Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Former inmates speak out against death penalty


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Former death row inmates spoke out against the death penalty Tuesday as part of the 'Day of Innocence" rally outside the State Capitol.

Protesters say not only should Texas do away with the death penalty, but it should not be expanded to include repeat child sex offenders who do not kill their victims.

"The death penalty is bad public policy," said former Alabama death row inmate Charles White.

Texas Senator and El Paso Democrat Eliot Shapleigh agreed, "This state must respect the rule of law."

Rally organizers say recent reports indicate that Texas may have executed three innocent men: Ruben Cantu, Carlos De Luna and Cameron Willingham.

"Those are just the ones we know about 'cause -- let's face it -- this is a penalty where the state can bury its mistake. Who knows about it?" Kerry Cook asked. Cook knows first hand. He spent 13 years on Texas' death row for the murder of a secretary until the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned his conviction, ruling that prosecutors had hidden evidence.

"There's a legislative bill to expand the madness. Let's don't fix it, let's don't stop and repair it. Let's expand the madness," Cook said.

Cook was referring to Senate Bill 5, which would expand Jessica's Law and apply the death penalty to repeat child sex offenders. Cook went before a Senate committee on criminal justice to testify against the bill.

"I'm not showing compassion for the convicted sex offender. I would be in favor of castration and life without parole," Cook said. But he says the death penalty is not the answer. "We're going to expand the death penalty? The system is broken, it's not broken from the liberal point of view, it's simply broken. And this is not the time to be expanding it, this is the time to be doing something about it."

One of those taking part in the rally was Shujaa Graham, who's experienced both sides of the death row debate. His uncle, a policeman, was murdered. And Graham himself spent five years on California's death row until he was exonerated in the death of a prison guard.

"In my home, I never heard my mother or my father talk about capital punishment. So in order to get justice I don't have to see blood," Graham said.

Dianne Clements, with Houston based Justice For All, told KVUE News, "There's absolutely no evidence, none, zilch, nada -- that an innocent person has been executed in Texas."

She says if the system, as highly scrutinized as it is, was wrought with wrongful executions, those deaths would have come to light by now.

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