Monday, August 31, 2009

THAILAND EDITORIAL towards a new 'moratorium'

This Editorial and one below is thanks to Dr. Rick Halperin's Death Pen News and Updates

New 'moratorium' needed on executions

On Monday last week Thailand resumed the practice of state executions by putting to death by lethal injection Bundit Jaroenwanit, 45, and Jirawat Poompruek, 52, both arrested on March 29, 2001, on drug trafficking charges. At the time of the last executions in 2003 there was a lot of local and international criticism of the country's stance on capital punishment

. With the absence of executions and so many major and minor crises popping up in the meantime, the issue had been put on a back burner. Now, however, the national debate on capital punishment will surely resume, as well it should.

There are a number of questions that seem destined to remain unanswered. No explanation has been given on why the 6-year unofficial moratorium on executions was suddenly broken, and apparently the 2 prisoners themselves were unaware of their fate until an hour or so before they were given the lethal injections.

There has been no word either on why these particular two men were chosen on such short notice to serve their punishment, or whether more executions will take place in the near future.

At present there are more than 700 prisoners under sentence of death in Thailand.

Every convicted prisoner, including those under sentence of death, has a right to petition His Majesty the King for a pardon, and over the years a number have received the royal pardon. Even if no pardon is given, however, historically a large percentage of those on death row are not executed but die of natural causes.

The Thai Criminal Code guarantees that after a prisoner is given a sentence of capital punishment he/she has the right to appeal to the Appeals Court and then the Supreme Court. Presumably Bundit and Jirawat did go through this process.

However, scant details of the court history of the cases against the 2 men have been made public.

Admittedly, the lack of clarity in the situation can be attributed to the media to some extent, but the difficulty in obtaining information is distressing to say the least.

There is no reason to believe that these men were given anything less than the due process guaranteed by law, but complete transparency in such a literally life-or-death matter should always be the order of the day.

Thailand is one of a number of Asian countries in which drug offences are punishable by death. It has been reported that Bundit and Jirawat were caught in possession of more than 114,000 methamphetamine pills. Proponents of the death penalty will correctly point out that this much methamphetamine is capable of causing a tremendous amount of misery, particularly among the young. But the chief justification for capital punishment is not to inflict revenge, it is to prevent future crimes of a serious nature.

In a response to Monday's executions, on Thursday the EU made known its position on this point: ''The European Union would like to state its well-known position that the death penalty has not been found to act as a deterrent and that any miscarriage of justice _ which is inevitable in any legal system _ is irreversible.'' Calling capital punishment ''cruel and inhuman'', the EU called on the Thai government to abolish the death penalty and establish a moratorium in the meantime.

The United Nations General Assembly has overwhelmingly passed several resolutions calling for a moratorium on the death penalty, most recently on December 20, 2008. As might be expected, Thailand did not vote in favour of the moratorium, but such international pressure is a major reason why there were no executions for 6 years.

Now would be a good time to begin a new and official moratorium, especially given the mysterious nature of the unannounced executions on Monday.

(source: Editorial, Bangkok Post)

AUGUST 29, 2009:

THAILAND - When the Killing Hour Arrives - 1st in Six Years

On Monday, the 1st prisoner executions in 6 years were carried out at Bang Khwang jail. This is the story of the reluctant officials assigned the task

At about 1.30pm on Monday, the heart of the commander of Bang Khwang central prison grew heavy when a message was delivered to him by the Corrections Department.

It was an order from the Prime Minister's Office, requesting the prison proceed with the execution of 2 prisoners, who at that time were taking in the afternoon air outside their prison dormitory.

After reading the order, Prasert Yusuphap sat in front of an image of the Lord Buddha in his office and started to pray and meditate. ''I'm a Buddhist and I don't want to order the killing of anyone,'' said Mr Prasert.

He and 30 subordinates had to carry out one of the toughest tasks of a corrections official - taking lives in the name of justice, a grisly duty spelled out in the Corrections Act.

Having been in charge of the prison for 8 months, it was the 1st time Mr Prasert had to oversee executions. The last executions in Thailand were carried out in late 2003 when 4 prisoners were killed by lethal injection.

Mr Prasert realised that the death order could possibly lead to chaos in the prison, where inmates serving heavy sentences are often in a fragile state of mind, so he kept the news quiet for a few hours until all prisoners were inside their cells.

At Bang Khwang, 743 inmates out of the the total prison population of 4,163 are facing the death penalty. But this more often than not does not end in execution as they still have legal recourse through the supreme and appeals courts. A total of 112 have had their cases finalised by the courts. Of those, 35 have lodged a petition for an individual Royal Pardon while the remainder are in the process of doing so.

Bundit Jaroenwanit, 45, and Jirawat Poompreuk, 52, 2 convicted drug criminals according to prison authorities, were not granted pardons and so the execution order came from the Prime Minister's Office.

At about 4pm Mr Prasert called his men to tell them about the executions. About 15 were assigned to take care of the last-minute business of the two prisoners and the rest were to prepare the execution process.

The toughest job was asking 3 men to conduct the lethal injections. No one wanted to perform the job, Mr Prasert said.

Unlike execution by shooting, which was replaced by lethal injection in 2003, stopped in late 2001, Mr Prasert said, there is a ''close-up'' moment between the executioner and the prisoner when the drugs are injected into the body. He said as there were no volunteers.

3 guards who normally have routine chores such as watching over prisoners or providing occupational training were given the task.

''They don't want to do this, but someone must. It's our duty and we must perform it,'' said Mr Prasert.

The 3 guards headed to the prison's execution room to prepare the injections. Mr Prasert then informed the registration unit to identify the 2 men to be executed, who were then removed from their cells.

The pair were taken to the Phak Jai Sala (rest pavilion), to be informed about the death order. They signed forms to accept the decision and conducted the business of condemned men, ranging from writing wills to calling loved ones.

When it reached 6 pm, the pair were taken to the execution chamber, where they were given a chance to listen to chanting by a monk, and their last meal.

1 hour later they were brought to the actual execution room where first they were injected with sodium thiopental, a barbituate which makes them unconscious, then pancuronium bromide, a muscle relaxant.

The last drug, potassium chloride, stops the heart beating.

''They [the executioners] asked for forgiveness from the 2, and after they finished the task I advised them to do merit-making,'' said Mr Prasert, who walked back to his office to again pray for forgiveness in front of the Buddha image.

Lethal injection is regarded as one of the most humane methods of execution, but some human rights advocates, including the Amnesty International, have decried the practice of execution whatever the means used.

Mr Prasert said that personally he did not agree with prisoner executions. He said that there could be flaws in the justice system which could end up with the wrong person being executed.

He said prisoners in Bang Khwang generally suffer enough from long-term sentences, some for life, and those showing remorse should be forgiven.

According to Nathee Chitsawang, the Corrections Department's chief, the department has not proposed any changes to the death penalty as the subject is still open to debate.

He said the department is an implementation body and had to follow directives. It has tried to take care of the officers involved in execution as best it can by providing training as well as extra allowances.

(source: Bangkok Post)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

SMU professor goes to extremes to fight for equality

Today, 3,297 inmates are lined up on death row, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The third largest group of 338 is stationed in Texas. In the U.S., more than 4,500 have fallen victim to this form of punishment since 1930, according to Crime Magazine.

A 20-year-old Czech medical student, Jan Palach, set himself on fire in protest of the communist rule trying to enter his country. One SMU professor, just entering adulthood at the time, was there to see it.

Most students would not think to visit an inmate on death row, witness a lethal injection execution or travel to third world countries and see first-hand the brutality and torture humans are inflicting on others. One SMU professor accompanied an inmate's pregnant sister to see her brother put to death.

One SMU professor goes to all lengths to ensure everyone is given the respect they deserve.

Meet Dr. Rick Halperin, a human rights educator at SMU.

On this day in history

Halperin will never celebrate another birthday. But it is not for the reason most think. He does not think it is a coincidence his birthday is marked by the cause he is most passionate about.

July 2, 1976, was a night filled with laughter and food, a time spent celebrating with friends, but Halperin does not remember the festivities of the evening. His birthday, instead, will forever be remembered as what Halperin thinks of as a national day of shame.

"When my birthday comes around every year, I just don't celebrate it," Halperin said. "I just can't celebrate that day for my personal reasons when something much bigger and more important to me is at stake."

Halperin, then 26 and a graduate student at Auburn University, only remembers the TV announcing the Supreme Court had made the death penalty legal again. There may have been a birthday cake, but the details are fuzzy. Only the static on the TV was clear. A night commemorating "America's Bicentennial" was nothing worth celebrating to Halperin.

"The last item on the news was a small blurb saying the U.S. Supreme Court had re-legalized the death penalty in the U.S. After a four-year hiatus it was back," Halperin said.

Halperin has relentlessly been fighting for the abolishment of the death penalty for nearly the last four decades. Growing up, his mother told him everyone was to be treated with the same degree of respect; there was no such thing as an inferior person.

"I would say the set of beliefs I grew up with that she instilled in me, the idea that all people, regardless of who they are or what they may have done, need and deserve manners, dignity, respect and understanding," Halperin said

Today, fighting against the death penalty, Halperin says, is one of his most passionate causes.

"It's the most important human rights issue to me - in this country or any country that has it," he said. "I just believe it's wrong to kill, and having witnessed an execution, it's an un-debatable point for me."

Halperin spends what little free time he has fighting for the lives of others. Visiting as many of the prisoners on death row as he can cram in between teaching and fighting for other causes has become routine to Halperin, who spends hours on end chatting with the prisoners during each visit.

Working as a sort of intermediary, Halperin has worked in helping inmates relay messages to their families and fighting attorneys to fight on their behalf. He has even gone so far as to make funeral arrangements.

A member of at least four separate organizations opposing the death penalty, Halperin has witnessed a lethal injection execution in Huntsville, Texas at the request of the inmate. One week after the request was extended, Halperin made the three-hour drive with the prisoner's sister to see the man put to death.

Halperin recalls the experience to his students in a way the leaves many shocked and deeply moved. As Halperin tells the story about the indifference displayed by the executioners, some students shake their heads in disbelief; others stare transfixed at their professor - a man who stops at no lengths to put himself in these situations in hopes of establishing a sense of equality.

Now 59, Halperin spent his most recent birthday grading final exams from the two classes he taught during summer school.

"It was pretty unglamorous," Halperin joked.

A Tom Sawyer childhood

Halperin, growing up in the South during the Civil Rights Era, explains being subjected to societal brutality at the age of seven.

"I would only say I was sensitized at an early age to deep-rooted social problems in America," Halperin said. "I didn't grow up ever saying 'I don't know what's going on.' I was surrounded by an angry, hateful society that was tearing into itself and it was hard to be indifferent."

Growing up, Halperin was a witness to a "pretty terrible racially motivated act of violence." While no further details were provided, the event caused Halperin to have an epiphany - between the morals instilled by his mother and the events unfolding in front of him - he wanted to be a teacher.

Besides teaching, Halperin is a current member of the National Death Penalty Advisory Committee, as well as the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Since starting with Amnesty International USA in 1971, Halperin has been at the forefront of the organization, trying to abolish the death penalty around the world, while also fighting for women, gays and lesbians, political prisoners, journalists and other professionals under a constant form of assault by reigning governments, in hopes of raising awareness and helping these suffering groups. Before coming to SMU, Halperin was a professor at Auburn University, Ole Miss and Tulane - two state schools and two private institutions all rooted in the South.

"As a human rights educator, the South is the place to be," Halperin explained. "This is where the bulk of the violations occur in America. This is where people's hearts and minds are perhaps in greater need of education."

"I'm on a sense of urgency to help"

Today, Halperin can be found comfortably crammed into a corner office on the second floor of Dallas Hall. He sits surrounded with books that stack from floor to ceiling, videos that look like they are about to collapse under their own weight and paintings, murals and other graphic illustrations by past and present students fighting for wall space.

Bringing an unparalleled history of experience and wealth of knowledge to students each year as part of his Human Rights Education Program in the university's Dedman College curriculum, Halperin spearheads the program on the Hilltop, making SMU just one of 14 universities in the country to host a human rights program.

Students know him not only for his intense and gripping teaching style, but also for the signature sunglasses he wears rain or shine. Students captivated by his involvement in rallies and protests admire him, those who do not know him, strive to. A man of great interest, everyone who is anyone can identify who this man is.

"I would tell you in all honesty I don't think of myself as anything more than a human rights educator," Halperin said. "I'm just trying to help provide information to people who are going to have to deal with these issues in some capacity in their own lives."

As part of his involvement with the SMU human rights minor, Halperin leads students on yearly excursions to Cambodia and Rwanda, numerous Holocaust sites in Europe and countries recovering from genocide in Africa, among other locations, to subject students first-hand to the terrors other people experience.

"I feel like I'm racing the clock," Halperin said. "I'm not going to be able to do this work forever. I have a finite time; I don't want to waste it. I want to reach as many people and students as possible so long after they're out of my class they can help be an agent of change."

With topics in his America's Dilemma class ranging from Middle East struggles in women's rights to genocide in Africa, Halperin, since coming to SMU in 1985, captivates students with stories, documentaries and personal experiences to teach about the evolution and importance of valuing a person's basic and guaranteed rights.

Stories about being jailed and arrested on numerous occasions, fasting for days on end and receiving threats from people from all over the world just for putting himself on the frontlines for the benefit of others, are all part of Halperin's life. Accounts of organized rallies and protests are peppered into class conversations, as he solemnly retells his past experiences.

As a student at George Washington University in 1970 (just four days after the Kent State shootings), Halperin found himself in the midst of a chaotic riot and face-to-face with a policeman releasing a canister gun against his cheekbone. Now partially blind, with no peripheral vision, depth perception or the ability to see colors, Halperin feels blessed just to be able to see.

Participating in non-violent protests is routine for Halperin. Halperin was hit by a blast of acid gas, knocking him unconscious while everyone fled the oncoming riot. The chemical coated his eyes as his vision deteriorated over the 45-minute window it took to get him to a hospital only five blocks away.

"I still see, Halperin said. "There are a lot of people much worse off than I am. I have few grounds to complain."

Drawing on personal experience - Halperin has inspected prison conditions in Ireland and taken part in investigations to uncover unimaginable living conditions in Texas death row facilities and marching in and organizing several non-violent rallies - the former chair of the Amnesty International USA Board of Directors tells students first-hand the consequences of human brutality and torture that still goes on in our world today.

"Sadly, I think it seems to be a theme in my life is just a constant exposure to or an eyewitness to horrific acts of societal violence," Halperin said. "I don't go to these places thinking or wanting to see violence, but as it turned out, I frequently have been at places where violence erupted. It's a quirk, a coincidence, and I certainly do take those experiences with words and hopefully pictures to students."

Discrimination can be found anywhere, Halperin explained, but it is at the hands of others that something must be done to put an end to the violence and hate controlling society.

"One person can make a difference," Halperin said. "I think it's just imperative for young people to demand that their country be better. If you want a better society, work for it."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Video: Gabriel Gonzalez

Bill Pelke thinks that Gabriel Gonzales might be innocent and thinks we should view this video, study his case, and make your own decision.

Expert says fire for which father was executed was not arson

In a withering critique, a nationally known fire scientist has told a state commission on forensics that Texas fire investigators had no basis to rule a deadly house fire was an arson -- a finding that led to the murder conviction and execution of Cameron Todd Willingham.

The finding comes in the first state-sanctioned review of an execution in Texas, home to the country's busiest death chamber. If the commission reaches the same conclusion, it could lead to the first-ever declaration by an official state body that an inmate was wrongly executed.

Indeed, the report concludes there was no evidence to determine that the December 1991 fire was even set, and it leaves open the possibility the blaze that killed three children was an accident and there was no crime at all -- the same findings found in a Chicago Tribune investigation of the case published in December 2004.

Willingham, the father of those children, was executed in February 2004. He protested his innocence to the end.

The Tribune obtained a copy of the review by Craig Beyler, of Hughes Associates Inc., which was conducted for the Texas Forensic Science Commission, created to investigate allegations of forensic error and misconduct. The re-examination of the Willingham case comes as many forensic disciplines face scrutiny for playing a role in wrongful convictions that have been exposed by DNA and other scientific advances.

Among Beyler's key findings: that investigators failed to examine all of the electrical outlets and appliances in the Willinghams' house in the small Texas town of Corsicana, did not consider other potential causes for the fire, came to conclusions that contradicted witnesses at the scene, and wrongly concluded Willingham's injuries could not have been caused as he said they were.

The state fire marshal on the case, Beyler concluded in his report, had "limited understanding" of fire science. The fire marshal "seems to be wholly without any realistic understanding of fires and how fire injuries are created," he wrote.

The marshal's findings, he added, "are nothing more than a collection of personal beliefs that have nothing to do with science-based fire investigation."

Over the past five years, the Willingham case has been reviewed by nine of the nation's top fire scientists -- first for the Tribune, then for the Innocence Project, and now for the commission. All concluded that the original investigators relied on outdated theories and folklore to justify the determination of arson.

The only other evidence of significance against Willingham was another inmate who testified that Willingham had confessed to him. Jailhouse snitches are viewed with skepticism in the justice system, so much so that some jurisdictions have restrictions against their use.

Samuel Bassett, an attorney who is the chairman of the commission, said the panel will seek a response from the state fire marshal and then write its own report.

Contacted Monday, one of Willingham's cousins said she was pleased with the report but was skeptical that state officials would acknowledge Willingham's innocence.

"They are definitely going to have to respond to it," said Pat Cox. "But it's difficult for me to believe that the State of Texas or the governor will take responsibility and admit they did in fact wrongfully execute Todd. They'll dance around it."
(Source: Chicago Tribune)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Bill Pelke Endorses Dean Interview

Former Warden Talks with Students

See the Post Below for more about this video: here

This is powerful stuff that everyone should see.



JourneyofHope Websitehere

Bill Pelke, President
Journey of Hope...from Violence to Healing
PO Box 210390
Anchorage, AK 99521-0390
Toll Free 877-9-24GIVE (4483)
Cell 305-775-5823
"The answer is love and compassion for all of humanity"

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Former Death Row Warden Discusses the Impact of Executions on Correctional Officers

Dr. Allen Ault was the warden at the maximum security prison in Georgia where executions were carried out. He also served as Commissioner of Corrections during a lifetime career in the field. He is currently the Dean of the College of Justice & Safety at Eastern Kentucky University. In the video accompanying this note, Dean Ault discusses the tremendous drain that carrying out executions had, and continues to have, on his life. He questions the value of the death penalty, and recognizes the difficulty that many politicians have in challenging this punishment, despite its obvious flaws. The video was made at the end of a six-week course on the death penalty at EKU and contains answers to questions that the students raised. To view the video (21 minutes), click here.
Source: Death Penalty Information Center

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"Troy Davis and the Meaning of 'Actual Innocence' "

Read Amy Goodman's latest column


Consider writing your local newspaper and asking for them to carry the column, distributed by King Features. Many papers across the US have done so already.

If you see the column in your paper, please mail us a copy of the full page, to:

Democracy Now!
100 Lafayette St., Suite 604
New York, NY 10013

Thank you!

= = = = = = = = =


* Supreme Court Orders Evidentiary Hearing for Death Row Prisoner Troy Anthony Davis; Rare Decision Could Result in New Trial *

The Supreme Court has taken the rare step of ordering a new hearing for Georgia death row prisoner Troy Anthony Davis. The nation's highest court ordered a federal district court in Georgia to "receive testimony and make findings of fact as to whether evidence that could not have been obtained at the time of trial clearly establishes his innocence." Davis was convicted for the 1989 killing of a white police officer. Since then, seven of the nine non-police witnesses have recanted their testimony, and there is no physical evidence tying him to the crime scene. In a Democracy Now! special, we hear from Davis, speaking from death row; Davis's fifteen-year-old nephew Antone, and his sister Martina Correia, who have led the campaign to exonerate him; Laura Moye of Amnesty International USA; and Ezekiel Edwards, a staff attorney at the Innocence Project.


* Texas Judge on Trial for Refusing to Hear Appeal Hours Before Death Row Prisoner's Execution *

The presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is on trial for misconduct for refusing to hear a last-minute appeal from a death row prisoner scheduled to be executed that night. Judge Sharon Keller, dubbed "Sharon Killer" by her critics, reportedly denied an appeal from the lawyers for Michael Wayne Richard at 5:20 pm on September 25th, 2007, saying, "We close at five." Richard was killed later that night by lethal injection. Keller faces five charges of judicial misconduct and could be removed from the bench.


Monday, August 17, 2009

GEORGIA: New Hearing Ordered for Troy Davis!

Please read that stunningly good news, below, and forward to everyone
you know who has been worried about Troy Davis. CNN is covering this currently:
(Thanx, Bill!)

From Anna who is working hard in South Carolina to end the Death Penalty:

I've not heard that the canvassing in Savannah to encourage D.A. Chisolm to reopen the case is called off, and I don't think it should be. Please contact me if you can come to Savannah with us on Saturday, August 29!


On Behalf Of gfadp Sent: Monday, August 17, 2009 11:33 AM


I have some amazing news to report! In an extremely rare order issued during their summer recess, the US Supreme Court today ordered a new hearing for Troy Davis! The court ordered a federal judge in Georgia to hear evidence (finally!!) and evaluate Davis' claims of innocence. This is what we've been fighting for, folks! More details to come soon!

Here's the legal info: here

Thanks to everyone for all your amazing work, our efforts are really
paying off!

With Tremendous Joy,
James Clark
Georgians For Alternatives to the Death Penalty

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Crying Tree

The Crying Tree is a new novel by Naseem Rakha that raises the real-life question: Could you forgive the man who murdered your son? Rakha is an award-winning broadcast journalist whose work has been heard on NPR's "All Things Considered" and "Morning Edition." The story of her novel is told through the lives of a mother whose son was murdered and the superintendent of a state penitentiary where the defendant's execution is to take place. Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, said in review, "For anyone who has ever wondered how forgiveness is possible, even when the pain is overwhelming, wonder no more. The Crying Tree takes you on a journey you won't soon forget." Editorial Review:

Irene and Nate Stanley are living a quiet and contented life with their two children, Bliss and Shep, on their family farm in southern Illinois when Nate suddenly announces he’s been offered a job as a deputy sheriff in Oregon. Irene fights her husband. She does not want to uproot her family and has deep misgivings about the move. Nevertheless, the family leaves, and they are just settling into their life in Oregon’s high desert when the unthinkable happens. Fifteen-year-old Shep is shot and killed during an apparent robbery in their home. The murderer, a young mechanic with a history of assault, robbery, and drug-related offenses, is caught and sentenced to death.

Shep’s murder sends the Stanley family into a tailspin, with each member attempting to cope with the tragedy in his or her own way. Irene’s approach is to live, week after week, waiting for Daniel Robbin’s execution and the justice she feels she and her family deserve. Those weeks turn into months and then years. Ultimately, faced with a growing sense that Robbin’s death will not stop her pain, Irene takes the extraordinary and clandestine step of reaching out to her son’s killer. The two forge an unlikely connection that remains a secret from her family and friends.

Years later, Irene receives the notice that she had craved for so long—Daniel Robbin has stopped his appeals and will be executed within a month. This announcement shakes the very core of the Stanley family. Irene, it turns out, isn’t the only one with a shocking secret to hide. As the execution date nears, the Stanleys must face difficult truths and find a way to come to terms with the past.

Dramatic, wrenching, and ultimately uplifting, The Crying Tree is an unforgettable story of love and redemption, the unbreakable bonds of family, and the transformative power of forgiveness.

A Q&A with Naseem Rakha

Question: How did the idea for the book originate? Had you always been interested in the Death Penalty?

Naseem Rakha: In 2003, I met a woman during a peace rally in my small town of Silverton, Oregon. She had just visited an inmate on San Quentin’s death row—an inmate who, twenty-one years earlier, had been convicted of killing her daughter. For years, she had lived for this man’s death, believing that his execution would end the pain of her loss. What she found, however, was that after ten years of waiting and hating, she had to give it up. She wrote the man and told him she forgave him. That arc, from the most desperate kind of anguish to reconciliation and even love stunned me, and compelled me to explore this journey through The Crying Tree.

Question: As a mother yourself, was it difficult to write from Irene Stanley’s perspective about the death of her child?

Naseem Rakha: Writers of fiction must have empathy—the ability to feel what others feel, and then express those emotions in a way that keep them alive. So yes, feeling Irene’s anguish over her son’s death was difficult, but so was Nate’s anguish, and Daniel’s, and Bliss’s and Tab Mason’s. On the other hand, life also offers us moments of inspiration, joy, and redemption, and as I wrote The Crying Tree, those life-affirming emotions far outweighed the weighty nature of the subject.

Question: Without giving anything away, secrets—Nate’s, Shep’s, Irene’s—are the driving force behind the tragedy in this story. When you first started writing, did you know how the story was going to unfold?

Naseem Rakha: I knew how the story would start, I knew the conflict, and I knew how I wanted the story to end. Everything else was a surprise. Sometimes a very big surprise.

Question: Through your research and writing, has your opinion about the death penalty changed?

Naseem Rakha: I did not write The Crying Tree to make a statement about the Death Penalty. Instead, I wanted people to confront the question of forgiveness. What does it look like, what does it take, and what can it possibly give? Intellectually, I oppose capital punishment. But, if faced with the murder of a loved one, I have no idea if my moral objections would stand up against my desire for vengeance. This is a question one hopes to never face, but perhaps through this book people will think more about their own capacity to live beyond loss.

Question: Who are some of your favorite authors? Were there any books that particularly inspired you to write this novel?

Naseem Rakha: I think of authors like Kent Haruf, who can tell deep stories about ordinary lives. I think of Jane Smiley, and how she brings characters to life through dialogue and setting. I think of Truman Capote and his ability to report an event and make it feel as tangible as knife cutting through a loaf of bread. No one particular novel inspired The Crying Tree, but voices of other authors informed my own writing style.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

NORTH CAROLINA heads up! Perdue signs RJA into Law!

Official photo courtesy of Gov. Beverly Perdue and Wikipedia

Gov. Beverly Perdue signs race, death penalty into law:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009 | 12:31 PM ET in RALEIGH -- North Carolina become the second state that allows defendants to try to prove race was a significant factor in a death sentence or that a prosecutor used race a factor in seeking the death penalty.Gov. Beverly Perdue signed the Racial Justice Act into law Tuesday morning. The General Assembly passed the law last week.The bill was sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Floyd McKissik (D-Durham) and in the House by Rep. Larry Womble (D-Forsyth), Rep. Earline Parmon (D-Forsyth), Rep. Paul Luebke (D-Durham) and Rep Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford).

"I have always been a supporter of death penalty, but I have always believed it must be carried out fairly," Perdue said. "The Racial Justice Act ensures that when North Carolina hands down our state's harshest punishment to our most heinous criminals the decision is based on the facts and the law, not racial prejudice."

For news articles announcing this major event, GO here and here

See earlier You Tube video here

If you have time, add your comments below or at the URL under the story. Thanx for tuning in and thanx to ALL who have made this new law possible!

Friday, August 07, 2009

NORTH CAROLINA: Racial Justice Act sent to Governor

RJA is landmark legislation in need of duplication.

Remember the history of lynchings in NC! Remember the innocent most recently released from Death Row in 2008, all Black men- Bo Jones, Glen Chapman, Jonathon Hoffman! Remember the racist trials in the South and NC - Darryl Hunt's, Ronald Cotton's! Remember advocates like Rev Finlator who fought for change! Remember the racial prejudices and assumptions that groups make toward each other! Remember that justice for so many relied on our lawmakers and that they did not let us down last night because of the hardwork of volunteers and coalitions throughout the state!

A landmark piece of legislation, the NC Racial Justice Act, has finally passed in NC that will help to fight racism in our criminal justice system. This highlights what can happen when diverse groups come together to impact change.

Last night the NC Racial Justice Act was sent to the Governor! RJA had an INTERNATIONAL FOLLOWING and a historic grassroots network of supporters in NC. The world was watching last night because RJA is landmark legislation in need of duplication.

This bill would have never passed without the hard work of the bill's sponsors, Sen Floyd McKissick, Rep Larry Womble, Rep Earline Parmon, Rep Pricey Harrison, Rep Paul Luebke, House Speaker Joe Hackney (his fabulous team - Laura Devivo, Bill Holmes, Robin Johnson) and so many others who sacrificed so much. Special thanks to Rep Deborah Ross, Rep Bill Faison, Rep Phil Haire, Rep Angela Bryant, Rep Larry Hall who helped sponsors maneuver RJA through numerous committees.

Most importantly, the NC General Assembly and the state of NC witnessed the force of the NC Legislative Black Caucus (led by Rep Alma Adams) that locked arms from both chambers last night to win this bill. Senate Black Democrats marched to victory together with ranking member Senator Charlie Dannelly as their mouthpiece. They were also joined by progressive Senators Ellie Kinnaird, Dan Clodfelter, Doug Berger and Martin Nesbitt who worked hard for a concurrence vote last night.

So many people helped to win this bill because they recognized its need. Many more lawmakers made tremendous sacrifices for their work last night in spite of warnings from their Caucus' leaders. But, ultimately they were led by their own faith 'to do the right thing and vote for change.'.

We Did It because of You! So many people and groups coming together led to this victory! Specials thanks to the NAACP (led by Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II), HK on J Coalition members, the NC Black Leadership Caucus (led by past chair Can, the NC Legislative Black Caucus, Blueprint NC members and all of our Moratorium Coalition's partners' staff and grassroots network!!!

Thank you for a job well done! The lives saved are forever grateful! My life has been enriched and my spirit blessed because of this fight! Thanks to my friend Donice Harbor for being my footsteps on this journey in both her life and recent passing! She opened doors to now Governor Beverly Perdue like no one else could.

Charmaine Fuller Cooper, Executive Director
Carolina Justice Policy Center


Racial Justice Act passes, now goes to Perdue
By James Romoser
The General Assembly has approved a landmark bill that will allow death-row inmates to challenge the death penalty by arguing that there is systemic racial bias in the way that capital punishment has been applied.

Under the bill, which is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Bev Perdue, an inmate will be able to present statistical evidence showing racial disparities in how the death penalty has been used. If a judge finds the evidence convincing, the judge can overturn that inmate's death sentence and convert it to a sentence of life in prison.

Similarly, in future murder trials in North Carolina, judges will be able to block prosecutors from pursuing the death penalty if they find a historical pattern of racial bias in the use of the death penalty.

The bill is seen by its supporters as a long-overdue solution to a history of discrimination that they say permeates the criminal-justice system and the system of capital punishment.

Opponents, including prosecutors and victims' groups, say that the bill substitutes statistical data and historical trends for the particular facts of a case. It will, they say, set up an enormous roadblock for capital punishment and reopen old wounds for the families of murder victims.

The bill, which supporters named the N..C. Racial Justice Act, has been the subject of intense debate and legislative wrangling for months. Last night, the N.C. Senate voted 25-18 to adopt a version of the bill that had been approved by the N.C. House last month. In both chambers, Republicans opposed the bill, and most Democrats supported it.

The Senate's vote sends the bill to Perdue, a Democrat. A spokesman for Perdue said that she will closely review the bill but is likely to sign it.

If she does, North Carolina will become just the second state -- after Kentucky -- to enact a law allowing challenges to the death penalty on the basis of statistical disparities from previous cases.

"The need for this bill is self-evident," said Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, the chief sponsor of the bill in the Senate. "It is critically needed to correct any type of conduct that might be impermissible when it comes to the imposition of the death penalty."

The bill's passage is a victory for two Winston-Salem Democrats, Reps. Larry Womble and Earline Parmon, who have been pushing it for more than two years.

Its fate was uncertain until the very end. Some Senate Democrats, including the majority leader, Sen. Tony Rand, were skeptical of the bill, and legislators had postponed voting on it several times in recent weeks.

Last night, it was the last bill of the day for the Senate to take up. Just before the vote, Democrats called for a recess and met privately for nearly an hour.. When they emerged, they passed it with little debate.

Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, the Senate minority leader, said that broad statistics are not relevant to decisions about whether to impose the death penalty in specific cases.

"What this does is it places the determination of a significant part of first-degree murder cases into the hands of statisticians, regardless of what the facts are," Berger said.

Tom Keith, the district attorney in Forsyth County, has warned that he and other prosecutors will have to stop pursuing the death penalty because they do not have the resources to constantly defend statistics-based claims of racial bias.

Capital punishment has been under a de facto moratorium in North Carolina since 2006 because of several legal challenges. Recent court rulings have tried to resolve those challenges and have moved the state closer to a resumption of executions.

The act allows defendants and death-row inmates to use statistics or other evidence to argue that race was a factor in decisions to request or impose the death penalty. The statistics can come from other death-penalty cases in the state as a whole, or in the local jurisdiction of the person making the challenge.

In 1987, in an influential case known as McCleskey v. Kemp, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the sort of statistical evidence that the bill allows. But the court's decision permits state legislatures to pass laws that allow statistics to count as evidence of bias.

Supporters of the bill point to numerous studies, both nationally and in North Carolina, that have shown racial disparities in capital punishment. Statistically, cases involving black defendants, or white victims, or both, are more likely to end with a death sentence.

In 2001, two UNC professors found that defendants whose victims were white were 3.5 times more likely to be sentenced to death than defendants whose victims were black.

Opponents of the bill dispute the methodology and the conclusions of that study and others. They say that statistical racial disparities can be explained by factors other than racial bias.

Supporters said that no one will go free because of the bill -- if a challenge is successful, the only thing that will happen is that a sentence of life in prison will be substituted for a death sentence.

There are 163 people on North Carolina's death row..
James Romoser can be reached at 919-210-6794 or at

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

KENYA: Largest Commutation (of death sentence) in history!

Sunrise in Africa
photo: Morgan Little

The largest previous mass commutation happened in Pakistan in 1988, when over 2,000 sentences were commuted. In 2003, Kenya commuted 223 death penalty sentences.

4000 Kenyans on death row get life
Wednesday, August 5, 2009 12:26 PM ET

More than 4,000 prisoners facing execution in Kenya had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment on Monday in the largest commutation in history, news sources reported. There have been no executions carried out in Kenya for 22 years.

In a statement broadcast on the state-owned radio Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, President Mwai Kibaki said that an “extended stay on death row causes undue mental anguish and suffering, psychological trauma, anxiety, while it may as well constitute inhuman treatment.”

He directed government bodies to study whether the death penalty had any impact on the fight against crime. He added that the decision to commute the sentences did not mean the abolishment of the death penalty which remains a lawful punishment under Kenyan law.

The death sentence is still imposed on anyone convicted of armed robbery or murder.

“This is a step forward for human rights in Kenya,” said Piers Bannister, Amnesty International’s expert on the death penalty. “We hope that the government studies ordered by the President will conclude that the death penalty does not have any unique deterrent effect, that it brutalises society and is often inflicted upon the innocent.

"The time has arrived for Kenya to join the majority of the world's countries and abolish the death penalty," he added.

The largest previous mass commutation happened in Pakistan in 1988, when over 2,000 sentences were commuted. In 2003, Kenya commuted 223 death penalty sentences.

In March 2005, the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs declared at the Commission on Human Rights that the Kenyan government was committed to abolishing the death penalty. In August 2007, parliament defeated a motion seeking to abolish the death penalty.

Kenya’s 92 prisons were built for a population of about 17,000 people but have a current inmate population of about 48,000. They are some of the most overcrowded and underfunded prisons in the world.



Human Rights Education Associates (HREA) is an international non-governmental organisation that supports human rights learning; the training of activists and professionals; the development of educational materials and programming; and community-building through on-line technologies.

URGENT! Help Pass the NC Racial Justice Act (promises to be a model for the nation!)

Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation
Reconciliation means accepting you cannot undo the murder but you can decide how to want to live afterwards.

Dear Abolitionists in every state:

Please take a moment and help pass the NC Racial Justice Act, which promises to be a model reform bill for the country.

Please make phone calls to Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight and Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand. They need to hear from you.

It will just take a moment and all you need to say is, "I am calling to ask the Senator to support the House version of the Racial Justice Act during the concurrence vote in the Senate."

Sen. Marc Basnight: (919) 733-6854
Sen. Tony Rand: (919) 733-9892

The vote is expected to take place today during the NC Senate session today at 3 pm EST. (yet if you read this later - call anyway just in case. Often these plans are delayed.)

Yesterday the NC Senate vote on the RJA was postponed moments before it was to happen - not entirely a bad thing.

The fate of the bill has been in a whirlwind of ups and downs and changing positions.

We need you to keep the pressure on!


Beth Wood

Monday, August 03, 2009

The Healing Power of Forgiveness

To err is human, to forgive divine – how often have we heard this adage and how true it is! When humans deign to forgive, we do indeed rise to a divine level. It is very hard for people to forgive, especially when they’ve been wronged severely and for no fault of their own. It’s harder when lives are lost and you know that the wrong can never be put right again. But, the reason that this is such a difficult emotion is because not many of us realize that forgiveness has the power to heal – in fact, it is the best balm to soothe all the hurt that has been inflicted on us.

I began to see the importance of this statement only after I read the story of Kim Phuc, the woman who shot to fame as a nine-year-old girl because of one photograph that was enough to bring to light the shamefulness and ghastliness of the Vietnam War. The award-winning (Pulitzer) photograph showed a naked girl running down the street, screaming in agony with pain, pain caused by burns from napalm bombs that the U.S. Air Force had dropped on Vietnam. Her clothes burned her badly, so she stripped them off, but the acid had seared her skin as well.

The photographer who took the shot took Kim to a hospital, where she recovered after excruciating, painful treatment for second degree burns. She was in college when news agencies began the search for the “girl in the photo”, and the Communist government of Vietnam used Kim as a tool to propagate their views about the atrocities of the war. Rather than be a pawn in the hands of the government, Kim and her husband finally sought asylum in Canada where she is now a United States Goodwill Ambassador.

Kim holds no ill will towards the Americans who bombed her or the government that used her, because, as she says, she could put the past behind only when she forgave those who had hurt her. This is very true, because the moment we forgive, we stop hurting, and it’s as if the horrifying incident never happened.

A few years ago, I was dumped by my husband of five years. He decided to trade me in for a newer and younger woman, and just like that, my marriage was over. I was stunned at first, unbearably upset after that, and then unable to sit and cry for hours together, the anger finally kicked in. I wanted revenge, and I wanted it badly. I plotted my strategy for hours together, and the work kept me occupied. But then, the enormity and the sheer stupidity of what I was planning hit me all at once, and I was stunned at the malicious person I had become.

This was not me, the woman who loved like there was no tomorrow and who threw caution to the wind in all her relationships. I slowly started to rebuild my life – work, friends and social activities took preference over depression and loneliness. I threw myself into exercising and playing racquet ball. And although it took time, I was able to forgive my husband for what he had done. With the forgiveness came closure, and I was able to put all the bad memories to rest once and for all.

Kim’s story helped me a great deal – if she could forgive, then so could I. After all, my ordeal was nothing when compared to hers. One thing this experience taught me about forgiveness is that it is the best form of revenge, because once you forgive, your nemesis can no longer hurt you.

This guest article was written by Adrienne Carlson, who regularly writes on the topic of phlebotomy technician. Adrienne welcomes your comments and questions at her email address: