Saturday, February 28, 2009

March 1st: Michigan Death Penalty Abolition Day

March 1, Michigan Death Penalty Abolition Day, marks the anniversary of the date in 1847 in which the State of Michigan officially became the first English-speaking territory in the world to abolish capital punishment. It is a day to remember the victims of violent crime and their survivors; it is a day to remember those killed by state sanctioned violence - guilty or not- and their survivors; and it is a day for intensified education and action for alternatives to the death penalty. More info and background is here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

MD Governor O'Malley Leads March for Abolition

When is the last time a sitting governor led a march to advocate for the abolition of the death penalty? It's never happened before today. Bravo, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley!

From the Baltimore Sun:

Gov. Martin O'Malley led a march down a major street in Maryland's capital city to urge lawmakers to repeal the death penalty in what could be a close vote.

O'Malley this year created his own bill to repeal capital punishment after legislation stalled in a Senate committee for two consecutive years.

If the bill gets out of the committee, where it failed on a 5-5 vote two years ago, O'Malley will need 24 votes in the full Senate to pass the bill.

O'Malley, who is Roman Catholic, told an audience at a prayer breakfast before the march that he has only 22 votes, "but the Holy Spirit might have 24, so let's give it a shot."

O'Malley says the money spent on executions could be put to better use. He says Maryland should "not waste one instant, one day, one cent, one dime, serving death."

"It's a Beautiful thing...." Maryland organizers (l to r) Bonnita Spikes, Amy Fusting and Jane Henderson. Get involved with the Maryland campaign at

All photos by

Monday, February 23, 2009

Sara Hickman Way

The street outside the First United Methodist Church in Austin, just a block up from the TX capitol bldg and location of the TCADP annual conference, has been re-named for the weekend in honor of death penalty abolitionist and musician Sara Hickman, who is being honored today by the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. The mayor has also declared today Sara Hickman day in Austin. All of this in recognition of Sara's efforts in support of TCADP's work to abolish the death penalty.

Here are a few other photos from the weekend:

Rev. Carroll Pickett accepting an award of appreciation from TCADP on behalf of Steve James and Peter Gilbert, directors of the film featuring Pickett, "At the Death House Door"

Abe Bonowitz, Director of Affiliate Support for the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, updating the conference on happenings around the country and sharing perspective about why what happens in Texas is important to the work of our movement.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

MD Governor O'Malley Speaks to His Bill

At a hearing before Maryland's Senate Judicial Practices Committee on February 18, 2009, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley testified in support of the bill he sponsored to repeal that state's death penalty. It was a standing room only crowd, overflowing into the corridors. Read O'Malley's testimony here. If you live in Maryland, get involved here. If you know someone who lives in Maryland, ask them to get involved!

Former MD Attorney General and Chairman of MD's Death Penalty
Study Commission Benjamin Civiletti

MD Senator and Abolitionist Leader the Honorable Jamie Raskin

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Montana Senate Hearing Report

Marietta Jeager-Lane Reports:
As you may already know, MT's Senate Judiciary Committee passed our abolition bill, SB236, on to the Senate Floor, 7-5. The bill will be debated Monday afternoon, 2/16 starting at 1pm Mountain Time. Click here to listen live! In the above photo are the main speakers at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, left to right:

Ron McAndrew, ex-FL warden, who oversaw 3 electric chair executions -- one of which men he felt was innocent and one whose execution was botched, literally cooking the poor guy to death for 1/2 hour.

Marietta Jaeger-Lane, whose daughter Suzie was a kidnap-murder victim in a well known Montana case.

Senator Dave Wanzenreid, (D), sponsor of our bill.

Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, from North Carolina; You all may have heard about her before, but I never had. In the thirty-plus years I've been speaking on this issue, she brought a very important perspective I not only had not ever even considered but had not ever heard! Twenty years ago (to the day before testifying), she was raped by an intruder she woke to find in her bed in the middle of the night. Because he held a knife against her throat, she had no choice but to submit without struggle. However, as terrified as she was, she managed to remain calm and had the presence of mind to make a concerted effort to remember all the details of his face and body that she could discern in the dark, hoping that the time and occasion would come when she could properly identify him. That time did come and she was able to positively identify her rapist not once but twice in a lineup. Although insisting on his innocence, the man was charged, sentenced and was serving his eleventh year in prison when he realized that another inmate in prison with him, had actually been the rapist. DNA evidence proved that to be the case and finally the man Jennifer had so positively identified was released. Jennifer was in anguish that, as certain as she had been that he was the "right" man, he had in fact been cheated out of 11 years of his life because of her testimony. However, she was also fearful that he would come looking for her now for "payback time". While struggling with what she should do, the man's pastor contacted her about meeting with him at the church rectory. With strong mixed emotions of repentance and fear, she did go. To her amazement, the man told her that he held nothing against her, he didn't blame her for her mistake, was not out to get even, and finally said, "I forgive you!" They have become good friends, keep in touch at least once a week and sometimes even speak together. The man's last name is Cotton and Jennifer's book about the whole experience is coming out in March. It's called "Picking Cotton" -- such a clever title! She's a very special woman, very articulate, attractive and wondrously humble to be willing to stand up before everyone and admit what her mistake cost a good man. We often hear about jail house snitches and dishonest folks who are willing to say anything for a buck, but Jennifer's honest, sincere misidentification is another facet of the possibility of putting innocent people on death row.

And lastly, to the far right, is Ray Krone, exonerated from Arizona's death row and now serving as Director of Communications for Witness to Innocence.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

New Mexico Repeal Day A Huge Success!

The NM Coalition to Repeal the Death Penalty's Lobby Day was Monday (Feb. 9) at the Roundhouse (NM's Capitol Building). More than 225 people from around the state came to Santa Fe for a press conference at noon, followed by visits with their Legislators. Those who had pre-registered received packets with individualized information on their legislators, while all others received help identifying their Legislators if they didn't know them. Death row exonerees and murder victim family members also met with selected legislators.

Everyone who came received a yellow NM repeal t-shirt and button and the halls were packed all day with our nice red logo and the word REPEAL. We heard from people who have worked in the Capitol for 20+ years who said this was the single biggest presence they had ever seen on any issue in one day. There were at least 4 times as many people there this year than had ever been there for NM Repeal's lobby day in past years.

Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation (MVFR) released its new booklet, "Not in our Name - New Mexico" which was distributed to every legislator and which you may see for yourself at

And Witness to Innocence was out in force with Executive Director Kurt Rosenberg, communications Director and exoneree Ray Krone, and also Juan Melendez and Randy Steidl.

There was some good media coverage, but most reporters are working on a larger story that will run once the bills pass out of the House and then the Senate Judiciary. Once we get to the Senate floor, its much more real.

The press conference lineup was as follows:

1. Viki – welcome and introduce Representative Gail Chasey

2. Representative Gail Chasey

3. Michelle Giger – MVFR member

4. Juan Melendez – exoneree

5. Andrea Vigil – MVFR member

6. Representative Moe Maestas

7. Randy Steidl – exoneree

9. Cathy Ansheles - MVFR

10. Ray Krone – exoneree

11. Allen Sanchez – Catholic Bishops

12. Viki wrap up

PHOTOS: After the 3 crowd shots, we have Ray Krone and Holly Beaumont of the New Mexico Council of Churches. Next is Alexandria (wearing a button!), an assistance dog belonging to Bree Songer, a member of MVFR whose brother Jeffrey Songer was murdered in 1983. Next are MVFR-NM members Michelle Giger, Andrea Vigil, and Cathy Ansheles. And finally, Kurt, Kim and Viki evaluate the

day.... Photos by Jane Davis and Abe Bonowitz.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

New Mexico One Step Closer to REPEAL!

I took the following images with my phone on Friday, February 6 at the New Mexico State Capitol, which incidentally is a very cool building with a fabulous display of all kinds of art - everywhere! This was a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee, which ultimately passed the bill and sent it to the floor with an 8 to 5 vote. Monday is Lobby Day - visit the NM Repeal web site for details!

The posted schedule...

Following testimony of the bill sponsor Gail Chasey and murder victim family member Michelle Geiger, the chair asked for a show hands of those here in support of the bill. All but two DA's present raised their hands....

Head of the state League of Women Voters weighing in....

After extensive debate, the NM House Judiciary Committee just voted 8 to 5 to send the bill to abolish the death penalty to the house floor. Below photo is MVFR member Michelle Giger immediately following the vote.