Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Trials of Darryl Hunt

The Trials of Darryl Hunt, a documentary about an innocent black man convicted and incarcerated in North Carolina, is debuting in various locales around the country. Here's a review from the Seattle Times:

Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg's remarkable documentary, The Trials ofDarryl Hunt, tells a story so harrowing, you watch without blinking, forgetting to breathe. It's a true saga of misplaced justice, spun out over nearly 2 decades. In 1984, a 19-year-old black man was accused of the brutal rape and murder of Deborah Sykes, a young white woman inWinston-Salem, N.C. Though no physical evidence linked Hunt to the crime, and the young man (who had no violent crime record) steadfastly maintained his innocence, an all-white jury convicted him and sentenced him to life in prison.

Ten years later, DNA test results were posted, categorically eliminating Hunt as a suspect in the crime. And yet, despite the best efforts of a legal team and numerous supporters, he was not set free. Appeals were filed, arguments made, and Hunt sat in his prison cell as more years went by.

An image from the film, taken after a conversation with attorney MarkRabil, shows Hunt framed through a small window behind a locked door; his usual smile is absent, and he looks both terrified and resigned.

Stern and Sundberg spent 10 years shooting this film, not knowing how the story might end. They spin their tale tautly and confidently, smoothly untangling a complicated web of legalities and facts. A late courtroom confrontation between Hunt and the victim's mother is as gripping as any thriller, and sure to break your heart. She, in mourning for her beloved daughter, maintains that Hunt must be guilty. "You are in my prayers," a tearful Hunt tells her quietly.

Throughout the film, Hunt emerges as a likable man with a deep religious faith and an astonishing ability to reject anger and bitterness. In the film's climactic courtroom scene, he gazes silently heavenward after hearing the words for which he's waited nearly 20 years.

(Earlier this year, after the film's completion, Hunt received a restitution payment and an official apology from the city. True to the generous nature we see in the film, he told the Winston-Salem Journal that while he appreciated the apology, "I still think the apology needs to go to Mrs. Sykes and her family, because I'm still living.")

The Trials of Darryl Hunt, which won the documentary prize at the Seattle International Film Festival last year, tells a story that needs to be heard. "I pray that I may turn this injustice into something meaningful," says Hunt at one point. Thanks to Stern, Sundberg and the many people who contributed to the making of this film, he already has.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Walk to stop executions

Earlier this week we told you about Lisa Thomas, the Alabama woman who walked from Selma to Montgomery in protest of the death penalty in general and in support of Darrell Grayson in particular.

Now we bring exciting news of a new walk that is being planned -- this one 800 miles and this one in California. In the sponsors' words:

Walk to Stop Executions
Death penalty opponents from Death Penalty Focus, California People of Faith Working Against the Death Penalty, and Amnesty International USA will embark on a 800 mile Walk to Stop Executions on September 15, 2007. The purpose of the walk is to draw attention to the issue of the death penalty, unite local activists, and to encourage the district attorney in every county along the walk route not to seek the death penalty in any case.

There's a new blog to support this effort. http://walktostopexecutions.blogspot.com/

Stop by and say howdy. And while you're at it, give a shout-out to our friend Stefanie!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Lonely Abolitionist

From time to time, people have mistakenly credited Abolish the Death Penalty as being the first anti-death penalty blog out in the blogosphere. In point of fact, we were the second -- or the third, depending on how one defines a blog.

Before there was Abolish the Death Penalty, before there was the Amnesty International blog, or the Ohio death penalty blog or the Kansas death penalty blog or the Virginia death penalty blog or the Alabama death penalty blog or the Tennessee death penalty blog or one of four Texas death penalty blogs or even the Asian death penalty blog, there was Lonely Abolitionist -- the first death penalty blogger in the Blogosphere. (Technically speaking, this may or may not be true. We think Capital Defense Weekly predated her. However, debate rages as to whether Capital Defense Weekly is a blog, in the true bloggy sense of the word. Anyway, knowing Karl as I know him, he wouldn't mind who gets the credit, just so long as the work gets done!)

For awhile, Lonely Abolitionist wasn't updating, and we were afraid she had gone the way many bloggers go -- or relationships, for that matter. Maybe burnout had set in, maybe other priorities, maybe something or someone new had come along to occupy the space that blogging had once occupied.

But now we're delighted to see that Lonely Abolitionist is back. And lately she's been talking about how she got her name:

I am not a "lonely" person, and I am not "lonely" in my abolition opinions
or actions. I am no longer "lonely" in the blogosphere. Yet, I keep the name.
The name reminds me of the time when I was "lone." It reminds me to stand up and
"stand apart." It reminds me that one single person can play a part in resolving
a big problem. This blog does not have many readers. It doesn't need many (or
even any)! The Lonely Abolitionist makes a difference to me every time I post,
and it makes a difference every once in awhile to a reader who finds something
new that he or she would not have found had I not wandered by and mused on

At some point, I may blog on more than the death penalty. Unfortunately,
there are many other laws and practices in our world that I favor abolishing. I
imagine, however, that if I took the time to blog about every newsworthy item
related to every notable abolition topic within my interest, that I would never
finish any of my for-pay work!

In the meantime, this little blog will try to keep chugging along. I will
try to keep doing my part. I hope that you will keep doing your part and make
sure that I am never again truly "lonely." Thanks for stopping by.


To read the entire post go here. And if you want to zap off an email to Lonely Abolitionist and tell her that indeed she is not alone, you can reach her at carriej@lonelyabolitionist.com

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A milestone -- and an opportunity

The following appeal comes from Abe Bonowitz, who wears several hats -- he is an NCADP board member, he currently works for our New Jersey affiliate and he is the founder and head of Citizens United for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

This appeal comes hours before the 100th person out of Harris County is scheduled to be executed.

Greetings All,
I had a crazy idea this afternoon while driving home from a meeting. I was thinking about a nasty milestone that is coming up - probably this week, when Lonnie Johnson is set to become the 100th prisoner to be put to death out of Harris County, Texas on July 24, 2007. Read all about Harris County in this report issued on Friday by Amnesty International.

In thinking about this milestone, I decided to do something symbolic and at the same time meaningful. I decided to mobilize MY base - that is, YOU - people who receive and read CUADPUpdate. With less activity, list membership has dwindled from around 5,000 to its current level of 3,303. There is still enough of us to pull this off, and then some, and since CUADP is technically on a sabbatical, why not mobilize you to help some other groups' specific efforts?

HERE'S THE CHALLENGE: Please join CUADP in going to http://www.tcadp.org/donate.php to use your credit card to send $100 to the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. If you prefer to give by check, send it to TCADP at 2709 South Lamar Blvd., Austin, TX 78704.

I'd like to see 100 gifts of $100 to TCADP (or another Texas abolitionist group) by July 31st, if not sooner, just from people (and organizations) on this list. Can't swing $100? How about 100 quarters ($25)? Or 100 dimes ($10)? I should note that it's
Saturday night as I send this. I have not spoken to anyone in Texas or anywhere else about this idea. I'm just doing it. I can't imagine they will complain.... Obviously, because I don't see TCADP's information and in fact because I have no formal relationship with TCADP other than being a supporter/donor, the only way I can track how this campaign is going is if you send me an e-mail confirming your participation. I'm not listing names, but I will follow up this message several times between now and July 31 to update our progress. Just send me a note saying you made a gift to TCADP (or another Texas Abolitionist group) and tell me the amount you have sent. (Blogger's note: Abe can be reached at abe@cuadp.org)
gave CUADP's $100 to TCADP and noted it should be considered "general
funds." A few alternative groups to give to - let me know if I am missing
Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement - checks only, to s.h.a.p.e.
center, 3903 almeda road, houston, tx 77004
Texas Moratorium Network - http://www.texasmoratorium.org/ -
and click on DONATE
Texas Defender Service - http://www.texasdefender.org/contribute.asp
Gulf Region Advocacy Center - http://www.gracelaw.org/support.html
Texas Students Against the Death Penalty - http://www.texasabolition.org/ - and
click on DONATE
The upcoming Texas Journey of Hope ...From Violence to
Healing - http://www.journeyofhope.org/pages/support.htm
- be sure to indicate that your gift is for the Texas Journey!
100 gifts of $100 on the occasion of the 100th
Harris County execution. It's both symbolic and meaningful. We can do
this. Please join me. Thank you.

Monday, July 23, 2007

From Selma to Montgomery

Although much attention as of late has focued on Troy Anthony Davis, the Georgia death row inmate who many believe to be innocent, it is important to point out that there are several other executions pending involving people with equally substantial innocence claims. One of these is Darrell B. Grayson, due to be executed this Thursday, July 26. Currently on Alabama’s Death Row, Grayson d has been denied DNA testing of evidence that could clear him and save his life.
Supporters are asking Governor Bob Riley for a stay of execution for Grayson, and for the DNA tests. But Lisa Thomas of Brewton is doing even more.

According to Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty, our Alabama affiliate, Lisa will walk 54 miles -- from Selma to Montgomery -- retracing the steps of the 1965 Voting Rights March. Lisa gained national attention two years ago when she walked from Brewton to Montgomery and met with Gov. Riley advocating a moratorium on the death penalty, state tax reform for the impoverished, and state funding to combat hunger. After the meeting she walked 900 miles to Washington DC. Thomas declared, “The Decatur Daily has it right. They said “Most states now have laws that provide post-conviction access to DNA evidence, but Alabama is one of eight that do not. Why would a state want to execute anybody when even a shred of uncertainly exists about his guilt?” (Decatur Daily (Alabama) July 7, 2007.

Thomas’ walk will take her through Lowndes County, where a rally will be held to encourage Governor Riley to issue a stay of execution and order a DNA test for Darrell Grayson. The rally will be held at Annie Mae’s Art Place at 278 Harriet Tubman Road on Monday, July 23 at 6 p.m.

The 54-mile walk will conclude in Montgomery with a noon rally on the Alabama State Capitol steps on Wednesday, July 25. The public is urged to attend. “We are asking Governor Riley to stay the execution and insist that DNA testing be done” said Judy Collins Cumbee, lst Vice President of the Alabama New South Coalition. “We cannot execute an innocent man”, she concluded. Senator Hank Sanders is due to speak at the July 25th rally along with Alabama’s NAACP President Ed Vaughn and Kimble Forrister, Executive Director of Alabama Arise.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Pope weighs in

No kiddin':

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 07/20/07
Pope Benedict XVI has joined a growing list of high-profile death penalty opponents trying to keep condemned cop killer Troy Anthony Davis alive.

Davis, whose death sentence for the 1989 murder of a Savannah police officer was put on hold this week 24 hours before it was scheduled, has received support from singer/activist Harry Bela-fonte, Sister Helen Prejean of "Dead Man Walking" fame and Mike Farrell of "MASH."

The Apostolic Nunciature, the Washington office of the Vatican, sent a letter to Gov. Sonny Perdue on behalf of Benedict, asking that Davis be granted clemency. The letter arrived Monday.

"In the name of Pope Benedict XVI, I am respectfully asking you to commute Troy's sentence to life in prison without parole," wrote Monsignor Martin Krebs, chargé d'affaires for the Apostolic Nunciature. The letter goes on to say Davis' pending execution is "disturbing" given that many witnesses have come forward to say that their testimony implicating him was false.

State Board of Pardons and Paroles spokeswoman Scheree Lipscomb declined to comment on the letter.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

In her honor

Vicki Scheiber is a friend and supporter of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. She also is a board member of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights. She recently was profiled in Bethesda Magazine. Here is the beginning of her story:

In Her Honor
When Vicki Schieber of Chevy Chase lost her daughter to a brutal rape and murder in 1998, she was encouraged to seek the death penalty for her daughter’s killer. She chose forgiveness instead, and launched a crusade to end capital punishment

By Kathleen Wheaton

On a Saturday morning in February, Vicki Schieber, a motherly woman of 62 with soft brown eyes, wavy brown hair and a gentle Midwestern voice, drives from her home in Chevy Chase to Baltimore to visit a death-row inmate.

At the prison, a guard leads her down narrow cement corridors, steel-barred doors automatically slide open and then clatter shut behind her.

The visiting room is scarcely wider than a phone booth, bisected by thick panes of Plexiglas. Unlike some of the other six men awaiting execution in Maryland, the man on the other side of the window hasn’t claimed to be innocent of the contract killing for which he was sentenced to die 11 years ago. He’s 36, small and slender, with an open, boyish face that lights up when he sees Vicki—they’ve exchanged several letters, though they’ve only met once before.

In the car on the way up, Vicki tells me she’s befriended a murderer whose guilt is not in question because she “wanted to try and understand how someone could do something like that.”

Her desire to understand is born of personal tragedy. In May 1998, her beautiful and accomplished 23-year-old daughter, Shannon, a first-year doctoral candidate at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, was raped and strangled by an intruder who climbed in through the balcony of her Philadelphia brownstone apartment. Four years later, Shannon’s killer was caught, and confessed to the rape and murder of Shannon and the rapes of 13 other women.

In Pennsylvania, as in many other states, the wishes of a victim’s family can determine a murderer’s fate. Vicki and her husband, Sylvester (Syl), had always been opposed to capital punishment based on their personal and religious beliefs. But confronting the man who murdered their daughter put that abstract principle to an excruciating test. In the end, principle triumphed over anger, and—despite intense pressure from the district attorney and the Philadelphia news media—the Schiebers asked that their daughter’s killer not be executed. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

In the nine years since the murder, the principles that guided the Schieber’s decision have become a much larger cause. Vicki, in particular, has devoted her life to trying to abolish capital punishment in Maryland and the rest of the country. As a founding member of MVFHR, Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, Vicki regularly gives speeches in churches and law school classes, testifies before legislative committees and appears before editorial boards.

You can read the rest of the article here.

Monday, July 16, 2007

90-Day Stay of Execution Granted for Troy Davis

AP notes:

The state Board of Pardons and Paroles has granted a 90-day stay of execution for Troy Davis, who was to be executed tomorrow in the killing of a Savannah police officer in 1989.

Lawyers for Davis spent more than five hours today pleading with the board to grant a reprieve, arguing that Davis is Davis innocent of the murder of Officer Mark MacPhail.

Prosecutors were given a chance during the closed-door hearing to rebut the request for clemency for Davis, who was to be executed tomorrow at at 7pm.

The board’s options included granting a stay of his execution while it considers the issues.

Also today, Davis’ lawyers filed an appeal before the state Supreme Court of an earlier decision by a Chatham County judge to deny a stay of Davis’ execution.

Among the people who argued for clemency for Davis during the parole board hearing were friends, family and US Representative John Lewis, an Atlanta Democrat and civil rights icon. Five witnesses who testified at trial spoke to the board on Davis’ behalf, Ewart said.

Waiting for word.

We're still waiting for the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to announce their decision in the matter of Troy Anthony Davis. Meanwhile, here is a statement U.S. Rep. John Lewis gave to the board shortly after it convened this morning:

"Good morning, Chairperson Hunt and members of the State Board of Pardons and Paroles.

"It is a privilege to address you today, and I want to thank you for hearing me.I will not speak long, because what I have to say is very simple. I do not know Troy Anthony Davis. I do not know if he is guilty of the charges of which he has been convicted. But I do know that nobody should be put to death based on the evidence we now have in this case.

"Evidence that is dramatically different from what the jury heard. Evidence that I understand no court has ever considered, for technical reasons that have nothing to do with the truth.

"We sometimes hear that a guilty person has gone free because of some legal technicality, and we understandably feel frustrated when that happens. Now we have the opposite situation. A man who may well be innocent may die tomorrow — all because of those technicalities. This is much more than frustrating; it is tragic. It is unjust. And at a time when we are trying to convince the whole world that our way is best, it does not speak well of us. I will say only a little about the facts of the case, because you have other witnesses that know them better than I.

"But here is what I understand to be true. I understand that there is no physical evidence. No murder weapon. No fingerprints. No DNA.

"Just the testimony of a few frightened and confused people who were taken completely by surprise when a tragedy suddenly erupted — without warning — for just a few seconds — in the middle of the night. And now, the case against Mr. Davis, that rested on that testimony, is a shambles. I understand that there were nine key witnesses, seven of whom have recanted their testimony. The eighth witness has left the state and refuses to talk about the case. And the ninth cannot recant without confessing that he committed the murder. Indeed, some of the other recanting witnesses have now implicated him.

"You must surely know the evidence better than I. And you know the law better than I. But I know, with what we have learned since the original jury heard this case, that a reasonable jury today should have doubts — grave doubts — since we now know so much more than the original jury. I am sure the members of the original jury are fine people. And I am sure they tried to do the best they could with the tools they were given. But nobody ever gave them the tools to do the job right. Those tools were offered to the courts years later, but they said it was too late to use them.

"So now the tools are in your hands. Hands that are not bound by technicalities. And it is not too late to use the tools you have been given. But I am here now, because I could not stay away.
If executing Troy Davis on the evidence we now have is the best our justice system can do, then that system is not worthy of the word justice. People of good faith can and do disagree about the death penalty. But all of us must certainly agree that before we carry out the ultimate penalty, we must be sure. The only thing I am sure of is that nobody can even come close to being sure that Troy Davis committed this crime. I am, frankly, shocked to think that we could execute anyone under these circumstances. And I ask you not to let that happen.

"Before I sit down, let me say a few words about a man who cannot be here today. I speak, of course, of the victim of this terrible crime, Officer Mark MacPhail. And I hope you will think of him too as you make your decision. Officer MacPhail's death was a senseless tragedy, and I am sure his loved ones still feel the pain of his loss. I pray for them and for Officer MacPhail today. And I ask you to do the same. For it is a terrible thing to be a victim of a violent crime.

"I know, because I am one. I was beaten senseless by a Coca-Cola crate when I arrived at the Greyhound bus station in Montgomery, Alabama as a Freedom Rider in 1961. I could easily have died. I was clubbed nearly to death a few years later on Bloody Sunday at the Edmund Pettis Bridge, and for awhile I looked death in the face, sure that I was about to see God. Indeed, of all the people in this room, I suspect that I am the only one who has any real idea of what Officer MacPhail felt in the last moments of his life.

"And I also think I know what he would say if he could speak to us today. He would tell us not to compound one tragedy with another. He would tell us not to make another man's family feel the pain that his family felt. He would tell us that his killer may still be at large. And he would tell us that, as an officer of the law, he wants our legal system to do what is right. That winning cases does not matter. That only justice matters. And that he does not want his legacy to be the death of an innocent man. As a fellow public servant, I believe I know what you should do. And as a man of faith, I am sure I know what God wants you to do. Do justice. Commute the sentence of Troy Anthony Davis.

"Thank you very much."

Friday, July 13, 2007

9 a.m. Monday morning

That's when the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles meets to consider the fate of Troy Anthony Davis, scheduled for execution at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Scroll down to see what you can do to take action!

Meanwhile, today the Atlanta Journal-Constitution weighed in with this lead editorial:

A chance of innocence
State parole board must intervene in death row inmate's case Published on: 07/13/07

Last-minute appeals by lawyers to spare the life of a death row inmate are common. And sometimes the claims made on behalf of inmates strain credibility.

Others are much more than that. Sometimes, they are legitimate efforts to stop the state from executing someone who could very well be innocent. The case of Troy Anthony Davis, scheduled to come before the state Board of Pardons and Paroles on Monday, is one of those. It would be a grave injustice if Davis is killed by lethal injection next week.

Davis, 38, was convicted of the brutal murder of Mark Allen MacPhail, a young Savannah police officer responding to a fight in a parking lot in 1989. Without substantive physical evidence — no gun, no DNA — prosecutors relied entirely on the testimony of witnesses. They found nine who implicated Davis. A jury found him guilty. He has been on death row since 1991, but Davis has maintained his innocence from the day he was arrested.

After his legal appeals were exhausted, however, significant developments occurred that demand closer examination:

• Seven of the original nine witnesses against Davis have renounced or contradicted their trial testimony. An alarming number now claim they were intimidated by the police. Of the two witnesses who have not recanted their testimony, one was implicated by two other witnesses during the trial as MacPhail's killer, and by four new witnesses since then.

• Davis is caught in an untenable procedural bind. Because of a 1996 law aimed at speeding up death penalty appeals, federal and state courts have ruled they can't consider new evidence in a death penalty case if the defendant should have brought it to the court's attention during the appeals process. But in the Davis case, most of the witnesses didn't recant their testimony until years later. Moreover, to get the courts to reopen the case, the defendant must be able to show that given the new evidence, no reasonable juror would convict him. That's an impossibly high standard.

• Some of the witnesses didn't get a chance to recant because the initial appeal in the Davis case was handled by attorneys from an underfunded state defender's agency that lacked the resources to track witnesses down and investigate what they told police, as opposed to what they testified to at trial.

The case has generated an exceptional amount of interest. Groups and individuals opposed to the death penalty support Davis, including Amnesty International, Nobel Prize winner Desmond Tutu, Sister Helen Prejean and Harry Belafonte. Archbishop Wilton Gregory has asked Catholics in the Atlanta archdiocese to pray for clemency for Davis.

The case has also drawn the attention of the Constitution Project, a bipartisan group that seeks consensus on difficult legal issues. William S. Sessions, a former federal judge and FBI director under three presidents, a death penalty advocate and a member of the project's Death Penalty Initiative, has researched Davis' case and strongly believes more investigation is needed.

Over the years, 124 death row inmates have been released from state prisons after evidence proved their innocence. Police, prosecutors, judges, witnesses and juries make mistakes, but those mistakes can never be reversed once a death sentence is carried out.

The Board of Pardons and Paroles is not being asked to set Troy Anthony Davis free. But in the name of justice it should allow him to make a new case for his innocence.
Mike King, for the editorial board

Thursday, July 12, 2007

'But what about my client, Mr. Bush?'

But what about my client, Mr. Bush?
Reformed killer denied commuted death sentence by the then-Texas governor

Houston Chronicle
George W. Bush became governor of Texas in 1994, when he upset the popular incumbent, Ann Richards. The following September, my client, Carl Johnson, was scheduled for execution.

Johnson had killed a security guard during a holdup of a convenience store. The guard had opened fire on Johnson first, but Johnson did not use that as an excuse. He accepted responsibility for what he had done, and he was remorseful. He had been robbing the convenience store in the first place because he had an expensive heroin habit to support, a habit he picked up in Vietnam, after being drafted.

Johnson had been represented at his trial by one of the most notoriously inept death penalty lawyers in history. The lawyer fell asleep in numerous trials, including Johnson's. He was eventually no longer permitted to represent capital murder defendants. Johnson's co-defendant pleaded guilty, and had long since been released from prison by the time Johnson's execution date rolled around.

Johnson grew up in prison. He became religious and repentant. He did not falsely proclaim his innocence or blame anyone other than himself for his mistakes, which he acknowledged to be serious and perhaps unforgivable. At the same time, in his years in prison, he had no significant disciplinary violations. He worked in prison. He crafted religiously-inspired art. He got his high school equivalency diploma.

I thought of Johnson on the day that President Bush commuted the prison sentence of I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, a man who was convicted of lying to a grand jury -- that is, a man who was convicted of perjury. President Bush went to the White House saying he was going to bring integrity back to the Oval Office, a reference to President Clinton, who had been impeached for lying to a grand jury, the same as Libby's crime. President Bush got elected despite charges that he had used his father's connections to avoid service in Vietnam, the place where my client, Carl Johnson, found heroin.

In Texas, the governor cannot commute a death row inmate's sentence without approval of the Board of Pardons and Parole. The governor still wields great power, however, because the governor appoints the members of the board, and they take their cues from him. When Gov. Bush wanted to commute the death sentence of Henry Lee Lucas, a man believed by some law enforcement officers to have been a serial killer but who probably did not murder the woman he was sent to death row for killing, he let it be known, and the board accommodated his wishes, recommending a commutation, which Governor Bush signed in 1998.

I asked then-Gov. Bush to grant my client a 30-day reprieve, with the idea that he could thereby signal to the board his belief that Johnson's death sentence should be commuted to life. He denied my request, as he denied the other 56 requests that were made of him by lawyers representing death row inmates. Some of these inmates were mentally retarded. Some were juveniles when they committed their crimes. Gov. Bush always gave the same explanation: that the inmates had had full access to the legal system. He gave that same reason when he turned down a reprieve request made by the lawyers representing Karla Faye Tucker, whose reformation on death row was legendary, and when he rejected the reprieve request made by lawyers representing Gary Graham, who was probably innocent.

My client, Carl Johnson, committed the worst crime that can be committed against another human being: He killed someone. And Lewis Libby committed the crime that is most injurious to our criminal justice system: He lied. Unlike my client, Libby, who was convicted by a jury of his peers despite being represented by the best lawyers that money can buy, has never shown any public sign of remorse. Nevertheless, despite all that, President Bush did not exceed his authority in commuting Lewis Libby's prison sentence. The Constitution gives him the power to do what he did. But it is possible for actions to be lawful and simultaneously in conflict with other constitutional principles. Last week's pardon deeply offends the constitutional value of equality, the idea that all citizens stand equal before the law.

Lewis Libby had something in common with the other people George Bush has pardoned, and with people President Clinton pardoned as well: He is rich and powerful, and he has rich and powerful connections. People do not get pardons because they are mentally retarded, or because they were young when they committed their crime, or because they had terrible lawyers, or because they have reformed, or even because they are innocent. They get them because they have friends in high places. That might not be illegal, but it's still wrong, and a president who issues pardons and commutations on that basis has not done very much at all to bring integrity to the Oval Office.
Dow is the University Distinguished Professor at the University of Houston Law Center.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

In Memory: Doug Marlette

Doug Marlette, award-winning cartoonist and death penalty opponent, died this week in a car accident. We will miss Doug's work. Here's an Associated Press story about Doug and his career:

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Doug Marlette, the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist who recently turned his incisive wit toward a budding career as a novelist, has died in an auto accident in Mississippi. He was 57.

Marshall County Coroner John Garrison said the accident occurred in heavy rain about three miles east of Holly Springs. He said he believed the truck hydroplaned, then struck the tree.
Marlette started his cartooning career in 1972 at The Charlotte Observer and most recently was on staff at the Tulsa World. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for his work at The Observer and the Atlanta Constitution, the same year The Observer won the Pulitzer's public service award for its work detailing the misuse of funds by Jim Bakker's PTL television ministry.

Marlette published two novels, "The Bridge," in 2001, and "Magic Time," in 2006.

He received death threats for a cartoon he drew in 2002 that depicted a Muslim driving a rental truck with a nuclear weapon on board. Above were the words, "What Would Muhammad Drive?"

Marlette graduated from Florida State in 1971 and joined The Observer the next year. After more than a decade in Charlotte, he moved to the Atlanta Constitution before stops at New York Newsday and the Tallahassee Democrat.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Amnesty International USA and the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Contact: Wende Gozan at 212/633-4247
Tuesday, July 10, 2007 or David Elliot at 202-331-4090


(Atlanta) -- In the run-up to the scheduled execution of Troy Anthony Davis, and as Amnesty International holds a press conference calling for his clemency Tuesday morning, religious leaders, members of Congress, entertainers and civil and human rights leaders have written letters to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to ask that its members look at the Davis case with fresh eyes. Nobel-prize winner Rev. Desmond Tutu, singer Harry Belafonte, actor Mike Farrell, Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Sister Helen Prejean, Sam D. Millsap, Jr. (former D.A. of Bexar County, TX), record producer and activist Russell Simmons and Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation are among those who have voiced support for clemency.

"The facts with which the jury was presented nearly 16 years ago have fallen into considerable doubt," said Irene Khan, London-based secretary general of Amnesty International. "To allow this execution to proceed would be to knowingly countenance an irrevocable injustice."

In total, thousands of concerned individuals -- from across Georgia, the United States and around the world -- have sent letters calling for clemency for Davis. Following the Tuesday press conference, Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) and the Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery will deliver to the Parole Board approximately 4,000 letters and postcards that add to the several thousand that have already been sent.

"Certain cases are emblematic of the dysfunctional application of justice in this country; the case of Troy Davis is one of them," said Cox. "There is ample evidence to show that Davis may not have perpetrated the crimes for which he may lose his life. Georgia's Parole Board needs to give this serious consideration and decide whether it is worth even the possibility of killing an innocent man."

Troy Anthony Davis, who is African American, was convicted in 1991 of murdering Mark McPhail, a white police officer. Davis' conviction was not based on any physical evidence, and the murder weapon was never found. The prosecution based its case on the testimony of purported "witnesses," many of whom allege police coercion. Seven of the nine non-police witnesses for the prosecution have recanted or contradicted their testimony in sworn affidavits; nine witnesses have implicated another man in the murder.

Despite this, Davis' habeas corpus petition was denied by the state court on a technicality -- evidence of police coercion was "procedurally defaulted," so the court refused to hear it. Davis is now out of legal appeals. His clemency hearing is scheduled for Monday, July 16; his execution is set for Tuesday, July 17, at 7:00 p.m.

"This case is a reminder that the death penalty system is fraught with error," said Diann Rust-Tierney, executive director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, which has joined AIUSA in a national and international campaign on Davis' behalf. "Executive clemency exists when courts cannot or will not provide justice. We must not allow an execution to proceed when substantial doubt exists as to guilt or innocence."

# # #

For more information, visit www.amnestyusa.org/troydavis or http://www.ncadp.org/.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Troy Davis makes Daily Kos

"Sometimes, a death penalty case comes along in which it looks for all the world like an innocent person is about to be executed. Sometimes the Supreme Court washes its hands of that case, turns its back, and diddles while somebody is fastened to the gurney."

Read more at Daily Kos.

Eleven days, folks. Eleven days.

Meanwhile, to take action go here.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Blog Conference

Today, thanks to the organizers over at Amnesty International, an historic first happened: A "press conference" for bloggers only about the Troy Anthony Davis case. Davis, the reader may recall, faces a July 17 execution date for a crime many of us believe he did not commit.

Here's the news advisory announcing the call (with some contact info deleted, for reasons of personal privacy)

New Media Release

Non-Traditional Media Advisory
Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Press Conference for Blog, Podcast, and New Media Journalists
Finality Over Fairness

Troy Anthony Davis, Unjustly Sentenced to Death, to be Executed Within Days

Washington, DC - Troy Anthony Davis may well be innocent. He was sentenced to death for the killing of a white police officer, and the state of Georgia has scheduled him for execution on July 17. Compelling evidence of his innocence has been uncovered, but, citing procedural bars, no court has ever held a hearing on this new evidence.

Troy Davis was convicted entirely by witness testimony. There was no forensic evidence, no murder weapon, no DNA evidence. Seven of the nine non-police witnesses who testified against him have since recanted or contradicted their trial testimony in sworn affidavits, many alleging police intimidation or coercion. One of the two witnesses who has not recanted has been implicated by several others as the real assailant.

Without most of their witnesses, the state of Georgia does not have much of a case. This raises grave doubts about Troy Davis’ guilt. But in our appeals courts, upholding procedural rules has become more important than addressing questions of innocence, and these doubts remain unresolved. Not only might an innocent man be executed on July 17th but he might be executed without ever having the chance to prove his innocence.

Join a telephonic Press Conference for non-traditional media journalists including bloggers, podcast producers, online radio stations, alternative media, etc.

Who: Professor Charles J. Ogletree, Jr., Harvard Law School, Founder and
Executive Director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice

Martina Correia, sister of Troy Davis and anti-death penalty activist

Jason Ewart, attorney for Troy Davis, Arnold & Porter LLP

Moderator: Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn (Director – Amnesty International USA’s Program to Abolish the Death Penalty)

When: Thursday, July 5, 4:30 pm EDT
Where: via phone - call in number is 1-877-465-1385

Monday, July 02, 2007

'A politician's best toy'

Hours from now, a bunch of hungry and sun-baked activists will be wrapping up the 14th Annual Fast & Vigil in front of the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court. They are commemorating the Furman and Gregg Supreme Court decisions, which struck down death penalty statutes and then allowed executions to resume.

Among the visitors this weekend was a former prison warden from Florida who actually oversaw executions. His story was told this past Friday in the Tallahassee Democrat:

From prison warden to anti-execution advocate

By Bill Berlow
Eleven years ago, when Ron McAndrew became superintendent of the Florida prison where Death Row inmates are executed, he was an unflinching supporter of capital punishment.

"I thought it was the right thing to do," he said.

Early today, the Dunnellon resident will fly to Washington to participate in a fast and vigil organized by the anti-death-penalty Abolitionist Action Committee in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The demonstration, which includes a press conference in which McAndrew is a featured speaker, is part of four days of activities commemorating 1972 and 1976 Supreme Court rulings suspending then reinstating capital punishment in the United States.

"The death penalty puts us right up there with the barbarians in Iran, where killing other people is a sport more than justice," he said. "It's an absolute political manipulation - a politician's best toy."

It's been an interesting, introspective journey for McAndrew, 68, who witnessed and was victim of his share of prison violence as he worked his way up through the Department of Corrections ranks.

Just a few weeks after becoming top dog at Florida State Prison at Starke, he oversaw his first execution. John Earl Bush was electrocuted on Oct. 21, 1996, for killing Evinrude outboard heiress Francis Slater in 1982.

"I realized," he said in a telephone interview Wednesday, "that I had no business standing there."

McAndrew said the process leading up to the execution, and the final, carefully choreographed act itself, horrified him.

While at Starke, McAndrew oversaw two other executions - including John Mills Jr., who murdered Les Lawhon in Wakulla County, and the infamous botched execution of Pedro Medina in 1997.

After flames leapt from Medina's mask, filling the execution chamber with smoke and the smell of burning flesh, Florida aggressively pursued lethal injection as its preferred execution method, although condemned inmates may still request the electric chair.

McAndrew went to Texas while still a Corrections administrator to see how lethal injections worked and help Florida make the transition. Lethal injections temporarily reduced his ambivalence, but didn't rid him of it. It wasn't until a few years after he left Florida State Prison that he decided capital punishment was wrong under all circumstances.

He retired from the DOC several years ago and now, as a consultant on prisons, occasionally testifies against his former employer despite his generally fond feelings for the agency.

About seven years ago, he said, he found religious faith and became a Catholic. Previously, he said, faith played almost no role in his life, but now he believes "that killing people is a sin" - even killing those who took innocent lives themselves.

But what would he say to diehard supporters of the death penalty, particularly the loved one of a murder victim?

"It's very easy," he said. "You just say that the most severe punishment you could ever give anyone would be to lock them in a little cage made out of concrete and steel ... with a steel cot, a mattress that is 2 inches thick, a stainless steel toilet that does not have a lid, and you leave them there for the rest of their natural life.

"There can't be a more severe punishment than that," he said, "and you feed them institutional food for 365 days a year."

And, when DNA testing reveals the occasional wrongful conviction, it's not too late to correct - to the extent possible - the state's mistake.

Like McAndrew, I used to support the death penalty, and people I respect still do. I just can no longer justify even one execution of someone wrongfully convicted as worth the price for putting so many more actual murderers to death.

Let's face it, the death penalty is about vengeance at least as much as it's about justice. That's understandable. If someone murdered a person I loved, I'm pretty certain I'd feel like killing him.

But vengeance dehumanizes, and the death-penalty ritual is state-sponsored theater designed precisely to achieve that objective.

McAndrew still wrestles with ghosts of his past.

"These folks that you sent on to another world," McAndrew said, "they have a way of coming back and sitting on the edge of your bed at night. I don't like that. It's not the right thing to do."

Amen, brother.