Thursday, January 28, 2010

What the Journey of Hope is all about ....

A letter to Bill Pelke by Gabriel Gonzales, a death row inmate in Texas

Dear Bill,

Happy New Year to you, your family, and your extended Journey of Hope family.

When I first heard of the “Journey of Hope” I was blown away at the very powerful message you all are bringing to the world despite being victims of murderous violence. You said it best Bill: “The answer is love and compassion for all of humanity.” Yes it is.

We live in a world where being quick to judge and ruling with an iron fist has become the social norm, and understanding love and compassion have become foreign concepts that are considered week and even insane. And to me, you and everyone from the Journey of Hope are a bright beacon of light in this darkness for being victims who lost loved ones to violence and still having so much love and compassion in your hearts even for those who inflicted the violence and all who are connected to the situation on either side of the situation. Compassion, love, and understanding are the preservers of life and the manifestors of the justice. Not revenge and more killing.

My name is Gabriel Gonzalez. I’m a death row prisoner who is innocent! However, I learned the truth of the message you all bring while on DR. My childhood was full of emotional, physical, and severe sexual abuse at the hands of my father, and emotional neglect by my mother. In an attempt to save myself I left home at 12 and was forced to survive on my own long before I was completely prepared (and on top of that severely damaged from all the abuse and neglect).

I lived in the ghetto, very poor, with no good male role models. The gang members and drug dealers were considered the paradigm for manhood. I joined a gang at 12 and sold drugs to survive. The gang was my way of trying to find love, security, a place to belong (not because I wanted to be a criminal). I was too young to legally work and on the run from the police for being a run away. So I sold drugs to have money to eat.

Once I arrived on death row confined to a cell 23 hours a day, I was forced to sit with the pain of my childhood abuse. A friend at Ellis Unit (when we still had group recreation) taught me how to read. I came across psychology books that helped me understand why I was so deeply hurt by my abuser, and how sick my abuser was. That along with the spiritual awareness I came into gave me the understanding I needed that my abuser was truly sick. And that gave me the compassion to forgive him. When I forgave him my hate and anger went away. It was in that moment that I discovered that we all who have been hurt by others can only heal through forgiveness which is a derivative of compassion. We can only destroy ourselves and others by holding onto the hate and wanting to exact and perpetuate more pain. It’s only reinstating the code of justice by more pain – and that is not justice.

In my own process of seeking answers and healing I discovered how powerful compassion is. Once I understood how sick my father was I found the compassion not only to forgive him but wishing I could help him heal. That’s powerful. And I came to discover that the preservers of life, humanity and justice are understanding, love and compassion.

While here I also discovered my passion: Wanting to work with abused and neglected children like me, and also with young gang members in hopes of helping them find healing, hope, and the understanding that just because we were victims of abuse and violence, neglect and many other indignities, does not mean we cannot sustain, overcome and live a full quality life where we can extend ourselves to our full potential, turn our wounds into wisdom and use them as a message and “Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing” to bring love and compassion to all of humanity.

Bill, thank you for existing, for the love and compassion and healing you and all at the Journey of Hope bring with your message and your effort. If ever I can do anything to help you or anyone from the Journey of Hope, Please let me and my wife Carolina know. Keep up the amazing and powerful work…

Love, Compassion, Action & Transformation…
Gabriel Gonzalez

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Review: 'Dead Man Walking' at City Lights in San Jose

Taken from
By Karen D'Souza

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

Gandhi's insight into the dark side of vengeance is just one of the bits of wisdom woven into "Dead Man Walking." Adapted by Tim Robbins from the autobiographical book by Sister Helen Prejean, this provocative piece of political theater examines the morality of the death penalty from all sides.

This hard-hitting production runs through Feb. 21 at City Lights Theater Company in a coproduction with Notre Dame High School as part of the "Dead Man Walking" School Theatre Project.

Keenly directed by Amanda Folena, this probing death penalty drama unfolds in a bleak universe of iron bars, chain-link fence and concrete (design by Ron Gasparinetti). This death row, where time and mercy are in equally short supply, is etched with a stark Brechtian flair.

Robbins, who wrote and directed the Oscar-winning film version of the tale starring Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon, is a stalwart figure in political theater circles. He takes pains to give the wider context of the issues behind the economics of justice in America. Ninety-nine percent of the people on death row are poor. Sadly, the bottom line seems to be you get the justice you pay for.

But the genius of this parable is that there are no absolutes. The death row inmate in question — Matthew Poncelet (City Lights regular Thomas Gorrebeeck) — is no saint. He's a swastika-bearing thug and a bigot who may well have committed the grotesque crimes of which he is accused, the rape and murder of two teenagers.

And yet Sister Helen (City Lights artistic director Lisa Mallette) finds herself moved to protest his death. She can't sit idly by as the state takes a human life in the name of peace.

Mallette, in a rare stint on the boards, mines the guts and sass that make Sister Helen an irresistible force in a world of immovable objects. The actress nails the passion and drive that make someone willing to renounce personal comfort and dedicate their life to others.

Gorrebeeck gives Matthew a vulnerability that softens the character's grimness, but he misses the rage that drives a man to such acts of self-destruction. The character's racist screeds seem to come out of nowhere.

There are also times when the pacing feels spotty, and the emotional weight of the play doesn't build as vividly as it should as the day of reckoning approaches. But these are quibbles in the face of an ambitious production.

Perhaps the most moving moments focus on the families of the victims. In one scene, a chorus of voices speak at once, their words coalescing in a fugue of anguish. Each of them has lost a loved one to an act of violence. It's as if no one knows their pain, as if each of them is trapped in their little silo of grief. Their calls for vengeance cut to the bone.

Robbins' script cleverly weaves the factual with the supernatural in a compelling narrative arc. Watching the ghosts of the slain teenagers (Ligia Law and David Madwin) stalk the stage, peering into the face of the man who put them in the grave, is an eerie experience.

Still, there's nothing quite as powerful as the penultimate moments where we watch Matthew strapped down and executed. The words "lethal injection" seem so clinical and humane, but the act of ending someone's life is never that detached. Prejean's account of being in the chamber of death makes us confront what the costs are, not in dollars, but in dignity, to all involved.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

SHAPERS of Death Penalty GIVE UP!

A recent study by HLS Professor Carol Steiker ’86 and her brother, Professor Jordan Steiker of the University of Texas Law School, has led the American Law Institute (ALI) to vote to withdraw the capital punishment section of its Model Penal Code.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Startling News: "Group That Shaped Death Penalty Gives Up on Its Own Work" (Also goes by title: "Group Gives Up Death Penalty Work" here-

Also see: "Steiker Study Inspires Withdrawal of Death Penalty Section" from Carol Steiker who is well known for her criminal law scholarship, here

Steider's Bio: here

See Google/Search engines for other related items on Death Penalty Information Center and Law Sites

Below Adam Liptak’s column about the latest in the legal world includes his breaking item regarding a 50 year-long project and backbone for the existing death penalty nation-wide. Liptak, who's bio includes copyboy and lots of law has columns appearing weekly in the NYTimes and has also worked with The Times in other legal capacities as well. (I, Connie Nash, this blogger, found his article unusually startling and comprehensively while clearly-written for non-lawyers for a change from similar reports by other law experts.

Times Topics: Capital Punishment (From Washington)

Group That Shaped Death Penalty Gives Up on Its Own Work

Last fall, the American Law Institute, which created the intellectual framework for the modern capital justice system almost 50 years ago, pronounced its project a failure and walked away from it.

There were other important death penalty developments last year: the number of death sentences continued to fall, Ohio switched to a single chemical for lethal injections and New Mexico repealed its death penalty entirely. But not one of them was as significant as the institute’s move, which represents a tectonic shift in legal theory.

“The A.L.I. is important on a lot of topics,” said Franklin E. Zimring, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley. “They were absolutely singular on this topic” — capital punishment — “because they were the only intellectually respectable support for the death penalty system in the United States.”

The institute is made up of about 4,000 judges, lawyers and law professors. It synthesizes and shapes the law in restatements and model codes that provide structure and coherence in a federal legal system that might otherwise consist of 50 different approaches to everything.

In 1962, as part of the Model Penal Code, the institute created the modern framework for the death penalty, one the Supreme Court largely adopted when it reinstituted capital punishment in Gregg v. Georgia in 1976. Several justices cited the standards the institute had developed as a model to be emulated by the states.

The institute’s recent decision to abandon the field was a compromise. Some members had asked the institute to take a stand against the death penalty as such. That effort failed.

Instead, the institute voted in October to disavow the structure it had created “in light of the current intractable institutional and structural obstacles to ensuring a minimally adequate system for administering capital punishment.”

That last sentence contains some pretty dense lawyer talk, but it can be untangled. What the institute was saying is that the capital justice system in the United States is irretrievably broken.

A study commissioned by the institute said that decades of experience had proved that the system could not reconcile the twin goals of individualized decisions about who should be executed and systemic fairness. It added that capital punishment was plagued by racial disparities; was enormously expensive even as many defense lawyers were underpaid and some were incompetent; risked executing innocent people; and was undermined by the politics that come with judicial elections.

Roger S. Clark, who teaches at the Rutgers School of Law in Camden, N.J., and was one of the leaders of the movement to have the institute condemn the death penalty outright, said he was satisfied with the compromise. “Capital punishment is going to be around for a while,” Professor Clark said. “What this does is pull the plug on the whole intellectual underpinnings for it.”

The framework the institute developed in 1962 was an effort to make the death penalty less arbitrary. It proposed limiting capital crimes to murder and narrowing the categories of people eligible for the punishment. Most important, it gave juries a framework to decide whom to put to death, asking them to balance aggravating factors against mitigating ones.

The move to combat arbitrariness without giving up sensitivity to individual circumstances is known as “guided discretion,” which sounds good until you notice that it is a phrase at war with itself.

The Supreme Court’s capital justice jurisprudence since 1976 has only complicated things. Justice Harry A. Blackmun conceded in 1987 that “there perhaps is an inherent tension between the discretion accorded capital sentencing juries and the guidance for use of that discretion that is constitutionally required.”

That was an understatement, Justice Antonin Scalia said in 1990. “To acknowledge that ‘there perhaps is an inherent tension,’ ” he wrote, “is rather like saying that there was perhaps an inherent tension between the Allies and the Axis powers in World War II.”

Justice Scalia solved the problem by vowing never to throw out a death sentence on the ground that the sentencer’s discretion had been unconstitutionally restricted.

In 1994, Justice Blackmun came around to the view that “guided discretion” amounted to “irreconcilable constitutional commands.” But he drew a different conclusion than Justice Scalia had from the same premise, saying that “the death penalty cannot be administered in accord with our Constitution.” He said he would no longer “tinker with the machinery of death.” The institute came to essentially the same conclusion.

Some supporters of the death penalty said they welcomed the institute’s move. Capital sentencing “is so micromanaged by Supreme Court precedents that a model statute really serves very little function,” Kent Scheidegger of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation wrote in a blog posting. “We are perfectly O.K. with dumping it.”

Mr. Scheidegger expressed satisfaction that an effort to have the institute come out against the death penalty as such was defeated.

But opponents of the death penalty said the institute’s move represented a turning point.

“It’s very bad news for the continued legitimacy of the death penalty,” Professor Zimring said. “But it’s the kind of bad news that has many more implications for the long term than for next week or the next term of the Supreme Court.”

Samuel Gross, a law professor at the University of Michigan, said he recalled reading Model Penal Code as a first-year law student in 1970. “The death penalty was an abstract issue of little interest to me or my fellow students,” Professor Gross said. But he remembered being impressed by the institute’s work, saying, “I thought in passing that smarter people than I had done a sensible job of figuring out this tricky problem.”

Things will look different come September, Professor Gross said.

“Law students who take first-year criminal law from 2010 on,” he said, “will learn that this same group of smart lawyers and judges — the ones whose work they read every day — has said that the death penalty in the United States is a moral and practical failure.”

Be sure to scour Google/Search engines for other related items on Death Penalty Information Center and Law Sites - including abolition (of the death penalty) web and blog sites.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

A Place of Peace

taken from the Bethesda Magazine
Vicki Schieber is the chair of Murder Victims Families for Human Rights, a valuable helper for the Catholic Mobilizing Network To End the Use of the Death Penalty Campaign to End the Death Penalty and a Journey of Hope supporter.

Nearly a dozen years after her daughter’s murder, death penalty abolitionist Vicki Schieber arrives at tranquility—but not rest.
By Kathleen Wheaton

Vicki Schieber feels the presence of her late daughter, Shannon, whenever she and her 2-year-old granddaughter are feeding the ducks and swan on the lake of her 6-acre Frederick County farm. “I know that Shannon’s watching over us,” Schieber says. “I know that she led us to this beautiful place.”

Schieber, 65, and her husband, Syl, 63, have carefully restored the property’s Civil War-era brick farmhouse and red barns. They moved to the farm in July 2008, after selling their home in Chevy Chase where they had lived for almost 30 years.

Nearly a dozen years have passed since the Schiebers’ 23-year-old daughter, a first-year doctoral candidate at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, was strangled by a serial rapist who climbed in through the balcony door of her Philadelphia brownstone apartment. Four years later, Shannon’s killer was caught and convicted. But the Schiebers, citing personal and religious objections to the death penalty, refused to press for his execution. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Shannon Schieber was president of her 1992 graduating class at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School and graduated in three years from Duke University in Durham, N.C., with a triple major in math, economics and philosophy. She wanted to make a difference in the world, her mother says. Believing that the best way to honor Shannon’s memory was to uphold the moral principles with which her daughter was raised, Schieber quit her marketing job four years ago in order to devote herself to the campaign to end capital punishment.

In June 2008, Gov. Martin O’Malley, a death penalty opponent, appointed Schieber to the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment, and in December 2008 that panel voted 13-9 to recommend its repeal. In March, however, a repeal bill was narrowly defeated in the Maryland Senate. “It broke my heart,” Schieber says. “But I’ve come to understand that change in politics is incremental.” A compromise bill passed later that month made Maryland’s death penalty requirements the most stringent of the 35 states that allow executions, according to Schieber: Prosecutors in Maryland can seek the death penalty only in murder cases where there is DNA evidence, a videotaped interrogation and confession, or videotaped evidence of the crime. Schieber hopes O’Malley will introduce another bill for repeal. “I believe he’s inclined to do that, but first we have to get him re-elected [in November],” she says.

In the meantime, Schieber crisscrosses the country almost weekly, speaking at colleges, law schools and churches. She tells Shannon’s story and narrates her own awakening to the idea that putting her daughter’s killer to death would not lessen her grief or redeem Shannon’s life. “I am very hopeful that we can change more hearts and minds,” Schieber says. “I haven’t had eggs or tomatoes thrown at me yet, but it’s difficult.” What restores her, she says, is returning to the peacefulness of the farm. Syl has retired from the Social Security Administration and has converted a barn to a woodworking shop. Their son, Sean, who builds custom furniture, lives less than a mile away with his wife, Jess, a violin maker, and their two small children.

Since 2006, when Schieber began her quest, two states—New Mexico and New Jersey—have outlawed the death penalty, and Montana’s Senate has voted for repeal. To celebrate those events, lights were turned on in the Coliseum in Rome, where Christians were once thrown to lions and gladiators fought to the death. Schieber’s dream is to attend a ceremony commemorating the end of capital punishment in Maryland. “I’m never going to give up,” she says.

Kathleen Wheaton lives in Bethesda and writes frequently for Bethesda Magazine.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Happy Birthday Terri Steinberg!!!

Hope you've been treating yourself extra well! Have the BEST Birthday Week Ever and a beautiful NEW decade! I love you Terri and all the walks and talks we took in Texas!!! MUCH LOVE from your Journey of Hope Family!

Thanx you dear Jennifer Kirby for the lovely photos!

Terri, as always so effectively speaking at the Montana Journey of Hope Tour
and below see the two pretty ladies having fun! Terri Steinberg with Marietta Jaeger-Lane

Terri on video here

"I never thought about the death penalty until it landed in my back yard. Now that I've walked through those doors, I realize what a horrible place it is, not just for my son, but for everyone. I'll continue to fight the death penalty for as long as I can.” An earlier Terri quote

And this one is on Terri's facebook page:

"Living is determined not by what life brings you as the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as the way your mind looks at what happens. Circumstances and situations do color life, but you choose what the color will be." and Terri sure does live this one!

Terri, I sure hope to see you one of these days soon. Many prayers. We're holding you and yours in the warm Light of God's unfailing Love.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Is there Empirical Support for the "Deterrence Theory"?

STUDIES: Researchers Find "No Empirical Support" for Deterrence Theory
Posted: December 31, 2009 in "Deterrence Studies - What's New?"

Researchers from the University of Texas at Dallas recently published a study on whether executions deter homicides using state panel date and employing well-known econometric procedures for panel analysis. The authors found "no empirical support for the argument that the existence or application of the death penalty deters prospective offenders from committing homicide."

The study was published in the journal of Criminology and Public Policy and authored by Tomislav V. Kovandzic, Lynne M. Vieraitis and Denise Paquette Boots, all professors of criminology. The study concluded, "In sum, our finding of no deterrent effect of the DP (death penalty) on homicide suggests the risk of execution does not enhance the level of deterrence.

Therefore, we conclude that although policy makers and the public may continue to support the use of the death penalty based on retribution, religious grounds, or other justifications, defending its use based on deterrence is inconsistent with our findings. At a minimum, policy makers should refrain from justifying its use by claiming that it is a deterrent to homicide and explore less costly, more effective ways of addressing crime."

Death penalty means emotional journey for victims' families

by Maiken Scott, WHYY News and Information - please go to link to also listen to interviews...

When John "Jordan" Lewis was sentenced to die for killing Philadelphia police officer Chuck Cassidy last month, Cassidy's widow Judy said the verdict offered no solace to her. It's been over ten years since an execution was carried out in Pennsylvania, and victims' families typically face a long and emotionally draining appeals process.

When the jury agreed on the death penalty for the man who murdered her son – Kathleen O'Hara felt some relief.

O'Hara: I'm not happy about it, I don't like the death penalty, but it felt right to me, so I drove away thinking – that was really terrible but it's over.

That was in 2001 – two years after O'Hara's son Aaron and his roommate Brian were abducted from their apartment at Ohio's Franciscan University and shot and killed.

But as O'Hara found out as she and her family gathered for Thanksgiving weekend in 2004 – it was far from over.

O'Hara: it was the first Thanksgiving where it was a little less painful, we could be in the same room, we were laughing at Thanksgiving, and I thought, this is really bad but it's not as bad. And then December 1st I got the call. Which sent me right back to remembering everything that had happened.

The call was from a victim's advocate – telling her that the verdict and sentence had been overturned in an appeal.

Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham says this part of the legal system can be overwhelming for families:

Abraham: Coming to Court innumerable times, listening to whatever testimony, then finally receiving a verdict only to find out that the process keeps on going for years and years and years, is very demoralizing – and it increases their sense of loss and hopelessness – when is this process going to come to an end.

Professor Jules Epstein of Widener Law recognizes the emotional strain on victims' families, but says the appeals process is crucial:

Epstein: These cases are so complex, and the risks are so great, and we know from history that you need that much time – because sometimes it takes a long time to find and prove a serious error, just think of the DNA exhonerations maybe slow is not so bad

Slow can mean decades. Throughout the process, victims' advocates – employed by the DA's office, guide families through the complicated legal process, and keep them informed. Kate Roach is director of Philadelphia's "Families of Murder Victims"

Roach: It can be very confusing for them to understand what is going on, at the same time they are very traumatized, it's very difficult for them to process what is happening and why.

And sometimes, it seems like nothing is happening – In O'Hara's case, from the time she go the call, it took another five years for a new trial to begin. She is a psycho-therapist and used her professional skills to deal with the emotional rollercoaster:

O'Hara: I had to stop getting so upset, every time I thought about it, every time I got some new news – so I decided that I would have to put it aside and that when it happened, it would happen.

Take the case of Cheryl Smith of Hanover PA. She was killed in 1981. One of her killers, John Amos Small, was sentenced to death fifteen years later, in 1996 – and still is on death row. Cheryl's father Charles doesn't believe the sentence will ever be carried out:

Smith: SIGH – well, I really don't think it's going to happen as far as I'm concerned, as long as he don't get out of jail, he's in a good place, because he's not gonna hurt nobody else.

Kathleen O'Hara says the private process of grieving a loved one is constantly interrupted by the demands of the justice system – and for her, the second trial was far worse than the first one:

O'Hara: Because the first time around, it was a year afterwards, I think all of us were still in shock so you had some shock cushioning, well this time, there wasn't any, it was so clear, and to sit there and realize, this really happened.

The new trial did end in a murder conviction Terrell Yarbrough, the man accused of killing Aaron. The sentence changed from death to life without parole. O'Hara says she was relieved because she hopes that means no more appeals.

For Charles Smith, the process continues to drag on – and the frustration and pain is evident in his voice:

Smith: After all these years, as many times as my life has been interrupted with this, hah, it don't make much of a difference anymore…I mean it doesn't matter…it's really ridiculous.

Smith is in his late sixties now, and hopes to see the process end in his lifetime.