Monday, August 30, 2010
I listened to this radio program back a few months and was deeply impressed with the compassion expressed for ALL involved in this suffering. I found it just now by accident and felt that certainly we at The Journey of Hope care about many of these same issues along with the need for way more prevention...even, no ESPECIALLY in such times as ours today with the need to prioritize lessening funds for helping people.
"The truth about homicide," she says, "is that it is black men in their 20s, in their 30s, in their 40s. The way we guide money and policy in this country, we do not care about those people. It's not described as what's central to our homicide problem, and I wanted people to see that. I wanted people to see those lives and to see that that's our real homicide problem in America."The money needs to go to black male argument violence," she continues. "Anything else … you're dealing with the margins of the problem, statistically, and it's not right." For this article GO here
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Special to the Mercury News
As someone who lost a loved one to murder, elections in California cause me pain. The death penalty is trotted out like a show pony every election cycle.
The latest July 22 Field Poll is such a show pony, released as momentum builds for the California gubernatorial elections. "Seven in 10 voters favor capital punishment in California" screamed the headlines across the state. Steve Cooley's campaign for attorney general quickly took their cue, bragging that while "death sentences have declined nationwide, Cooley obtained 13 death verdicts last year, four more than the entire state of Texas."
The echo of familiar rhetoric is incredibly painful for those of us who have lost a loved one to murder, and whose voices are effectively shut out of the debate because we oppose the death penalty.
We heard of my aunt's violent murder watching the national evening news in Spanish. My family members called each other right away, from San Francisco to Colombia, the East Coast and beyond.
My Tía's killer was her own son -- my cousin. He was in the midst of a psychotic break. We never got the sympathetic call from the police we expected. Instead, we got a low blow from the district attorney. He wanted the death penalty.
We didn't have the $100,000 it would take to get a private defense attorney, so we gave what we had. Some planned the funeral. Others gave their English skills and education. I flew to Miami to advocate for him.
We pored over his school and medical records to reconstruct his painful past. When we met with his public defenders and realized how overworked they were, we gave our time. We became his investigators.
We banded together in our grief.
Finally, the obvious became clear to the DA and he dropped the death penalty charges. A judge ruled that my cousin was ill, that he was not fit to stand trial at all. He will probably live the rest of his life in a mental hospital. It sounds strange, but that was one of the best gifts I ever got.
Our story is unfortunately common. Mental illness and familial violence often overlap. And right now, California's justice system is not equipped to deal with either.
It's important for prosecutors and politicians alike to listen to the family members who understand the anguish and the dangers wrought by mental illness. Our vantage point is valuable.
And for many of us, the death penalty is not an answer. Yet we are suffocated by the loudest, angriest "tough on crime" voices. We deserve to be heard. Within the system and in the debate.
We know that there is a better choice: We can replace the death penalty with life without possibility of parole. In California, every person sentenced to life without parole has died in prison or will die in prison unless new evidence emerges to show that he or she is innocent.
Life without the possibility of parole also costs a fraction compared to the death penalty. In the next five years, California will spend $1 billion on the death penalty. Just this week, the governor took $64 million from the general fund to begin construction of a new death row housing facility that will cost $400 million to complete.
Meanwhile, the governor has proposed cutting more than $400 million a year from mental health programs at the local level. Cutting funding to treat mental illness while paying for the death penalty is simply insane.
Justice is one of those precious gifts only strangers can offer. Let's hope our elected officials will give us justice by protecting funding for mental illness programs and cutting the death penalty instead.
DELDELP MEDINA is an active member of California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and lives in Berkeley. She wrote this article for this newspaper.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
There is a lot of current hype about the death penalty and the Racial Justice Act. I lost my father and stepmother to murder, and one of the killers is on death row now. As I have learned more and more about capital punishment over the years, it has become clear that the system is biased and broken in many ways. It seems like a system so extreme ought to at least be fair — racially and otherwise — but isn't. I'm glad that the Racial Justice Act forces us to confront that issue. Even if some are stretching the statistics, overall the numbers speak loudly that something must change.
As a family member of murder victims, I can tell you that I feel no healing, justice or closure that someone else might die. It doesn't set things straight again, prevent other teenagers from going down the wrong track, nor does it bring back my loved ones. Maybe instead of just analyzing racial statistics, perhaps we can take another look at the purpose of the death penalty and if it is really accomplishing what we hope it is.
Asheville Citizen-Times here
SEE and ADD COMMENTS online at Asheville Citizen-Times here and below at The Journey of Hope blog here...
Saturday, August 21, 2010
Sindh is now being described as the worst-hit province
Evacuwees Peshawar area Pakistan Floods 2010
SHORT Videos From Cecos Peshawar University CLICK HERE Amazing photos tell all...
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Photo: Courtesy of the author/Natasha Trethewey and her brother Joe stand in front of Fort Massachusetts on Ship Island, Miss., circa 1999.
The daughter of an African-American mother and a white father, Natasha Trethewey often explores in her poetry her experiences growing up in Mississippi and Georgia
While not a "usual" Journey post, I was quite moved listening to this evocative poet speak about the special emotions and needs of those who suffer after murder of a loved one (both about her own experience and that of her step-brother - as they both lost the same mother in this horrific way - due to murder by their mutual father - Natasha's step-father). In such a compelling way, Natasha speaks of the great need and benefit to TELL and/or WRITE about the suffering - the guilt - the loss and the need to care for others who also lost this loved one/and or their own life as it was before the murder. And also the value of letter-writing - not just talking on the telephone or visiting with the prisoner.
Although some of this is about the book soon to be available on getting through the Katrina hurricanes, the part about the murder and how she and her step-brother stood by each other is quite fitting and certainly could be a "life-saver" for many if not most of us in "JOURNEY" concerning our own stories, the people we know in prison and the wounded loved ones in our lives.
Interview with Terry Groos, NPR dot org originally aired August 18, 2010 with repeat airing August 21, 2010
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey grew up in Gulfport, Miss., a coastal area that suffered some of the heaviest damage from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Though Natasha Trethewey no longer lives in Mississippi, much of her mother's extended family, including her younger brother, live along the Gulf Coast and have been struggling after the storm to recover what they lost (in more ways than one as these losses bring up more vividly OTHER LOSSES - such as the loss of mother to murder.)
On finding out her brother had been arrested
"It happened in the spring of 2007, but he didn't tell me about it then. He didn't tell me about it because that was the moment when happy things were going on in my life and he didn't want to ruin that. ... He didn't tell me until a year later when he was about to go to trial, and his lawyer told him that if he didn't call me and ask me to come down there and to speak on his behalf, then he might be in jail a very long time. I didn't let him know that I was upset [but when] I flew back the next day, and my husband picked me up at the airport ... I just started sobbing. And I asked him how I was going to live if my heart was in prison."
"I think I do feel a good measure of guilt. I've carried with me a lot of survivor's guilt ... and with my brother, I definitely feel that. You can come from the same household and yet have such dramatically different lives. ... I feel guilty that I couldn't protect him from it. When [our mother] died, because I was 7 years older than him, my brother began to look to me as kind of a surrogate mother. I was the one that he clung to in that way. And yet, I couldn't mother him in the way I wish I could have. When he was in prison, I think that was really so difficult."
On communicating with her brother while he was in prison
"One of my failures during that time was the kind of responses that I gave to him. My brother was writing to me, he would call and I would never miss a phone call. I'd do everything I could do be there, if he needed anything, I'd send it. Along with his girlfriend, I worked tirelessly calling and e-mailing the commissioner of prisons in Mississippi to get my brother released, to have him moved to the facility we wanted him to be in so he could be closer to family — all of that kind of legwork, I was willing to do. But what I never once did was write him a letter. Once it hit me, it felt like the worst betrayal ever. One of the first things I did when he was out was sit him down and apologize for it. Not once when he was there did he ask me to, and I know how that probably hurt him deeply, and I don't know why it didn't occur to me. It didn't occur to me at all."
Here's from another site about the lost mother:
I was jogging in the graveyard near my house one day, and there’s an old part where a lot of Confederate soldiers are buried. I’m one of those people who can’t not read every tombstone -- they scream at me for their names to be heard. I was thinking about that when I came home and planned to write about that. When I sat down to write “Graveyard Blues,” what I recalled was burying my mother. That was when I came to understand what was going on in my subconscious. I wrote the poem “Graveyard Blues,” and the final couplet has an image of me laying my head down on her stone. When I finished the poem, I thought the couplet made sense for what the poem was trying to get at.
from “Graveyard Blues”:
It rained the whole time we were laying her down;
Rained from church to grave when we put her down.
The suck of mud at our feet was a hollow sound
. . . .
The road going home was pocked with holes,
That home-going road is always full of holes;
Though we slow down, time’s wheel still rolls.
I wander now among names of the dead:
My mother’s name, stone pillow for my head.
That image is real because my mother does not have any kind of stone on her grave. That sort of hit me, the history that had not been properly memorialized, remembered, tended by someone native to her -- it was my mother’s history. She was just like those black soldiers. No monument existed, and in that way she was erased from the landscape...
Trethewey, in a new memoir, Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, explains that both the identity and future are linked to how one remembers both place and people.
She says she continues to find comfort in her poems: "I think poetry's always a kind of faith. It is the kind that I have," Trethewey says. "It is what can offer solace and meaning but also ... allows me to understand these events."
Trethewey holds the Phillis Wheatley Distinguished Chair in Poetry at Emory University. She received the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her collection Native Guard.
A small portion of the last part excerpted from Beyond Katrina by Natasha Trethewey. Copyright 2010 by Natasha Trethewey. Excerpted by permission of the University of Georgia Press. All rights reserved.
Read and Hear more here
Thursday, August 19, 2010
The most important ingredient of the Journey of Hope is “love and compassion” for all of humanity. If you have love and compassion for all of humanity you will not want to see anybody put into the death chamber and their life taken from them.
"The Journey" also promotes forgiveness as a wonderful way to healing. And the Journey highly endorses restorative justice as a way of life.
Led by murder victim family members, we are joined by death row family members, death row exonerees, families of the executed and other activists who march with the Journey Banner.
Come join us on "The Journey". We need your help to carry the Banner.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
by David Cook published in The Sun Magazine
In 1608, on the shores of Britain’s newly formed Virginia Colony, Captain George Kendall was found guilty of spying for Spain and sentenced to death by firing squad. His execution — the first recorded in the colonial New World — began a policy of death-penalty sentencing that continues to this day in the United States, where 3,300 men and women sit on death row. Since 1977 more than 1,200 people have been executed, with the overwhelming majority of those executions taking place in Southern states. One of those killed was Elmo Patrick Sonnier, convicted by a Louisiana jury of murdering David LeBlanc and Loretta Ann Bourque on the night of their high-school homecoming. While on death row Sonnier began corresponding with a Catholic nun in New Orleans named Sister Helen Prejean. Their correspondence, Prejean says, turned her life upside down. Today she is one of the world’s foremost death-penalty abolitionists.
Prejean was born into a life of Louisiana privilege and entered the convent intent on seclusion. It wasn’t until a fellow nun asked, “What are you doing to stop the suffering in the world?” that Prejean decided to leave the cloister and help the urban poor. After moving into a housing project in New Orleans, Prejean became Sonnier’s spiritual advisor. She visited with him in person, right up to the last hours of his life. Sonnier was electrocuted before her eyes, and his story led her to write the Pulitzer Prize–nominated book Dead Man Walking (Vintage), which became an Oscar-winning film starring Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon.
Prejean has since served as spiritual advisor to five more death-row inmates and travels the world to speak in opposition to the death penalty. Her second book is titled The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions (Vintage), and she is at work on her spiritual autobiography, River of Fire. She also assists families of murder victims in New Orleans through Survive, a victims’ advocacy group that she founded. Prejean, who is seventy-one, has received numerous honorary doctorates and been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She says she is encouraged by recent trends toward abolishing capital punishment: in the last three decades six U.S. states have suspended or abolished use of the death penalty, and 139 death-row prisoners have been exonerated since 1973.
I met Prejean at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she spoke — with her distinct Louisiana style — to overflow crowds. A cold rain fell outside afterward as she and I sat down to talk. Long accustomed to fighting for justice, Prejean carries herself with a presence that is both firm and tender. When she walks into a room, the atmosphere changes immediately.
Like the best teachers, Prejean knows the path to the heart is through story, and she peppers her talks with moving accounts of those she has encountered in our nation’s prisons. Earlier she’d told the story of Dobie Gillis Williams, who was executed in 1999 by lethal injection. Prejean was with him in his last hours. He had an iq of 65. His last words were: “I just want to say I got no hard feelings for anybody. God bless everybody, God bless.” Prejean believes he was innocent.
Cook: According to Amnesty International, 93 percent of the world’s executions take place in five countries: China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, and the U.S. Why is our government — supposedly a beacon of democracy to the world — on such a list?
Prejean: The death penalty is a natural outgrowth of our long history of using violence to achieve our ends. We’re a very young country, and violence has worked for us in the past. It began with the settling of this continent and the genocide against Native Americans, then continued when we brought slaves over. Now we tend to blame the poor and see them as a criminal element and use coercion and violence to control them.
Cook: But capital punishment has been practiced for centuries. Is it part of human nature?
Prejean: It’s part of a cultural understanding that says the only way to subdue evil is with violence, but it’s not part of human nature. Look at all the countries in the world that don’t have the death penalty. The very first act of the new Constitutional Court in South Africa, after it got rid of apartheid, was to banish the death penalty. To some extent violence is part of our nature, but compassion is too. Seeking justice for everybody is also part of human nature.
The death penalty is the most important civil-rights issue of our time. It’s a deeply symbolic issue, because it says that the way we’re going to solve problems is by violence. It says that some among us are such a danger to who we are and what we stand for that they must be eliminated. To arrive at this mind-set, human beings have to flip a switch inside themselves. Deep down we know we are brothers and sisters and are all connected. For the death penalty to exist, we have to throw some switch that says, “The Other is not human like us,” and so we can do whatever we want to them. And of course the execution must be removed from the public eye. The chamber is behind prison walls, and we don’t hear about what goes on inside it.
Cook: If we went to death row, who would we find there?
Prejean: Less than 1 percent of the roughly fifteen thousand people who commit homicide each year are selected for death. Ninety percent of the prisoners who do end up on death row were abused as children. Nearly 100 percent are poor. We haven’t tried hard enough to solve the problem of poverty in this country. We have mentally ill people on death row. The Supreme Court has said that it’s unconstitutional to execute an insane person. So what do the states do? They give legally insane prisoners medication to make them appear sane enough to stand trial. We have some people on death row who don’t know how to read and write. But you also meet people on death row who read books and write profound reflections. Some of them will try to teach their fellow death-row prisoners how to read and write.
I used to think that people on death row would support and love each other, since they’re all in the same boat, but you also see people get into fights over tobacco or coffee and sometimes even throw their feces at someone walking by. There is fierceness and cruelty side by side with kindness.
Cook: You are currently the spiritual advisor to two people on death row.
Prejean: Yes. Manuel Ortiz has been on death row for seventeen years. He’s from El Salvador and was convicted of killing his wife for insurance money, solely on the word of a man named Carlos Saavedra. Saavedra said Manuel had hired him to kill his wife, but there is no evidence that Manuel even knew him. I can’t say too much about his case because his lawyers are in the process of appealing the decision.
Normally I serve only one prisoner at a time, but Cathy Henderson wrote me a letter and asked me to be with her. She is on death row in Texas and is accused of murdering a baby she was sitting. She has always said it was an accident. Her lawyers gave virtually no defense. Prosecutors called her a “baby murderer” and said she deliberately killed the infant. Cathy said she was playing the airplane game so many parents play — swinging him around — and her bare foot landed on something sharp. The baby dropped from her hands, and his head hit the floor. The medical examiner at her trial told the jury it could not have been an accident, but her new pro-bono lawyers have gotten four biomechanical experts to look at the physics of what happened, and all four came to the conclusion that it could have been an accident. The medical examiner has reviewed their findings and signed an affidavit saying that, if he’d had this information then, he would have changed his testimony. The Court of Criminal Appeals in Texas, which almost always rubber-stamps death-penalty convictions, has said there must be a new hearing. So there is the possibility she will escape the death penalty and perhaps be set free.
Cook: You’ve said that death row dehumanizes people. How?
Prejean: Every day on death row you receive indications that you are disposable: the way the guards treat you, the way you’re talked to, the way the courts treat you. No one gives any indication that you are a human being with dignity. That is why I’m there: to say to death-row prisoners that they are human.
On death row they lock you up and count you four times a day and treat you like chattel. In the maximum-security units there is very little human contact, so the people there are virtually in solitary confinement. It is torture. I believe that we tilled the soil for the torture in Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib with how we treat death-row prisoners in the U.S. We have become insensitive to their pain and humanity. Prisons are like fiefdoms, and a warden is like a king who has absolute power.
Cook: In the U.S. we have almost 5 percent of the world’s population and almost 25 percent of the global prison population.
Prejean: Yes, we incarcerate more people than any other country in the world. Prison is an industry from which certain people benefit: Politicians benefit because they get elected by claiming they are tough on crime. Businesses make money off prisons. That keeps the system going. Two-thirds of the people in prison are there for nonviolent crimes, like bad checks or drug possession. Why do we use such excessive punishment? What does it mean for us to take a woman who writes bad checks and separate her from her family for five or eight or ten years? What is the effect of that? Is that what she deserves?
As a society we have to examine our belief that severe punishment is the way to restore order. The main objective of prisons is to keep society safe, not to cause prisoners pain simply because they caused others pain. People who have committed violent crimes need to be imprisoned to keep the public safe, but we must also strive for rehabilitation. We know that prisoners who get an education tend not to reoffend, but we’ve cut most educational programs from prisons — really, any program that might restore humanity to the prisoners. Restorative justice would improve our society instead of simply throwing people away.
Cook: What would “restorative justice” look like?
Prejean: I once visited a women’s prison in Dublin, Ireland, and had I not known it was a prison, I would have never recognized it as such. The prison provided counseling to help the women understand what had led them to commit a crime. It provided a place for their children to come visit them. And it gave them an education and work supervision and lessons on developing relationships. In the U.S. we would call that “coddling criminals.” There they saw it as taking seriously the prisoners’ needs.
We picture all people in prison as terrible criminals. We picture murderers as people who love to kill, but most who commit murder do so in the heat of the moment and without thought of consequences. The only way to change our impressions is to go into prison and meet the people there.
Cook: Are there rehabilitation programs in the U.S. similar to the one you saw in Ireland?
Prejean: John Sage runs Bridges to Life in Texas. His sister Marilyn was brutally murdered, and he took the pain of her loss and directed it toward helping people in prison. He works with prisoners who are going to be released and teaches them job skills. He also helps them take responsibility for their crimes. They have to meet a victim’s family — not the family of their victim but one that suffered a similar loss. The family helps the prisoner understand the pain he has caused.
Cook: If someone is guilty of terrifying violence, what should his or her punishment look like?
Prejean: I can tell you what it should not look like. Any kind of punishment that degrades a defenseless human being and takes away his or her dignity is immoral. That is the basis for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Conventions. No one should be subjected to cruel punishment or torture.
Cook: African Americans represent approximately 15 percent of our population and 50 percent of our prison population. Theologian James Cone has claimed that African Americans are being lynched once again by our prison system. Is he right?
Prejean: It is legal lynching, absolutely. When you look at Louisiana State Penitentiary, over 70 percent of the inmates are African Americans. You see them going out to the fields with hoes over their shoulders, followed by guards on horseback with guns. Basically a young man sentenced to life there will spend his days working on a farm for four cents an hour. The most you can get, after twenty years, is twenty-one cents an hour.
Cook: In your years of public speaking, what arguments have you most often encountered in favor of the death penalty?
Prejean: The most common argument is that death is a just punishment for those who have taken the lives of innocents. The murderer did not respect the life of the victim and therefore deserves what he or she gets. Anything less would devalue the victim’s life.
Cook: Former New York mayor Ed Koch once said, “It is by exacting the highest penalty for the taking of human life that we affirm the highest value of human life.”
Prejean: I’ve heard district attorneys say something like “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we are going to ask you for the death penalty, because that is the only way to show how much we respect the innocent life that’s been taken.” Most people who make those kinds of rhetorical statements have never been there in the final hours and watched what it means to take people who are alive and strap them down to a gurney or in a chair and kill them. They are removed from the results of their actions.
I also hear religious arguments. Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia has said that Christians should support the death penalty because we expect to be punished for our sins. He believes that part of Christianity is to suffer pain and pay atonement. Scalia has also called execution by lethal injection “a quiet death” and “enviable” compared to how the victim died. A Supreme Court justice shouldn’t use those words to talk about torture and killing. Human beings have imaginations, and the condemned die a thousand times in their minds before they are executed.
Some people approve of the death penalty because they think it is cheaper than life imprisonment. Actually the death penalty is more expensive. That’s why more and more states with budget crises are doing away with it. A capital-murder case, as one prosecutor says, is the Cadillac of the criminal-justice system. It takes multiple trials, requires airtight evidence, and uses more expert witnesses than any other type of case. Then you have to build a special section of the prison and hire personnel to staff it. Often death-row prisoners are not allowed to work to defray the cost of their board and keep. In California it costs millions of dollars a year to house more than seven hundred people on death row.
In response to these arguments, I share stories about people I know. When New Jersey did away with the death penalty, sixty-two murder victims’ families testified that the death-penalty process had only prolonged their agony. They had been told it would provide “closure,” but in reality it meant they had to witness the death of another person, often after waiting ten or fifteen years to do so, and this death would do nothing to bring back their loved ones. During the waiting process, their story is in and out of the spotlight. It makes their wound public, and the healing doesn’t come. Many murder victims’ families have been prominent in the abolition movement.
I also point out that the death penalty is not reserved for the most terrible murders. It’s more common in cases where the victim is white, for example: approximately 80 percent of death-penalty cases involve the murder of a white person, yet 50 percent of all homicide victims are people of color.
Whether the death penalty is sought comes down to the decision of the prosecutor. Thankfully juries have to be told now that they can sentence someone to life without parole even when the prosecutor is seeking the death penalty. In the past juries were not given that information. They thought the death penalty or freedom were the only options. Even in Texas death-penalty sentences have diminished because of this. Juries — which are made up of ordinary citizens entrusted with godlike power — have a terrible responsibility.
Cook: What an enormous — and perhaps unethical — burden for ordinary citizens to carry.
Prejean: Yes, we put twelve people behind closed doors for hours or days and let them decide whether a person lives or dies. They don’t have the tools to do that. They don’t know what evidence may have been hidden from them in the trial. Even if they know for sure that this person is guilty of the crime, do they get to look at mitigating circumstances? Parents of the victim ask the jurors to “please kill this bastard who killed my boy”; parents of the accused beg the jurors not to kill their son. What’s a human being to do with that?
Saturday, August 14, 2010
She is a warrior. She told me that I had half of the world praying for her. I told her then my job was only half done. Open-mouthed smile emoticon
She is not sure when she will have the surgery but she thinks it will be soon and she will be healthy for the Texas Journey of Hope in October.
Please keep praying for her. We all need her healthy.
Friday, August 13, 2010
A former prison warden who carried out eight executions urged a New Hampshire commission Thursday to stay away from the practice, saying the memories of those he has put to death haunt him.
“It’s nothing but a premeditated, ceremonial killing, and we do it to appease politicians who are tough on crime,” Ron McAndrew said after his testifying at the Legislative Office Building. “The state has no right to ask people to kill others on their behalf.”
McAndrew, a former warden in Florida and Texas and now living in Florida as a prison consultant, said he supported the death penalty until “these men came and started sitting at the edge of my bed at night.”
McAndrew helped perform three electrocutions in Florida and oversaw five lethal injections in Texas. Since he has been speaking out against the death penalty, he said, many former corrections officers who participated in executions have sought his counsel.
“We spent hours on the phone, trying to process the horror we went through,” McAndrew told the panel. “We never admitted it at the time. That would have shown weakness in a job that demanded strength.”
“I implore you, don’t get into this business,” McAndrew told the commission. “Honor your corrections officers and don’t force them to go through what I went through – what so many of us have gone through and have suffered for.”
The last execution in New Hampshire took place in 1939. The state has one convict on death row, cop killer Michael Addison, whose appeals have just begun to wend their way through the courts. The state Supreme Court is still shaping how to evaluate the fairness of the state’s death penalty laws.
Since October, the New Hampshire Commission to Study the Death Penalty has heard testimony from both advocates and opponents of the death penalty and is scheduled to issue its report in November.
Testimony included people on both sides of the debate, from a relatives of a crime victim to a law expert.
Laura Bonk, a Concord woman whose mother was murdered in Massachusetts in 1989, urged the panel to repeal the death penalty.
She told them Thursday would have been her mother’s 69th birthday. Bonk’s sister, 16 at the time, was also shot by the son of a sick friend her mother was visiting in Littleton, Mass.
“My mother was opposed to the death penalty,” Bonk said. “I ask you to recommend repeal. It would honor me and, most of all, my mother.”
Bonk said her aunt called three years ago to tell her the killer died in prison of natural causes. She told the panel his death brought no comfort or closure.
“It does not lessen the pain,” she said. “It does not help victims heal.”
The panel also heard from New York Law School professor Robert Blecker, who argued in favor of keeping the death penalty but applying it “only to the worst of the worst of the worst.”
Those who kill during drug transactions should not be death be death-penalty eligible, he said, adding, “It is understood in the drug game that there are certain killing offenses.”
He also would exempt from the death penalty battered spouses who hire a killer.
Acknowledging that his opinion would not be popular in New Hampshire, Blecker also said a robber who shoots an officer to avoid capture – the scenario in Addison’s killing of Manchester Officer Michael Briggs – should not be subjected to a death sentence.
“I revere police officers, but they are strapping on a gun as a condition of employment,” Blecker said. Killing a juror should be added to the list of crimes eligible for death, he said.
Also, Blecker said, the commission should not view life without parole as a viable alternative to a death sentence, saying “lifers” typically earn the most privileges and get the best jobs behind bars.
He said he visited the state prison Wednesday and saw inmates painting, sculpting, building furniture and playing sports outdoors. Panel member and defense attorney Lawrence Vogelman noted that Blecker appeared angry while describing his prison visit.
“I am angry,” Blecker said. “I see justice not being done. I know they have murdered heinously and they spend their day in play.”
Blecker also said he opposes lethal injection because executions should involve pain.
“For the torture killers, for the rapist killer of children, a quick but painful death sometimes is the only response,” Blecker said. “It’s more appropriate than an opiate haze.”
Thursday, August 12, 2010
This unique event is brought to you by People of Faith Against the Death Penalty (PFADP) and Sister Helen Prejean, acclaimed author of Dead Man Walking. Engage with religious leaders, get energized, learn new skills for mobilizing faith communities to work for an end to the death penalty.
From PFADP: People of Faith Against the Death Penalty
NC Racial Justice Act NC Moratorium Now What You Can Do Stop Scheduled Executions Project Link The Abolition Petition For Whom the Bells Toll
THE KAIROS CONFERENCE
People of Faith Against the Death Penalty's National Conference
Emory University Atlanta, GA -- Sr. Helen Prejean, Honorary Chair
Please save the date to attend the first national interfaith conference on religious action on the death penalty in the United States this century. We will be posting more information soon, including a link to our Kairos Conference website where you will be able to register for this exciting conference and learn more information about it.
To pre-register for the conference, click here
Please email kairos (at) pfadp (dot) org with any questions or call our office at 919.933.7567.
Sponsored by People of Faith Against the Death Penalty, this seminal conference will be held at Emory University's Conference Center Hotel November 16 & 17, 2010.
The conference is part of a new effort to help the abolition movement build new levels of support among religious communities across the country.
Who should attend this conference:
* Your pastor and staff
* Senior clergy and staff of religious judicatory bodies and associations
* Death penalty abolition activists
* Your friends and colleagues
Support for this conference comes from the Open Society Institute, the Proteus Action League, the Fund for Nonviolence, and PFADP's individual members and congregations across the United States.
It's a new day for the abolition movement, one that more and more religious leaders are awakening to. Come to this conference and engage with fellow abolitionists and religious leaders and in so doing bolster the efforts toward reform and repeal in every state in America.
Please forward this message to your friends by clicking here
Monday, August 09, 2010
Chester County DA Joe Carroll said the case does not meet the conditions required to pursue the death penalty.
Carroll also noted that the victim's parents did not want the death penalty for their son's murderers. And that is why I am writing this.
Whenever I write or speak about my opposition to the death penalty, I invariably hear from death penalty proponents who argue that killing the killer serves the best interests of the victim's family, giving them closure. But not all families are thirsty for revenge. This Chester County case is one example of that. So are the cases of the many family members who form the organization Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation (MVFR). Founded in 1976, MVFR actively works for abolition of the death penalty in all states that still use it.
These enlightened souls offer a wide variety of reasons for their opposition to the death penalty:
• Endless trials re-open emotional wounds and put off the time when real healing can begin.
• The vast resources and attention spent on the death penalty is better spent supporting crime victims and their families, and preventing crime in the first place.
• The risk of executing the innocent -- something that appears to have happened in more than one known case -- is too high a price to pay.
• Biases of geography, race, and class plague the system.
• Executions create more families who have lost a loved one to killing.
• And many think it is just plain wrong for the state to kill.
MVFR's perspectives are shared by a growing majority of the world community. Indeed, there is an unmistakable worldwide trend towards abolition of the death penalty. According to Amnesty International (AI), "Since 1990, an average of three countries each year have abolished the death penalty, and today over two-thirds of the world's nations have ended capital punishment in law or practice." AI calls the death penalty "the ultimate, irreversible denial of human rights."
In maintaining the death penalty here in the U.S., we align ourselves with the other executing nations of the world such as Afghanistan, China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, and a handful of other countries known for their systematic violations of human rights.
It's been said that you are the company you keep.
Shouldn't we instead keep company with those who are less barbaric?
Some may accuse death penalty opponents of being soft on crime. But we don't want to free the criminals, we want to lock them up for life without parole. And isn't life in prison actually a harsher punishment than death? When the execution is done, the punishment is over. With life in prison, the punishment lasts much longer.
And, of course, killing a killer will never bring the victim back. It's just more killing.
Haven't we had enough killing?
By Mary Shaw, published in the OpEdNews.com
Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views appear regularly in a variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites. Note that the ideas expressed here are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Amnesty International or any other organization with which she may be associated.
Sunday, August 08, 2010
Five men on North Carolina’s death row filed motions to have their death sentences reduced to life without parole based on data that indicate racial disparities in the state’s justice system. These cases are the first to request application of North Carolina’s Racial Justice Act, which allows the use of statewide or regional statistical studies to challenge a death sentence because of racial bias. In all five cases, the victims in the underlying murder were white and the defendants were black. Moreover, prosecutors struck eligible blacks from the juries in these cases at greater rates than whites. In some cases, prosecutors struck eligible black jurors while accepting similar white jurors. Ken Rose, staff attorney at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation (CDPL), said, “We would like to live and practice in a system where race does not matter. But the results show that white victims are valued more highly than black ones, and that black jurors are being denied their right to serve. This evidence of racial bias cannot be ignored.”
Friday, August 06, 2010
Latest from Death Penalty Information Center
Alabama Inmate May Face Execution Because of Mail-room Mix-Up
Posted: August 05, 2010
Cory Maples, an inmate on Alabama’s death row, may pay for a simple clerical error with his life. When copies of an Alabama court ruling in his case were sent to the New York law firm handling his appeals, both copies were returned unopened because the firm's attorneys representing Maples had left the firm.
By the time the error was discovered, Maples’s time to appeal had expired. So far, the firm has failed to persuade a federal appeals court to waive the deadline for filing an appeal. Maples's new attorney is arguing that Maples should not be penalized for a mistake he did not commit.
Prof. Deborah Rhode, an authority on indigent defense and legal ethics at Stanford, said, “Maples’s case is a textbook illustration of why the doctrine of imputing responsibility to the client for a lawyer’s mistake is so out of touch with reality.” Alabama is the only state that does not provide lawyers for all indigent death row inmates to challenge their convictions. Hence, defendants rely on volunteer attorneys, often from out of state, to fill the gap, and that contributed to the confusion.
To read more on this and other current cases/issues, plz GO here
"All Texans, including those who support the death penalty, should want to know the truth -- and to make certain that no one's life is taken erroneously in our name."
excerpt from article below
If an automaker discovers that a faulty design is making some of its cars accelerate without warning, the company doesn't just make fixes going forward, it inspects older models to repair the defect.
If a material used in manufacturing, such as lead paint, is a health hazard, the government doesn't just block its sale but requires the product's removal to prevent harm.
If Texas used flawed science to convict criminal defendants of arson, why wouldn't it be imperative to re-examine the evidence to make sure that previous findings are accurate and to avoid recurrences?
That's the big-picture question looming over the Texas Forensic Science Commission's investigation into the case of Cameron Todd Willingham.
Texas executed Willingham in 2004. The Corsicana man had been convicted 12 years earlier of setting a fire that killed his three daughters shortly before Christmas 1991.
Because of a complaint about the techniques used for that arson finding, the commission hired a Baltimore fire expert to review the case. He concluded that the original investigation used outdated forensic methods and that the fire might not have been deliberate. Now, the commission must decide if officials engaged in negligence or professional misconduct.
After lengthy discussion at a July 23 meeting, commission members agreed to gather more information and accept public comments, then meet in mid-September to hash out a report on the case.
All four members of a panel that looked at the Willingham case seemed to agree that the Corsicana Fire Department and Texas Fire Marshal's office relied on flawed science to determine that arson occurred. But members didn't agree on where that leads.
More modern forensic methods were published in 1992, the same month Willingham was charged. It took a few years for them to get widely accepted.
Commission Chairman John Bradley said there wasn't enough evidence to say investigators were negligent. But other members weren't ready to draw definitive conclusions.
Sarah Kerrigan, a Sam Houston State University forensic science professor, said it is a stretch to expect field investigators to be familiar with all the details in scientific literature.
"Professional ignorance is not professional negligence or misconduct," she said. But she supported collecting more input on how widely the updated methods were being used in the early 1990s.
Criminal defense attorney Lance Evans of Fort Worth said he wants to learn what kind of training the investigators received and whether they met whatever standards they had been trained to follow.
Kerrigan said, "There's no question that the science was flawed, and this has far-reaching consequences for this particular discipline well beyond this case."
Commission findings could affect scores of inmates convicted of arson.
But the political pressure and national attention surrounding the inquiry shouldn't drive the report that the commission is expected to vote on in October.
The commission can't issue a judgment on Willingham's guilt or innocence. Its mission is to determine the credibility of forensic procedures used in pursuing criminal convictions. Faulty procedures must be corrected.
If official negligence or misconduct took place, the state must answer for that. But even if the evidence doesn't clearly show wrongdoing, a conviction based on bad science might still mean a wrongful execution. If so, there must be mechanisms in the legal system to make amends and avoid such an unacceptable mistake.
All Texans, including those who support the death penalty, should want to know the truth -- and to make certain that no one's life is taken erroneously in our name.
Source of this article here
Cameron Todd Willingham – Innocent and Executed
Aug 25, 2009 ... Sign the petition to Governor Rick Perry and the State of Texas
Cameron Todd Willingham, Texas, and the death penalty : The New Yorker
Sep 7, 2009 here
Also the following brief, more recent, report, was found at Death Penalty Information Center GO here
Texas Commission Says Case of Executed Man Based on Flawed Science
Posted: July 28, 2010
In a preliminary report, the Texas Forensic Science Commission recently found that fire investigators used flawed science in the case that led to the death sentence and execution of Cameron Todd Willingham. Willingham was executed in 2004, having been convicted of setting the fire that killed his three children. Willingham had always maintained his innocence and said the fire could have been an accident. The Commission acknowledged that new fire investigation standards were developed in 1992, the year Willingham was convicted, but said the standards were not adopted nationally until several years later. Hence, the Commission did not find professional negligence on the part of the investigators because they were relying on standards available at the time. Nevertheless, the jury convicted Willingham on the basis of the flawed evidence and Texas may have executed an innocent man. Patricia Cox, Willingham’s cousin, told the Commission, "Even though there may not have been any malice or intent by fire investigators about not being informed on current standards, that doesn't excuse the fact that, based on this misinformation, Cameron Todd Willingham was executed, and that can't be corrected."
Thursday, August 05, 2010
A flawed system? U.S. boasts highest prison incarceration numbers in world.
The United States of America currently incarcerates the highest percentage of its own citizens when compared to any other country in the world. With it's harsh drug laws, minimum sentencing guidelines and repeated imprisonment of non-violent offenders, the country has literally thrown the shackles on millions of individuals. In fact, the great superpower has more than 2 million of it's citizens imprisoned at this very moment. (some suggest numbers closer to 2.5 million)
To see graph, charts and more depicting the most recent data obtained concerning incarceration levels in the United States - With it's harsh drug laws, minimum sentencing guidelines and repeated imprisonment of non-violent offenders, the country has literally thrown the shackles on millions of individuals. In fact, the great superpower has more than 2 million of it's citizens imprisoned at this very moment - GO here
America's Solitary Confinement Nightmare:
Of course we torture, Ridgeway says. Right here in America. In our own prisons. An estimated 80,000 Americans are in solitary confinement. GO here
In Case Missed It:
Torture Inc. Americas Brutal Prisons: Video Documentary:
Savaged by dogs, Electrocuted With Cattle Prods, Burned By Toxic Chemicals, Does such barbaric abuse inside U.S. jails explain the horrors that were committed in Iraq? Warning Strong Images, etc. GO here
Tuesday, August 03, 2010
SIGN NOW PLZ GO here
Kevin Keith is scheduled to be executed on September 15th, despite a wide range of new evidence that suggests he is innocent. Kevin, who has been on Ohio's death row for 16 years, was convicted on the basis of faulty eyewitness identification.
Thirteen years after he was convicted, Kevin discovered that one of the State's supposed "witnesses" -- a hospital nurse who was critical to corroborating the legitimacy of the surviving victim's eyewitness identification -- does not actually exist. He has an alibi affirmed by four people and new evidence has emerged implicating another suspect.
No court has heard the full array of new evidence pointing to Kevin's innocence. Take action today to stop Ohio from executing a man who very well may be innocent.
Save Kevin Keith: Innocence Matters
Target: Governor Ted Strickland and the Ohio Parole Board
Sponsored by: Death Penalty Focus