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:
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.