Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Hickman: Texas needs to start a dialogue on the death penalty

Austin Musician Sarah Hickman has an Op-Ed in today's Austin-American Statesman about her opposition to the death penalty.

In the early 1990s, I started correspondence with a man on death row. After a few years of writing, I went to visit him in person.

What I experienced shocked me. Thinking I was going in to see an angry human being, I met an intelligent person who seemed broken. Someone who had lived an abused, unloved life had lived the only way he knew how: in survival mode. His lifestyle was far from mine, but his upbringing was like nothing I could imagine, either. Leaving the prison, I was completely struck with the thought that people do what they know. While in his early twenties, uneducated, drugged up, and jobless, he had struck out and viciously murdered an innocent woman, had spent 20 years on death row, and still had no understanding of what it meant to be "productive" or a part of society. He had killed out of revenge for the murder of his best friend. Kill or be killed. That is what he knew. Several years later after our meeting, he was executed by the state, in each of our names.

As a society, without a doubt, we can agree that murdering a fellow human being is a horrendous act. It stains the perpetrator, or even an entire country, for life, for all time. So, here in Texas, we have the death penalty to terminate the life of the guilty who have taken a life.

But how does killing anyone, whether someone is in a crazed state who murders or a state sanctioned killing occurs, ever solve anything? Murdered, or put to death, left behind are grieving family members, children without parents, loved ones and friends all caught in the never ending questions of, "Why? What was solved? Will this heartache ever end?" And what about those we execute who are innocent? The greatest example, here, is Jesus Christ. Or Bruno Richard Hauptmann. The list goes on.

As a mom and a musician, I wanted to start a dialogue about the death penalty. Because I live in Texas, the state with the greatest number of executions, I wanted to get people to think about what the death penalty means: spiritually, economically, and morally. My hope was to start a dialogue that was open to all in the spirit of healthy debate and information—-a forum where people who were opposed to or for or conflicted by the death penalty could meet and discuss the issue without fear or hostility.

So, last spring, I had a meeting with the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (TCADP) here in my home.

We discussed ways to raise awareness, and I suggested a series of monthly concerts around the state of Texas, starting in Austin and ending in

Austin, going to 11 cities along the way. We decided to include musicians and speakers. In October 2007 we had our first event with Linda White, mother of a young woman who was murdered by two teenage boys and reverends John McMullen (First United Methodist Church) and Bobbi Kaye Jones (St. Johns United Methodist). Barbara Kooyman (Timbuk 3) was our first guest musician.

Since then, we have traveled to Huntsville, Corpus Christi, San Antonio, Houston, San Angelo, Beaumont, El Paso, and Denton.

Attendees have heard comments from a variety of speakers including El Paso Mayor John Cook (who has joined our tour, singing and speaking and challenging other Texas mayors to come out to the events), the amazing account of Rev. Carroll Pickett (the death row minister who witnessed 95 executions in Huntsville; he is convinced that at least 15 of those men were innocent), prosecutor Sam Millsap, victim's families talking about why they are opposed to the death penalty and listened to the music as diverse as Shelley King to Austin Lounge Lizards (who will be at our Waco event on Sept. 18) and Kinky Friedman, who will be at our Antone's finale October 1.

My hope is twofold: that you will come out and join in on this conversation, and that in five years we will have a moratorium on the death penalty here in Texas. Please, come express your opinions at one of the events and meet family members of murder victims, meet family members of those executed on death row. Come hear music and get involved at the same time. This isn't easy. In fact, it's intense.

To end with a thought, when Cain murdered Abel in the old testement, God didn't destroy Cain. He banished him, yes, but he set him out in the world marked with protection that no one would harm a hair on his head. Why would God do such a thing? I challenge you to start the dialogue.

1 comment:

dudleysharp said...

To: Sara Hickman, musician, anti death penalty activist, etc.

RE: Your article, "Hickman: Texas needs to start a dialogue on the death penalty" ("OTHER TAKES", Austin American-Statesman, July 30, 2008)

From: Dudley Sharp, info below

Dear Ms. Hickman:

This is a fact checking question.

Can you tell me where and when Rev. Pickett claimed that 15 out of the 95 executed , which he witnessed, were actually innocent? This is a new and astounding accusation.

More fact checking efforts, re: Can Rev. Carroll Pickett be trusted "At the Death House Door"?, below.

Some brief commentary on your article:

Regarding your two innocent executed cases:

There are many factual and speculative reviews of the Hauptmann (Lindberg baby kidnapping/murder) case, some, of course, asserting his guilt.

The Christian faith, through biblical record and theological teaching, is that for all eternity the sacrifice/execution of Jesus/God was preordained and mandated by God - that the Lamb of God was sacrificed for the sins of mankind. No one can stop what God made happen. I have always thought that using Jesus as an example of man's error in executing an innocent, particularly in the cause of anti death penalty activism, to be disingenuous, at best. God/Jesus made it happen. Ms. Hickman, was God wrong?

You ask what does the death penalty solve. For juries, it answers the question: "What is the appropriate sanction for the murder in this case?" It solves the answer to that question, the same question that exists for every criminal case, whereby judges or juries are asked the appropriate sanction for those found guilty.

It is for that reason that 80% of Americans support the death penalty for specific crimes.

It is interesting that you would mention only the one biblical case of Cain. Important, yes, but, of course, no more representative of God's will than the execution of all of humanity - save for the family of Noah- by God, with the flood. It should be noted that God never said it was inappropriate to execute a murderer such as Cain, only that He granted Cain a special dispensation from that which was deserved.

I agree, a dialogue on the death penalty is important. That dialogue has existed for thousands of years and has been active in Texas for a long, long time.

Sincerely, Dudley Sharp

Can Rev. Carroll Pickett be trusted "At the Death House Door"?
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info below

Rev. Pickett is on a promotional tour for the anti death penalty film "At the Death House Door". It is partially about the Reverend's experience ministering to 95 death row inmates executed in Texas.

Rev. Pickett's inaccuracies are many and important.

Does Rev. Pickett just make facts up as he goes along, hoping that no one fact checks, or is he just confused or ignorant?

Some of his miscues are common anti death penalty deceptions. The reverend is an anti death penalty activist.

Below are comments or paraphrases of Rev. Pickett, taken from interviews, followed by my Reply:.

1) Pickett: I knew (executed inmate) Carlos (De Luna) didn't do it. It was his big brown eyes, the way he talked, he was the same age as my son (transference). I felt so sympathetic towards him. I was so 100% certain that he couldn't have committed this crime. (Carlos) was a super person to minister to. I knew Carlos was not guilty. Fred Allen a guard, said "by the way he talks and acts I don't believe he is guilty, either. (1)

REPLY: Experienced prison personnel are fooled all the time by prisoners, just as parole boards are. This is simply Rev. Pickett's and Fred Allen's blind speculation and nothing more.

More than that, it appears that Rev. Pickett is, now, either lying about his own opinions or he is very confused. Read on.

2) Pickett: believes that, no way, could someone, so afraid of lightning and thunder, such as Carlos De Luna, use a knife (in a crime). (1)

Reply: Rev. Pickett talks about how important his background is in understanding people and behavior and he says something like this, destroying his own credibility on the issue. If the lightning and thunder event occurred, we already know what De Luna was capable of. In 1980, "De Luna was charged with attempted aggravated rape and driving a stolen vehicle, he pleaded no contest and was sentenced to 2 to 3 years. Paroled in May 1982, De Luna returned to Corpus Christi. Not long after, he attended a party for a former cellmate and was accused of attacking the cellmate's 53-year-old mother. She told police that De Luna broke three of her ribs with one punch, removed her underwear, pulled down his pants, then suddenly left. He was never prosecuted for the attack, but authorities sent him back to prison on a parole violation. Released again in December of that year, he came back to Corpus Christi and got a job as a concrete worker. Almost immediately, he was arrested for public intoxication. During the arrest, De Luna allegedly laughed about the wounding of a police officer months earlier and said the officer should have been killed. Two weeks after that arrest, Lopez was murdered." (Chicago Tribune) Being a long time criminal, we can presume that there were numerous additional crimes committed by De Luna and which remained unsolved. Was De Luna capable of committing a robbery murder, even though he had big brown eyes and was scared of lightning? Of course. This goes to Rev. Pickett's poor judgement or something else.

There is this major problem.

In 1999, 4 years after Rev. Pickett had left his death row ministry, and he had become an anti death penalty activist, and 10 years after De Luna's execution, the reverend was asked, in a PBS Frontline interview, "Do you think there have been some you have watched die who were strictly innocent?"

His reply: "I never felt that." (3)

For many years, and since the 1989 execution of Carlos De Luna, the reverend never felt that any of the 95 executed were actually innocent.

This directly conflicts with his current statements on Carlos De Luna. Rev. Pickett is, now, saying that he was 100% sure of De Luna's innocence in 1989!

If he was 100% sure of DeLuna's execution in 1989, what's up with the PBS interview?.

How is it that an anti death penalty activist can forget the only "innocent" person executed - he was 100% sure of his innocence - on their watch? Anti death penalty or pro death penalty, wouldn't that be 100% impossible to forget, particularly when you are asked, specifically, about it during a formal interview?

When is the first confirmable date that Rev. Pickett stated he believed in DeLunas' actual innocence?

It appears the reverend has either revised history to support his new anti death penalty activism - he's lying - or he is, again, very confused. Reverend?

3) Introduction: In 1974, prison librarian Judy Standley and teacher Von Beseda were murdered during an 11 day prison siege and escape attempt. Ignacio Cuevas was sentenced to death, as one of three prisoners who were involved. The other two died in the shootout.

Ms. Standley and Ms. Beseda were part of Rev. Pickett's congregation, outside of prison.

Pickett: After Cuevas was executed, Rev. Pickett alleges that he met with Judy Standley's family and they told the reverend that "This (the execution) didn't bring closure." "This didn't help us." According to Rev. Pickett, "They didn't want him (Ignacio Cuevas) executed." (1)

Reply; There might be a big problem. Judy Standley's five children wrote a statement, before the execution, which stated: "We are relieved the ordeal may almost be over, but we are also aware that to some, this case represents only one of many in which, arguably, `justice delayed is justice denied," "We are hopeful the sentence will finally be carried out and that justice will at last be served," said the statement, signed by Ty, Dru, Mark, Pam and Stuart Standley. (4)

Sure seemed like the kids wanted Cuevas to be executed. Doesn't it? Reverend?

4) Pickett: "A great majority of them (the 95 executed inmates he ministered to) were black or Hispanic." (1)

Reply: The reverend's point, here, appears to emphasize the alleged racist nature of the death penalty. There is a problem for the reverend- the facts - the "great majority" were 47 white (49%) with 32 black (34%), and 16 Hispanic (17%).

5) Pickett: "Out of the 95 we executed only one that had a college degree. All the rest of them their education was 9th grade and under." (1)

Reply: Not even close. Rev. Pickett's point, here, seems to be that capital murderers are, almost all, idiots who can't be held responsible for their actions. But, there are more fact problems for the reverend. In a review of only 31 of the 95 cases, 5 had some college or post graduate classes and 16 were high school graduates or completed their GED. Partial review (Incomplete Count) , below.

Would Rev. Pickett tell us about the educational achievements of all the true innocent murder victims and those that weren't old enough for school?

6) Pickett: spoke of the Soldier of Fortune murder for hire case, stating the husband got the death penalty, while the hired murderer got 6 years. (1)

Reply: Rev. Pickett's point, here, appears to be the unfairness of the sentence disparity. More fact problems. John Wayne Hearn, the hitman, was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Sandra Black.

7) Pickett: speaks of how sincere hostage taker, murderer Ignacio Cuevas was. Rev. Pickett states that "between 11 and midnight (I) believe almost everything" the inmates say, because they are about to be executed. (1)

Reply: Bad judgement. Minutes later, Cuevas lied when on the gurney, stating that he was innocent. This goes to show how Rev. Pickett and many others are easily fooled by these murderers. Pickett concedes the point.

8) Pickett: "In my opinion and in the opinion of the convicts, life in prison, with no hope of parole, is a much worse punishment (than the death penalty)." "Most of these people (death row inmates) fear life in prison more than they do the possibility of execution." (2)

REPLY: More fact problems. We know that isn't the opinion of those facing a possible death sentence of those residing on death row. This gives more support to my suspicion that Rev. Pickett is putting words into the inmates' mouths.

Facts: What percentage of capital murderers seek a plea bargain to a death sentence, rather than seeking a life sentence? Zero or close to it. They prefer long term imprisonment. What percentage of convicted capital murderers argue for execution in the penalty phase of their capital trial? Zero or close to it. They prefer long term imprisonment. What percentage of death row inmates waive their appeals and speed up the execution process? Nearly zero (less than 2%). They prefer long term imprisonment. This is not, even remotely, in dispute. How could Rev. Pickett not be aware of this? How long was he ministering to Texas' death row? 13 years? So, what? Did he just make this up?

9) Pickett: stated that "doctors can't (check the veins of inmates pending execution), it's against the law." (1)

Reply: Ridiculous. Obviously untrue.

10) Pickett: Pavulon (a paralytic) has been banned by vets but we use it on people. (1)

REPLY: This is untrue and is a common anti death penalty deception. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) stetes, "When used alone, these drugs (paralytics) all cause respiratory arrest before loss of consciousness, so the animal may perceive pain and distress after it is immobilized." Obviously, paralytics are never used alone in the human lethal injection process or animal euthanasia. The AVMA does not mention the specific paralytic - Pavulon - used in lethal injection for humans. These absurd claims, falsely attributed to veterinary literature, have been a bald faced lie by anti death penalty activists.

In Belgium and the Netherlands, their euthanasia protocol is as follows: A coma is first induced by intravenous administration of 20 mg/kg sodium thiopental (Nesdonal) (NOTE-the first drug in human lethal injection) in a small volume (10 ml physiological saline). Then a triple intravenous dose of a non-depolarizing neuromuscular muscle relaxant is given, such as 20 mg pancuronium bromide (Pavulon) (NOTE-the second drug, the paralytic, in human lethal injection) or 20 mg vecuronium bromide (Norcuron). The muscle relaxant should preferably be given intravenously, in order to ensure optimal availability (NOTE: as in human lethal injection). Only for pancuronium bromide (Pavulon) are there substantial indications that the agent may also be given intramuscularly in a dosage of 40 mg. (NOTE: That is how effective the second drug in human lethal injection is, that it can be given intramuscularly and still hasten death).

Just like execution/lethal injection in the US, although we give a third drug which speeds up death, even more.

11) Pickett: "Most of the inmates would ask the question, "How can Texas kill people who kill people and tell people that killing people is wrong?" That came out of inmates’ mouths regularly and I think it’s a pretty good question to ask." (2)

REPLY: Most? Would that be more than 47 out of 95? I simply don't believe it. 10 out of 95? Doubtful. I suspect it is no coincidence that "Why do we kill people to show that killing is wrong" has been a common anti death penalty slogan for a very long time. I suspect that Rev. Pickett has just picked it up, used it and placed it in inmate's mouths. Furthermore, we don't execute murderers to show that murder is wrong. Most folks know that murder is wrong even without a sanction.

12) Pickett: said an inmate said "its burning" "its burning", during an execution. (1)

REPLY: This may have occurred for a variety of reasons and does not appear to be an issue. It is the third drug which is noted for a burning sensation, if one were conscious during its injection. However, none of the inmates that Rev. Pickett handled were conscious after the first drug was administered. That would not be the case, here, as the burning complaints came at the very beginning of the injection process, which would involve a reaction where the burning would be quite minor. Has Rev. Pickett reviewed the pain and suffering of the real victims - the innocent murdered ones?

Bottom line. Reverend Pickett's credibility is as high as a snakes belly.

Time to edit the movie?!


Incomplete count
this is a review of 31 out of the 95 death row inmates ministered by Rev. Pickett

21 of the 31 below had some college or post graduate classes (5)
or were high school graduates or completed their GED (16)
1) Brooks 12
3) O'Bryan post graduate degree - dentist
41 james russel 10th
42 G Green sophomore college
45 David Clark 10th and GED
46 Edward Ellis 10th
47 Billy White 10th
48 Justin May 11th
49 Jesus Romero 11th and GED
50 Robert Black, Jr. a pilot (probably beyond 12th)
55. Carlos Santana 11th
57 Darryl Stewart 12th
58 Leonel Herrera 11th and GED
60) Markum Duff Smith Post graduate College
33) Carlos De Luna 9th
95 Ronald Keith Allridge 10th and GED
93 Noble Mays Junior in College
92 Samuel Hawkins 12th
91 Billy Conn Gardner 12th
90 Jeffery Dean Motley 9th
89 Willie Ray Williams 11th
86 Jesse Jacobs 12th
85 Raymond Carl Kinnamon 11th and GED
84 Herman Clark sophomore college
83 Warren Eugene Bridge 11th
82 Walter Key Williams 12th
72 Harold Barnard 12th
73 Freddie Webb 11th and GED
75 Larry Anderson 12th
77 Stephen Nethery 12th
79 Robert Drew 10th

1) "Chaplain Discusses 'Death House' Ministry", Interview, Legal Affairs, FRESH AIR, NPR, May 19, 2007.


3) "The Execution: Interview with Reverend Carroll Pickett", PBS, FRONTLINE, 1999

4) "Appellate court refuses to stay killer's execution", Kathy Fair, HOUSTON CHRONICLE, Section A, Page 1, 2 Star edition, 05/23/199

Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
e-mail, 713-622-5491,
Houston, Texas

Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS , VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.

A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.