Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The execution of Pvt. Eddie Slovik

Today is the anniversary of the execution of the only man condemned since the Civil War for desertion. It is perhaps a good time to remember that there are nine men on U.S. Military death row today.

On Jan. 31, 1945, Hamtramck-born Eddie Slovik was executed by a firing squad near the French village of Ste-Marie aux Mines for the crime of desertion. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme allied commander, personally ordered the execution during the closing days of World War II to deter other potential deserters.

During World War II, some 21,049 American military personnel were convicted of desertion, with 49 sentenced to death, but only Pvt. Slovik paid the ultimate price. In fact, he was the only American soldier to be executed for desertion since the American Civil War.
(source: Detroit News)

Monday, January 29, 2007

Death penalty demagoguery among Democrats

I love this op-ed. Why? Because it goes beyond "this political party good, this political party bad."

Instead, it simply looks at how the issue of the death penalty has prompted demogoguery among Democrats. Good job to Dan Rodricks of the Baltimore Sun.

Our society can do better than capital punishment

Just as death penalty supporters present an intuitive argument -- killing killers keeps others from killing -- those of us who hope the Maryland General Assembly repeals the state's capital punishment statute this year have a belief that is similarly grounded in intuition and probably impossible to verify: Killing killers keeps others killing. I've considered both arguments over the years and come down on the side of the latter: State-sanctioned executions stunt our spiritual and moral evolution, they contribute to the cheapening of human life, and they have been far more useful to politicians than they have to the rest of us.

The part about politicians is easy to demonstrate, and I don't need much more than this: Bill Clinton and his wife support the death penalty. Why? Because it gives them tough-on-crime cred, makes them seem more conservative than they truly are.

When he was running for president in 1992, Clinton slipped back to Arkansas just long enough to oversee the execution of a brain-damaged killer named Rickey Ray Rector. It was the third execution during his tenure as Arkansas governor. Clinton scraped away the moral questions to score points with a public that might have regarded him as soft on crime. That was the attack his Republican opponent had launched in 1980, when Clinton lost his gubernatorial re-election campaign, and Clinton wasn't going to let that happen again.

In 1992, other so-called liberals, Paul Tsongas and Bob Kerrey, embraced the death penalty, hoping such a position would pull the Democratic Party to the political middle and win back voters who had marched off to join the Reagan Revolution in the previous 3 presidential elections.

The death penalty has been used for political gain across the land.

Mike Miller, the Maryland Senate president and for way too long now a leading Democrat in this blue state, said this in 2004: "If there's a gallows, I'll pull the lever. If there's a gas chamber, I'll turn the valve. If it's lethal injection, I'll insert the needle."

In the hands of politicians, the death penalty has been used in this way-- to earn tough-on-crime bona fides -- or as an object of demagoguery.

It has not been as useful to the greater society and likely worked against us.

There's no real evidence that having the death penalty deters others from committing acts of violence, but politicians, including prosecutors, keep making the claim. (The new Baltimore County state's attorney, Scott Shellenberger, told The Sun last week: "I'm still very much in favor ofthe death penalty. I still think it acts as a deterrent. Certainly a deterrent of one [person], and that is the person that receives the death penalty [and] will never kill again.")

This stuff has become so cliched now.

What's it getting us? A safer society? Fewer house break-ins? Fewer stolen cars? Fewer citizens locked up in prisons and jails? Fewer Baltimore boys being killed in the middle of the night?

If an American ideal is that our society be less violent -- and I think we still want that, right? -- then we can't be authorizing executions.



That's the moral burden of calling ours a civilized society.

If we all know and believe that violence begets violence, why do we give it our official approval? The death penalty makes hypocrites of us all.

I salute those in the General Assembly who are finally taking this up. I wish them luck in breaking through the demagogues' hold on the issue. And good for the new governor, who says he will sign a repeal if it reaches his desk. He might be ringing a bell to mark a new generation of American Democrat.

"I think the dollars could go to better use and could be invested in things that actually save lives," Martin O'Malley said the other day. "I don't believe the death penalty saves lives."

Here's what saves lives and makes our communities safer: Good medical care for poor children; access to successful schools; dynamic and sustained intervention in the lives of at-risk juveniles and rehabilitation of the dysfunctional families that produced them; restoration of fathers to households; strict enforcement of handgun laws and hard sentences for adults who repeat violent crimes; hospitalization and treatment for men and women addicted to heroin, cocaine and alcohol; job opportunities for ex-offenders to stem recidivism.

Killers should go away for life without parole. We pay for that -- that's the price of calling ourselves civilized. But if we do the other stuff -- all that unfinished business that we need to get to in the next generation -- then eventually we'll have fewer killers coming into our courts and our prisons. That has to remain the ideal. We get there with logic and reason, not with demagoguery, and not by lethal injection.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

a note about some changes to the site

We have added execution dates to the left. Note that not all scheduled execution dates are shown, but rather what we believe are serious execution dates, that is dates where state and federal avenues for relief have been exhausted or the condemned has "volunteered" to be executed. The determination of "serious" dates relies heavily on the work of Dr. Rick Halperin, as well as press accounts and various private emails and other contacts. If you disagree with the inclusion or exclusion of a given execution date we would love to hear from you.

If you know of a source to track international execution dates we would love to know about that too as, to date, only American execution dates can be reliably tracked.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Quote of the day

"The most effective answer to this leadership vacuum would be a new era of political activism by ordinary citizens. The biggest, most far-reaching changes of the past century the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement were not primarily the result of elective politics, but rather the hard work of committed citizen-activists fed up with the status quo. It’s time for thoughtful citizens to turn off their TVs and step into the public arena.
Protest. Attend meetings. Circulate petitions. Run for office. I suspect the public right now is way ahead of the politicians when it comes to ideas about creating a more peaceful, more equitable, more intelligent society."
- Bob Herbert, New York Times columnist. (Source: "Long on Rhetoric, Short on Sorrow," The New York Times, January 25, 2007)

hat tip: Abe Bonowitz, CUADP Update

Thursday, January 25, 2007

2007 Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break

Looking for something to do during spring break this year? Here's an idea: come to Austin, Texas for a week of activism and education against the death penalty as part of the 2007 Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break. The event is open to both high school and college students.

The 2007 anti-death penalty spring break, organized by Texas Students Against the Death Penalty and co-sponsored by Campus Progress, Amnesty International, Texas Moratorium Network, NCADP and other groups, is designed to to give students something more meaningful to do during their week off, rather than just spending time at the beach or sitting at home catching up on school work. This is the place to be if you want to become a part of the next generation of human rights leaders. Go to the beach to change your state of mind for a week, come here to change the world forever.

To read more about this exciting event, go here and here.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Texas - common sense stays

I am pleased to announce (as indicated on the left hand side of the blog) stays in Texas of this weeks execution dates of Larry Swearingen and Ronald Chambers. Mr. Swearingen received a stay - according to press accounts - from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to permit time to look at questions of his potential innocence. Mr. Chambers received a stay from Justice Scalia pending the outcome of certain questions as to whether or not he was sentenced to death under a constitutionally invalid statute. These are common sense stays to ensure that our system of capital sentencing works appropriately.

You can follow this & all major death penalty news the abolitionist-leaning sites at Stand Down Texas, Ohio Death Penalty Information, and Capital Defense Weekly, as well as the Death Penalty Information Center[snip].

[Note: Following a fairly insightful comment, the above post was edited, concering a statement about DPIC that was substantially more snarky than desired. - k]

Letters. We got letters.

Several death penalty-related letters to the editor from New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey surfaced today. Each has an interesting perspective to offer. We thought we'd share:


An imperfect system discredits death penalty
I am not one of the "bleeding hearts" who are soft on crime. However, another good reason to do away with the death penalty is our justice system. Witnesses make mistakes, and in many cases may be a little biased. Peace officers sometimes lie, as was exposed a while back when New York state troopers fabricated evidence that sent people to jail.

When I asked an officer of the court about the judicial system she said, "Well, it's not the best, but it's the best we have." That statement alone should be enough to do away with the death penalty. If not, how about this one: I discussed the pros and cons of the death penalty with a proponent of execution, his statement was "Anyone executed by mistake should be considered collateral damage."

Is this the American mindset today?
GEORGE P. KISKIEL---Rome (source: Letter to the Editor, The Utica Oberser-Dispatch)


Penalty's haunting toll
I testified before the commission that has recommended replacing NewJersey's death penalty with life without parole. While I would like to think my testimony was persuasive, what really made an impact on me was the testimony of other witnesses, including the rape victim who had to deal with the knowledge that her identification sent an innocent man to prison for 10 years; the brother who followed his conscience and turned in his brother, who was subsequently executed despite assurances to the contrary; and the men who spent years in prison before being exonerated by DNA evidence.

Beyond being a waste of money, an ineffective deterrent, and implemented illegally, the death penalty exacts a huge toll in human suffering.
Wanda Foglia

(The writer is coordinator of the M.A. in criminal justice program at Rowan University. Source: Letters to the Editor, Philadelphia Inquirer)

(Blogger's note on the following letter: NCADP is a single-issue organization, with that single issue being, of course, the death penalty. However, many of our members have strong feelings on the issue of abortion, as the following letter indicates.)

Ex-death-penalty supporter affirms life's value
Re Porus P. Cooper's Jan. 8 column against the death penalty, "Full circle on executions":

When I was younger, I instinctively was for the death penalty. I believed it could be a deterrent. I subscribed to the eye-for-an-eye philosophy. If someone harmed someone I loved, I would want him or her to pay.

But when I really thought about it, I changed my mind. Why? Because being antiabortion makes me "pro-life." How could I support what amounts to state murder yet believe abortion is wrong? It didn't wash. I had to make a decision. In addition to being antiabortion (and anti-euthanasia), I became anti-death penalty.

Now, people on either side of the abortion and death-penalty debates can argue for or against my view: that an unborn child is less than human or not, that a murderer is not deserving of a break or is. My outlook feels right for me. It boils down to this: When we devalue any life, we devalue all life.

That said, I think our judicial system needs an overhaul. Stop the slap on the wrist for murderers, rapists and repeat offenders. Give life without parole to convicted murderers. Support victims and their families.
Patricia Quigley

Friday, January 19, 2007

From the lighter side

Today the Onion takes a satirical look at...well, read it yourself!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

On botched executions

The subject of botched executions has been in the news lately. First, we had the botched execution of Angel Diaz in Florida, a process that took 34 minutes when the needle attached to the IV was pushed through Diaz's vein and into his muscular tissue, causing chemical burns. Then we had the execution of Saddam Hussein. (Media reports focused on the taunting and the undignified tone of the event; left unexplored was the fact that Saddam had a huge, open gash in his neck, a sign that he was nearly decapitated.)

Finally, over the holiday weekend, we had the botched execution of one of Saddam's henchmen, Barzan Ibrahim, who in fact was decapitated.

The American public is probably unaware of the fact that there have been at least 38 botched executions in the U.S. since executions were allowed to resume -- and those are just the ones we know about. Because of the way cut-downs are sometimes done and catheters inserted prior to the lethal injection process, and because the cut-down operations generally are done outside the view of witnesses, we really don't know how often botched executions occur -- but they do seem to happen much more frequently than anyone once imagined.

For a list of botched executions that we know about, go here.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

weekend web roundup

Wowser! Weekend news stories galore of national or regional impact & import. The Washington Post has the lead story for the truism it offers.

  • WaPo has this look at the waning use and support for the death penalty.

They forget what you knew, as soon as you shot those men out in Utah: Killing a man is easy.

The living with it after. That’s what’s hard.

That’s what maybe this country has learned: We are a society that kills certain prisoners. We kill more in some years, less in others. It comes and goes. But there is no perfect, painless, fair way to do it. It turns out there is no absolution for the living. It turns out the dead haunt us. It is a thought as disturbing as the bodies of Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, the killers in Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood,” dying the old-fashioned way, swinging at the end of a rope in the middle of the Kansas night.

The images do not lie easy on us, not in our sleep, not in yours, and it seems they never will.

  • NYT has a fantastic piece that appears to have run only in th e NJ local editions by the Hon. Peter G. Verniero, a lawyer, former justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court and former New Jersey Attorney General. “

As state attorney general, I supported the death penalty and worked to enforce it. Later, as a member of the New Jersey Supreme Court, I voted to affirm and overturn death sentences when legal standards required either result.. . .

cannot fathom the pain felt by the families of murder victims. I can only assume that their grief and sense of loss are perpetual. Understandably for some, a feeling of justice will result only from the execution of the persons responsible for such unspeakable crimes.

Still, as a practical matter, New Jersey’s death penalty exists merely on paper. Despite the law on the books, this state has never really embraced capital punishment. We should acknowledge that reality and replace the death penalty with a punishment that is real.

When the U.S. Supreme Court convenes Wednesday to hear oral arguments in 3 Texas death penalty cases, the audience will include about a dozen University of Texas law students who worked on the cases.

The students were part of last semester’s Capital Punishment Clinic, and two of their professors, Jordan Steiker and Rob Owen, will be arguing on behalf of the Texas inmates.

The Supreme Court accepted the death row cases in October, giving the students an unexpectedly intimate look at litigation at the highest levels of the law. Many visited clients on death row, researched legal issues and proofread briefs basically grunt work, but U.S. Supreme Court grunt work. . . .

“The clinic really treats them seriously as people who are going to be handling serious cases in a short time,” said Owen, who like Steiker is a nationally recognized expert on death penalty constitutional law.

“It does teach them, I think, that law in the courts is really different from the law in the lawbooks. It’s essential for people to figure out, if they want to be litigators, that much of what you need to know is not written down anywhere. You can only learn it by going to court,” Owen said. “It’s not always reassuring.”

  • In Williamsport, Pennsylvania paper (yes, that is the small city where the Little League World Series is played), the Sun Gazette, notes this

Support for the death penalty is slipping, according to one survey, but a sampling of local people shows a wide divide in attitudes toward the treatment of people convicted of murder.

A recent poll conducted by the Center for Survey Research at Penn State University’s Harrisburg campus found support for capital punishment is not favored by a majority of Pennsylvanians.

The poll asked: “What do you think should be the penalty for persons convicted of murder?”

Its options included the death penalty, life in prison with no possibility of parole, life in prison with parole, don’t know, or refused.

Of those responding to the poll, 42.9 percent supported capital punishment, while 45.1 percent favored life without parole (35.5 percent) or life with parole possible (9.6 percent). The rest of the people polled were undecided or declined an answer.

[note: cross-posted at CDW & Abolish]

Friday, January 12, 2007

King quotes for this holiday weekend

"As one whose husband and mother-in-law have both died the victims of murder assassination, I stand firmly and unequivocally opposed to the death penalty for those convicted of capital offenses. An evil deed is not redeemed by an evil deed of retaliation. Justice is never advanced in the taking of a human life. Morality is never upheld by legalized murder."

-- Coretta Scott King

"Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love."

-- Martin Luther King Jr.

"We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies. "

It is worth remembering not just the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., but the sad fact that just last year, we lost Coretta.

To see more of Martin Luther King Jr's quotes, go here.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A postscript to the recent series

First, a thank you and shout out to Karl for babysitting the blog while I was away on "blogcation."

As many of you who follow the blog regularly know, we tried something a little different for the holidays this year. With the help of Susannah Sheffer over at Murder Victims Family Members for Human Rights, we published a ten-part series that looked at a forgotten and neglected population: the family members of people who are executed and what their experiences are like when executions happen.

All of the stories touched me. I have to tell you, though, the stories involving the children and the young adults touched me the most.

Today, as a post-script to the series, we are publishing part of an Associated Press story. This AP story -- like our 10-part series -- was prompted by the MVFHR report Creating More Victims: How Executions Hurt the Families Left Behind.

Families of condemned suffer silently
By Kristen Gelineau

Associated Press
RICHMOND, Va. — The phone call Ida Reid had been fearing finally arrived on the evening of Sept. 9, 2004.

"They're gonna do it," her brother said.

Her stomach churned. Her body shook.

In a few hours, her brother would be dead.

The clock in the kitchen of her Charlottesville home ticked down the final minutes. Just after 9 p.m., she clutched her mother and began to cry.

In Virginia's death chamber, James Reid was receiving a lethal njection, his punishment for murdering an elderly woman.

In her kitchen, a pain Ida could not explain had taken over, and it felt
like a punishment, too — but one she would have to endure forever, even as her brother's came to an end.

In the contentious death penalty debate, they are a group that usually goes overlooked. Family members of the condemned haven't committed the crimes that landed their loved ones on death row. But they often feel punished anyway, by a society that sometimes shuns and vilifies them, by a grief that few understand.

Their unique experiences are detailed in the report "Creating More Victims: How Executions Hurt the Families Left Behind," by Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights. The anti-death penalty organization in Cambridge, Mass., is made up of families of murder victims and families of the executed.

"These are victims, too," said Susannah Sheffer, co-author of the report, which is based on interviews with 36 relatives of executed inmates across the nation. "These people exist, they are harmed and we need to address that harm."

Since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976, more than 1,000 people have been executed in the United States.

"You think about the family of the person the crime was committed against, but I don't think a lot of people think about the family of the person who was executed — who are also innocent victims," said Melanie Hebert, whose uncle, Spencer Goodman, was executed in Texas in 2000 for the abduction and fatal beating of a Houston woman. "People think of us as kind of throwaway people."

You can read the rest of the Associated Press article here.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

While David's away the mice will play......

David is out of town for a few days & the keys to the blog have been handed over to the co-bloggers listed on the left. I don't know what the others are thinking about doing but I'd like to use the next few days looking at a few blogs & sites that don't get enough attention in the abolitionist & criminal justice reform community.

I am a big fan of the work though of an Abolitionist blogger who hasn't joined the group here yet, Scott Taylor, who runs the Ohio Death Penalty Info blog. He ran this You Tube piece earlier today on Leonel Herrera.

Scott might may make you laugh, may make you angry, but he always tries to make you think.

I should note that if there is something we should know about while David is away, like a new site, or event or development, please feel free to leave it in the comments or email one of us.

I should note I can normally be found at Capital Defense Weekly & that despite the name of that blog the lawtalk is kept to a minimum.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Creating more victims -- Part Ten

Today we conclude our ten-part series, based on the groundbreaking report Creating More Victims: How Executions Hurt the Families Left Behind. Many thanks to Susannah Sheffer and the folks at Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights for making this possible.

“I have health problems that I didn’t have before this happened,” says Jonnie Warner, whose brother, Larry Griffin, was executed in Missouri in 1995. “It never really ends, emotionally. The pain is always there.” For Jonnie, part of the pain is about seeing the effect of the execution on her mother and the children in the family. “People don’t understand that the death penalty has an impact on families that is so far-reaching. My mother has never gotten over it. She has changed so much since it happened. All of the kids have a hard time understanding it. The death penalty creates so many more victims.”

A decade later, Jonnie wonders how things might have been different for her family if they had been able to afford a more experienced attorney: “I guess when you go to get an attorney, that’s when it starts to dawn on you: they’re saying prices that are more than you make in a year. The lawyer we got said he didn’t have any death penalty experience but he would do the best he could. I do believe that he did the best he could with his experience, but he didn’t have any idea what the court experience would be like for an inexperienced lawyer trying a murder case. He was outmatched in experience and resources.”

In 2005, after a year of investigation, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund issued a report raising substantial doubt that Larry Griffin was guilty of the murder for which he had been convicted and executed. The prosecutor’s office agreed to re-open the case, and an investigation is currently in process.

To read Creating More Victims: How Executions Hurt the Families Left Behind, go here, scroll down to near the bottom of the front page of the web site, and click on the report.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Creating more victims: Part Nine

Here is part nine of a ten-part series, based on the groundbreaking report Creating More Victims: How Executions Hurt the Families Left Behind. This series, prepared with the assistance of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights, will wrap up tomorrow.

Melanie Hebert was about to enter high school when her uncle, Spencer Goodman, was charged with capital murder. Spencer, the adoptive son of Melanie’s paternal grandparents, was only seven years older than Melanie and felt to her more like a brother than an uncle.

“Everyone at school knew we were related,” she remembers. “I had such a hard time in high school because of it. I was taunted: ‘I know who you are.’ I wanted to defend him, but also felt such shame that I wanted to agree.”

“I vividly remember when Spencer was sentenced to death,” Melanie continues. “It was my dad’s birthday and we were all gathered at my parents’ house when we heard it announced on the news. I had a physical reaction; I just felt so sick. I remember everyone scattering to different parts of the house, nobody talking about it but everybody having to process it by themselves.”

A young woman by the time the execution date was approaching, Melanie wanted to be able to witness Spencer’s execution, but she had to figure out how to request the necessary time off from work. “That was a really difficult thing to do,” she recalls. “I had to lie and say I had a death in my family – but in fact, I hadn’t yet had that death.”

“The experience tore my family apart,” Melanie reflects now. “I think maybe the
hardest thing about losing someone to execution is that there are people who cheer about it.” Melanie now speaks to university classes about her experience, and she finds the audiences receptive to her personal story. “Some of the students come up to me in tears afterwards and say they never thought about the family of the executed person before.”

To read Creating More Victims: How Executions Hurt the Families Left Behind, go here, scroll down to near the bottom of the front page of the web site, and click on the report.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Creating more victims -- Part Eight

Today we bring you part eight of a ten-part series. Based on the groundbreaking report Creating More Victims: How Executions Hurt the Families Left Behind, this series was prepared with the assistance of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights.

For most of her life, Christina Lawson was in favor of the death penalty. Christina’s father was murdered when she was a young girl of 9, and she remembers responding with a combination of withdrawal and aggressiveness as she struggled to absorb what had happened. The men convicted of killing Christina’s father served brief jail sentences, and as Christina grew up she maintained that she believed in the death penalty and thought it was what her father’s killers deserved.

When her husband, David Martinez, was convicted of capital murder in Texas many years later, Christina still felt that someone who committed a murder deserved to die in return. “I couldn’t stand the idea of losing him and of what that would do to me and our children,” she recalls, “but I did believe he deserved to die for what he did.”

Yet even as she believed in execution as a legitimate punishment, she also couldn’t quite believe that it would take place. “It’s hard to explain,” she says now. “I believed it should happen, but I also believed it wouldn’t actually happen. A civilized society doesn’t go around killing people. You don’t believe they’re going to take your healthy husband and walk him to his death. You just don’t do that.”

It wasn’t until the day of the execution that the reality of the experience hit Christina – on many levels. “A guard asked me if I’d brought my tickets to the show,” she says, beginning to recount the litany of dignity violations that she experienced as a family member of the person being executed. “Then they wouldn’t look us in the eye when they frisked us. And afterwards, they were pushing us out the door and I looked up and saw that not even a minute had gone by since his death. I didn’t even get to stand there and realize what had happened. Then we started walking out of the administration building and my whole world started spinning. The activists were packing up and leaving and the pro-death penalty side was yelling at us and I kept thinking, why are you yelling at me? I didn’t do anything. I realized I was being punished for something David did.”

Christina’s children have suffered in the aftermath of the execution, and they continue to struggle to make sense of the logic of the death penalty. Her daughter, 10 years old as the execution date approached, asked, “They’re going to kill him because he killed somebody, so when they kill him, who do we get to kill?”

To read Creating More Victims: How Executions Hurt the Families Left Behind, go here, scroll down to near the bottom of the front page of the web site, and click on the report.