Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I forgave him

She sits before the white balcony curtain, in a black galabia. "The really strange thing about my life today is that I have no secrets," says Robi Damelin, 65, an activist in Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace (also known as the Parents Circle-Families Forum, or PCFF). "I used to be a very private person. And though I had a public relations firm in Tel Aviv and a lot of journalist friends, none of them were ever invited to my home. Today everything is open, free. After David was killed I went to a psychologist. She said to me: 'You know, Robi, now you are free.' I didn't understand her then. She said to me: 'What else can happen to you? From now on, you'll do things and there won't be any fear or ego getting in the way.' She was right. Since David was killed my whole life has changed, it's taken another direction. All my priorities and sense of proportion changed. I don't think people can understand what it really means to lose a child."

Seven years ago, a Palestinian man took up a position on a hill overlooking the British Police Junction, north of the West Bank settlement of Ofra, and for more than 20 minutes used an old rifle to pick off soldiers and civilians at the Wadi Haramiya checkpoint. He fired 25 bullets and killed three civilians and seven Israel Defense Forces soldiers, including Damelin's son, David. The sniper escaped unharmed. The incident, and the excellent shooting skills it seemed to indicate, provoked wild speculations about the identity of the gunman. Some said he must have been a skilled marksman from the Palestinian Authority's Force 17, or even a sharpshooter from the Irish Republican Army. Two and a half years later, in October 2004, Ta'er Hamad, 24 and a member of Fatah, was apprehended by an IDF unit operating in the village of Silwad. During his interrogation he disclosed that in 1998 he had found an old rifle and 300 bullets, and would take it out to the wadis to practice shooting. He also said that on the day of the attack, he had only stopped shooting because the rifle had come apart in his hands.

The capture of the shooter and the discovery of his identity left Damelin restless. "When he was caught I didn't feel any satisfaction," she says. "There's no logic in revenge and I never sought revenge. For me, his capture was the real test of my perception of myself, a test to see if I really mean what I say when I talk about reconciliation, about peace. I thought, 'How can I go around the world talking about reconciliation and peace, if I myself am not ready to start on this path?' For four months I agonized, I searched deep inside myself, I tried to understand whether I really meant it, and in the end I decided to write a letter to the sniper's family." Palestinian friends from the Families Forum delivered the letter to the family, which read as follows:

"This for me is one of the most difficult letters I will ever have to write. My name is Robi Damelin, I am the mother of David who was killed by your son. I know he did not kill David because he was David, if he had known him he could never have done such a thing. David was 28 years old, he was a student at Tel Aviv University doing his masters in the philosophy of education. David was part of the peace movement and did not want to serve in the occupied territories. He had compassion for all people and understood the suffering of the Palestinians. He treated all around him with dignity. David was part of the movement of the officers who did not want to serve in the occupied territories, but nevertheless for many reasons he went to serve when he was called up for reserve duty.

"What makes our children do what they do, they do not understand the pain they are causing your son by now having to be in jail for many years and mine who I will never be able to hold or see again or see him married, or have a grandchild from. I cannot describe to you the pain I feel since his death and the pain of his brother and girlfriend, and all who knew and loved him," Damelin wrote.

Military Court Judge Yehuda Lieberman convicted Hamad and sentenced him to 11 life sentences.

"I understand that your son is considered a hero by many within the Palestinian people. He is considered to be a freedom fighter, fighting for justice and for an independent, viable Palestinian state," Damelin wrote in the letter to Hamad's family, "but I also feel that if he understood that taking the life of another is not the way and that if he understood the consequences of his act, he could see that a nonviolent solution is the only way for both nations to live together in peace... Our lives as two nations are so intertwined, each of us will have to give up on our dreams for the future of the children who are our responsibility... I do not know what your reaction will be, it is a risk for me, but I believe that you will understand, as it comes from the most honest place within me. I hope that you will show the letter to your son, and that maybe in the future we can meet."

Please read the rest of the story here
Please also visit Robi's page at the Forgiveness Project

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Death Row: The Cruel and Unusual Wait

On Tuesday, Sep. 15, the state of Ohio was set to execute Rommell Broom, a man convicted of raping and murdering a 14-year-old girl 25 years ago. After two hours of poking and prodding, however, the technicians were unable to find a suitable vein where they could administer the lethal injection. Regardless of the cause, the end result was that the execution attempt failed and Broom walked out of the chamber under his own power, still breathing the same oxygen as the rest of us, his execution postponed by one week.

Unsurprisingly, Broom’s attorneys immediately responded seeking to cancel or at least postpone this execution. One of the grounds they appealed on was that executing Rommell Broom seven days after the botched execution would constitute cruel and unusual punishment. They contended that one week was simply not enough time to recover from both the physical and emotional trauma of a failed execution attempt. Broom’s execution has since been delayed pending a series of proceedings.

The idea that waiting seven days to die could constitute cruel and unusual punishment underscores a much larger problem with the United States imposition of the death penalty. Rommell Broom was sentenced to die 25 years ago. The United States’ 3,300 death row inmates can now expect to wait an average of 12 years from the day of their sentencing to death by lethal injection or electric chair, a doubling of the time gap in the mid-1980s, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice. The psychological toll and physical deterioration of death row inmates has been well chronicled, with at least two Supreme Court Justices questioning the constitutionality of the long delays between conviction and the carrying out of sentences.

Delaying executions this long leads to greater philosophical questions. If we sentence someone to death at the age of 20 and execute them at the age of 45, are we even punishing the same person? The long delays are mainly due to mandatory appeals introduced after capital punishment was reinstated by the Supreme Court in 1976 after a four-year suspension. These reforms have led to lengthier appeals — the flipside, however, is even more frightening.

If we were to cut down the mandatory appeal process in order to speed up the execution of inmates, we would undoubtedly risk executing innocent individuals. Even with our current system in place this is a terrifying concern. In 2004, Todd Willingham was executed by the state of Texas for starting a fire that killed his three daughters. In a report sent in August of this year to the Texas Forensic Science Commission, however, an expert fire investigator concluded, as did two other experts in 2004 and 2006, that the blaze was accidental, not arson. This finding may not make life any easier for death penalty opponents, however; in a recent ruling, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia joined by Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a dissenting opinion: “This court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.”

The cases of Rommell Broom and Todd Willingham are cause for serious concern even amongst ardent supporters of the death penalty. In 1972 the Supreme Court decided Furman v. Georgia, holding the system states used to apply the death penalty to be cruel and unusual punishment due to the random and arbitrary manner in which death sentences were handed down. Since that time the death penalty has roared back, with states slowly developing new rules designed to eliminate the arbitrary nature in which individual is handed a death sentence. This has resulted in “Frankenstein” statutes that have done little to solve the real problems. We currently have over 3,000 individuals on death row. In 2008 we executed 37; this year we have executed 38. Long delays have certainly resulted in more arbitrariness as to which inmates actually succumb to the death penalty. Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, we have continued to reform and fight the simple fact that the death penalty is an imperfect system with permanent consequences. The execution of innocent men, and the execution of individuals who have had 20 years to change, make it clear that the United States should join the rest of the Western world in rejection of this arbitrary practice.

Op-Ed by Richard Elkind in the Cornell Daily Sun

Friday, September 25, 2009

Virtual Vigil and Prayers Needed for Missing FMVR Member (MVFR Friend)

From Sue Norton's friend in Boston, Marguerite Helen. Sue says: Dick is a member of MVFR and very active against the death penalty. Placed her with approval from Bill Pelke

From Marguerite:

Sent: Thursday, September 24, 2009 3:19 PM
Subject: virtual vigil

I decided that there really isn't time to contact the mother and then the members of the Meeting, so I'll have a private vigil.

I don't know if you have heard it already, but an FMVR member, Dick Nethercut, is missing. I think that he was included in an MVFR book? The last contact anyone had with him was about 8 pm Sat night. He was very reliable about getting where
he had agreed to or letting someone know if he couldn't make it, and was expected at two places Sunday. His red taurus is missing; his cell phone and materials for a meeting were on a table in his apartment.

The word is being spread widely among those of us who do AVP because he is a principal AVP person in this area; has been working on nonviolence
with prisoners for years. The search is very widespread now. I don't know whether or not it has been sent to the MVFR members and friends -- if not, please do so.

Prayers and vigils for him are, of course, requested.

Marguerite Helen / Mugs

One way to do a virtual vigil (suggested by Connie blogger here) Light A Candle here with your name and message: Every day thousands of people from all over the world light candles here

Thursday, September 24, 2009

September 25, A National Day of Remembrance

NOTE: We send prayers and our sympathy to the many murder victims on this day including our visionary founder, Bill Pelke. Please note the post just above this one for the special request to vigil and pray for a missing Murder Victim and friend of the abolition against the death penalty movement. And also see and send out the SPECIAL EVENT notice for Western North Carolina - Asheville happening with featured MVFM and author of "Coffee House God" just below the Commemoration.

From Equal Justice USA:

Greetings! Today is the third annual National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims. Murder touches hundreds of families each year. Our work to end the death penalty has put us in contact with many of these families and the organizations that serve them. They have taught us that homicide survivors suffer a special kind of traumatic grief and that the critical services they need to heal, including specialized counseling by trauma experts, financial assistance, and other ongoing support, are sorely lacking.

The following is a special invitation to all who are in Western North Carolina...

Please take note that ... September 25, is A National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims. "So long as we live, they too shall live and love for they are a part of us as we remember them." - Gates of Prayer

I hope to see you at MVFR (Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation -- here ) member Therese Bartholomew's book discussion and signing Saturday, October 3, at 3pm at Malaprops Bookstore and Cafe, 55 Haywood St., Asheville.

Thank you for your help and attendance at last week's UNCA panel discussion, "Let Justice Roll! Racial Justice in North Carolina". I've attached a couple of photos. If you'd like to see my album, "WNC Working for the NC Racial Justice Act", please visit here

Thanks to Connie Nash for writing and submitting this excellent article about Edward Chapman here
Here's a list of upcoming events (please contact me for further details):

Tuesday, September 28, 6:15pm -- Charlotte Coalition meeting, Charlotte;
Saturday, October 3, 3pm -- MVFR member Therese Bartholomew Book Discussion & Signing at Malaprops Bookstore & Cafe, Asheville;
Thursday, October 8, 5:30pm -- Buncombe Coalition meeting, UCC, Asheville;
Thursday, October 15, 7pm -- Haywood Coalition meeting, Osondu, Waynesville.

In sympathy,

Alex Cury, Western Region Coordinator
North Carolina Coalition for a Moratorium here
(828) 253-5088 (O)
(828) 318-7741 (C)


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lethal injection is the wrong debate

By Ray Krone, director of communications for Witness to Innocence, an organization of exonerated former death row prisoners and their family members.
First published in SF Gate on 1/14/08

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week in Baze vs. Rees, which challenges the constitutionality of execution by lethal injection.

While the court wrestles with technical issues concerning the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, there's a much larger reason our country is rethinking the death penalty: the possibility of sentencing to death and executing an innocent human being.

Unlike almost any American, I speak from experience.

I spent more than 10 years in Arizona prisons for a crime I didn't commit, including nearly three years on Death Row. In 1992, I was sentenced to death for killing a bartender, even though I was at home, asleep, when the murder was committed.

In 2002, through the tireless work of my attorneys, I was the 100th person to be exonerated and released from death row since the death penalty was reinstated in the United States. Despite DNA evidence that exonerated me, it took years before the prosecution grudgingly acknowledged it had no case against me. If it had been up to the state of Arizona, I'd be dead today.

Who knows how many more innocent people sit on death row today, guilty of nothing more than the fact that they couldn't afford a lawyer? And can anyone honestly say with certainty that of the nearly 1,100 people who have been executed in the past 30 years, not a single one wasn't innocent?

As my story illustrates, even with DNA testing there will always be a chance an innocent person will be sentenced to death and executed.

Recently, the New Jersey Legislature and governor showed courage and common sense when they abolished that state's death penalty. One of the primary reasons cited was the possibility of executing an innocent person.

New Jersey Sen. Raymond Lesniak, one of the bill's sponsors, recalled the case of Byron Halsey, who spent 22 years in prison for the murder and rape of two children before being released after DNA testing linked another man to the crime.

"There are hundreds of Byron Halseys throughout the United States who were wrongly convicted of murder," Lesniak said. "No doubt, some were sentenced to death and executed."

Meanwhile, in December, at the same time the bill to abolish the death penalty was making its way through the New Jersey legislature, three more former death row prisoners were released. Michael McCormick (Tennessee), Jonathon Hoffman (North Carolina) and Kenneth Richey (Ohio) had spent a combined total of more than 40 years on death row before being freed.

Sen. Lesniak summed the problem up best when he said, "It's impossible for human beings to devise a system free of the risk of human error."

The last time I checked, our criminal justice system was devised and run by human beings.

And instead of equal justice under the law, in far too many capital cases we see incompetent legal representation, racial discrimination and prosecutorial misconduct. These blemishes to our justice system are problematic, to say the least. But when a human life is at stake, such potentially fatal flaws are an embarrassment to a nation that considers itself the standard bearer for human rights.

So while the U.S. Supreme Court contemplates whether or not killing a person with a particular combination of chemicals is cruel and unusual punishment, all of us should recognize a much larger, more obvious fact: If sentencing to death and possibly executing an innocent person isn't cruel and unusual punishment, nothing is.

Quite literally, I'm living proof of that.

Monday, September 21, 2009


In Commemoration of the

On Friday, September 25, 2009

The Counseling Center for Trauma & Grief
A 501 (c)(3) Non-Profit Organization
Will Sponsor a Virtual Vigil

To Light a Candle In Memory of a Loved One
Who Died Due to an Act of Violence
Please Visit:

Participation Instructions
1) Enter the web-site
2) Select “EVENTS” listed at the top of the page.
3) Select sub-heading “DAY OF REMEMBRANCE.”
4) Complete form to request the inclusion of your loved one’s name.
5) Allow at least 24 hours to pass before returning to website.
6) Select “IN MEMORY” listed at the top of the page.
7) Select sub-heading “SEPTEMBER 25, 2009.”

Names will appear in the order they are received, starting September 15, 2009.

All names of loved ones must be submitted before
Midnight, September 24, 2009.

Ted must be rolling over in his grave

It’s September, with weather as warm as it was 10 years ago when Ted Natt was buried.

Maybe that’s why he comes to mind as I read the news this month.

Ted was the third publisher and owner of the family-owned Daily News. He sold the paper, reluctantly, in the spring of 1999. That August, he died in a helicopter crash as he flew home from the beach.

I’ve thought of him lately, and not just because of mild weather or the milestone.

First, I read about a new round of brutal murders in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Thugs from a drug cartel burst into a rehab facility, lined people up and executed them.

That same week, in Morelia, the capitol of Michoacan, Mexico, the deputy police chief was gunned down, joining other murdered federal agents, prosecutors and judges.

It’s easy to think of Mexico as a society of lawless mayhem.

But I’ve visited Morelia, a colonial city of courtyard gardens, wide boulevards of lovely shops, cobblestone streets where stylish businesswomen walk uniform-clad children to the bus each morning.

Things on the surface don’t always promise order in any society. The rule of law can be a thin veneer over our passion for punishment and vengeance.

Ted knew that.

He wrote often about civil liberties. He cared about the rights of the accused. His columns supported legal services for the poor.

He opposed the death penalty, especially after he witnessed, as a young reporter, an execution in Walla Walla. He always stressed the importance of due process of law.

Due process is one of those legal phrases that John Grisham uses for book titles.

It sums up our access to justice. In the case of a person arrested for a crime that could result in prison or execution, he or she has the right to be presumed innocent unless and until the prosecution, acting for the state, proves guilt.

If they can’t do it, they cannot convict and punish the accused.

Who knows what Ted would have thought and written about Guantanamo.

Ted trusted due process. He understood it as a cornerstone of a justice system that protects the rights of the individual from the mob, whether they wear gang apparel or suits.

I remember one time when Ted came barreling out of his office, red-faced and fuming. That day’s paper had landed on his desk with a headline that took it for granted that an arrested guy was guilty.

If he were here this month, I could see him fuming over the media’s treatment of the murder of the Yale graduate student.

The media swarm over stories like this, hounding law enforcement, hyping every anonymous tip, running the same poignant details and the same inappropriate photo of the woman over and over.

When a man was questioned a “person of interest” — before he was a suspect or arrested — his neighbors cheered his apprehension and the press rooted around in his life as if it were a garage sale.

He was overbearing! Ah ha!

Why is this wrong? Aren’t we curious? Isn’t it important, the murder of this precious human being?

Yes, and yes. All the more reason not to treat a tragedy as if were a Nancy Drew mystery.

The 24-hour scavenger news cycle doesn’t just prey on emotions. It also gnaws away at due process, a fundamental right, by conditioning us to presume guilt.

Remember, we are the ones who could end up on a jury.

We are the ones who could end up accused.

If you want to read one of the many accounts of how due process remains in jeopardy, try the Sept. 7 New Yorker magazine account of Cameron Willingham, a young Texas father convicted of burning his house to kill his two children.

If Ted Natt were here to read it, he’d run out of his office in a fit of anger. The righteous kind.

Cathy Zimmerman, the former This Day editor for The Daily News, was laid off in May. She is an English teacher at Lower Columbia College and a freelance writer.
(Article taken from The Daily News)

This week in Michigan's history:
Criminal's execution is last one for state

The state executed its last criminal, Stephen Simmons, in Detroit on Sept. 24, 1830, before becoming the first government to abolish the death penalty.

The 50-year-old known drinker was convicted of beating his wife to death. Before he was strung up on gallows near Campus Martius, Simmons told the crowd that had gathered about the evils of alcohol and sang the hymn "Show Pity, Lord, O Lord, Forgive."

Wayne County Sheriff Thomas Knapp refused on humanitarian grounds to execute Simmons. The gruesome task went to hotelier Ben Woodworth, who volunteered.

The spectacle was one of the reasons why 17 years later, Michigan banned capital punishment.

A prisoner at the federal prison in Milan was executed in 1938, but he was convicted in federal court.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Forgotten Families? A Visit to Death Row

Kevin's eyes were dark, wide…and sad. Sad beyond anything I'd ever seen in one so young. It was obvious he had experienced far too much in his brief four or five years of life. And though he undoubtedly didn't understand why things were as they were, he knew enough to realize his life wasn't like that of other boys his age.

I met Kevin briefly nearly fifteen years ago, and I haven't seen him again since, though I've often wondered what became of him. A child who sees his father only once a month under such stringent conditions has a tough road ahead of him, to say the least.

My one-time meeting with Kevin and several others, including his mother, took place on San Quentin's infamous Death Row, a place that has housed such inmates as Charles Manson and Sirhan Sirhan. I had been invited to come to the Row one Sunday afternoon, to meet and talk with one of the inmates and to learn more about the prison ministry in which I was so deeply involved at the time. Though I had mixed emotions about going, I readily accepted.

As expected, I had to jump through a lot of hoops to get inside the Row's visiting area, more even than the usual number of hoops required to gain entrance into any other correctional facility. But the inmate I met with, whose wife had escorted me inside, had become a devout Christian since his arrest and conviction years earlier, so our visit was a joyful one. Even the correctional officers commented on the deep and genuine faith of this particular inmate, referring to him as "the preacher" and proclaiming how he freely shared that faith with anyone who would listen—prisoner or guard alike.

But it was the families of the inmates who most caught my attention. Though we occasionally hear of someone who was falsely convicted of a crime and eventually proven innocent due to new DNA technology or some other breakthrough, for the most part I realize that nearly every resident of San Quentin's Death Row is there because he murdered someone. But guilty or not, repentant or not, most have families somewhere—some who at least occasionally come to visit them, some who don't. Whatever the personal family situations, I couldn't help but wonder at the pain those families endured.

Now I've always been a strong victim's advocate, and my heart goes out to the families of those who have lost loved ones as a result of a violent crime. But that day on Death Row opened my eyes to the unique trauma experienced by those whose father or son, husband or brother, prayed for a miracle even as he counted his days until he walked the "green mile." As a result, I have become a supporter of Angel Tree and other ministries to families of those who are incarcerated. If you could have seen the look on little Kevin's face that day as he visited his daddy on Death Row, you'd understand and join me.

Of course, I've had many experiences during my jail/prison ministry days that affected me just as strongly as my encounter with Kevin, one of which was the opportunity to interview Charles "Tex" Watson, formerly of the Manson Family. Though Tex was one of the actual murderers of both the Tate and LaBianca families that awful night so many years ago, he has now become a strong believer and ministers to many who live in the dark world that exists behind bars. On another occasion, I had the opportunity to help David Berkowitz (formerly known as "Son of Sam" but who has now become a Christian and as such is known as "Son of Hope") edit his prison memoirs, which are now published. I can tell you without hesitation that I have no doubt of the sincerity of either of these men's faith.

Both of these experiences were real epiphanies for me, as I saw firsthand what God can do with those who would often be considered unredeemable. But as we know, with God nothing is impossible. I now pray for those within the prison system whose lives have been changed by a genuine encounter with Jesus Christ and who now work to share that encounter with others. Some of the greatest evangelizing and discipling I've ever witnessed is carried out by these transformed inmates.

I know. I'm walking a fine line here, between justice and mercy, and I am not even getting close to expressing an opinion on the death penalty issue. I am simply trying to bring a fresh awareness of families whose loved ones—for whatever reason—are behind bars, families who might otherwise be forgotten. I pray the result will be that it helps us all reach out to the Kevins of this world, as well as the David Berkowitzes and Tex Watsons, even as we humbly respect the law, defend the victims, and deal justly and mercifully when it comes to crime. For isn't that what God has called us all to do?

He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8, NKJV)

September 18, 2009

Kathi Macias is the author of nearly thirty books and numerous articles, including My Son, John, which deals with a woman whose mother is a murder victim and her grown son, the perpetrator. My Son, John contains resources for prisoners, their families, and those who minister to them. Kathi can be reached via her website at or her blog You can hear Kathi on her blogtalkradio program, "Write the Vision," every Thursday evening from 6-7 p.m. Pacific Time at

Article originally posted at

Saturday, September 19, 2009

NORTH CAROLINA Edward Chapman: Finally Free, Upfront and In Charge

Alexandra Cury with Edward Chapman

Published in Hendersonville Times News - Thursday September 17, 2009
(in Community Section)

Edward Chapman: Free, Upfront and In Charge

By Connie L. Nash

When Edward Chapman described death row last Thursday at Transylvania County Library, he said he liked to be “upfront from the git-go”. Attention around the table grew and folk leaned further in while Chapman told of his troubled past and struggles to survive a corrupt environment where some guards had more to do with a prostitution ring and bringing in drugs than the prisoners did.

Chapman was also candid about his inner struggle and success to inwardly become and stay free along with his regrets as a son, a husband, a father and more. His mother and common-law wife died during his imprisonment. He watched his beloved son’s anger toward him grow over the years – especially after his wife’s death. Chapman’s eyes filled with tears a few times in the telling. Still, he said, through all those years he prayed and “never gave up - if you throw in the towel," he said, "no one wants to hear you cry."

Daily conditions? Food was terrible. “Floodlights twenty-four seven - THAT was torture and we had to take our shower five minutes max or pick up cigarette butts. Sometimes punishment was to move us old guys where the younger play rap music all the time." Classes and the arts? These were discontinued. “We were told,” Chapman said, “You're not here to learn - you're here to die.”

Behind bars for fifteen years, Chapman said he liked to think for himself and to learn from others who did the same - like the inmate who "visited" a different country every day via maps and knew facts and figures as if he’d been there. Chapman didn't mind being alone. He liked reading deep poetry - looking for the "story within the story". He got interested in writing his own poems and asking others to decipher his own hidden meaning. People began calling him “The Philosopher King” – they still do.

Chapman wrote letters daily and kept records of "every act of kindness" – he wrote with the faith that someone – somewhere would help him get free. Eventually he got to know the Chair of the Psychology Dept. at UNC-Asheville, Dr. Pam Laughon, who looked under every legal rock - for years – even after a string of state-appointed lawyers had failed.

Finally, Attorney Frank Goldsmith and Professor Laughon (become Mitigation Specialist) put together a winning case.

On April 2, 2008 Glen Edward Chapman became the seventh inmate freed in NC due to wrongful conviction . In summary, he was erroneously charged with the murders of two women by sloppy lawyers, ineffective counsel, and numerous other roadblocks. In the case 'State v. Glen Edward Chapman' NC Superior Court Judge Robert Ervin found that each of the lead detectives assigned to the case had covered up exculpatory evidence inconsistent with the State’s theory of his guilt.

Chapman said, "I hit the road running." Alexandra Cury, head of the North Carolina Coalition for a Moratorium , added “He works harder than anyone else at the Asheville hotel where he's been recently promoted from dishwasher to the most popular staff member of Housekeeping and has lots of friends. He works extra every chance he gets. He never drinks. Chapman said that he wanted to do everything possible to stay clear-headed.

According to Chapman and the legal team, racial discrimination may have played a strong role in the false charges. His testimony was added to many other such statements spoken on behalf of “The North Carolina Racial Justice Act” which Governor Beverly Perdue signed the Act into law August 11, 2009. Over 60% of those on NC Death Row are black.

Since 1973, nationwide 135 people have been exonerated and freed from death row –. including five people in 2009.

Percentage-wise, for every six people executed in North Carolina – there’s been one person freed from death row. There are nine stories of the wrongful conviction of people with strong innocent cases posted at the “ North Carolina Coalition for a Moratorium” website under “Wrongful Convictions”. There may well be more such cases.

What’s next for Chapman? Asked - “Why don’t you sound bitter?" Chapman said, "I'm in control of my life now. I’m free. It's like winning the lottery… When you're bitter, other people have power over you." “Edward’s dad’s a chef” Cury added “and one day Edward would love to be one.” There is one more goal, Cury told the group: like most released prisoners, Chapman was sent from prison minus resources to help start a new life. He and his supporters are seeking a “Pardon of Innocence” from Governor Bev Perdue so that he may receive the compensation he is due, "from the State of North Carolina for his unjust and unlawful incarceration."

Along with many cheering supporters, I pray Glen Edward Chapman will succeed. GO Edward and god-speed - stay free, upfront and in charge each day for the rest of your life!

Friday, September 18, 2009

The botched attempt to execute Romell Broom

Romell Broom (pictured) was to be executed at 10 AM on Tuesday, September 15, in Ohio. The execution was delayed as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit considered granting him a hearing. When that temporary stay was lifted, the execution process began again with a searching for a suitable vein in Broom's arm to insert an IV and to inject the lethal chemicals. However, after two hours of fruitless endeavor, the correctional officers were unable to complete the execution. Governor Ted Strickland intervened and granted a week-long stay of execution while the state evaluates its procedures. Ohio has had a series of problems with its lethal injection process.

New Revelations of Inmate's Struggles During Ohio Execution Attempt

More information is being reported about the botched execution-attempt of Romell Broom yesterday (Sept. 15) in Ohio. According to the Associated Press, the correctional officers encountered so much difficulty in finding a suitable vein for the lethal injection that, after an hour, Broom attempted to assist them by moving on his side, sliding the rubber tubing up and down his arm, and flexing his fingers. A vein was found, but it collapsed as the technicians inserted a saline solution. Broom’s assistance did not help, and he turned on his back and covered his face with both hands. He appeared to be in distress and wiped his eyes. One of the execution team handed him a roll of toilet paper, which he used. The executioners attempted to use the veins in his legs and he grimaced. One of the team patted him on his back. Finally, the executions gave up their attempts, indicating they needed a break.

During the execution, one of Broom’s lawyers , Tim Sweeney, wrote Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer asking him to end the procedure. "Any further attempts today to carry out the execution of Mr. Broom would be cruel and unusual punishment in violation of . . . the U.S. Constitution," he wrote. "They would also violate Ohio's statutory requirement that a lethal injection execution is to be quick and painless." During the process, Broom requested that another of his lawyers, Adele Shank, come to the witness room. She witnessed Broom wince in pain several times. “It was obviously a flawed process," she said.

After 2 hours, Prison Director Terry Collins contacted Governor Ted Strickland who issued the last minute reprieve. "Difficulties in administering the execution protocol necessitate a temporary reprieve," said Strickland's Warrant of Reprieve, filed in court Tuesday afternoon. Collins thanked Broom for the respect he showed the execution team and for the way in which he handled the difficulties.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio asked state officials to immediately halt executions. "Ohio's execution system is fundamentally flawed. If the state is going to take a person's life, they must ensure that it is done as humanely as possible," ACLU counsel Carrie Davis said. "With three botched executions in as many years, it's clear that the state must stop and review the system entirely before another person is put to death."

Timeline for failed execution

Some events leading to Gov. Ted Strickland's decision to stop the Tuesday execution of Romell Broom because of difficulties finding a usable vein:


9:46 a.m.: Broom enters the holding cell 17 steps from the death chamber at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville after being transported from the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown.
11:49 a.m.: Medical staff find that Broom's veins appear to be accessible in his right arm but not as visible in his left.
12:17 p.m.: Broom learns that Gov. Ted Strickland has rejected a request for mercy.
4:01 p.m.: Broom eats a dinner of chicken stir fry, rice, butter, bread, pears and juice. Broom declined to order anything besides what other prison inmates were served.
7:12 p.m.: In a phone call to his brother, Broom says he "wants it to be over." According to guards observing him, Broom says he is "tired of being in prison and having people tell him what to do every day."


12:24 a.m.: Broom falls asleep after watching TV for about two hours.
5:08 a.m.: Broom awakens for the day.
5:51 a.m.: Broom is escorted to the shower.
6:27 a.m.: Broom eats breakfast of cereal.
8:07 a.m.: The chemicals used in Ohio executions -- thiopental sodium, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride -- are delivered to the death house.
9:31 a.m.: Execution preparations put on hold while the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals weighs a last-minute appeal request.
12:28 p.m.: Broom eats a lunch of creamed chicken, biscuits, green beans, mashed potatoes, salad and grape drink.
12:48 p.m.: The 6th Circuit says it will not review the appeal. Execution scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m.
1:24 p.m.: First round of lethal drugs is destroyed.
1:31 p.m.: Replacement drugs are delivered to the death house.
2:01 p.m.: Medical team enters holding cell and begins trying to insert IVs.
2:30 p.m.: Unable to find a usable vein, team leaves the cell to take a break.
2:42 p.m.: Team members back in cell trying again.
2:44 p.m.: Prisons director Terry Collins tells the medical team to take another break.
2:49 p.m.: Broom wipes his face with a tissue, appears to be crying.
2:57 p.m.: Broom asks that his attorney, Adele Shank, be allowed to watch. Around 3 p.m.: Tim Sweeney, a Cleveland attorney also representing Broom, sends a letter to Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Moyer asking the court to stop the execution on the grounds that Broom is suffering cruel and unusual punishment.
3:04 p.m.: Shank speaks with prisons lawyer Austin Stout, who informs her execution policy doesn't allow lawyers to have contact with inmates after the execution process has started.
3:11 p.m.: Execution team members say they are having problems keeping a vein open because of Broom's past drug use.
3:33 p.m.: Shank is taken to the witness viewing area.
4:07 p.m.: Collins consults with Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and the Ohio attorney general's office.
4:24 p.m.: Strickland issues one-week reprieve.
5:59 p.m.: Broom eats a dinner of veggie nuggets, lima beans, bread, cookies and juice.

Source (for all): DPIC

Thursday, September 17, 2009

PAKISTAN: Govt. may commute sentence

Death Penalty and Execution News (Rick Halperin's site)

SEPTEMBER 18, 2009:

The government is considering commuting death sentence into life imprisonment and the Ministry of Interior has already sent a draft proposal to the law division.

'We have sent a draft summary to the law division for legal opinion,' Interior Minister Rehman Malik said in a statement on Thursday.

He, however, said that even if such a law was made there would be no mercy for terrorists involved in the killing of innocent people, 'They (terrorists) will have to face the death penalty,' he said.

Mr Malik said that because of reservations shown by some stakeholders over the proposed law, the ministry had sent the draft to the law division.

Analysts are of the opinion that the government's decision to add 'cyber terrorism' to the list of capital crimes has raised questions about its resolve to keep its promise to commute death sentence of 7,000 prisoners.

The law of capital punishment is believed to be one of the hurdles in the way of signing extradition treaties with some countries, e.g. Britain, where there is no death penalty.

President Asif Ali Zardari last month issued a decree making 'internet crime' punishable by execution or life imprisonment if it caused the death of a person.

The new offence brings to 28 the number of crimes carrying the death sentence in Pakistan.

(source: Dawn)

NORTH CAROLINA: exhibit's sparks Death Pen. Debate

Exhibit's close sparks death penalty debate

For the past 7 months, students walking in and out of the Friedl building might have met something unexpected-images of inmates being lynched, sitting in electric chairs and awaiting their ultimate deaths.

PreMeditated: Meditations on Capital Punishment, an anti-death penalty exhibit by award-winning Chicano artist Malaquias Montoya, has been on display in the Fredric Jameson Gallery since March and officially closed Wednesday night. The exhibit consists of works of acrylic paint, murals, drawings and silkscreens-Montoya's signature style.

To commemorate the exhibit's closing, the Program in Latino/Latina Studies in the Global South and the Duke Human Rights Center co-sponsored a reception with the Innocence Project at the School of Law, the Duke chapter of Amnesty International and the North Carolina Coalition for a Moratorium. Durham's state Sen. Floyd McKissick and Darryl Hunt, a man exonerated in 2004 after spending 19 years in prison, spoke at the event.

"There were so many other innocent men and women [in jail], and I am trembling because I am still affected by these pictures. I have been there and I was not on death row, but I am looking here and it just makes me sick to think about how close I came to being on death row," said Hunt, who said he was only one jury vote away from being sentenced to death.

Sophomore Carrie Mills said although the works of art were amazing, she most appreciated listening to Hunt describe his experiences in prison.

"I have never met anybody in person who has endured that," Mills said. "And his sheer grace and the way that he spoke was magnificent."

Both Hunt and McKissick took questions from the audience. During the discussion forum, McKissick said it would be more cost-effective to disperse resources to systems that prevent criminal activity as opposed to spending high amounts on maximum-security prisons, an idea that Montoya emphasizes in his exhibit.

"We create the situations that lead our children to commit monstrous acts and then we kill them," the opening display of the exhibit states.

McKissick discussed the North Carolina Racial Justice Act. which he sponsored and which North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue signed into law Aug. 11. The law allows inmates currently on death row to argue that the jury's decision to pursue the death penalty was racially biased. If successful, inmates can be removed from death row.

Robin Kirk, director of the Duke Human Rights Center, said the center hopes the recent passage of the law will be a move in the direction of eliminating the death penalty in North Carolina. Even if actual abolition of the death penalty is years away, Kirk said the event was important because it showed that the death penalty is a human rights issue, something she said many of her students do not understand.

"I think too often Americans think that human rights are something that happens somewhere else, and that we don't have issues with human rights," Kirk said in an interview. "But I think the problem is that we do, and the death penalty is one of the main areas that Americans need to be thinking about if we want to become a rights-friendly country."

The Latino/Latina Studies program brought the exhibit to Duke, but Antonio Viego, the faculty director of the program, said program leaders met with other University departments before acquiring the exhibit, as many of Montoya's images could be considered disturbing.

"We agreed that no, this was actually something that was extremely interesting and more thought-provoking regardless of what your stance is," Viego said.

Currently, the exhibit-which has appeared in 13 venues in eight states-is awaiting its next host site, and officials are currently in talks with the Oakland Museum in Oakland, Calif.

(Sept 17 2009 source: The Chronicle)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My brother, the Unabomber

David Kaczynski on his agonising decision to inform on his sibling and why, despite their not having spoken for 20 years, he still loves him.

Of all the riveting stories that David Kaczynski tells about his brother Ted, the most haunting is the tale of the rabbit in the cage. One summer during their 1950s childhood, spent in a suburb outside Chicago, their father caught a baby rabbit. He put it on display in the backyard in a little cage fashioned out of wood and wire. A crowd of local kids, David among them, gathered round, jostling to get a better view.

Suddenly there was a cry from the back: "Oh, oh, let it go!" The boys turn round to find Ted looking distressed and panicked at the sight of the rabbit visibly trembling in its box. The mood turned instantly from jovial to shame-faced; how funny it had been to be ogling at the tiny animal, and how cruel it seemed now. The father grabbed the box and quickly carried it to a wooded area across the street where he let the little rabbit go, back to the wild.

The story is poignant in part because Kaczynski's brother now lives in a cage built of concrete and reinforced steel within a "supermax" security prison, and in part because of how the story was recalled to David years later. For he had forgotten all about the rabbit for the best part of 40 years, until his mother reminded him of it – on the day he told her that his brother was suspected of being the Unabomber, the "neo-Luddite" murderer who, over 17 years, waged a twisted campaign of mail bombings against targets including American universities and airlines, killing three people and injuring many more. Kaczynski confessed to his mother that he had informed on Ted to the FBI, fearing further atrocities, and that because of his action, his brother could face the death penalty.

Kaczynski had no idea how his mother would react to the news. Would she disown him for betraying his own brother? Would she for ever cast him out of her love? Instead, she took his head in her hands and kissed him. "I know you love Ted, and wouldn't have done that if you hadn't had to," she said. And then she told him the story of the rabbit in the cage. "She told me that story," Kaczynski says, "at the moment Ted was caught, was trapped, knowing perhaps he would end in the fulfilment of his own worst nightmare."

Kaczynski knows a thing or two about the joys and the torture of being a younger brother, and has distilled his experiences of life as the brother of the Unabomber into an essay for a new collection of reflections on brotherly love and rivalry. David calls his chapter Missing Parts – he has had virtually no contact with Ted for the past 20 years and has, in a sense, lost part of himself in the process. By 1996, when Ted was brought into court on 13 counts of bombing and murder, they had already been estranged for seven years. Kaczynski recalls seeing Ted again after all that time: "He walked into the court almost directly towards me, but he never made eye contact. He just turned and sat down with his back to me."

Kaczynski's essay is painful testimony to the ability of brothers to inflict almost unthinkable wounds on each other. Ted cut off all relations with David in 1989; David shopped Ted to the Feds six years later. But it also dwells on the kinder side of brotherhood; on the friendship and loyalty that each bestowed upon the other, and on the love that Kaczynski still reserves for Ted despite his grotesque deeds.

Through the pall of anger and ugliness that descended over his brother, the vicious letters he received from Ted and the rants against technology, Kaczynski still remembers the small acts of kindness and affection that Ted extended to him in their younger years. When David, aged three, couldn't reach the door handle in their home, Ted improvised a new one for him out of an old spool of thread.

Every weekend, the brothers would be driven by their father into the forests outside Chicago, where they would revel in nature (a theme that would build over the years), identifying plants and pitching tents. "Some of the happiest experiences of my life were these with Ted; out of doors, a release from confinement of various kinds," Kaczynski says when we meet in New York. "Growing up, I never doubted my brother's fundamental loyalty and love, or felt the slightest insecurity in his presence."

And yet, from an early age, Kaczynski was aware of something different, something inexplicable and out of place about his big brother. Ted was hyper-smart – everybody knew that. He was a mathematics whizz-kid and destined for Harvard and great things. But he was also a withdrawn, awkward boy who recoiled from social contact.

"When we were young, friends and family would turn up at our house unannounced. My feeling was 'Oh good! Here's Uncle Stanley or our friend Ralph' – but Ted's reaction was the opposite. He saw it as an incursion into his world, and almost in panic would run upstairs to the attic. I remember thinking, why did he have this aversion to people?"

Kaczynski was only seven when he first formulated those doubts into words. "What's wrong with Teddy?" he asked his mother. In reply, she told him that when Ted was just a baby, he had been hospitalised for several days with a rash; the experience of being separated from his parents had, she believed, hurt him deeply with lasting consequences. Then she said something startling to her younger son: "Never abandon Ted, because that's what he fears the most."

And until he faced the awful decision of whether to turn Ted over to the FBI, Kaczynski never did abandon him. In spite of his brother's growing eccentricities, he provided Ted with a social prop. "It almost seemed I was his ticket to having social relationships."

Indeed, it was because of David that Ted ended up in Montana, the rugged north-western state in which he built his now infamous remote wooden cabin. Together they had bought a plot of forest land outside Lincoln, and there Ted constructed what was to become the headquarters of his bombing campaign.

Though David was the socially-adept half of the relationship, he continued to idolise and emulate Ted throughout his youth and well into adulthood. He applied for Harvard, following in Ted's footsteps, but was rejected. Later, he decided to follow Ted's example and go back to the land. When Ted refused to let him build a second cabin on their shared plot in Montana, Kaczynski went instead to a wild part of western Texas where, just like his brother, he lived without running water or electricity for eight years in a cabin he built by hand. They would correspond frequently; two spartan men in their cabin hermitages 1,000 miles apart.

But as time passed, it became clear they were not really communicating, and were, in fact, living in wholly separate wildernesses. Kaczynski's vision of back-to-the-land was a spiritual journey of discovery, towards some inner understanding, whereas Ted's philosophy, his cabinology, was all about getting away from the collective mess of the modern world. There was a despondency, a sorry defeatism in him. "You could call the difference between us one between the left brain and the right brain. Ted was hyper-analytical. It's curious that he rejected technology because his way of thinking was very scientific, very binary."

The moment that crystallised this yawning gulf between them came, paradoxically, at a time when the brothers had never felt more close. It was 1969 and they had spent the whole summer together, travelling huge distances across Canada in search of a plot of land where Ted could begin his anti-civilisation mission. At the end of the trip, as they were driving back to Chicago, they camped overnight in the grasslands of Nebraska. They lay side by side, staring up at the immense night sky stuffed with stars. David felt eager to get home, to familiar things and their mother's home cooking. "I wish we were home," he said.

Ted felt the opposite: "Really? I wish we didn't have to go back," he said.

Later, of course, the distinctions grew stark and ugly. From 1977, Ted began sending his parents angry, blistering letters accusing them of never having loved him. Then, in 1978, Kaczynski ended up sacking his own brother from a factory job in Illinois after Ted began harassing a fellow woman worker, posting crude and offensive limericks about her on the factory wall. The timing was significant – only a few months before, in May 1978, he had posted his first mail bomb to a university professor in Chicago, who was mildly injured in the blast. A year later, he came close to blowing up an American Airlines jet but the bomb failed to detonate.

Over time, Ted's homemade bombs became more sophisticated and powerful, and the first serious injury occurred in 1982 when a university secretary suffered severe burns to her hands. Three people died during the 16-bomb campaign – a computer rental store owner in 1985, an advertising executive in 1994, and (the final target) a timber industry lobbyist in 1995. Another 23 suffered often hideous injuries, the victims having often been selected – by dint of Ted's loathing of technology – from university departments and airlines; hence the moniker Unabomber (University and Airline Bomber).

As the violence escalated, so too did the hostility Ted showed for his family. The final rift came in 1989, when Kaczynski wrote to Ted to tell him he was leaving his cabin retreat in Texas and going to live in New York state with Linda, a childhood friend with whom he had fallen in love. Ted's response was a 20-page letter in which he tore into his brother, accusing him of lacking the integrity to lead a pure life.

"Wow! It was like a metaphorical bomb for me, that he was so hostile," Kaczynski says. "It was at a different level to anything before."

Ted ended the letter by saying that he would have nothing to do with his brother from then on. If there was a family emergency, David was to put a line under the stamp on the envelope, otherwise Ted would just burn the letter unopened. If David abused the privilege of the line under the stamp, by using it for anything other than a genuine emergency, all lines of contact would be terminated for ever.

Kaczynski only once used the line under the stamp, to tell Ted that their father was dying from lung cancer. Ted did reply to that letter. He thanked David for using the line appropriately. He made no mention of their father.

In the end it was Linda, by now Kaczynski's wife, who connected Ted to the Unabomber. She had noticed telling similarities from newspaper accounts. At first Kaczynski had been sceptical, but then in 1995 when the Unabomber produced his 35,000-word "manifesto", excoriating the industrial revolution and modern science, David had a sinking feeling. The tone was chillingly similar to some of the more hate-filled letters he had received from Ted, and there was one phrase in particular he recognised: "Cool-headed logicians."

The recognition that his brother might be the Unabomber sent Kaczynski into a tailspin. "It was a feeling of being trapped – trapped in this brother relationship, trapped in this dilemma in which people's lives were at stake either way. One way, if we did nothing, another bomb might go off and more people might die. The other way, I turned Ted in and he would be executed."

Weeks of agonising followed. His mother's exhortation – never abandon Ted! – rang in his ears, but ultimately the decision was simple. He could not stand idly by and watch more people die. He went to the FBI.

His brother's life was now at stake. Though the authorities assured Kaczynski they would not seek the death penalty, they reneged on the promise. The threatened capital punishment was only dropped after Ted was diagnosed with schizophrenia and pleaded guilty to all charges.

For Kaczynski, the years since Ted was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1996 have been like a prolonged discourse in what it is to be a brother. There has been plenty of time to reflect on what happened, on what Ted did. He doesn't feel guilt so much as regret. "That time I sacked him, could I have been less angry, tried a different approach? Could I have been more understanding, a better brother?"

Kaczynski is still trapped in the definition of being the Unabomber's brother. He now devotes his working life to campaigning against death row, inspired by his sense of betrayal by the federal prosecutors. As head of New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty, he seeks to build bridges between victims of violence and the relatives of the perpetrators. His closest friend is Gary Wright, a computer store owner from Utah who had more than 200 pieces of shrapnel lodged in his body from one of Ted's bombs.

Kaczynski has no idea how Ted is doing in his cage in a high security prison in Colorado. He never replies to letters, and the prison authorities will not say how, or even if, he is being treated for his mental illness. Kaczynski thinks often of that rabbit. "Where Ted is, in some senses, is his worst nightmare. Totally under other people's control, enclosed, cut off from the sky and the wilderness."

Sometimes Kaczynski will be driving down the road from his home in upstate New York and, glancing in the rear-view mirror, he'll see Ted driving the car behind. A moment later, he'll realise it's just another man with a beard. He remembers how the Unabomber once sent a bomb to an airline executive. It was concealed in a hollowed-out copy of a book. Its title: Ice Brothers.

Taken from The Guardian

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Not Innocent Enough

The elusive search for the sufficiently innocent death-row victim.
By Dahlia Lithwick posted in the
Posted Saturday, Sept. 5, 2009, at 7:29 AM ET

For years, death-penalty opponents and supporters have been on what now looks to be an ethical snipe hunt. Everyone was looking for a moment at which everything would change: a case in which a clearly innocent defendant was wrongly put to death.

In a 2005 Supreme Court case that actually had nothing to do with the execution of innocents, Justices David Souter and Antonin Scalia locked horns over the possibility that such a creature could even exist. Souter fretted that "the period starting in 1989 has seen repeated exonerations of convicts under death sentences, in numbers never imagined before the development of DNA tests." To which Scalia retorted: "[T]he dissent makes much of the new-found capacity of DNA testing to establish innocence. But in every case of an executed defendant of which I am aware, that technology has confirmed guilt." Scalia went on to blast "sanctimonious" death-penalty opponents, a 1987 study on innocent exonerations whose "obsolescence began at the moment of publication," and then concluded that there was not "a single case—not one—in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit."

This language suggested that if anyone ever found such a case, the Scalias of the world might rethink matters. As of today, the Innocence Project, a national organization dedicated to exonerating the wrongfully convicted through DNA testing, claims there have been 241 post-conviction DNA exonerations, of which 17 were former death-row inmates who now have been spared the death penalty. The gap between their data and Justice Scalia's widens every year. And for those who insist that not even one of those alleged innocents is indeed innocent, we now have a name: Cameron Todd Willingham, executed by the state of Texas in 2004 for allegedly setting a 1991 house fire that killed his three young daughters.

David Grann, who wrote a remarkable piece about the case in last week's New Yorker, sifted through the evidence against Willingham to reveal that the entire prosecution was a train wreck of eyewitness testimony that changed over time: a jailhouse snitch who was both mentally impaired and stood to benefit from testifying against Willingham, "expert" psychiatrists who never examined the accused but proclaimed him a "sociopath" based on his posters and tattoos, and local arson investigators whose conclusions were less rooted in science than a sort of spiritual performance art. And at every step in his appeals process, Willingham's repeated claims of innocence were met with the response that he'd already had more than enough due process for a baby-killer.

But you needn't take Grann's word for it. In 2004, Dr. Gerald Hurst, an acclaimed scientist and fire investigator conducted an independent investigation of the evidence in the Willingham case and came away with little doubt that it was an accidental fire—likely caused by a space heater or bad wiring. Hurst found no evidence of arson and wrote a report to that effect to try to stay the execution. According to documents obtained by the Innocence Project, it appears nobody at the state Board of Pardons and Paroles or the Texas governor's office even took note of Hurst's conclusions. Willingham was executed by lethal injection, telling the Associated Press before his death, "[t]he most distressing thing is the state of Texas will kill an innocent man and doesn't care they're making a mistake."

In 2004 the Chicago Tribune asked three fire experts to evaluate the Willingham arson investigation. Their testing confirmed Hurst's report. In 2006, the Innocence Project commissioned yet another independent review of the arson evidence in Willingham's case. Their panel concluded that "each and every one" of the indicators of arson was "scientifically proven to be invalid." Finally, in 2007 the state of Texas created the Forensic Science Commission to investigate alleged errors and misconduct and commissioned another renowned arson expert, Craig Beyler, to examine the Willingham evidence. Beyler's report, issued two weeks ago, concluded that investigators had no scientific basis for claiming the fire was arson and that one of the arson investigator's approaches seemed to deny "rational reasoning" and was more "characteristic of mystics or psychics."

The state of Texas now has the opportunity to review Beyler's findings and conclude that it has carried out the "execution of a legally and factually innocent person."

One might think that all this would put a thumb on the scale for death-penalty opponents, who have long contended that conclusive proof of an innocent murdered by the state would fundamentally change the debate. But that was before the goal posts began to shift this summer. In June, by a 5-4 margin, the Supreme Court ruled that a prisoner did not have a constitutional right to demand DNA testing of evidence in police files, even at his own expense. "A criminal defendant proved guilty after a fair trial does not have the same liberty interests as a free man," wrote Chief Justice John Roberts. And two months later, Justices Scalia and Thomas went even further than the chief justice following an extraordinary Supreme Court order instructing a federal court to hold a new hearing in Troy Davis' murder case, after seven of nine eyewitnesses recanted their testimony. Scalia, dissenting from that order, wrote for himself and Justice Clarence Thomas, "[t]his court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is 'actually' innocent."

As a constitutional matter, Scalia is not wrong. The court has never found a constitutional right for the actually innocent to be free from execution. When the court flirted with the question in 1993, a majority ruled against the accused, but Chief Justice William Rehnquist left open the possibility that it may be unconstitutional to execute someone with a "truly persuasive demonstration" of innocence. Oddly enough, for at least some members of the current court that question is now seemingly irrelevant: In Scalia's America, the Cameron Todd Willingham whose very existence was once in doubt is today constitutionally immaterial. Having waited decades for an innocent victim of capital punishment, the fact that we have finally found one won't matter at all. In this new America we can execute a man for an accidental house fire, while the constitution stands silently by.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Bill Pelke's Birthday Wish


This is why I'm donating my birthday - I don't need any presents...why not use my birthday to do something good for the world?

This is my cause:
Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing
Mission: Education on the death penalty and how to work on the transition from violence to healing - The Journey of Hope conducts annual 17 day tours in various states, speaking in high schools, colleges, churches, social clubs, and various other venues. Murder victims' family members and those with a death row connection put the human face on the issue of the death penalty as they share their stories.

This is why I care:
All my friends know how important the Journey of Hope...from Violence to Healing is to me. Any donation no matter how large or small would make my birthday a joyous occasion. Since the Journey of Hope is a non profit organization all gifts are tax deductable.

Please go ahead and make my day.
Thank you.
Peace, Bill Pelke

This is what I'm asking of my friends:
I'm asking for $20, or whatever you can afford!

LINK to spread outside Facebook: or GO here

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"

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

INNOCENT but Dead By Bob Herbert NYTimes Op-Ed

September 1, 2009
Op-Ed Columnist

There is a long and remarkable article in the current New Yorker about a man who was executed in Texas in 2004 for deliberately setting a fire that killed his three small children. Rigorous scientific analysis has since shown that there was no evidence that the fire in a one-story, wood frame house in Corsicana was the result of arson, as the authorities had alleged.

In other words, it was an accident. No crime had occurred.

Cameron Todd Willingham, who refused to accept a guilty plea that would have spared his life, and who insisted until his last painful breath that he was innocent, had in fact been telling the truth all along.

It was inevitable that some case in which a clearly innocent person had been put to death would come to light. It was far from inevitable that this case would be the one. “I was extremely skeptical in the beginning,” said the New Yorker reporter, David Grann, who began investigating the case last December.

The fire broke out on the morning of Dec. 23, 1991. Willingham was awakened by the cries of his 2-year-old daughter, Amber. Also in the house were his year-old twin girls, Karmon and Kameron. The family was poor, and Willingham’s wife, Stacy, had gone out to pick up a Christmas present for the children from the Salvation Army.

Willingham said he tried to rescue the kids but was driven back by smoke and flames. At one point his hair caught fire. As the heat intensified, the windows of the children’s room exploded and flames leapt out. Willingham, who was 23 at the time, had to be restrained and eventually handcuffed as he tried again to get into the room.

There was no reason to believe at first that the fire was anything other than a horrible accident. But fire investigators, moving slowly through the ruined house, began seeing things (not unlike someone viewing a Rorschach pattern) that they interpreted as evidence of arson.

They noticed deep charring at the base of some of the walls and patterns of soot that made them suspicious. They noticed what they felt were ominous fracture patterns in pieces of broken window glass. They had no motive, but they were convinced the fire had been set. And if it had been set, who else but Willingham would have set it?

With no real motive in sight, the local district attorney, Pat Batchelor, was quoted as saying, “The children were interfering with his beer drinking and dart throwing.”

Willingham was arrested and charged with capital murder.

When official suspicion fell on Willingham, eyewitness testimony began to change. Whereas initially he was described by neighbors as screaming and hysterical — “My babies are burning up!” — and desperate to have the children saved, he now was described as behaving oddly, and not having made enough of an effort to get to the girls.

And you could almost have guaranteed that a jailhouse snitch would emerge. They almost always do. This time his name was Johnny Webb, a jumpy individual with a lengthy arrest record who would later admit to being “mentally impaired” and on medication, and who had started taking illegal drugs at the age of 9.

The jury took barely an hour to return a guilty verdict, and Willingham was sentenced to death.

He remained on death row for 12 years, but it was only in the weeks leading up to his execution that convincing scientific evidence of his innocence began to emerge. A renowned scientist and arson investigator, Gerald Hurst, educated at Cambridge and widely recognized as a brilliant chemist, reviewed the evidence in the Willingham case and began systematically knocking down every indication of arson.

The authorities were unmoved. Willingham was executed by lethal injection on Feb. 17, 2004.

Now comes a report on the case from another noted scientist, Craig Beyler, who was hired by a special commission, established by the state of Texas to investigate errors and misconduct in the handling of forensic evidence.

The report is devastating, the kind of disclosure that should send a tremor through one’s conscience. There was absolutely no scientific basis for determining that the fire was arson, said Beyler. No basis at all. He added that the state fire marshal who investigated the case and testified against Willingham “seems to be wholly without any realistic understanding of fires.” He said the marshal’s approach seemed to lack “rational reasoning” and he likened it to the practices “of mystics or psychics.”

Grann told me on Monday that when he recently informed the jailhouse snitch, Johnny Webb, that new scientific evidence would show that the fire wasn’t arson and that an innocent man had been killed, Webb seemed taken aback. “Nothing can save me now,” he said.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company