the evening of Aug. 17th, a prayer service was held at a church in Raleigh, lead by the former Baptist minister and current Nazareth House resident, Scott Bass. The introductory paragraph on the program read "We gather to pray for Samuel Flippen, for members of his family and his friends. We also honor the memory of Britnie Hutton and we pray for healing for her loved ones." In attendance at the service were more than 30 of Sammy's friends and family members, all of whom spoke and introduced themselves. It was heartbreaking to hear them talk and see the absolute sadness in their eyes – a reminder that the death penalty punishes all, not just the person who is put to death. Being in the presence of these people who were grieving for the impending loss of their loved one immensely drove home the reality and humanness of the death penalty. Their sobs throughout the ceremony and especially during "Amazing Grace" left not a single dry eye in the room.

After the prayer service, we walked by candlelight (and by escort of several police motorcycles) to the prison a few miles away. Upon our arrival around 9pm, we were "caged in" and not allowed to step outside of our designated area for five hours - until after 2 a.m. Hourly liturgies had been prepared and were distributed by the organization People of Faith Against the Death Penalty (PFADP). They were very moving and appropriate. But all the while, I was occupied by an increasingly growing sense of uneasiness and nervousness; I was planning to participate in the direct action, (scheduled to take place when Governor Easley announced that he was denying clemency) a simple act of trespassing.

I desperately, in the very depths of my heart, wanted to risk arrest that night. However, I recognized that to do so would present a tremendous burden (financially and mentally) to my parents. I will undoubtedly be arrested at some point along my journey to abolish the death penalty (in fact, there's a definitive date set and plans in the works as I write this). But when that time comes, I want the burden of my actions to be mine and mine alone. I do not want others to have to be responsible for what I choose to do; that would simply not be fair of me.

A few hours after we had been there, a very official Government-looking van pulled up and a small group of people, including a young girl who couldn't have been more than 16 years of age, got out and were immediately escorted by the police to the opposite side of the driveway. They were family members and supporters of Britnie Hutton, the girl who's death Sammy Flippen was being executed for. It was sad to see that they had been placed on the other side of the driveway and were effectively there in opposition to us and to the family members of Sammy Flippen. Any chances of the two families uniting in their grief and providing support for one another had been seriously eroded that night. I wish someone could have been there to reach out to the family members of Britnie Hutton, to let them know that we too were there supporting her and remembering her, that we didn't oppose them, but only the broken death penalty system.

(For Part Two of "The Execution of Samuel Flippin," see below.)

Part Two: The Execution of Samuel Flippen

Part two of former NCADP intern Rachel Lawler's account of the vigil outside Central Prison in Raleigh, North Carolina on the morning of Samuel Flippen's execution:

Those of us who were to participate in the direct action did a lot of praying over several hours, for clemency, for hope. Shortly after midnight, it was announced that the Governor had denied clemency. I was standing near one of Sammy's young cousins who fell to the ground and sobbed "Why, why?" I wish that there was something I could have done to console him, but I knew that no words would have been able to abate the incredible despair. It was then that we circled, joined hands in prayer, and then proceeded to walk out of the designated area and further down the road for approximately a half mile, before turning around and walking back toward the prison.

Strangely, I felt at peace during this walk. I knew that I was doing the right thing. Petitions, calls, media, blogs, nothing else had worked to stop this execution. Direct action was the only remaining option. I was not going to let the execution happen silently and without expressing my dissent, nor were the others with whom I was walking in solidarity. Silence is consent.

During our walk toward the prison we sang "Salvator mundi, salva nos," which increased in volume as we drew nearer to the prison. We were walking along the opposite side of the street and when we finally arrived directly across and waited for a car to pass, all eyes were on us.

We crossed the street together and did not stop at the crosswalk, at which point public property ends. We continued to walk and were then notified that we were on state property and if we refused to leave, we would be charged with second degree trespassing. Four people, dressed in black, had planned to stay and risk arrest. Three others (I included) laid hands and prayed for them, but had not planned to risk arrest. After the first warning, and what turned out to be the only warning, an officer said "You are now under arrest for trespassing," at which point the three of us backed away (we were expecting additional warnings) and to the other side of the crosswalk.

Joined by several others who had walked with us, but not trespassed, we sang a hymn for them and read the following Lamentations:

"When all prisoners of the land
Are crushed under foot,
When human rights are perverted
In the presence of the Most High,
When one's case is subverted,
--Does the Lord not see it?

Let us test and examine our ways,
And return to the Lord.
Let us lift up our hearts
as well as our hands,
To God in Heaven.
We have transgressed and rebelled,
And you have not forgiven.

My eyes flow with rivers of tears
Because of the destruction of my people.
My eyes will flow without ceasing,
Without respite,
Until the Lord from heaven looks down,
And sees."

I was participating that night, first and foremost, on behalf of myself and my convictions, not necessarily on behalf of any organization (especially ones that have policies about civil disobedience!) We all stood and watched as those who had refused to leave were handcuffed, led away, searched, put into the paddy wagon to be taken downtown where, as we would later find out, they would each be held on a ridiculous $5,000 bail (raised from $3,000 the time prior, $1,000 before that, and a written promise the first time). Two of the participants chose not to post bail and were released later that day.

The action was over. Clemency had been denied. There was nothing left to do except wait, anxiously, in dread to hear that Sammy Flippen had been executed. It was somewhat reassuring to hear earlier that night from one of his family members that he was at peace and was prepared for his fate.

At 2 a.m., when most of the state of North Carolina was fast asleep, we were outside facing Central Prison, knowing at that very moment that the life of a man was being ended unnaturally and at the hands of the state. Some children had long ago fallen asleep on the ground, but were awoken by ubiquitous cries and sobs when the family members got the news – Sammy was dead. A young, female cousin cried out in sorrow and confusion "Why did they have to do this?"

And the truth is, Sammy Flippen's death was unnecessary. His death did not bring Britnie back. It was obvious, however, that it caused an immense amount of additional pain. Opponents of the death penalty who were present could do nothing but stand and allow their physical presence there with the family to be an offering of support. An uncle of Sammy's prayed for the family and afterward, there was nothing left to do. Sammy's mother and father exited Central Prison and some family members were escorted out of the cage area and into the cars that the mother and father were driving. Sammy's mother and father thanked us for all that we did. I only wish we could have done more. Signs were disassembled, barriers were removed, small puddles of wax from vigil candles that had dripped and melted over the course of the evening remained on the sidewalks; tears had evaporated.

I'd say that we all walked away that night a bit worse off than when we arrived. We bore witness, not visually, but to the best extent we could, to the extinguishing of a man's life and future and the devastating effect that it had on his family members. I arrived back at the Nazareth House that night and realized that for several hours, sharp pains (which I attributed to the stress of the evening) in my stomach had gone unnoticed because of all the commotion. I could barely sit at the kitchen table with the others who were eating, solemnly. None of Sammy's family showed up that night. But I don't blame them. I can't even imagine how they felt. In a sense, I was glad that there were so many of them there that night, so that they wouldn't be alone in their sorrow; they had one another to endure with. Although I wish that I'd never again have to be outside of a prison when an execution is taking place, I will continue to do all that I can, for as long as it's necessary. My experience in North Carolina only strengthened my resolve to work for achieving complete abolition of the death penalty. It is definitely exhausting (physically and emotionally), but it is what I must do.

If you would like to see some really dramatic pictures from this vigil, go

Monday, August 21, 2006

Tyrone Noling, meet Ruben Cantu

Well, actually Tyrone Noling can't meet Ruben Cantu because, as misfortune would have it, Ruben Cantu is dead, and no one has found a cure for that yet.

Hat tip (yet again) to Scott over at Ohio Death Penalty Information for pointing out this Leonard Pitts column, which appeared in the Miami Herald and Hoston Chronicle, among other places. I'm publishing it here in its entirety for no other reason than we first blogged last week on the case of Tyrone Noling and have blogged repeatedly (and sometimes futile, or so it seems) on the case of Ruben Cantu:


Where is justice with innocent on Death Row?
BY LEONARD PITTS JR.

So I read in the paper where another man is about to be lied to death.

The first such story I am aware of was published last year in the Houston Chronicle. It concerned a street punk named Ruben Cantu, who was executed in 1993 for shooting two men, killing one. Cantu was sentenced based on the word of a single witness, the shooting survivor. That man now says it wasn't Cantu who shot him and that he was pressured to say otherwise by police. The Chronicle concluded that Cantu almost certainly did not commit the crime for which he was killed.

Ruben Cantu, meet Tyrone Noling. Noling is a resident of Death Row at Ohio State Penitentiary whose story was told last week by the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Noling, a petty thief, was convicted of the 1990 murder of an elderly couple. The case against him was based on testimony from three members of his gang who told the court Noling forced his way into the home of Bearnhardt and Cora Hartig and shot them to death.

All three now say they were lying, two in exchange for lesser charges and a third in exchange for immunity. They say they were coached and coerced by Ron Craig, an investigator for the prosecutor's office. For instance, Butch Wolcott, the man who received immunity, could not describe the murder scene until Craig took him there. Wolcott told the Plain Dealer the investigator also gave him access to the evidence file.

THE WORD OF THIEVES

Wolcott still had trouble getting his story straight. He claimed Noling used a phone cord yanked from the wall to bind his victims. But the phone cord was found intact and the couple were not tied.

And yet on the word of this man and two others -- one of whom recanted on the witness stand -- Noling was sentenced to death. No murder weapon, no DNA, no fingerprints, no nothing except the word of three thieves. Noling was 18 at the time of the murders.

I am no fan of capital punishment under even the best of circumstances. Its faults are legion, including that it is biased by race, gender, geography and class, is more expensive than lifetime incarceration, has no deterrent value, and once applied cannot be reversed in the event of error. The death penalty is a crude, vestigial remnant of frontier justice and an embarrassment to any sense or pretense of moral authority this nation might claim. The best thing we can do with it is end it.

NO CONSCIENCE, NO FACTS

But, even if I didn't feel that way, I'd still be appalled by the idea that a man can be sent to Death Row based on little more than some guy's word.

Prosecutor Victor Vigluicci feels differently. He told the paper none of this causes him to lose sleep, which is pretty much what you'd expect him to say. Belief in the death penalty requires a facade of certitude. Conscience is an inconvenience. Facts even more so. Don't know what you know. Don't ask, don't tell.

And never mind that while the probably innocent are being nudged toward conviction, the certainly guilty get away with murder. Never mind that justice is perverted, subverted and denied in the name of justice. Most of all, never mind that you can be sent to death without a shred of evidence except the word of liars given every reason to lie.

LOOKING THE OTHER WAY

Tyrone Noling was a punk. Ruben Cantu was, too. And it is easy, from the perch of middle-class respectability, middle-class fear, not to care overmuch that they were treated unfairly. It requires only moral cowardice and a willingness to look the other way. These things we have in abundance.

What we have in lesser supply is the guts to see and say the obvious: The law should not allow the death penalty in cases hinging solely on witness testimony. That has nothing to do with sympathy for devils. It has everything to do with the integrity and credibility of a broken system.

If we don't care about Cantu or Noling, we should at the very least care about that.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Quote of the day

"The major public housing project in this country is building prison cells."

-- Ralph Nader

(Hat tip Texas Students Against the Death Penalty)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Yet again: Innocent and on death row

Hat tip to Scott over at Ohio Death Penalty Information.

Looks like we've got another innocent person on death row -- this one in Ohio. Guy's name is Tyrone Noling and folks, this one is a death penalty trifecta -- you've got a false confession, you've got prosecutorial misconduct and you've got perjured witnesses.

Scott's got excerpts and a good roundup of the case, in addition to all the links you'll need, right here.

Meanwhile, you can see a web site that has been launched to support Noling (still under construction) by going here.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The blogging will resume when morale improves

Or something like that. Actually, we've been taking a few days off. We'll be back soon -- I promise!

Meanwhile, please check out the continuing Tuesday's Focus series at our sister blog.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Quote of the day

"People are largely unaware of the information critical to a judgement on the morality of the death penalty … if they were better informed they would consider it shocking, unjust and unacceptable."

-- Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Today's mailbag

Lots of hate email is coming in to NCADP today in the wake of today's execution in Ohio.

I don't mind it -- it is par for the course and very easy for me to hit the "delete" button (not so easy for the interns, I sometimes fear). What is surprising to me is how the hate mail fluctuates from execution to execution. When blacks are executed, we ALWAYS get more hate mail than when whites are executed -- and the hate mail usually comes with racial epithets attached. (Draw your own conclusions here about whether the death penalty brings out the worst in us.)

Today we had a trifecta. The person being executed was black, mentally ill, and he was allegedly a Satan worshiper. Hate mail? Indeed.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Prosecutor, Recuse Thyself!

The conservative San Antonio Express-News joins the equally conservative Dallas Morning News, which has joined the moderate Houston Chronicle in urging an independent investigation into the conviction and execution of Ruben Cantu.

Regular readers of this blog know that late last year the Houston Chronicle published a two-part series in which it strongly suggested that Cantu was innocent of the crime for which he was convicted, sentenced to death and later executed.

Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed promptly announced she would look into the matter, which at the time seemed like a Good Thing. Since that announcement, however, she has dragged her feet, stonewalled at every opportunity and delayed things indefinitely. On top of that, conversations leaking out of her office indicate that it lacks the professionalism and objectivity needed to get things done right.

So. As the state's leading (conservative) newspapers have editorialized, it is time for District Attorney Reed to recuse herself. It is time for an independent investigation. It is time for truth to be known, even though it is too late for justice for Ruben Cantu.

For those of you who are interested in the fact that Texas has now executed not one, not two but three people who in all likelihood were innocent (and Missouri likely has executed a fourth), you can read more about the Cantu case at the bottom of this post -- I've included tons of links from the Express-News web site.

Editorial: Cantu case merits independent probe

San Antonio Express-News
Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed made the right move when she opened an investigation into allegations that a San Antonio man may have been wrongfully executed.
However, she now needs to step away from the probe into the Ruben Cantu case and allow an independent investigator to take over.

Cantu was executed in 1993 for the Nov. 8, 1984, robbery and murder of Mexican-born contractor Pedro Gomez.

The case was reopened after three witnesses, including a key eyewitness, claimed firsthand knowledge of Cantu's innocence.

The increasing controversy sparked by the case leaves Reed in a no-win situation.

Those opposed to her handling the case note that she ruled on the Cantu appeal and set his execution date.

Technically, that is correct. She did rule on the appeal, but not in any way that changed the final outcome.

She had no choice but to set his execution date.

As the judge of the 144th District Court, Reed was required to set an execution date for Cantu. Judge Roy Barrera Jr. had tried the case in the 144th District Court. Reed inherited the case when she was elected to that bench.

The law determines the parameters on setting an execution date, leaving the judges who have jurisdiction over death penalty cases with little leeway.

A state district judge earlier this summer ruled he had no power to remove Reed from the investigation, but that does not prevent her from doing so voluntarily.

A final report on the current investigation is not expected until late fall. Regardless of the outcome, some people will be unhappy.

Reed's hard-nosed law enforcement attitude and determination not to walk away from a tough situation could hurt her politically in the long term.

That is not reason enough to voluntary relinquish the case, but new questions about her investigators are.

Recorded conversations between investigators from Reed's office and a former police officer involved in the case have raised questions about bias within her office. Her investigators belittled the claim that Cantu was wrongfully executed, the Express-News and Houston Chronicle reported in stories detailing the recordings.

Reed can erase questions about the objectivity of the probe by removing her office from the proceedings and asking an independent law enforcement agency to do it.

It's the right thing to do. The public must be confident that the investigation is conducted without preconceived notions about the result.

More links:
Recent coverage
Death and Doubt: Read the Houston Chronicle series on the conviction and execution of Ruben Cantu
07/25/2006: Tapes spur calls for DA to relinquish Cantu case
07/22/2006: Tapes hint minds are made up on Cantu
07/09/06: Cops' past further clouds questionable execution
06/10/06: DA stays in charge of execution probe
05/12/06: Civil rights group bares execution probe role
03/19/06: Politics swirls in death probe
12/13/05: Advocates say Texas needs innocence panel
12/01/05: DA considers charge as execution probed
Former DA Millsap now rejects capital punishment
Editorial: Clemency granted as doubts increase
Editorial: Execution in 1993 raises serious issues

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Tuesday's Focus: Christina Lawson

Just a reminder that our sister blog, The Journey of Hope, has a continuing series called Tuesday's Focus. It looks at different people affected by the death penalty -- murder victims' family members, exonerated inmates, and people who have lost loved ones to execution.

Check out the latest installement in the series -- a look at Christina Lawson's journey.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

'Nobody is going to hire me. It's poisoned my career'

Irony alert here. This is a follow-up to yesterday's blog on the doctor in Missouri who has overseen more than 50 executions. Seems that now the doctor has been outed, he is afraid he will not be able to find work. "It's poisoned my career," he said of the reports that he is the one who has overseen lethal injection executions. Here is the latest Associated Press story of this continuing saga:

Execution Doctor Defends Record

A surgeon at the center of Missouri's debate over lethal injection defended his medical record Monday and said he doubted the state can meet a judge's order that an anesthesiologist help with executions.

In his 1st public interview, Dr. Alan Doerhoff of Jefferson City told The Associated Press he has assisted in dozens of executions, saying he felt obligated to help since he'd received his education from the state.

"If the state needs my assistance, I'm more than willing to help," said Doerhoff, a self-described "country" surgeon who graduated from the University of Missouri medical school in 1969.

Doerhoff's role in Missouri executions emerged in June when he testified anonymously, and behind a screen, in a death penalty case challenging the state's lethal injection procedures. That month, U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan Jr. stopped executions, and ruled that the state needed a board-certified anesthesiologist to ensure the procedure used posed no risk of unnecessary pain and suffering.

The judge expressed concerns that Doerhoff, who was not identified in court papers, was dyslexic. The judge also said he worked under no written protocol in mixing the lethal drugs and overseeing the executions, despite his lack of training in anesthesiology.

Doerhoff, 62, now denies he is dyslexic, saying only that he sometimes transposes long numbers. On Sunday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch identified Doerhoff, saying he'd been sued for malpractice more than 20 times and was publicly reprimanded by the Missouri Board of Healing Arts in 2003 for failing to disclose malpractice suits to a Jefferson City hospital where he had staff privileges. Doerhoff told the AP: "We're in a malpractice crisis where doctors are sued lots of times. If you're working, you're going to get sued."

He said the omission of paperwork on his malpractice suits was an office manager's error and not an attempt to falsify his record. He said the reprimand did not affect his license and ability to practice medicine. Healing Arts Executive Director Tina Steinman declined to address the specifics of the case Monday, but said that any time a license is disciplined, it is considered serious.

Doerhoff also doubts Missouri will find another doctor, much less a board-certified anesthesiologist, to assist in future executions. The risk of being identified is too great, he said, adding: "They won't want to be on the front pages of the newspaper."

Doerhoff said he performed prison surgeries from 1974 to 1999, has made medical trips to Latin America to help in poor communities, and currently is medical director for a skin care clinic. He said he's ready to return to work in small hospitals. But he said with recent news coverage "nobody is going to hire me. It's poisoned my career."
(source: Associated Press)