Thursday, December 27, 2007
We have the author's permission to post it in its entirety. The author is Mary Shaw, well-known in abolitionist circles, particularly in Pennsylvania. Mary is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for Amnesty International, and her views appear regularly in a variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites. You can visit her own web site here.
Will Alabama Execute an Innocent Man?
By Mary Shaw
I have written before about how we've seen more than 200 wrongfully convicted people released from U.S. prisons in recent years after proving their innocence via DNA or other evidence.
It is good that we can do this post-conviction testing, to ensure that we're punishing the right person. And, in the case of death row inmates, we certainly don't want to execute the wrong guy. Right?
Well, while most people of conscience would probably agree, Alabama Governor Bob Riley seems to have a problem with the concept.
Here is the story:
For more than 20 years, Tommy Arthur has been sitting on Alabama's death row for a crime he says he did not commit. Of course, many people in prison claim that they're innocent, and we can't just take their word for it. But those 200+ aforementioned exonerees prove that sometimes they really are telling the truth.
In Arthur's case, DNA is available that could either prove his innocence or confirm his guilt. Since last August, the Innocence Project, an organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people, has repeatedly requested that Gov. Riley order the crucial DNA testing in this case. But, so far, the governor has refused.
Now why would a governor not want to order DNA testing that would either confirm that you have the right guy in custody, or else prove that you've been holding an innocent man and that the real killer might still be at large?
I couldn't imagine an answer. And so I decided to call Gov. Riley's office and get a firsthand perspective on the case.
I called several times from December 19 through December 21, and all I got was the runaround, and no returned phone calls.
On two occasions, I was transferred to a "Lisa", who is apparently the person in charge of the Tommy Arthur Case. On the third call, I was transferred instead to the Media Department.
Each time, I left a very polite voicemail message. I did want to come across as confrontational. In my messages, I said that I was a writer in Philadelphia, and that I was interested in the Tommy Arthur case, and was wondering what the next steps will be, and when, to do the DNA testing that will either prove Arthur's innocence or confirm his guilt. I left my cell phone number. And I never heard back.
Recognizing that I was calling during the holiday season, when many people take extra time off from work, I decided to call again to see if Lisa or the Media folks might be on vacation. The receptionist checked and said no, they were all at lunch. This was two days after my initial call. I left another message for each.
It has now been more than a week since my initial phone call. Either they take very long lunches in Alabama, or they don't want to talk about the Arthur case.
Why in the world would Gov. Riley not want to grant the DNA testing?
And why in the world does his staff refuse to talk about it?
For those of you who want to keep up the good fight, please call Gov. Riley's office at 334-242-7100, ask for the comment line, and urge the governor to order the DNA testing for Tommy Arthur. While they might not want to hear from you, and they probably won't respond, I know from my 30 years of activism that this kind of pressure eventually wears down the bad guys in a whole lot of cases.
You've got nothing to lose, and a human life hangs in the balance.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Executions are Expensive, so is STOPPING them!!!2007 is almost over. It is not too late to make that tax-deductible donation to KCADP.
Visit www.kcadp.org and use PayPal for a safe way to contribute or to sign up as a paying member.
To schedule a speaker for your church, synagogue, mosque, civic group, school, or other organization, write us at kcadp [at] earthlink.net and tell us what you have in mind.
No matter. You can see the wonderful video by going here. It's posted over at Blue Jersey. Although the piece is nine minutes long, I'd encourage everyone to watch it. I, for one, have never seen the Coliseum lit up before.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Jay Lassiter fron BlueJersey.com has returned from his trip to Rome, where he went to give witness to the lighting of the Colosseum in honor of ABOLITION in New Jersey, and then for a second night in a row, to honor the vote for a global death penalty moratorium at the United Nations. He gets a little emotional, but hang onto your seatbelt for this report - LIVE FROM ROME!
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Here is an editorial that appeared today in the Anniston (Alabama) Star. I am posting it because I thought it was particularly well written:
Wise move in New Jersey
In our opinion
Lawmakers in New Jersey know a broken system when they see one.
After a special commission reported that the state's death penalty cost more than sending someone to prison for life — determining that it hasn't deterred murder and that an unacceptable risk of killing an innocent person still existed — the state Legislature did the reasonable thing. It abolished the practice.
Monday morning, Gov. Jon Corzine signed it into law.
It was the first time a state had outlawed the death penalty since Iowa and West Virginia did so in 1965.
There are only eight men on death row in New Jersey and there hasn't been an execution in the state since 1983. Clearly, New Jersey bears little resemblance to other states, where putting people to death has become a matter of routine. Since 1976, Texas has executed 405 people; Alabama has executed 38.
You can bet, though, that there are a lot of other similarities — starting with broken systems. If it's broken in New Jersey, you can bet the farm is broken just about everywhere else.
We'll let the Texas editorial pages get to the heart of the problem there. As for punishment in Alabama, it is not dished out fairly, especially when it comes to the death penalty.
The quicker we come to that realization — and admit that this is as much a political issue as it is an issue of justice — the better off all of us will be.
To understand that, you need look no further than Alabama Attorney General Troy King, an overzealous prosecutor who capitalizes on the issue, demagogues it, speaks nonsense in the face of common sense, argues with the high court and charges forward with death-penalty cases even when a de facto moratorium is in place.
We also have a governor who, Lord knows why, fears to appear weak on crime.
Following closely behind these two are scores of elected judges and state legislators who feel pressure from their electorate to dispense with accused murders even as a litany of questions about the quality of the system, the possibility of DNA evidence, sound legal representation and racial and class disparities linger in the background.
Corzine and other lawmakers in New Jersey are not soft on crime, nor are they bed-wetting liberals wishing to free monsters into the streets of Trenton or Newark. They simply wish to see their state become a more just place.
Alabama and other states that still allow the death penalty would be wise to follow New Jersey's lead.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
This morning I woke up to a brighter New Jersey, as evidenced by the headline found by my puppies as we started out for our morning stroll. That's Governor on the left and Lance on the right. Governor was so named because, 7 years ago, we needed a Governor who would listen to us. This dog still does not listen all of the time, but we have a friend in New Jersey! --abe
This morning (12/17/07) at about 10:30am, NJ Governor made it official. Here's a few snaps. Yep, I managed to get that close. Here is a photo from the Gov's web page in which you can see me taking these pictures, and here to see others from that site.
Go here to listen to the full bill signing ceremony.
Monday, December 17, 2007
This image of the Colosseum is courtesy of Jay Lassiter of BlueJersey.com, who blew 100,000 frequent flier miles to rush to Rome and get the picture himself. Go Jay! Read an item about this in The Star Ledger.
Celeste with elated public defenders....
Study Commissioners Rabbi Robert Scheinberg and Eddie Hicks, and Eddies wife Karen, the mother of their murdered daughter Jamila.
Celeste with Republican Prime Co-Sponsor Assemblyman (Senator-Elect) Kip Bateman, her husband Kelly and their daughter, Christine.
Sister Helen with Shari Silberstien.
Abe & Sr. Helen Prejean, CSJ
Alabama. Birmingham News editorial:If New Jersey can abolish its death penalty outright, surely Alabama can give its busy death chamber a break. Connecticut. Courant editorial:New Jersey is poised to become the first state in more than 30 years to repeal the death penalty. We urge Connecticut's lawmakers to join this brave if small club. Delaware. A letter to the editor:Kudos to the state of New Jersey for ending the barbaric practice of state-sanctioned murder. [...]
Hopefully, the now more enlightened state of Delaware Legislature will address this is issue in kind.
West Virginia Charleston Gazette:New Jersey is joining West Virginia in abolishing the death penalty. Hurrah. We hope more states likewise end the barbaric practice of killing prisoners, as most advanced nations have done. Today, executions are performed mostly in harsh places like Texas, where former Gov. George Bush set records at putting people to death, and privately mocked a woman who was executed. Idaho. 2News:[exonerated Idaho death row inmate] Don [Paradis] says Idaho should follow the example of New Jersey and abolish the death penalty.
Paradis said,"Kicking the death penalty out, you're going to have some people saying we're giving into the criminals, you're not giving into criminals you're giving into being a civilized society."
Australia. Herald Sun:So it is time now to launch a consistent and principled policy, openly and loudly advocating an end to the death penalty internationally -- even towards key trade partners such as the US and China, who also happen to be among the world's most enthusiastic executers.
At a time when New Jersey has just made itself the first American state in 40 years to abolish the death penalty, and when even Beijing is considering abolition, our new Government should seize the opportunity to make bipartisan national policy clear.
h/t Blue Jersey who has been exceptional and will later tonight be bringing video of the lighting of the Colosseum in Rome.
Co-blogger Abe Bonowitz was on the scene and witnessed the signing ceremony. I understand that Sister Helen Prejean was there as well. Furthermore, I'm told that Europe has taken notice: Tonight in support of New Jersey's action, Rome will put light up the almost 2,000-year-old Colosseum. Once the arena for deadly gladiator combat and executions, the Colosseum is now a symbol of the fight against the death penalty. And since 1999, the Colosseum has been bathed in golden light every time a death sentence is commuted or a country abolishes capital punishment.
[Karl's note: Abe has some exceptional footage coming. I was in the back with NJADP's staff & supporters, Abe, and only he knows how, was literally 2 feet from from Gov. Corzine videotaping.]
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Every piece of evidence that the death penalty is ending -- from moratorium and abolition bills getting close in Montana, North Carolina, Nebraska, Colorado, and Maryland -- to death sentences dropping in Texas -- to newspapers changing their editorial positions in Birmingham and Dallas and Chicago -- to juvenile campaigns in Missouri and Wyoming and South Dakota and Arkansas that impacted the Supreme Court -- to study commissions in Tennessee and California -- to a million other things -- every one of those developments paint a picture of a death penalty that is failing and dying everywhere. And the people in New Jersey knew it, and it mattered. A lot. This victory so very much belongs to every last one of us in this movement, unequivocally.
Friday, December 14, 2007
ALSO, you can see a clip from the post-vote press conference here.
It was sort of anti-climactic, just waiting for that final vote. And it was a shame that so many people who could and should have been there had to stay away for one reason or another. After more than two hours of what was best described as "legislative waterboarding" (listening to pro-death penalty legislators spout inaccuracies and fear mongering rhetoric - hear the session here - choose Dec. 13 at 1pm), the bill was brought to a vote. Smile... ABOLITION!
NJADP Director Celeste Fitzgerald talks with Japanese reporters.
Lorry Post, NJADP Founder and newly appointed director of Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation, speaks through the media after the victory.
NJADP Executive Committee member Kevin Walsh (the lawyer who conceived of and won New Jersey's judicial moratorium by challenging lethal injection protocols) celebrates with NJADP Director Celeste Fitzgerald and NJADP Treasurer Ed Martone.
Abolitionists (in the truest sense of the word) ready to head to the party!
Former National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty Executive Director Stephen Hawkins, raises the first toast.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
I was able to leave the office last night at 5pm and have a relaxing evening with my family. This morning I actually took the time to read the paper before coming in, and I was in no rush. Sitting here in the office the phone is mostly quiet - Mark calls to regret that the weather keeps him from coming to Trenton for the final vote. Julie calls wondering if it is too late to call her legislators (it is not!). When I post this, I'm turning off the 'puter and heading down to the Capitol.
It's NOT yet a done deal. The opposition is pulling out all the stops and it just isn't over until it is over (and Ed Martone sings). And if there is anything making us pull our hair out, its the media talking about it as if it is a done deal, and even celebrating. For example, this article about NJADP Director Celeste Fitzgerald would have been MUCH nicer if it came out tomorrow instead of today. Today it just adds to the pressure....
Oh well. The last minute lobbying is going on, and at about 1pm, we sit back and watch. I'll be back on this site, hopefully with some celebratory photos and a video or two, sometime in the next 6 to 10 hours.... Meanwhile, if you pray, pray today for wisdom and courage in the New Jersey legislature. Pray for ABOLITION!
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Death penalty foes hope N.J. will inspire others to follow suit
By TOM HESTER Jr.
Associated Press Writer
12:35 PM EST, December 12, 2007
New Jersey Sen. Robert Martin is mindful of history.
"One hundred years from now I hope we will be remembered for having had the courage to be leaders in advancing this cause for a more civilized society," said Martin, R-Morris.
The cause: Abolishing the death penalty.
The New Jersey is poised to give final legislative approval on Thursday to abolishing the death penalty, becoming the first state to do so since 1965 when Iowa and West Virginia abolished it.
The state Senate approved the bill Monday; The Assembly will vote Thursday and is expected to pass it. Democratic Gov. Jon S. Corzine has said he'll sign the bill.
Death penalty foes are hoping New Jersey will inspire others to follow suit.
"I hope New Jersey will give encouragement to other legislators and public officials to have the courage to face this issue squarely," said Joshua Rubenstein, Amnesty International USA's northeast director.
Diann Rust-Tierney, executive director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said New Jersey reflects a growing national trend against the death penalty, with executions in decline and more states weighing abolition.
"We have learned a lot about the death penalty in the past 30 years," Rust-Tierney said. "When you look closely at the facts, it just doesn't add up to sound policy."
She noted New Jersey's votes come a week after Michael L. McCormick of Tennessee was acquitted in a retrial after spending 15 years on death row.
The nation has executed 1,099 people since the U.S. Supreme Court reauthorized the death penalty in 1976. In 1999, 98 people were executed, the most since 1976; last year 53 people were executed, the lowest since 1996.
"The United States is one of the few countries in the world that has a death penalty, keeping company with the likes of Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Libya and Afghanistan," said New Jersey Sen. Raymond Lesniak, D-Union.
Other states have considered abolishing the death penalty, but none have advanced as far as New Jersey. According to the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center, 37 states have the death penalty.
"Some people deserve to die and we have an obligation to execute them," said New York Law School professor Robert Blecker, a national death penalty supporter who has been lobbying New Jersey lawmakers against abolition.
But death penalty foes point to recent success:
_ The Massachusetts House in November rejected reinstating the death penalty.
_ A 2004 appeals court decision found New York's death penalty law unconstitutional.
_ The American Bar Association recently said problems in state death penalty procedures justify a nationwide execution freeze.
_ Tennessee lawmakers are analyzing that state's death penalty.
_ Then-Gov. George Ryan of Illinois declared a moratorium on executions in 2000 after 13 people who were found to have been wrongfully convicted were released.
_ Courts have banned executing the mentally retarded and people younger than 18 when they committed their crime.
The nation's last execution was in Sept. 25 in Texas. Since then, executions have been delayed pending a U.S. Supreme Court decision on whether execution through lethal injection violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
"There is no question that the death penalty is under far greater scrutiny," Rubenstein said.
Bills to abolish the death penalty were recently approved by a Colorado House committee, the Montana Senate and the New Mexico House.
But none of those bills have advanced.
Meanwhile, Nebraska and Maryland lawmakers retained the death penalty in recent votes, and states such as Georgia, Missouri, Texas, Utah and Virginia are considering expanding their death penalties, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
New Jersey Sen. Joseph Kyrillos said there's good reason for that.
"Ending the death penalty in New Jersey sends a dangerous message of weakness to those who commit the most heinous murders and those who would commit indiscriminate mass murder," he said. "The perilous times we live in call for strength, not fecklessness."
Kyrillos, R-Monmouth, recalled how five men were arrested earlier this year for allegedly plotting to attack New Jersey's Fort Dix.
"The threat of terrorism is all too real and our response must be robust and unwavering," Kyrillos said.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
On his last day in office Gov. Ernie Fletcher commuted or pardoned over 80 Kentuckians. One of those persons was Jeffrey Devan Leonard. The Courier-Journal notes:
Fletcher reduced to life without parole the death sentence given Jeffrey Devan Leonard, also known as James Earl Slaughter, who was convicted of fatally stabbing Louisville store clerk Esther Stewart in 1983.
Leonard’s case has been controversial in part because his trial lawyer, Louisville attorney Fred Radolovich, was disbarred and indicted on a perjury charge for claiming he had handled four death-penalty cases before Leonard’s.
In fact, he had no experience as a lead attorney in a capital case and surrendered his law license earlier this year in a deal with prosecutors that ended the perjury case.
Ernie Lewis, executive director of the Department of Public Advocacy, said in a statement last night that Leonard “was a young, poor, brain-damaged African-American man with no criminal history and about whom the jury was told nothing when they decided that he should die.”
Leonard had exhausted his appeals and was in line to have an execution date set.
Monday, December 10, 2007
And here's bloggers Abe & Karl enjoying a celebratory Ceegar outside the Statehouse while waiting for the bosses to finish their media interviews....
Murder victim family members, standing with pictures of their loved ones, speak in favor of abolishing the death penalty in NJ.
The final vote board on S-171 (the death penalty repeal bill) 21-16.
Diann Rust-Tierney, head of the NCADP, Shari Silberstein, head of EJUSA & Celeste Fitzgerald of NJADP debriefing after Monday's vote.
• During the past three decades Americans and their elected officials have learned much about the death penalty and the more they learn, the more they don’t like it. New Jersey legislators are moving toward repeal of the death penalty after concluding that it wastes tax dollars, prolongs the pain of murder victims’ family members, lacks a deterrent effect and is opposed by law enforcement officials and district attorneys.
• Since reinstating the death penalty in 1982, New Jersey has spent $253 million on its death penalty and has yet to execute anyone. New Jersey reinstated the death penalty 25 years ago, in 1982. Since that time, 60 death sentences have been handed down, almost of all of which have been reversed after years and years of bureaucratic appeals.
• The same fundamental flaws that characterize New Jersey’s death penalty system also plague statutes in other states. Many states have suspended executions and others carry out executions once every few years. The death penalty is enforced so arbitrarily it is almost like a lottery – and it is a cruel hoax on murder victims’ family members.
• New Jersey acted after a blue-ribbon study commission heard from more than 70 witnesses and studied every aspect of the death penalty system. Despite the fact that a number of capital punishment proponents were appointed to the commission, it eventually voted 12 to 1 to recommend that the death penalty be repealed. Other states, including California, Illinois, North Carolina and Tennessee, also have embarked upon death penalty studies.
• Every death penalty state suffers from the exact same problems New Jersey legislators are now addressing. Costs, lack of deterrence, fears of executing the innocent, affect on murder victims family members and other problems also exist in every death penalty state. Eventually, every death penalty state inevitably is going to do what New Jersey did – study the system and conclude whether or not capital punishment is worth the myriad costs to communities, taxpayers and crime victims alike.
• Today’s vote represents a holiday gift to every New Jersey resident affected by crime and every taxpayer who demands that real problems such as violent crime require real solutions. Because of today’s action, New Jersey will be able to shift valuable resources to programs that enhance public safety and support family members of murder victims.
Friday, December 07, 2007
But stay tuned. Huge things coming, beginning Monday afternoon. We have transitioned from the end of the beginning to the beginning of the end.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
INTERNATIONAL GAY AND LESBIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION
Iran: Young Man Executed for Alleged Sex Crime
For Immediate Release
Hossein Alizadeh, IGLHRC Communications Coordinator, 212-430-6016
New York, Wednesday December 5, 2007 - The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) has learned today that despite an order by the Iranian Chief Justice to nullify his death sentence, Mr. Makvan Mouloodzadeh was executed in Kermanshah Central Prison at 5 a.m. this morning, Iranian time.
Neither Mr. Mouloodzadeh's family or his lawyer were told about the execution until after it occurred. IGLHRC is still investigating the facts in this case. "This is a shameful and outrageous travesty of justice and international human rights law," said Paula Ettelbrick, IGLHRC's executive director. "How many more young Iranians have to die before the international community takes action?"
Mr. Mouloodzadeh was a 21-year-old Iranian citizen who was accused of committing anal rape (ighab) with other young boys when he was 13 years old. However, at Mr. Mouloodzadeh's trial, all the witnesses retracted their pre-trial testimonies, claiming to have lied to the authorities under duress. Makvan also told the court that his confession was made under coercion and pleaded not guilty.
On June 7, 2007, the Seventh District Criminal Court of Kermanshah in Western Iran found him guilty and sentenced him to death. Despite his lawyer's appeal, the Supreme Court upheld his death sentence on August 1, 2007. The case caused an international uproar, and prompted a letter writing campaign by IGLHRC and similar actions by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Outrage! and Everyone Group.
In response to mounting public pressure, and following a detailed petition submitted to the Iranian Chief Justice by Mr. Mouloodzadeh's lawyer, the Iranian Chief Justice, Ayatollah Seyed Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi, nullified the impending death sentence of Mr. Mouloodzadeh. In his November 10, 2007 opinion (1/86/8607), 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.
In accordance with Iranian legal procedure, Mr. Mouloodzadeh's case was sent to the Special Supervision Bureau of the Iranian Justice Department, a designated group of judges who are responsible for reviewing and ordering retrials of flawed cases flagged by the Iranian Chief Justice. However, in defiance of the Chief Justice, the judges decided to ratify the original court's ruling and ordered the local authorities to carry out the execution.
Mr. Mouloodzadeh's execution came days after a panel at the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Five years later, however, we're still trying to figure out who is severely mentally retarded and what the process for determining severe mental retardation is going to be.
On the ground in Pennsylvania, our friend Andy Hoover weighs in.
Sunday, December 02, 2007
Q: The state Legislature may abolish the death penalty in New Jersey. Your thoughts?
A: The prosecutors' association (of New Jersey) has come out against the death penalty. I am in agreement. I have seen what it (the protracted legal battles) do to families. It sounds so much like a cliché, but it rips them apart. Obviously, it's not working.