Sunday, November 28, 2010

Ex-Justice Criticizes Death Penalty

By ADAM LIPTAK, published: November 27, 2010, The New York Times

In 1976, just six months after he joined the Supreme Court, Justice John Paul Stevens voted to reinstate capital punishment after a four-year moratorium. With the right procedures, he wrote, it is possible to ensure “evenhanded, rational and consistent imposition of death sentences under law.”

In 2008, two years before he announced his retirement, Justice Stevens reversed course and in a concurrence said that he now believed the death penalty to be unconstitutional.

But the reason for that change of heart, after more than three decades on the court and some 1,100 executions, has in many ways remained a mystery, and now Justice Stevens has provided an explanation.

In a detailed, candid and critical essay to be published this week in The New York Review of Books, he wrote that personnel changes on the court, coupled with “regrettable judicial activism,” had created a system of capital punishment that is shot through with racism, skewed toward conviction, infected with politics and tinged with hysteria.

The essay is remarkable in itself. But it is also a sign that at 90, Justice Stevens is intent on speaking his mind on issues that may have been off limits while he was on the court.

In the process, he is forging a new model of what to expect from Supreme Court justices after they leave the bench, one that includes high-profile interviews and provocative speeches.

He will be on “60 Minutes” on Sunday night.

Earlier this month, he weighed in on the controversy over the proposed Islamic center near ground zero in a speech to the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation.

During World War II, Justice Stevens served as a Navy cryptographer at Pearl Harbor for more than two years. On returning to Hawaii in 1994, he said he had an emotional reaction to seeing Japanese tourists at a memorial there. “We shouldn’t allow them to celebrate their attack on Pearl Harbor,” he remembered thinking.

He added that he understood why some New Yorkers would have a similar reaction to the proposed Islamic center near ground zero.

“But then, after a period of reflection, some of those New Yorkers may have second thoughts, just as I did,” he went on. “The Japanese tourists were not responsible for what some of their countrymen did decades ago; the Muslims planning to build the mosque are not responsible for what an entirely different group of Muslims did on 9/11.”

The two other retired justices have been active, too, but they have largely limited their public comments to more traditional matters like judicial independence and constitutional interpretation. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who is 80, speaks frequently on what she says are the problems inherent in electing state court judges.

Justice David H. Souter, 71, in a commencement address in May at Harvard, gave a detailed critique of the mode of constitutional interpretation associated with Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, who rely on the text and original meaning of the Constitution.

Justice Souter said those tools are inadequate given the “open-ended language” in the Constitution, which, moreover, “contains values that may well exist in tension with each other.”

But that sort of abstract discussion is nothing like the blow-by-blow critique in Justice Stevens’s death penalty essay, which will be published in The New York Review’s Dec. 23 issue and will be available on its Web site on Sunday evening.

The essay is actually a review of the book “Peculiar Institution: America’s Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition,” by David Garland, a professor of law and sociology at New York University. The book compares American and European approaches to the death penalty, and Justice Stevens appears to accept its major conclusions.

Professor Garland attributes American enthusiasm for capital punishment to politics and a cultural fascination with violence and death.

In discussing the book, Justice Stevens defended the promise of the Supreme Court’s 1976 decisions reinstating the death penalty even as he detailed the ways in which he said that promise had been betrayed.

With the right procedural safeguards, Justice Stevens wrote, it would be possible to isolate the extremely serious crimes for which death is warranted. But he said the Supreme Court had instead systematically dismantled those safeguards.

Justice Stevens said the court took wrong turns in deciding how juries in death penalty cases are chosen and what evidence they may hear, in not looking closely enough at racial disparities in the capital justice system, and in failing to police the role politics can play in decisions to seek and impose the death penalty.

In Payne v. Tennessee in 1991, for instance, the court overruled a 1987 decision, Booth v. Maryland, that had banned statements from victims at sentencing because of their tendency to inflame juries.

“I have no doubt that Justice Lewis Powell, who wrote the Booth opinion, and Justice William Brennan, who joined it, would have adhered to its reasoning in 1991 had they remained on the court,” Justice Stevens wrote. “That the justices who replaced them did not do so was regrettable judicial activism and a disappointing departure from the ideal that the court, notwithstanding changes in membership, upholds its prior decisions.”

Justice Stevens did not name those new justices. One was Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, lately the court’s swing justice, who replaced Justice Powell.

The other was Justice Souter, who replaced Justice Brennan and in other cases generally voted with Justice Stevens and the rest of the court’s more liberal wing.

Justice Stevens also had harsh words for the 5-to-4 decision in 1987 in McCleskey v. Kemp, which ruled that even solid statistical evidence of racial disparities in the administration of the death penalty did not violate the Constitution. He said the decision effectively allowed “race-based prosecutorial decisions.”

“That the murder of black victims is treated as less culpable than the murder of white victims provides a haunting reminder of once-prevalent Southern lynchings,” Justice Stevens wrote.

Here, too, Justice Stevens wrote, the decision turned on changes in the court’s membership. Justice Potter Stewart “surely would have voted with the four dissenters,” Justice Stevens said. Justice Stewart was replaced by Justice O’Connor, who voted with the majority.

The problems with the administration of capital punishment extend beyond the courthouse and into the voting booth, Justice Stevens said.

“Local elections affect decisions of state prosecutors to seek the death penalty and of state judges to impose it,” he wrote.

He was also critical of decisions allowing prosecutors to exclude jurors with qualms about the death penalty, tilting the legal playing field toward conviction. The better approach, he said, is one in which “a jury composed of 12 local citizens selected with less regard to their death penalty views than occurs today — in that respect, a truer cross-section of the community — would determine individual defendants’ fates.”

Robert B. Silvers, the editor of The New York Review of Books, said the idea of asking Justice Stevens to contribute occurred to him after he read passages from the justice’s dissent in Citizens United, the January decision that lifted restrictions on campaign spending.

“It was clear that he was a very strong writer,” Mr. Silvers said. “We simply sent him the book, and we got back a letter saying he’d be delighted to review it.”

Thursday, November 25, 2010

US 26/11 survivors not in favour of death penalty for Kasab

Posted in The Economic Times

Forgiving the convicted Pakistani terrorist, the US survivors of 26/11 terror attack today said death penalty is not a solution for Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab , instead he could be rehabilitated.

"Why did Kasab survive (during the attacks)? Should we just be hateful, vengeful and killing? What will that accomplish," asked Master Charles Cannon , one of the American survivors trapped inside the Oberoi Hotel with a group of 25 others.

Kasab could be rehabilitated and "awakened" to see what his choice has created, said Cannon adding, "may be, he could change his way and be a voice for the youth of the world from where he came to tell them not to emulate him."

Cannon, along with his group 24 companions, had come to Mumbai in November 2008 to attend a spiritual programme. On the fateful night, the group of the US, Australian and Canada citizens was staying in the Oberoi Hotel, when terrorists struck the hotel. Two of them were killed.

"I do not favour death penalty because, I it does not accomplish anything but breeds more hatred and violence. I am always in favour of education which can bring transformation," said Cannon, who found 'One Life Alliance Mumbai Survivors', a charitable trust.

Survivors of the same group were here to pay tributes to the martyrs and those killed in the attacks.

The 66-year-old Peggi Sturm also echoed similar views. "We should see if Kasab could be rehabilitated," she said.

The charitable trust co-founder Kia Scherr , who lost her 13-year-old daughter and her 58-year-old husband, said forgiveness makes a person very strong.

"They (terrorists) do not know what they have done. And it was not very easy for me to forget that I had lost my daughter and husband. But I want to spread the message of forgiveness," she said.

Note by the editor of this blog:
A bit more information on the Mumbai attacks taken from Wikipedia: The 2008 Mumbai attacks (often referred to as November 26th or 26/11) were more than 10 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks across Mumbai, India's largest city, by Islamic terrorists from Pakistan. The attacks, which drew widespread global condemnation, began on 26 November 2008 and lasted until 29 November, killing at least 175 people and wounding at least 308.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

KAIROS Conference - Bill Pelke

The Conference in Atlanta, Georgia this week was a KAIROS moment for me.

Thank you very much Steve Dear and People of Faith Against the Death Penalty for having the vision, ability and determination to make this moment happen.

It was 20 years ago on the Pilgrimage March from Death Row in Starke, Florida to Atlanta, Georgia, that God touched my heart to dedicate my life to the abolition of the death penalty. It has been a struggle for 20 years and I have often wanted to quit the movement. But as “Sweet Honey and the Rock” sang at the Ebenezer Baptist Church on the opening night of the conference “We who believe in Freedom will not rest, we who believe in Freedom will not rest until it comes.” I can’t quit and I needed this KAIROS moment.

I feel strengthen to carry on. Reconnecting with Sister Helen Prejean, Murphy Davis, Ed Loring, Billy Neal Moore, Delbert Tibbs, Bud Welch, Marietta Jaeger Lane, Karen Tifton, Jeanne Bishop, Renny Cushing, Ken McGill, Bonita Spikes, Marshall Dayan, Dale Recinella and so many others was very strengthening for me.

Meeting Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, Rev. James Brown, and listening to Dr. David Gushee gave great hope to me.

Thank you so much. I am convinced that people of faith must lead the movement to abolish the death penalty. I hope this conference will be repeated over and over again until the death penalty is abolished.

Thank you Steve Dear, Thank you, Thank you. God’s Peace,

Bill Pelke,
President and Cofounder Journey of Hope...from Violence to Healing

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Film Review: Conviction

Inspirational true story about a Massachusetts woman’s 18-year struggle to further her education, earn a law degree, and reverse the murder conviction of her older brother.

I saw this film with my husband, son and son's girlfriend. I'd give it FIVE stars unlike some. Maybe that's because it rings so true or because we here know how much the Innocence Project does for justice and the innocent. Yet, I'm pretty picky about films and literature and I found the writing to be both magnificent, believable and even funny at times. Did any of you readers see it? If so, let us know in comments what you thought? Connie

Oct 14, 2010

-By Kevin Lally

For original posting here

For movie details, please click here.
Hilary Swank has won two Oscars playing working-class underdogs, and she’s back on familiar turf in Conviction as Betty Anne Waters, a Massachusetts single mother and high-school dropout who embarks on an 18-year quest to earn a law degree and win the freedom of her brother Kenneth, a hellion serving a life sentence for a murder she fully believes he did not commit. Like Erin Brockovich, it’s an inspirational tale of dogged determination embodied by a most unlikely heroine. The movie itself is less remarkable than the story behind it, but it benefits from Tony Goldwyn’s low-key direction and a very solid supporting cast.

From the glimpses we get of his life before prison, Kenneth Waters (Sam Rockwell) is a magnet for trouble. He and Betty Anne are two of nine kids sired by seven different fathers and shuttled through foster care. Growing up, the exceptionally close pair get their kicks stealing candy and find refuge by breaking into trailer homes. As an adult, the volatile Kenneth is fingered as a suspect in the gruesome robbery and murder of an elderly neighborhood woman, and convicted when two bitter ex-girlfriends give damning testimony for the prosecution.

Betty Anne refuses to accept the verdict and, spurred by her brother’s suicide attempt in prison, earns a high-school diploma and a college degree, all with the goal of attending law school and passing the bar while raising two young boys. At law school, she makes an invaluable friend in fellow student Abra (Minnie Driver), who becomes her chief ally and moral support in this daunting mission. Advances in DNA testing since Kenneth’s trial are Betty Anne’s greatest hope, but the novice lawyer must first battle a bureaucracy that insists the original evidence has been destroyed.

Conviction features more thick Massachusetts accents than a Ben Affleck double bill, and Swank’s saintly, salt-of-the-earth demeanor doesn’t offer many surprises. Still, there’s no denying that Betty Anne Waters’ odyssey is an extremely admirable study in resoluteness and familial devotion. Lending more edge and flavor to the story is the gifted Rockwell, who makes a stunning transformation from cocky, charismatic pre-trial bad boy to deflated, angry, prematurely aging lifer. Rockwell’s performance is also just abrasive enough to cast some doubt on his innocence and make his sister’s faith all the more exceptional.

Driver is delightful as the kind of saucy, loyal friend anyone would cherish, and Melissa Leo ( Frozen River) is persuasive as a local cop whose ethics may be suspect. Appearing in only two scenes, Juliette Lewis steals her screen time as an ex-flame of Kenneth’s who brings scary hilarity to her interpretation of “white trash.”

Screenwriter Pamela Gray, who wrote Goldwyn’s acclaimed 1999 romantic drama A Walk on the Moon, has a lot of ground to cover here, and some of the details of the Waters saga—especially Betty Anne’s accelerated education and the brief scenes of the trial—feel sketchy. There are even flashbacks within flashbacks, as Gray and Goldwyn try to convey a sense of Betty Anne and Kenneth’s childhood bond and broken home.

End titles reveal that Betty Anne Waters, who still works at the same pub depicted in the movie, volunteers for the Innocence Project, an organization co-founded by her co-attorney Barry Scheck, which helps exonerate prisoners through DNA testing. The titles don’t tell you that Kenneth Waters succumbed to a fatal fall just six months after winning his freedom—a sad twist of fate that might have burdened Conviction’s own quest to be the feel-good inspirational movie of fall 2010.

Monday, November 15, 2010

DNA Tests Undermine Evidence in Texas Execution

New results show Claude Jones was put to death on flawed evidence.
By Dave Mann, published in the Texas Observer on Nov. 11th, 2011.

Claude Jones always claimed that he wasn’t the man who walked into an East Texas liquor store in 1989 and shot the owner. He professed his innocence right up until the moment he was strapped to a gurney in the Texas execution chamber and put to death on Dec. 7, 2000. His murder conviction was based on a single piece of forensic evidence recovered from the crime scene—a strand of hair—that prosecutors claimed belonged to Jones.

But DNA tests completed this week at the request of the Observer and the New York-based Innocence Project show the hair didn’t belong to Jones after all. The day before his death in December 2000, Jones asked for a stay of execution so the strand of hair could be submitted for DNA testing. He was denied by then-Gov. George W. Bush.

A decade later, the results of DNA testing not only undermine the evidence that convicted Jones, but raise the possibility that Texas executed an innocent man. The DNA tests—conducted by Mitotyping Technologies, a private lab in State College, Pa., and first reported by the Observer on Thursday—show the hair belonged to the victim of the shooting, Allen Hilzendager, the 44-year-old owner of the liquor store.

Because the DNA testing doesn’t implicate another shooter, the results don’t prove Jones’ innocence. But the hair was the only piece of evidence that placed Jones at the crime scene. So while the results don’t exonerate him, they raise serious doubts about his guilt. As with the now-infamous Cameron Todd Willingham arson case, the key forensic evidence in a Texas death penalty case has now been debunked.

“The DNA results prove that testimony about the hair sample on which this entire case rests was just wrong,” said Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, in a statement. “Unreliable forensic science and a completely inadequate post-conviction review process cost Claude Jones his life.”

Jones was 60 years old when he was executed on December 7, 2000—the last man put to death by then-Gov. Bush. The Observer and three innocence groups recently obtained the hair after a three-year court battle and submitted it for mitochondrial DNA testing.

That technology didn’t exist when Jones was convicted in 1990. But the DNA test had been developed by 2000, when Jones’ execution date was nearing. He requested a stay of execution from two Texas courts and from the governor’s office in order to test the hair evidence and prove his innocence. His requests were all denied.

Documents show that attorneys in the governor’s office failed to inform Bush that DNA evidence might exonerate Jones. Bush, a proponent of DNA testing in death penalty cases, had previously halted another execution so that key DNA evidence could be examined. Without knowing that Jones wanted DNA testing, Bush let the execution go forward.

Had the DNA tests been conducted before his execution, Jones might still be alive today. Scheck says these results, had they been obtained 10 years ago, probably would have led judges to throw out Jones’ conviction and grant him a new trial.

“I’m convinced that [Bush] would have granted this reprieve had he known about it," Scheck told the Observer on Thursday. "I find it just astonishing that he wasn’t told. That’s a pretty serious breakdown in the criminal justice system."


Claude Jones was no saint. Born in Houston in 1940, he was arrested numerous times and spent three stints in prison on robbery, assault and theft charges. While serving an eight-year sentence in a Kansas prison, Jones allegedly doused another inmate with lighter fluid and set him on fire.

But Jones wasn’t executed for his previous crimes. He was put to death for what allegedly happened on the afternoon of Nov. 14, 1989.

Jones and an accomplice named Kerry Daniel Dixon pulled into Zell’s liquor store in the East Texas town of Point Blank, about 80 miles northeast of Houston. They had a .357 magnum revolver given to them by a third man, Timothy Jordan.

Either Jones or Dixon remained in the pickup truck, while the other went inside and shot the store’s owner, 44-year-old Allen Hilzendager, three times and made off with several hundred dollars from the cash register.

The question is, which of them committed the shooting? Witnesses who saw the crime from across the street couldn’t positively identify which man they saw leave the store. The third accomplice, Timothy Jordan, would testify that Jones confessed to the shooting. (Jordan later recanted his testimony, claiming police told him what to say in exchange for a lesser charge. Jordan, Dixon and Jones had committed a string of robberies, though the liquor store heist was the only one that involved murder. Jordan was sent to prison for 10 years. Dixon was given a 60-year sentence.)

But Jordan’s testimony wasn’t enough to convict Jones of murder. In Texas, accomplice testimony can’t be the sole basis for a conviction; it must be corroborated by independent evidence.

At Jones’ 1990 trial in rural San Jacinto County, prosecutors offered only one piece of corroborating evidence—the strand of hair recovered from the liquor store counter.

Stephen Robertson, a forensic expert hired by the Department of Public Safety, examined the hair under a microscope—an inaccurate visual analysis that was common at the time. Robertson compared the hair with samples taken from 15 people who entered the store the day of the murder. He testified at trial that he believed the hair matched Jones. But he conceded, “Technology has not advanced where we can tell you that this hair came from that person,” he told the jury, according to court records. “Can’t be done.”

But in 2000, when Jones was fighting for his life, it could be done. On December 6, 2000, the day before the execution, Jones’ attorneys filed a last-ditch motion for a stay—in district court and with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals—so they could submit the strand of hair for mitochondrial DNA testing. Both courts turned him down.

Jones’ last hope was Gov. Bush, who in December 2000 was embroiled in the Florida recount controversy that followed the presidential election. Bush had already overseen the execution of 151 people during his governorship, but he’d also expressed support for DNA testing. Earlier that year, Bush had granted a 30-day stay to Ricky McGinn so that DNA testing could be conducted on key evidence in the case. (The tests would prove McGinn’s guilt and he was executed.) Bush, explaining his decision in the McGinn case to CNN in June 2000, said, “To the extent that DNA can prove for certain innocence or guilt, I think we need to use DNA.”

But Bush was never told about Jones’ request for DNA testing. Through a public-information request, the Innocence Project obtained the Dec. 7, 2000, memo that lawyers in the governor’s office sent to Bush, briefing him on the circumstances of Jones’ pending execution. The four-page memo doesn’t mention Jones’ request for DNA testing. Rather, it describes the disputed hair evidence as “testimony from a chemist employed by DPS that the hair samples taken from the crime scene matched those taken from Jones.”

The memo from the general counsel’s office concludes, “At this time, I do not recommend that a reprieve be granted.” Jones was executed a few hours later.

But the strand of hair survived, tucked away in a box in the San Jacinto County courthouse for years.

In fall 2007, the Observer, the national Innocence Project, the Innocence Project of Texas and the Texas Innocence Network filed a lawsuit to obtain the hair for DNA testing.

The county district attorney’s office fought release of the hair sample and announced its intention to destroy it. But in June 2010, Judge Paul Murphy ruled in favor of the Observer and the innocence groups, and ordered prosecutors to turn over the remaining hair evidence for DNA testing.

Anti-death penalty advocates had hoped that the Jones case would provide the first-ever DNA exoneration of an executed person. While quite a few death penalty cases have been called into question, including several in Texas, no executed prisoners have been proven innocent by DNA testing, widely considered the most reliable form of forensic evidence.

Instead, Jones' case now falls into the category of a highly questionable execution—a case that may not have resulted in a conviction were it tried with modern forensic science. In that respect, it's much like the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, executed in 2004 for starting a house fire that killed his three children. Fire scientists now say the arson evidence used to convict Willingham was flawed. (The Forensic Science Commission will continue its investigation of the Willingham case at hearing on Nov. 19.)

Still, the revelations in the Jones case raise more questions about how Texas administers the ultimate form of punishment.

“My father never claimed to be a saint, but he always maintained that he didn’t commit this murder,” said Claude Jones’ son, Duane, in a statement released by the Innocence Project. Duane Jones didn’t know his father growing up and met Claude Jones when he was on death row. “Knowing that these DNA results support his innocence means so much to me, my son in the military and the rest of my family. I hope these results will serve as a wakeup call to everyone that serious problems exist in the criminal justice system that must be fixed if our society is to continue using the death penalty.”

Monday, November 08, 2010

Death Row backers blind to injustice (Anthony Graves - Texas)

Posted originally on Saturday, 11.06.10
In My Opinion


A few days ago, Anthony Graves called his mother and asked what she was cooking for dinner. She asked why he wanted to know. He said, “Because I’m coming home.”

Maybe it sounds like an unremarkable exchange. But Anthony Graves had spent 18 years behind bars, 12 on Death Row, for the 1992 murder of an entire family, including four children, in the Texas town of Somerville. It wasn’t until that day, Oct. 27, that the district attorney’s office finally accepted what he’d been saying two decades: He’s innocent.

So the news that Graves would be home for dinner was the very antithesis of unremarkable. His mother, he told a news conference the next day, couldn’t believe it. “I couldn’t believe I was saying it,” he added.

Graves’ release came after his story appeared in Texas Monthly magazine ( The article by Pamela Colloff detailed how he was convicted even though no physical evidence tied him to the crime, even though he had no motive to kill six strangers, even though three witnesses testified he was home at the time of the slaughter.

The case against Graves rested entirely upon jailhouse denizens who claimed they’d heard him confess and upon one Robert Carter, who admitted committing the crime but initially blamed Graves. Carter, executed in 2000, recanted that claim repeatedly, most notably to District Attorney Charles Sebesta the day before Sebesta put him on the stand to testify against Graves. Defense attorneys say Sebesta never shared that exculpatory tidbit with them, even though required to do so.


Colloff’s story drew outraged media attention, including from yours truly. But the attention that mattered was that of the current DA, Bill Parham, who undertook his own investigation. He was unequivocal in explaining his decision to drop charges. ‘‘There’s not a single thing that says Anthony Graves was involved in this case,” he said. “There is nothing.”

One hopes people who love the death penalty are taking note. So often, their arguments in favor of that barbarous frontier relic seem to take place in some alternate universe where cops never fabricate evidence and judges never make mistakes, where lawyers are never inept and witnesses never commit perjury. So often, they behave as if in this one critical endeavor, unlike in every other endeavor, human beings somehow get it right every time.

I would not have convicted Anthony Graves of a traffic violation on the sort of evidence Sebesta offered. Yet somehow, a jury in Texas convicted him of murder and sent him to die.

When you pin them on it, people who love the death penalty often retreat into sophistic nonsense. Don’t end the death penalty, someone told me, just enact safeguards to ensure the innocent are never sentenced. Yeah, right. Show me the safeguard that guarantees perfection.


Those who propose to tinker with the death penalty until it is foolproof remind me of the addict attempting to negotiate with his addiction, desperately proffering minor concessions that will allow him to continue indulging in this thing that is killing him. But there comes a day when you simply have to kick the habit.

As a nation, we are stubbornly addicted to the death penalty, strung out on exacting retribution and calling it justice. Even though we know innocent men and women have surely died as a result.

Or, like Anthony Graves, been robbed of irreplaceable years. He was 26 when he was arrested. He is 45 now. When he made that call home to his mother, he borrowed his lawyer’s cellphone.

The lawyer had to show him how to use it.

Read more: here

PLEASE be SURE to read the post just placed here below (also for Monday) by Susanne...

For Elie Wiesel, death penalty is not the answer

By Karen Florin, published in The Day on 10/27/2010

Holocaust survivor believes murderers must be harshly punished, but not executed

Dr. William Petit did not attend Elie Wiesel's lecture on capital punishment at Wesleyan University Tuesday, but for a few minutes the Nazi death camp survivor spoke as if the man who lost his wife and daughters in the Cheshire home invasion was his only audience.

"Your wound is open," Wiesel said. "It will remain. You are mourning, and how can I not feel the pain of your mourning? But death is not the answer."

The 82-year-old Nobel Peace laureate, author and human rights activist said that if the death penalty could bring back the victims, maybe he would change his stance. He did allow that murderers should be punished more harshly than other prisoners.

"They should get hard labor," he said.

"Death is not the answer" became the refrain for Wiesel as he wondered aloud what could be done to help survivors of violent crimes "so that families will not feel cheated by the law."

The Romanian native spoke with authority, having lost both parents and a sister in the Nazi death camps. He escaped Buchenwald in April 1945 when it was liberated by soldiers from the U.S. Army's Sixth Armored Division.

"I know," he said. "I know the pain of those who survive. Believe me, I know."

Wiesel spoke in the university's Memorial Chapel, which was packed with about 400 students, professors and invited guests. In simple, lyrical language that carried the lilt of his Eastern European beginnings, he defended his anti-death position using stories from the past.

In the Biblical story of Cain and Abel, the two sons of Adam, Cain is said to have asked God, after he had killed his brother and God wondered about Abel's whereabouts, "Am I my brother's keeper?"

"I think it wanted to teach us that whoever kills, kills his brother," Wiesel said.

In Israel, where there is no capital punishment, the capture of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in 1960 posed a dilemma. Should someone who engineered millions of deaths be executed?

"Luckily, they didn't ask my opinion," Wiesel said, eliciting laughter.

Eichmann was hanged in 1962, but he was an exception.

"The law remains the law," Wiesel said. "Terrorists came in, killed hundreds of people, not one of them was executed."

Wiesel's hour-long speech was punctuated with two standing ovations from students and visitors who had snapped up tickets within hours of an announcement that he would visit. Near the end of the lecture, someone asked, "What will happen when there are no more Holocaust survivors?"

Wiesel said he hopes he is not the last to die. He also said the Holocaust would not be forgotten.

"I do believe with all my heart," he said, "that to listen to a survivor, to listen to a witness, is to become a witness."

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Connect with Texas, Journey and Death Pen Issues

Help us keep turning a DEAD END into Hope, Life and a BETTER WAY....

"Once again, we met murder victim family members at a First Unitarian Church event tonight. It seems that everywhere we go to speak, there are witnesses of the violence that spreads in Texas..."

Read more of this and other posts by Gilles here

We've ALMOST reached our fundraising Goal..and of course have accrued more expenses along the way - not to mention supporting the token partial cost of expenses for our trips and the speaking of the exonerated who never received compensation for their long haul injustly on death us go ALL the way here and here

For ALL the following, connect via Texas Journey of Hope 2010 and the other URLS in the Right Column--only a CLICK away)...Do let others know about our unique movement...

Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing
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David Kaczynski: Unabomber's Brother Campaigns Against Death Penalty

Friday, October 22, 2010 Quick Summary:
Texas Execution

Texas carried out its 17th execution of the year - the state's 464th execution since 1982; the 225th in the administration of Governor Rick Perry. Texas has far and away the most active death chamber in America, accounting for more than 37% of the nation's post-Furman executions.

To date, there have been 43 executions in the nation in 2010, and 1,231 executions since 1977. According to TDCJ, one more execution is scheduled in Texas during 2010, on December 1. One execution date has already been set for 2011.

...Between 1924 and 1964, 361 human beings were executed by electrocution.There were no executions between 1964 and 1982. No executions…In 1982, executions resumed following new capital punishment laws passed by the State of Texas, among them changing the method of execution to lethal injection. Since 1982, 463 individuals have been executed by lethal injection.In total since 1819, 1,214 human beings (all but six of whom have been men) have been executed in Texas as of 17 August 2010. This obviously does not include the victims of savage lynchings.1,214 human beings officially liquidated since 1819. How much more blood and violence until Texas realizes that the death penalty does not solve crime? (Text thanx to Gilles!)

Karl Keys at Capital Defense Weekly and Death Penalty Information Center as well as many other online venues such as National Coalition Against the Death Penalty and Rick Halperin's Death Penalty News and Updates also note execution dates in Texas and other states. Most of these provide free updates upon request...or can be easily found online...

Help us Transform Texas and US policy - We can do this together!

"The answer is love and compassion for all of humanity"
Bill Pelke, President

Monday, November 01, 2010

TEXAS: Anthony Graves on Forgiveness and the Present Moment

Michael Paulsen Chronicle

“I’m sorry,” Roy Rueter told Anthony Graves at a news conference Thursday that marked Graves’ release after 18 years in prison for a crime he didn’t do. Rueter said prosecutors misled him, and he testified against his friend at trial.

Sun Oct 31, 2010 14:34

Barbecue, Bearhugs and No Looking Back
First full day as free man finds Graves praying it's not just a dream
Oct. 28, 2010, 11:24PM

Anthony Graves spent his first full day of freedom in almost two decades eating barbecued ribs, visiting with happy supporters who had diligently pressed his case and insisting to all who cared that he bore no malice toward those who railroaded him onto Texas' death row for a crime in which authorities now say he had no part.

Graves said he was enjoying just soaking in the free world, which he had not seen since August 1992, and praying that it was not merely a dream that would end with the sharp clank of heavy cell door or a painful twinge from a hard steel bunk.

"It's still a surreal moment for me," Graves told reporters Thursday, calmly entertaining every question with a smile. "I've tried to understand as best I could what I'm feeling, but I still haven't been able to. … I was going through my own personal hell for 18 years, then one day I walk out."

Graves, 45, was released Wednesday from Burleson County Jail, where he has been for the last four years awaiting retrial, after prosecutors filed a motion to dismiss capital murder charges arising from the brutal killing of a family, including four children, in Somerville. Those prosecutors followed the dismissal with an angry denunciation of the former district attorney, Charles Sebesta, whom they claim fabricated evidence and intimidated witnesses.

Graves, however, said he intends to stay positive, move on with his life and devote his time to helping others.

No energy for anger

He had a simple description for the 12 years he spent on death row: "Hell. Whatever your description of hell is, that's what it is. I don't even need to elaborate."

Graves said repeatedly that he was not angry at the people responsible for his conviction.

"I'm not going to give them that kind of energy," he said. "I gave them 18 years. I just have to give that to God. I'm ready to live now."

Graves said the love and support of people who came forward to help him kept him going over the years. He especially thanked St. Thomas University journalism professor Nicole Casarez and a handful of her students whose investigative work gave momentum to the effort to get his conviction overturned.

"I never lost hope, because once you lose hope, you're a dead man walking," Graves said. "I wasn't just going to lay down and die. I knew that one day it would come to this — I just didn't know what day."

Graves said that immediately after his release he rode a "roller coaster of emotions" and cried "because of the wrong that had been done to me." But he said he had no real animosity toward Robert Carter, the actual killer who had named him as an accomplice and testified against him at trial before recanting prior to his execution in 2000.

"I never really knew him," he said of Carter. "I don't have any feelings toward him today because I think that for the most part they manipulated him, too, so I can't even speak to that."

Others rail at injustice

If Graves seemed indifferent toward those who sent him to prison, attorney Katherine Scardino expressed the same outrage voiced by Bill Parham, the current district attorney for Washington and Burleson counties, and Kelly Siegler, a onetime assistant DA in Harris County. Scardino, like Siegler, had been brought in for Graves' scheduled retrial in 2011 after a federal appeals court overturned his conviction.

"I have never seen such blatant injustice to another human being as what was done to Anthony Graves in this case," said Scardino.

She also was indignant that a different set of prosecutors had offered Graves a life sentence a year ago in lieu of another trial. She said no one seemed interested in looking afresh at the evidence - or lack of it - and that if they had, Graves might have been freed long ago. Scardino relayed the offer to her client, confident that he would reject it and pleased when he did.

"How am I going to do a life sentence knowing that I'm innocent?" Graves said. "I always told my attorneys that I didn't want no plea bargain. They were either going to free me or kill me. I couldn't betray my family and stand in front of judge and plead guilty to something I didn't do. You have to stand for something in this world."

Graves arrived at the mid-afternoon news conference at Scardino's office fresh from a barbecue restaurant.

Slowly he worked his way into the conference room, one hug at a time. There were family members he hadn't seen in the 22 hours since he walked out of jail, as well as lawyers and students who had worked for his release.

He stopped as he came across 36-year-old Michael Rueter, who was a teenager when they last met.

"Oh, you grew up on me," Graves told the tearful Rueter.

And then came Rueter's father, who'd been a friend before testifying against Graves at his 1994 trial after first putting up money for his defense.

"I'm sorry," Roy Rueter said.

"It was not your fault," Graves assured him, opening his arms for another hug. "You were manipulated. It happens to the best of us."

Faces from his past

Graves had been employed at Rueter's family business in Brenham at the time of his arrest. The men played softball together, and Graves served communion at Roy Rueter's wedding. Rueter said he had come to the office just for the chance to see his friend walk free.

He had been persuaded to testify against Graves, believing prosecutors when they said a cheap knife Rueter had given Graves was a match for the wounds on one of the slain children.

He said he realized he had been misled in 1996 after being contacted by an investigator working for Graves' first appellate lawyer.

"It made me physically ill," Rueter said. "No excuse for betraying a friend."

After the news conference, Graves said Texas' criminal justice system makes convictions and death sentences too easy to obtain. He said the public should demand more accountability from prosecutors and greater scrutiny of evidence.

"People don't realize it can happen to them, but we are all vulnerable," he said. "I never thought about the death penalty for two seconds. I didn't live that kind of life."

Graves said he wanted to work on behalf of those who have been wrongfully convicted, though as yet he has no specific plans. He said the state's "flawed system" leaves him with no doubt that there are others on death row not guilty of the crimes that sent them there.

Jeannie Kever contributed to this report.



Anthony Graves story - in significant ways and attitudes of forgiveness - remind me of Ed Chapman's story...North Carolina, similarly, has lots of problems with labs...

See the Journey of Hope posts here here

WATCH for more on the Texas Journey of Hope - 2010 which just soon we should be receiving some photos and articles to post. Gilles had to suddenly return home unexpectedly. What amazing timing JOURNEY was there with our own Journey Family of Exonerated just as Anthony Graves was freed.