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.