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.