Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Year in Death

Taken from Capital Defense Weekly:

WAPO offers “The Year in Death,” a brutal condemnation of the death penalty 2006.

THE YEAR 2006 saw the fewest executions in the United States in a decade, 53. The use of capital punishment has been dropping since 1999, when 98 people were executed. The number of new death sentences is also falling precipitously, according to data from the Death Penalty Information Center, and the number of people on death row is dropping off as well. At least for now, capital punishment remains in retreat.

Perhaps the most striking indicator of this retreat is the degree to which executions are becoming a local phenomenon. While the preponderance of states have a death penalty, very few use it as a routine feature of their criminal justice systems. This year, 14 states carried out executions, but only six of them — Texas, Ohio, North Carolina, Florida, Oklahoma and Virginia — carried out more than one. Together, these states accounted for 85 percent of executions this year. All by itself, Texas, which executed 24 people, accumulated 45 percent. Over the previous three years, the leading six states for executions accounted for between 70 and 83 percent of executions annually. The less the death penalty gets used, the more it becomes a creature of its heartland: the South, and Texas especially.

Although 38 states and the federal government have the death penalty on their books, only 18 states have executed more than 10 people since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Many states with laws that permit capital punishment use it only rarely — such as Maryland — and some don’t use it at all.

Note that we are expecting January 2006 to be just as eventful with the New Jersey Commission on Capital Punishment’s Report due any day & the SCOTUS’s action on the trio of Texas capital cases due as early as this week.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Ramsey Clark on planned execution of Saddam Hussein, other defendants in Iraq

"The sudden decision of the so-called appeals court in Iraq, which did
not take the time to examine the trial record and defense briefs, has
set the stage for the imminent execution of Saddam Hussein, two other
defendants and the surrender of four other defendants to the Iraqi
government, exposing them to summary executions, torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading punishment - all in violation of U.S. and international

"The decision could take place at any moment. The Iraqi government and
the Bush administration apparently plan to carry out this execution

"The great weight of international legal opinion has found the Iraqi
Special Tribunal subject to political pressures, lacking independence and
not impartial, and that the trial failed to provide due process of law
and was unfair. The Iraqi Study Group found political interference with
Iraqi courts 'ruthless.' Executions following such a notoriously unfair
trial will severely harm the rule of law.

"Executions, if they occur in the midst the present violence, are
expected to cause a long term increase in the level of violence causing more
U.S. and Iraqi casualties.

"Saddam Hussein and his co-defendants are in the custody of the U.S.
military in Iraq. They will be turned over to Iraq only on the order of
or with the approval of President Bush. His pending decision will have
long term consequences for the peace and stability of Iraq, and for the
rule of law as a means to peace."

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Creating More Victims: How Executions Hurt the Families Left Behind

National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty has started a ten-part series based on the groundbreaking report, Creating More Victims: How Executions Hurt the Families Left Behind. This series was prepared with the assistance of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights and is running in conjunction with the holiday season.

You can read the first five parts in the NCADP blog.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Florida and California suspend executions

Jeb Bush suspended all executions in Florida after a medical examiner said Friday that prison officials botched the insertion of the needles when a convicted killer was put to death earlier this week. Separately, a federal judge in California extended a moratorium on executions in the nation's most populous state, declaring that the state's method of lethal injection violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

In Florida, medical examiner Dr. William Hamilton said Wednesday's execution of Angel Nieves Diaz took 34 minutes — twice as long as usual — and required a rare second dose of lethal chemicals because the needles were inserted clear through his veins and into the flesh in his arms. The chemicals are supposed to go into the veins.

David Elliot, spokesman for the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said experts his group had contacted suspected that liver disease was not the explanation for the problem.

"Florida has certainly deservedly earned a reputation for being a state that conducts botched executions, whether its electrocution or lethal injection," Elliot said. "We just think the Florida death penalty system is broken from start to finish."

Read the full article on Yahoo News.

Picture: The daughter of Angel Nieves Diaz, Debbie Nieves, left, and her aunt, Nena Nieves, right, cry outside the Florida State Correctional Facility in Starke, Fla. Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2006 before Diaz was executed in the prison. A man convicted of murdering the manager of a topless bar 27 years ago was executed by injection Wednesday despite his protests of innocence and requests for clemency made by the governor of his native Puerto Rico. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Families of homicide victims, executed face similar ef fects

By Kiah Collier
The Daily Texan

Surviving family members of homicide victims and of those who have been executed by the state suffer similar psychological consequences, according to a report released Sunday by Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights, an anti-death penalty group.

The report, titled "Creating More Victims: How Executions Hurt the Families Left Behind," is based on interviews with three dozen family members of people who have been executed across the nation and recommends that the 2005 United Nations Commission on Human Rights resolution condemning the death penalty be adopted in the United States. The report said this ruling should be the basis for giving family members of the executed the same rights as victims of violent crime.

"The report shows that the dramatic consequences suffered by family members of those executed are really more similar to than different from the traumatic experience of having a family member murdered," said Susannah Sheffer, a member of the human rights group.

Hooman Hedayati, Longhorns Against the Death Penalty president and pre-computer sciences sophomore, said the report shows that the death penalty perpetuates a cycle of violence.

"It also shows that the death penalty will not bring the healing and reconciliation that were promised to the murder victim family members," he said.

An organizing board member of the human rights group and contributor to the report Robert Meeropol, was 6 years old in 1953 when his parents Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed for "conspiracy to commit espionage." Meeropol contributed the issue of the impact of state execution on children.

"No one has studied how the execution of an immediate family member impacts children," Meeropol said in the report. "We don't know the effect that having a parent executed will have upon their impressionable lives and the cost society may pay for that impact."

Many see the death penalty as "collateral damage" to families of the executed.

The report offers a list of recommendations for reform including a suggestion to lawmakers to give legal rights to families of the executed in order to provide financial help with paying for medical care, mental health services and funerals after the execution of a family member.

"If our real concern is justice, then we should focus on building the kind of social support network that would give people the opportunity and resources they need to establish a life where they could contribute to society instead of committing these violent acts," said Stefanie Collins, a UT law student and member of the UT Campaign to End the Death Penalty.

The nation is divided on the issue of the death penalty, with about a 50-50 split among respondents when asked whether they generally prefer the death penalty or mandatory life imprisonment for murderers, according to a July ABC News/Washington Post poll.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Student play explores death penalty

By Vianna Davila
The last words on the convicted killer's lips were, "I love you."

A crowd hovered around him as he prepared to die by injection — the ghosts of the teenage couple he killed; the parents determined to avenge their deaths; and the nun who pledged to be with him as he was executed.

This scene from an execution chamber is being evoked at Providence High School, where, for the past two months, students have been preparing to perform "Dead Man Walking." The show, which also includes Central Catholic High School students, opens tonight.

The play tells the story of death-penalty opponent Sister Helen Prejean and the spiritual journey she takes with Matthew Poncelet, a Louisiana death row inmate convicted of murdering teenagers Walter Delacroix and Hope Percy the night they graduated from their Louisiana high school.

Prejean will be at Providence High School on Monday to speak about her work.

The play asks the audience to consider the ultimate act of violence and the price of the death penalty.

It's heavy stuff for the teenage cast members, half of whom performed in the school's production of the musical "The Wiz" last spring.

"At first it seemed really odd and like something we really shouldn't do in high school," said Adrian Bates, 15, the sophomore who plays Prejean. "We've felt some real emotions now that we have gotten into it."

Like the majority of her classmates, Adrian doesn't know anyone in prison, let alone on death row. She is among those who came to the play with strong opinions about the death penalty.

It's "wrong to kill no matter what," she said.

Others are struggling with what they think. That's what Tim Robbins, the actor and director who adapted Prejean's memoir for his movie — also called "Dead Man Walking" — intended when he adapted it again as a play for high school and college students around the country to perform.

Central High School junior Matthew Flores, who helped design the show's lighting, was against the death penalty until a friend's sister was murdered.

Now, he's struggling with the issue again.

"I'm so confused, I don't know which way is up," he said.

A tough issue

"I actually felt like it happened to me," said Jocelyn Stewart, the freshman playing Hope Percy. "I know it's not the actual feeling, but it's close."

The murders are based on those committed by two death-row inmates Prejean counseled in Louisiana, Elmo Patrick Sonnier and Robert Willie. The character Poncelet is a composite of both men.

In the play, Poncelet and an accomplice kidnap Delacroix and Percy from a darkened lover's lane. Delacroix is shot twice in the head. Percy is raped and stabbed 17 times.

Poncelet refuses to admit to the murders, demanding a lie detector test so he can prove to his mother that he's innocent. Only in one of the final scenes does Poncelet confess his role to Prejean.

Darrell Martin, technical director for the school, fired an e-mail to other faculty when he learned about the production.

"From an educational standpoint, it didn't bother me," Martin said. "But from a personal standpoint, I wanted them to see the victim's side of the story."

Victims' rights groups have protested against Prejean.

"She's been very compassionate with them," said Maureen Fenlon, national director for the Dead Man Walking School Theatre Project. "She can understand their pain."

To prepare for the role of Poncelet's mother, Lucille, sophomore Yasmin Abu-Al-Jaibat, watched programs about prison. She asked questions her mother never expected: Mom, if I go to prison will you come to visit me?

"This is not a conversation (Yasmin) and I would have had before," said Angela Rodriguez, Yasmin's mom.

The play doesn't require the audience to decide what it thinks of the death penalty, Fenlon said. It asks the question, why?

"In the story nobody is getting away without suffering with some aspect of what happened," Fenlon said.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Shrine For Luis

Art installation designed by Baroness Carrie von Reichardt as a tribute to Death Row victim Luis Ramirez.

Soundscape by Paul Blackwood incorporating some of Luis' favourite music and excerpts from KDOL radio's broadcast - the Luis Ramirez Show to mark his execution.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Book Review - Back from the Dead: One Woman's Search for the Men Who Walked off America's Death Row

As a 'Moderate Conservative', my interest in this book was initially based only on two factors 1) the author was a native San Antonian and 2) the statistical analysis approach appealed to the math major in me.

With that said, I can now say I have rarely read a book that caused me to examine my own deeply held beliefs, prejudices and opinions so honestly. Much like the authors mother, I have allways subscribed to the concept of 'an eye for an eye' and have believed in the good 'ol Texas version of justice.

Mrs. Cheever very carefully and very methodically tracked down, researched and interviewed men that our justice system said should now be dead. She very candidly discusses those that the justice system may have been right about (those that continued to kill and commit crimes). But she also takes us into the homes and lives of men who were in fact 'rehabilitated' and lived (and still live) productive, law-abiding and loving lives. However, she does not glamorize those men, nor does she excuse the crimes they committed. At all times, she keeps the reader aware of the innocent lives that were lost and the family's that still deal with the grief of those losses.

She raises the very valid question -can those sentenced to death as 'no hope for rehabilitation' actually be rehabilitated? While the justice system and arm-chair psychiatrists have strong opinions - Mrs. Cheever has used actual facts to unquestionably prove that 'Yes' it can be done and has been done.

Due to a brief stay of execution afforded these men - the world has the opportunity to see what became of their lives - lives that should not have continued based on the death sentence they received for their crimes.

After finishing the book, I cannot honestly say that I am yet opposed to the death penalty as a set-in-stone rule. However, I can say that I was immensely moved by both her passion, her words and her research. I can also say that I am glad that those men who were 'rehabilitated' were able to live their lives giving back to the communities, schools and church's that believed in them.

The American Public has been given a great book to explore complex and painful ideas - I only hope that we take the opportunity to learn what lessons lie in it.
Katrina D. Mukherjee (San Antonio, Texas USA)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Is no MySpace sacred?

Here is the letter I sent to San Antonio Current regarding David Mass's article on Andy Kahan. Published November 28, 2006.
Kudos to Dave Maass for exposing Andy Kahan of Crime-Victim Services of Houston’s Mayor Office [“Is no MySpace sacred?” November 22-28]. Mr. Kahan has always tried to harass the anti-death penalty activists through his dishonest conducts and always in the name of victims. In response, the anti-death-penalty activists need to organize even more than before and reach to the victim family members through groups such as Murder Victim Families for Reconciliation ( while helping the family members of death-row inmates. The Texas death-penalty system is broken and we cannot achieve a moratorium on executions as long as we are not able to address the false arguments of Mr. Kahan and his peers.

Hooman Hedayati,
President, Texas Students Against the Death Penalty

Monday, November 27, 2006

2007 Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break

Atwood: We are all guilty of homicide

Here is David Atwood's commentary in today's Austin American Statesman.
Monday, November 27, 2006

Texas has carried out 24 executions this year. It would have been 25, but Charles Nealy narrowly missed the executioner's needle on Nov. 16. No other state in the Union had more than five executions; 46 states had one or none.

Texas continues to carry out executions with a vengeance, and that is what it is, institutionalized vengeance. Texas does not have to do this.

The death penalty is not needed to protect society. Such protection can be achieved through long-term incarceration. And we now have life without parole as an optional punishment for capital murder. Furthermore, the death penalty does not deter violent crime by others. This was shown once again in a 1999 study by a number of Texas professors.

My heart goes out to the victims of crime and their families, but an execution is not the answer to their pain. The healing they seek can be realized only through a loving God, a caring community and time.

We are, sadly, all complicit when it comes to the death penalty in Texas. Politicians who support this punishment are particularly complicit because they use it as a means to promote their political careers. If they really wanted to be "tough on crime," they would strengthen programs that effectively prevent crime such as child protective services, mental health services and drug rehabilitation programs.

The criminal justice system is complicit because it is biased in favor of executions. This begins with a system that excludes many people from serving on juries because they don't believe in the death penalty. It continues with incompetent and/or underfunded defense attorneys, judges who often allow grievous errors to go uncorrected, an appeals process that closes the door on legitimate claims, and a clemency process that fails to deliver either mercy or justice.

Texas has sent a number of innocent people to death row and has executed several with strong claims of innocence including Ruben Cantu, Cameron Willingham and Carlos Deluna.

People who carry out the executions are also complicit. Throughout history, people have committed atrocities and justified doing so by saying they were just carrying out orders. That is not a valid excuse if we believe in personal responsibility.

Christians who support the death penalty are complicit. Apparently they have forgotten Jesus' teachings about mercy and forgiveness.

And the citizens of the state are complicit by continuing to elect politicians who support the death penalty, and by not protesting when executions are carried out in their names.

Much of the world considers the United States to be a huge violator of human rights. Texas, with nearly 380 executions since 1982, is considered the worst offender. We may say that we don't care what others think, but I wonder how God will judge us. We are all guilty of homicide. We are all complicit.

Atwood, a member of Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, is on the Texas Murder Victims for Reconciliation advisory board.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Social Science and Law - Jury Selection

Watch the video in QuickTime or in RealVideo.

Mary Rose is assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Texas in Austin and the School of Law. Her research concerns lay people’s understanding of law/legal practices, justice perceptions, jury behavior and emotions and law.

She has written on a variety of topics including the effects of jury selection practices on jury representativeness, citizen reactions to jury selection questioning, jury damage awards, and public views of fairness in sentencing.

Professor Rose is also an investigator on the landmark study of decision making among 50 deliberating juries from Pima County, Ariz. She serves on the editorial boards of Law & Social Inquiry, Law & Society Review and is a trustee of the Law & Society Association.

In 2005, her research on the peremptory challenge was cited in the U.S. Supreme Court decision Miller-el v. Dretke (Breyer, J., concurring).

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Woman's family sues CNN, Nancy Grace

According to Associated Press the family members of Melinda Duckett are suing Nancy Grace and CNN, accusing them of "pushing over the edge." I'm wondering if Nancy Grace could be considered an accomplice in the suicide according to the Law of Parties in Texas.

Melinda Duckett shot herself to death on Sept. 8, one day after taping a segment on Grace's CNN Headline News show in which Grace interrogated Duckett about her whereabouts on the August day that 2-year-old Trenton Duckett was reported missing. The network aired the segment after Melinda Duckett's death.

Investigators have since named Melinda Duckett as the prime suspect in his disappearance.

Jay Paul Deratany, the attorney for Duckett's estate, said that Grace encouraged Duckett to appear on her show by saying the goal was to draw public attention to help find the boy.

"It's not just about the questioning. It's about the misrepresentation with the knowledge that she was emotionally distraught," Deratany said. The attorney said Grace improperly took on the role of a law enforcement officer.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

CNN Headline News said in a statement: "We stand by Nancy Grace and fully support her, as we have from the beginning of this matter."

Monday, November 20, 2006

Texas appeals court does not ensure justice

Austin American Statesman has another great editorial about the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Statesman earlier called for the abolition of Court of Criminal appeals and giving the charge to Texas Supreme Court:
Justice is not always easy to come by in Texas, particularly for death-row inmates who have to depend on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for a review of their cases.

This state's highest appeals court for criminal cases consistently ignores justice, even when the evidence of injustice is clear. True to its recent history, the court last week rejected two appeals from condemned inmates whose trials were travesties of justice.

The most ardent death penalty advocate understands that a capital murder proceeding must guarantee a fair trial. One of the strongest arguments against capital punishment in Texas is that the judicial system is so broken that innocent defendants can be condemned and executed.

Last week's rulings by the Court of Criminal Appeals provided more evidence for those who hold that view. In separate rulings, the court upheld the convictions of Jose Ernesto Medellin and Daniel Acker, 2 convicted murderers who had clearly inadequate defense attorneys at their trials.

Neither Acker nor Medellin is a model citizen, and the crimes they were convicted of are horrible. Acker was found guilty of killing his girlfriend in Hopkins County, and Medellin was convicted and condemned for the rape and murder of two teenage girls in Houston.

Nevertheless, even the most despicable defendant should be afforded competent counsel at trial. In fact, the more heinous the crime, the more the state should ensure the defendant has a good lawyer and a fair trial. That was not the case for Acker and Medellin.

Last month, American-Statesman reporter Chuck Lindell detailed the horrendous appeal filed by Acker's court-appointed attorney, Greenville lawyer Toby Wilkinson. The appeal was largely taken from a ranting letter Acker had written. Also, Wilkinson's writ was filled with errors.

That didn't matter to the appeals court judges, who rejected the appeal without mention of the awful condition of Wilkinson's writ.

Medellin's case went all the way to the International Court of Justice in the Hague and provoked a memorandum from President Bush. News reports focused on the Texas appeals court's admonishing the president for overstepping his authority under the Constitution's separation of powers doctrine, but the heart of the issue is still ineffective counsel.

Medellin is a Mexican national, one of 51 Mexicans on death row in the United States that the international court said deserved reconsideration and review because they had not contacted their consuls. Bush last year directed state courts to abide by the ruling of the United Nations' court.

The Texas judges didn't like that, and in denying Medellin's appeal, wrote that the president had overstepped his authority. Perhaps, but that ignores the fact that Medellin's 1994 trial was flawed. His court-appointed defense attorney was suspended from practicing law during the trial for ethical violations, and he failed to call any witnesses during the punishment phase.

International treaties should ensure fairness for everyone. Americans arrested abroad most certainly want to be able to contact their government officials and be assured a fair trial. Their rights can only be secured as long as foreign nationals arrested and tried in this country are afforded those same considerations.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals continues to ignore justice and common sense, and it has been admonished for its untenable rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court, which is where these 2 cases are inevitably headed.

Support for capital punishment in Texas wanes a little each year, in no small part because cases like Acker's and Medellin's raise so much doubt in the public mind about the system's fairness. It is essential that anyone on trial for his life have competent counsel and a fair trial. But that isn't happening in Texas because the Court of Criminal Appeals neglects its duty.
Source: Editorial, Austin American-Statesman

Thursday, November 16, 2006

News Alerts

I will be at the "Dialogue on the Death Penalty" conference at the Oglethorpe University tomorrow and at the School of America's vigil this Saturday.

Here are some of the recent news alerts:

Russia may extend death penalty moratorium
[JURIST] Russia [JURIST news archive] may effectively extend a death penalty moratorium [Pravda report] for three years if the State Duma [official website, in ...

Supreme court retains death penalty
AND - Johannesburg,Gauteng,South Africa
By KELVIN CHONGO. THE Supreme Court in Zambia has rejected a petition to abolish the death penalty because it had no constitutional powers to do so. ...

Death penalty defended
Stanly News & Press - Albemarle,NC,USA
Sunday, November 12, 2006 — Death is warranted as punishment for Guy Tobias LeGrande, who is scheduled to receive the death penalty Dec. ...

Exonerated death row inmate to speak on death penalty - USA
... death row by DNA evidence hopes Democratic Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley will be more open to considering whether to abolish or suspend the death penalty than his ...

Susan Hagstrom: Death penalty would present brutality over wisdom
The Capital Times - Madison,WI,USA
Dear Editor: Channel 3 had a story saying a majority of Wisconsin residents favored a death penalty. Are they aware of the details behind the issue? ...

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

State Vs Rodney Reed documentary - Full Version 59 min

State vs. Reed" is a 60 minute documentary that explores an explosive capital murder trial in Texas that has resulted in a questionable death penalty conviction of Bastrop, Texas' Rodney Reed. Reed, a then-28 year-old black male with a minor criminal record, was convicted in 1998 of the murder of Stacey Stites, a 19 year-old finacee' of a local police officer named Jimmy Fennell. Though Fennell was the primary suspect for over a year who failed two polygraph examinations, Reed was eventually arrested after DNA found on the victim was connected to him. Reed claims that he and the victim, who was Caucasian, shared a consensual sexual affair for over 6 months and that an encounter the night before would account for the finding of his DNA as well as a possible motive for the real killer. "State vs. Reed" dives into this complex and potentially benchmark case that still rattles the citizens of this small Central Texas town. By talking to those who knew best -- friends of the victim and family of the defendent, investigators, lawyers, journalists and Reed himself, on Texas' notorious Death Row -- the award winning documentary reveals a case fraught with open questions and unusual coincidences. Ultimately, the documentary reveals the mistake-prone system that sentences men and woman to death in the state of Texas at a rate incomparable around the world. Filmmakers Bustoz and Polomski are first-time feature filmmakers, though have worked in the medium in central Texas for years. Previously, they have worked on the internationally screened short documentary, "Hecho a Mano: Tres Historias de Guatemala". "State vs. Reed" premiered at the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival where it won the Lone Star States Audience Award. It has since been screened multiple times in the central Texas area, including PBS.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

TSADP essay contest

The TSADP Essay Contest is open to all 11th and 12th grade Texas high school students. To participate, you must write an essay explaining why a moratorium on executions is necessary in Texas. Essays are judged on both style and content. The winning essay must demonstrate an outstanding grasp of the death penalty system in Texas. Complete contest guidelines are available on the Web site.

Awards: 12th Grade winner $200
12th grade runner-up $50
11th grade winner $200
11th grade runner-up $50

Deadline for entries is Feb 1st, 2006

Visit our website for complete rules and instructions.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Venting -- 24 Hours of Hell

In less than 24 hours I have left work and driven like a bat out of hell with 4 fellow activists so that I could be in Huntsville by 5:30 to protest the murder of Willie Shannon and then gone to court this morning so that Harris "Kill 'em All" County could set an execution date for a wonderful friend and innocent man, Joseph Nichols-Bey, and then tracked down an African Liberation Flag for Saturday's funeral.

Damn! I would have rather been bird watching or sleeping or teaching or even cleaning my house instead of dealing with death and grief and racism and injustice.
There were almost 20 of us outside the Walls Unit death house last night as Willie Shannon was executed. His parents could not bring themselves to make the trip inside to witness their son being killed, but his loved-one, Regina Schmall, and three friends were with Willie until his last breath.

After touching Willie’s still-warm face and saying good-bye at the Huntsville Funeral Home last night, I tried to sleep after I got home but kept reliving the words that Willie told Regina this week during last visits--that he remembered me and my beautiful granddaughter telling him hello through the glass at the Ellis Unit so often many years ago.

My granddaughter Luchita was 5-7 years old when I babysat on Saturday nights as her mom waited tables. My daughter was in college then and working full time to raise Chita and pay rent and stay in school. So every Saturday night Chita would drive with me to Huntsville for death row visits. She got to know Tee, Emerson, Carlos, Nick-Bey, Nanon, Kamau and so many other guys because she would walk around and talk to them while I visited. Chita is now a senior in high school, making plans for college and medical school, but as a child she delighted the men at the Ellis Unit with her beautiful smile and cheery hello's. And Willie remembered this. I was truly touched. Willie looked so peaceful as Regina gently stroked his face and spoke to him after the execution. We are so glad that she could offer him comfort these last weeks and now we hope we can help comfort her with this tremendous loss.

I woke up early today, even though I had taken a sick day, so I could do a live interview with WBAI, the Pacifica radio station in New York City, at 6:40 AM. They wanted to talk about the death row hunger strike that is going on. Finally, the New York Times reported on it, so now it is legitimate news.

Then at 10:00 AM I went to the Harris County Courthouse and walked in to Judge Harmon's courtroom on the 19th floor to find the place packed with Joe's family and friends. His mother, father, his 3 brothers and one sister, his aunts, uncles, numerous nieces and nephews, cousins, high school friends and a bunch of abolitionists were there for Joseph as well as being there for his mom who works with us in the struggle.

Joe was told he was scheduled to die at 6:00 PM on March 7.

Then, in an unexpected move, the court let him speak from his chair at the attorneys' table to his family. He recognized everyone and called most of them by name. He cracked jokes with his brothers and his father. He actually had everyone laughing and enjoying the mass family conversation.

But as the family flowed from the courtroom 15 minutes later, there was a strange mixture of laughter and tears, of smiles on sorrowful faces. Everyone was so happy to have been able to speak with Joseph, yet the devastation of knowing the exact date and time that he would leave them was overwhelming. The countdown has begun.

Joseph still has appeals before the US Supreme Court and like Kenneth Foster, James Beatherd, Jesse Gutierrez, Carlos Santana and countless others, he is a victim of the law of parties. He and a friend had robbed a store over 25 years ago but had left the store when much to Joe's surprise the other guy went back in and shot the owner. Not only did Joseph not know this was going to happen, but it was not planned, and he was as surprised as anyone that it did. Nick-Bey's mom spoke at the rally to stop executions in Austin on October 28. She has worked with the Abolition Movement for over a decade, but this was the first time she had spoken in public about her son. She was so grateful to the chairs of the rally for giving her that opportunity.

For those of us in the Abolition Movement who were there with the family today, watching this loving family get the most devastating news of their lives was difficult. We left with our hearts filled with sadness but also with righteous anger at a criminal justice system that is racist to the core and one does not value the lives of the working class.

We are outraged that on Saturday we will go to Willie's funeral. Today I found the large African Liberation flag to put on Willie's coffin and Regina bought the black beret and black boots and our friend, Bro Kenya, is looking for a Panther button. Willie had been a member of PURE--Panthers United for Revolutionary Education, and wants to be buried as a Panther. Tomorrow, Howard Guidry, who was on death row for 10 years before his case was sent back for retrial in Harris County, will call me from the jail and dictate a statement to be read at Willie's funeral. Howard and Willie were both Panthers. We will see to it that Willie gets his last wish.

I know that the death penalty is not the only evil in this system. I teach kids every day whose mothers have to choose between food and utilities. I see kids that are the victims of family violence because their parents are so frustrated at trying to survive that they take it out on the children. Under capitalism, where medical care can be denied if you don’t have money, where affordable housing is a joke, where the children of the working poor join the army to stay off the streets and out of prison, violence is a way of life. Just look at what the US has done to the people of Iraq!

To end the injustices of the criminal injustice system, we must ultimately get rid of this system. Like the death penalty, it is broken for working people and poor people and people of color, and it cannot be fixed

Long Live Willie Shannon! Damn this despicable system! Let's fight like hell to stop ALL executions, from Charles Nealey's this month through Joe's in March!

Gloria Rubac

"Without struggle, there can be no progress."
Frederick Douglass

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Texas Inmates Protest Conditions With Hunger Strikes

Ralph Blumenthal of New York Times has an article on Texas death-row hunger strikers.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice said that the first inmates began refusing food Oct. 8 and that two were still on hunger strikes in the Polunsky prison unit in Livingston, about 45 miles east of the execution unit in Huntsville. The Polunsky Unit houses death-row inmates until their executions. As of Tuesday, one inmate had missed 35 consecutive meals and one 17 meals, but no one has yet been force-fed, said a department spokeswoman, Michelle Lyons.

"Either conditions will improve, or we will starve to death,” vowed one of the first hunger strikers, Steven Woods, in an Internet posting put up by groups opposed to the death penalty. Since death row was moved from an older and more open facility in 2000, he said, “We lost all our group recreation, art programs, and supplies” in addition to “work programs, televisions and religious services.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Midnight results

Total Reporting:77%
Name (Party) Votes Pct.

Rick Perry (R) 1,432,91239%

Chris Bell (D) 1,067,71329%

Carole Keeton Strayhorn (I) 656,84718%

Kinky Friedman (I) 447,18512%

James Werner (L) 21,8480%

James 'Patriot' Dillon (WI) 7060%

Total Reporting:77%
Name (Party) Votes Pct.

Greg Abbott (R) 2,130,37960%

David Van Os (D) 1,300,61236%

Jon Roland (L) 113,2143%

Total Reporting:77%
Name (Party) Votes Pct.

Sharon Keller (R) 1,958,16857%

J.R. Molina (D) 1,459,02142%

Total Reporting:77%
Name (Party) Votes Pct.

Barbara Parker Hervey (R) 2,127,02476%

Quanah Parker (L) 668,20723%

Total Reporting:77%
Name (Party) Votes Pct.

Charles Holcomb (R) 2,123,55776%

Dave Howard (L) 655,55323%

Wisconsin Death Penalty
Enact death penalty for first-degree homicide convictions supported by DNA?
2345 of 3597 Precincts Reporting
Yes 794,760 55%
No 652,790 45%

11 pm returns

Precincts Reporting: 5878 Of 8510 69%
Winner Candidate Incumbent Votes Vote %
X Rick Perry (R) X 1,334,672 39%

Chris Bell (D)
1,015,268 30%

Carole Strayhorn (I)
611,801 18%

Kinky Friedman (I)
413,972 12%

James Werner (L)
20,204 1%

Precincts Reporting: 4827 Of 8510 56%
Winner Candidate Incumbent Votes Vote %
X Sharon Keller (R) X 1,581,318 57%

J. Molina (D)
1,172,686 43%

Wisconsin Death Penalty
Enact death penalty for first-degree homicide convictions supported by DNA?
1653 of 3597 Precincts Reporting
Yes 528,345 54%
No 453,325 46%

10 PM results

Precincts Reporting: 3251 Of 8510 38%
Winner Candidate Incumbent Votes Vote %
X Rick Perry (R) X 979,301 39%

Chris Bell (D)
724,699 30%

Carole Strayhorn (I)
445,701 18%

Kinky Friedman (I)
284,650 12%

James Werner (L)
13,892 1%


Precincts Reporting: 1693 Of 8510 19%
Winner Candidate Incumbent Votes Vote %

Sharon Keller (R) X 1,008,132 59%

J. Molina (D)
691,393 41%

Sunday, November 05, 2006

State vs. Reed

If you haven't yet gotten a chance to watch the award-winning
documentary "State vs. Reed," then you're in luck. KLRU (Austin's PBS
affiliate) has just recently begun a new series that will feature
several of the best films from the 2006 SXSW Film Festival. "State
vs. Reed" will be aired this Tuesday evening (11/7) at 7pm on KLRU as
part of this series. Click here for the schedule:

This is great news! "State vs. Reed" is an excellent presentation of
all the issues surrounding Rodney Reed's case. Rodney Reed was
convicted in 1998 for the murder of Stacey Stites. However, as the
film rightly shows, the case for Rodney Reed's innocene is
overwhelming. You can watch the trailer at Youtube.

Please plan to watch the film Tuesday evening. And tell everyone you
know to tune in as well. The more people who know about Rodney's
case, the better. Rodney and the Reed family need everyone's help in
getting him off of Death Row.

One way to help, is to come to our regular weekly meetings. This
week, we'll be meeting in our usual spot in CMA 3.130 on Monday
(11/6). The meeting begins at 7pm.

Students protest death penalty at Capitol

A group of students marched down State Street to the Wisconsin Capitol Wednesday in protest of an advisory death-penalty referendum that will be on the Wisconsin ballot Nov. 7.
Source: Badger Herald

Saddam Hussein sentenced to death

Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is sentenced to death by hanging after being convicted of crimes against humanity by a Baghdad court.
- BBC News

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Editorial: Austin American Statesman

Legislature should starve appeals court

The criminal appeals court should be put out of business because the court has failed in its obligations.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

At some point, the Texas Legislature must weigh whether it should continue directing tens of millions of public dollars to a court that is failing in its most important duty. Lawmakers budgeted nearly $28 million for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for the current two-year cycle.

Legislators should put the criminal appeals court out of business because the court has failed in its obligation to ensure that the condemned received competent legal help.

Texas is operating under an antiquated system that establishes two courts to handle appeals. The State Supreme Court deals with civil matters and the Court of Criminal Appeals handles criminal appeals. It would take a state constitutional amendment to replace the two courts with one supreme court for civil and criminal appeals. The Legislature, however, does have the power to yank the criminal court's budget. It should use that authority to force the court to do its job or put it out of business.

Generally, the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court is widely respected. But the Court of Criminal Appeals — also composed of nine elected GOP judges — has embarrassed the state with a series of bad rulings, many of them regarding the death penalty. Recently, the conservative leaning U.S. Supreme Court signaled its frustration with Texas' criminal appeals court when it agreed to hear three Texas death penalty cases in its next term.

By now, many Texans know about some of the rulings that made national news, including the infamous sleeping lawyer case. In that case, the criminal appeals court judges saw nothing wrong with a defense lawyer who slept through key portions of his client's capital murder trial.

The same court said OK to prosecutors who hid evidence from defense lawyers in several capital murder cases involving indigent defendants.

And it gave thumbs up to racial gerrymandering of a jury by Dallas prosecutors years ago in another capital murder case.

This week, we learned about more disturbing practices that probably are costing people their lives. For years, the court has permitted lawyers to submit sloppy, erroneous and inferior work in death penalty appeals. In a system in which almost anything passes as a writ of habeas corpus to appeal a death sentence, it is very possible that innocent people have been — and will be — put to death.

American-Statesman staff writer Chuck Lindell reported on a broken system that permits lawyers appointed to handle appeals for inmates on death row to submit shoddy, erroneous and incomplete work. That is outrageous in cases involving the ultimate and irreversible punishment: death.

In some cases, Lindell identified lawyers who submitted writs that fell far short of professional standards,

collecting thousands of dollars from taxpayers:

•In a 2003 appeal, Greenville lawyer Toby Wilkinson filed a nearly incoherent collection of statements lifted almost verbatim from his death row client's letters. His client, Daniel Acker, was sentenced to death for the 2000 killing of his girlfriend.

•Dick Wheelan of Houston has submitted a number of habeas writs copied largely verbatim from a death row inmate's direct appeal, even though such claims cannot be considered in a habeas writ.

The State Bar of Texas bears much of the blame for permitting those attorneys to continue practicing in the complex area of habeas death penalty appeals. The bar has been slow to curb incompetent lawyers cashing in on indigent clients.

But the state Court of Criminal Appeals is the ultimate authority in death penalty appeals cases. It regulates the list of lawyers who are deemed competent to represent poor defendants. Also, why are the judges accepting lawyers' shoddy, inferior work in cases involving life and death?

A high school teacher would fail students who plagiarized their work.

Continuing to invest in a court that is indifferent to justice is a waste of taxpayers' money. Get rid of it.

Friday, November 03, 2006




SATURDAY, NOV. 4, 2006

3:00 PM—In front of the Polunsky Unit
3872 FM 350 South, west of Livingston off Hi-way190
Support The Death Row Hunger Strikers!
Support The D.R.I.V.E. Movement!
Support All Who Challenge the Inhumane Conditions!
We demand:
  • Regular housing, not segregation and isolation
  • Unlimited visitation on days preceding an execution date
  • Group recreation
  • An end to gassing, beatings, racist degradation
  • Access to television
  • Religious services
  • Cells with bars, not solid steel doors
  • A work program
  • Arts and crafts / piddling privileges
  • Decent and prompt medical care
  • Nutritious food in adequate proportions
Help--contact officials and demand humane conditions
Warden Massey /Asst Warden Hirsh: 936-967-8082
Texas Board of Criminal Justice: 512-475-3250
Texas Governor Rick Perry: 800-252-9500
D.R.I.V.E. member and innocent man, Kenneth Foster, explains, “We are neither violent or passive. We are combative. We are resisters. We are diverse activists, but, more than anything else, may we be looked upon as men that embraced the sacredness of life and sought to assert the full measure of our humanity in the face of those that would seek to destroy it."


TEXAS DEATH PENALTY ABOLITION MOVEMENT-- 713-237-0357 or 713-503-2633 --

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Death Penalty Protestors March to City Hall

Here is Fox 7 Austin's coverage of the annual march.

Also Austin American Statesman has published the first part of a two-day, multi-article series by Chuck Lindell on the failures in the Texas habeas corpus appeals process.
How ever they have not published anything about the annual march!

Friday, October 27, 2006

David Van Os on Abbott's Proposed Death Penalty for Child Sex Predators

Here is a great statement by David Van Os, the democratic candidate for the Texas Attorney general about the death penalty for child sex predators. Recently the republican attorney general, Greg Abbott has been promoting the death penalty for child sex offenders in TV ads. David Mass of the San Antonio Current has an interesting article about this issue.

In his 30 years as a labor lawyer, Van Os has fought for the rights of thousands of working people in every walk of life. Throughout his legal career he has taken on numerous federal and state court battles in the cause of Constitutional and civil rights, including hard-fought cases vindicating Freedom of Speech and other precious liberties of the Bill of Rights, voting rights cases on behalf of principled organizations such as LULAC and the NAACP, and countless civil rights cases for individuals who would have been powerless were it not for his efforts. He fights for the Constitution.

Here is David Van Os' statement:

While I support stiff penalties for sex predators, I am opposed to punishing a crime that did not result in a death with the death penalty. This makes me the exact opposite of Greg Abbott, who favors the death penalty for 'sex predators' even where the offense did not result in a death.

Applying the death penalty to a crime that did not result in death is disproportionate to the crime and thus unconstitutional in my opinion. Also, reserving the death penalty for homicides saves some crime victims' lives. Making non-homicide crimes subject to the death penalty will result in some criminals killing their victims where they might not have done so, since they have nothing further to lose by committing murder.

Abbott's position on this issue is typical of his grandstanding. It is also typical of the way he deals with families. In his administration of child support, for example, he does not care about the families who are involved in anguishing situations. He only cares about getting his statistics to use as political bragging points. In many sex crime cases the offender is a family member who needs treatment and cure. To apply the death penalty in such cases would only bring more anguish to already distressed families.

Families need help, Greg, not lethal injections.