Monday, October 30, 2006

NCADP Abolitionists of the Year

The first publicly available picture of the NCADP Abolitionist & Abolitionist Lawyer of the Year, Celeste Fitzgerald & Kevin Walsh, as well as the board of their organization New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, is available to the left. (Note on the bottom lefthand side of the picture is Abe Bonowitz who was one of last year's winners). Photo: Eddie Hicks

Thursday, October 26, 2006

This week's killings

This week has been heavy on state killings. For the year we are predicting less than 60 executions. Here are 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

Gregory Summers

The state of Texas is scheduled to executed Gregory Summers moments after 6 p.m. CST tonight.

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:


Dear Friends,

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

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

Ohio kills

Jeffrey Lundgren was executed earlier today. AP has this report on the execution of Jeffrey Lundgren. Jeffrey Lundgren, 56, received five death sentences for the killingss of Dennis, Cheryl, Trina, Becky and Karen Avery on a farm in Kirtland in 1989.

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

Wednesday night experienced the extinguishing of two lives by lethal injection:

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

Blog posts are slow these days as we frantically prepare for NCADP 20006: Abolition Rising, the annual conference of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

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

Tomorrow's the day. The 2006 Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing starts a statewide tour of the Commonwealth of 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

A colleague from way back wrote this short op-ed. It's too good not to share.

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

Tuesday is World Day Against the Death Penalty. The blog here serves up a mix of those involved in the struggle against state sanctioned killing. As one of the lawyers of our little blogger group, I'd thought I would serve a brief introduction to death penalty litigation and at least one of the issues involved in it that makes it seems so mystifying, ineffective assistance of counsel.

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:

There was a great deal that the Harlan County jury didn't know about 20-year-old Hugh Marlowe when it sentenced him to death in 1982 for robbing and murdering an elderly man out for a morning walk.

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."

In the years since Marlowe went to death row a new Public Advocate in Kentucky, the remarkably gifted Ernie Lewis, has done a good job "draining the swamp" of inexperienced counsel handling capital cases. As that article notes:

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.

It will take several more yeas before the cases in Kentucky where there was a systemic problem of grossly inexperienced attorneys work their way through the system. In Texas, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere, such needed improvements are not necessarily being made and it may be decades before the problem of inexperienced counsel no longer plague those states. Lawyers or law students interested in learning more might do well by considering pro bono work in capital litigation or learning more about the law governing capital punishment.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Site updates & execution dates

To the right we have added a list of probable execution dates. The execution dates are considered probable based on review by either Rick Halperin of Amnesty International or myself over at Capital Defense Weekly. We both have slightly different criteria for listing an execution as a serious date, but usually we both both agree.

With that stated, all execution warrants and execution dates are serious. Each date brings a degree of uncertainty to the condemned and to the victim's family. The passing of each date a certain degree of relief, however the names on the list to the right (with rare exception) are considered unlikely to ever again know that sense of relief or to see the scheduled date of their death pass.

Friday, October 06, 2006


Some people talk in their sleep. Some people walk in their sleep.

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

Wisconsin referendum

There's an outstanding story on the nonbinding referendum to reinstate the death penalty in Wisconsin. The story ran in the Shephard Express, which is the alternative newsweeklie in Milwaukee. You can read it here.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Quote of the day

"Capital punishment, like the rest of the criminal justice system, is a government program, so skepticism is in order."

--Conservative columnist George Will