Friday, December 30, 2011

Last chance to donate to WTI in 2011

Dear Friend:

This year, Witness to Innocence should have welcomed Troy Davis into our organization as the country’s newest death row exoneree.  But instead, the state of Georgia executed him for murder, despite strong evidence of his innocence.

2011 has been a year both of deep tragedy and great promise for the anti-death penalty movement. 

In the Troy Davis era, the issue of innocence is on people’s minds when it comes to the growing opposition to the death penalty—a barbaric system that is fraught with error, impropriety and racial bias, and discriminates against the poor.  And innocent people surely have been put to death.  Since 1973, 139 innocent men and women survived death row, despite a system bent on killing them.

As the new executive director of WTI, I look forward to 2012 as a watershed year in the abolition of this dreaded American institution.  And exonerated former death row prisoners and their families will help lead the way.

Here are some of our accomplishments in 2011:
  • We forged new partnerships with the United Methodist Church and progressive evangelicals, recognition of the importance of people of faith in our movement.  Plus, WTI participated in the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) People of Color Conference, with Shujaa Graham and Kathy Spillman conducting a workshop calledUsing Stories of the Exonerated to Teach Race, Class, and Justice Issues.”
  • Witness to Innocence supported death penalty abolition efforts across the country.  On the heels of our 2009 abolition victory in New Mexico—in which then-Governor Bill Richardson cited wrongful convictions and executing the innocent as his primary reasons for repealing the death penalty—WTI exonerees were instrumental in the repeal of the death penalty in Illinois. 

  • WTI was the one group that honored Illinois' exonerees for the central role of their sacrifices in ending the death penalty in that state.  “As a state, we cannot tolerate the executions of innocent people because such actions strike at the very legitimacy of a government,” said Illinois Gov. Patrick Quinn last March.  “Since 1977, Illinois has seen 20 people exonerated from death row. Seven of those were exonerated since the moratorium was imposed in 2000. That is a record that should trouble us all. To say that this is unacceptable does not even begin to express the profound regret and shame we, as a society, must bear for these failures of justice,” he added. 
  • Randy Steidl and Nate Fields were featured in the press during the Illinois repeal, and Randy also traveled to Rome to join the Sant'Egidio Community for the ceremonial lighting of the Colosseum to celebrate abolition in Illinois. 
  • WTI member Derrick Jamison gave testimony before the Ohio House of Representatives in support of legislation that would replace a death sentence with life without parole as the state’s highest punishment.
  • Joining a chorus of lawmakers, judges and lawyers, 27 Witness to Innocence members wrote a letter to Texas Governor Rick Perry urging him to halt the execution of Hank Skinner to allow for DNA testing.  An appeals court granted the stay of execution.  In September, WTI death row survivors signed a letter to the Georgia State Board of Paroles and Pardons on behalf of Troy Davis.
  •  In November, WTI members Kirk Bloodsworth, Shujaa Graham and Ray Krone were invited to speak at the Washington, DC and Philadelphia premiere of master filmmaker Werner Herzog’s death penalty documentary, ”Into the Abyss.”   
  • Witness to Innocence is partnering with London-based filmmaker Will Francome (“In Prison My Whole Life”) on his film project “One For Ten,” a series of films featuring ten individuals who have been freed from death row. 
  • WTI Compensation Committee members Cheryl Naill, Larry Yates and Nate Fields met with the Innocence Project and U.S. Department of Justice officials to discuss providing reentry assistance to exonerated prisoners, including death row survivors.

In the new year, WTI will continue to work closely with state abolition groups to support their efforts.  We will be on the ground in states like California, Georgia, Maryland, Colorado and Florida. 

We will continue and strengthen our already robust outreach to communities of color and the HBCUs, to the faith community and murder victims’ families, and seek to make death row exonerees whole by advocating for federal compensation. 

And our members will continue to speak around the country about their experiences and change hearts and minds about the death penalty.  Further, as a new member of the Paris-based World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, Witness to Innocence will expand its human rights advocacy on an international stage.

I encourage you to contribute to Witness to Innocence and join a movement of people who are fighting to end capital punishment in the U.S.— because they know the evils of the system firsthand.  Your contribution will allow us to further empower our members to become effective leaders in the anti-death penalty movement; continue to work with abolition campaigns in key battleground states; build our coalition across the country, and reach new audiences.  Click here to go to our website to make your generous tax-deductible donation and help abolish the death penalty.  Thank you.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Latest News by Justice4Hank

December 28, 2011
While we wait...

We made it past November 9, 2011 and thanks to you ALL we feel stronger. Your support, individual and collective, gives us the energy to overcome this horrible roller coaster, so thank you from the bottom of our hearts! 

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued a stay of execution on Monday November 7th while we were visiting with Hank. 

On November 21, 2011 Judge Emmert issued a second order denying the third motion for DNA testing. Hank's attorney are working on their brief that will be filed early next year.

It will most likely take several months for the CCA to rule on the issue. In the meantime, Hank's lead attorney, Rob Owen, who was court appointed to handle Hank's federal appeal, is working pro bono on the DNA issue. While we are very grateful for his time, we cannot expect him to cover the legal expenses he will incur. 

So our next goal is to raise funds to cover his legal expenses. We are asking all of you who have supported Hank during these past months, and signed petitions on his behalf, to make a $10 donation to his defense fund in order to make a difference. Click here to donate online or visit the website for more options!

We truly appreciate the support to prepare the future for Hank's case, that will in turn help other cases in Texas and in the United-States.

To those of you who write to Hank, please make ensure to always include your postal address and e-mail address if you have one, otherwise he cannot reply to your letters.

Thank you all for your assistance!

Please continue to support Hank, SHARE this message!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

European Commission Extends Control over Goods which could be used for Capital Punishment or Torture

The European Commission decided today to extend the list of goods subject to export controls, to prevent their use for capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. As of today, trade of certain anesthetics, such as sodium thiopental, which can be used in lethal injections, to countries that have not yet abolished the death penalty, will be tightly controlled. Furthermore, the scope of the European Union regulation has been enlarged to include other products such as spike batons that previously were not prohibited.

"I wish to underline that the European Union opposes the death penalty under all circumstances," said Catherine Ashton, High Representative for the Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the Commission. "The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union states that no one shall be condemned to the death penalty, or executed. In this regard, the decision today contributes to the wider EU efforts to abolish death penalty worldwide. This is a first step in response to the calls of civil society organizations and the European Parliament to strengthen the EU legislation. It will be followed by a full review of the relevant regulation next year."


Council Regulation (EU) No 1236/2005 concerning trade in certain goods which could be used for capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment was adopted on June 27, 2005. It comprises an import and export ban for certain goods listed in Annex II and an export control regime for certain other goods listed in Annex III. 

In March 2010, Amnesty International published a report asking for a number of amendments to this Regulation. The European Parliament repeated these requests in a resolution adopted on June 17, 2010. Since then, the Commission has examined possible ways to move forward in order to respond to these calls.

Today, the Commission adopted regulation amending Regulation (EC) No 1236/2005 concerning trade in certain goods which could be used for capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. As a result:

        exports of short and medium acting barbiturate anesthetic agents are subject to prior authorization by national authorities;
        imports and exports of spiked batons are prohibited;
        imports and exports of electric shock sleeves and cuffs are prohibited (electric shock belts were already banned before).
The Commission will carry out an in-depth review in 2012 which may result in a proposal for amendment of Regulation 1236/2005 to be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council. The lists of goods may be further amended in parallel, if other goods are identified as needing particular surveillance.

Today's decision will be published in the Official Journal of the EU on December 21.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

WTI Exonerated Death Row Members and Staff Part of National Premier of Werner Herzog's "Into the Abyss"!

Ray Krone, Shujaa Graham, and Kirk Bloodsworth will be leading discussions at special showings of Werner Herzog's new documentary, "Into the Abyss" on Friday, November 18, in Philadelphia and Washington, DC.

For more information click here.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Execution Watch: Guadalupe Esparza, 11/16

By Elizabeth Stein
Producer, Execution Watch

Texas plans to carry out its 13th execution of 2011 Wednesday by putting to death Guadalupe Esparza of San Antonio.

Barring a stay, Execution Watch will broadcast details live on KPFT 90.1 HD-3, streaming at

Unless a stay is issued, we'll broadcast on ...
Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2011, 6-7 PM CT
Houston: KPFT 90.1 FM, HD-3
Streaming worldwide: > Listen
*** Join the Execution Watch discussion on Facebook ***

GUADALUPE ESPARZA, 46, received his execution date three months ago from a San Antonio judge who ignored his attorney's request for a delay to prepare an appeal based on evidence that Esparza is mentally retarded and therefore ineligible for execution. A jury ordered Esparza put to death in 2001 following his conviction in the abduction, rape and strangulation of a 7-year-old girl. The victim's mother, Diana Berlanga, said she planned to witness Esparza's execution. More background: > Backpage on Guadalupe Esparza.

Host: RAY HILL, an ex-convict and activist who founded, and hosted for 30 years, the Prison Show on KPFT. His new show may be heard every weekday on at 2 p.m. CT.

Legal Analyst: JIM SKELTON, a legal educator and retired attorney, he’s a native Texan and iconoclast who has seen capital trials from both the prosecution table and the defense table. His scheduled guests are fellow attorneys SUSAN ASHLEY and LARRY DOUGLAS.

Featured Interview: DEATH ROW EXONEREE. One of the former death row prisoners who participated in the 12th annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty in Austin and in the Witness to Innocence Freedom Ride Tour that preceded it,

Reporter, Death House, Huntsville: GLORIA RUBAC founder and leader, Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement,

Reporter, Vigil, Houston: DAVE ATWOOD, a founder of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, will report from the execution vigil the group sponsors in Houston,

On Jan. 26, Texas plans to execute RODRIGO HERNANDEZ. If so, we will broadcast the details. More at

PRODUCER: Elizabeth Ann Stein, eliza.tx.usa
TECHNICAL DIRECTOR Otis Maclay, omaclay
THEME: By Victoria Panetti, SheMonster International,

Monday, November 07, 2011

Hank Skinner Receives Stay of Execution from Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

Here’s the  language from the court order:
This is a direct appeal of the trial court’s ruling on a motion for DNA testing filed in the 31st Judicial District Court of Gray County, Cause No. 5216, styled The State of Texas v. Henry Watkins Skinner. See TEX. CODE CRIM. PROC. art. 64.05. Appellant’s execution is stayed pending the resolution of this appeal.
Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Chapter 64, which provides for DNA testing, has undergone several changes since its creation, but those changes have never been reviewed in the particular context of this case. Because the DNA statute has changed, and because some of those changes were because of this case, we find that it would be prudent for this Court to take time to fully review the changes in the statute as they pertain to this case.
Furthermore, in denying the motion for DNA testing, the convicting court has failed to enter determinations under Texas Code of Criminal Procedure article 64.03. The convicting court shall enter an order containing the relevant Article 64.03 determinations within 15 days of the date of this order. That order shall then be included within a supplemental clerk’s record, which record shall be forwarded to this Court within 30 days of the date of this order.

Friday, November 04, 2011

27 Wrongfully Convicted Urge Texas Gov. Perry to Allow DNA Test for Hank Skinner

In a letter to Texas Governor Rick Perry, 27 exonerated ex-death row survivors—all members of the group Witness to Innocence— urged the governor to halt the execution of Hank Skinner and allow for DNA testing in his case. Skinner, who was sentenced to death for a 1995 triple murder, has a scheduled execution date of November 9.

“We, the undersigned, are alive today because some individual or small group of individuals decided that our insistent and persistent proclamations of innocence warranted one more look before we were sent to our death by execution.  We are among the 138 individuals who have been legally exonerated and released from death rows in the United States since 1973, and some of us were exonerated because of DNA evidence,” the exonerees said in the letter.  The group also reminded Perry that he signed SB 122 into law, a measure which is intended to ensure that DNA will be tested, if available, to prove someone’s innocence.

In a recent op-ed in the Huffington Post, Witness to Innocence member Kirk Bloodsworth, the first DNA exoneree in a capital conviction in the U.S., echoed these sentiments. “The only reason my name was cleared, and the right man brought to justice, is because prosecutors agreed to test the evidence. I am living proof that when scientific evidence is available, there is simply no excuse to refuse testing,” he said.

“Like Troy Davis in Georgia, there are some real questions regarding the Hank Skinner case.  The state of Texas does not know whether Skinner committed the crime because they did not test his DNA,” said David A. Love, Executive Director of Witness to Innocence. “If Texas doesn’t want to risk killing a potentially innocent man, then Gov. Perry has no choice but to stop the execution and allow for the DNA test.”

If you would like to schedule an interview with Kirk Bloodsworth or Ray Krone, another DNA exoneree, contact Hooman Hedayati at 201-601-7231 or Kathy Spillman at 267-847-1482.
The mission of Witness to Innocence, the nation’s only organization founded by and for exonerated death row survivors, is to empower exonerated ex-death row prisoners and their family members to become effective leaders in the movement to abolish the death penalty.

Witness to Innocence Exoneree Letter for Hank Skinner

Sunday, October 30, 2011

CEDP National Convention in Austin, TX

The Prison System is the New Jim Crow
The CEDP"s 11th Annual Convention
November 11-13
At Ventana Del Soul
1834 East Oltorf, Austin, Texas

Register at:

This November, the Campaign to End the Death Penalty is headed straight to the belly of the beast—Texas—for a weekend of struggle and organizing!

The murder of Troy Davis by the state of Georgia on September 21 horrified millions of people the world over—and has sparked a renewed national discussion of the death penalty in the United States. We will spend the weekend sharing our stories and experiences, working to build our forces and strategizing the next steps forward for our movement and our organization.

Speakers will include former prisoners, family members, activists, lawyers, scholars and others. They include:

Former prisoners: Lawrence Hayes, Jazz Hayden, Mark Clements and Darby Tillis.

Family members: Sandra Reed, Delia Perez Myers, Jeannine Scott,  Terri Been, Barbara Lewis, Lawrence Foster Sr, Kenneth Foster Sr., and Sandrine Ageorges Skinner, Troy’s sister, Martina Correia will address the convention via telecom along with her son DeJaun Correia.

Activists: Jesse Muhammad, Jack Bryson, Jessica Escobar and Elizabeth Gilbert and many others. 

The convention kicks off with a Friday evening event at the University of Texas, Southern Injustice:  Fighting racism and the death penalty.  The panel features 
Sandrine Ageorges Skinner (wife of Texas death row prisoner Hank Skinner, scheduled to be killed on November 9th), Jesse Muhammad (Activist and journalist with the Nation of Islam out of Houston) and Sandra Reed (mother of Texas death row prisoner Rodney Reed.)
Other sessions over the weekend include:  

We ARE all Troy Davis: The struggle continues * The Prison System is the New Jim Crow * Prisoner Resistance: From Attica to DRIVE to Pelican Bay * Rick Perry, Cameron Todd Willingham and the scandal of the Texas death penalty * The Texas Law of Parties:  What it is and why we need to fight it. * Not in our name:  How executions create victims on both sides.

For a full program schedule and to register, go to