Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Irony alert

The Czech Health Minister supports reinstating the death penalty:

Health Minister Rath supports death penalty

Health Minister David Rath who is the election leader of the senior
governing Social Democrats (CSSD) in Prague supports the reintroduction of death
penalty in the Czech Republic, the daily Mlada fronta Dnes writes in its Prague
edition today.

Before the June 2-3 elections to the Chamber of Deputies, the daily put ten
questions to each of the Prague election leaders of the five parties that have a
chance of entering the lower parliamentary house, with one of the questions
concerning the death penalty.

Rath was the only of the 5 election leaders to answer affirmatively when
asked whether the death penalty should be reintroduced in the CzechRepublic due
to such people as the perpetrator of a recent series of murders without motives
in Czech forests that stirred the public opinion.

The Prague election leaders of the senior opposition Civic Democrats (ODS),
the Communists (KSCM), the Greens and the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL) answered negatively.

The death penalty was abolished in the former Czechoslovakia in 1990.
Sentences of 15 to 25 years in prison and life imprisonment are considered
exceptional punishments. The Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms that is
part of the Czech Constitution bans the reinstallation of the death
(source: Czech Happenings)

'Nuff said.

Friday, May 26, 2006

A couple of things to highlight...

...before we make our escape into the wilderness of West Virginia for a long holiday weekend:

1. The bloggers over at Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing have won an award for their blogging activities. You can read about it here.

2. The weather's warming up, so it's that time of year again when we start thinking about "Starvin' For Justice: The Annual Fast & Vigil to Abolish the Death Penalty" in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The event runs from June 29 to July 2. June 29 is the anniversary of Furman v. Georgia, the Supreme Court ruling that temporarily halted the death penalty in the U.S. in 1972, and July 2 is the anniversary of Gregg v. Georgia, the Supreme Court ruling that allowed executions to resume.

We'll be providing continuous (or near continuous coverage) of the activity here at Abolish the Death Penalty. Meanwhile, if you are interested in participating or just want more information, go here.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Quote of the day

In Wisconsin, Republican operatives, frightened perhaps by the coming election, have placed the issues of banning same-sex marriage and the death penalty on the November ballot. The Republican legislative leadership could have tried to pass a death penalty bill if it wanted to, but GOP leaders knew they didn't have the votes.

So why not put these hot potato issues on the November ballot to try to drive up conservative turnout?

Says Sen. Jon Erpenbach, a Democratfrom the Madison area:

"The only thing missing from the ballot this fall is flag desecration and guns. It's the political equivalent of a Hail Mary."

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Cory Maye update

Those who follow this blog are perhaps familiar with the case of Cory Maye, the wrongfully convicted person on Mississippi's death row.

Radley Balko, the friendly Libertarian dude who broke the Maye story in the blogosphere (well, not just in the blogosphere; he broke the Maye story period) has an update here.

Bottom line: Kicking and screaming, this time the Mississippi criminal justice system is going to have to admit that it made one whopper of a mistake.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Tested on death penalty

Betsey Wright is someone I admire and is a former board member of NCADP. She also served as a former chief of staff under then-Gov. Bill Clinton. The woman knows all there is to know about local politicking and grassroots organizing -- she really, really gets it.

So when this article from the Arkansas Times showed up in my email box, it definitely hit home:

Tested on death penalty

When I give talks about my opposition to the death penalty, somebody always declares that I wouldn't feel this way if somebody I loved had been murdered. Unfortunately, I got put to the test.

In February 2005, in Texas, my precious 21-year-old niece, Heather, was tortured, raped, mutilated and murdered. Somebody destroyed her dreams and her life, and destroyed our family's hopes for her. I am desperate for justice. I want the Texas Rangers to find the man who committed this horror. I want him caught so he won't do such a thing to anybody else. I want him found so that Heather's mother can sleep again instead of worrying about her other daughters. I find myself praying that he will just plead guilty because I don't want the hideous things he did to Heather talked about in a public trial.

But I don't want him executed. That would be revenge, not justice. I believe the words of the Bible that say revenge is God's, not ours. I shudder at the idea of government imitating this killer by killing him. All the talk about the "closure" given by an execution is a myth. Heather is gone. Her chair is forever empty, and killing her murderer will not change that. The closure I want is his incarceration. I don't want to be jolted back into horrible memories whenever there is an appeal to a death sentence And I don't want his family to be forced into grief and sorrow. Why create another family of another slaying victim? Executions are the most premeditated of all killings, and shamefully, they are legal in 38 states.

I know firsthand from my work with death row inmates that a family can maintain a loving connection with a prisoner. A child can bond with, and love, a parent or grandparent who is in prison. As a Christian, I am facing one of the hardest challenges of my life to forgive the man who took Heather from us. I know I must forgive, and I know it can be done, but it is going to be unimaginably difficult. I keep remembering when I bought Heather her computer for college. I remember showing her the sights in Washington, D.C. I remember how adored she was by her younger sisters. Oh my - it is going to be so hard to forgive.

And as a Christian, I want the man who took our Heather to be redeemed. He is a child of God and God loves him as much as He loves me. My church, the United Methodist Church, begins its statement of opposition to the death penalty with this sentence: "We believe the death penalty denies the power of Christ to redeem, restore and transform all human beings." I can't say it better than that.

My opposition to the death penalty has not wavered because of this horrible murder. I have joined 2 associations of families of murder victims that oppose the death penalty. And it is now common, when I am speaking about the death penalty in Arkansas, for a family member of a murder victim to identify himself or herself, also stating opposition to the death penalty.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The myth of prison as country club

Argument No. 28 for the death penalty is that if we simply imprison people for life, they will live out their years with all manner of creature comforts, color TV, air conditioning, three meals a day, etc., at taxpayer expense.

Today a visitor to our blog writes:
My only response to any liberal that opposes the death penalty is... put your self in the place of a victims family member... How would you feel if you knew that the murderer of your son or daughter was sitting comfortably in prison... I mean... sure they have to stay there for the rest of their life, but when you think about it... they get fed every day, they got a bed to sleep in... NO!! Murders and Traitors, and (i think the death penalty should include rapests as weel), there punishments are just. And for those who say their human rights are taken away... They forfeighted their rights when they took their victims if you read this... feel free to tell me how you feel. if respect the oppinions of others permanent link posted by Tyler Roznos : 1:54 PM
In response, I am going to once again offer words from our Indiana affiliate, which wrote the following about prison conditions:
Being in prison is not some kind of easy life. It is brutal. It is living every minute of every hour of every day of the rest of your life by someone else's rules. Rules that are intended to inculcate in you that what you are allowed to do at any given moment depends entirely on the whim of prison guards, many of whom are just one step away from being on the other side of the bars. Rules governing every minute aspect of your life: when you can take a shower, when you eat, when you go to the bathroom. If you manage to figure out how to handle the guards, you then have to figure out how to handle the other inmates, some of whom are true predators. Then there's the bad food, lack of any real health care, even if you have a chronic debilitating disease...In short, it ain't a frigging spa.

That deterrence thing

Reason No. 37 to support the death penalty: It's a deterrent, right?

Well, maybe. Maybe not.

Let's leave behind the deterrence studies and the statistics for a moment. As Mark Twain said, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics."

The truth of the matter is, every study that has been done on deterrence gets twisted and contorted into support for the death penalty or opposition to the death penalty when in point of fact the statistics don't seem to show anything, one way or another.

Let's think about this from a common sense perspective. I recently was pleasantly surprised to see this commentary filter in to my email box from our Indiana affiliate:
The next time there's an execution in your state, ask 10 average people you know (who aren't abolitionists or death penalty promoters) the name of the person executed and what their crime was. In my experience, even educated, supposedly "engaged" people can't answer correctly. If folks like that don't know the reasons why someone was executed, then how in the world can the death penalty deter a drug addict robbing the local 7-11 for money for more drugs? People who commit murder simply do not make the fine calculations that death penalty supporters claim they do.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

When a jury of one's peers, well, isn't so much

The U.S. Constitution guarantees us the right to be tried before our peers.

Or does it?

I have often wondered why people who are strongly opposed to the death penalty are automatically precluded from service in capital murder trials. Various surveys show more than 30 percent of the American public opposes the death penalty. Some of us -- for various reasons -- are adamantly opposed. When you take this population out of the potential pool of jurors, you are inherently giving the remaining pool a certain slant. Indeed, studies have confirmed that so-called "death-qualified juries" (that's the legal phrase that is used) are more conservative and conviction-prone than non-death-qualified juries.

All of this serves as the lead-in to an op-ed from today's Philadelphia Inquirer written by Bernard S. Brown. I don't 100 percent agree with it -- I'm not so much into civil disobediance, and that seems to be what the author is advocating.

However, it is interesting food for thought and definitely worth sharing:

Taking a reasoned stand on death and justice

A friend told me about his recent trip to the Philadelphia Criminal Justice Center for jury duty. He had been drawn for a jury pool for a murder case. The prosecutor had asked him if he could carry out the law and vote to sentence someone to death. My friend had said no and was promptly sent home.

I was outraged. My friend is one of the most thoughtful and intelligent people I know. By eliminating him from the jury pool, they had deprived our community of exactly the sort of person who should be serving on a jury, and I was furious that he had been discriminated against for opposing a policy that should be opposed.

I believe taking life is only justified by saving life. Any other intentional killing is murder. If executing a murderer would deter would-be killers or protect the public better than life in prison, I would support it. The death penalty does not deter other murderers, though, and a prisoner behind bars is generally not a threat to others. Add in the racism, classism, and human errors that plague our criminal justice system, and I remain opposed.

What made my friend's story especially troubling was that I had just gotten a jury duty notice myself saying, "It's your turn!" So, what was I going to do?

I try to be an honest person, and if asked if I could uphold the law and put someone to death, I would have to say no. My commitment to life is stronger than my commitment to the law. When the state murders, I am bound to oppose the state.

That was a very unsettling conclusion. I could not convince myself to lie, so I devised a plan to mount a protest during jury selection: I would stand up, start reciting reasons to oppose the death penalty, and I wouldn't stop until they dragged me out. I figured it might cause a delay and a hassle, which, if multiplied by enough like-minded people, might make prosecutors hesitate before bringing capital charges. If I kept calm and polite, maybe I could sway others. I would just need to make one juror think twice in the penalty phase.

In the end, I was drawn for a jury pool in a civil case that was settled before trial. I was powerfully relieved and let down at the same time. I had been saved from having to be courageous, but all that preparation had been for nothing.

So what about next time? Since my big letdown, friends who are lawyers have told me that standing up and making a scene during jury selection would probably have little impact on the prosecutors or the judge. If I want to do something to make it harder for the state to take a life, they said, I should try to find some way to honestly answer the questions so that I can get onto a death-penalty jury.

Maybe there is enough wiggle room in my stance for me to honestly make it. If life in prison without parole would not protect others' lives as well as the death penalty, I could vote for death. Given, this stance pretty much limits the death penalty to prisoners who kill from within prisons -the Aryan Brotherhood, notorious for murdering from within maximum-security prisons, comes to mind - but it might put me in the position to argue for someone's life. And if that doesn't work, at least I can try out my speech.

About 30 % of Americans oppose capital punishment. I won't tell anyone to lie, but if there's some way we can find to honestly give the "right"answer to get onto death-penalty juries, that could amount to 3 or 4 people per jury. Those not selected can stand up and explain to the remaining juror candidates why they shouldn't support the death penalty, either.

Whatever we do, we can't be quietly swept out of the process. If we believe in life, we need to do something to defend it.

Wisconsin update

By now many of you know that we lost the vote in Wisconsin. The Senate voted 18 to 15 to put a nonbinding referendum on the death penalty on the November election ballot. Here's a story from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that sums things up pretty accurately:

Death penalty on ballot
Senate agrees to advisory referendum in November

Madison - Voters in the November election will be asked whether Wisconsin should reinstate the death penalty, after action Tuesday by the state Senate.

The Senate voted 18-15 to agree with changes made by the Assembly earlier this month and send the issue to voters on Nov. 7, rather than the September primary as called for in an earlier version of the measure.

Those who backed the resolution to ask voters about capital punishment for certain crimes said it is important to allow residents a chance to weigh in on an important issue at a time when there is likely to be the greatest turnout. But opponents dismissed the resolution as a political ploy.

The advisory referendum question will be on ballots along with races for governor, attorney general and other state officials, as well as a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and substantially similar relationships, such as civil unions.

Because of the large number of important races and issues, voters won't have a chance to participate in a full debate on the death penalty, said Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton).
"The only thing missing from the ballot this fall is flag desecration and guns," Erpenbach said. "It's the political equivalent of a Hail Mary."

The death penalty vote also will play out at the same time as the trial of Steven Avery, scheduled to begin Oct. 16. In 2003, Avery was released from prison after being wrongfully convicted of a sexual assault but has since been charged in the death of Teresa Halbach.

But Sen. Alan Lasee (R-De Pere), who has been pushing for the death penalty for more than 30 years, said he drafted the advisory referendum proposal in early 2005 with the intent of getting input from constituents. "It's time for people to have their say on this important issue," Lasee said.

The question, which won't be binding, will read: "Should the death penalty be enacted in the State of Wisconsin for cases involving a person who is convicted of first-degree intentional homicide, if the conviction is supported by DNA evidence?"

The referendum question wouldn't affect Avery because the harshest penalty Wisconsin defendants now face is life in prison.

Wisconsin has not had capital punishment since 1853.

The Senate initially passed a similar resolution in March on a 20-13 vote, but that version would have put the question on September primary election ballots.

Earlier this month, the Assembly voted 47-45 to put the question to voters, but shifted the referendum to the November ballot and eliminated the word "vicious" to describe crimes eligible for the death penalty.

Senators engaged in a three-hour debate Tuesday about the application and cost of the death penalty. "All we're trying to do is give people the opportunity to tell us what they believe," said Sen. Cathy Stepp (R-Sturtevant). "What are we so afraid of?"

But by leaving tough issues to a referendum, lawmakers aren't taking care of their responsibilities, some opponents said. "They spoke when they sent us here," Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) said of voters. "We represent them."

Opponents also questioned how much lawmakers would learn from such an advisory referendum.

"It would only serve as an emotional diversion from some of the other important issues people are talking about," said Senate Democratic Leader Judy Robson of Beloit. "The referendum is less about learning about the will of the people and more about the desire to inflame."

Opponents also questioned such reliance on DNA evidence. If tainted or mishandled, it could result in a wrongful conviction and execution, said Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay).

Sen. Dave Zien (R-Eau Claire) said it is important to get voters'
opinions on record to provide better information on the issue if lawmakers ever decide to introduce legislation on the death penalty.

"I want to know what parts of the state are going to be very much in favor and which won't," Zien said, adding that he believes the death penalty is a deterrent to those who might commit a violent crime.

Polls show the idea has popularity among Wisconsin residents. A March
29 to April 7 survey by the St. Norbert College Survey Center and Wisconsin Public Radio asked 400 respondents whether they favored language similar - but not identical - to what would be in the referendum.

Nearly two-thirds - 61% - said they supported it, while 33% were opposed, 5% were not sure and 1% refused to answer the question. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Drama in Wisconsin

Sometime today the Wisconsin Senate is expected to vote on whether to place a nonbinding referendum on the death penalty on the November election ballot. The vote will be close.

Among those watching from the visitors' gallery in Madison will be Chris Ochoa.

Ochoa was convicted of the 1988 rape and murder of Nancy DePriest at a Pizza Hut in Austin, Texas. After police threatened him with the death penalty, Ochoa confessed to the murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Later, DNA evidence exonerated Ochoa and implicated another man (in prison for another crime) who already had confessed to the crime. (His confessions were ignored and Ochoa basically was rotting away in prison until the Wisconsin Innocence Project took his case.)

Last week, Ochoa graduated from law school -- from the University of Wisconsin Law School.

The Milwaukee Sentinel-Journal did a big story on him. You can read it here. Then Associated Press picked the story up and put it on their national wire. Then local TV aired the story. Then, on Friday of last week, ABC World News Tonight made Ochoa their "person of the week." You can read their story here.

Ochoa's case raises many interesting questions. It paints a picture of how a wrongful confession can occur -- and raises the frightening possibility that this sort of thing happens more often than any of us would care to admit.

And consider one thing: Unlike most crimes, including most murders, there was DNA evidence in Ochoa's case. Yet he nonetheless was convicted and sentenced to life.

That's an important distinction because the death penalty reinstatement proposal that is up for debate in Wisconsin includes a DNA requirement. Yet we know, CSI notwithstanding, that DNA is not a cure-all that prevents fundamental miscarriages of justice from occuring.

Yes, Ochoa will be in the visitors' gallery when the Wisconsin Senate votes later today. Under his watchful eye we all can hope the Senate does the right thing.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Gone but not forgotten....

Many thanks to Karl and Tennessee Dude for keeping the blog going while I have been concentrating on....something.

Meanwhile, I would like to point everyone's attention to this interesting debate going on between Karl and Doug Berman, law professor, who maintains this blog over the importance of the Hill case, which is currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Less than a handful remain unfettered in the business of lethal injection

Random capital punishment factoid: Texas, Virginia, & Oklahoma are top three killers in the USA when it comes to implementing capital punishment. The three states account for over 50% of the executions in the USA since 1976. As of Thursday night, the three are also the only jurisdictions where contested execution dates have not been stayed due to concerns over lethal injection.

Reports from Harvard

We didn't write this, the Harvard U. Gazette did:

The prophets of the "new abolitionism" met in Austin Hall over the weekend, and one of them, Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project at the Cardozo School of Law in New York, predicted "the end of the death penalty within our lifetimes." Considering the unanimity of opinion on this one main point - that capital punishment is a bad idea - the gathering was in some ways more a revival meeting for activists than a debate. But, the devil's in the details and so the conference didn't lack for pyrotechnics.

Scheck cited two "heartening" currents that he said were leading toward the abolition of capital punishment in the United States: reversal of convictions of the innocent through new DNA evidence, and the trend to life sentences, as in the case of Zacarias Moussaoui, whom a federal jury declined last week to sentence to death for his role in the 9/11 attacks.. . .

The occasion was a national conference, "Race and the Death Penalty," convened to consider what Tufts philosopher Hugo Bedau, one of the nation's leading opponents of capital punishment, called in his keynote address, "the twin evils" of the current system: racial bias and the conviction of the innocent.

"If we are to believe the friends of the death penalty," he said, "the risk of these two evils must be borne patiently in the confidence that the benefits of a death penalty system - even a flawed system such as ours - outweigh the harms. Those of us who have looked with care at our death penalty system may be excused if we are unpersuaded."

The conference convened Friday afternoon (May 5) just hours after another bit of good news for death penalty opponents, the announcement of a federal jury award of $2.25 million to Earl Washington Jr., a Virginia man who at one point had come within nine days of being executed for rape and murder on the basis of a confession fabricated by a police investigator.

Washington was pardoned in 2000 after sophisticated DNA testing proved his innocence. His lawyers, who include Scheck and co-founder of the Innocence Project Peter Neufeld, believe the jury award to be the largest ever in a civil rights case in the history of Virginia.

The conference was the official launch of a new book, "From Lynch Mobs to the Killing State: Race and the Death Penalty in America" (New York University Press), edited by Charles J. Ogletree Jr., Jesse Climenko Professor of Law and director of the new Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, and by Austin Sarat of Amherst College. And filmmakers Rachel Lyon and Jim Lopes gave the conferees the first glimpse anyone has had outside PBS of their new film, "Race to Execution," inspired by the work of Lyon's sister, Andrea Lyon, of DePaul University College of Law, as a public defender.. . .

[Stephen Bright, of the Southern Center for Human Rights] lamented the fact that in the state court systems judges and prosecutors are elected, not appointed. This, he suggested, leads to a politicized buddy system in which it can be hard to keep prosecutors from challenging African Americans off juries - even though the United State Supreme Court has ruled, in the Batson case of 1986, that using peremptory challenges on the basis of race was unconstitutional.

He also charged that by failing to fund public defenders adequately, states have turned the guarantee of court-appointed counsel - as established by the landmark Supreme Court case of Gideon v. Wainwright in 1963 - into "an illusory constitutional right."

George Kendall, a senior counsel at Holland & Knight LLP in New York, insisted, though, "These are not problems without solutions. This is not rocket science."

As a workable mechanism to enforce Batson's requirement of racial fairness in the use of peremptory challenges of jurors, he suggested a system of "inclusion": Once jurors were initially qualified, prosecution and defense would each get to list the jurors they most want to serve, and the two lists could be reconciled to empanel a jury.

[In an email today from David, who was writing from a bunker near Dick Cheney's cave, David wants to say thanks for reading and thanks for those, like Tennessee Dude, who sent him & his unindicted co-conspirators nourishment to keep up the fight while he is temporarily assigned elsewhere.]

Jerry Conner's execution in North Carolina put on hold

The North Carolina Supreme Court has stayed Friday's scheduled execution of Jerry Conner. Supreme Court ruled he deserved a new DNA test that could back up his claim of innocence. From the Guardian:
Defense lawyers argued for a new DNA test, saying current procedures are better than those available at the time of trial. The defense also has pointed to another man seen near the store the night of the slayings as a possible suspect.

"As we have said from the beginning, we believe that a DNA test is the only way that the state of North Carolina can be confident that the right person is being punished for these crimes,'' said defense lawyer Mark Kleinschmidt.
[David is, unfortunately, working on a super-duper top secret project that is consuming almost all of his waking moments and has been, understandably, unavailable for the last few days. A few of us "second lights" will be pinch-hitting until David returns. Any errors, blunders, typos, mistakes are all our fault, and not those of David.]

Monday, May 08, 2006

That Texas governor's race

Last Friday we put up a "quote of the day" from Kinky Friedman, an independent candidate who is running for Texas governor. A couple of folks weighed in with their opinions, and they're interesting enough to elevate into a post.

(Two disclosures here. First, I used to cover politics as a newspaper reporter in Texas, so I'm interested in this sort of thing. Second, neither this blog nor NCADP endorses candidates in partisan elections. NCADP isn't allowed to because of our tax status, and this blog is an extension of NCADP. So, we play by the rules. However, we are allowed to educate the public as to candidates' positions on issues such as the death penalty.)

In response to the post below, "Stop Kinky" wrote:

Kinky has been a disappointment on the death penalty. I thought he'd be promising, but his website now brags "Kinky is not anti-death-penalty."

In response to "Stop Kinky," "Persian Cowboy" wrote:

Dear Stop Kinky,I think I have enough information to comment on Kinky’s view about the death penalty. I have talked to him a few times since last year and every time the Kinkster said that his main concern was to focus and to be "Damn sure we won't execute the wrong guy." Mr. Friedman went so far as to boldly state he would find an alternative to Texas' "Eject 'em or inject 'em" policy on death row legislation. However as you said he would always say that “He is not against the death penalty, but he is against killing the wrong guy.” He signed TSADP’s Moratorium petition last year and said that he would support a moratorium on executions in Texas. Also if you read his last book, he talks about it too. He changed his position from moratorium to abolition when he testified on Soffar’s case. He said, “The (criminal justice) system is not perfect,” he said. “Until it’s perfect, let’s do away with the death penalty.”

Then, some anonymous person posted this (s/he is referring to Democrat Chris Bell, Republican incumbent Rick Perry and independent candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn):

Thank God Kinky has come out against killing the wrong guy! I've tried to find Perry's, Strayhorn's, and Bell's position on killing the wrong guy, but they all appear to have ducked this important issue. I suppose we can assume Strayhorn is in favor of killing the wrong guy because she's one tough grandma, but I really want to know where Perry and Bell stand on the critical question of executing innocent people who have been wrongly convicted. If Kinky changed his position from moratorium on the death penalty to abolition when he testified in Soffar’s case, someone ought to tell those folks who are running Kinky's campaign website because they are actively soliciting support for Kinky's campaign based on a position which you say he has now rejected. Between your conversations with Kinky and his own website, I'm betting that you have the more accurate information because the website also contains conflicting information about Kinky's views on reproductive freedoms, Kinky's voting history, and Kinky's views on immigration.

Then Persian Cowboy concluded the discussion (for now at least) with this remark:

Do you have the link to his website about the death penalty? I can call them and ask them to correct it in their website. If they don't do it, then it means that his campaign is not against the death penalty. I asked Chris Bell to sign our moratorium petition. He said that he is for the death penalty and he is still thinking (whether he) should support a moratorium on executions or no. So I guess he would not be much help to the (anti) Death Penalty movement in Texas.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Quote of the day

...comes from Kinky Friedman, independent candidate for Texas governor:

"Texas: 50th in education, first in executions... how's that working for you?"

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Daily Kos blogs on Willingham

We've blogged on the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in Texas despite the fact that he may well have been innocent.

Today the well-read Daily Kos has a posting about the case. This is important because Daily Kos may be the highest-trafficked blog in the entire blogosphere (I forget the exact statistic, but he does get hundreds of thousands of readers a day.)

You can read the post here.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Some 9/11 family members opposed death sentence

One of the common misconceptions that we in the abolition movement try to fight is that family members of murder victims invariably favor a death sentence for those who killed their loved ones.

Leaving aside for the moment the fact that Moussaoui was locked up in jail more than 1,200 miles away when the planes hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on that fateful day, many 9/11 family members simply opposed a death sentence on principle.

Here are some of their comments:

Family members of those killed in the attacks of September 11, 2001 expressed relief at the jury’s decision not to sentence Zacarias Moussaoui to death today. “More than anyone, we understand why the jury chose the sentence they did,” said Terry Rockefeller, whose sister Laura Rockefeller was in the North Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

“As a long-time opponent of the death penalty, a belief even this devastating personal tragedy has not altered, I am relieved by the jury’s decision not to sentence Zacarias Moussaoui to death.”

Rockefeller, a member of the Board of Directors of Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation, was among the dozen 9/11 family members to testify for the defense in the punishment phase of the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui. The federal rules regarding victim statements significantly restricted what Terry and others could say on the stand, and the attorneys for the defense asked Terry and others not to speak to the press until after the jury returned their verdict.

This is the first time victim family members who oppose capital punishment have ever testified in a federal death penalty trial. Such testimony is becoming more common at the state level where increasing numbers of murder victim family members who oppose the death penalty are making their feelings known.

“Mr. Moussaoui's trial has been an expensive diversion in the struggle against terrorism. His alleged crime of conspiracy could have been quickly disposed if the option of execution were not possible,” said Patricia Perry, whose son John William Perry, was a member of the New York Police Department who died at the World Trade Center. “Beyond the verdict in this trial, I oppose using the death penalty to demonstrate to citizens that murder is so wrong that we will kill to prove it wrong. State killing teaches our children that we do not mean what we say and inures us as a society to the horror of killing.”

"My husband and I both opposed the death penalty in general. For me, now, this particular case is no exception,” said Andrea LeBlanc, whose husband Robert was a passenger on United Flight 175, the second plane that crashed into the World Trade Center, hitting the South Tower.

“Violence takes many forms and killing another human being will never undo the harm that has been done. Killing Zacarius Moussaoui would not have helped us understand those things that lead to 9/11. Nor would it have helped create the kind of compassionate world I want to live in."

For Loretta Filipov, whose husband Al was on American Flight 11 from Boston, the first plane to hit the World Trade Center, crashing into the North Tower, said, “Killing Zacarius Moussaoui will not bring my husband back. It will not change the life my family and I now have without my husband and their father. But what killing will do is to continue the cycle of violence, hate and revenge. This is not the face we want for our future, for our children and grandchildren.”

Family member Antonio Aversano, who testified for the defense and whose father Louis Aversano, Jr., was a World Trade Center victim, believes “that our best personal defense against terrorism is to not let the fear and hatred of terror consume our lives but to take whatever steps are necessary to reclaim our hearts, to honor each other and to live life well.”

“A number of us have tried to turn our anger and pain into solutions,” said Rockefeller. “For many who lost loved ones that Tuesday morning the answer is not more killing to attempt to solve the past, but rather steps to a future in which all killing is condemned and terrorists cannot find purchase.”

Today, a two-fer

Two stories dominate today's death penalty news.

First, there are a number of articles out there about a report issued by the Innocence Project regarding the execution of a Texas man who was probably innocent. No, we're not talking about Ruben Cantu. We're talking about Cameron Todd Willingham.

Stand Down Texas has all of the stories conveniently stored in one place. Go here.

And there's the botched execution of Joseph Clark, which we blogged on yesterday. Ohio Death Penalty Information has the greatest collection of links.

Both stories, by the way, made national news. Not a good day for death penalty supporters.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Botched execution in Ohio

This morning -- just as we were posting the tongue-in-cheek entry about bringing back the firing squad and televising executions -- a botched execution was occuring in Ohio:

Clark executed after vein collapse causes lengthy delay
By Alan Johnson
The Columbus Dispatch
Tuesday, May 2, 2006 12:50 PM
LUCASVILLE, Ohio - "It don't work. It don't work," Joseph Clark said repeatedly in what he thought were his last moments alive as he lay on the lethal injection table.But he didn't die -- not right away.

For the first time since Ohio resumed capital punishment in 1999, problems with lethal injection delayed the execution of the Toledo murderer by an hour. Clark's vein collapsed or "blew out" after the process had started this morning at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility near Lucasville.

Clark, 57, was eventually executed at 11:26 a.m., but only after medical technicians struggled behind a closed curtain for about a half hour to find suitable veins to inject the deadly drugs.

Terry Collins, who took over Monday as director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said he ordered the curtain closed to shield victim family witnesses and his staff from being watched while they tried to get the IV lines going.

"I absolutely believe I made the right call closing the curtain and I would do it again," Collins said later. However, he said the whole process will be reviewed.

Media witnesses heard what they described as "moaning, crying out and guttural noises" while technicians worked on Clark behind the closed curtain.

However, prison officials said he was not in any pain and eventually went to sleep just before the execution resumed.

Collins said he was in touch with Gov. Bob Taft's office several times during the delay. He also summoned Greg Trout, the department's chief legal counsel, to the Death House to confer with George Pappas, Clark's attorney.

The trio of drugs -- sodium pentothal, an anesthetic, pancuronium bromide, a muscle paralyzer, and potassium chloride, which stops respiration and the heart -- has been used in Ohio and 35 other states for several years.

However, legal challenges to the lethal injection process are pending in several states, as well as at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Opponents argue the drugs can leave a prisoner paralyzed, but suffering great pain as they are executed. They say that violates the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Use the firing squad. And televise it.

With tongue planted firmly in cheek, a North Carolina columnist weighs in on the lethal injection controversy:

Death need not be kind

What a bunch of snivelers. Whining, crying, bleeding hearts, worrying about the pain suffered by murderers meeting their maker at the hands of the state?

Why should we care?

The U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing the use of lethal injection, previously viewed as the most humane way to kill our own citizens.

Turns out it may not be so humane.

Not for the snivelers.

Lawyers for death row inmates now say the combo of drugs used to put inmates to sleep, then deliver the death blow, may be more painful than previously recognized.

The drugs may burn in the veins. A woman who had experience with one of the drugs during a failed sedation told a reporter it burned "like the fires of hell."

The drugs may paralyze the body but fail to ease the pain.

We've seen it here in North Carolina. Central Prison was the site of three "botched executions" on a list compiled by Human Rights Watch. The group cites information compiled in a lawsuit challenging our lethal injections.

The cases:

  • Willie Fisher, who beat and fatally stabbed his fiancee, executed March 9, 2001. After appearing to lose consciousness, Fisher began convulsing, and his eyes opened.

  • Killer Eddie Ernest Hartman, executed Oct. 3, 2003. As the drugs were being administered, Hartman's throat began alternately thrusting outward and collapsing inward. His neck pulsed, bulged and shook. Hartman's eyes were open, and his body convulsed and contorted throughout the execution until he died.

  • John Daniels, executed Nov. 14, 2003, for strangling his aunt. He lay still as the warden announced that the execution would proceed. Then he started to convulse. He sat up, and witnesses could hear him gagging. After lying down again briefly, he sat up, gagged and choked. His arms appeared to be struggling underneath the sheet covering him.

I have a solution.

Instead of looking at the cocktail of drugs that helps us best kill our own people, let's move to what we know works -- and quickly, too.

The firing squad.

Utah has it. Why not North Carolina?

After all, it's the most humane.

So says Fordham University law professor Deborah Denno, who has studied execution methods. Her research shows that, black hood and anticipation aside, waiting for five rifles to take aim at a piece of white cloth pinned to the heart is more humane than the sleepy needle.

That's because it's usually over in a flash. And while we're making changes, let's bring the death penalty out of that quiet room in Central Prison.

If we're going to kill our own people, let's do it in public, in the light of day, like other civilized countries. Iran doesn't perform its executions at 2 a.m. Not its legal ones, anyway.

Televise it. If we're going to execute our own people, let's own the deed.

Roll the tape and fire away.

If by chance one of the 4 shooters with real bullets should miss?

The prisoner will eventually bleed out.

I know you won't mind watching.

(source: Ruth Sheehan, News & Observer)

Monday, May 01, 2006


Poll: Do you believe the Death Penalty should be abolished?



Need to do more research
Votes: 293

Okay, okay....not only was that nonscientific, it also was from Daily Kos. Go here to heck out the blog entry.