Abolish the Death Penalty is a blog dedicated to...well, you know. The purpose of Abolish is to tell the personal stories of crime victims and their loved ones, people on death row and their loved ones and those activists who are working toward abolition. You may, from time to time, see news articles or press releases here, but that is not the primary mission of Abolish the Death Penalty. Our mission is to put a human face on the debate over capital punishment.
Friday, December 29, 2006
Creating more victims: Part Seven
For fourteen years, Stanley Faulder’s Canadian family was unaware that they had a relative on death row in the United States. “All we knew was that he had disappeared,” explains Barbara Allen, Faulder’s niece. “He thought we knew where he was but didn’t want to have anything to do with him. When we finally found out, we were relieved he was alive but overwhelmed by the sadness and gravity of the situation. I had given very little thought to the death penalty before this. It’s just not part of the social conscience of Canada. I was aware that it occurred in the U.S., but never in my wildest dreams did I think my family would be involved.”
Barbara’s sons were 8 and 11 when the family first learned that a relative had been sentenced to death. “They didn’t know him, but they knew he was family,” says Barbara. Faulder was executed in Texas in 1999, and Barbara’s younger son Warren, by that time 16 years old, had a particularly hard time with it.
“He started to use drugs quite seriously,” Barbara recalls, “and he certainly had other issues going on in his life besides this one, but right at this time he got a tattoo on his leg that had Stan’s initials encircled by flames. The execution had more of an impact on him than I had known.”
To read Creating More Victims: How Executions Hurt the Families Left Behind, go here, scroll down to near the bottom of the front page of the web site, and click on the report.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Creating more victims -- Part Six
What happens when the child of a murder victim is also the child of the person convicted of that murder? Marcus Lawrie was 7 years old when his father, David Lawrie, set fire to his house in a drug- induced rage, killing his wife Michelle Lawrie, two of their young children, and a neighbor’s child. Marcus was 14 when the state of Delaware executed his father.
Marcus, now 21, says he wants people to understand that as horrific as the first tragedy was, he did not view the execution of his father as compensation for his multiple losses. "I lost my mom and sisters because of my dad, and that hurts, but you’ve got to understand – by giving my father the death penalty, you’re taking my other parent from me."
Marcus remembers hopping the back fence at his elementary school in order to escape reporters who wanted to photograph him. He remembers people setting doll babies on fire in the yard of his grandmother’s home. He remembers getting into fights with other kids at school. He remembers standing outside the prison on the night of the execution, hearing people screaming in favor of the death penalty.
For a long time, it was hard for Marcus to talk much about how either of his parents died, but as he got older, talking got easier. Now he’s hopeful that telling about his experience might make people think about how children are affected when the death penalty is imposed in cases of domestic violence.
To read Creating More Victims: How Executions Hurt the Families Left Behind, go here, scroll down to near the bottom of the front page of the web site, and click on the report.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
The series will resume when we resume
Due to a pronounced drop in blog readership attributable to the holidays, we are going to delay resuming the 10-part series "Creating more victims."
We will be back with the sixth in our 10-part series on Wednesday.
Happy holidays, all!
Friday, December 22, 2006
Creating more victims -- Part Five
Part six will resume on Monday, after we take a break for the weekend.
Stanley Allridge was 7 years old when two of his older brothers, Ron and James, were arrested and charged with capital murder. “That was the first time I’d seen my father cry,” Stan remembers. “He said, ‘Your brothers are in trouble.’ But after that, it wasn’t really discussed. We just started dealing with it.”
Stan and the two other surviving Allridge brothers witnessed Ron’s execution in 1995, when Stan was 18 and had just graduated from high school. “I didn’t really believe it at all, until later,” he recalls. “When I was finally leaving the Walls Unit [in Texas] and driving home, that’s when it hit me, that’s when the tears came. But everybody dealt with it in our own individual ways. We didn’t talk about it at all, or we talked about it vaguely but not how we felt about what we had seen. How do you talk about that? We never really thought it was going to happen. It’s not like he was terminally ill. It’s a murder. You just don’t get ready for a murder.”
Afterwards, Stan says, “I felt like my life had totally changed. I would be separated from other individuals. I was forced into this state of manhood. Witnessing death, witnessing a murder, is something that’s totally different. I knew my life would be different – I didn’t know how, but I knew.”
Nine years later, Stan witnessed his brother James’s execution. Now, having seen two of his brothers put to death, he has become an outspoken activist, speaking to audiences about his brothers’ lives and about the effect of the death penalty on a family.
To read Creating More Victims: How Executions Hurt the Families Left Behind, go here, scroll down to near the bottom of the front page of the web site, and click on the report.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Creating more victims: Part Four
Grace Bolden’s son Cornelius Singleton was executed in Alabama in 1992, ten years before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to execute people who suffer from mental retardation. Cornelius’s IQ was between 55 and 65, and he was convicted of murder on the basis of a signed confession that he had been unable to read.
"Even before they arrested him, the DA said they were going to give him the death penalty, and they didn’t have any evidence to connect him with the murder," his mother Grace recalls. "Neal didn’t understand what was going on."
Neal’s death sentence and execution took an enormous toll on Grace.
She lost her house trying to pay for his defense and she suffers from ongoing physical ailments in the aftermath of the ordeal. "I was all ready to go to the prison on the night of the execution," she remembers, "but in the end I couldn’t go. I gave him life and I couldn’t stand to see them take his life."
To read Creating More Victims: How Executions Hurt the Families Left Behind, go here, scroll down to near the bottom of the front page of the web site, and click on the report.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Creating more victims: Part Three
When Pam Crawford’s brother Ed Horsley was executed in Alabama in 1995, Pam was working as a housekeeper in the dormitories of the University of North Carolina. Pam had been close to the students and often invited them to her home for meals, but when she came to work after her brother’s execution, she was confronted by a note on the closet door in one of the dorm rooms: “You’re a murderer,” the note said.
Pam was devastated to be treated as though she too had committed a crime.
“It wasn’t just the students, it was my co-workers too,” she recalls. “After
three weeks, it was too much. I had to leave. There were times when I felt real
guilty, like I had actually done something – but the only thing I was guilty of
was loving my brother.”
Meanwhile, Pam’s granddaughter Callie was suffering as well. Callie was 8 at the time of the execution and had been very close to her great-uncle even though she was born well after he had been sentenced to death. Today, as a young woman of 19, she is struggling with depression. When Pam spoke with Callie’s doctor, she was amazed that one of his first questions was about who had been executed in the family. “He asked me how long it had been, and I told him it’s been over ten years,” Pam remembers. “He said, ‘Did you know that she’s still affected by it?’”
Pam says that Callie has recurring nightmares and asks questions to try to make sense of what happened. “She asks, if it’s wrong to kill somebody, which it is, then how can it be right for the state to kill?”
To read the report, go here, scroll down and click on Creating More Victims: How Executions Hurt the Families Left Behind.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Creating more victims: Part Two
At 14, Misty McWee was shocked when she learned that her father had been charged with capital murder. But as angry, disbelieving, and abandoned as that
teenage girl felt, she believes she could have dealt with her father’s spending his life in prison. “But to have a parent executed – knowing that he died because someone pushed chemicals into him – to me that felt like murder as well. It’s different from his dying of natural causes in prison.”
Misty was 28 when her father, Jerry McWee, was executed in South Carolina. She suffered from severe depression in the year following the event, culminating in a hospitalization after a suicide attempt near the one-year anniversary. “It felt like the two things were connected, my father’s execution and my cutting my wrists,” she recalls. “I didn’t care what happened to me. I felt like I should go be with him.”
Two years later, Misty is finding her way toward greater emotional stability, but she still struggles to come to terms with her father’s execution and the entire process surrounding it. “Why couldn’t we have had someone to help us through it?” she wonders. “When we walked in the courtroom, people gave us dirty looks, just because we belonged to our father. You wonder, what did we as kids do to deserve this? There’s so much you’re trying to understand and it doesn’t help to have people judging you. People look at it like, the whole family must be bad.”
To read the report, go here, scroll down and click on Creating More Victims: How Executions Hurt the Families Left Behind.
Monday, December 18, 2006
Creating more victims
We know that each execution involves and affects many people. The murder victim, though no longer present, is always part of the story. The family members of the victim are affected. The inmate facing execution is of course affected. And so are the family members that the executed inmate leaves behind.
But we seldom think about this latter group. We have had more than 1,000 executions in this country since 1976. How many thousands of people have lost loved ones to execution? Where are their stories? Why don’t we hear, see, and read about them?
MVFHR, in a breathtaking and groundbreaking report, recently closed this gap. Creating More Victims: How Executions Hurt the Families Left Behind tells the stories of dozens of family members – daughters, mothers, brothers, others – and what they endured as the result of their loved one’s execution.
Today, in the first of a 10-part series over the next two weeks, we bring you one of these stories.
“Watching my brother be executed was the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life,” says Tina Duroy. Tina’s brother, James Colburn, was executed in Texas three years ago, and Tina still has flashbacks of the event, especially when she sees a photo of a gurney on the television news.
What is especially painful for Tina is that she knows her family tried as hard as they
could to get help for her brother when he was alive. James was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at age 14, and was in and out of hospitals throughout his teenage years. “But when he turned 18, he was no longer covered by the family’s insurance,” Tina explains. “My grandparents drained their entire savings, but when they ran out of money there was no hospital that would take him without insurance. Texas has no state-funded mental facility.”
James’s death sentence took a toll on the entire family. “My mother couldn’t face it,” Tina recalls. “She probably blamed herself, even though she couldn’t do any more than she did. She told me she couldn’t watch them murder her first-born.” Tina’s mother died two years before the execution.
Tina speaks about the death penalty’s affect on surviving family members whenever she can, and she continues to question why her brother couldn’t have received treatment that might have prevented both the murder he committed and the execution that took his life. She says, “I don’t understand how they can execute mentally ill people when they don’t try to treat them first.”
To read Creating More Victims: How Executions Hurt the Families Left Behind, go here, scroll down to near the bottom of the front page of the web site, and click on the report.
Friday, December 15, 2006
Keep an eye on the blog
The stories we will be sharing with you this holiday season come out of a groundbreaking new report entitled, Creating More Victims: How Executions Hurt the Families Left Behind.
We would like to thank Susannah Sheffer for making this special blog series possible.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
But there are exceptions
Today the Death Penalty Information Center published its year-end report. On so, so many levels, their press release is worth reproducing in full:
USE OF DEATH PENALTY DECLINES IN 2006
Public Now Favors Life Without Parole
Lethal Injection Challenges Lead to Fewest Executions in a Decade
Death Sentences at 30-Year Low
WASHINGTON, DC – For the first time in two decades, the Gallup Poll this year
revealed that more Americans support the alternative sentence of life without
parole over the death penalty as the proper punishment for murder. This result
is in-step with the Death Penalty Information Center’s (DPIC) 2006 Year End
Report detailing a continuing trend away from capital punishment in the United
States. In its report, DPIC notes that U.S. death sentences are now at an
historic 30-year low, executions have sharply declined, and the size of death
row has been dropping since 2000.
In the states this year, New Jersey became the first jurisdiction to enact a
moratorium on executions through legislation and joined a lengthy list of
states, including California and North Carolina, in forming a study commission
to review the fairness and accuracy of the death penalty. New York legislators
chose not to reinstate that jurisdiction’s defunct death penalty. More changes
may emerge in the coming years as a growing number of candidates who are opposed to the death penalty were elected to public office in 2006.
“The American public has turned an important corner in this debate. Support for
the death penalty is on the decline and more people are embracing the
alternative sentence of life without parole, which is now available in almost
every state,” said Richard Dieter, Executive Director of the Death Penalty
Information Center. “Capital punishment is risky, expensive, and could result in
irreversible error. Fewer people are now willing to put their faith in such a
In its report, DPIC noted that the number of executions in 2006 reached a
10-year low of 53, down 46% since its highpoint in 1999. Evidence that lethal
injections could be causing needless and excruciating pain delayed a number of
executions and led to a series of court hearings this year. Individual
executions in Arkansas, California, Delaware, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey,
Ohio, South Dakota, and in the federal system were halted because of this
The number of people sentenced to death annually has dropped by nearly 60% since 1999, falling from nearly 300 death sentences annually in the 1990s to a
projected 114 death sentences this year. The size of death row decreased for the
fifth consecutive year after 25 years of increases, declining from 3,415 last
year to 3,366 in 2006.
The issue of innocence remained an important cornerstone of the death penalty debate in 2006 as an expanding list of judges, law enforcement officials, religious leaders, and other new voices joined in challenging capital punishment’s implementation and accuracy. Former Chicago Tribune editor and publisher Jack Fuller echoed the concerns of many when he wrote: “[N]o government is good enough to entrust with the absolute power that capital punishment entails.”
In August, the American Bar Association unanimously passed a resolution calling
for an exemption from the death penalty for the severely mentally ill. An almost
identical resolution had been endorsed earlier by such mental health groups as
the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association,
and the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Snark alert! Fifth Circuit votes 9-7 not to overturn U.S. Supreme Court
Anyway, on a close 9-7 vote, the Fifth Circuit ruled against overturning the U.S. Supreme Court's requirements regarding jury instruction and mitigating evidence. A blog by the name of Decision of the Day had this excellent snark on the court's ruling: (hat tip, Karl)
It's no secret that Texas state courts have been openly defying the U.S.
Supreme Court in affirming death sentences that were based on unconstitutional
jury instructions. Specifically, the instructions at issue did not ensure that
juries adequately considered mitigating evidence before imposing death
sentences. What were the courts were afraid of? After all, these are Texas
juries we are talking about.
Anyway, the Fifth Circuit has been complicit in the state courts’ defiance, repeatedly declining to grant habeas relief in these cases. Its stance has already drawn sharp rebukes from the U.S. Supreme Court. Most recently, in a habeas case that had already been vacated and remanded by the Supreme Court, Chief Judge Edith Jones wrote a decision that refused to reconsider the panel’s earlier conclusion that the Supreme Court’s post-1991 holdings should not be applied to petitioner Billy Ray
Nelson’s 1991 death sentence. Judge Dennis (who can typically be relied on to
follow the Constitution in more egregious cases) concurred, chiding his
colleagues for ignoring the Supreme Court but reasoning that the error was
harmless in this instance. My coverage here.
But the Fifth decided to take this appeal en banc and today, by a vote of
9-7, the Court decides to grant Nelson a new sentencing trial. Judge Dennis
again concurs, explaining why he was wrong to apply a harmless error analysis
the first time. The 161-page decision also includes dissents from Chief Judge
Jones and Judges Smith, Owen, and Clement. Interestingly, the seven dissenters
include three names that have repeatedly been mentioned as possible SCOTUS
nominees – Jones, Clement, and Garza.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
A step forward
The implications of these deficiencies are, literally, a life-and-death matter. Several innocent people have been executed in Texas, and these are just the cases that we know about. Habeas review is a critical cornerstone of our criminal justice system. More than 100 people have been freed from death row after evidence of their innocence emerged; usually, this happens as a result of information that comes out during habeas appeals.
Today the Austin American-Statesman reported that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has adopted new guidelines intended to make sure that death penalty appellate lawyers do a decent job of representing their clients. This is a welcome step, a step in the right direction. Here are excerpts from the American-Statesman's story from today's paper:
The state's highest criminal court, criticized for tolerating shoddy appeals filed on behalf of death row inmates, adopted new rules Monday to begin weeding out attorneys whose work falls below professional standards.
When the rules take effect Friday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals will be able to sanction lawyers who submit sloppy, lazy, inferior death-row appeals a significant shift for the nine-member court. The court previously had no mechanism in place to identify poorly performing lawyers or to remove them from a court-run list of attorneys eligible to submit, at state or county expense, writs of habeas corpus for death row inmates.
Habeas writs are considered the more important of two appeals given to the condemned in Texas, but a recent Austin American-Statesman review of the appeals system found that the court tolerated lawyers who regularly submitted writs that were incomplete, unintelligible or improperly argued.
Mandy Welch, a Houston lawyer who teaches continuing education courses on habeas law, was heartened by the changes, though she wanted to observe the court's interpretation of the rules before offering wholehearted approval. "Reviewing a lawyer's performance is critical to ensuring that people areproperly represented, and this is at least a move in the right direction,"Welch said.
The Statesman series, which ran Oct. 29 and 30, examined habeas lawyers who simply copied from their previous appeals or from other attorneys, whether the facts applied to their current case or not, or who recycled claims that have been denied time and again while ignoring obvious avenues of investigation.One lawyer submitted a writ copied almost entirely from his client's letters from death row, including this memorable passage: "I'm just about out of carbon paper. As soon as I get some more typing supplies I have about 30 more errors I want . . . in my appeal."
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
John Grisham book could become a movie
George Clooney and Grant Heslov Taking On The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice In A Small Town
George Clooney and Grant Heslov picked up John Grisham's novel, TheInnocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town for Warner IndependentPictures and their Smoke House Productions.
The book, published in October, is the true story of a gross miscarriage of justice that sent Ron Williamson to Oklahoma's death row for 11 years for a murder he did not commit, reports Variety. Among the flimsy evidence: eyewitness testimony from the man ultimately convicted of the murder.
No production schedule has been set for The Innocent Man: Murder andInjustice in a Small Town.
(source: The MovieWeb)
Innocent and Executed
We decided to publish this report after U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia opined that no innocent person has been executed in the U.S. in what is known as the "modern era" of the death penalty, i.e., 1976 to now. In his opinion, Scalia said that had an executed person been innocent, the person's name would have been "shouted from the rooftops" by abolitionists.
All of this is by way of introducing the following letter to the editor, which just popped up in the National Law Journal:
OPEN LETTER TO JUSTICE SCALIA
Executing the innocent
Keith S. Hampton/Special to The National Law Journal December 1, 2006
Dear Justice Scalia:
I think I am sorry that I read your concurring opinion this summer in Kansas v. Marsh, 548 U.S. (2006), in which you label all who are concerned that innocent people have been executed as "sanctimonious" and ignorant, and suggest that everyone with such a concern is merely part of an "abolition lobby." That's a pretty breezy generalization, and it is as wrong as your proposition that there has never been "a single case-not one-in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit." You are either blind, or you aren't looking very hard.
Texas alone has at least three such cases: Carlos De Luna, Ruben Cantu and Cameron Willingham. DeLuna and Cantu were both executed on crime-scene identification that the witnesses now repudiate. Let me quote your own court: "The vagaries of eyewitness identification are well-known; the annals of criminal law are rife with instances of mistaken identification." U.S. v. Wade, 388 U.S. 218 (1967). When we base death sentences on such evidence, why would you find it so hard to believe that we've killed one or two innocent people?
Maybe you think it just happens in misidentification cases. Then take the execution of Willingham for torching his home with his three daughters inside. He was convicted because the fire investigators in his case assumed arson when every bit of evidence was consistent with an accident. Innocent people can be just as easily executed on junk science and incompetent investigators as eyewitness misidentification. So you can see why I also can't agree with your cheery conclusion that every exoneration "demonstrates not the failure of the system but its success."
You also claim that it was "the system" that uncovered cases of innocent people, and not some "outside force." Having been part of "the system" for many years, I can assure you that prosecutors and police do not investigate whether they "got it right" after they've sent someone to prison or to the death chamber. None of these cases would ever have come to light had not newspapers looked into them. Those who are part of "the system" (notably, police and prosecutors) react with denial and hostility when confronted with proof that they got it wrong. When the district attorney in the Cantu case learned that he was innocent, she promptly announced that she would prosecute the surviving victim, Juan Moreno, of "murder by perjury" because he succumbed to police pressure to misidentify Cantu at trial. This is the same guy who was shot nine times and clubbed half to death.
And the police who exploited an opportunity to exact revenge against Cantu? The Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express News obtained recorded conversations between the DA investigators and the cops revealing that the cops were cleared well before the DA's "investigation" ever commenced. No, this really isn't "the system" self-correcting itself.
An 'insignificant minimum'?
But I think you know this because you radically shift positions at the very end of your concurrence. Up to the end, you argue that you've scoured the country looking for proof that a single innocent person has been executed, and, finding none to your satisfaction, deduce "the system" is therefore actually infallible. Then you spring a brand new argument, not quite consistent with the former. Rather than "we've never killed an innocent person," your new argument is "sure we have, but it's a pretty small number." You wrote: "One cannot have a system of criminal punishment without accepting the possibility that someone will be punished mistakenly. That is a truism, not a revelation. But with regard to the punishment of death in the current American system, that possibility has been reduced to an insignificant minimum."
So I take it that if you became convinced an innocent person had been executed, you still wouldn't share the concerns that "the system" is in need of repair. This posture sort of undercuts the sincerity of your search for the white whale of innocence. You use the phrase "insignificant minimum" to describe the number of innocent people you imagine we've executed. How many is that? Ten? Fifty? The system: not infallible, but still the best? I bet you the family and friends of Willingham, Cantu and DeLuna never viewed them as "insignificant."
The casualness with which you sweep people into the oblivion of insignificance must be somehow made easier when the execution involves someone else's child or brother or friend. It is far worse to convict an innocent person than to let a guilty person go free. You've reversed and perverted this long-standing principle and seem to believe it is far better to kill innocent people so long as we also get a greater number of guilty ones. I think we have different sets of values. To sum up: You're dead wrong that only stupid people would oppose executing the innocent, and you're morally wrong not to care. It is wrong for the government to kill innocent people, period. I can't believe a Supreme Court Justice thinks that is debatable.
- - - - -
Keith S. Hampton is a criminal defense attorney practicing in Austin, Texas.
Monday, December 04, 2006
Stays in Ohio & Virgnia
Friday, December 01, 2006
Tis the season
Why are we telling you about this? What does it have to do with the death penalty? We'll answer the second question in a minute. For now, let's tackle the first.
Close to 400 men and women in our country have proven their innocence and been released from prison after having been convicted of crimes they did not commit. On average, they serve more than twelve years in prison before release.
But the nightmare of wrongful conviction and incarceration does not end there. The exonerated face serious challenges in virtually every aspect of rebuilding their lives on the outside - employment, housing, financial resources, support systems, and access to medical, psychological and dental care. In most cases, exonerees are pushed out the prison door without as much as an apology, and left to fend for themselves.
I just got an email message from the Life After Exonerated program. This program helps people like Gregory Wallis -- people who need help standing on their own two feet after being incarcerated for years and years for crimes they did not commit. Today, this program is in danger of closing its doors -- and being unable to help people like Greg -- unless they receive contributions. You can help by going here.
Now, our second question. What does this have to do with the death penalty? Well, at least 123 people have been removed from death row and released from prison after evidence of their innocence emerged. They, too, need our help -- and many are receiving help from the Life After Exonerated folks.
You can read more by going here.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
'I didn't want to be part of it anymore'
From the St. Petersburg Times:
Dennis O'Neill had been an assistant warden at Florida State Prison for two years and warden at Union Correctional Institution for 7 years, both death row prisons. He eventually left the correctional system and became an Episcopal priest. He was assigned back to the town of Starke, Florida, where death row inmates reside.
As a correctional officer, he had been involved in more than a dozen executions over 14 years, but now O'Neill opposes the death penalty. "For years, I told myself it was the law of the land, and went along with it," he says. "But several things really got to me: the arbitrary nature of who was executed. The fact that the person strapped in the chair or gurney often showed genuine, heartfelt change and was rarely the same person who committed the crime. And, my realization that antiseptic killing is as bad as raw and naked killing. "
"I didn't want to be a part of it anymore," he says. "I realized I wanted to be part of a healing, merciful world, not a punishing one." His congregation has also been moved by his new message.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Reviewing John Grisham
Here's a good one, lifted from the Chicago Sun-Times.
Guilty until proven innocent ---- John Grisham goes all non-fiction in his latest miscarriage-of- justice tale
Accounts of wrongful convictions have earned Cook County a well-deserved bad reputation as a place where too many police, prosecutors, defense lawyers, forensic examiners and judges care more about clearing a case from the books than about justice. But miscarriages of justice occur all across the United States, including small cities not normally associated with corruption, such as Ada, Okla., where the wrongful convictions of Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz live in infamy.
The arrests of Williamson and Fritz never made sense to those outside the criminal justice system. It was almost as if everyone involved did not care about whether they had apprehended the actual perpetrators, and did not worry about whether the actual rapist/murderer might still be at liberty, destroying other victims.
For those who keep tabs on wrongful convictions across the nation, the Williamson/Fritz case is legendary, perhaps the most egregious instance ever of incompetence and dishonesty by police, forensic examiners, prosecutors and judges.
Despite previous publications about this particular miscarriage of justice, the wrongful murder convictions of the two men have not made them household names. Best-selling novelist John Grisham could change all that with his first nonfiction book about the Oklahoma case.
Debra Sue Carter, 21, worked at a bar. At the end of her shift, past midnight, she walked to her car. Witnesses saw her talking to a man who frequented the bar and who had earned a reputation as an unpleasant guy with a hot temper. Carter made it back to her apartment, either alone or with somebody else. A friend found Carter dead in the apartment about midday.
After 16 best-selling novels that have made Grisham a household name and a wealthy man, the author has decided that truth is stranger than fiction. Because of Grisham's fan base, The Innocent Man is quite likely to reach best-seller status, too. Deservedly so, in my opinion.
During early December 2004, Grisham noticed an obituary in the New YorkTimes under the headline "Ronald Williamson, Freed From Death Row, Dies at51." How had he missed the original reports about the 1982 rape/murder,the arrest of Williamson and Fritz five years later, the trials and appeals, the brutal imprisonment of the defendants, and finally the exoneration of both men after the state of Oklahoma came within five days of executing Williamson and placing Fritz in prison for the rest of his life?"
"Not in my most creative moment could I conjure up a story as rich and layered as Ron's," Grisham said later. "And, as I would soon learn, the obituary barely scratched the surface. Within a few hours, I had talked to his sisters, Annette and Renee, and suddenly I had a book on my hands."
After researching the case, Grisham could not believe his good fortune as an author and his dismay as a lawyer who wanted to believe the best about the criminal justice system."
"With every visit and every conversation, the story took a differentturn," Grisham said. "I could have written 5,000 pages."
For all its strengths, the book barely mentions some factors. The most diehard advocates for the U.S. criminal justice system have mostly conceded that after decades of denial, wrongful convictions occur every year, in many of the 50 states, and frequently in the same local jurisdictions over and over because the same police officers and the same prosecutors refuse to learn from their mistakes.
4 years after Carter's murder, the lack of closure on the case -- there had been no arrests -- embarrassed the Ada police and the local prosecutor. There was an obvious suspect -- a man with motive, means and opportunity -- but, for unexplained reasons, the police never arrested him. Nor did they have any solid evidence on Williamson and Fritz. But, using Williamson's mental illness against him, police convinced the prosecutor that an alleged murderous dream Williamson had told them about constituted evidence, and that the dream pointed to Fritz as well.
Grisham's saga features a few heroes, including some open-minded, persistent lawyers, judges, private investigators and journalists.
It is not a feel-good book despite the exonerations of Williamson andFritz. It is an important book, however. Maybe with Grisham shouting out the causes and frequency of wrongful convictions, reform will occur in every jurisdiction, rather than only a few.
(source: Steve Weinberg is a free-lance investigative reporter who writes frequently about the criminal justice system; Chicago Sun-Times)
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Witness to an execution
I do not know if Gregory Summers was innocent or not. I do know that he did not receive a fair trial. I also know that he had a large number of supporters who felt he was innocent.
This is a story of one supporter. It's a long story, much longer than things we usually put on this blog. But it is well worth the read.
He is dead.
Without looking at us, his eyes open and focused on the ceiling. Pronounced dead at sixteen minutes after nine in the evening.
In the morning we had a good visit, together with Caterina, Greg's best friend from
Italy and head of his Italian defense committee. Greg is cheerful. He tells how he spoke with Major Nelson when they brought him to the visitor's room, and how he asked her to explain the Warden’s decision to only allow two visitors for this final visit. A few minutes later the Major comes by and apologizes to Greg because the Warden had made a wrong decision. Also this visit we could have changed visitors, and thus my brother Ivo could have come too to visit Greg. So be it. I can’t call Ivo
and, even if he would be in the motelroom, it would cost him an hour to drive from Huntsville to Livingston and today we only have a four hour visit. Besides, Ivo now has the time to do a bunch of things that need to be done and he already said his goodbye words yesterday.
Halfway through the visit Greg's properties get brought into the visiting room: four
huge full bags. Yesterday we already took the three bags full with books with us. Greg explains what is in the bags. To lose the radio is what pains him most, it has been his most valuable and precious possession during the past sixteen years on
death row. If he gets a stay and will be brought back to the Polunsky Unit in
Livingston, he will lose everything because his stuff is not allowed to come back with him.
We take pictures and thank god they are okay. Something to be happy with
because you never can tell what the outcome will be with a Polaroid camera. But Mrs. Williams, the officer, does her best and even gets us so far that we smile. Greg is strong. Shows himself moderately optimistic because of the testimony of William Spaulding that was released yesterday. Spaulding has been a key witness in Greg's first trial, and in this testimony he admits that he was paid by the State of Texas, and lied about the answers Greg gave him to the questions the State had wanted
him to ask. Spaulding now admits that Greg never confessed to him that he
had asked Andrew Cantu to kill his adoptive parents. Also Spaulding’s lawyer
has released similar testimony.
According to one of her interns, Danalynn, Greg's lawyer, is supposed to come
at ten o’clock. But we wait in vain. We hate that, because we have so many
questions, but we expect that the reason for her not showing up is that she is really busy for Greg. There is someone else who comes by: the TDCJ (Texas Department of Criminal Justice) chaplain, who wants to know whether we will come to the Hospitality House, where we are expected to be at three o’clock, to hear what the procedure will be and what we can expect during the execution. I tell him that we want to go back to our motel room directly after the explanation, so that we can take Greg's final phone call in our own room and with only the three of us.
As it is almost noon and thus time to say goodbye, I ask Greg to give my love to my mom and dad when he meets them in heaven. He does not hear me out, does not want to say farewell. To stay strong, we deny the possibility that he will be
executed. And thus we kiss the glass, tell him that we love him, and then two officers take us to the exit. Walking towards the door, we look back, in the hope that Greg has turned around for a final goodbye, but all we see is his back.
In the meantime a prisoner has put Gregs belongings on the path at the entrance of the Unit. Cat gets the car and we drag the incredibly heavy unwieldy bags to the car and into the trunk. A knot of officers is standing at the doors, sheltering from the pouring rain; they laugh and make jokes about the weather. None of them lifts a finger to help us.
As fast as possible we go back to the motel. There is so much to do till we are supposed to be at the Hospitality House. We have to buy clothes for Greg, who wants to be buried in a pink western shirt and black jeans. We have decided to wear the same clothes during the execution, and thus we also have to buy them for ourselves. We race from the Wal*Mart to Baskins, succeed only partly and will have to go back later. But first we have to run to the Hospitality House where we meet two chaplains: one who is gonna be with Greg in the death house all the time and who will be with him during the execution, and one for us. We will meet ‘ours’ at five o’clock at the TDCJ administrationbuilding. He will be with us till after the execution. We
listen to what lies ahead of us and after that we drive quickly back to the motel.
At ten to four the phone rings. Greg is on the line. We turn the speaker on so that all three of us can hear him and talk with him. All four of us act as if this is a very normal phone conversation. Greg tells Ivo to get the radio out of the bag and
explains him how we may use the radio in our own country. Then he wants me
to look for all the unused stamps so that I can give them to his lawyer. We joke and laugh. Laugh to not have to cry. God, how hard we try to stay strong! At a quarter past four Greg hangs up. Yesterday I spoke with Lovisa, the lady who wrote with Greg even before I started to write, but who hasn’t spoken with Greg for more than ten years now. She and I had contact now and then and that’s how she found out about the execution date, and Tuesday evening, when we had our special Shout Out show for Greg on the KDOL radio station in Livingston, she called in and spoke to him. Thank god I had her phone number, and thus now Greg can call her himself.
We are happy when Greg finally calls us again at a quarter to five. Ivo almost gives away that the three of us will be dressed in pink/black tonight, but I want it to be a surprise. (Because he never looked at us during the execution, he never has been able to see this. Darn, I wished we had told him!)
At five to five we have to say our final farewell, although Greg still shows himself
moderately optimistic and hopes for a stay. And thus I arrange for next Monday a two hour visit, before flying back home. Cat tells Greg that we have to run to be in time at the Wall’s Unit, for our meeting with the chaplain. What an incredible bullshit-situation: tell him that we have to run so that we will be in time for his execution!! Ever experienced a more bizarre situation?! We all stay strong, although for a moment there is a long silence at Greg's side at the end of our call. One more time we say that we love each other. Bye Greg, stay strong!
Immediately we have to go to the TDCJ administration building that’s opposite to the Wall’s Unit. The chaplain is already waiting for us. We enter the building,
walk through the hallway, to the left, then to the right, into a scanty canteen-like room. Four tables with four plastic chairs around each of them, two plastic benches in one corner, another one in an other. A constant droning noise of the ice machine, a machine with the usual junk food and one with soda’s. Glaring, cold fluorescent light. The waiting can start.
None of us says a word. A few moments later someone enters the room. It’s a
‘security’-man and he will go upstairs now and then to talk with the press and with someone with the DA's office who all will constantly be updated about the current situation. They are, we are not. There seem to be five motions filed with several Courts. That’s all we know. Outside we have seen a couple of people, waiting at the
‘demonstration-spot’, and some press-people. We are not particularly a ‘high
At a quarter to six the chaplain tells us that apparently a lot of stuff is still going on, because ‘normally’ this would be the time for the officers to come in and to check us, before going to the other side of the street for the execution.
We are all three so tired, so extremely tired of all the tension and the emotions. We walk up and down, are allowed to walk in the hallway, and I am even allowed to go out of the building to see how many people are demonstrating. There are not a lot of them. The rain is still coming out in buckets.
Back inside. It’s half past six, then seven o’clock. The hopes for a stay are growing and I think of all the things we can do now to save Gregs life. So many people think it’s outrageous what happened to Greg. More than a thousand people have signed the petition. Finally the media are right on the ball. Now we must be able to get all
these people together to one huge mass of fighters! No longer we have to do it alone. Jimmy Carter has offered his help, president Prodi has asked for clemency, Susan Sarandon has signed the petition and so did Mike Farrell. With all these people we have to succeed!!
We close our eyes for a second. I even partly lie down on the bench, my head
on my jeansjacket, and doze off…
"MAARTJE!!!" From real far I hear Ivo call me. I open my eyes and look in the stone-cold faces of two officers, a man and a woman. It is half past eight. Within a split second I realize: gone are my dreams, gone are my plans. Officers in this room means that all motions are exhausted and denied. Means that the execution will
take place. The band around my breast squeezes, my heart beats like a madman. No God, no, please, NOOOO!!!!!!!! The female officer takes Cat and me to the bathroom. We are allowed to pee one more time, then she frisks us and checks us with the metal detector. Back to the room to pick up our passports and jackets. I realize that this is the end. The fight is over.
In the Hospitality House the chaplain had told us that a part of the media people would be with us in the witness room, and that they probably would write down everything we said or did during the execution and would possibly publish. Cat, Ivo and me have decided to say no word and to be strong, like Greg would have
We hold each other's hands and walk to the elevator that brings us to another
floor. We exit the building, TDCJ-people in front of us, the chaplain and the security man behind us. We cross the street to the Wall’s Unit, wave in the dark to the people who are there outside, who are there for Greg and for us. Climb the stairs and arrive at the building. The door opens and we go into a room at our left. There are some five people standing, hanging, leaning against tables. Press- and TDCJ-people. For a
moment they are silent, curiously looking at us, but after a few moments they continue joking and talking. The guy in front of us, sitting with his fat American
ass on the edge of a table, writing pad in his hand, is tapping with his pen against the table, yawns, looks at his watch, as if he is thinking: "Hey, can’t we speed this up a bit, we are already almost three hours behind, I want to go home." We are standing there, refuse a chair, are silent. The waiting is long, but then I hear click-clacking from the corridor, and Michelle Lyon, the TDCJ-employee, enters the room: "They are ready."
We grab each other's hand and the three of us follow the officials. I feel as if we are taking part in a movie, but it’s definitely a horror-movie. The corridor is long, we turn a corner, and come into the visiting room. The room hardly differs from the one in the Wynne Unit where I always visit Norman and Jim. At the end of the room is a door that leads to a kind of small garden. At the end another door. Someone opens
it and let us go first. At a distance of only FIVE metres there is Greg! My breath stops short and I feel I start to hyperventilate. Apparently the effect of the Oxazepam has worn off. We walk the three steps to the window, press our hands firmly upon the glass. Without the glass we could have touched Greg. He lies there, we see him from the side, his head at our left, his feet at our right, his arms stretched out to the left and the right, like Jesus on the cross, a drip in both hands. Apparently they first have tried to find the veins at the inside of his elbow, for there is a bandage. Poor Greg. He always complained how damn hard it was to let them pull blood from those veins. At last they apparently have used the veins in his hands.
They are hidden in huge mitten, almost like boxing gloves. A sheet covers his body up till his neck. I look at his breast. He seems to be pretty calm, but how must he have felt during all the preparations for this killing, during the buckling up of the many belts, during the try to find a vein for the poison? Did he panic or was he
maybe actually relieved that it finally was gonna happen? We will never know. He stares at the ceiling, where a big spotlight shines on his face and here a microphone hangs till just above his mouth. The tears are oh so close. But we have to stay strong, not let ‘them’ see our grief. Greg can’t hear us, but we hear everything that is said inside. A door at the left opens and closes again. Apparently the sign that the killing can take place. The Warden, standing behind Gregs head, asks if Greg has a final statement. We hear him say ‘no.’ The TDCJ-chaplain has his hand on Gregs right ankle. The Warden nods. Greg faces death with his eyes open. No final look at us, no ‘goodbye’. We understand it. He is brave for us, we are brave for him. Hopefully the sodium thiopental will quickly do its job and make Greg slip away in a coma so that he won’t feel that the pancuronium bromide will let his lungs collapse. We see and hear that happen when the ‘breath-snore’ comes from his nose and mouth. They had warned us for it, but yet it gives us a shock. Now there certainly is no way back. Ivo, Cat and I huddle together, arms around each other's shoulders, the free hand upon the glass. We silently say farewell, and while the potassium chloride is going through his veins and stops his heart, we wish him a safe trip home. We cry, but very silently. What a dignity from Greg, and from us!
The doctor comes in. Looks into Gregs eyes, feels his neck, listens to his heart and pronounces Greg dead at 21:16. He puts the sheet over Gregs head. It is done. Prisoner # 999010 is dead, number 22 of this year. An innocent man has been ‘legally’ murdered.
We are requested to come with the officials. With our arms around each other we leave the room, go back the way to the waiting-canteen, pick up the rest of our stuff, give the chaplain a hand, and exit the building without looking at anyone and without saying a word. It is almost half past nine. We walk to the demonstration corner to thank any possible protesters. The spot is empty, everyone has gone. Oh well, who
would want to stand in the rain for four hours. Even the Texas weather is crying with us. Gosh, how lonesome we feel! No one from the lawyer’s office that helped Greg, no protesters. Only we three, all alone on an island. In the rain. No one to
comfort us, no one… just the three of us… two minutes after they’ve killed our Greg.
At ten o’clock we are welcomed at the Huntsville Funeral Home to say farewell to Greg. Here too we feel as if we are acting in a movie. Everything looks so much like in ‘Six Feet Under,’ the American series that takes place in a funeral home. We are
friendly welcomed and brought to the room where Greg is. We were prepared that we would see Greg the way they had brought him in from the death house. And that’s indeed the case. He lies on a kind of board, on a carry on wheels. The sheet up to his breast. His hands in the waistband to avoid that his arms would fall aside the carry. Thank god without the ‘boxing handgloves’. Enormous purple stains in his face and neck, especially at the right side because the doctor had turned his face to
the right to see ‘Death’ in Greg's eyes. His left eye a wee bit opened. A very vague smile around his lips, as if he has seen something just before dying that we were
unable to see. Hopefully it were his parents welcoming him in heaven.
For the first time in all these years we can touch him. For the first time a different human touch than the hands of an officer around his cuffed arms. For sixteen years he had to do without a loving touch. Now that he is dead, and will not know about it, now we, his friends, can touch him. He is still a bit warm. His hair is so soft, his skin rough. Here we can finally cry. We can stay as long as we want. We take some pictures to assure ourselves later that he is really dead. We stay for fifteen minutes, stroke his cheek, give a kiss on his forehead. Then we each say our personal goodbyes and go back to the motel. I call Connie, with whom I started this fight for Greg's life almost fourteen years ago, she is at the vigil in Holland. I record a message for my home front, take a pill and fall asleep crying, still unaware of the enormous bunch of phone calls we will have to make to Greg’s lawyer’s office that handled Greg's case, but from whom we will never hear again, who not even called us to hear how the execution went or how we were doing, and that now has given the full responsibility for the fulfillment of Greg's wishes to us; the many phone calls to Italy and the Italian consulate, the drives to Houston, the faxes, the e-mails, the visits to casket-stores and funeral homes that are waiting on us after the execution, and still unaware of everything that needs to be arranged for Greg's funeral in Italy.
On Monday morning, October 30, we say our final farewell to Greg. The next time
we will be together with him, will be in Cascine, some 15 kilometres from Pisa, where the mayor and Greg's correspondence friend, Maria, have offered Greg a last resting-place. A place where he is more than welcome, and far away from Texas, where they have never given him a fair trial and where they killed him for omething he didn’t do.
Goodbye my dearest Greg… sorry we didn’t succeed in proving your innocence
through a fair trial. The ‘system’ turned out to be too strong for us. Gosh, how we had hoped…
Friday, November 03, 2006
Not clear on the point, but thanks for stopping by!
Someone named "Anonymous" stopped by to comment. Because their comment seems to reflect the views of many death penalty supporters, we thought it fair to post here and respond to it:
No legal help? Not being a lawyer, I seem to remember reading about these little laws and rights designed to protect anyone in the legal justice system, we call them 'Miranda Rights' (Ernesto Miranda kidnapped and raped the 18 year old woman in that case BTW, which was later proved in the case retrial), we also call one of these laws the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution (no self incrimination except us military types) and the Fourth Amendment (search and seizure) as well as dozens of other like minded laws. Isn't the real question here who is willing to foot the bill for the overwhelming number of GUILTY death row offenders who tie up the legal system ad-nauseam to keep their worthless carcasses alive with appeals submissions. What isn't fair is not that they don't have adequate legal representation, it is that the victims of those who are on death row for a crime don't have the recourse to 'appeal' to the perpetrator to 'un'commit the horrible crime for which the criminal ended up on death row to begin with.
What is interesting is not so much what Anonymous says but what he doesn't say:
1. He completely ignores the entire Austin American-Statesman series and the issues it raises. No matter; you can read it here and decide for yourself.
2. He fails to acknowledge the more than 100 people who have been released from death row after evidence of their innocence emerged during the habeas appellate process. Perhaps Anonymous does not care that innocent people are sent to death row because, after all, it would never happen to him?
3. He fails to acknowledge that innocent people have been executed. The list starts with Ruben Cantu, Carolos De Luna, Larry Griffin and Cameron Todd Cunningham. Those are the ones we know about.
We said it yesterday and it bears repeating: Habeas a complex, drawn-out process -- exonerations occur as a result of habeas appeals, and if you are innocent and have an incompetent habeas attorney then you will be executed. It's that simple.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
That creaking sound you hear....
This past weekend, my alma mater, the Austin American-Statesman, published an extremely well researched series by reporter Chuck Lindell. The series examined the abysmal state of Texas' death penalty appellate system.
Folks, this is arguably the most important death-penalty related journalism done in the United States this year. My friend and colleague Steve Hall calls it a "must read." It's not sexy stuff like the recent Chicago Tribune and Houston Chronicle articles suggesting that innocent people were executed. Rather, it's a very comprehensive and complex look at the sorry state of death penalty appeals in Texas. And remember: Death row exonerations do not miraculously happen. There's no Perry Mason moment when suddenly judges and prosecutors come to their senses and release innocent people. It's a complex, drawn-out process -- exonerations occur as a result of habeas appeals, and if you are innocent and have an incompetent habeas attorney then you will be executed. It's that simple.
I won't go into the whole series -- you can read it here. (Note: this takes a moment to download.)
But I do want to quote legal blogger Andrew Cohen, who posted a piece headlined, "Why the death penalty soon will be abolished." His piece concludes:
Either states like Texas will spend the time and money necessary to fix their problems or, ultimately, the Supreme Court will fix the problems for them. A generation ago, the Court simply declared unconstitutional the death penalty in America until states were willing and able to generate consistent standards for determining when a capital sentence was justifiied or not. It's not about to happen in the next few days, or months, or perhaps even years. But at the rate things are going, and with the mess in Texas being just a prominent tip of an iceberg that floats through states like Oklahoma and Florida as well, it is virtually a certainty that one day soon the Supreme Court will shut down the whole process again until things get fixed. And if and when that happens, death penalty proponents in Texas and elsewhere, the ones who allow men and women to be executed without getting decent legal help, will have no one to blame but themselves.
Monday, October 30, 2006
NCADP Abolitionists of the Year
Thursday, October 26, 2006
This week's killings
- Larry Eugene Hutcherson was executed Thursday night by lethal injection for the 1992 killing of an 89-year-old Mobile woman, Irma Thelma Gray. Hutcherson apologized to the victim's family in a brief final statement and asked for forgiveness. "I'm so very sorry for hurting you like this. It's been a long time coming. I hope this gives you closure and someday find forgiveness for me." A chaplain knelt beside the gurney and held Hutcherson's left hand and both prayed as he died. There are currently 192 inmates on Alabama's death row.
- Danny Harold Rolling, a "52-year-old Louisiana drifter, robber and admitted killer of five Gainesville, Fla., college students in August 1990, sang for more than two minutes until he was injected with a lethal mix of drugs. Ten minutes later at 6:13 p.m. he was pronounced dead."
- Texas executed Gregory Summers, 48, convicted of paying a hit man to kill his parents in 1990 in an attempt to collect their life insurance and an inheritance. Summers was the 22nd inmate executed this year in Texas. David has a great post below on the case.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
A friend of mine who lives in Tennessee has become friends with Summers and is convinced of his innocence. I, too, have my doubts about this one. It is a circumstantial case where innocence seems every bit as likely as guilt.
Here's a letter Gregory recent wrote to his supporters:
Hi. Well, it's really hard to find words to say right now. I do not know what the next 2 weeks will bring. I just keep praying for a positive outcome so that we may get into court.
I wanted to write and thank you, each and everyone, for your continued support over the years, for your prayers, and for your love and caring and your kindness. I do appreciate you, each and every one. With all my heart and soul I do.
Should they not give us our chance in court, and kill me, please know thatI will take a small piece of you each and everyone with me, right here in my heart, that love which each of you has given so freely. I will always be grateful to you all, for everything.
If things should happen to go forward, they will be having a special show on the radio for me on the night of the 24th. People can start sending in e-mail messages for me, to the following e-mail address:email@example.com.
Just tell Joy that it is for me and she, together with Maartje, her brother Ivo, and Caterina helping her, will be reading them to me over the air on the night of the 24th. The show goes officially from 7-9 pm Texas' time, which is 2-4 am European time. People in the States can call in to the station. The number is: (936) 327-5160.
Friends, I do appreciate you and all your help. Never doubt, or forget that please. I love you all. Please keep me in your prayers.
God bless -Love,
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Thursday, October 19, 2006
The Journey continues
Just another reminder that you can follow the Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing here. Here are some pictures to whet your appetite...but for cutlines, follow the above link!
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Wednesday night executions
Arthur Rutherford, a Vietnam veteran and handyman who tried to challenge the state's lethal injection statutes, was executed Wednesday for the 1985 murder of Stella Salamon. He was executed after the U.S. Supreme Court denied his challenges over the state's lethal injection procedure and other issues. He was pronounced dead at 6:13 p.m., the governor's office said. The Arthur Rutherford blog has more.
Bobby Wilcher was executed earlier this evening for the deaths of two women, Katie Belle Moore and Velma Odell Noblin, in Mississippi in 1982. Wilcher's 6:42 p.m. death at the state penitentiary came two hours after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene as it did on Wilcher's first execution date in July. "I have none," Wilcher, 43, said when he was asked if he had any final words.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
A word about the blog...and a reminder
As a prelude to the conference, the Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing is going on strong through the state of Virginia. You can follow the latest updates here.
Friday, October 13, 2006
Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing storms across Virginia
What is the Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing? Well, if you want the whole shebang, you can go here. But the short version is that the Journey is made up primarily of family members who have lost loved ones to murder...but who oppose the death penalty. The Journey also is comprised of family members who have lost loved ones to execution. And it includes death row exonerees -- the 123-plus people who have walked off of death row after evidence of their innocence emerged.
We'll be posting journey updates here and you can also follow the journey at the Journey blog.
But for now, here's an initial report from Robert Hoelscher, Journey participant and campaign coordinator for Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation:
Today, I'm on my way to the Virginia Journey of Hope 2006. Every day for the next two weeks, starting tomorrow, murder victim family members opposed to the death penalty will tell our stories at over 100 events across the state. My flight from Austin to Virginia went through Chicago. It was a picture perfect day, bright sun and few clouds. As the plane turned to land at Midway Airport, something caught my eye on the ground below. It was a cemetery. The sun was bouncing off the marble headstones, creating a festival of flickering light. I think of these next two weeks. And how our stories will chronicle a graveyard of death. The thought sits heavy in my chest.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
What the Amish are teaching America
What the Amish are Teaching America
by Sally Kohn
On October 2, Charles Carl Roberts entered a one-room schoolhouse in the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. He lined up eleven young girls from the class and shot them each at point blank range. The gruesome depths of this crime are hard for any community to grasp, but certainly for the Amish — who live such a secluded and peaceful life, removed even from the everyday depictions of violence on TV. When the Amish were suddenly pierced by violence, how did they respond?
The evening of the shooting, Amish neighbors from the Nickel Mines community gathered to process their grief with each other and mental health counselors. As of that evening, three little girls were dead. Eight were hospitalized in critical condition. (One more girl has died since.) According to reports by counselors who attended the grief session, the Amish family members grappled with a number of questions: Do we send our kids to school tomorrow? What if they want to sleep in our beds tonight, is that okay? But one question they asked might surprise us outsiders. What, they wondered, can we do to help the family of the shooter? Plans were already underway for a horse-and-buggy caravan to visit Charles Carl Roberts’ family with offers of food and condolences. The Amish, it seems, don’t automatically translate their grieving into revenge. Rather, they believe in redemption.
Meanwhile, the United States culture from which the Amish are isolated is moving in the other direction — increasingly exacting revenge for crimes and punishing violence with more violence. In 26 states and at the federal level, there are “three strikes” laws in place. Conviction for three felonies in a row now warrants a life sentence, even for the most minor crimes. For instance, Leandro Andrade is serving a life sentence, his final crime involving the theft of nine children’s videos — including “Cinderella” and “Free Willy” — from a Kmart. Similarly, in many states and at the federal level, possession of even small amounts of drugs trigger mandatory minimum sentences of extreme duration. In New York, Elaine Bartlett was just released from prison, serving a 20-year sentence for possessing only four ounces of cocaine. This is in addition to the 60 people who were executed in the United States in 2005, among the more than a thousand killed since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. And the President of the United States is still actively seeking authority to torture and abuse alleged terrorists, whom he consistently dehumanizes as rats to be “smoked from their holes”, even without evidence of their guilt.
Our patterns of punishment and revenge are fundamentally at odds with the deeper values of common humanity that the tragic experience of the Amish are helping to reveal. Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done in life. Someone who cheats is not only a cheater. Someone who steals something is not only a thief. And someone who commits a murder is not only a murderer. The same is true of Charles Carl Roberts. We don’t yet know the details of the episode in his past for which, in his suicide note, he said he was seeking revenge. It may be a sad and sympathetic tale. It may not. Either way, there’s no excusing his actions. Whatever happened to Roberts in the past, taking the lives of others is never justified. But nothing Roberts has done changes the fact that he was a human being, like all of us. We all make mistakes. Roberts’ were considerably and egregiously larger than most. But the Amish in Nickel Mines seem to have been able to see past Roberts’ actions and recognize his humanity, sympathize with his family for their loss, and move forward with compassion not vengeful hate.
We’ve come to think that “an eye for an eye” is a natural, human reaction to violence. The Amish, who live a truly natural life apart from the influences of our violence-infused culture, are proving otherwise. If, as Gandhi said, “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” then the Amish are providing the rest of us with an eye-opening lesson.
Sally Kohn is Director of the Movement Vision Project at the Center for Community Change and author of a forthcoming book on the progressive vision for the future of the United States.
Monday, October 09, 2006
World Day Against the Death Penalty: a key legal issue in the USA
The Louisville Courier-Journal recently took a look at the quality of counsel in an article entitled Death Row Inmates Appeal, Cite Bad Counsel. Kentucky up to the mid-to-late nineties, as well as in many other states (and in Texas, Pennsylvania, and a few other states still), suffered under the a problem counsel who were either too inexperienced or too under-resourced to handle capital cases. The Courier Journal points out what can all too often unfold when that happens:
The jury was unaware that Marlowe attempted to hang himself at 6 or 7, and that his parents cursed him as they cut him down.
The jury also had no idea that Marlowe's father repeatedly beat him and his siblings, that Marlowe sometimes slept in a crawl space under the house and that as an adult he exhibited evidence of brain damage.
None of that was introduced at trial because Marlowe's inexperienced attorney made no effort to obtain or to use information about his client's background to save his life. . . .
Goodwyn, Marlowe's trial attorney, said in a recent interview that at the time of trial, he had been practicing law for less than two years, had never before handled a death-penalty case and had tried only a few felony cases of any kind.
"I don't think I had any business doing a case like that, with my level of experience," Goodwyn said. "I don't think I was prepared at all."
Goodwyn doesn't recall talking to anyone in Frankfort about the case -- in part because he said he didn't know enough to seek help, or what to ask for. Nor did it occur to him to request funds to hire expert witnesses, such as a psychologist to assess Marlowe's mental state, or to probe his background.
"I don't think I knew what I was doing," Goodwyn said. "I didn't know what was going on. I didn't investigate anything. I concentrated on guilt or innocence."
Ernie Lewis, the state's public advocate, agreed that public defenders are far less likely to provide ineffective representation in death-penalty cases now than in the past. That is so, Lewis said, in part because the department has adopted American Bar Association standards for legal representation in such cases.
Those standards recommend an experienced defense team consisting of at least two attorneys, an investigator and a "mitigation specialist" who assembles the defendant's social history.
In addition, Lewis said the department also now provides more training for, and oversight of, its attorneys defending capital cases.
Saturday, October 07, 2006
Site updates & execution dates
Friday, October 06, 2006
And, apparently, some people blog in their sleep.
How else to explain the fact that I was looking at the blog links a few minutes ago (scroll down, to the left) and noticed that we have a brand new No Montana Death Penalty blog.
Wow. Welcome aboard, folks!
(Actually, the explanation is probably much more simple than sleepblogging. I think probably Karl or Tennessee Dude came in and updated the links for me! Well, whichever one of you it was, thank you!)
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
Monday, October 02, 2006
Quote of the day
--Conservative columnist George Will
Friday, September 29, 2006
NCADP of course cannot and does not endorse candidates. But elections will very significantly affect our work in 2007 and beyond.
Go here to read what's at stake.
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Letter to the editor
They do not. Challenges to lethal injection largely come from lawyers who are looking for a lifeline for their clients, some of whom face imminent executions. That's the lawyers' job -- to explore and pursue every possible challenge in an effort to save their clients' lives. Bravo to them.
But, but, but a lawyer's job is not always exactly the same as an abolitionist's. And there is no grand strategy, no secret strategy, no strategy whatsoever that I know of to use the issue of lethal injection to attack the death penalty.
Anyway, with all this mind, I just dropped the following letter to the editor on the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Who knows whether they will print it. But I can print it here:
To the editor:
Your editorial (“Challenging lethal injection: But will anything satisfy death penalty opponents?” Sept. 27) contains several fallacies.
First, challenging the constitutionality of lethal injection is not, and has never been, the primary or even a secondary strategy for those of us organizing to end capital punishment. It is certainly true that some lawyers use this tactic as a lifeline to try to save the lives of clients with rapidly approaching execution dates – such is their duty as lawyers.
However, those of us who engage in public education and lobbying on the state legislative level invoke other strategies. These include discussing the exorbitant cost of the death penalty, the geographic and racial discrimination, the lack of deterrent value and the number of people who have been sent to death row and later found to be innocent (a list that includes Roberto Miranda, who spent 16 years on Nevada’s death row before charges against him were dropped and he was set free).
Second, contrary to the editorial’s premise, we have not “lost the public debate.” Last year, New York effectively abolished the death penalty. Soon New Jersey will follow. In New Mexico and North Carolina, bills to either abolish the death penalty or declare a “time-out” on executions have passed a legislative chamber. Public opinion against the death penalty has declined, as have executions. And the number of death sentences handed down each year has decreased sharply. Indeed, we find ourselves winning – not because of debate over whether lethal injection is cruel or whether other execution methods are better but because the U.S. public is becoming better informed on the issue.
Former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall said it best: “People are largely unaware of the information critical to a judgment on the morality of the death penalty . . . if they were better informed they would consider it shocking, unjust and unacceptable."
National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Corey Maye is off death row!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Well, that might be oversimplifying things a bit. Actually, it was a judge who ordered Cory Maye of Mississippi removed from death row. But were it not for the efforts of Libertarian blogger Radley Balko, this case would have gone unnoticed. Here is Radley's first-hand report:
A Small But Lovely Victory
Cory Maye will not sleep on death row tonight. Nor, for that matter, any night for the foreseeable future.
At the conclusion of the hearing today, Judge Michael Eubanks ruled on
two of the defense team's battery of arguments. Both rulings from the bench tonight dealt with Rhonda Cooper's competence. Judge Eubanks found that Ms. Cooper was competent for the trial, but incompetent for the sentencing.
I have my quarrels with that ruling, obviously. But in the short run,
it means that Cory will at the very least get a new sentencing trial. And until and if that happens, he will no longer be on death row -- and for the moment is no longer condemned to die.
Judge Eubanks did not issue a ruling on any of the other defense arguments -- and there were lots of them. It may be a month or more before we hear what he has decided. That said, I am cautiously optimistic. Empahsis on the "cautiously." I'll get into the "why" on that -- once again -- a bit later. There is also some reason to think that today's ruling may very well permanently spare Cory's life. I'll get into that later, too.
It's been an amazing couple of days. I felt at times as if I were watching
I have about 60 pages of notes from the hearing. Once I get back to D.C.
tomorrow, I plan to sit down at the computer, and over the weekend, walk you through the last 48 hours.
But now? I have something to celebrate. And my hotel is, literally, right
on Bourbon Street. You should be able to figure out where I go from here. Be back when I'm sober.
Go here to read more about the Corey Maye case on Radley's blog. All I can say is, wow. WOW!
Saturday, September 23, 2006
Say hello to...
Thursday, September 21, 2006
Back From the Dead
You can read more about the book and purchase it by going here. We recommend it!
What would happen if the United States abolished the death penalty and
emptied its death rows? If killers were released from prison? What would they do
with their second chance to live? Would they kill again?
Back From The Dead is the story of 589 former death row inmates who, through a lottery of fate, were given a second chance at life in 1972 when the death penalty was abolished; it returned to the United States four years later.
Back From the Dead also includes new, up-to-date recidivism data and statistics from 1972 to 2005 – on these inmates who escaped their date with death in the summer of ’72 when the U.S. Supreme Court abolished the death penalty in the case of Furman v. Georgia.
During the years she represented Walter Williams on Texas’ Death Row,
Cheever always wondered what would happen if his death sentence was reversed and he was eventually released from prison. Would he have killed again? Two years
after Williams’ execution, Cheever was determined to find the answer. Leaving
her young family and comfortable life in suburbia, she traveled across the U.S.
and into the lives and homes of former death row inmates, armed only with a tape
recorder, notepad, a cell phone that didn’t always work, and a lot of faith. In Back from the Dead, Cheever describes her own journey and reveals these
tales of second chances: of tragedy and failure, racism and injustice, and
redemption and rehabilitation.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
A columnist for the Myrtle Beach, South Carolina newspaper named Isaac Bailey recently took on this issue when he interviewed an individual named Tom Clark of the Center for Naturalism. With no further comment from me, here's their q and a:
People such as Stephen Stanko, who was convicted of murder and sexual assault, don't deserve the death penalty because they are a product of their environment and genetic makeup.
That's essentially what Tom Clark of the Center for Naturalism in Somerville, Mass., told me through e-mail after reading about Stanko'strial and the local reaction to it. It's more nuanced than that, though, which is why I wanted to provide him space to explain a belief he says is grounded in solid scientific reasoning and research.
According to the center's Web site, it is a nonprofit "devoted to increasing public awareness of naturalism and its implications for social and personal well-being."
Bailey: Why do you believe Stanko had no control over his actions?
Clark: Stanko had no control over his genetic endowment and his upbringing, the combination of which gradually created his character and propensities for criminal behavior. I think it's incorrect to say Stanko had no control over what he did. Rather, it's that his capacity for conforming his conduct to the law - what we mean by self-control in this context - was severely compromised by various causal factors having to do with his genetics and upbringing. He wasn't completely insane or out of control. Had a police officer been present, he wouldn't have committed his crimes. Yet he lacked enough impulse control, plus had other dysfunctional, antisocial characteristics, for this horrific behavior to occur. All this could be explained if we knew enough about his genetics and life history.
Bailey: I believe things such as genetics and the environment influence behavior but doesn't cause them, meaning it might be harder for someone like Stanko to resist the urge to commit violence but he can choose to resist nonetheless.
Clark: Then you believe, as do most people, that there is this 3rd thing, this uncaused free will independent of genetics and environment, that does cause behavior. But then you have to explain where that will comes from, and what makes it choose the way it does. If you can't answer those questions, you're appealing to a mystery, and if you do answer those questions, you'll see that it all ultimately boils down to environment and heredity as they create the person, since there's nothing besides these that figure in causal explanations, according to science.
The significance of all this for the death penalty, of course, is that if you suppose Stanko has free will, and just chose not to refrain from killing, then he deserves to die, since he's a self-made monster. But if we take the causal story of his character and behavior seriously, we can't suppose that he could have done otherwise.
Bailey: Given that view, what, exactly, should be done with the Stankos of the world, given the crimes they commit?
Clark: If, as I believe, we should be creating a less punitive, less dangerous society, then we want to reinforce nonviolent models of behavior and make inmates better, not worse. Right now, the death penalty and many prisons model the worst sort of behavior imaginable - killings, rape, isolation, degradation - and thus further damage inmates, many of whom will eventually be released, helping to perpetuate the sort of society that's causing crime in the first place. Once we drop the free-will-based, retributive justification for punishment, there are still valid objectives of criminal justice, including public safety, deterrence, rehabilitation, community restoration, and victim restitution.
My recommendation for what we do with Stanko:
To ensure public safety, Stanko should be securely segregated from society.
To help deter others contemplating similar horrific crimes, his sentence should be a minimum of 20 years.
To help rehabilitate him to the [fullest] extent possible, the facility housing him should provide effective, evidence-based programs that teach him social and job skills of the sort he should have had in the first place. Treatment for addiction, mental illness and other behavioral health problems should be provided as well.
For community restoration, his work requirement should be designed to produce some tangible benefit to the communities he terrorized, such as participating in a supervised crew doing clean-up, construction and other necessary work he's capable of doing.
For victim restitution, Stanko should, with proper counseling and guidance, be led to understand just how badly he's damaged his victims' lives and those of the victims' families. He can then be required to apologize directly to his victims and their families, and provide continuing restitution to them in the form of work done on their behalf. All this takes the victims' needs into account, a very important aspect of criminal justice.
Conditions of release: Stanko's release from segregation should be contingent on the determination that he no longer presents a risk to society and that he has fulfilled the obligations of his sentence related to community restoration and victim restitution.
Focusing on Stanko is just part of the solution, assuming we're interested in solutions to crime and not merely on meting out just deserts. You could challenge your readers to reconsider their retributive instincts by visiting www.naturalism.org/criminal.htm, and suggest they address the vital questions of what social conditions create Stanko and others like him, and what can we do to prevent other such human horrors. The basic issue is, what sort of a society do we want to be? A society that executes those unfortunate individuals who are caused to become murderers or a society that addresses those causes?