Thursday, March 30, 2006

Of men and memories

The death penalty is only allowed to survive in our culture because we reduce the condemned person to that one worst thing he (or she) has done in their life.

This way, we comfort ourselves that we don't really execute people. We execute monsters.

But every now and again a reminder surfaces that this is not so. A reminder surfaces that an execution results in a whole new set of victims.

Today this reminder surfaced in my email inbox:

Dorothy Robertson, the mother of Kevin Kincy, who was executed by the
state of Texas last night, would like friends of the family to know that
the arrangements for Kevin are as follows:

Friday, March 31,

Mabry Funeral Home, 5000 Almeda Road near Blodgett, in Third
Ward Houston

Viewing of the body: 1:00-4:00 PM
Services: 6:00 PM

The Abolition Movement sends our love and condolences to Dorothy, Kevin's wife Barbara, and all of Kevin's family. We hope all of Dorothy's and Barbara's friends and supporters will be able to attend the services tomorrow (Friday).

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

And speaking of innocence...

Three possible innocence cases involving death-sentenced inmates are perculating.

In Ohio, a federal judge has ordered that Joe D'Ambrosio be released or granted a new trial. You can read about the case here. (Hat tip to Scott in Ohio for alerting me to this.)

In Texas, lawyers for death row inmate Rodney Reed are seeking a new trial after the emergence of some rather dramatic exculpatory evidence:

Secret of Rodney Reed death row appeal revealed Witness say victim's fiance once explained how to strangle without leaving fingerprints.
by Chuck Lindell
BASTROP — A once-secret witness testified Thursday that an alternate suspect in the 1996 strangulation of Stacey Stites once said he would choke his girlfriend to death if she cheated on him, leaving no fingerprints because he would use a belt.

That other suspect was Jimmy Fennell Jr., who was a Giddings police officer and Stites' fiancé when she was killed. Investigators eventually ruled him out. Instead, Rodney Reed is on death row for the crime Stites' body was left next to a dirt road north of Bastrop. The belt used to strangle the 19-year-old, ripped from around her waist, was broken in two by the force of the act.
You can read more by going here.

Also in Texas, and in a case that is close to NCADP, new DNA testing has been ordered in the case of Louis Perez, who supporters say was wrongfully convicted of a triple murder that occurred in Austin:
New testing to be ordered in '98 triple murder Louis Perez is on death row for Barton Hills slayings.
By Steven Kreytak
The family of death row inmate Louis Perez — convicted in 1999 of a triple murder in Austin — got new hope Thursday when Travis County prosecutors announced that they will order new DNA tests in the case.
Authorities will soon ship to the Texas Department of Public Safety crime lab dozens of items gathered from the Barton Hills house where Michelle Fulwiler, roommate Cinda Barz and Barz's 9-year-old daughter, Staci Mitchell, were found dead in a grisly scene Sept. 9, 1998.
That evidence — including pantyhose and a cast-iron skillet that prosecutors said Perez used to strangle and bludgeon his victims — will be retested to see if improved technology yields DNA that hadn't previously been detected. Those samples, along with DNA that was found in 1998 but was never matched to a person, will be compared with state and national databases of known offenders, said Assistant District Attorneys Buddy Meyer and Claire Dawson-Brown, who tried the case.
Those databases include the DNA of serial killer Angel Maturino Resendiz, who Perez's family say may have confessed to the murders from death row in 2002.
The family told Dawson-Brown and Meyer about the alleged confession last year and asked for new testing.
"It's the right thing to do," Meyer said. "We are confident in the verdict, but this man faces the death penalty, and we want to make absolutely sure."
Perez's father said the new testing, which was approved by Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, is "what we've been praying for."
"Knowing Louis isn't capable of doing something like this . . . we feel that (the conviction) is a complete error," Ernest Perez Sr. said.
Dawson-Brown said the new testing has been endorsed by the victims' families.
Resendiz, 45, a Mexican drifter known as the "Railroad Killer" for a string of brutal murders near railroad tracks in several states, is scheduled for execution in May for killing a Houston-area doctor in her home.
Perez's sister, Delia Perez Meyer, no relation to Buddy Meyer, said Resendiz told an investigator working for Perez's lawyer in 2002 that he killed two women in Austin during his crime spree, but he was not more specific. He has been charged or suspected in at least 14 killings, but none in Austin. FBI timelines do not account for his whereabouts during the Austin slayings.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Conference on innocence

This just popped up in my email box:

Dear Mr. Elliot,

I thought the readers of your Blog might be interested in attending our conference on Wrongful Convictions and the Death Penalty in California. The conference will be held at the UCLA Law School from April 7-9. If I can provide you with any additional information or if you are planning on posting the conference, please contact me at or call 415-621-2493 ext. 308.

Thanks so much, Kate Raven
Policy Intern- American Civil Liberties Union

We're glad to spread the word. Go here for more info.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

75th anniversary of the Scottsboro Boys

Saturday marks the 75th anniversary of one of the most embarrassing, one of the most disgusting, one of the most sordid experiences in American history. Read all about it, and at the end of the post, I'll supply the link if you want more information:
No crime in American history-- let alone a crime that never occurred-- produced as many trials, convictions, reversals, and retrials as did an alleged gang rape of two white girls by nine black teenagers on a Southern Railroad freight run on March 25, 1931. Over the course of the two decades that followed, the struggle for justice of the "Scottsboro Boys," as the black teens were called, made celebrities out of anonymities, launched and ended careers, wasted lives, produced heroes, opened southern juries to blacks, exacerbated sectional strife, and divided America's political left.
Hoboeing was a common pastime in the Depression year of 1931. For some, riding freights was an appealing adventure compared to the drudgery and dreariness of their daily lives. Others hopped rail cars to move from one fruitless job search to the next. Two dozen or so mainly male--and mainly young--whites and blacks rode the Southern Railroad's Chattanooga to Memphis freight on March 25, 1931. Among them were four black Chattanooga teenagers hoping to investigate a rumor of government jobs in Memphis hauling logs on the river and five other black teens from various parts of Georgia. Four young whites, two males and two females dressed in overalls, also rode the train, returning to Huntsville from unsuccessful job searches in the cotton mills of Chattanooga.

Soon after the train crossed the Alabama border, a white youth walked across the top of a tank car. He stepped on the hand of a black youth named Haywood Patterson, who was hanging on to its side. Patterson had friends aboard the train. A stone-throwing fight erupted between white youths and a larger group of black youths. Eventually, the blacks succeeded in forcing all but one of the members of the white gang off the train. Patterson pulled the one remaining white youth, Orville Gilley, back onto the train after it had accelerated to a life-endangering speed. Some of the whites forced off the train went to the stationmaster in Stevenson to report what they described as an assault by a gang of blacks. The stationmaster wired ahead. A posse in Paint Rock, Alabama stopped the train. Dozens of men with guns rushed at the train as it ground to a halt. The armed men rounded up every black youth they could find. Nine captured blacks, soon to be called "The Scottsboro Boys," were tied together with plow line, loaded on a flatback truck, and taken to a jail in Scottsboro.
Most of the Scottsboro Boys eventually were sentenced to death. What followed was a series of reversals, retrials, recanted witnesses, new judges, and on and on and on. Even after death sentences were thrown out, it took years, and in some cases decades, for all of the Scottsboro Boys to gain their freedom; many went on to broken lives -- and eventually, death -- due to their experiences.

What lessons can we draw from this? Consider:

The story of the Scottsboro Boys is one of the most shameful examples of injustice in our nation's history. It makes clear that in the Deep South of the 1930's, jurors were not willing to accord a black charged with raping a white woman the usual presumption of innocence. In fact, one may argue that the presumption seemed reversed: a black was presumed guilty unless he could establish his innocence beyond a reasonable doubt. The cases show that to jurors, black lives didn't count for much. The jurors that in April, 1933 had just voted to sentence Haywood Patterson to death were seen laughing as they emerged from the juryroom. Hannah Arendt wrote of "the banality of evil." Evil rarely comes in the form of monsters, but rather in the form of relatively normal people who, for reasons of careers, ideology, or a desire for society's approval, are indifferent to the human consequences of their actions. Because of indifferent jurors and career-motivated prosecutors, the self-serving and groundless accusations of a single woman were allowed to change forever the lives of nine black teenagers who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Interested in reading more? Go here.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A call for a special prosecutor

Last November, the Houston Chronicled published an investigative series that, in our view, was good enough to be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. The series strongly suggested that the state of Texas executed an innocent person -- in this case, Ruben Cantu, who was put to death in 1993. Today, the conservative Dallas Morning News asks why the investigation into Cantu's death seems to be dragging:

Clear Answers Needed: Death case calls for outside

The Bexar County district attorney's office has taken on the job of finding
out if it mistakenly sent alleged teen killer Ruben Cantu to the death chamber
in 1993 solely on the basis of eyewitness identification.

With due respect to otherwise competent legal professionals, it's a job the
district attorney's office isn't likely to complete in convincing fashion.

Since beginning its inquiry nearly four months ago, the office has been
unable to secure full interviews from two crucial witnesses, according to The Houston Chronicle, whose reporting on the case spurred the

One of the 2, the sole eyewitness who now recants his testimony, has
clammed up after the district attorney threatened a "murder by

The district attorney herself, Susan Reed, is a former judge who denied an
appeal in the Cantu case and set his execution date.

At issue is justice for a slain construction worker, Pedro Gomez, who was
shot to death by a robber while sleeping overnight at a building site. A second
worker was badly wounded in the attack but survived to become the trial's star
witness. Then an illegal alien, the survivor now says he was under police
pressure to finger Mr. Cantu, a neighborhood tough.

A "murder by perjury" charge may technically be an option, but citing the
possibility has created a witness-intimidation appearance that clouds theoutcome
of the investigation.

The Cantu case joins a growing list of eyewitness-only convictions brought
into question nationwide, mostly because DNA evidence has contradicted the
eye-witness acounts. The governor's own Criminal Justice Advisory Council
recommended in January that the state take advantage of growing research into
witness misidentification.

That won't help the cause of justice in the Cantu case, which could turn
out to be the state's first officially acknowledged death penalty error.

What could help the cause of justice here is a decision by the district
attorney to call in an outside special prosecutor with no past connection with
the case. The public deserves clean, clear answers to questions over imposing
the ultimate penalty.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Needed: A new set of wheels

Our Tennessee affiliate, Tennessee Coalition Against State Killing, needs a new car so that its two-person staff can traverse the state and make all the speaking engagements they've been invited to.

So...if you're looking to donate a used car...and no, you don't have to be in Tennessee...we have volunteers all over the place and can arrange to pick it up...

Go here for more info.

whassup judge brinkema???

this judge's courtroom must be run on the yo-yo principle...

first the judge admonished carla martin for coaching the aviator witnesses in the moussaoui trial ... looks like prosecutors screwed up again in their (over) zealous pursuit of flexing of state power ... looks like there's no way in h-e-double ell that the prosecution can get moussaoui sentenced to death ....

what, like a waste of how many million $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ - thank god the u.s government has record surpluses and the debt's under control ... we can afford these types of mistaken decisions ...

NO WAIT - the u.s. government is running RECORD DEFICITS and the debt limit just got raised to what - 9,0000000000000000000000000000 000000000000000000000 $$$$$$$$$

but i digress - back to the yo-yo ...

so after the exclusion by brinkema of the aviation witnesses, she backtracks ... you can present witnesses, just not the ones who were coached by martin ...

death penalty back on???

not so fast, doesn't look like there are available witnesses who wouldn't appear manufactured at the last minute ... so - death sentence off ...

what buffoonery - can anyone follow the bouncing yo-yo???

More on Alternative Spring Break

We apologize for the hiatus. The blog simply needed a break. But we're back now, and there's lots of catching up to do.

First off, an update on Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break, going on in Texas.

Texas Moratorium Network notes:

In 1964, students came down to the South during Freedom Summer to fight for
civil and human rights and to build a more just nation. Now, their grandchildren
are coming back to finish the job.

As part of their activities students held vigil outside the Walls Unit in Huntsville, Texas, during an execution. Go here to read an account.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Death penalty for gays and lesbians?

Scott over at Ohio Death Penalty Information alerted me to this...a candidate for U.S. Senate (a Democrat, even!) is calling for the death penalty for gay and lesbian people. Luckily, he's not a serious candidate. Courtesy of Scott, two funny links can be found here and here.

Friday, March 10, 2006

And standing in this corner...

One of the good things about so many anti-death penalty blogs popping up these days is that we get to "borrow" each other's stuff when we can't find anything good to blog on.

And so today recap an interesting event that happened in Tennessee last night. (We appropriate this with a sense of guilty please from our favorite anti-dp blog out there.)

Tennessee dude writes about his debate with a pro-death penalty district attorney:

it was kind of a cat and mouse dance between me and ol’ mike taylor … he is about to try a capital murder case and not his first … like many a d.a. he likes to obfuscate the absolute discretion they hold in deciding to pursue death by laying out the limitations placed upon them (aggravating factors etc…) – so I counterpunched with a re-frame explaining not only the discretion but why it results in geographic disparities and cases that look alike resulting in wide varying sentencing outcomes … and so it went between us – parry, parry, jab, hook, parry, duck, jab, feign, parry, sidestep, jab … juan melendez says I won the match on points … I felt nimble … I thought taylor was gonna take the match to the world wrestling federation level when I called him on his assertion that the defense has access to far greater resources than the prosecution in a capital case … d.a. taylor hunts down meth labs with the best of em’ but I thought for sure he might be dipping into confiscated stashes of the scurrilous white powder when he made that comment … we both let it go there…

You can read the whole thing by going here.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

More new blogs...and a donate thingy to the left

Two new anti-death penalty blogs to report!

Ohio Death Penalty Information is a newsy blog that reports on death penalty current events, both inside Ohio and across the country. You can visit it here.

And Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty weighs in with their innovative new blog, entitled, Not One More -- The VADP Weblog. You can visit it here.

If you look to the left and scroll down, you can see all of the anti-death penalty blogs and their links. Including this one, we've got about 18 anti-death penalty blogs that update regularly or semi-regularly. And all of that has happened in under two years!

Also a shout-out and thank you to our friend Karl, who added a donate button to the left. Not sure why we didn't think of this before -- donations go to NCADP and to our efforts to "grow" our state affiliates and help them organize.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Opposition research...on us.

I guess perhaps it's a sign that we've "made it."

David Horowitz and A Guide to the Political Left have done opposition research on NCADP, on our executive director and, well, on me.


Yeah. Funny. Their info is hit and miss. On the section on NCADP, they get tons of board members wrong and their list of funders is wayyyy old. On the section on our executive director, they get a couple of historical employment notes wrong, and don't seem to understand that since Diann is here, she can't logically still be running the ACLU's Capital Punishment Project.

On all three, they cut and paste some cookie-cutter paragraphs attempting to refute our assertion that the death penalty is racially discriminatory. (If you want to read the most authoritative stuff about race and the death penalty, go here.)

Here are their three sections:

Go here to see the one on NCADP.

Go here to see the one on our executive director.

And go here to see the one on me. (Man, I gotta do something about that picture!)

Monday, March 06, 2006

Cory Maye

Previous visitors to this web site probably are familiar with the Cory Maye story. He is the guy on Mississippi's death row who was convicted and death-sentenced after shooting a police officer. The police officer had mistakenly raided the side of a duplex where Cory lived and Cory, suddenly awakened and, thinking his 18-month-old daughter was in danger, fired his pistol.

The Cory Maye story has been circulating around the blogosphere for several months now, uniting liberals, conservatives and libertarians who are concerned over the right of government to conduct paramilitary-style police raids on private homes. Hundreds and hundreds (more than 400, last I checked) of blogs have commented on this case. Go here for a list, conveniently divided between conservative, libertarian and progressive.

What's strange is that despite this story penetrating the blogsphere in a way that death penalty stories seldom do, so far the MSM ("mainstream media") has been completely AWOL.

Until now.

This Sunday, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, Mississippi's lead newspaper, published a lengthy, front-page story on Cory Maye's case. You can read it here.

One interesting note. The Clarion-Ledger mentioned the story's presence in the blogosphere and quoted from several blogs:
"The MSM (mainstream media) hasn't paid any attention to this story, but it should. And I hope the Mississippi Supreme Court will be paying lots of attention, too." - The Volokh Conspiracy

"This case is an interesting test of the power of the blogosphere. Though the apparent injustice is two years old, it seems to have attracted exactly zero attention in the mainstream media, at least according to a Google News search for 'Cory Maye.'" — Mark Kleiman at Huffington Post

"I've witnessed a couple police raids, and they're noisy as all-get-out .... It's kinda hard to believe that Maye would have been asleep through all the racket, even before his door was kicked in." — flick100785 on Public Eye at

"Maye's case is an outrage. Prentiss, Mississippi, clearly violated Maye's civil rights the moment its cops needlessly and recklessly stormed his home in the middle of the night. The state of Mississippi is about to add a perverse twist to that violation by executing Maye for daring to defend himself." — Radley Balko on

Radley Balko, who works for the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute, is the one who first broke the Cory Maye story. He deserves all the credit in the world for bringing this injustice to light. You can follow the story by visiting his blog.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The death penalty in Japan

Many people on America's death rows grow increasingly insane as the years pass by. The isolation, the lack of human touch, the constant screaming and tiny cells are contribute to an environment that literally drives people mad.

It is difficult to imagine, but conditions actually are worse in Japan. Here's the first part of a story that was published in today's Los Angeles Times:
Awaiting Death's Footsteps
On Japan's death row, prisoners never know when the hangman will come. Harsh conditions aim to calm, but critics call them inhuman.
By Bruce Wallace
Times Staff Writer
March 2, 2006

NAGOYA, Japan — Like all prisoners on Japan's death row, Masao Akahori knew that his execution would come without warning. The fear made him stiffen at the sound of the guards' approaching footsteps, wondering if the clack of boots was a countdown to death or would pass by, fading into the silence of another reprieve.

One morning in the early 1970s, the march stopped outside Akahori's cell and a key turned the lock."We have come to fetch you," the guards told him.

Akahori remembers his legs collapsing under him, that five guards had to drag him from his cell. He remembers the nervous whispering when the guards suddenly realized they had come to hang the wrong man.

It was Yamamoto they wanted. In the next cell."They put me back, no apology, and went for Yamamoto," Akahori recalls. He is 75 now, with watery eyes, a ghost of the 24-year-old who was living under bridges in 1954 when he says police beat a false confession out of him that he had raped and murdered a schoolgirl. "They closed the small window in my cell so I couldn't see what was going on with Yamamoto. "But I could hear them," he says, in a voice that still trembles with the telling.

Akahori says he was so traumatized by his near-death experience that, for several years, he could not speak. But he did eventually win a retrial, and in 1989, after 31 years on death row, he was declared not guilty and released. Yet his story remains precious. Not simply because he survived to tell it, but because it offers a rare peek into the mists of Japan's death row, where prisoners live in conditions designed to induce submission and where executions, all by hanging, are carried out in secret.
This qualifies as a "must read." Go here for the whole thing.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Happy International Abolition Day!

Today is International Death Penalty Abolition Day.

On March 1, 1847, Michigan became the first state in the U.S. (and the first political jurisdiction in the western world) to abolish the death penalty.

I'm gonna go eat cake.

it's the local volunteer leaders, stupid...

if you're wondering what grassroots organizing is about and why it's the key to future legislative victories, then check this out...

in tennessee we are conducting our 4th annual march 1st legislative letter writing lobby day and this year we have 2 new, smallish communities joining in like gangbusters ...

one of those cities, jackson tn, has some very savvy organizer-activists that we have hooked up with through faith communities...

this is their first year doing a write-a-thon but they scored a pre-event media hit that was outstanding...

without them tcask would never have gotten this coverage and this amazing if you are wondering if an elitist strategy is going to drive the movement i suggest you think again...

peace out - <3