Saturday, December 29, 2007
I wish you all Peace, Love, Joy, and Happiness.
My Best Regards
A tragedy occurred in Pakistan yesterday. Benazir Bhutto, the fearless ex-prime minister of Pakistan was assassinated by individuals who have since been linked to Al-Queda. Sadly, this occurred two days prior to the anniversary of yet another assassination.
Saddam Hussein was hanged on December 30, 2006. At the time, most individuals shied away from decrying his trial, appeals, and subsequent execution. However, our organization- DePaul Students Against the Death Penalty, was vocal in opposing his death sentence.
The following article was published in the DePaulia newspaper shortly after his execution.
By Elliot Slosar
Torture… Is being harassed moments before being hung not torture? Is having your death broadcast around the world not torture?
“Awesome video, I only wish there was a little more light. I also wish that executions would move this quickly in the US instead of us citizens paying for those condemned to sit in prison for many years before their demise” (IcemanQq).
Saddam’s attorneys had less than 13 days to review the trial transcripts and file their subsequent appeal. The record only became available to defense attorneys on November 22. According, to the tribunal’s statute, the defense had to file their appeals by December 5. This gave them less than two weeks to respond to the 300 page trial decision.
Although capital punishment cases are handled arbitrarily and capriciously within the United States, we still have some semblance of an appeals process. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 126 people have been exonerated from death row. On average, it takes 9.2 years between being sentence to death and exoneration. Therefore, it takes nearly 3,358 days in order to prove one’s innocence in the judicial system.
Saddam was executed in less than 30 days. Is that justice?
Tortured to the point of death, Hussein’s execution entertained portions of the world, while the majority watched in horror. Executions are not televised in the United States because they would outrage society. For example, Frank J. Coppola was scheduled to be executed on Aug. 10, 1982. During this execution, it took two 55-second jolts of electricity to successfully kill him. The second jolt produced a horrid odor and witnesses soon heard sounds of burning flesh. Shortly thereafter, Coppola’s head and leg caught on fire while smoke filled the death chamber from floor to ceiling (Death Penalty Information Center).
Although electrocutions are inherently painful, hangings are undoubtedly seen as more barbaric and inhumane. Despite this, the Iraqi tribunal supported by the United States government, recently decided to publicly hang their former leader.
The death penalty is a mechanism used by the American government to oppress the poor and eliminate minorities from society. Minorities are often given inadequate representation within their cases, prosecutors are typically politically motivated, and judges are frequently indifferent towards administering a fair trial. After witnessing Saddam’s trial, it is obvious that we have replicated our flawed judicial system within Iraq.
Instead of Saddam being tried by the International Court, as was the case with the Nuremberg Trials, he was instead forced to partake in a mockery of justice within his home land. Iraq didn’t even have an independent judicial system before U.S. occupation.
Iraqi prosecutors were zealous in their prosecution, and the judges, who were trained by the United States and Britain just months before trial, had already pre-determined Hussein’s sentence. After three defense attorneys were brutally killed, the chief judge having resigned from the case, the court ultimately decided that an execution was necessary.
The following five methods of execution are currently authorized in the United States: lethal injection, electrocution, gas chamber, hanging and firing Squad. Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, five executions have been carried out by hanging or the firing squad.
In Iraq, the available methods of execution are unclear and undecided. Bakhtiar Amin, Iraq’s human rights minister states, "I personally hate to see anyone put to death…there is no humane way of doing it." At the conclusion of his trial, Saddam requested to be executed by firing squads. This was automatically refuted by the court, instead opting to slowly hang Saddam to his death. Hanging someone to death is the least humane way to take a human being’s life. Not only has this spurred more violence in an already chaotic Iraq, but it has undoubtedly created more anti-American sentiment oversees.
Saddam committed horrible acts of atrocity that oppressed a nation. Despite this, his execution has created an international debate. As one of the last industrialized nations to use capital punishment, President George W. Bush stated, "On Sunday, we witnessed a landmark event in the history of Iraq. Saddam Hussein was convicted and sentenced to death … we congratulate the Iraqi people!" How could one find so much happiness in torturing and then exterminating another human being?
Opponents of Saddam’s execution claim his trial was consistently flawed. Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty Internationals Middle East and North Africa Program states that, "Every accused has a right to a fair trial, whatever the magnitude of the charge against them … In practice, it has been a shabby affair, marred by serious flaws that call into question the capacity of the tribunal, as currently established, to administer justice fairly, in conformity with international standards."
Others stand opposed to Saddam’s execution based upon religious beliefs. Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Vatican’s Council for Justice and Peace, said, "For me, punishing a crime with another crime, which is what killing for vindication is, would mean that we are still at the point of demanding an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." He continued, "Certainly, the situation in Iraq will not be resolved by this death sentence. Many Catholics, myself included, are against the death penalty as a matter of principle."
In the United States, opponents of Saddam’s execution are dismissed as radicals who support ruthless dictators. Those praising his execution won’t even listen to claims of an unfair trial or preexisting religious beliefs against the death penalty. As one of four industrialized countries with the death penalty, we have now brought our barbaric means of punishment to a nation that we undoubtedly failed to ‘democratize.’
Thirty five year-old Abu Sinan said, "This is an unprecedented feeling of happiness ... nothing matches it, no festival nor marriage nor birth matches it. The verdict says Saddam must pay the price for murdering tens of thousands of Iraqis."
What would the verdict say if George W. Bush was put on trial for signing 152 death warrants as Governor of Texas?
What would the verdict say if our President was put on trial for murdering 87,139 Iraqi civilians since the war started? (Iraqbodycount.net)
What would the verdict say if Ariel Sharon was put on trial for murdering 3,020 Palestinians from 2000-2004? (palestinemonitor.org)
Killing one individual will not bring back innocent lives taken in war. All defendants should receive a fair trial, instead of a mock simulation. Saddam should have been sentenced to life in prison, not death. More importantly, the death penalty should be abolished, not expanded.
Friday, December 28, 2007
Like most Americans, I arrived at my position on the death penalty through a process that involved the application of morality and moral principles (derived from my religious and spiritual convictions), personal reflection, and a rational examination of facts and statistics. In the end, all of these considerations have led me to come down strongly on the side of opposing capital punishment.
Morally, I simply do not believe that we as human beings have the right to "play God" and take a human life -- especially since our human judgments are fallible and often wrong. Indeed, since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, 700 men and women on Death Row have been executed, three-fourths of those executions taking place since 1992. Since 1976, more than 100 people have been released from prison after being sentenced to death despite their innocence. That translates into one death row inmate being found innocent for every seven executed. Given this track record, I simply cannot support the death penalty, since
we know that it will, inescapably, be erroneously applied and innocent people will be put to death.
Second, all the evidence suggests that the death penalty is no deterrent to crime. Indeed, in those states that do have capital punishment, the average murder rate per 100,000 people is 8, while in states that have abolished the death penalty, the murder rate is just 4.4. In other words, states that do not have capital punishment actually have lower murder rates than states that do. I confidently believe that rather than decreasing murder, capital punishment actually has a brutalizing effect on society, contributing to an increase in murder.
Third, the evidence shows that the imposition of the death penalty is both racially and economically biased. African American defendants, for example, are far more likely to receive death sentences than others who committed similar crimes. To put that into perspective, 42% of inmates on death row today are African American, even though they comprise only 13% of the U.S. population; 180 African Americans have been executed in cases involving white victims, while 12 whites have been executed in cases with black victims. Of all the people on death row today, 75% of them are non-white. Moreover, a full 98% of all defendants sentenced to death
have been people who could not afford their own attorneys. I simply cannot support a policy that is so unfairly and unevenly applied.
Fourth, America is one of the last nations in the world to still practice the death penalty. In fact, for each year since 1976, two additional countries have abolished capital punishment, and the overwhelming majority of nations around the world have now put an end to it in law or practice. Even in our own country, opposition to the death penalty has doubled since 1994. Recent polls say that 64% of Americans support a moratorium on all executions. In Congress, I introduced the Federal Death Penalty Abolition Act of 2003 to establish an end to capital punishment. At the same time, however, I believe that criminals who take innocent life or commit other horrific crimes should pay a severe penalty, and that we have a duty to protect our
society from danger. For that reason, I favor life imprisonment without the possibility of parole as an acceptable moral alternative for the worst and most violent offenders in our society.
Kucinich for President 2008
Toll free: 1-877-413-3664
...Not only has the death penalty proven ineffective as a deterrent, it has also proven to be extremely expensive. It costs much less to keep a murderer in prison for life than it does to defend a death penalty throughout an exhaustive appeals process. And the best argument against the death penalty is ... there's no undoing it if innocence is proven.
A district attorney in Oregon made another good point for avoiding the death penalty — the "needless anguish" that families of murder victims suffer during what can be decades of appeals, litigation and retrials.
There are district attorneys in Texas who are ambivalent about the death penalty as well. When Texas lawmakers proposed expanding the list of crimes for which the death penalty could be assessed to specific sex crimes, some prosecutors opposed the move, saying it might cause perpetrators to murder the victims in order to eliminate witnesses.
Our state isn't gaining anything by keeping the death penalty. But until lawmakers eliminate it as an option, or unless Texas juries quit assessing it, the only "significant and lasting development" we see is that Texas has become one of the few states that doesn't stop until justice is served.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Saturday, October 27th, 2007
The March to Stop Executions has been held each October since 2000 in cooperation with several Texas and national anti-death penalty organizations, including Texas Moratorium Network, the Austin chapter of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and Texas Students Against the Death Penalty.
The first march was called the "March on the Mansion" and was held on October 15, 2000. The second and third marches were called "March for a Moratorium" and were held on October 27, 2001 and October 12, 2002. In 2003, the march name changed to "March to Stop Executions". Clarence Brandley, who had been exonerated and released from death row in 1990 after spending nine years there, spoke at the 2003 march, saying "I was always wishing and hoping that someone would just look at the evidence and the facts, because the evidence was clear that I did not commit the crime." The "5th Annual March to Stop Executions" was on October 30, 2004. The "6th Annual March to Stop Executions" was held October 29, 2005 in conjunction with the 2005 National Conference of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, which came to Austin at the invitation of the march organizers.
The "7th Annual March to Stop Executions", which was sponsored by a record number of 50 organizations was held October 28, 2006 and included family members of Carlos De Luna and Cameron Todd Willingham, who both had been the subject of separate investigations by The Chicago Tribune that concluded they were probably innocent people executed by Texas. Standing outside the gates of the Texas Governor's Mansion with hundreds of supporters, the families of Willingham and De Luna delivered separate letters to Governor Perry asking him to stop executions and investigate the cases of Willingham and De Luna to determine if they were wrongfully executed. After DPS troopers refused to take the letters, Mary Arredondo, sister of Carlos De Luna, and Eugenia Willingham, stepmother of Todd, dropped them through the gate of the governor's mansion and left them lying on the walkway leading to the main door.
What do law enforcement officers, prosecutors, crime victims' advocates and both Democratic and Republican state legislators have in common?
Recently, all of these groups came together in New Jersey to support legislation to repeal that state's death penalty. The legislation was signed into law last week by Gov. Jon Corzine, and New Jersey became the first state to legislatively repeal the death penalty since Iowa and West Virginia did so way back in 1965.
The fact that New Jersey acted as it did may surprise anyone not familiar with the growing national discussion over capital punishment. But for those who are familiar with this discussion, the surprise is not that New Jersey acted as it did — but rather why other states such as Texas have not taken similar steps toward repeal.
The overwhelming and bipartisan vote to repeal New Jersey's death penalty did not happen overnight — far from it. And it will not happen overnight in Texas.
In the end, it came after study, discussion and deliberation — and after hundreds and hundreds of hours of testimony from police, prosecutors, murder victims' family members and others.
In New Jersey, a special commission was appointed to thoroughly study the pros and cons of the death penalty — and to recommend what measures could be taken to fix the state's death penalty statutes. The commission was made up of victims' rights advocates, county prosecutors and other members of law enforcement, a retired New Jersey Supreme Court justice and many others.
The study found that there was no "fix" for the death penalty. It found that it is a deeply flawed public policy and, in the words of one state senator who in 1982 voted to reinstate the death penalty in New Jersey, it is a "false and ineffective choice for taxpayers and residents who have lost loved ones. It has for too long been sustained by mythology and fiction, propped up by outdated rhetoric when courage and common sense would have served us better."
The commission further found that the death penalty squanders millions in tax dollars, does not serve a legitimate purpose such as crime deterrence, delays healing for the loved ones of murder victims and, despite many safeguards, carries no guarantee against what would be our worst nightmare — the execution of an innocent person.
New Jersey is hardly the first state to begin to rethink the nation's experiment with capital punishment. Illinois and Maryland have had moratoriums. California, North Carolina and Tennessee have had study commissions. All the while, death sentences are down sharply and executions have decreased since reaching a crescendo in the late 1990s.
In 2007, the state of Texas carried out 26 executions, accounting for 62 percent of the executions that took place in the United States this year. The executions in Texas occurred at a time when nearly a dozen other states had instituted a moratorium or were considering issues related to the administration of lethal injection. From Jan. 10 to April 23, Texas was the only executing state in the country. Texas now has executed a total of 405 people since 1982 (of 1,099 executions nationwide since1977).
According to data available from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the Office of Court Administration, 15 men were sentenced to death in Texas in 2007 (as of Dec. 14). Over the past five years, the number of new death sentences in Texas has declined by approximately 50 percent, which mirrors national trends.
In Texas and across the nation, the death penalty is under increased scrutiny and the result is that the public is beginning to arrive at an inevitable conclusion: Capital punishment is a fundamentally flawed public policy that is collapsing under the weight of its many blunders, biases and bureaucracies.
Blunders? 125 people have been freed from death row after evidence of their innocence emerged.
Biases? Try as we might, we have yet to find a way to fairly decide who gets death and who doesn't and at the end of the day who is actually executed.
Bureaucracies? In New Jersey, $253 million has been spent on capital punishment, 60 people have been sentenced to death, 52 death sentences have been reversed and not one person has been executed.
Across the nation, many of the 3,300 people on death rows have sat there for decades.
In New Jersey, regardless of their initial views on capital punishment, a panel of experts and a bipartisan group of lawmakers determined that the system is beyond repair. When will Texas reach the same inevitable conclusion?
Rust-Tierney is the executive director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. Halperin is the president of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and a professor of Human Rights at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
Monday, December 24, 2007
Journey of Hope...from Violence to Healing is an organization led by murder victim family members joined by death row family members, family members of the executed, the exonerated, and others with stories to tell, that conducts public education speaking tours and addresses alternatives to the death penalty.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
by Rob Will
Someone suggested that I chronicle a typical day for me on Texas death row so I figured I’d go ahead and do that today. Perhaps, through detailing the events of an entire day, I can give people a better insight into this environment….
8:24 AM: I woke up about 2.5 hours ago, around 6 AM, to Officer Fischer beating on my door to do morning count. He woke me up from having a very interesting astral-plane, Philip K. Dickian dream. Some of my dreams are extremely lucid, like mini-movies with the most advanced special effects available. After being woken up, I laid on my bunk, my consciousness floating in an uncomfortable state of numbness, trying to go back to sleep (with no luck) until about 7:30 AM when another knock at my door got me up out of my bunk.
A mailroom officer was at my door: “You have some packages, Will!” The Polunsky Unit mailroom, the dreaded abyss of death row mail processing, has to be inhabited by the ghosts of Joseph McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover. Mailroom staff seem to delight in engaging in treachery when handling our mail. Whenever I see a mail officer approaching my cell, it’s like a pendulum appears hovering in the space between my cell door and her, swinging back and forth rapidly, alternately touching the words “disappointment” and then “happiness”…”disappointment”, swing, “happiness”…Will it be a denial form for something sent to me or an approved book or something? Luckily, today the pendulum stopped on “happiness”…Hold up, I’m about to eat the little mini-bowl of cereal I saved from breakfast...
10:08 AM: After I ate my cereal, I listened to “Democracy Now!” from 9:00-10:00 and I did some yoga/stretching. I also put my towel and my homemade pillow case in my sink to soak for awhile before I wash them. Lunch trays were just served. Something edible for lunch today—spaghetti, beans, and carrots. Not really good, but edible. The only thing completely inedible was the mixed vegetables.
OK, back to the pendulum stopping on happiness: “You have some packages, Will!” I got up and went to the door to see what she had (All mail officers are female. I suppose TDCJ thinks that only women should work in the mailroom because, you know, that’s “a woman’s job”. Or, perhaps, there are no men in Livingston, TX, who want to do “women’s work”). Here is a list of the books I got in today: A Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick, Letters of Thomas Mann 1889-1955, Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse, and Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: A Course in Enhancing Creativity and Artistic Confidence. I love reading and I get just about ecstatic when I get new books in. The mail officer broke the binding on Thomas Mann book trying to shove it through the side of my door. They’re supposed to bring the bar for opening the slot on our doors, but she didn’t, and by the time I realized the book was way too big to fit through the side, she had already broken the binding and ripped some of the pages.
Speaking of books, a little while ago I sent a guy in another section a book along with 5 political pamphlets. He wanted to check out this big Gnostic Bible I have, but I had to include some type of political lit with it! I can’t remember exactly what pamphlets I sent him, but I know I sent one talking about control unit prisons (Super Max) like the building we’re housed in. I constantly try to help raise the consciousness of those around me and at the same time I push myself to learn more and more.
Earlier, I went to the shower; I decided not to go to rec. today because I have a lot to do. Yesterday, a comrade of mine sent me a kite [note] telling me about an upcoming meeting of various anti-death penalty groups where they’ll be discussing specific issues to push. He said he wants to raise awareness about those executed who had DNA issues involving the shoddy work of the Houston Crime Lab. He asked me if I have any ideas so I’m about to write him a kite…
11:34 AM: OK, I’m done with that. Now, I need to write a kite out to another dude. The day before yesterday, a guy I don’t know hallered at me when I was at rec. He said that he had talked to my comrade Gabriel out at visitation and Gabriel told him to get with me about helping him “get on the internet”. The guy hasn’t been here very long and he wants to know how to publicize his case and reach out to people on the outside. So I’m about to write him a kite telling him about some good websites and other things.
11:58 AM: That’s done. Now, I’m about to wash, rinse, and hang up the stuff I have soaking in the sink while I listen to the “Back to the Old School” mix on 97.9; that starts at noon.
1:32 PM: I’m done washing. It takes a long time to wash clothes because this sink is so small and the water faucet runs very slow. I’m about to do some cleaning and then talk to the guy who just got into the dayroom, the same guy I sent a kite to earlier about the meeting of the anti-death penalty groups.
3:42 PM: We’re done holding council. There are only a handful of people around here who I can really vibe with on a political level, so I do so whenever the opportunity arises. I’m about to finish a letter to a comrade of mine on the outside…
4:15 PM: They just served dinner chow. I scooped the edible chili-substance into a jar; I’ll heat it up to eat later. I left the inedible stuff on the tray. Back to my letter!
4:21 PM: Someone is beating on the door and screaming in the next section.
5:38 PM: I’m alone with my letter and I’m about to do some yoga/stretching while listening to the news and heating up the food.
6:31 PM: I figured I’d drop a few quick thoughts on some of the news stories I heard today while this food finishes heating up: *The Bush administration rejects climate change proposals and blocks a call for a UN report on the insane amount of climate change the Earth has experienced over the last few decades. I suppose since Mother Earth doesn’t have a ruthlessly effective team of corporate lobbyists, then the Bushites feel comfortable treating Her like rappers treat “video hoes”. Actually, it’s more like the corporate henchmen and the politicians who support them are straight up raping the Earth.
6:47 PM: Food’s done!
7:00 PM: I’m done eating and I’m about to wash dishes and listen to the “Arab Voices” show on KPFT. This show is always interesting; it’s hosted by a guy from the Middle East and he covers various geopolitical topics—especially Middle Eastern issues—from what I guess one could call an “Arab perspective”. Regardless if you agree with his views or not, you’re never going to hear stuff like this on mainstream media sources. You can find info on the show by going to www.kpft.org.
8:00 PM: I just finished listening to the show and the officers came around to pass out towels, boxers, and socks. I wash all of my own clothes because the stuff they hand out is always filthy, so I didn’t get anything.
A few more quick thoughts on some of today’s news: there were terrorist bombings in Iraq, Beirut, and Algeria (the one in Algeria was the worst since 1962). When will people learn that simply trying to murder or lock up all of the “terrorists” in order to stop terrorism isn’t a very logical plan. All of the “counter-terrorism” activities like locking innocent people up in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and saturating places like Iraq and Afghanistan with bombs that cause civilian deaths and destroy the civilian infrastructure—including basics like electric and water utilities—creates hatred toward the US. The root causes of terrorist activity should be examined and then addressed. OK, enough of that. As I was listening to the news I was just thinking how the “if we don’t like you we’ll try to destroy you” mentality is really plain and simply stupid. Same thing with the death penalty: Guy commits murder. Guy is executed for murder. OK, what about examining all of the factors that led up to this person committing the murder and then trying to prevent further murders in the future? (Switch to the classical station) It was just mail-call!
8:32 PM: All I got was a “Seasons Greetings” card from the Oakland Campaign to End the Death Penalty. Much love to all the CEDP comrades out there!
I’ve been up since about 6:00 AM and it’s past 8:30 PM now. I’m about to do a little studying, the do some yoga/stretching/meditation and then try to get some sleep. Right now, I’m reading a book about various peace activist groups in the 1960s and 70s. It’s really interesting because the focus of the book is “lessons learned”. Alright, I’ll sign off by sending everyone a warm embrace of Strength and Solidarity!
from Texas Death Row
The United Nations General Assembly voted on Tuesday for a global moratorium on the death penalty. The resolution was nonbinding; its symbolic weight made barely a ripple in the news ocean of the United States, where governments’ right to kill a killer is enshrined in law and custom.
But for those who have been trying to move the world away from lethal revenge as government policy, this was a milestone. The resolution failed repeatedly in the 1990s, but this time the vote was 104 to 54, with 29 nations abstaining. Progress has come in Europe and Africa. Nations like Senegal, Burundi, Gabon — even Rwanda, shamed by genocide — have decided to reject the death penalty, as official barbarism.
The United States, as usual, lined up on the other side, with Iran, China, Pakistan, Sudan and Iraq. Together this blood brotherhood accounts for more than 90 percent of the world’s executions, according to Amnesty International. These countries’ devotion to their sovereignty is rigid, as is their perverse faith in execution as a criminal deterrent and an instrument of civilized justice. But out beyond Texas, Ohio, Virginia, Myanmar, Singapore, Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe, there are growing numbers who expect better of humanity.
Many are not nations or states but groups of regular people, organizations like the Community of Sant’Egidio, a lay Catholic movement begun in Italy whose advocacy did much to bring about this week’s successful vote in the General Assembly.
They are motivated by hope — and there is even some in the United States. The Supreme Court will soon hear debate on the cruelty of execution by lethal injection. On Monday, New Jersey became the first state in 40 years to abolish its death penalty.
That event, too, left much of this country underwhelmed. But overseas, the votes in Trenton and the United Nations were treated as glorious news. Rome continued a tradition to mark victories against capital punishment: it bathed the Colosseum, where Christians once were fed to lions, in golden light.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Texas jumps off the national map in many ways, good and not so good. Not so good includes the international notoriety of a hyperactive death chamber.
Before the U.S. Supreme Court effectively halted capital punishment in September, Texas carried out seven of the 10 most recent executions nationwide.
That very last execution brings us a finalist for Dallas Morning News Texan of the Year, Presiding Judge Sharon Keller of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The newspaper's distinction is bestowed for better or worse; this one goes in the latter column.
Judge Keller will forever be associated with four callous words that make a caricature of Texas justice: "We close at 5."
That was the judge's harsh response to defense attorneys who were trying to file a last-minute appeal in the case of convicted killer Michael Richard.
The courthouse shut its doors based on the judge's order on the afternoon of Sept. 25, and lethal drugs were pumped into the condemned man's veins a short time later. Legal experts say his appeal had a good chance of prevailing, since the Supreme Court, hours earlier, held up a Kentucky execution to weigh the constitutionality of lethal injection.
"We close at 5" can be disappointing news from an auto mechanic or bank clerk. But when it comes from the state's highest criminal jurist in a life-or-death case, it sounds downright ... criminal. Worse, other judges were working late that night and could have reviewed the appeal.
There was no doubt of Mr. Richard's guilt in the fatal shooting of a 53-year-old nurse and mother of seven in the Houston area. Death penalty supporters may think he got his just deserts, but that's not the point. The Supreme Court had clearly signaled concern over the constitutionality of lethal injection, and many states had already shut down their execution chambers in deference to the court's consideration of the matter.
Texas' brand of justice appeared stubbornly out of step. Two days after the Richard execution, Judge Keller's court decided that yet another death sentence could be carried out, this one in a Dallas County case. The Supreme Court blocked that execution, and the Texas court finally got the message and put the death chamber on hold.
Judge Keller hails from the Dallas family of Keller's Hamburgers fame. Since first elected to the Court of Criminal Appeals in 1994, she has cultivated a distinct profile – tough on crime. The close-at-5 decision in the Richard execution, however, only perpetuates the notion that Texas is indifferent to justice.
Coming Friday: No. 7.
8. Sharon Keller
Judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
9. Carol Wise
Researcher at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children
10. Bill Mullican
State's water planner
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
By Hank Skinner
December 14th, 2007
Dear friends, enemies and others I’ve yet to meet,
Hope this finds you all alive, well and prosperous. Some 10-11 years ago I authored an article entitled “Lethal Injection: what really happens” in an effort to educate the public and hoping to persuade some death penalty lawyers to tackle this issue of lethal injection, which I believe is an insidiously evil way to die, as recounted below.
Rather than obtaining the hoped for result I was instead subjected to some glaring ridicule from several sources. Most notably two rather well known D.P. lawyers wrote to tell me that I should take my article (Lethal Injection: what really happens) off the Internet because I was upsetting their clients with my “false propaganda” (the other attorney called it “inflammatory agitprop”) and told me something along the lines of, that lethal injection had been looked into and was A.OK; that as the state was gearing up to speed up the executions and they couldn’t stop it, the one thing their clients took solace in (and the attorneys did too) was that they’d die an easy, serene death. Ha/ha. So there I was, stealing their peace! Needless to say, I did not take kindly to this.
Below is recounted “Lethal Injection: what really happens”. The only mistake I made was saying that potassium chloride is acidic; I always get the PH scale backwards; being the experienced basement chemist I am, it’s my one struggle with dyslexia. Ha/ha. Potassium chloride is alkaline, with a PH of 11. It’s highly caustic. Angel Diaz, with the 12-inch long chemical burns on his arms, would attest my correctness, if it had not killed him. Afterwards are the corresponding excerpts, with credits, from the eight different amicus briefs filed in the case of Baze v Rees USSCT #07-5439, the current Supreme Court case on the constitutionality of the current lethal injection protocol.*
Lethal Injection: What really happens
April '97.....".....Texas newspapers recently reported a freakish accident. A lady, while hospitalized, was accidentally injected with one of the three poisons used to kill prisoners in the state's death chamber. The horrible way she died, convulsing in pain and screaming that she was burning, shocked the readers. Efforts have been made to convince the public that lethal injection is a painless and humane way to kill human beings. This news report forces us to rethink that view "Lethal Injection is not humane nor "painless" as death penalty advocates claim. Potassium is a metallic inert chemical. Potassium chloride is the salt of potassium after it's reacted with hydrochloric acid. It's an essential mineral in small doses, ingested like eating bananas. It's essential to muscle tone and action. That's why people who become dehydrated from working in the sun too long have severe muscle cramps, because their electrolyte balance is thrown off by potassium loss. It's the first to go when one sweats profusely.
"In large doses, injected intravenously, it would burn and hurt horribly, because it's a salt and because it instantly throws off the chemical balance of the blood with which it comes into contact. It makes all muscles lock up in extreme contraction that would hurt unbearably. It wouldn't get to all muscles when a prisoner is being killed with it, however. Since the heart is a muscle and it pumps the blood -- the minute that massive dose of potassium salt hits the heart, one would be history and that would be as far as it would travel.
"In lethal injection, three chemicals are used to kill. First, sodium pentothal (its trade name) or thiopental sodium (its chemical name). Then one minute later they inject pavulon. One minute later the potassium chloride. Pentothal is a short acting barbituric acid (barbiturate used in anesthesia) and is commonly called "truth serum" as it's used in narcoanalysis. It knocks one out. It's a hypnotic. Pavulon is a curare' derivative which locks up the lungs so one can't breathe.
"So, while the helpless man strapped to a gurney is knocked out by the thiopental and can't draw a breath because of the pavulon -- he certainly can't scream in pain when that burning potassium is injected and sends his heart into a crunching excruciating cramp.
"Ah, but the woman in the article didn't have any thiopental or pavulon beforehand. It hurt so bad she sat up in bed and screamed, seizured violently, then died. But she wasn't strapped down to a gurney, either. The inmates they're killing would scream too, IF they were able. They'd sit up and scream, IF they weren't strapped down and if their lungs weren't seized by pavulon. But they do gasp. Every one of them has. It's all they can do.
"'It looked as if he just went to sleep' -- that's how it's designed to look, to make it more palatable to the observers and those who're doing it. While it looks that way, it certainly isn't that way for the inmate they're killing. Looks are deceiving!
"All three of these drugs are acidic with pH higher than 6. God only knows what chemical reactions occur as they're mixed together in one's bloodstream. It probably burns so terribly that one feels as if he's being injected with fire right out of hell......"
From petitioners’ briefs, page 6: “Gerry Etheredge, a veterinarian, suggested that the most humane method of lethal injection would be an overdose of pentobarbital, the chemical most often used in animal euthanasia.” I’ve long said thiopental was too light a drug for executions and that Nembutal (which is pentobarbital), a longer duration of action anesthetic, would be more appropriate.
Same brief, page 10: “Thiopental was used to induce anesthesia in the 70’s (but never to maintain it). It is rarely used today (in surgical anesthesia)”.
Page 12: “It is undisputed that the administration of pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride… would result in a terrifying and excruciatingly painful death if injected into a conscious person”.
Page 12: … “the pain of potassium is similar in intensity to a ‘surgical stimulus’ and could be felt by someone who is only lightly anesthetized” (please note below that thiopental in nearly any dose produces only a low level of anesthesia).
Page 25 – Footnote 12: “Veterinarians use pentobarbital as the predominate means of animal euthanasia due to its reliability, simplicity and humaneness.” With pentobarbital you’d be dead in 5 to 12 minutes. You’d just go to sleep and never wake up. Dogs and cats in Texas die a better death than executed humans.
From the brief of amici curiae Fordham University School of Law, Louis Stein Center for Law & Ethics in support of petitioners, page 18 **: discussing Oklahoma’s chief medical examiner, Jay Chapman, designing the 3 drug lethal injection protocol: “the first drug Chapman included, an ultra-short acting barbiturate, is an anesthetic (thiopental) that can act quickly to cause a low level of unconsciousness. The second drug, (pancuronium bromide) a chemical paralytic,… paralyzes the body’s muscles”.
In other words, in order to produce a humane execution, a prisoner would need to be put into a deep unconsciousness call a “surgical plane of anesthesia” where he is totally unresponsive and of course unfeeling any external or noxious stimuli. Clearly, according to the Critical Care Providers & Clinical Ethicists, along with Fordham University Amici, thiopental will not achieve the deep anesthesia required for surgical planes of unconsciousness.
From the amicus brief of Drs Kevin Concannon, Dennis Geiser, Carolyn Kerr, Glenn Pettifer and Sheilah Robertson as amici curiae in support of petitioners page 4 ***: “Sodium pentobarbital is a long acting anesthetic that quickly places the patient in a deep, surgical plane of anesthesia when injected intravenously. An overdose of sodium pentobarbital causes the patient to move past a surgical plane of anesthesia into profound brain depression resulting in death. Significantly, all this occurs with only transient and minimal pain to the patient associated merely with the venipuncture itself.” English translation: one little (needle) prick and you go to sleep and never wake up, with the single drug protocol.
Page 5: Sodium thiopental on the other hand “is an ultra-short acting barbiturate injected in a 3 gram dose intended to anesthetize – but not kill – the prisoner”.
You see the real reason, I believe, that the states cling on to the 3 drug protocol is that it gives them wide latitude in deciding how hard you die. In 2004 Billy Frank “Sonny” Vickers had a date but survived it and was brought back to the Polunsky unit where he dictated “THREE AND A HALF STEPS” **** to me. One of the things Sonny told me, we left out of “THREE AND A HALF STEPS” because he was afraid, if we put it in there, they would subject him to it 30 days later when his execution was reset and carried out: one of the prison officials – I think it was the warden or strap down supervisor – noticing that Sonny was visibly upset and shaking, agitated, told him to calm down (Ha/Ha, like this was possible while waiting to die?!?) and said “we can do this the easy way or the hard way. The easy way is, you sit on down there and eat your (final) meal, talk to the chaplain, make your phone calls and cooperate with my officers when the time comes. I promise you I’ll use enough of that sedative to knock you out and you won’t feel a thing. On the other hand, if you want to get ‘agg’ and fight my officers, I’ll just forget that sedative and use water or, I’ll mix it up wrong and just use the pancuroniun to paralyze you while you’re still awake and then I’ll use that potassium to put the damnedest Charlie horse in your chest that you ever felt and believe me, you’ll go down hard. So it’s up to you. Better take the easy way if you’re smart.” I’ll admit this is paraphrased from my 3-year old memory after the fact; I’ve got the exact words Sonny told me written down somewhere but I can’t find ‘em right now. Think I sent ‘em out. But I guarantee it’s 100% accurate in the essential message it conveyed.
So, that’s why I say and believe the 3 drug cocktail is insidiously evil: they just want to use thiopental to put you in a low level of unconsciousness so they can then paralyze you in that serene looking positional pose, then hit you with that jolt of potassium so they can really make you feel it. The most horrible death imaginable: inside you’re aware, awake and screaming in burning agony, outside you look serene and peaceful like you’re asleep and taking a (dirt) nap.
To be fair to TDCJ and the state, I want to emphasize that there is a vast difference between “I believe” and “it is a fact”, Jack. However, there is at least some anecdotal, documented evidence for what I believe. As Elizabeth Weil stated in her recent New York Times Magazine article, dated February 11th, 2007, “The Needle and the Damage Done”, the expert anesthesiologist testified in the case she was covering that the eyes watering are one of the subtle indicators of conscious awareness during a lethal injection execution. Timothy McVeigh’s eyes teared when he was executed. After he just stopped speaking or moving, tears streamed down his cheek and he ultimately died with his eyes open. McVeigh, the infamous Oklahoma City bomber, killed 168 innocent people, quite a few of whom where women and children, all of whom were innocent. McVeigh later callously referred to those he killed as “unfortunate collateral damage”. 168 lives vs 1. You think maybe they wanted to make him feel it? I’d bet on it. And win.
Incidentally, to digress for just a moment, can you guess where McVeigh learned his terminology? In the army, of course! Be all you can be! When news agencies reported the wholesale slaughter of thousands of innocent citizens during Desert Storm, Generals Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf said on TV that all those deaths, “while regrettable, were merely unfortunate collateral damage occurring during an act of war and thus unavoidable”. I remember that so well after all these years because it shocked me to my core, the way they just dismissed all those innocent lives as if they were nothing more than trash to be swept off the cutting room floor.
Back to the lethal injection issue. Gary Graham died with his eyes open too. He was in mid speech of his final statement when his jaw seemed to slowly stop moving and he died frozen in that position, staring at Jesse Jackson, it was reported in the papers at the time and, he had tears streaming down his cheek too.
Days before his execution, Graham had done an interview with a radio station (I think it was KPFT; I might be wrong) where he spouted pseudo-revolutionary agitprop, vehemently playing the race card, saying something to the effect of “we need to start killing a white for every black executed” and urging people to show up at the execution armed: “if you need a shotgun, bring that! If you need an AK-47, bring that!” etc. Quannel-X and his followers showed up there, along with some members of the Klan on the other side of the square, if I remember correctly (if I’m incorrect on anything I say here, I invite you all to correct me, ok. I have no qualms about being corrected if I’m wrong; which happens, sometimes). Whatever the details, you think maybe they wanted to make him really feel it when he died?
In both Graham’s and McVeigh’s executions, I think it’s pretty obvious that their executioners just omitted the thiopental and started instead with the pancuronium bromide. Once paralyzed, they were both frozen in position but aware and awake when injected with potassium chloride. It hurt so bad it made tears come out of their eyes. “Flushing” is another example of conscious awareness. That’s when your face gets all strained up and changes colors to red, pink, purple, etc. I think that if trained anesthesiologists or others trained to recognize such symptoms were to comb through the archives of execution logs, news stories and personal memories of those present at past executions nationwide by lethal injection, you’d find an overwhelming wealth of evidence of conscious awareness***** during execution.
There’s another issue which really bothers me but was not raised in any of the briefs currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. In another case where the constitutionality of lethal injection was at issue, the state’s expert testified that saline flushes of the I.V. line were absolutely crucial because the chemicals were incompatible. That is, if you did not use ample saline to flush the I.V. line and the chemicals would clog it up. If you mix the chemicals and get a precipitate – i.e. a solid which falls to the bottom of the container like snow – this is because there is autolysis, automatic or oxidation catalysis occurring. This usually generates intense heat and is a “volatile” reaction. This phenomenon is further exemplified by the incident which occurred in Texas first lethal injection, where the warden mistakenly thought he could mix all three chemicals together and draw it up in one syringe. It turned colors, began smoking, emitted a “fog” and a very noxious smell; then turned into a solid white sludge. All evidence of catalytic molecular synthesis.
When molecular synthesis occurs like this, the atoms of two substances combine to form a new, third substance and whatever is not needed or leftover is sloughed off – the precipitate – or, the new formation is the precipitate and what’s sloughed off remains in the suspension/solution host. Either way, we’re talking about the formation of some new, third chemical which no one knows the effect of.
Flushing the I.V. line with saline (sodium chloride) would probably only move this volatile reaction site on into the crucible of the human body – i.e. the chemicals would not be mixing in the line but at the end it empties into – the veins of the prisoner being executed. So that’s the first thing on this issue.
The second thing is that thiopental is a very fragile and unstable chemical which must be mixed before use and must be used immediately because it begins to degrade as soon as it’s mixed. Additionally, it’s an ultra-short action of duration barbiturate which begins to metabolize on contact in the bloodstream. Pancuronium bromide, as its name suggests, is catalyzed by bromic acid reaction. Bromic acid is one of the most aggressive oxidizers known and is so unstable it is known only in solution. I think the chances are more than great that pancuronium bromide in the bloodstream would auto catalyze and thus neutralize thiopental sodium sulfate. In a lab, mixing a sulfate, a bromide and/or a chloride or two would probably result in some sort of explosive volatile reaction.
In many cases where thiopental levels in the blood were too low in executed prisoners bodies on autopsy and such low blood serum levels were consistent with consciousness at time of death, the state’s experts cite post-mortem tissue absorption. I think they are incorrect. I believe pancuronium bromide aggressively neutralizes and/or oxidizes the unstable thiopental with potassium chloride. Additionally, where burning, agonizing pain is concerned; I think there’d be little difference between the mixture of three (3) chemicals or being injected with Drano (sodium hypochlorite). The caustic drain opener.
From the amicus brief of Drs Kevin Concannon, Dennis Geiser, Carolyn Kerr, Glen Pettifer and Sheilah Robertson as amici curiae in support of petitioners at page 13***: The risk of consciousness is not merely theoretical. Evidence regarding executions performed the same as called for in Kentucky’s protocol, using the same 3 drug combination of sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride, suggests that a number of prisoners appeared to have remained conscious throughout the execution. See, e.g., Morales vs Tilton, 465 F.Supp.2d 472, 980 (N.D. CA. 2006) (noting that several California prisoners may have remained conscious despite the purported injection of five (5) grams of sodium thiopental (Texas uses only three (3) grams!), two (2) grams more than the dose called for in Kentucky’s lethal injection protocol.
From the Florida Corrections Commission Supplemental Report – Methods of Execution used by States (formely available at: www.fcc.state.fl.US/fcc
As Justice John Paul Stevens told the State’s attorney in a Florida case before the Supreme Court in 2006: “your procedure would be prohibited if applied to cats and dogs”, indeed!
From the AVMA Journal Euthanasia Guidelines 2006 Supplemental Statement******: “A combination of pentobarbital with a neuromuscular blocking agent is not an acceptable euthanasia agent”, clarifying that portion of the report, the AVMA says “it was intended as a recommendation against mixing a barbiturate and a neuromuscular blocking agent like pancuronium bromide in the same syringe; when that happens there is the probability that the paralytic agent may take effect before the barbiturate and the animal would thus become paralyzed while still conscious.”
For all these reasons and more, if Texas and other states would just switch to a single intermediate or long acting barbiturate like pentobarbital (a.k.a. Nembutal) and use a brain wave monitor, the execution could be made “humane” (as if any murder could be humane?) and without undue suffering. Since this chemical would kill just as quickly, in a 5 gram dose. What the public should be asking is: “what’s the problem? Why not switch?” they execute animals this way. I mean hell, can’t we, death row prisoners, get the same consideration they show a cur dog, cat, goat, etc.?
In my own case, I am innocent of the crime I am accused and convicted of. I have pretty substantial evidence to prove it too, including police and D.A. file records and DNA. However, the courts have turned a deaf ear and my case is now in the 5th circuit court of appeals where virtually no one wins. For years, while my case wound through the courts, I begged my lawyers to raise this issue on lethal injection, but they ignored me. When I learned that Kathryn Kase of TDS was successfully raising similar issues on behalf of another prisoner, I asked for her help too. She didn’t exactly ignore me but she refused to help me, which in my mind amounts to the same thing. The result is that I’ve so far been unable to raise the issue. I’ve written to other attorneys as well. Same result. I remain pretty convinced Texas will execute me for this crime anyway and really doesn’t give a damn that I didn’t do it. Regardless of the plentiful exculpatory evidence we present, the D.A., A.G and other state officials’ response is always just “a jury convicted him, he must die!!” Yeah. Right. But the damned jury never heard the exculpatory evidence of my innocence!! I feel like I’m living a bad rerun of an old Twilight Zone episode. Won’t someone raise these issues and try to do something about this, please?
Lastly, a bit of unsolicited advice to the defense bar: instead of a bunch of anesthesiologists and doctors, you probably should be consulting with some pharmaco-chemists or professors of organic chemistry because therein lies the answers to unlocking the molecular story of what happens when 3 incompatible chemicals are injected into the crucible of a human body and mixed with blood. I think some chemist who designs drugs for the pharmaceutical companies would be the right choice to consult. But then again, I’m just a basement chemist so what do I know?...
PS. Anyone who may want to write and discuss this with me, feel free to do so. I guarantee a response.
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Sunday, December 16, 2007
Taken from Texas Moratorium Network's blog.
We need to find some good candidates for the discredited Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. In 2004, Texas Monthly called the all-Republican Texas Court of Criminal Appeals the "Worst Court in Texas" in a bold headline on the cover of the magazine. In this month's magazine, Texas Monthly says that Sharon Keller, the CCA's Presiding Judge, should be impeached for her unethical behavior on Sept 25, when she said "We close at 5" and refused to accept an appeal from a man set for execution that night. Excerpt:
When a man’s life is on the line—to say nothing of the U.S. Constitution—our top criminal judge should behave like one: with prudence, fairness, and a calm hand. It’s time for Keller to go. If the commission doesn’t act quickly, we’ll have to wait until January 2009, when the Legislature—which has the power to oust high judges—reconvenes, or worse, 2012, when Keller is up for reelection. The fact is, we need to do it now. Impeach Sharon Keller.
Keller is not on the ballot in 2008, but that does not mean the Court should get a pass.
Grits for Breakfast has written extensively on the need for candidates to step up now and run for the CCA:
Of the incumbents who're up next go-round, at least Tom Price has the good sense to call a spade a spade, vocally declaring some time ago that the court's radical pro-prosecution precedents made them a "laughingtsock" around the nation's legal community. And Cathy Cochran finally came out to publicly criticize the Presiding Judge over the recent "We close at 5" debacle. The other judge up next year, Paul Womack, probably should be targeted before those two, but really IMO it's time to begin a comprehensive infusion of fresh blood.There are three seats up and Democrats should find strong candidates for all of them. Both Scott Henson at Grits and I have separately asked some people to run, but so far no one has said yes. Now, there are only three weeks left before the filing deadline. We need to find someone before it is too late.
A Democrat can win election to the CCA in 2008 for two main reasons 1) the national political environment is favorable to the Democrats and a winning Democratic presidential candidate could have an impact on lower ballot races and 2) the "laughingstock" reputation of the CCA is likely to cause many editorial boards and other organizations to endorse a well-qualified challenger to the Republican incumbents on the ballot.
The key here is "well-qualified". In 2006, some media outlets, including the Dallas Morning News, wanted to endorse someone other than the Republican incumbents, but they did not think the challengers were up to the task in 2006. Excerpt from the DMN editorial:
When it comes to uninspiring court contests, the statewide Court of Criminal Appeals pretty much takes the cake.Keller is not on the ballot, but she can be an issue in the election. She only won in 1994 anyhow because of down-ballot pull on the heels of the sweeping national Republican victory that year. It is time for the tables to turn.
Three Republican incumbents, none of whom deserves to be a shoo-in for re-election. One Democrat and two Libertarians, none of whom could be bothered to show up for an interview – or, in the case of the Democrat, complete a questionnaire.
I am writing this post to ask the blogging community to help find good candidates for the CCA. Help us find a practicing lawyer, a law professor, or a judge whom we can interest in running for the CCA.
Please use the comments to suggest people the Texas Democratic Party should contact about running for the court. Or email names to me at scottcobb99 (at) gmail.com and I will pass them along to the state party.
Candidates for the court are required to submit 50 signatures from each of Texas' 14 appellate districts, so even after a candidate is found, the blogging community should be ready to help the candidates get those signatures. I am ready to help.
Friday, December 14, 2007
In her Dec. 13 motion to dismiss Richard v. Keller, et al., Keller contends that Michael Wayne Richard, through his counsel, failed to avail himself of Texas Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.2(a), which allows pleadings to be filed at any time directly with a judge on the CCA.
Marsha Richard, widow of the executed inmate, filed a suit against Keller on Nov. 11 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District in Austin. U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel presides over the case.
Marsha Richard alleges in her complaint that Keller ordered the CCA’s clerk not to accept any paperwork for Michael Richard after 5 p.m. on Sept. 25.
But Keller contends in her motion to dismiss that while the clerk’s office closed in keeping with Texas Government Code §658.005(a), which sets the operating hours for state agencies as 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., the CCA remained open. Judges remained at the courthouse to accept any motions, according to Keller’s motion.
Several CCA judges — including Judge Cheryl Johnson, the assigned judge for Richard’s case — have said they were at the court past 5 p.m. on Sept. 25, because they anticipated receiving an appeal from Richard.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
*Blue Jersey Update* The vote just took place and it was 43-36 in favor of abolishing the Death Penalty in NJ. The bill now heads to the Governor's desk where he has already said he intends to sign it.
Houston Chronicle also has an editorial calling for the state to provide tools to support the wrongfully convicted.
AUSTIN — Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller apparently violated court policies for handling death penalty cases when she closed the court clerk's doors on Michael Richard's efforts to file a last-minute appeal before his execution.
In response to a national outcry against Keller's actions, the court adopted written policies last month to make certain a death row inmate's appeals always go first to an assigned judge.
In response to a public information request from the Houston Chronicle, Keller said in a letter that no written court procedures existed Sept. 25, the day of Richard's execution. However, she said the new written rules reflected the court's unwritten policies on that day.
Keller was not the judge assigned to handle Richard's appeal when she decided to close the clerk's office so that Richard's lawyers could not file a late appeal.
Judge Cheryl Johnson was in charge of Richard's case on the day of his execution, but did not learn of his lawyers' attempts to file for a stay of execution until the day after his death.
A lawyer who has been representing other attorneys in filing complaints against Keller for her handling of the Richard case said Keller's response to the Chronicle's information request clearly shows Keller violated the court's unwritten policies in cutting off Richard's appeal.
"To me, it's a pretty stunning admission that she operated totally outside of their procedures," said Jim Harrington, who has coordinated attorney complaints filed against Keller with the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct. "She doesn't have respect for the processes of the court, which are designed to protect due process."
''I decided, if I ever got another chance," said the wrongly imprisoned Texan Ronald Gene Taylor, "I would do things right." After 14 years behind bars, Taylor finally has been given his chance, released after a sentence sealed by Houston's corrupt, inept former crime lab. Taylor is eligible for up to $700,000 for his lost years. But succeeding in his new life will take more than money.
Taylor is one of more than 200 inmates exonerated by DNA evidence nationally. He is fortunate in that Texas has now become one of the most responsible states in compensating the wrongly convicted for their stolen lives. Even so, Texas — like all but three states — offers its wronged citizens no job training, no health insurance and no mental health support. Without them, many will not succeed.
The Legislature in its last session doubled the amount the state compensates those it wrongly imprisoned: Texas now grants $50,000 for each year wrongfully confined. Twenty-eight states give no compensation at all; some that do, offer truly insulting sums — like Louisiana, which gives those its criminal justice system victimized $15,000 per year, with a cap of $150,000.
The direct credit for Texas' policy goes to state Sen. Rodney Ellis, according to the nonprofit Innocence Project. Ellis, a Houston lawmaker, worked for years to make the compensation more just, often bringing exonerees to testify at the Statehouse in Austin.
"You had legislators who looked into the eyes of these individuals who lost 10 or 15 years of their lives ... and they felt an obligation," recalled Innocence Project spokesman Eric Ferrero.
But even financial compensation can't correct the engulfing handicaps that exonerees, including Taylor, now face. To start with, his payment may take up to two years to arrive — if he receives any money at all. Taylor is eligible for compensation, but first the governor has to grant him what is called a pardon for innocence (which Taylor is expected to get).
Still, that's two years in which a traumatized man with few skills and a blot on his name must try to support himself — and two years in which his past destructive habits could easily catch up with him. Most exonerees, a recent New York Times series reported, rely on family, friends or even strangers as they await their recompense. When they do get it, they often squander it, many times through ignorance.
That is why the Innocence Project now offers financial guidance to those exonerees it helps, as well as a special fund to help them survive while they wait for their checks from the state. This year, the project added a third component: a full-time social worker, to be joined by a second next year. The caseworkers are especially needed to help the wrongly imprisoned find pro bono health care, since many leave prison with serious untreated health problems.
The Innocence Project also has a special exoneree fund that provides counseling when other sources are absent. As Chronicle writer Roma Khanna's recent story showed, even exonerees like Taylor — who was buoyed during years in prison by his fiancée — face dizzying emotional challenges. How to rebuild a relationship interrupted by years of separation? How to overcome grief and rage for all the wasted time? How to stave off depression, anxiety and paranoia, all aggravated by a life in prison?
Simply having been in prison, even wrongly, creates a stigma that can make job-hunting daunting. Add to this the reality that many exonerees went into their sentences with limited education or skills, and the prospects for finding work unaided can be bleak.
Texas, which must bear the responsibility for its wrongful imprisonments, should look to the Innocence Project for ways to exonerate itself. A full-time social worker would help the system's 30 current exonerees navigate the bewildering new life they return to.
Free tuition at community college and state schools, as Montana offers, would train intellects wrongfully deprived behind bars. Access to health care, mental and physical, would help repair minds and bodies scarred by prison. Money is the state's symbolic way of atoning for its wrongs to innocent citizens. But only physical and mental support will give men like Ronald Taylor the chance to truly be free.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
About 11 years ago, on a Sunday morning before sunrise, someone dumped the body of 20-year-old Stacey Stites off the side of a road in the small town of Bastrop, Texas. Rodney Reed, a black man from Bastrop, was convicted of her murder by an all-white jury, despite the strong evidence linking other people, including Stites' fiance Jimmy Fennell, to the murder. Last week, Fennell, who is now a police officer in Georgetown, Texas, was indicted by a grand jury on a charge of sexually assaulting a woman in custody at gunpoint, and he was placed on administrative leave from his job. At the time of Stites' death, Fennell was a police officer in Giddings, a town just east of Bastrop.
The amount of evidence pointing to Fennell in Stites' murder case is overwhelming. In two polygraph tests taken after Stites's murder, Fennell failed the question, "Did you strangle Stacy Stites?" According to a May 13, 1998, Department of Public Service report, fresh beer cans found at the crime scene contained DNA from Stites and two of Fennell's friends, police officers David Hall and Ed Salmela (the original investigator for the case). Furthermore, the truck alledgedly used to transport Stites' body contained fingerprints from only Fennell and Stites and was handed over to Fennell the day it was discovered. Fennell sold the truck the next day.
But it was Reed who was charged with Stites's murder. Reed's case is anything but unique in a criminal justice system marked by race and class bias. The racial tension in Bastrop was so intense during the trial that Reed's original trial lawyers, who were also black, were afraid to stay in Bastrop overnight. Reed's case also highlights the consequences of interracial dating in the South, decades after end of segregation. The main evidence linking Reed to the murders is a semen sample containing Reed's DNA, which was taken from the scene of the crime. That can easily be explained by the sexual relationship he and Stites allegedly had before her death.
Today, black men constitute little more than 12 percent of the nation's population but occupy nearly half of the spots on U.S. death rows. Nearly all of those sentenced to death can't afford to hire lawyers and thus rely on notoriously inadequate court-appointed attorneys or public defenders who don't have the necessary resources to investigate and defend capital cases.
Reed has been sitting on death row for more than 10 years for a crime he very likely did not commit. The Bastrop County prosecutors should open the case and start a new investigation into his claims of innocence. In the meantime, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which has Reed's case in their hands, should order a new trial in which the jury can hear all of the new evidence.
Visit www.freerodneyreed.org for more information about the case and how to get involved with the campaign to save Rodney Reed.
Hedayati is a government junior and member of Campaign to End the Death Penalty.
Friday, December 07, 2007
The next time you travel to downtown Houston to visit the Museum of Fine Arts, you should walk a few blocks to Houston's Old Hanging Tree at the corner of Capital and Bagby streets. That huge 200-year-old oak tree is the location where many "Negroes" were illegally lynched many years ago. Almost 150 years after the Civil War ended, Texas remains haunted by its long history of slavery, and even today the state still practices lynching. But today it is done by the state, rather than a group of white-hooded men. It is called execution by lethal injection.
In the 1920s, as people started to become more repelled by the brutality of illegal lynchings, some people started to look into alternatives to lynching, thanks to the efforts of the Niagara Movement and the NAACP. The answer came from J. W. Thomas in a small town near Waco, who ran for the state Senate on a platform that "hangings should be removed from the emotional atmosphere of local communities to the more remote prison in Huntsville." In the early hours of Feb. 8, 1924, five condemned black murderers from rural East Texas were electrocuted. Thus began the modern era of executions in Texas. Today, the small town of Huntsville in Walker County is the headquarters of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the Walls Unit Prison, which holds Texas' infamous death chamber. In 2007, the state of Texas executed 25 men, most of them black or Hispanic.
The last person to be execution by Texas was Michael Richard, another black man who died on Sept. 25 only because Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller did not want to stay at work a few minutes past five o'clock to consider his appeal. Who cares about a black man getting executed anyway? Maybe she wanted to make it over to Whole Foods before the masses.
People of color have accounted for a disproportionate 43 percent of total executions in the U.S. since 1976 and comprise 55 percent of those currently awaiting execution. According to Amnesty International, at least one in five of the African-Americans executed since 1977 were convicted by all-white juries, in cases which displayed a pattern of prosecutors dismissing prospective black jurors during jury selection. A training handbook once used by the Dallas County District Attorney's office actually said, "Do not take Jews, Negroes, Dagos, Mexicans or a member of any minority race on a jury, no matter how rich or how well-educated." Even though blacks and whites are murder victims in nearly equal numbers of crimes, 80 percent of people executed since the death penalty was reinstated have been executed for murders involving white victims.
The overwhelming evidence suggesting a racial bias in our criminal justice system and possible execution of African Americans and other minorities, who might have been found innocent otherwise, should shake the soul of every human being. We need to accept the relationship between our current criminal justice system and the 1920s lynch mobs. Now is the time to recognize, as most of the countries around the world have recognized, that the death penalty cannot be implemented fairly. It is the time to follow in the steps of abolitionists such as Frederick Douglas and abolish the blatant, unjust application of legalized lynching in our criminal justice system.
Hedayati is a government junior.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Some say the cop's arrest could help set another man free from death row.
It was 1996 when 19-year-old Stacey Stites was found strangled on the side of a road in Bastrop.
A jury convicted Rodney Reed of murder and sentenced him to death. Supporters have long insisted police have the wrong man behind bars.
The appeal seeking a new trial suggests Stites' live-in boyfriend, Jimmy Fennell -- then a Giddings police officer -- was to blame.
The motive? The defense claims Fennell was jealous when he found out Stites was having an affair -- with Reed, whose DNA was found on the body.
Monday, December 03, 2007
Wednesday, December 12 at 7PM
UT Campus, NOA Room 1.126
On Wichita (three blocks east of Guadalupe) between Dean Keeton & 27th St.
There are many reasons to oppose capital punishment! However, at this meeting, members of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty will focus on these five:
- It’s racist.
- It punishes the poor.
- It condemns the innocent to die.
- It is not a deterrent.
- It is cruel and unusual punishment.
Sunday, December 02, 2007
Saturday, December 01, 2007
Marietta Jaeger's daughter Susie was abducted at the age of seven during a family camping trip in Montana. For over a year afterwards, the family knew nothing of Susie's whereabouts. Shortly before the one-year anniversary of Susie's disappearance, Marietta stated to the press that she wanted to speak with the person who had taken her child. On the anniversary date, she received a call from a young man who taunted her by asking, "So what do you want to talk to me about?"
During the year following Susie's disappearance, Marietta had struggled to balance her rage against her belief in the need for forgiveness. Her immediate response to the young man was to ask how he was feeling, since his actions must have placed a heavy burden on his soul. Her caring words disarmed him, and he broke down in tears on the phone. He subsequently spoke with Marietta for over an hour, revealing details about himself and the crime that ultimately allowed the FBI to solve the case.
Marietta was to learn that Susie had been killed on a remote Montana ranch a week after she disappeared. Despite her family's tragedy, she remains committed to forgiveness and has been an ardent opponent of the death penalty for the over 25 years since Susie's death.
Ron Carlson's sister, Deborah Ruth Carlson Davis Thornton, and Jerry Lynn Dean were murdered with a pick ax by Karla Faye Tucker and Daniel Ryan Garrett on June 13, 1983. Both Tucker and Garrett were sentenced to death. Ron originally supported their sentences, telling the prosecutors, "I think they got what they deserved." Ron lost his stepfather and natural father within a year of Deborah's death. "You can't imagine the anger that was in this body," he says now. For many years, Ron treated his pain with alcohol and drugs, until becoming a Christian and turning his life "over to the Lord" in 1990. Ron ultimately forgave Karla and Dan and worked hard to commute their death sentences.
Dan died in prison of natural causes in 1993. Despite widespread appeals on her behalf, Karla Faye Tucker was executed on February 3,1998, in Huntsville, Texas. Ron was invited by Karla to witness the execution as one of her representatives. When he did so, he become the first known victim's family member to witness an execution on behalf of the murderer. Ron's decision caused rifts within his family that remain to be healed. But most family members still offer their love and support. And Ron knows he made the right decision. "I drew strength from the Lord, and I knew he was here. God reached out of heaven to hold us in his hands and cradle us with his love and compassion. Karla died with a smile on her face. They took her body, but they didn't kill her spirit."
Bill Pelke's 78 - year - old grandmother Ruth, taught Bible lessons to neighborhood children in Gary, Indiana. One day, May 14th, 1985, four ninth grade girls from the local high school come to her door asking about the lessons, and she invited them into her home. As she turned to get information for them, one grabbed a vase and hit her over the head. Another pulled a knife out of her purse and began to stab her. Ruth was stabbed a total of 33 times. While one of the girls held the knife inside her, the others ransacked her house. They ended up with $10.00 and her ten-year-old car.
A year later, one of the girls, Paula Cooper, was sentenced to death for the crime. She had been 15 when the murder occurred, and at 16 became the youngest female on death row in America. Originally supportive of Paula's death sentence, Bill eventually forgave Paula, began corresponding and visiting with her, and worked to overturn her sentence. She is now serving 60 years in prison. Bill recently retired after over 30 years of service with Bethlehem Steel and plans to devote his retirement to abolishing the death penalty. He recently purchased a tour bus to travel across the country and spread the message of forgiveness and hope.
On February 27, 1985, the White family experienced first-hand the insanity and horror of murder. George and his wife Charlene were shot repeatedly by an armed robber at his place of business in Enterprise, Alabama. George held Charlene in his arms as her life slipped away. Their children, Tom and Christie, were only 12 and 5 at the time. The nightmare had just begun. Sixteen months later, George was charged with murdering his wife. Following a capital murder trial that was later described as "a mockery and a sham", George was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. His conviction was overturned in 1989 and he was released from prison, but George remained in legal limbo until 1992, when proof of his innocence was finally brought forward. Following a brief hearing the trial court ordered the charge against him forevermore dismissed. The nightmare had lasted more than seven years...had the State of Alabama had its way, George White would be a dead man today.
Understanding fully how easy it is to become advocates for revenge, the White family, however, rejects the death penalty as a solution and as way of healing the wounds of their loss.