Friday, November 30, 2007

Congratulations, Capital Defense Weekly!

We're pleased to report that Capital Defense Weekly, maintained by co-blogger Karl, has been named one of the top 100 legal blogs by the ABA Law Journal in its December issue. Go here to see the list of 100. (No, Abolish isn't on there. We're not a legal blog. I don't even have a law degree. We're more into advocacy stuff, along with some occasional story-telling about those who work in the anti-death penalty movement.)

Congratulations, Karl, from all of us at Abolish and all of us at NCADP. An honor well-earned!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Mike Huckabee's death penalty dodge

So last night during the Republican presidential candidate YouTube debate on CNN, a viewer from Memphis, Tennessee asked a question about the death penalty. Debate moderator Anderson Cooper tossed the question to former Ark. Governor Mike Huckabee, a guy who certainly has talked out of both sides of his mouth when it comes to this issue. Let's pick up the transcript and then we'll be back with a comment:

COOPER: All right. The next question is for Governor Huckabee. Let's listen.

TYLER OVERMAN: Hi. This is Tyler Overman from Memphis, Tennessee. And I have a quick question for those of you who would call yourselves Christian conservatives. The death penalty, what would Jesus do?

COOPER: Governor Huckabee?

HUCKABEE: You know, one of the toughest challenges that I ever faced as a governor was carrying out the death penalty. I did it more than any other governor ever had to do it in my state. As I look on this stage, I'm pretty sure that I'm the only person on this stage that's ever had to actually do it. Let me tell you, it was the toughest decision I ever made as a human-being. I read every page of every document of every case that ever came before me, because it was the one decision that came to my desk that, once I made it, was irrevocable.

Every other decision, somebody else could go back and overturn, could fix if it was a mistake. That was one that was irrevocable.

I believe there is a place for a death penalty. Some crimes are so heinous, so horrible that the only response that we, as a civilized nation, have for a most uncivil action is not only to try to deter that person from ever committing that crime again, but also as a warning to others that some crimes truly are beyond any other capacity for us to fix.


Now, having said that, there are those who say, "How can you be pro-life and believe in the death penalty?"

Because there's a real difference between the process of adjudication, where a person is deemed guilty after a thorough judicial process and is put to death by all of us, as citizens, under a law, as opposed to an individual making a decision to terminate a life that has never been deemed guilty because the life never was given a chance to even exist.

COOPER: Governor?

HUCKABEE: That's the fundamental difference.


COOPER: I do have to though press the question, which -- the question was, from the viewer was? What would Jesus do? Would Jesus support the death penalty?

HUCKABEE: Jesus was too smart to ever run for public office, Anderson. That's what Jesus would do.

Note the wily dodge. Huckabee managed to score points with this crowd of Florida Republicans while not even beginning to address the question.

But out in the blogosphere, he's being called out. Check out this posting from The Fix, which is the Washington Post's main political blog:

Huckabee's response to Jesus and the death penalty was clever, but sidestepped the question. Sadly, the press marveled at yet another non-answer to a question about a serious issue. The question was intended to be a request for a Christianity-based stance on the morality of the death penalty, not a set-up for a one-liner. Huckabee said nothing about the fact that the death penalty is disproportionately applied to African-Americans, that decisions to apply it are based in slipshod police and crime lab work, or any of a host of other related, troubling issues. Quips are nice, but debates are supposed to be about establishing positions, not electing an Entertainer-In-Chief.

Well said. The poster might have added that when Jesus was on the cross, he said, "Forgive them, for they know not what they do."

There actually is a spirited debate going on over the question of Jesus and the death penalty over at the Washington Post site. You can read the exchange -- and post your own message if you'd like -- by going here.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Death chamber of secrets

(This is taken from the Huffington Post, and is written by Christopher Hill of the ACLU's Capital Punishment Project.)

"It never occurred to me when we set this up that we'd have complete idiots administering the drugs." So said Jay Chapman, the Oklahoma doctor who developed the infamous three-drug cocktail used by many states to execute people - the same concoction that is now under constitutional review before the U.S. Supreme Court. As part of the secrecy surrounding the execution process, we do not really know who the people carrying out lethal injections are. But thanks to a recent lawsuit in Missouri, we know a little bit about one of these people.

He is a doctor from Missouri called Dr. Doe. He has been barred from practice in two hospitals, been the subject of numerous malpractice lawsuits and has been forbidden by a federal judge from "participat[ing] in any manner, at any level, in the State of Missouri's lethal injection process."

Dr. Doe's transgressions were not brought to light by the state, but as the result of a lawsuit filed by a condemned inmate. And we learned a lot from Dr. Doe's own testimony. The doctor admitted under oath that he has dyslexia. He testified that his dyslexia renders him unable to work with numbers, so, Dr. Doe said, "it's not unusual for me to make mistakes." He testified "that he had cut the thiopental [the drug that renders a person unconscious] dosage he gave inmates by half because a change in drug packaging forced him to 'improvise'." According to an amicus brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month, Dr. Doe participated in more than 50 executions in Missouri in which he "varied the amount of thiopental he gave inmates on a whim, without informing anyone." Just as Doe was not informing anyone about his improvisation, the state of Missouri did not inform anyone about the unqualified doctor running its lethal injection system.

Where has Dr. Doe ended up now that he no longer executes prisoners in Missouri? Astoundingly, the federal government has made him as part of its execution team. Although the U.S. Bureau of Prisons cites a policy of not publicly disclosing the names of staff members involved with lethal injections, we know that Dr. Doe will possibly replicate his abysmal performance in Missouri on the national level because he testified about his new job in the inmate's lawsuit.

If ignorance is bliss, then your government wants you ecstatically unaware of the lethal injection process. Indeed, if it were not for lawsuits filed by condemned inmates, we may have never learned how poorly the death penalty system is run. Much of this information about Dr. Doe and other lethal injection issues is available on, a website run by the Death Penalty Clinic at UC Berkeley's law school.

But even with lawsuits and websites we still have to fight to get information. Even the Show Me State kept its citizens blind to the fact that a doctor, found unfit to practice in two hospitals, was overseeing the execution of inmates. Only government transparency will allow us to see the absurdity of a system that allows a doctor who cannot perform executions of prisoners in one state to participate in the executions of inmates from all over the country. We need to see it to believe it.

Voice of Experience: Murder Victim Family Member Explains Why Death Penalty Creates More Pain

Anyone who thinks the death penalty is supposed to help murder victims families should consult this - written by a father whose daughter was murdered....


Death penalty punishes victims' families, too

Sunday, November 25, 2007

My daughter Deirdre was 25 when she was murdered. She was an artist, a painter, and was hoping to get a job in an art gallery. Her paintings still hang on the walls around our house. They're damn good. And I don't say that just because my little girl made them.

A bipartisan commission conducted a study of New Jersey's death penalty last year. One of the things it considered was what would best serve people like me, families who have had their lives ripped apart by murder. They sensibly decided that New Jersey should get rid of its death penalty and replace it with life without parole. The Legislature should heed their call.

I say this not because I think these people deserve to live. I don't. But I've lived through the state's process of trying to kill one of them, and I can say without hesitation that it is not worth the anguish that it puts survivors through.

If you haven't lived it, you can't know. But I lived it. And I know.

A serial killer ripped Deirdre away from us in 1982. My family had no idea, then, that our ordeal was just beginning. All we knew was that the worst of the worst had happened, and the person who did it should pay the ultimate price -- the death penalty.

From 1982 until 1990 I lived day to day, appeal to appeal, decision to decision. We woke up every day wondering what might happen that day. Will there be another appeal? Another motion? What new decision might come down?

The toll it took on me and my family was horrendous. And my experience was not unique. A Department of Justice study found that 70 percent of husbands and wives in my situation divorce, separate or start abusing drugs or alcohol. Family members have different views on capital punishment, and the process eats away at us and tears us apart.

The last straw for me came in 1990, eight years after the first trial. We were sitting through another retrial of the penalty phase. The judge had asked the jury during jury selection, "Could you be fair and impartial even if you knew that this man had committed another murder in Florida? Even if you knew that he had committed murder 12 days before his first trial? Even if you knew that he had already been convicted of murder in this case?"

I listened to those questions and I thought, my God, of course this man should be put to death. As the trial proceeded, I thought, this is a lock. Soon we'll be done. And my emotion built as my confidence in the outcome solidified. And three hours later the jury came back deadlocked, and the man who killed my daughter was re-sentenced to life without parole. The trauma of that moment was indescribable. It was the first time I cried in a long time.

Eight years of trials and retrials changed my mind about the death penalty. I learned the hard way that the death penalty is an albatross over the heads of victims' families.

I often hear death penalty proponents say that it is needed to bring closure to victims' families. And I hear victims' families who morally oppose the death penalty say there is no such thing as closure.

The truth lies somewhere in the middle. When the final appeal, the final retrial is over -- really over-- you come as close to closure as possible. There will always be articles, scenes, experiences that remind you of it. In 2005 alone there were two documentaries made about our case. And your loved one never comes back. So it's never fully over. But it's very different once you're not in the middle of the process.

In that respect, there is some closure, and the death penalty forces that closure further away than any other punishment on the books.

I have no sympathy for killers. I certainly will never forgive the one who took my pretty, compassionate, precious daughter away from me. But the punishment that most promised me a sense of justice only made my pain worse. Much worse.

The state of New Jersey can make sure that not one more surviving family goes through what I had to endure. I learned the hard way. Let the Legislature learn from me, as the commission did -- end the death penalty. Life without parole is effective, swift and sure. And that is what victims' families need more than anything else.

Jim O'Brien served as director of the New Jersey Victims of Violent Crimes Compensation Board. Now living in Maryland, he is a former Mendham resident and a former Morris County freeholder.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Turkeys vs. Humans?

So a friend of mine and longtime abolitionist, Marshall Dayan, well known in this community and a past recipient of NCADP's Lifetime Achievement Award, put this thought in my head. And oh my, we have to blog on it!

Seems President Bush today, in the annual pre-Thanksgiving ritual, pardoned two turkeys. I think we are now into the double digits if you consider the number of turkeys Bush has pardoned while serving as the leader of the most powerful nation's Executive Branch.

By contrast, during Bush's one and a half terms as Texas governor, he managed to pardon one human being who was on death row. Actually, it wasn't even a pardon -- it was a commutation. Henry Lee Lucas, who was about to be executed for a crime he did not commit, had his sentence commuted to life in prison. He died not too long afterwards.

For those who wonder just our far the Fourth Estate has fallen, check out this breathless coverage:

Press corps turns out to see lucky turkeys escape death

President Bush pardoned the annual Thanksgiving turkey Tuesday

The turkeys -- a primary and an alternate -- are named May and Flower

Vice President Dick Cheney wanted to name them Lunch and Dinner, Bush said

Pardoning of the turkeys is a tradition entering its 60th year

By Erika Dimmler, Brianna Keilar, Suzanne Malveaux and Emily Schultze

In this Behind the Scenes, CNN correspondents who cover the White House give a window into what it's like being a witness to history -- in this case, the president's annual Thanksgiving turkey pardon.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As members of the White House press corps, we often get a front row seat to history. But it's normally not a mosh pit. Today's event was a little different.

A jampacked crowd gathered at the Rose Garden to watch President Bush pardon the annual Thanksgiving turkey.

Everyone turned out. Network correspondents? Check. Scribblers and bloggers? Doublecheck. Every still photographer who has covered the White House seemed to be there, too.

What about White House staff? Check. Even Chief of Staff Josh Bolten was there, accompanied by actor and fellow musician John Corbett.

The president announced the names of America's most famous turkeys -- a primary and an alternate -- as voted on by America.

May and Flower were the winning monikers, which, the president remarked, was "certainly better than the names the vice president suggested, which was Lunch and Dinner."

(Or, Scooter and Libby, as one member of the press corps was overheard suggesting).

May was subdued throughout most of the ceremony but managed to show a bit of gratitude with a few audible "gobble gobbles" toward the end of the president's speech, as he offered thanks for the men and women of the U.S. military. Watch Bush pardon the Thanksgiving turkey »

Jaded members of the press corps lined up after the ceremony to get their photo snapped with America's most famous bird.

Both turkeys then alighted onto their personal three-vehicle motorcade, complete with blaring sirens and police motorcycles, en route to Dulles airport.

Once at Dulles, they will fly first class on United Turkey One to Orlando, Florida, where May will serve -- not be served -- as Grand Marshall in Disney's Thanksgiving Day parade.

When the birds land in Orlando they will be welcomed with a red carpet reception. According to Disney's Michelle Stepney, all passengers on today's United Turkey One will be given free passes to Disney World.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Joe Hill, organizer

102 years ago today, labor activist Joe Hill was wrongly executed by the state of Utah. You can read about his case here.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Friday challenge

Which one of these six jurisdictions will be the first to abolish the death penalty? Which will be the last?

1. Alabama
2. China
3. Iran
4. Oklahoma
5. Saudi Arabia
6. Texas

My prediction, in order of first to abolish the death penalty to last:

1. China
2. Iran
3. Texas
4. Oklahoma
5. Alabama
6. Saudi Arabia

Several notes:

1. Some folks might wonder why I am placing Texas ahead of Oklahoma and Alabama. Is it bias because Texas is my home state? No. At least I don't think so. My operational theory here is that Texas is making so, so many mistakes in every imaginable way, that state legislators will suspend all executions either indefinitely or permanently simply out of sheer embarrassment. Oklahoma and Alabama are making mistakes as well, but on a smaller scale. Texas is, after all, the second most populous state in the nation.

2. Some may wonder if I am being incredibly pessimistic here, saying that China and Iran will abolish the death penalty before Texas, Oklahoma and Alabama. Not really. Rather, I am being quite optimistic for China and Iran. I think things are going to happen in those two countries that will cause a cessation of executions in just a few years. The one jurisdiction I am VERY pessimitic about is Saudi Arabia. Even if the royal family is overthrown, which I think it inevitably will be, I believe sharia will remain the law of the land. Iran has tasted secularism; Saudi Arabia has not.

New blog at AU

Some graduate students at American University have been blogging around the case of Troy Anthony Davis. Check it out here.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

And the sky did not fall

This just popped up in my email box from Renny Cushing, executive director of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights.

The United Nations General Assembly just passed a resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions! The vote was 99 in Favor, 52 Against and 33 Abstentions.
Another step toward a world without the death penalty!

Of course, we shouldn't abolish the death penalty because the U.N. says we should or France or Germany or Canada say we should. We should abolish it because it is flawed public policy.

The resolution entitled ‘Moratorium on the use of the death penalty’ was supported by 99 governments, while 52 voted against it and 33 abstained. The text of the resolution, stipulates inter alia that:

Considering that the use of the death penalty undermines human dignity, and convinced that a moratorium on the use of the death penalty contributes to the enhancement and progressive development of human rights, that there is no conclusive evidence of the death penalty’s deterrent value and that any miscarriage or failure of justice in the death penalty’s implementation is irreversible and irreparable,” […]

The General Assembly, […] Calls upon all States that still maintain the death penalty to: […]Establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty;

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Update: Iranian execution halted

Execution in Iran Halted: IGLHRC Cites Global Protest as Central
November 14, 2007

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission has learned that the Iranian Chief Justice, Ayatollah Seyed Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi, has nullified the impending death sentence of Mr. Makvan Mouloodzadeh, a 21-year old Iranian citizen found guilty of multiple counts of anal rape (ighab), allegedly committed when he was 13 years old. The Iranian Chief Justice described the death sentence to be in violation of Islamic teachings, the religious decrees of high-ranking Shiite clerics, and the law of the land.

"This is a stunning victory for human rights and a reminder of the power of global protest," said Paula Ettelbrick, IGLHRC's executive director, who on November 5 sent a letter in Persian and English asking that Iranian authorities intervene to halt the execution.

The verdict in Mr. Mouloodzadeh's case was questionable from the outset. Although no one ever accused him of rape, the court declared otherwise. All parties involved in the case told the court that their statements during the investigation were either untruthful or coerced. The investigation was also riddled with procedural irregularities.

Recognizing that the death sentence in this case violated both international law and the Penal Code of the Islamic Republic of Iran, IGLHRC took action. In addition to writing letters to the Iranian authorities, IGLHRC issued an action alert on November 5, 2007, which prompted other human rights advocates to similarly object. Activists from around the world responded by sending over 100 emails demanding an immediate halt to Makvan's execution. Other human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Iranian Queer Organization issued action alerts of their own.

"It is absolutely imperative that we halt the deplorable use of the death penalty to force social conformity," said Ettelbrick. "We hope that Makvan's case and the profound rejection of the death penalty by the Iranian Chief Justice sets the course for the future in Iran."

After a designated group of judges from the Chief Justice's office formally nullifies the court's decision, the case will be sent to a local court for retrial.

Iranian execution, part 93

Date: Wed, 14 Nov 2007 11:59:51 +0000
From: Peter Tatchell
Subject: Iran - execution for sodomy

Iran to hang man for sodomy
Despite witnesses withdrawing their allegations
"Confession" secured after ill-treatment in prison
Amnesty International calls for URGENT ACTION

London - 14 November 2007

"Sentencing Makwan Moloudzadeh to death violates Iranian law and international human rights conventions," said gay human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell of the UK LGBT rights group, OutRage!

"Executing a person for an offence they allegedly committed when they were a minor, below the age of criminal responsibility, is particularly heinous and barbaric.

"Makwan is the latest victim of Tehran's on-going homophobic campaign of imprisonment, torture, flogging and hanging," he said.

Makwan Moloudzadeh, a 21 year old an Iranian Kurd, has been sentenced to death in the city of Paveh, following his conviction for an act of sodomy that he committed while still a minor, aged 13, with another minor, also aged 13, according to Amnesty International.

See the Amnesty International briefing below and here:

"Under Iranian law, same-sex acts are illegal and punishable by death. The Iran penal code also stipulates that the age of criminal responsibility is 15 lunar years and offenders under this age are exempt from criminal punishment," added Mr Tatchell.

"At worst, according to Iranian law, Makwan should have received up to 74 lashes, not a sentence of death. Males under 15 are classified as minors and are usually not subject to criminal sanctions, especially not the death penalty.

"Makwan was 13 at the time of the offence. His partner was also 13.

"The Iranian authorities allege that Makwan raped the other boy but the offence of male rape does not exist in the Iranian penal code. Moreover, no one involved in the case accused Makwan of rape, according to research by the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

"As in the UK and the US, in Iran all sex involving children is automatically deemed sexual assault - even if it takes place with consent between partners of the same age.

"Following alleged physical ill-treatment in prison, Makwan is said to have made a confession under interrogation. At his trial, however, he reportedly protested his innocence. Several people who made allegations against Makwan have since withdrawn their claims.

"Under these circumstances, it is particularly reprehensible that Iran intends to proceed with this execution.

"OutRage! urges everyone - gay and straight - to support the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission's campaign to save Makwan's life. We also call on our friends and supporters to write appeals for clemency to their local Iranian Ambassador," said Mr Tatchell.

Friday, November 09, 2007

The first tip of the first domino

Today the Speaker of the NJ Assembly held a press conference to announce that he has scheduled a vote to abolish the death penalty in New Jersey. Not later than January 7 (the last day of the current NJ legislative session), and possibly even in December (the 13th or the 17th), New Jersey may well become the first state in the post-Furman era to legislatively abolish the death penalty (Iowa and West Virginia did so in 1965.)

Here's a bit of video from the press conference by BlueJersey blogger Jay Lassiter.

News items will be posted here over the coming weeks....

It's history in the making!


Things are heating up in Texas

If you follow death penalty news, you know about the situation in Texas. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals -- well, more specifically, Presiding Judge Sharon Keller -- refused to allow a death penalty appeal to be filed 20 minutes after 5 p.m., and as a result an inmate was executed, even though his execution likely would have been stayed due to the lethal injection protocol challenge currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Two developments since then are worth mentioning. First, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has agreed to begin accepting emergency appeal applications via email. And second, the mainstream magazine Texas Monthly -- hardly a mouthpiece for the abolition movement -- is publishing a piece calling for Keller's impeachment. Here it is (hat tip, as usual, Steve Hall):

Impeach Sharon Keller!
Four hours before convicted murderer Michael Richard was executed by the State of Texas on September 25, his lawyers notified the Court of Criminal Appeals that, because of computer problems, his appeal wouldn't be filed until fifteen to thirty minutes after 5 p.m.-the hour at which the court's offices closed.

This was no ordinary appeal: That very morning, the U.S. Supreme Court had agreed to review the constitutionality of lethal injection as a method of execution. Still, Sharon Keller, the CCA's presiding judge, slammed the door shut on Richard's life.

"We close at five," she said. Keller's fellow judges publicly expressed their anger at her actions, as did several hundred defense lawyers and judges, who signed complaints filed with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct to discipline her and remove her from the bench. (Responding to the outcry, on November 6 the CCA announced a new "e-mail filing system for urgent pleadings.")

This is hardly the first time Keller has sacrificed fairness for toughness. In 1998, in her determination to keep convicted rapist Roy Criner in prison, she turned a blind eye to DNA evidence that indicated he hadn't committed the crime; fellow judge Tom Price said the decision made the Texas court a "national laughingstock." Well, no one is laughing now.

When a man's life is on the line-to say nothing of the U.S. Constitution-our top criminal judge should behave like one: with prudence, fairness, and a calm
hand. It's time for Keller to go. If the commission doesn't act quickly,
we'll have to wait until January 2009, when the Legislature-which has the power to oust high judges-reconvenes, or worse, 2012, when Keller is up for reelection. The fact is, we need to do it now. Impeach Sharon Keller.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

And the sky did not fall

Looks like someone in Massachusetts could use a lesson in floor management/vote counting 101...

House rejects death penalty
Thursday, November 08, 2007

BOSTON - The state House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly yesterday against reinstating the death penalty in Massachusetts.

The 110-46 vote was by a larger margin than past years, and came after a little more than an hour of debate.

Gov. Deval L. Patrick had pledged to veto the bill if it were approved.

The bill defeated yesterday was almost identical to legislation filed by former Gov. W. Mitt Romney, who wanted to create a "gold standard"
for capital punishment.

Backers of the legislation said the state should have the right to use the death penalty in the most heinous cases, such as the killing of a police officer or a child. They said capital punishment can be an effective deterrent and can provide justice to society and families.

"There are some cases that are so heinous, it's an appropriate punishment," said Rep. Mary S. Rogeness, R-Longmeadow, who supported the bill.

Opponents said the death penalty is too expensive and immoral. They also questioned whether the death penalty can be administered without errors.

"I have always been opposed to the death penalty," said Rep. Sean F.
Curran, D-Springfield. "The justice system is made up of people, and sometimes people make mistakes. When you're talking about the death penalty, there is no room for error."

Rep. Angelo J. Puppolo Jr., D-Springfield, said he did his homework and then voted against the bill.

"I do oppose the death penalty," he said. "Until we can be 100-percent sure that we're not going to take the life of an innocent person, I don't feel comfortable supporting that."

In 1997, the House initially approved the death penalty in a dramatic
81-79 vote. But a House member switched his vote on the final tally that year, and the bill was defeated on a tie vote.

In 1999, the House voted 80-73 against the death penalty, and in 2001 the vote was 92-60 against it.

In 2005, the House voted 99-53 to defeat the death penalty when Romney was governor.

Last month, Patrick issued a statement that questioned why legislators conduct an "annual spectacle" of a death penalty hearing when there are more urgent concerns about public safety.

Kevin M. Burke, public safety secretary, read Patrick's statement during a legislative hearing on the death penalty.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

New documentary in the works

Hat tip to Steve Hall for alerting us to this:

At the Death House Door

Director/Producer: Steve James, Peter Gilbert Executive Producer: Gordon Quinn
Status: Production

In production for The Independent Film Channel...At the Death House Door is the story of the wrongful execution of Carlos DeLuna and the Death House Chaplain, Pastor Carroll Pickett, who spent the last day of DeLuna's life with him. The feature documentary, currently in production, follows the remarkable career journey of Pickett, culminating in the story of DeLuna, a convict whose execution bothered Pickett more than any other. He firmly believed the man was innocent, and the film will track the investigative efforts of a team of Chicago Tribune reporters who have turned up evidence that strongly suggests he was. The documentary takes a very personal and intimate look at the death penalty in Texas, the first state to do lethal injection. Pickett was present for the first lethal injection in 1981. At the Death House Door is a Kartemquin Films Production in association with the Chicago Tribune.

You can read more by going here.

Monday, November 05, 2007

A word regarding deterrence

I always found studies about the death penalty and deterrence rather laughable. Think about the typical death penalty case out of Harris County, Texas, which sends more people to death row than any other county.

Maybe you have a younger guy, perhaps in his twenties. Maybe he is addicted to crack cocaine. Maybe he plans a robbery so that he can get drugs or money to buy drugs and something goes terribly awry. He isn't thinking, "Oh, I better not kill -- I might get the death penalty and be executed in eight or ten or twelve years."

No. He's thinking, "How am I gonna get my next fix?"

I mention this because the well-respected Capital Defense Weekly, in a post entitled, "They seem to be getting desperate," takes down the "death penalty deters" argument a peg or two. You can read his argument here, along with a bit of give-and-take with the author of one of the disputed studies.

Friday, November 02, 2007

What method of execution do we favor?

We actually get that question from time to time from the news media. Which method of execution do we most favor? Lethal injection? Electrocution? Asphyxiation?

The question brings out in me my (occasional) annoyance with reporters. Of course we don't favor any method of execution. There's no kind, happy, humane, natural way to kill someone.

I was out having dinner with my friend Eva last night and relayed this question to her as an example of what kinds of crazy questions we sometimes field.

Without missing a beat, she said, "Next time tell 'em 'OLD AGE!'"

Heh. Pretty good, that.

Execution by old age. Or, death in prison.

Big goings-on at the U.N. today

Press Release
For Immediate Release


Signatures were collected worldwide by the Community of Sant’Egidio and the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty

A delegation of anti-death penalty activists from around the world will meet with the President of the United Nations General Assembly, Mr. Srgian Kerim, on Friday, November 2, at 10:30 AM, to deliver a petition containing over five million signatures that urge the General Assembly to pass a resolution calling for a global moratorium on executions.

The delegation, led by Mario Marazziti of the Community of Sant'Egidio, will include Sister Helen Prejean, leading American advocate of the abolition of the death penalty and the woman behind the movie Dead Man Walking, Yvonne Terlingen, Head of Amnesty International's UN Office in New York, Renny Cushing, Marie Verzulli, and Bill Babbitt from Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights, an international organization of victims' family members and family members of the executed, Speedy Rice from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Elizabeth Zitrin, member of the executive board of Death Penalty Focus.

Angola, Albania, Brazil, Croatia, Gabon, Mexico, the Philippines, Portugal (for the EU), and New Zealand are presenting the text of the resolution to the General Assembly as a cross-regional initiative. Close to one hundred other countries have signed on as co-sponsors.

After meeting with the President of the General Assembly, the delegation will hold a press conference at 11:00 AM at UNCA CLUB, UN, Room 326, at the Third Floor of UN Headquarters.