Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Meet Vernon Evans

Vernon Evans is scheduled to be executed by the state of Maryland the week of April 18, although a stay is considered possible if not probable.

A woman named Ginny Simmons has launched what could be a first: A blog uniquely dedicated to the thoughts of one person facing execution (there are a lot of web sites out there dedicated to people on death row, but they are not blogs).

Anyone can send in questions and Ginny will get them to Vernon and report back with the answers.

Check out the new blog by going here.

Breaking the hold of Michael Ross

Today we have a truly amazing story out of Connecticut -- thanks to Peter for bringing this to our attention.

A woman named Vivian Dobson is the only known survivor of Michael Ross, who killed a number of women and was sentenced to death in Connecticut. Ross attacked Dobson but somehow she escaped and survived. Today Dobson is sharing her story with Connecticut legislators.

And she is speaking out against the death penalty.

She makes the point that the death penalty hurts victims' family members more than it helps them. Hurts them because of the endless round of appeals. Hurts them because at the end it is the murderer is shown in the stagelight of publicity while the victims are forgotten. This is true even in states like Texas, where executions are routine. It is especially true in states like Connecticut, where they are not.

In her own words:

"This really has nothing to do with death," she says. "It has to do with control, with holding people's lives in his hands. And as long as he stays on death row, he holds our lives in his hands.

"And this is the part that they can't see. I see it because I've been living it for 22 years. I'm at the point now where I'm ready to take control of my own life."

That is why she has emerged from hiding, why today she plans to do something she thought she'd never do: leave the protective bubble she has created out of necessity and stand before a room full of people to tell her story.

She is afraid people will be angry, that they will think she has betrayed them.

But she is more afraid of continuing to let others speak for her, of the state choosing death in her name.

To read the whole column about Dobson's experience, go here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

We hear from the Catholics

One of the most important developments in the campaign to end executions recently has been a press conference held at the National Press Club here in Washington, D.C., where it was announced that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is launching a new campaign to effectively end the use of the death penalty in the U.S.

The Bishops released a poll showing 48 percent of U.S. Catholics in favor of the death penalty -- down sharply from several years ago. In addition, the majority of Catholics who "strongly favor" the death penalty is at 20 percent -- down a whopping 20 points from 2001. And the poll found that younger Catholics are sharply opposed to the death penalty and 30 percent of Catholics who once favored capital punishment now oppose it.

To check out the Bishops' spiffy new web site, go here.

And to look at their new brochure (it's in PDF format) go here.

Monday, March 28, 2005

The price of freedom?

We've blogged in the past about Ray Krone, an all-around nice guy who was released from death row in Arizona after DNA proved that another guy actually did the crime. Now comes welcome news that Ray has settled with the county that prosecuted him and will be receiving $1.4 million for his wrongful conviction and incarceration.

Does that sound like a lot of money? At first glance it does. But then consider this editorial, which was published by the Daily Record:

The Price of Freedom

Whats your freedom worth - literally, in dollars and cents? Unless you've been, say, sentenced to a lifetime behind bars for a murder you didn't commit, you probably havent given it much thought. But Ray Krone had 10 years with nothing but time on his hands to ponder the question.

Last week he got an answer: $1.4 million. Thats the settlement amount in a wrongful murder conviction suit he filed against Maricopa County, Ariz. As Krones mom, Carolyn Lemming of Dover Township, says: It sounds like a lot, until you consider:

His lost wages and benefits for a decade.

His legal bills - about $800,000 total.

The misery of 10 years in jail.

Do the math, and the settlement adds up to about $380 a day rotting in prison. Subtract his legal fees from that total and he got about $164 a day - or about $6.80 an hour.

Thats just $1.65 more than minimum wage. Sounds like Maricopa County got off easy.

Friday, March 25, 2005

An Easter message

Those of us who oppose the death penalty address the issue from a most diverse -- and sometimes intense -- variety of perspectives.

For instance, I don't like the death penalty because the government makes mistakes. You know, at least once every two weeks, I come home and find someone else's mail in my mail box. If government cannot even deliver the mail accurately, how can we possibly expect it to be 100 percent accurate, 100 percent of the time, when it comes to sentencing people to death?

Others come at this issue from a religious perspective. For example, an op-ed just surfaced from conservative East Texas. It was written by the editor of the Lufkin Daily News and it is most powerful in its simplicity. Although I do not agree with every word in the op-ed, I nonetheless find it moving. It concludes:

The frequency of executions, especially here in Texas, may not indicate it, but the death penalty in America is endangered, because of advances in science and legal reasoning. If our moral thought can similarly advance, perhaps one day soon we will see the death of capital punishment and a deeper commitment to all life.

To read the entire piece, go here.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Brown v. Payton

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court ruled against us 5-3 (Rehnquist not voting) in a death penalty case out of California known as Brown v. Payton. I am not a lawyer and I cannot immediately fathom whether this ruling will have broad implications in terms of how many other people on death row it will affect.

However, there is one troubling note. We lost Breyer to the majority. As my friend Karl Keys points out, this could be the first time we have lost Breyer on an issue relating to the applicability of AEDPA (that stands for Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, although it drives me nutty that they left the T out. It should be ATEDPA.)

Anyway, I thought I'd pitch this one over to Lonely Abolitionist, who has written an essay explaining what was at issue in this ruling and why the court got it wrong.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

'Boston Legal" looks at Texas death penalty

I missed this, but this past week's episode of "Boston Legal," which normally airs at 10 p.m. EST on Sunday, examined a fictitious death penalty case. Here's a Dallas Morning News story about the episode:

Viewers of Sunday night's episode of television's Boston Legal got a taste of what some outsiders think about justice in the Lone Star State.

In the show, Massachusetts lawyers Alan Shore and Chelina Hall - played by James Spader and Kerry Washington - traveled to Texas to save a borderline mentally challenged death-row inmate from execution.

There were plenty of stereotypes. Mr. Spader rode a mechanical bull in some unnamed town that looked like Dallas and tried to enter a courtroom with a cowboy hat until Ms. Washington's character stopped him.

The Court of Criminal Appeals was filled with good old judges that cared little if the convicted man was innocent, even in the face of new evidence.

At the end of his passionate argument before the court, Mr. Spader said that football teams in New England could whip football teams in Texas.

He was probably right about that.

And he spouted startling statistics about the number of Texas executions.

The show, titled "Death Be Not Proud," ended with the convicted man being
forcibly stretched on an execution table.

"It was sort of Hollywood vs. the heartland," said Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson. "It was very predictable but stunning. There were stereotypes of Texas, but even a Texan would look at the numbers they gave and say, What?"

ABC's Boston Legal has become increasingly political over the last few episodes. A recent show featured a high school student suing his principal because the Fox News Channel was banned from the school.

Alison Rou, a spokeswoman for the show, said producer David E. Kelley would continue to tackle tough issues, even on a show that goes from "serious to ridiculous at the drop of a hat."

"You will see more and more of David Kelley taking on political issues,"
she said.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Santorum rethinking death penalty

Rick Santorum, one of the most conservative members of the U.S. Senate, is rethinking his stance on the death penalty:

Santorum rethinks death penalty stance
Tuesday, March 22, 2005

By Ann Rodgers, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A new poll showing that Catholics are backing off support for the death penalty was no surprise to U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, an outspoken conservative Catholic, who says he has been re-examining his own view.

He has not become an abolitionist, and he believes church teaching against the death penalty carries less weight than its longer-standing opposition to abortion. But he questions what he once unquestioningly supported.

"I felt very troubled about cases where someone may have been convicted wrongly. DNA evidence definitely should be used when possible," he said.

"I agree with the pope that in the civilized world ... the application of the death penalty should be limited. I would definitely agree with that. I would certainly suggest there probably should be some further limits on what we use it for."

To read the entire aricle, which actually focuses on the new campaign against the death penalty by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, go here.

Monday, March 21, 2005

More 'isms' out of California

There has been a lot of media attention out of California as of late. It seems that a former prosecutor in Alameda County (which includes the city of San Jose) has filed a sworn statement acknowledging that he and other prosecutors routinely worked to keep Jews and African Americans off of capital murder juries, in a mistaken beleif that they would not vote for the death penalty.

Over at Lonely Abolitionist, Carrie writes:

I'm furious that this kind of deliberate racism, antisemitism and xenophobia continues within our "justice" system (and elsewhere!). Of course, I knew that it did, but having a sworn acknowledgement of it from a capital case prosecutor just boils me. Perhaps its better that it is now out in the open. Perhaps now, something will be done about it. Perhaps now, juries in California will be more fairly empaneled and the defendant will have just as fair a shot at NOT getting a death sentence as getting one. God forbid we would put people who object to executing human beings on a jury. Of course, that's just the legal (and moral!) implication of purposefully leaving particular ethnic or religious groups off juries. The much broader statement is the statement made by the assumptions and stereotypes implied in the idea that Jews or black women would not be proper jurors in a death case because they would never send someone to death row.

To read Lonely Abolitionist's entire post, plus to see a related news article, go here.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Thanks for stopping by!

Late last night, this tiny little blog received its 10,000th visitor.

Granted, that is a miniscule amount of traffic compared with some blogs out there. However, when I started this thing last June as an experiment, I really didn't think we'd get where we are this quickly.

So, thanks for visiting and come back and see us!

Thursday, March 17, 2005

The death penalty: not cruel enough?

It recently was reported that in Iran, a person was flogged 100 times, turning his back a bloody mess. He then was lifted and strangled to death by a crane as thousands of onlookers cheered.

It probably would come as understatement to most of the readers of this blog that such behavoir violates Americans' standards of decency.

But not so fast.

Now comes a blog entitled The Volokh Conspiracy, whose author says criminals in this country need to be tortured a bit -- or maybe a lot -- before they are executed. Revealing his true colors, blogger Eugene Volokh writes:

I should mention that such a punishment would probably violate the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause. I'm not an expert on the history of the clause, but my point is that the punishment is proper because it's cruel (i.e., because it involves the deliberate infliction of pain as part of the punishment), so it may well be unconstitutional. I would therefore endorse amending the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause to expressly exclude punishment for some sorts of mass murders.

Naturally, I don't expect this to happen any time soon; my point is about what should be the rule, not about what is the rule, or even what is the constitutionally permissible rule. I think the Bill of Rights is generally a great idea, but I don't think it's holy writ handed down from on high. Certain amendments to it may well be proper, though again I freely acknowledge that they'd be highly unlikely.

This requires no further comment from me. To read Eugene's full entry, go here.
You can also access the article out of Iran by going here.

Many thanks to Neal from North Carolina for letting our readers know about this...this...this...perspective on retribution.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Death row: Extreme nothingness

Since 1976, 111 people on death row have dropped their appeals and "volunteered" to be executed. That is a little more than one out of every eight people who have been executed. Yet is the word "volunteered" appropriate or even accurate in the death row context?

The Hartford Courant recently took an interesting look at this phenomenon. Their story begins:

Since the reinstitution of the death penalty in the late 1970s, 111 inmates nationally have been put to death after choosing to waive further appeals and fast-track their path to execution.

But are such life-or-death decisions, a stance adopted by Connecticut serial killer Michael Ross, as voluntary as they may appear?

Psychiatrist Terry Kupers believes such "volunteerism" is directly linked to the trend of states placing death row inmates in super-maximum-security prisons.

"Because 20 years ago death rows were not locked down, people were not in segregation on death row," said Kupers, a California-based psychiatrist who has toured numerous supermaxes, including Connecticut's Northern Correctional Institution. "So they had a prison life, but it was a life where they could be out on the yard and have some meaningful activities."

To read the whole story, go here.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

119 and counting

This totally snuck up on me:

The number of people sent to death row only later to be proven to be completely innocent of the crime for which they were convicted now stands at 119, with the addition of a Ohio man to the list.

Here is what the Death Penalty Information Center has to report:

On February 28, 2005, Ohio Common Pleas Judge Richard Niehaus dismissed all charges against Derrick Jamison for the death of a Cincinnati bartender after prosecutors elected not to retry him in the case. (Associated Press, March 3, 2005). The prosecution had withheld critical eyewitness statements and other evidence from the defense resulting in the overturning of Jamison's conviction in 2002. Jamison was convicted and sentenced to death in 1985 based in part on the testimony of Charles Howell, a co-defendant who had his own sentence reduced in exchange for his testimony against Jamison.

The prosecution withheld statements that contradicted Howell’s testimony and that would have undermined the prosecution’s theory of how the victim died, and would have pointed to other possible suspects for the murder. Two federal courts ruled that the prosecution's actions denied Jamison of a fair trial. (Jamison v. Collins, 291 F.3d 380 (6th Cir. 2002)).

One of the withheld statments involved James Suggs, an eyewitness to the robbery. Suggs testified at trial that he had been unable to make a positive identification when the police showed him a photo array of suspects. In fact, police records show that Suggs identified two suspects, neither of which was Derrick Jamison. Additional withheld evidence consisted of a series of discrepancies between Jamison’s physical characteristics and the descriptions of the perpetrators given to police investigators by eyewitnesses.

To read more and to learn about the previous 118 exonoreers, go here.

Friday, March 11, 2005

U.S. pulls out of Optional Protocol

The U.S. has announced its intention to withdraw from the Optional Protocol to the Vienna Convention. This has death penalty ramifications in that foreign citizens who are arrested in the U.S. and charged with capital murder will not have the legal right to consult with their embassies or consulates.

Carrie over at Lonely Abolitionist has blogged on this.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

People change.

Joseph Ross is a former volunteer prison chaplain at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City.

Today, in the South Bend, Indiana Tribune, he writes of his relationship with Donald Ray Wallace Jr., who is scheduled to be executed by the state of Indiana on Wednesday. Wallace is not seeking clemency from the governor.

Here are some excerpts from Joseph's fine piece:

Don Wallace was one of death row's longest residents, and during his years there, as all of us do, he changed. On death row, while some become angry or unstable, Don Wallace became holy. He spent long hours reading, meditating, drawing, and when he could, playing a guitar. When I met Don, he was not the young, foolish, addicted person he had been many years before.

Time does things to people. Its effects are never the same from person to person, but time always changes people. And time brought many good changes in Don Wallace.


This is the man the state of Indiana executes this week. A man who is nothing like the one who committed an awful crime so many years ago. Don Wallace changed. He is not the young, dangerous kid he once was.

Because of this, the lies inherent in Indiana's death penalty are exposed. People will be no safer with his execution. No one will be deterred from a future crime because of Don's execution on Wednesday night. And any governor, former governor, or state representative who tells you so is lying. And they know it.

This is one of the many tragedies built into the death penalty -- it ignores change. It forever labels a person, according to one act he might have committed. And as we all know, none of us is our past. We change. If we're lucky and holy, we change a lot.

To read the entire column, go here.

Monday, March 07, 2005


California has 640 inmates on death row.

According to a report that just surfaced in the Los Angeles Times, maintaining the California death penalty system costs taxpayers more than $114 million a year beyond the cost of simply keeping the convicts locked up for like and not counting the millions more for appeals.

And the $114 million annual cost does not include the substantial extra funds needed by counties in order to try complicated capital cases.

$114 million per year. 640 people on death row. That's $178,125 per person on death row, per year.


Friday, March 04, 2005

The NCADP Execution Board

NCADP “lives” in a row house on Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast. We’re in sight of the U.S. Capitol, but our locale is quite the opposite of Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, which is where the high-powered lobbyists live and where the real estate value represents quite a hefty chunk of change.

Our little row house is two stories, plus a basement that we’ve converted into a conference room and intern area. A split staircase divides the main floor from the top floor.

In the middle of this split staircase, on the wall, is the NCADP Execution Board.

At the beginning of each month, NCADP’s Jesuit Volunteer, Sarah Wisely, writes down the name of each person scheduled for execution that month. The board is a calendar of that month, so depending on how many executions we have scheduled, it might have a lot of writing on it or it might just have a little.

This month, the NCADP Execution Board has a lot of writing on it.

Sarah notes the day and time of the scheduled execution, the state where it is occurring and the number of executions for the year as well as since 1976, when executions were allowed to resume. (Right now, the count is six for the year and 950 since 1976.)

As the month progresses, Sarah puts a green line through the names of the people who receive stays (we try not to use the words “inmate” or “death row inmates” at NCADP, but rather prefer the phrasing, “people on death row” or “men and women on death row.”) If a person is executed, a red mark is put over their name. And in the rare event of a commutation, they get a blue mark.

Why is this board important?

Many things that we do as part of working at a nonprofit don’t seem immediately connected to the human aspect of the death penalty. You may be the executive director and you’re finalizing a grant report. You may be the office manager and you’re processing check requests, making sure vendors get paid or trying to get someone who can fix the heater in the basement. You may be the lowly communications guy (ha! That’s me!) and you find yourself spending a day working to build a media list, arranging a conference call or doing a radio interview with a community radio station in Los Angeles.

All of these things are important in their own way and are integral to the running of a nonprofit. But the Execution Board serves a daily reminder of the importance and human aspect of the work that we do.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

A time for remembrance

While we continue to rejoice the Supreme Court ruling that juvenile offenders should not be executed, it is perhaps important to remember that this ruling came to late to save some. Twenty-two juvenile offenders have been executed in the United States since 1985. Of these, 13 were executed by the state of Texas.

One of these was Napolean Beazley, executed May 28, 2002. Here is Napolean's final statement:

The act I committed to put me here was not just heinous, it was senseless. But the person that committed that act is no longer here -- I am.

I'm not going to struggle physically against any restraints. I'm not going to shout, use profanity or make idle threats. Understand though that I'm not only upset, but I'm saddened by what is happening here tonight. I'm not only saddened, but disappointed that a system that is supposed to protect and uphold what is just and right can be so much like me when I made the same shameful mistake.

If someone tried to dispose of everyone here for participating in this killing, I'd scream a resounding, 'No.' I'd tell them to give them all the gift that they would not give me ... and that's to give them all a second chance.

I'm sorry that I am here. I'm sorry that you're all here. I'm sorry that John Luttig died. And I'm sorry that it was something in me that caused all of this to happen to begin with.

Tonight we tell the world that there are no second chances in the eyes of justice. ... Tonight, we tell our children that in some instances, in some cases, killing is right.

This conflict hurts us all. There are no sides. The people who support this proceeding think this is justice. The people that think that I should live think that is justice. As difficult as it may seem, this is a clash of ideals, with both parties committed to what they feel is right. But who's wrong if in the end we're all victims?

In my heart, I have to believe that there is a peaceful compromise to our ideals. I don't mind if there are none for me, as long as there are for those who are yet to come. There are a lot of men like me on Death Row -- good men -- who fell to the same misguided emotions, but may not have recovered as I have.

Give those men a chance to do what's right. Give them a chance to undo their wrongs. A lot of them want to fix the mess they started, but don't know how. The problem is not in that people aren't willing to help them find out, but in the system telling them it won't matter anyway. No one wins tonight. No one gets closure. No one walks away victorious.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Must update more often. Must update more often. Must update...

Yesterday, in the wake of the exciting news about the abolition of the juvenile death penalty, NCADP's web site had more traffic than ever before -- more than 1,500 individual users in one day. And this little ol' web site had 150 visitors. Daily Kos is't not (or even grits for breakfast) but for a single issue web site that doesn't get marketed very much, it's not bad.

But it makes me feel guilty that sometimes I can't update as much as I would like...when things get busy, getting the press release out and taking and returning the media calls takes precedence. One doesn't get paid to blog!

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Today's ruling

The fast pace of business has prevented me from being able to update today. Most people visiting here probably know that this morning, the U.S. Supreme Court abolished the juvenile death penalty. This means that 72 people now on death row for crimes committed when they were 16 or 17 years old will now be spared.

It was two years and one month ago that I stood in front of a gaggle of reporters at the National Press Club and introduced Ken McGill, head of our Mississippi affiliate and Steven Hawkins, then executive director of NCADP. We were at the Press Club to unveil NCADP's Campaign to End Juvenile Executions, which has been ably led by my wonderful colleague, Sapna Mirchandani.

It's been a long two years. But today, finally, we won. We won. We won.