Tuesday, November 11, 2008

On the new administration

I’m sure I’m not the only one wondering what to expect from the next administration following what is expected from the Democratic electoral victory. Speaking strictly for me, and letting others speak to what type of judges President-elect Obama will appoint, here is what I think we’ll see.

A criminal law fact sheet of campaign promises is here.

A quick primer on Obama and the death penalty that appeared some time ago in the Washington Post. As David note here sometime ago, “in a nutshell: He’s pro-death penalty but he is also pro-let’s not execute the wrong guy”

Five years later, Obama waded into a complex capital-punishment debate after a number of exonerations persuaded then-Gov. George Ryan (R) to empty death row.

Obama wrote in his recent memoir that he thinks the death penalty “does little to deter crime.” But he supports capital punishment in cases “so heinous, so beyond the pale, that the community is justified in expressing the full measure of its outrage by meting out the ultimate punishment.”

In proposing changes, Obama met repeatedly with officials and advocates on all sides. He nudged and cajoled colleagues fearful of being branded soft on crime, as well as death-penalty opponents worried that any reform would weaken efforts to abolish capital punishment.

Obama’s signature effort was a push for mandatory taping of interrogations and confessions. It was opposed by prosecutors, police organizations and Ryan’s successor, Democrat Rod Blagojevich, who said it would impede investigators.

Working under the belief that no innocent defendant should end up on death row an no guilty one should go free, Obama helped get the bill approved by the Senate on a 58 to 0 vote. When Blagojevich reversed his position and signed it, Illinois became the first state to require taping by statute.

“Obviously, we didn’t agree all the time, but he would always take suggestions when they were logical, and he was willing to listen to our point of view. And he offered his opinions in a lawyerly way,” said Carl Hawkinson, the retired Republican chairman o the Judiciary Committee. “When he spoke on the floor of the Senate, he spoke out of conviction. You knew that, whether you agreed with him or disagreed with him.”

As to the narrow issue of this blog, following the elections the death penalty will likely continue to wither on the vine. Sen. Obama is a death penalty reformer, not an abolitionist. One of the rarely spoken accomplishments of Sen. Obama is his voice in reforming the death penalty and criminal justice system in Illinois. Invariably both would have been reformed without him in some shape and form, however, the scars of the fight to get the broad based reforms that ultimately passed he still bares.

As the campaign noted:

As a member of the Illinois state senate, Barack Obama led efforts to reform a broken death penalty system that sent 13 innocent people to death row because it was filled with error, questionable police tactics, racial bias, and shoddy legal work. Obama drafted and passed a law requiring videotaping of interrogations and confessions in capital cases to ensure that prosecutions are fair. As president, Obama will encourage the states to adopt similar reforms.

For the federal death penalty what is clear is the Bush administration’s capital prosecution practices are coming to an end. The last eight years saw a marked decline in new state death sentences but the federal system saw a huge uptick in federal death sentences. The disparity will likely draw to a rapid close. Although many cases where death is now authorized may continue to go forward new authorizations will likely be fewer and farther between. Where capital prosecutions are sought anticipate the authorization process to be much more rigorous. Similarly, the campaign had stated early on that if elected they would seek to bring many of the Illinois style reforms to the rest of the nation, however what shape those will take remains to be seen.

[adopted from a post at CDW]

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

More Montana Headlines

Once again, top of the front page....

Montana Standard - Death Penalty Opponents Speak from Experiences

MT Journey Touching Hearts and Minds

The Montana Journey continues to touch hearts and minds throughout the state. On Sunday evening I moderated an event at the University of Montana - Western featuring Murder Victim Family Members Eve Malo and Bill Pelke, and Leslie Lytle, author of the new book, "Execution's Doorstep." Here are a few photos....

Friday, October 03, 2008

Montana Journey - Top of the Fold!

The Montana Abolition Coalition is hosting the Montana Journey of Hope ...From Violence to Healing, starting yesterday with an event at Carroll College in Helena. Today we got up and drove to Bozeman for encounters with students at Montana State University, and we were welcomed by a top of the front page (above the vp debate coverage!) article in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle featuring Journey co-founder Marietta Jaeger Lane and David Kaczynski, brother of Ted Kaczynski, AKA the Unabomber, who was apprehended in Montana.

I'll post more on this blog when I can, but check the Journey of Hope blog, and while I am at it, I'll also plug the brand spankin' new web page of Murder Victim's Families for Reconciliation.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Rachel King: Thank You, and rest in peace....

Rachel King: 1963 - 2008

It is with sadness that we report the passing of our friend and colleague, Rachel King, on August 25, 2008 after a long and valiant struggle with cancer.

Rachel was first a daughter, friend, wife and step-mother, but her personal and professional lives merged in her advocacy and efforts to make our world a better place. She did so in volunteer and staff capacities with various organizations, including Alaskans Against the Death Penalty, the ACLU Capital Punishment Project and the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, where she served on the board of directors and as its chairperson. Rachel is the author of three books, two of which explore capital punishment from the perspective of the families who suffer the most as a result of the death penalty system.

Read more about Rachel’s history of successful advocacy here and here.

Rachel passed away in Wayne, Maine, where she was raised and later she and her husband, Richard McAlee, built a home together. Her last moments were spent surrounded by family and friends. Those who wish may reach the family by email through her step-daughter Lauren at lmcalee@gmail.com, or by mail through her mother Jill Howes at 282 Narrows Pond Rd., Winthrop, ME 04364. Rachel’s family asks those wishing to send a memorial to send donations to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty in lieu of flowers.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

NCADP's 1st Annual Death Penalty Abolitionist Leadership Institute

Maryland 9 - Texas 0: In Which Jane Gets A Talking To...

Sent originally from my Wireless BlackBerry while the game continued....

Subject: In Which Jane Gets a Talking to

It's MD Coalition Against State Executions night at Camden Yards and the Orioles are still shutting out the TEXAS Rangers, now 9-0 in the bottom of the seventh. MD CASE had expected to scroll its message calling for repeal but was given nothing more than a quick flash of a welcome to the group on the score board. Upon arrival John had been given a hard time about bringing in the signs, and ushers made certain to warn us not to display them. SO, in the 7th Inning Stretch, I pick up a sign just for a photo with Jane Henderson, Director of MD CASE. The music is thumping and Jane grabs the sign and starts dancing with it. The below shows what happened next. Yes, she was threatened with ejection! Enjoy...

At Camden Yards

Monday, July 14, 2008

OTSE Members Help Out NCADP at NAACP

The death penalty is on the agenda this week at the 99th Annual Conference of the NAACP in Cincinnati. NAACP delegates will consider a resolution calling for a Federal study commission, and a CLE course on strategies to prevent executions was scheduled to be taught by Bryan Stevenson. The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty has a presence in the "Ideas Exchange" area of the convention floor. NCADP is excited to welcome the incoming President & CEO of the NAACP, Ben Jealous, who was a staff member and later a member of the board of directors of our organization. The NCADP looks forward to working even more closely with the NAACP as we organize to create the changes necessary to abolish the death penalty.

Above from the left is Abe Bonowitz, NCADP's Director of Affiliate Support with Sue Prieshof and Sr. Alice Gerdeman (Board Chair) of Ohioans to Stop Executions and and Bo Chamberlin of both OTSE and Amnesty International.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

100th Execution in Virginia

Here are a couple of video snippets of activities outside the prison in Virgina as that state conducted its 100th execution in the current death penalty era. Here is one news item...

100th Execution in Virginia - Tolling the bell 100 times...

Pilgrimage for Life from NC to DC

Making Strides toward Abolition and Reconciliation....

Here's a short clip from last Sunday, about 15 miles north of Jarratt, VA, site of Virginia's death house.... These folks are walking from North Carolina to the U.S. Supreme Court in DC, educating and activating on the issue of the death penalty.... See their BLOG here.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Rev. Pickett on the Hill

"At the Death House Door" was screened for Congressional staff and interns on Thursday, June 19, 2008 in a special presentation hosted by Congressman Bobby Scott and co-sponsored by the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Amnesty International and the United Methodist Church Genral Board of Church and Society. The screening was followed by a lively Q&A session with Rev. Pickett, his wife and film maker Steve James.

Congressman Bobby Scott

NCADP Executive Director Diann Rust-Tierney

Rev. Carroll Pickett

Meeting with the Special Rapporteur

This morning (June 19, 2008)
Amnesty International hosted a meeting with Professor Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions. Providing perspective for him were Sue Vaughn of Amnesty International USA, Dick Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center, Deborah Fleischaker of the ABA's Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project, Renny Cushing of Murder Victim Families for Human Rights and Diann Rust-Tierney of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Professor Alston started by explaining his position and noted that he had met with much officials of the U.S. Justice Department yesterday, who expressed that they did not feel he has much to be concerned about. He also noted that a week from Monday (June 30) he'll hold a press conference to give his preliminary report, noting that the UN process then allows governments reported upon six weeks to comment, plus editing and translation prior to the issuing of a final report. Here is a bit more about his mission, followed by some photos from the meeting.

"The Special Rapporteur places a very high priority on receiving the views of civil society on the issues within his mandate. These are often invaluable in ensuring that his final reports and balanced and well-considered. The key aspect is that his mandate is actually not an abolitionist one. The matters that do come within the mandate are:

- Whether the due process requirements set out in international human rights law are observed in any trial (or subsequent pardons process) which may lead to the application of the death penalty;

- Whether, in retentionist states, the death penalty is only available for the "most serious crimes" (the legal position of the Special Rapporteur is that capital punishment is only permitted in international law for intentional murder. (His views are set out here)

- In the USA, he will also look at the allegations of racial bias in the application of the death penalty.

Although the mandate is not abolitionist, in some contexts (eg., Afghanistan) we have recommended a moratorium on the death penalty because it was clear that due process was just not observed at all (and could not be, in the circumstances currently prevailing). "

Diann Rust-Tierney

Richard Dieter

Renny Cushing

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sleeping with the Judge

(NOTE: An hour before the execution was to take place, the death warrant was rescinded and Hood was returned to death row)

Texas is at it again. The eight month moratorium on executions has come and gone and Texas is moving forward with executions even in the face of utter and complete injustice.

Do you remember the case of Calvin Burdine or George McFarland. Their lawyers fell asleep during their capital trial and they still got sentenced to death.

Well here’s another crazy Texas death penalty case.

Charles Dean Hood is scheduled to be executed today, June 17th in Texas. His lawyer fortunately was not caught sleeping, but the District Attorney in his case, Tom O’Connell, was caught sleeping, that is sleeping with the judge in Hood’s trial.

Judge Verla Sue Holland and District Attorney Tom O’Connell had a long-time intimate relationship including during the time of Hood’s trial, something that was all but public knowledge in the legal community. Hood’s attorneys have been trying to fully out this relationship and all the seedy injustice around it for years. Hopefully it’s not too late for Charles Dean Hood.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

March from NC to DC starts Sunday...

Click here to learn more about, support, and/or participate in the Pilgrimage and Walk of Remembrance 2008.

"The Pilgrimage and Walk of Remembrance 2008 is a 300-mile walk from Raleigh NC to Washington, DC. We embark on a spiritual pilgrimage and walk of remembrance – remembering murder victims and their families, people on death row and their families, persons executed and their families and calling for abolition of the death penalty...."

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

15th Annual Fast and Vigil Approaching

Every year, for the past fifteen years, from June 29 – July 2nd, something amazing happens in Washington, DC. Abolitionists from around the country and world come together for a four day Fast and Vigil to Abolish the Death Penalty.

They set-up shop on the sidewalk of the U.S. Supreme Court and put their ideals into action. And they lose some weight.

You might wonder why hold such an event during such a hot time of the year. And if you know DC in the summer, you know that it can be brutal. Do note that the fast is optional for participants and those who fast drink plenty of liquids.

Yup, summers in DC are high tourist season and the U.S. Supreme Court is a heavily trafficked spot for tourists and DC residents. So, it’s a fantastic opportunity to engage thousands of people on the death penalty. And since many of those who participate in The Fast and Vigil year after year have such powerful stories to tell – they are death row exonorees, family members of murder victims, family members of death row inmates and other long-time abolitionists - if a passerby takes the time to stop and have a conversation with someone, that will likely be one profound conversation and experience.

But why not hold court at the court in April or May, at the beginning of DC’s tourist season and when the weather is much more moderate?

The answer is that June 29th and July 2nd are the anniversaries of two historic death penalty cases heard and decided by the very Court where this protest now takes place – the U.S. Supreme Court.

On June 29, 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Furman v. Georgia that the death penalty is arbitrary and capricious. More than 600 condemned inmates had their death sentences reduced to life. On July 2, 1976, in Gregg v. Georgia the U.S. Supreme Court upheld new state death penalty laws allowing the resumption of executions in the United States.

For more information about the Fast and Vigil and to see a schedule for this year’s event, click here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Mike Kennedy, RIP

More is here.

People who didn’t know Mike but saw him could easily have mistaken him for a homeless drunk, but his hard to understand speech and his imbalance was due to his illness. That he was usually bedraggled was as much a matter of choice as it had to do with all the hassle involved for someone with his degenerative cerebral condition (I forget exactly what it was). But he cleaned up well, as evidenced by the picture of him here in my office taken at my wedding brunch. If you look at the Texans Against State Killing march video from 1992, you can see that Mike was using a cane then but still able at that point to set a very fast pace. Mike always had a book and he didn’t just read it, he devoured it. I offered to replace his copy of Dale Recinella’s “The Biblical Truth About the Death Penalty” because it was so dogeared, but he wouldn’t hear of it. I’ve never been to his apartment but a profile I read about him indicated he had quite the extensive library. Mike always wore his t-shirt and his buttons and I can’t recall him missing a Fast & Vigil or a Journey of Hope since I’ve known him – preferring to take the bus all the way from Dallas rather than to fly. As I know him, Mike identified first with Pax Christi, the Catholic peace movement, and he put his faith into action every day. Mike was a true human rights hero and he is missed.

Mike was an abolitionist’s abolitionist, and in his honor I am today making a contribution to the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. I encourage others to do the same here.


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Goodbye -- but not farewell

When I was in college in Austin, we used to crash the fundraisers of Democratic candidates for statewide office. Free food, free booze, this was in the early 1980s, Democrats were still strong in Texas back then. (And they will be again soon!)

Once in 1982 I crashed the fundraiser of Jim Mattox, Democratic nominee for attorney general. "I oppose the death penalty," I told him. "So do I," he said, while stuffing a bunch of shrimp in his mouth.

He then went on to inaugurate Texas' rush to executions in the 1980s. Politicians, you know.

I knew so little then. I know much more now.

I didn't know, then, that I would become a reporter for the Austin American-Statesman and I would write a whole lot about the death penalty. I wrote this and my life will never be the same because of it.

I had no idea that a day would come when Steve Hawkins, executive director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, would hire me to become NCADP's first and only communications director.

I had no idea that I would spend six and a half years on the job.

I had no idea that I would start this blog, or that Karl Keys would come to help me, or Abe Bonowitz. I have a regret -- that Lonely Abolitionist never joined our blogging team. She seemed cool.

I'm going away from NCADP but I'm not going away completely. Like, I'll be here.

As I go, I want to thank the people who have come here to read....and I want to hope that Abe and Karl will keep it going. And I want to maybe stop by here, from time to time, perhaps as a blogger emeritus. 200,000 readers, folks. That's not bad for this little old blog about the death penalty.

Goodbye (but not farewell!)


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Protesting #1,100 at SCOTUS

Above: Mike Stark of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty

Another doggie for Abolition!

Art Laffin shares the story of the murder of his brother and his opposition to executions.

Friday, May 02, 2008

The Road to Abolition - New Book by NJ Senator Raymond Lesniak

"During my 30 years in the state Legislature, I never prepared statements to be delivered in committee, on the floor or at public appearances, always relying on my glibness to either captivate an audience or stumble through a presentation of my views. The death penalty debate was different.



Lives were at risk.

The Road to Abolition is the result."

-- Senator Raymond J. Lesniak

Learn more and buy the book here.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Pope Thanks Corzine for Abolishing the Death Penalty in Jersey....

Well, it was not the public reiteration of the Catholic Church's condemnation of the death penalty that some of us would have liked to have seen, but the Pope did not leave the US without saying something about it. Click here to read the news account. And for those who think the current Pope is not all that strong on the death penalty, see this account of his recent meeting with the President of the Philippines.

--abe (with a hat tip to Celeste for the heads up)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Bearer of bad news

The pending execution list to the left is back. My apologies.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Doubts about death

Dallas County (Texas) District Attorney Craig Watkins shared some interesting thoughts on the death penalty with the Dallas Morning News yesterday:

"I sit here and I see the worst, the worst of what humans can do. And when you sit here and see that, the only logical conclusion that you can come to is we have to seek the ultimate punishment.

"But when you go home, sit with your family in day-to-day chores, you look at morality and religion and think about the course of life. Then you start to question, 'Am I putting myself in that same position as that person [who] for whatever reason decided to take a life?'

"Now, I represent the government and I am in the position to do the same that they do. I struggle with that. As a district attorney, I'm here to uphold the law and protect the society I have been elected to represent. So the question I have for myself is: 'If I don't pursue these crimes that are so heinous with ultimate punishment, am I living up to my ultimate responsibility?'

"But my other side of me is not only to protect society but to make society better. If I do the death penalty, am I doing that?"

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Survivors' stories available online

A few weeks ago a team of abolitionists, death row exonerees, and murder victims' families toured Pennsylvania, holding public talks at churches, colleges, high schools, and community centers. 10 days, 13 towns, 21 events, 1690 miles, and a countless number of cups of coffee.

Talks by two of the participants, death row exoneree Juan Melendez and Rev. Walter Everett of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights, are now available online at the website of the Verstehen Video Project. If you've never heard the story of a survivor- a death row survivor or a homicide survivor- these talks are well worth your time.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

200,000 and counting!

Early this afternoon, Abolish the Death Penalty received its 200,000th visitor:

Total 200,001
Average Per Day 276
Average Visit Length 0:35
Last Hour 17
Today 155
This Week 1,933

Our readership is down a bit these days, probably because in recent times other activities have prevented me from blogging as often as I would like. I'll try to do better for as long as I can. Meanwhile, thanks to others who have helped make this blog a success, such as my friend Karl and my friend and new coworker Abe.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Innocent people on death row? It's no myth

For years, proponents of the death penalty have claimed that the list of innocent people released from death row is greatly exaggerated. The official list, maintained by the Death Penalty Information Center, is 128 people released from death row after evidence of their innocence emerged. (For details, go here.)

If anything, this list is too small. For example, it does not include people like Kenny Richey, a Scotsman recently freed from Ohio's death row. Richey is not on the list because he accepted what's known as an "Alford plea" in order to avoid the indignity and risk of another wrongful conviction. And the list, of course, does not include the many innocent people currently on death row -- a figure that could be as high as five percent of the almost 3,300 people on death rows across the United States.

One of the chief debunkers of the innocence list is Joshua Marquis, an Oregon prosecutor who represents district attorneys. But now comes John Holdridge, head of the Capitol Punishment Project of the ACLU, who writes a powerful rebuttal of Marquis' criticism:

Number of Innocents on Death Row Mandate Moratorium
Support for the death penalty in the U.S. is at its lowest point in many years. One of the primary reasons is the recent explosion in the number of death-row exonerations, which the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) now puts at 127. In response, some proponents of capital punishment have taken to arguing that many of the freed death-row prisoners are not in fact innocent. But their arguments do not hold up under the slightest of scrutiny.

For example, a March 25 New York Times story by Adam Liptak quotes Oregon prosecutor Joshua Marquis as saying that the number of "authentic" death row exonerations since 1973 is not DPIC's 127 but "more like 30." Mr. Marquis also makes this claim in his frequently-cited article, "The Myth of Innocence."

One problem with this claim is that few Americans would agree with Mr. Marquis's narrow understanding of what it means to be "innocent." In 2005 testimony before Congress, Mr. Marquis submitted a document [PDF ]which denied that my former client, Michael Ray Graham, and his co-defendant Albert Burrell were released from Louisiana's death row because they were innocent. The author of the document claimed that they were released "only because there was insufficient evidence of guilt." In fact, Graham and Burrell were released after the Louisiana Attorney General's Office informed a court that there was "a total lack of credible evidence linking Graham and/or Burrell to the crime."

If a finding of a "total lack of credible evidence" is not enough for Mr. Marquis to consider someone innocent, what is?

Another huge problem with Mr. Marquis' "more like 30" claim is that it is unsupportable. In "Myth of Innocence," he attempts to support the claim by citing both Wall Street Journal column that was critical of the abolition movement but made no attempt to calculate the number of innocent former death row inmates, as well as comments by U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff at a February 2004 seminar held by the Federal Bar Counsel of New York.

Judge Rakoff's comments at the seminar apparently were not recorded. However, in two published opinions in 2002 in the federal death penalty case of United States v. Quinones, Judge Rakoff set forth his analysis of the number of freed death-row prisoners who were innocent. Using what he termed a "conservative" approach, the judge concluded that at least 32 and as many as 40 of the 58 death-row prisoners freed from 1991 through 2002 were factually innocent. What prosecutor Marquis fails either to either recognize or acknowledge is that Judge Rakoff's estimate was based on his review of only the death-row prisoners freed from 1991 through 2002, a number DPIC puts at 58. Judge Rakoff's analysis did not consider or include the 44 death-row prisoners freed before 1991, nor the 25 death-row prisoners freed after 2002.

In short, like the Wall Street Journal article, Judge Rakoff's analysis provides absolutely no support for prosecutor Marquis' claim that the number of "authentic" death row exonerations since 1973 is "more like 30."

Instead of denying the reality that many innocent men and women have been sent to death row, proponents of capital punishment would be wiser to, at the very least, join those who call for a death penalty moratorium while they study whether our broken criminal justice system can be fixed to ensure that only the guilty are sent to their deaths. And if they reach the same conclusion that many of us have -- that fallible human beings cannot create an infallible system of capital punishment -- then they should join those of us who advocate abolition of this barbaric punishment. The moral stakes are simply too high -- both for the innocent people wasting away on death row and for the society that put them there.

(Note: This is taken entirely from Holdridge's blog entry over at the Huffington Post.)

Monday, April 07, 2008

A walk to abolish the death penalty

This morning we in NCADP's office were graced with the presence of "Capital X," who is walking from New Jersey to Texas in support of death penalty abolition. (Above you can see a map of Capital X's journey. The link button to contribute doesn't work from this blog -- but to contribute or buy a t-shirt, just go here.

We're going to try to cover Capital X's journey as best as we can through the upcoming weeks. Meanwhile, The Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing will also have updates on their blog. View them here.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Forty years ago today...

...our nation witnessed the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In a way, it was the death of liberalism. Conservatives have had their way with us -- almost unremittingly -- ever since.

Today, of course, change is in the air. The word "conservative" has become more of a perjorative than the word liberal. Dr. King would like the direction we are headed in.

Man was born into barbarism when killing his fellow man was a normal condition of existence. He became endowed with a
conscience. And he has now reached the day when violence toward another human being must become as abhorrent as eating
another's flesh.

-- Martin Luther King, Jr., Why We Can't Wait, 1963.

To read more of Dr. King's quotes, go here.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Rev. Walter Everett: Still going

When we started planning the Voices of Hope Agents of Change Tour ("the VHAC tour"), Rev. Walter Everett of Murder Victims Families for Human Rights told us that he wanted to do four or five events per day. The twenty- and thirty-somethings on the tour planning committee said, "Slow down."

There is no slowing Walt down. His energy is incredible. Walt is a retired Methodist minister. Well, actually, he flunked retirement and has a church part-time in Sunbury, PA. He was with us twice last week, driving from his home in Lewisburg to Harrisburg for three events and then home in the evening, a 70 mile trip one-way. Then the next morning he drove another 70 miles or so to State College, did two events, and drove home, leaving Penn State at 9pm.

This week he traveled with us from Scranton on Monday to Bethlehem on Tuesday. After we wrapped in Bethlehem, after three events there, he drove home at 9:30pm, a 2 1/2 hour trip. Yesterday he joined us again in Reading, another 2 1/2 hour trip, for an evening event at Albright College- where we were joined by exoneree Ray Krone- and drove home again.

In between, he tended to one church member who is going into a nursing home and another who is dying.

I've known Walt for three years or so, but this tour has shown me a part of him I was not aware of. His energy is through the roof. Here's a 70-something guy who is telling the story of the murder of his son. He's doing it two or three times a day and then driving home at night to be with his wife and tend to his congregation. And through it all, he's cracking jokes and never shows any sign of irritation. Although, he does keep teasing me about getting lost in Bethlehem. We've done 20 events, we got lost once, and that's the one my tour mates remember.

Rolling Stone called Walt "serene and heartful, without an ounce of bombast." That is certainly true.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Death, Taxes, and Dry Cleaning?

New reports were released last week focusing on the financial and geographic aspects of the death penalty system in California. Link to them here.

In a blog about it, I note this:

The Hidden Death Tax also reveals some startling figures that you wouldn't expect to find on an expense sheet for prosecuting a death penalty case. But there it is, on Page 26 of the report, a dry-cleaning bill of $937.45, and a $387 worth of oil changes, car washes and smog checks.

Makes you wonder if some prosecutor's head might be rolling just about now? Nahhh.... I am sure there is justification for that somewhere in the details.... Read the full blog post here.


Friday, March 28, 2008

Voices of Hope tour PA, press the flesh, build the movement

I'm the Central Pennsylvania Abolitionist, and I approve this message.

Ok, ok, maybe I'm a little delirious after 15 death penalty events in a six-day period, covering 1087 miles and a whole lot of coffee. Maybe I'm still trying to take it all in after a week that has included hanging with a guy who spent nearly 17 years on PA's death row only to be cleared at retrial, two fathers who lost children to homicide, a Penn State professor who is on the cutting edge of messaging research in the anti-death penalty movement, a progressive Christian community in Philadelphia, and one of the stars of M*A*S*H.

Nevertheless, the movement is on the move here in PA. Nine days ago Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, the ACLU of PA, the Pennsylvania Moratorium Coalition, and Witness to Innocence kicked off a two-week, 11-town, 22-event tour across the Commonwealth to tell two very important stories about capital punishment- the stories of innocent people sentenced to die and of murder victims' families who oppose capital punishment.

Harold Wilson was a resident of PA's death row for more than 16 years. Twice, Governor Tom Ridge signed his death warrant. But when it was discovered that the Philadelphia District Attorney's office had been using racial profiling in jury selection for years, including in Harold's case, he won a new trial.

At that new trial in 2005, DNA evidence indicated the presence of unknown person at the scene of the crime. In addition, testimony revealed that a bloody jacket that had been used at the original trial to implicate Harold didn't even belong to him. The jury found Harold not guilty, and he became the 122nd person nationwide and the 6th person in PA to be exonerated after spending time on death row.

Lorry Post and Rev. Walter Everett had to plan a funeral that no one should have to plan- a funeral for a child. Walt's son Scott was killed by a man who was high on drugs in 1987. Lorry's daughter Lisa was killed by her husband in 1988. As Walt says, they didn't lose their children to murder. Scott was taken from Walt. Lisa was taken from Lorry. (A great video about Walt's story is available here.)

Both men went through the extreme emotional suffering one might expect, but they came out the other end with the recognition that capital punishment does not serve victims' families.

All three men have been a part of this odyssey through the small towns, backwoods, cities, and universities of PA over the last week. Next week exonerees Juan Melendez and Ray Krone will join the fray.

The most important outcome from this adventure has been the way Harold, Walt, and Lorry have moved audiences. We've talked with groups as big as 180 and as small as 16. Whatever the size of the audience, at each stop we have had people step up and say, "I want to do more." That is how a movement is built. And that's how an unjust policy is toppled.

Although this is a concentrated effort in these two weeks, this conversation with the people of PA didn't start with this tour. Last year PADP took part in more than 60 public education events, with assistance from various groups. And it won't end with this tour. What this tour has reminded us, though, is that these stories matter. The way this dastardly policy affects and hurts people's lives matters.

These first tour stops have included Philadelphia, Harrisburg, State College, Erie, Edinboro, Meadville, and Pittsburgh. Next week we're back at it on Monday with stops in Wilkes Barre and Scranton, and then we're off to Bethlehem, Reading, and Lancaster.

Last night we wrapped up this first leg of the tour at the annual meeting of the Greater Pittsburgh Chapter of the ACLU of PA. Harold told his story to the more than 150 civil libertarians in the room, and he was followed by keynote speaker Mike Farrell, actor and activist. Mike gave us our charge:
We have work to do, ladies and gentlemen. And we will do it. It is good work. It is necessary work. Some say it is holy work. I believe it is all of those things.

For in-depth coverage of the tour, check out Speaking Freely, the blog of the ACLU of PA.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Healing and restoration in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

UNC-Chapel Hill will celebrate the life of Eve Carson at 4 p.m. today in the Dean E. Smith Center. Carson, UNC-CH's student body president, was shot to death March 5. Two suspects have been charged in her slaying.

While we celebrate the life of Eve Carson and mourn her passing, we are yet again reminded of the obligation to start getting smart on crime. Already there are reports that at least one of the suspects in her killing should have been in jail but was released due to bureaucratic ineptitude.

I was reminded of this story today when the following op-ed found its way to my inbox. The author, Steve Dear, is the head of NCADP's North Carolina affiliate, People of Faith Against the Death Penalty. Here's what Steve had to say:

Setting an example after a tragedy
Stephen Dear: Guest columnist
March 16, 2008

In response to the senseless murder of Eve Carson, our community can offer an example for the nation. We have lost one of our brightest lights and now we as a community can make a decision about who we are and what we stand for.

At this moment we can come together in our pain and say the cycle of violence ends here, in our hearts, in our homes, on our streets and in our courthouses. Out of our deep sadness and grief we as a community can show the nation that communities can unite to stop the cycle of violence, vengeance and destruction, and foster restorative justice.

Let us call on District Attorney Jim Woodall not to seek the death penalty in this case.

Two young African-American males from Durham, 17-year-old Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr., and 21-year-old Demario James Atwater, have been charged with Eve Carson's murder. Lovette, as a juvenile, will not be eligible for the death penalty, but Atwater could be. Lovette has also been charged with the January murder of Duke graduate student Abhijit Mahato in Durham.

In recent years, the city councils of Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Durham and Hillsborough, and the boards of commissioners of Orange, Durham and Chatham counties have all passed resolutions calling for a suspension of executions. The UNC Student Government Association, before Eve Carson was elected its president, passed a resolution calling for such a moratorium. More than 100 churches, businesses and groups in our community have passed similar resolutions. Thousands of people in our community are members of People of Faith Against the Death Penalty, whose offices are located in downtown Carrboro, and thousands more locals have signed petitions to stop executions.

Our community, town and gown, have deserved reputations for leaning against the death penalty. Although DAs have tried, no one has been sentenced to death in Orange County since 1970.

Some have said Ms. Carson's killer or killers deserve death. But the death penalty will not bring healing; it will only brutalize us and keep us perpetuating the racial and class biases of Old South justice.

Ironically, this academic year UNC is holding what may be the most extensive series of events examining the death penalty at any university in modern times. UNC's leaders have done a noble service to the community and to future generations of leaders by providing an array of opportunities to learn about and grapple with the death penalty, especially the historical roots of the racial and class bias and the wrongful convictions involved with it.

The murder of Eve Carson took place just days after a lecture by "Dead Man Walking" author Sr. Helen Prejean when she told the university community how forgiveness shows great strength and that the administration of the death penalty reflects whose lives we value more in this society.

Scholars at UNC, including law school dean Jack Boger, have authored a study of race and the death penalty in North Carolina, finding that a defendant in North Carolina is 3.5 times more likely to receive a death sentence if the murder victim is white, and even more likely if the defendant is non-white, as in the Carson case.

Our community has been informed about the death penalty, its many failings, and the false promise of justice and healing it offers.

There are other ways for us to deal with our pain and hurt.

In 2006 the Amish families and community of Bart Township, Pa., set an example for the world in the aftermath of the killing of five girls at a one-room school there.

As they grieved, they began the journey of forgiveness and healing together. Several of the victims' families who had buried their own daughters just the day before attended the killer's funeral and hugged his widow and other members of his family.

As a community they dealt with their fully appropriate anger without turning to rage and collective vengeance.

Seeking the death penalty in an attempt at exacting justice or balancing the scales of justice only creates another revolution in the cycle of violence. In turn it sends the message to would-be killers of the world that killing is acceptable.

Instead, we can focus on healing and restoration for the Carson family, and our community.

This tragedy has changed lives of people in large and small ways. We can chose for it to change us for the better as individuals and as a community.

Instead of focusing on lethal retribution we can put addressing the needs of the victim's family first while attending to the hurt and needs of everyone involved, including the community and even offenders. Let us create new programs addressing crime prevention and gang violence and offer new programs at counseling and assistance for victims' survivors.

When I attend the memorial service on Tuesday I will be praying for Ms. Carson and for comfort and healing for her family. I will also be praying that we set an example for the country that stands for life and love.

That, after all, is what this remarkable human being was all about.

Stephen Dear lives in Carrboro and is executive director of People of Faith Against the Death Penalty, a national nonprofit organization located in Carrboro.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Eyebrows raised

This from CNN:

U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey said Friday he is "kind of hoping" the prisoners facing military trials in connection with the September 11 attacks do not receive the death penalty, which would fulfill their desire to be martyrs.

During questions from students at the London, England, School of Economics, Mukasey indicated his support for the death penalty in the United States, but then waded into a discussion of his views on potential sentences for al Qaeda defendants at Guantanamo Bay.

"In a way I kind of hope from a personal standpoint -- and I can say this because the military commissions will be run by the Department of Defense, not by the Justice Department. ... I kind of hope they don't get it. Because many of them want to be martyrs and it's kind of like the conversation, you know, between the sadist and the masochist. The masochist says 'Hit me' and the sadist says 'No.' So I am kind of hoping they don't get it."

"The 11 defendants who were charged with participation in 9/11 killed 3,000 people. One of them, at least, is proud enough of it to have written to his wife that he thinks he is innocent because it was only 3,000. If those are not poster children for the death penalty, I don't know who is," Mukasey told the British students.

Military prosecutors have asked to seek the death penalty for the defendants if they are convicted of capital crimes. The Defense Department's judicial panel called its "convening authority" has not announced whether to approve the Guantanamo military trials as capital cases.

Historically, U.S. attorneys general do not express their private views on pending legal matters. It is not clear whether any of the al Qaeda defendants at Guantanamo Bay could eventually come before a U.S. civilian court.

In Washington, some Justice Department officials' eyes widened and eyebrows raised when they learned of Mukasey's statements, but they made no comments. Mukasey has exhibited caution in his many previous public appearances, so his offhand remarks appeared out of character for the low-key retired federal judge.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Oh, the irony....

George W. Bush became the first president to sing since its 1885 inception during the annual Gridiron Dinner the other night, but the irony is that the lyrics he made up were sung to the the tune of the "Green Green Grass of Home," a song sung in the voice of a man awaiting his own execution. Ironic, since Bush was the most-killing Governor in the history of our nation until his successor surpassed him. And perhaps more deliciously ironic, since Bush is now quite clearly at the end of his rope in the office of POTUS.

BTW, it's quite a moving song and has been covered by many many artists. Check it out here and hear Johnny Cash do it here.


Saturday, March 08, 2008

Walking abolition to Texas

.Andre Latallade, a/k/a Capital-"X", will walk from Trenton, New Jersey to Austin, Texas, approximately 1,700, to bring the torch of abolition from the Garden State to the Lone Star State.
Andre Latallade, also known as Capital-"X" will walk from Trenton New Jersey, approximately 1,700 miles to the Governors mansion in Texas in an attempt to bring awareness to the death penalty. The death penalty has recently been abolished in New Jersey, and Texas is known as "the busiest killing state." He is trying to "build a bridge between the two groups of victims, the executed, and their families and the victims and families of violent crimes."

Andre says "separated we call for life or death, I say we unite and call for solutions." He asks that life without parole be called for as opposed to the death sentence. Currently all executions are "on hold" while the Supreme Court rules whether lethal injection is cruel and unusual.

The walk will begin on March 31, 2008 approximately 5PM. Latallade estimates it will take around 54 days walking 8 hours a day minimum, about 3.5 mph. He will take one break for 3 days about one-third of the way to participate in the Hip Hop Association's HHEAL Festival in the Bronx, New York. Latallade is a hip hop artist himself and is known by the name of Capital-"X" on stage. Andre has created a video about his "Walk 4 Life." Andre will walk through 10 of the 12 highest executing states.

Latallade said "I think it can bring unity. Unite everybody that is fighting injustice, and keep that unity till the end. Can we make this big enough to apply international pressure on the USA?" He says "I have Italy behind me as well as London organizations, France, Denmark and Croatia. I am reaching out to Puerto Rico." Various non profit organizations, human rights groups, and other abolitionists support Andre on his "Walk 4 Life."

Capital-"X" will try to raise funds to educate people on the death penalty, and monies raised from this event will be donated to murder victim's families and abolitionist groups. Anyone interested in supporting "X" and uniting in this cause to Stop Capital Punishment, can email Andre at this address: projectrevolution2010@gmail.com
more here.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Maryland taxpayers spend $186 million on death penalty statutes

Today a study analyzing the cost of the death penalty was released in Maryland. The study is described as one of the most comprehensive ever conducted. There are, of course, a number of reasons why the death penalty represents flawed public policy. The fact that it is such an enormous drain on taxpayer resources always has been near the top of my list.

Here's a Baltimore Sun article that discusses the study:

March 6, 2008

Death penalty costs Md. more than life term

By Jennifer McMenamin
Baltimore Sun reporter

The death penalty has cost Maryland taxpayers at least $186 million more in prosecuting and defending capital murder cases over two decades than would have been spent without the threat of execution, according to a study to be released today.

In addition, because most death sentences in Maryland are overturned and eventually reduced to life without parole, state residents are often saddled with the high cost of a capital case and the bill for housing a convicted killer for life, the study found.

Paid for by the Baltimore-based Abell Foundation and prepared by the Urban Institute, a national, nonpartisan research organization in Washington, the study estimates that the cost of reaching a single death sentence costs the state an average of $3 million, which is $1.9 million more than a non-death penalty case costs, even after factoring in the long-term costs of incarcerating convicted killers not sentenced to death.

The report - the first to analyze the cost of capital punishment in Maryland - arrives as state lawmakers prepare to again debate repealing the death penalty. A hearing is scheduled for today in Annapolis on a Senate bill that would eliminate capital punishment as a sentencing option. A similar House bill is scheduled to be heard next week.

"This is a compelling argument against the death penalty - the enormous costs to the state's taxpayers," said Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesman for Gov. Martin O'Malley, a death penalty opponent who focused on the financial costs of capital punishment when he testified last year in support of repeal. The bill was defeated by one vote in a Senate committee last year.

The top prosecutor in Baltimore County - which accounts for more capital cases than any other jurisdiction in the state - assailed the study's conclusions and its use of attorneys' salaries to calculate the cost of the death penalty in Maryland.

"That is a completely worthless number, because we don't go out and hire new lawyers to try these cases," Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger said. "They get assigned to my most experienced lawyers, who will work as many hours as it takes to put the case on, and don't get any more money."

Speaking of prosecutor S. Ann Brobst, who handles many of the county's capital murder cases, Shellenberger said, "Ann's got a ton to do. It's just a matter of whether she does one ton or two tons. When she takes these cases, she doesn't complain. She doesn't get more money for it. She just does her job."

Using data collected by a University of Maryland professor who studied racial and geographic disparities in the application of the state's death penalty law, the Urban Institute researchers examined 162 capital murder cases that were prosecuted between 1978 - when Maryland reinstated capital punishment as a sentencing option - and 1999.

To calculate the cost of a capital case, researchers interviewed prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges to estimate the time spent on each segment of a case. That time estimate was then applied to such expenses as the value of court space and the salaries of those handling capital cases.

The final tally revealed that prosecuting 162 cases in which death sentences were sought cost $186 million more than what prosecuting those cases would have otherwise cost, according to the study. Of that, $70.9 million was spent on 106 capital cases that did not result in a death sentence while $107.4 million was spent on 56 cases that did. In addition, more than $7 million was spent by the state public defender's capital defense division for activities not accounted for elsewhere in the study.

The researchers found that capital murder cases cost more than non-capital murder cases at almost every phase of the case. Trials cost an estimated $616,000 more, they found. The "penalty phase" of a capital case - during which a judge or jury hears testimony to determine a sentence for a convicted killer - costs $326,000. And state and federal appeals cost $605,000 more than appeals filed in non-capital cases.

The researchers also found that inmates sentenced to death cost $316,000 more to incarcerate than convicted killers who receive lesser sentences. "This is partly because the type of confinement for death-sentenced inmates is more expensive," the study's authors wrote, "but also due to the reality that few of those sentenced to death are actually executed."

The Urban Institute's total dollar figure does not include costs associated with federal court proceedings in state capital cases.

Although groups in many death penalty states have analyzed the cost of such cases, the Urban Institute's Maryland study is the first to statistically control for factors that might otherwise make a capital case more expensive, said Andrew Davies, a researcher with the New York State Defenders Association, which in the 1980s completed the first such study.

"The argument goes that ... death penalty cases might be worse or more heinous cases, so that even if they weren't death penalty cases, they still would be more expensive," he said. "But in this study, they've isolated the pure effect of the death penalty on inflating the cost of cases."

But Shellenberger said it is ridiculous to suggest that all these costs would be avoided simply by getting rid of the death penalty.

"No matter what the ultimate punishment is going to be in the state of Maryland - whether it's death or life without parole - every good defense counsel is going to fight their hardest against the ultimate punishment," he said. "There is no magic end to all this litigation just because someone doesn't get the death penalty."
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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

'The Two Lives of Napoleon Beazley

(Hat tip, For Victims, Against the Death Penalty)

There's a must-see play showing in New York City right now. The Two Lives of Napoleon Beazley examines one of the last juvenile offenders executed in the U.S. before such executions were ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. The play tells the story of a 17-year-old African-American defendant who was sentenced to death for a carjacking and murder in Texas. The victim was the father of a federal judge.

The Austin Chronicle writes that The Two Lives of Napoleon Beazley is:

The most important play to see in Texas right now.... Voicing all the opposing viewpoints on the issues of racism, judicial nepotism, ageism, and capital punishment, [this play] presents the story dramatically with heartbreaking scenes that are not at all contrived or insincere. Fleming’s well-knit play unfolds effortlessly before us, evoking pathos for injustice.

The play is currently having its New York City Premiere at the Flamboyan Theater of the Clemente Soto Velez Center, 107 Suffolk Street, NY. For more information, go here.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Guest blogging on Monte Allen Delk

Today we guest-blogged over at Executed Today, which my friend Jason runs.

Here's our entry:

Six years ago today the state of Texas executed an FBI agent, a state district judge, the president of Kenya and a war hero who commanded a nuclear-powered submarine during the Civil War. More aptly put, Texas executed a seriously mental ill inmate named Monty Allen Delk who, at varying times, believed he was all of these things.

Delk was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of Gene “Bubba” Allen of Anderson County in East Texas. Although the state of Texas maintained that Delk was “malingering,” i.e., pretending to be mentally ill to stave off execution, the prison system’s former chief mental health officer stated that Delk suffered from a severe mental illness, one that had become progressive in nature since it was first noticed in 1989 –- years after Delk was tried and convicted.

A close examination of the Delk case reveals yet another significant flaw in the capital punishment system:

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that executing severely mentally ill inmates violates the U.S. Constitution.

The court also has held that a death row inmate must be mentally competent in order to drop his appeals.

But the court has not directly addressed the issue of whether a death row inmate must be mentally competent in order to pursue his state and federal habeas appeals. In fact, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over death penalty cases in Texas, have ruled that prisoner competence during state and federal habeas proceedings is not constitutionally required.

The question is fundamental to due process. Habeas is the first, last and often only avenue of appeal for death row inmates whose sentences have been upheld on direct appeal by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. But because Delk was unable to assist his attorney through his habeas appeals, he could not answer simple questions that were key to his case -– questions such as, did he commit the crime? Did he think his trial was fair? Did he think his trial lawyers adequately represented him? Were there circumstances about the crime or about his personal history that mitigated against a death sentence?

The fact that Delk’s execution was allowed to proceed represented a three-pronged failure on the part of Texas’ death penalty system. The first failure must be attributed to the courts, which failed to order a psychiatric evaluation of Delk, despite repeated requests by Delk’s very able attorney, John Wright of Huntsville.

The second failure lies with Texas’ executive clemency system. Because of his mental illness, Delk’s sentence should have been commuted to life in prison. Yet the Board of Pardons and Paroles as well as Texas Gov. Rick Perry did nothing. (It is important to note that four days before Delk’s execution, the Georgia Parole Board, acting in a similar case, commuted death row inmate Alexander Williams sentence to life in prison after pleas from human rights activists. Williams is a chronic paranoid schizophrenic who thinks Sigourney Weaver is God and that little green frogs are in his prison cell, staring at him.)

The third failure rested with the Texas media. While Williams’ case attracted comprehensive media coverage in Georgia and beyond, newspapers in Texas largely failed to investigate Delk’s case. Government -– including the criminal justice system –- works best under the glare of public scrutiny. Absent such scrutiny, abuses occur. In this case, no one outside Texas’ fervent anti-death penalty community took much notice of Delk’s execution.

The good news is Texas’ newspapers are beginning to sit up and take notice. If I am not mistaken, every major Texas newspaper has called either for abolition of the death penalty or for a moratorium on executions. The issue of capital punishment has advanced from the margins to the mainstream. In today’s climate, one wonders whether Texas officials could get away with executing a person as severely mentally ill as Delk.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court will have to directly confront the issue of whether a death-sentenced prisoner need be mentally competent during his habeas appeals. Until that happens, we simply will have to ask ourselves a key question:

Is executing someone who is so severely mentally ill he does not know who he is not the very definition of an insane act?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

'This is Tammany Hall, only 100 years later'

Newsweek magazine has taken a look at the strange goings-on inside the Harris County, Texas district attorney's office. This article is sooooo worth posting in its entirety:

Newsweek Web Exclusive Race, Justice, and Texas

Resignation doesn't end trouble for Houston's top prosecutor
By Gretel C. Kovach

In his 30-plus-year legal career in Harris County, Texas, Chuck Rosenthal has been no stranger to controversy. As a prosecutor he lit firecrackers in the stairwell of the district attorney's offices soon after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings. (It was a prank, he said.) After he was elected DA in 2000 he called the death penalty a "biblical proposition" and lobbied unsuccessfully to maintain Texas's sodomy law. He defied a gag order to appear on "60 Minutes" in 2001 to defend his decision to seek the death penalty for Andrea Yates, the Houston housewife who drowned her five children.

Rosenthal is back in the headlines again. Last December, as part of a federal civil rights lawsuit into how justice is meted out in the county, he turned over the (partial) contents of his government e-mail account. And what a batch of e-mails it was. Black ministers called for the Republican to resign because of racist material, including a cartoon depicting an African-American suffering from a "fatal overdose" of watermelon and fried chicken. There were adult video clips and love notes from Rosenthal to his secretary, his mistress during a previous marriage. "I love you so much," Rosenthal says in one. "I want to kiss you behind your right ear," he says in another. "Go spend time with your family," she admonishes him back.

Now it appears that Rosenthal's on-the-job antics have done him in. In the wake of the e-mail revelations, local GOP leaders forced him to abort his re-election bid. Then, on Feb. 15, after Lloyd Kelley, the attorney in the civil rights case, brought a lawsuit accusing him of drinking on the job and "incompetence, or official misconduct," Rosenthal resigned. But his problems may not be over. As eye-opening as his e-mails were, it's the ones that disappeared that might cause him more trouble yet. Rosenthal deleted thousands of e-mails (even going so far as to delete them from the trash folder) that investigators in the civil rights case wanted; his actions could lead to obstruction of justice charges (the messages were destroyed after he had received a subpoena for them, he admitted in court). And during a contempt of court hearing earlier this month, Rosenthal appeared to contradict his sworn statements about the e-mails, leaving him open to perjury charges. The hearing was abruptly adjourned at the request of his lawyer and is scheduled to resume March 14. If found in contempt, the former top prosecutor could wind up in jail.

Neither Rosenthal nor his lawyers returned NEWSWEEK's calls for comment. In an earlier statement to the press about the content of the e-mails, Rosenthal said, "I deeply regret having said those things . This event has served as a wake-up call to me to get my house in order both literally and figuratively."
On Feb. 15, in response to the new lawsuit, he blamed a combination of prescription drugs for causing "some impairment" of his judgment.

Rosenthal's most recent troubles started in 2002, when brothers Sean and Erik Ibarra sued Harris County, saying they were falsely arrested and abused after they photographed sheriff's deputies searching a neighbor's home. Kelley, a former Houston comptroller who had campaigned for the DA job but lost to Rosenthal, took the case. He subpoenaed the e-mail traffic of his former political opponent, looking for evidence that Rosenthal had colluded with the county sheriff to "put the kibosh" on the civil rights case, he says. It took years of legal wrangling to get Rosenthal to turn over any e-mails.

Kelley says he bears no grudge against his former political nemesis. "Nobody should be allowed to destroy evidence," Kelley says. What was unearthed was bad enough, he says, "but this is less than a half, maybe a third of the total." In the lawsuits against the sheriff, Tommy Thomas, and Rosenthal, Kelley paints a picture of a county justice system off the rails. "You've got a good ol' boy system, so the last resort is a civil lawsuit," he says. "You've got a crooked system where they all feed on each other. There's no independent oversight. This is Tammany Hall, only a 100 years later."

There have long been complaints that the Harris County DA's office discriminates. Former prosecutors have said that other lawyers in the office referred to Hurricane Katrina evacuees as "NFLs," or "N------ From Louisiana."

In 2003 prosecutor Mike Trent sent an officewide message congratulating his colleagues on winning a case despite the presence of several "Canadians" on the jury. (He later said he was unaware that "Canadian" is sometimes used as a racial slur for a black person.) Jolanda Jones, a defense attorney and Houston city council member, has complained for years that minorities are unfairly stricken from juries and that punishment is administered more harshly for blacks. "There is absolutely an undercurrent of racism," she says. "The story is bigger than the district attorney's office. It's systemic. They're racist and classist. If you're poor or a minority, there is no justice."

But Joe Owmby, chief of the DA's integrity division and the highest-ranking black prosecutor in Harris County, says he's never felt as if he works in a racist atmosphere-and he defends Rosenthal for encouraging minority hiring.
Other black former prosecutors say they never heard racist comments either.

The jury of public opinion is divided on whether Rosenthal's e-mails amount to a handful of embarrassing private messages or evidence of racism and sexism tainting the justice system in the nation's fourth-largest city. Hundreds rallied before Rosenthal's contempt of court hearing earlier this month to call for his resignation. Deric Muhammad of the Millions More Movement told the crowd on the courthouse steps, "We have a systemic problem. It is not just Rosenthal that has to go-the whole toilet must be flushed."

Will the next Harris County DA bring about wholesale change? Rosenthal's doctor, Sam Siegler, sent Rosenthal racy messages, including a video clip of women having their clothes ripped off in public. Siegler's wife Kelly was one of Rosenthal's star prosecutors. Despite her husband's role in the controversy, Kelly Siegler wasted no time distancing herself from her boss's activities, and now she's campaigning like a "bulldog in a Chihuahua's body" for Rosenthal's job. But Siegler herself is hardly immune to controversy. She made an anti-Semitic comment to a jury 20 years ago (she later apologized) and, in court a few years ago, she straddled a fellow prosecutor strapped to a bed with neckties. She was trying to show that a wife couldn't have acted in self defense when she stabbed her husband, played by the prosecutor, to death.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Show trials at Guantanamo Bay?

This popped up over at Daily Kos. We reprint in its entirety:

This was very much how it was done in the bad old days of the Soviet Union:

Secret evidence. Denial of habeas corpus. Evidence obtained by waterboarding. Indefinite detention. The litany of complaints about the legal treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay is long, disturbing and by now familiar. Nonetheless, a new wave of shock and criticism greeted the Pentagon's announcement on February 11 that it was charging six Guantánamo detainees, including alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, with war crimes--and seeking the death penalty for all of them.

Now, as the murky, quasi-legal staging of the Bush Administration's military commissions unfolds, a key official has told The Nation that the trials are rigged from the start. According to Col. Morris Davis, former chief prosecutor for Guantánamo's military commissions, the process has been manipulated by Administration appointees in an attempt to foreclose the possibility of acquittal....

When asked if he thought the men at Guantánamo could receive a fair trial, Davis provided the following account of an August 2005 meeting he had with Pentagon general counsel William Haynes--the man who now oversees the tribunal process for the Defense Department. "[Haynes] said these trials will be the Nuremberg of our time," recalled Davis, referring to the Nazi tribunals in 1945, considered the model of procedural rights in the prosecution of war crimes. In response, Davis said he noted that at Nuremberg there had been some acquittals, something that had lent great credibility to the proceedings.

"I said to him that if we come up short and there are some acquittals in our cases, it will at least validate the process," Davis continued. "At which point, [Haynes's] eyes got wide and he said, 'Wait a minute, we can't have acquittals. If we've been holding these guys for so long, how can we explain letting them get off? We can't have acquittals, we've got to have convictions.'"

Haynes was a legal adviser to Rumsfeld and Gates. Bush nominated him to a federal bench position, but his nomination was actually blocked by Republican Lindsey Graham because of Haynes involvement in developing the Pentagon's torture policies. He was bad enough for Lindsay Graham to block him, and he's in charge of the Gitmo trials.

The Gitmo detainees have no hope of a fair trial, and even if they should be acquitted (against the apparent rules the administration has imposed) the government has already said they can be held indefinitely because they've already been deemed "enemy combatants." Those who survive the show trials will never breathe free air if the Bush administration has anything to say about it.

To read the piece as it was originally blogged (and to see the many comments that have been left) go here.

Monday, February 18, 2008


Yesterday we guest-blogged over at www.executedtoday.com

Check out our entry here.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Will another death row exoneration be happening in Mississippi

From Radley Balko over at Hit & Run, Reason magazine's blog, a post boldly entitled Eddie Lee Howard: Mississippi's Next Exoneration?

Now that Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks have been freed, the Innocence Project is calling for a criminal investigation into Dr. Michael West. Peter Neufeld is asking that every case in which West has ever testified be reviewed. The linked article notes that there are 20 or more Mississippians in prison right now due at least in part to West's testimony.

West still stands by his testimony. He's now saying that even if Brooks and Brewer did not commit the two murders a third man has since confessed to committing, his testimony wasn't incorrect: Brewer and Brooks still bit those little girls. To believe West, you'd have to believe that in two cases that occurred at about the same time, two men living just miles apart coincidentally each repeatedly bit a little girl in their care just hours before a third man unknown to either of them abducted, raped, and killed said little girls.

Alternately, you could believe that Dr. West is a quack who makes shit up. I know which theory my money's on.

The next case involving the unholy triumvirate of West, Hayne, and District Attorney Forrest Allgood that may embarrass Mississippi is that of Eddie Lee Howard, currently on death row in Parchman for the gruesome murder of an elderly woman. The assailant stabbed the woman to death, then set her house on fire and left her to burn. Dr. Hayne testified at trial that the woman was also raped, though no semen or second-party blood or pubic hair showed up in the rape kit. Hayne did not find any bite marks. The victim was buried.

In a now-familiar pattern, Hayne then brought his buddy Dr. West onto the case. Three days later, the police detained Howard without a warrant, then immediately took him to Dr. West's dental practice, where West took an impression of Howard's teeth. Police then exhumed the victim, at which point West once again claimed to find bite marks no one else could see. He then noted there were similarities between Mr. Howard's dental impression and the bite marks he said he'd found on the burned body.

There was no biological evidence linking Howard to the crime scene. The sole evidence against him was West's testimony and the testimony of a police investigator who says Howard basically confessed to him, though the investigator never asked Howard to sign a statement of confession, nor is there any recording of it.

Eddie Lee Howard clearly has some psychological problems.

[Read the rest of Radley's piece here]

Go Radley Go!!!

Friday, February 15, 2008

A death row exoneration

from the Innocence Project

Two Mississippi men are cleared after 15 years


At hearings this morning in a packed Mississippi courthouse, two Innocence Project clients convicted of separate child murders in the same small town were cleared based on new evidence proving their innocence. This day comes after nearly 15 years behind bars for Levon Brooks and Kennedy Brewer, who were joined in court this morning by more than 100 of their relatives.

(Above, left to right: Innocence Project Staff Attorney Vanessa Potkin, Levon Brooks, Kennedy Brewer, Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld. Macon Beacon Photo)

Brewer, who served much of his time on death row, was fully exonerated today after all pending charges against him were dropped. He is the first person exonerated by post-conviction DNA testing in Mississippi and the 213th nationwide.

Brooks was released this morning after his conviction was vacated, and will be fully exonerated when charges against him are dismissed, which we expect in the next few weeks.

More from the Innocence Project on this miracle