Saturday, July 08, 2006

Students fast in death penalty protest - The Daily Texan

Anniversary of 1976 Supreme Court decision reinstating capital punishment brings students, activists together to speak out, educate public
By Behnaz Abolmaali

A small group of anti-death penalty activists convened at the front of the state Capitol Saturday for a day of fasting in observance of the 30th anniversary of the reinstatement of capital punishment in the United States.

The event drew fewer than a dozen people Hooman Hedayati, president of Texas Students Against the Death Penalty, said the organization hopes to draw more activists next year and hoped an Oct. 12 anti-execution march will draw a sizeable crowd from around the state. The organization passed out more than 500 leaflets over several hours throughout the day Saturday.

The July 2, 1976 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Gregg v. Georgia lifted a moratorium on executions around the country. In an earlier 1972 ruling, Furman v. Georgia, the court ruled that the death penalty is arbitrary and capricious.

Texas has led the nation in the number of executions since the 1976 ruling.

Speakers Saturday included Sandra Reed, mother of Texas death-row inmate Rodney Reed, family members of murder victims and UT students volunteering for anti-death penalty causes. They discussed broader issues of racism and poverty in the legal justice system in Texas and around the country, and many called for a moratorium of executions, under all circumstances.

Organizers said the fasting at the event was a symbolic gesture of compassion for the 399 inmates currently on death row in Texas. The group did not seek to attract the attention of lawmakers or Gov. Rick Perry, as government offices were closed for the weekend.

Reed, who said she has taken her message to talks at college campuses around the country in the last few years, said her son was innocent Saturday, alleging that an all-white jury convicted her son and said that new evidence could acquit him.

"It's very important to open their eyes and educate them about corruption with the system," she said. "The justice system has deceived us. They want us to think it's all about justice."

Rodney Reed, 38, was convicted in 1998 of two counts of capital murder in the abduction, rape and killing of Bastrop woman Stacey Stites. Earlier this month, he faced a legal setback when a Bastrop judge ruled that new evidence introduced by Reed's lawyers would not have changed the outcome of the original trial. Reed's lawyers claimed that key witnesses were withheld from the jury during his original trial.

The case is back before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

About half of the passers-by at the Capitol Saturday refused to take the leaflets, and commented about the validity of capital punishment. Other drivers who saw banners for the event honked and gave a thumbs-up as they drove by.

"One of the problems we had was that said Hedayati, a computer science sophomore.

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