Wednesday, October 31, 2007

What part of "NO" does Alabama not understand?


It's a wonderful word, beautiful in its simplicity and straightforwardness.

It is one of the first words most children learn, because, hopefully, they hear it often enough from Mom and Dad.

No. An N and an O. No. It can be "No." or "No!" or even "NO!"

The meaning is crystal clear.

Unless, of course, you happen to be the State of Alabama.

Last night, as people who follow the death penalty are well aware, the U.S. Supreme intervened to stop a scheduled execution in Mississippi. (Mississippi...a much more complicated word than the word "No." But I digress.)

Anyway, every legal expert in the country who knows anything about the death penalty knows the significance of the Court's action. Let's pick up Linda Greenhouse, writing this page one, lead story for The New York Times:

Moments before a Mississippi prisoner was scheduled to die by lethal injection, the Supreme Court granted him a stay of execution on Tuesday evening and thus gave a nearly indisputable indication that a majority intends to block all executions until the court decides a lethal injection case from Kentucky next spring.


Even without a written opinion, the Supreme Court’s action on Tuesday night clarified a situation that had become increasingly confusing as state courts and the lower federal courts, without further guidance from the justices, wrestled with claims from a growing number of death-row inmates that their imminent executions should be delayed.

State and lower federal courts are likely to interpret the Supreme Court’s action as a signal that they should postpone executions in their jurisdictions. As a result, the justices will probably not have to consider any more last-minute applications from inmates while the de facto moratorium is in effect.

So what does the Alabama Supreme Court do? Why, this very morning, they set a Dec. 6 execution date. We're not joking. In Alabama, "No" means "Yes."

Or perhaps "No" means "Why, of course!" or "We can't see any reason why not!"

More from Greenhouse at The New York Times:

In the application for a stay of execution, filed Monday afternoon, Mr. Berry’s lawyers acknowledged that the Supreme Court itself has been critical of last-minute requests from death-row inmates, “especially if the petitioner has been trying to manipulate the legal process.” But the lawyers urged the court to look beyond that issue and to consider “a balancing of the equities and hardships of the respective parties.”

In this instance, the lawyers said, Mississippi “will suffer no prejudice other than a delay if Mr. Berry’s execution is stayed,” while Mr. Berry “on the other hand, will suffer the risk of being put to death by an unconstitutional means.” They added, “It is clear that irreparable harm will result if no stay is granted.”
David P. Voisin, one of the defense lawyers, said the Supreme Court’s action was “a positive sign that as long as this issue is under consideration, the court is going to hold executions.”

Well. We've got one word for the State of Alabama.

It starts with an 'N' and it consists of two letters.

Happy Halloween -- there's a new blog in town!

A friend and former colleague of mine today launches a new blog aimed at looking at the history of executions -- or, more precisely, of those executed. You can find it here.

Jason describes his blog this way:

Executed Today is a blog of history, sociology, biography, criminology, law, and kismet —- an unrepresentative but arresting view of the human condition across time and circumstance from the parlous vantage of the scaffold. This blog each day chronicles an historical execution that took place on that date, and the story behind it.

My own background is out of the abolition movement, where I worked for the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty until early 2005.

You'll probably find that history reflected not so much in the blog's editorial stance (officially, it's not an anti-death penalty blog) and more in the overall tone, which aspires (notwithstanding the somewhat ghoulish choice of Halloween for a launch) to respectfulness for the wide variety of people caught up in this strange institution. Fundamentally, it's a work of historical exposition ... and like most abolitionists, I tend towards the view that the death penalty gets less appealing the more one looks into it.

Check it out!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Breaking news out of Arkansas

What seemed like a closely held secret early yesterday flew with the speed of the Internet all the way to the pages of the New York Times this morning. Rather than repeat what already has been written, I'm just going to post the New York Times story in its entirety.

Two questions: When does Damien Echols get out of prison and how many other innocent people are there on Arkansas' death row?

Defense Offers New Evidence in a Murder Case That Shocked Arkansas

In 1994, 3 teenagers in the small city of West Memphis, Ark., were convicted of killing 3 8-year-old boys in what prosecutors portrayed as a satanic sacrifice involving sexual abuse and genital mutilation. So shocking were the crimes that when the teenagers were led from the courthouse after their arrest, they were met by 200 local residents yelling, "Burn in hell."

But according to long-awaited new evidence filed by the defense in federal court on Monday, there was no DNA from the 3 defendants found at the scene, the mutilation was actually the work of animals and at least 1 person other than the defendants may have been present at the crime scene.

Supporters of the defendants hope the legal filing will provide the defense with a breakthrough. 2 of the men, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, are serving life in prison, while one, Damien W. Echols, is on death row. There was no physical evidence linking the teenagers, now known as the West Memphis 3, to the crime.

"This is the 1st time that the evidence has ever really been tested," said Gerald Skahan, a member of the defense team. "The 1st trial was pretty much a witch hunt."

Brent Davis, the local prosecutor, did not respond to requests for comment about the new evidence and the case, but in general prosecutors and investigators have continued to express confidence in their investigation.

The story the defendants' supporters have presented of 3 misfits whose fondness for heavy-metal music made them police targets has won the men the support of celebrities like Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, Marilyn Manson and the creators of "South Park." Many learned of the case through an HBO documentary, "Paradise Lost," and a sequel.

The prosecution hinged on a confession riddled with factual errors and a Satanic cult expert with a mail-order degree. Mr. Echols's own lawyer called him "weird" and "not the all-American boy."

Many viewers who watched the sequel, in fact, concluded that the police should have been investigating John Mark Byers, the stepfather of one of the children, who made seemingly drug-addled, messianic speeches on camera, gave the filmmakers a blood-stained knife, and had a history of violence and run-ins with the police. His child, Christopher Byers, was the most badly mutilated of the 3.

But there was a surprise in the new forensic report filed by Mr. Echolss
lawyers: a hair found in one of the knots binding the children belonged most likely to the stepfather of another of the victims, not to Mr. Byers.

The 3 victims Christopher, Steve Branch and James Michael Moore were last seen riding their bikes on May 5, 1993. They were found the next day in a drainage ditch in Robin Hood Hills, near West Memphis, a low-rent town across the Mississippi River from Memphis. The boys were naked and hogtied with shoelaces.

The police quickly zeroed in on Mr. Echols, then 18, who was familiar to them because he was on probation for trying to run away with his girlfriend. They also believed he was involved in cult activities.

But they could find little evidence against him until Mr. Misskelley, mildly retarded and with a history of substance abuse, came in to speak with them. At the time there was a $30,000 reward.

After hours of questioning, Mr. Misskelley, 17, gave the police a taped statement that implicated himself, Mr. Baldwin, then 16, and Mr. Echols, then 19. Despite coaching by the investigators, Mr. Misskelley was incorrect in several significant details, including the time of the crime, the way the victims were tied and the manner of death. He said the children had been sodomized, an assertion that even the state medical examiners testimony appears to refute.

The team of forensic experts assembled by Mr. Echolss lawyers, which included Dr. Michael Baden, the former medical examiner of New York City, also said there was no evidence of sexual abuse. Many of the wounds sustained by the victims were caused by animals, they said, including the castration of Christopher.

As for the stray hair, the West Memphis Police Department and the stepfather it appears to belong to, Terry Hobbs, have discounted the finding, saying it could easily have been picked up at home by his stepson, Steve Branch. But Dennis P. Riordan, a lawyer for Mr. Echols, said the hair was found in the shoelaces tying Michael Moore, not Steve Branch.

Further, Mr. Riordan said, a hair was found at the scene that most likely belongs to a friend of Mr. Hobbs who was with him for part of the evening.

The court filing also argues that jurors relied on the statement Mr.
Misskelley gave the police to convict Mr. Echols and Mr. Baldwin, even though it was deemed inadmissible except in Mr. Misskelley's trial.
Several jurors have acknowledged that they knew about the confession before the trial, though they did not say so during jury selection.

The passing of time has not only allowed the defense to gather new information, but has also softened the public's belief in the guilt of the convicted men, said Mara Leveritt, the author of "Devil's Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three."

"What I've seen in the past 14 years has been not quite a 180-degree, but maybe a 170-degree turn, Ms. Leveritt said. "It all comes down to, 'Where's the evidence?'"

Monday, October 29, 2007

Quote of the day

...comes from Dr. Jay Chapman, a former Oklahoma medical examiner who played a key role in developing the three-drug lethal injection protocol that most states use in carrying out executions:

"I never knew we would have complete idiots injecting these drugs. Which we seem to have."

Friday, October 26, 2007

I still say we should tickle them.

More out-of-this-worldliness from Alabama's Birmingham News:

State's new execution procedure detailed

Under a new procedure intended to ensure that Alabama's condemned inmates are unconscious when executed, a prison guard will call the inmate by name, brush his eyelashes with a finger and pinch his arm, a Department of Corrections spokesman said Thursday.

Gov. Bob Riley announced Monday that a new execution procedure had been adopted, but disclosed no details. Thursday, Department of Corrections spokesman Brian Corbett discussed the new procedure, which will come after a drug causing unconsciousness is administered, but before the administration of drugs meant to kill the inmate.

"It's simply a consciousness check after the first drug has been administered," Corbett said.

The addition to the state's execution protocol was developed after the U.S.
Supreme Court agreed to hear a Kentucky case challenging the constitutionality of that state's lethal injection procedure. Alabama keeps most details of its execution procedure secret, but lawyers representing Death Row inmates have said that Alabama's procedure was identical to Kentucky's before the change was made.

According to court filings in death penalty cases, Alabama, Kentucky and most other states use a combination of three drugs to execute prisoners. Lawyers representing convicted killer Thomas Arthur said in court documents that Alabama uses Thiopental, Pavulon and potassium chloride.

Arthur was issued a 45-day stay last month pending implementation of the new procedure. A new date for his execution has not been set.

Thiopental is a barbiturate that experts say causes unconsciousness. Pavulon causes paralysis and halts breathing, and potassium chloride stops the heart.

Corbett said that, after the first drug is administered, a member of the security detail assigned to the condemned prisoner will follow the new procedure to assure he is unconscious. Then the execution will continue with the administration of the final two drugs.

Death penalty opponents said the procedure will do little to ensure the inmate doesn't suffer a horrible death.

"These additional steps are by no means sufficient to ensure that the inmate will be unconscious," said Elisabeth Semel, director of the Death Penalty Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. The clinic represents Death Row inmates.

The risks involved:

Death penalty protocols typically are developed and used in secrecy, meaning qualified medical personnel don't have input, and the result is a system that can suffer catastrophic failure, she said.

Problems inherent to lethal injection have been well-documented in lawsuits arguing that it violates the U.S. Constitution's Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, Semel said. Those lawsuits, including suits filed on behalf of Alabama Death Row inmates, argue that Thiopental could lose effectiveness before death, leaving the inmate conscious but paralyzed and in extreme pain.

Those suits also argue that, because qualified medical personnel routinely refuse to participate in executions, it's more likely that the wrong dosage of one of the drugs will be administered, or that an IV will be improperly inserted, leading to a painful death.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Is Texas Ready for the 21st Century?

Texas lawyers call for e-filed execution appeals
AUSTIN — A petition signed by 309 Texas lawyers — including two former state Supreme Court justices — was filed Wednesday asking the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to accept electronic filings to avoid a repeat of the controversial events leading to the execution of Michael Richard.

Read about it in the Houston Chronicle.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Alabama update

Late this afternoon the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals stayed Thursday's scheduled execution of Daniel Siebert. So we know longer get to sing the Sesame Street song (see below).

Will Alabama Resort to Back Alley Lethal Injections?

Leave it to The Onion to get to the heart of the matter.....

(Yes, it's satire)

Which one of these things is not like the other?

Remember Sesame Street? They would put words or objects up on the screen and then the voiceover would sing:

"One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn't belong...One of these things is not like the other. Can you tell before I finish this song?"

Which brings us to Alabama.

Lethal injection executions have been delayed in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, North Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, Nevada, California, Virginia and I'm sure I'm forgetting some states. The delay, of course, is caused by the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to review the constitutionality of Kentucky's lethal injection protocol, a protocol that is similar in nature to the protocol used in most states.

Yet Alabama is planning on proceeding with a lethal injection execution tomorrow night. Here's what the state's largest newspaper has to say about it:

Live and let die
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Gov. Bob Riley refused to block the execution of Daniel Lee Siebert, despite pending legal challenges to lethal injection.

Gov. Bob Riley is right on at least one point: Daniel Lee Siebert was sentenced to die for crimes that were "monstrous, brutal and ghastly."

Siebert was convicted in the 1986 strangling death of his girlfriend, Sherri Weathers, a 24-year-old student at the Alabama School for the Deaf in Talladega. Also killed were Weathers' 5-year-old son, Chad; her 4-year-old son, Joey; and their neighbor, Linda Jarman. Far from declaring his innocence, Siebert has claimed he committed a number of other murders as well.

Monstrous? Brutal? Without question.

And, yet ... Riley's refusal Monday to postpone Siebert's execution was disappointing. Riley said delaying Siebert's execution, which is scheduled for Thursday, would be tantamount to "commuting his sentence to life in prison, and that is not the sentence he was given by a jury."

Riley saw no need to put off the execution while a challenge to lethal injection is pending in the U.S. Supreme Court. Last month, Riley granted a 45-day reprieve to Death Row inmate Tommy Arthur to give the state time to tweak its lethal injection procedures. Now, he said, the state is prepared to provide extra safeguards to make sure inmates really are unconscious when they are put to death - one of the chief issues involved in the ongoing lawsuits over lethal injection. That's good enough for Riley.

Yes, making sure condemned inmates are unconscious is a good thing. But isn't making sure Alabama's death penalty procedures fall within the parameters of the U.S. Constitution an even better thing?

Complicating Siebert's case is the fact he is terminally ill. He is expected to die in a matter of months, if not weeks, from pancreatic cancer. If he is not put to death this week, he may not live to see the Supreme Court resolve the questions about lethal injection. He may die before the state of Alabama can kill him.

That's a "risk" Riley should be willing to accept. Until federal courts have ruled on lethal injection, Alabama simply has no business putting people to death.

The same day Riley refused to call off Siebert's execution, the Georgia Supreme Court granted a reprieve to a Death Row inmate there because of the ongoing litigation over lethal injection. The Alabama Supreme Court should do likewise.

Not because Siebert doesn't deserve to be punished - or, for that matter, to die - for his crimes. But the state must dole out its punishments in a morally and legally acceptable way, even for people who've done things as monstrous as Siebert.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The story that will not die

Today the Houston Chronicle called for the removal of Sharon Keller from her position as presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. If you've been reading this blog, or any death penalty blog for that matter, you know that Keller is the judge who refused to accept an appeal from a death row inmate 20 minutes after 5 p.m., after the inmate's lawyers encountered a particularly ill-timed computer crash. The inmate subsequently was executed.

Newspapers across Texas have exorciated Keller for her shocking, callous and irresponsible behavior. Today the Waco Tribune-Herald weighed in:

Texas justice closes at 5 p.m.

Sharon Keller, presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals,
shamed the state by deciding that 20 minutes of her time was more
important than a last-minute appeal for a man on death row.

If Keller cannot be removed from her position, she should be disciplined
for her outrageous behavior.

Keller, a former Dallas prosecutor, has a reputation as a hard-liner when
it comes to upholding convictions.

She outdid herself on Sept. 25 when the U.S. Supreme Court accepted a
death penalty appeal challenging the constitutionality of lethal
injections, used by Texas and other states.

Recognizing that the nation's highest court would determine whether lethal
injections violate the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual
punishment, the lawyers for Texas death row inmate Michael Richard began
preparing an appeal for their client to the Texas' highest criminal
appeals court.

Richard was scheduled to be executed at 6 p.m. on the day that the U.S.
Supreme Court opened an appeal opportunity for him. He had been convicted
in 1986 for the rape and shooting death of a Harris County woman.

Forewarned that the last-minute appeal was on its way but would be a few
minutes late due a computer crash, several other judges on the state's
highest criminal appeals court stayed late so they could handle the

The computer malfunction made it impossible to print out and deliver 11
copies of the 108-page appeal petition by 5 p.m. Richard's attorney
notified the clerk's office that the appeal would be delivered 20 minutes

Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Paul Womack stayed late that evening
expecting an appeal from Richard's attorneys in light of the Supreme
Court's decision.

Another judge on the court, Cathy Cochran, told the Houston Chronicle: "I
would definitely accept anything at any time from someone who was about to
be executed."

Not so with Presiding Judge Keller. Three hours after Keller ordered the
clerk to accept no appeals filed after 5 p.m., Richard was executed.

Because Richard's situation was nearly exactly the same as the one
accepted earlier that day by the U.S. Supreme Court, it is nearly certain
that Richard's execution would have been stayed.

Only 2 days after Richard's execution, the Supreme Court blocked the
execution of another Texas inmate with a similar appeal.

Questioned, Keller cavalierly said, "We close at 5."

An ethics complaint has been filed with the State Commission on Judicial
Conduct by 19 Texas lawyers asking that Keller either be removed from
office or disciplined for violating the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct.

One way or another, Keller should be held accountable for her shocking

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Infusion of lethal injection confusion

In light of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to review the constitutionality of Kentucky's lethal injection protocol, much confusion exists over whether a moratorium on lethal injection executions exists in this country.

On the one hand, executions have been delayed in Arizona, Arkansas, Alabama, Texas, and Nevada as a direct result of the Court's decision to grant cert.

On the other hand, Georgia, Mississippi, Virginia and Texas and Alabama appear determined to proceed with executions. (We realize that Texas and Alabama appear to be contradicting themselves by being on both lists. But such is often the nature of things when it comes to implementation of the death penalty.)

Things could reach a certain state of clarity this week, with an execution scheduled for Wednesday in Virginia and another scheduled for Friday in Georgia. Definitely by Friday evening, we will have a much better idea of whether a moratorium exists. (Or, to put it more pessimistically, we could know by Wednesday evening whether one doesn't. exist.)

Anyway, all this by way of introducing an interesting op-ed that crossed our desk this afternoon. It's penned by Jack Payden-Travers, who doubles as executive director of Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and as an NCADP board member:

Oct. 16, 2007

Who Shall Live & Who Shall Die?
By Jack Payden-Travers, Director
Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty

Once again Virginia is the site of national death penalty news. Two years ago it was a question of whether the Commonwealth would execute Robin Lovitt and earn the dubious distinction of holding the 1000th US execution since the reinstatement of capital punishment in 1976.

On Wednesday, October 17, 2007, Virginia is likely to be the state where the true impact of the US Supreme Court’s recent decision to review lethal injection as a method of execution is determined. Is there to be a national moratorium on executions or merely a stay that the Court intends only to affect certain states? Some 13 states have halted executions pending the Court’s ruling by June or July 2008 in Baze v Rees, a case wherein two Kentucky death row inmates have challenged their state’s use of lethal injection. The US Supreme Court has stayed one Texas execution since deciding to hear the Baze challenge, but the states of Virginia, Georgia and Mississippi have failed to stay executions already scheduled.

Executions are on hold in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio, and Tennessee. Even Texas, with an execution record that quadruples Virginia’s, appears to have halted executions last week after the US Supreme Court stayed their execution of Carlton Turner on September 27th and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed the execution of Heliberto Chi on October 2nd. This week Nevada’s Supreme Court unanimously stayed all executions until their lethal injection procedures are reviewed.

Meanwhile, back home in Virginia, Chris Scott Emmett is scheduled to be the 99th “legal homicide.” Although Gov. Timothy Kaine personally is opposed to the death penalty, his office has stated he believes lethal injection to be constitutional. A Clemency Petition is presently before the governor, and a ruling on Emmett’s lethal injection appeal in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals is awaited. It is unlikely that any final determination will be forthcoming until late in the day on Wednesday the 17th.

The question in my mind as I prepare for a Fill the Field vigil that evening in front of the death house at the Greensville Correctional Center is this: Why should it be legal to execute someone by lethal injection in Virginia but not in Maryland or North Carolina or Tennessee? What is peculiar to Virginia that permits us to proceed when other states are proscribed from using the same three-drug protocol? Indeed how can anyone be allowed to kill a human being with this chemical combination when the American Veterinary Medical Association in the year 2000 banned it as “cruel and inhumane” for use on cats and dogs? Is a human life worth less than a dog’s? Do not justice and common decency require that a human being be treated at least as well as an animal?

If the courts fail to stay Wednesday night’s execution it will be up to Gov. Kaine to decide if equal justice and fair play are to be the hallmarks of his administration or if an indefensible Virginia exceptionalism will continue to call the shots.

Monday, October 15, 2007


Check out this cartoon from Pulitzer Prize winner Ben Sargent of the Austin American-Statesman. (Hat tip Steve Hall, Stand Down Texas.)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Several updates

1. A big thank you to Abe for posting while I was away! As Abe noted, this blog earlier this week marked its 150,000th visitor and the Troy Anthony Davis YouTube page marked 6,000 screenings (actually, it topped 7,000 yesterday!)

2. We are to understand that a certain corporate attorney and vehement death penalty supporter has been trolling over at our Tennessee affiliate's blog. This guy -- he goes by "federalist" on at least a couple of blogs, but we'll refer to him as "sean" -- has spent hundreds and hundreds of hours trying to entice anti-death penalty folks into fights with his inaccuracies and mischaracterizations (the latest: the death penalty does not discriminate on the basis of race).

3. The story that will not die: While I was away, 19 lawyers in Texas, including some big names, filed a judicial complaint against Sharon Keller, chief justice of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. It's funny how the pro-death penalty crowd has largely been silent on this story. But here's the latest, from

Judge: 'We Close at 5'
Texas Judge's Decison To Close On Time Lead to Immediate Execution
Reported by Jim Avila, ABC News Senior Law & Justice Correspondent

Four words -- "We close at 5" -- enforced by Texas judge Sharon Keller led to
the almost immediate execution of convicted murderer Michael Richard.

Three hours after Keller refused to keep her courthouse open past closing time
to receive the condemned killer's request to stay his execution, Richard was

"If Sharon Keller had not slammed the door, Mr. Richard would still be alive,"
said Jim C. Harrington, director of Texas Defender Service .

Richard's attorney's computer broke down, and when they called the courthouse
asking for a little more time, just 20 minutes more, Judge Keller ordered the
court clerk not to wait for the appeal that could have at least temporarily
stopped his execution.

After the execution, prominent defense attorneys from across Texas signed an
official complaint against Keller, asking the Texas Commission on Judicial
Conduct to disciplined or fire her.

"This execution proceeded because the highest criminal court couldn't be
bothered to stay an extra 20 minutes on the night of an execution," said
Andrea Keilen, executive director of Texas Defender Service.

It's not just the attorneys complaining. In a rare development, other judges
on the appeals court -- three of whom stayed late in the courthouse waiting to
rule on Richard's motion -- have criticized Keller's decision.

Judge Cheryl Johnson, who was expecting to rule on the case, told the Austin
American-Statesman she was dismayed by Keller's decision. "And I was angry,"
she told the paper. "If I'm in charge of the execution, I ought to have known
about those things … I mean this is a death."

Richard's appeal was not a surprise because the U.S. Supreme Court has let it
be known that it would soon decide if lethal injection is cruel and unusual
punishment. Until the Supreme Court rules, the death penalty is practically on
hold in the United States.

Keller refused several ABC News requests for comment, but the judge did defend
her actions in a Texas newspaper.

"I think the question ought to be why didn't they file something on time. They
had all day," she told the Houston Chronicle.

Or at least until 5 p.m. and not a minute more -- even when life depended on it.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Updating the numbers, and moving mountains one step and one person at a time....

Today this Blog received its 150,000th unique visitor.

We now have 58 videos in the Troy David Birthday/Innocence video project and these videos have received more than 6000 individual screenings.

When I was working with the United Farm Workers in California, we had an organizing principle: "Cada trabajador es un organizador." ("Every worker is an organizer.") The idea was that everyone has a voice, and everyone has the ability to use that voice to further our collective goals. One person working on a mountain seems insignificant. Joined by thousands of people, the job looks less insurmountable. Together, the more we grow, we can move mountains.

So I suggest we bring that "Every worker is an organizer" principle to our movement. If each person reading this blog asks just one person (if not five or ten people) to have a look and spread the word, we will continue to grow, and if those who join us take concrete actions, we'll keep moving forward faster.

Each of us has a voice. Each of us has the power to grow our movement. Each of us is an organizer. What are your next steps? Who will you take this issue to today?


Friday, October 05, 2007

Happy birthday to Troy

Last month we told you about the Troy Anthony Davis Innocence Matters Video Project.

For all the details, go to the above link. But in a nutshell, Troy Anthony Davis is a person on Georgia's death row who many of us believe to be innocent. Next Tuesday, Oct. 9 is Troy's birthday. We're asking people to use their cell phones, video cameras, whatever, to record a short video wishing Troy a happy birthday and telling the state of Georgia that innocence matters. We're then asking people to upload their videos to YouTube by going here.

As of this writing, we have 32 videos and they have been seen, collectively, more than 4,000 times.

These numbers are astounding. They inform us of several things.

First, new media works. YouTube allows people to become their own manufacturers and disseminators of information. Many folks would rather create their own video then go home, flop on the couch and turn on the old TV.

Second, innocence matters. There are, of course, a number of arguments against the death penalty. Innocence is a great conversation-starter.

Third, Troy Anthony Davis is increasingly becoming a well-known name both in the U.S. and around the world. We have (unsolicited) videos up on the YouTube page that have come in from England, France, Panama and Switzerland.

Finally: Even if you can't record your own video, you can help by visiting the YouTube page and checking out some of the videos that are posted. You can help by telling other blogs about this campaign. You can help by telling your friends, your family, members of your church, synagogue or mosque.

Because innocence matters.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Nine botched executions

Today, in what can only be described as a case of prescient timing, Amnesty International released a quite thorough and comprehensive report on the problems with lethal injection executions.

You can find the whole thing here. (Note: It is VERY long and comprehensive!)

Meanwhile, here is an interesting story:

Amnesty lists execution horrors

Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington
The Guardian

The use of lethal injections in the US has led to at least nine bungled executions, including one in which the prisoner took 69 minutes to die and another in which the condemned man complained five times: "It don't work," a report by Amnesty International says today.

The report contains a catalogue of botched executions dating from 2000, when lethal injection was adopted by 37 of the 38 US states with the death penalty.

In an execution in Ohio in May last year it took technicians 22 minutes to find a suitable vein in which to inject the lethal combination of three drugs.
When the condemned man, Joseph Clark, raised his head to complain that the process was not working, the technicians closed the curtains around his trolley and spent an additional 30 minutes looking for a suitable vein.

An autopsy discovered 19 puncture marks on Clark's corpse.

In a celebrated case in Florida in December last year the condemned man, Angel Nieves Dias, suffered chemical burns along his arms after technicians struggled to find a vein. Reports at the time described Diaz as grimacing in pain.

Such horrific instances have destroyed the main argument for lethal injection
- that it offers a relatively painless and humane death, Amnesty says. "A number of executions in the USA have been botched and caused suffering, sometimes prolonged, to the victim."

Amnesty notes that Texas, which operates America's busiest execution chamber, has banned one of the chemicals involved for use in euthanising pets, because it does not effectively mask pain.

The report comes days after an unofficial halt to executions following a supreme court decision to review the lethal injection method. On Tuesday night the appeals court of Texas stayed the impending execution of a Honduran man pending the supreme court's decision.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Maybe Sharon Keller had a date?

Yesterday we published a Dallas Morning News editorial headlined, "We Closed at 5," which detailed Tuesday's execution of Carlton Turner. Turner was executed after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refused to remain open 20 minutes late so that his appeal could be filed with the court. Because the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals did not consider the appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court (which almost certainly would have granted a stay) procedurally could not act.

And Turner was executed.

Now we know a few more details. Seems that a request to remain open was put to the chief justice of the Texas CCA and she refused to notify the other justices about the request.
From the Austin American-Statesman:

It was revealed Tuesday that the decision was made by Presiding Judge
Sharon Keller without consulting any of the court's eight other judges or
later informing them about the decision -- including Judge Cheryl Johnson,
who was assigned to handle any late motions in Richard's case.

Johnson, who learned about the request to stay open past 5 p.m. in an
Austin American-Statesman story, said her first reaction to the news was
"utter dismay."

"And I was angry," she said. "If I'm in charge of the execution, I ought
to have known about those things, and I ought to have been asked whether I
was willing to stay late and accept those filings."

Johnson said she would have accepted the brief for consideration by the
court. "Sure," she said. "I mean, this is a death case."

Judge Cathy Cochran said the Richard case raised troubling questions.

"First off, was justice done in the Richard case? And secondly, will the
public perceive that justice was done and agree that justice was done?"
Cochran said. "Our courts should be open to always redress a true wrong,
and as speedily as possible. That's what courts exist for."

At least 3 judges were working late in the courthouse that evening, and
others were available by phone if needed, court personnel said.

None of the judges was informed of Richard's request by Keller or by the
court's general counsel, Edward Marty, who had consulted with Keller on
the request.

I'm usually not speechless. But for today, I think I'll make an exception.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The death chamber in Huntsville shuttered?

Last week the Supreme Court granted review on a lethal injection from Kentucky. A few days later it stopped an execution in progress in Texas based on a lethal injection challenge. At that time experts debated whether a de facto moratorium existed, all noted that if the next execution was stayed it would be safe to say a de facto moratorium existed.

There now apparently exists a de facto moratorium, at least in Texas, and likely nationally.

Heliberto Chi was stayed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Tuesday.

“I think we can now have a substantive debate on the manner in which we execute people in Texas,” said Houston attorney David Dow, one of the lawyers seeking to spare Chi from the execution that had been scheduled for Wednesday evening in Huntsville.

Dow of Houston, represents the Honduran government, and Wes Ball represents Chi. They noted in separate filings to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that the U.S. Supreme Court last week blocked the execution of Texas inmate Carlton Turner because the justices were preparing to consider whether any pain inflicted by three-drug lethal cocktails violates the constitution ban on cruel and unusual punishment. [Fort Worth Star-Telegram]

Earlier today, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted 4-3 not to grant Chi a 6-month stay.

With all that stated, William Castillo is still likely to be executed in Nevada on October 15th as he has apparently waived all remaining appeals

[cross-posted at CDW]

"We Closed at 5"

The Dallas Morning News had this to say today. We need not augment it with our own spin.

'We Closed at 5'

What's 20 minutes to you? Two miles on the expressway during rush hour? Time to slurp a latte on the way back to the office? About the time it takes to scan the newspaper you're reading now? To Michael Richard, 20 minutes was probably the difference between life and death.

The Texas death-row inmate's lawyers petitioned for a stay of execution after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to review the constitutionality of lethal injection. Irving killer Carlton Akee Turner won a last-minute stay from the high court. Mr. Richard's lawyers were working on his petition when their computer crashed. They phoned the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, informed its personnel of the computer problems and asked them to stay open long enough to accept the paperwork.

Forget it, replied the court. Time thus ran out for Mr. Richard, who died on the gurney. A court official later said, "I advised the parties that called that we closed at 5." Just like that.

That is unconscionable.

You might not lose sleep over the fact that the court wouldn't stay open for 20 minutes to help a convicted rapist-murderer's attempt to evade the needle a bit longer. You should think again.

When the state takes the life of a condemned criminal, it must do so with a sense of sobriety commensurate with its grave responsibility. Hastening the death of a man, even a bad one, because office personnel couldn't be bothered to bend bureaucratic procedure was a breathtakingly petty act and evinced a relish for death that makes the blood of decent people run cold.