Monday, January 28, 2008

Karl Chamberlain still has Texas execution date Feb. 21, 2008

Dave Maass, who used to work for the San Antonio Current and now is at the Santa Fe Reporter, has an article on Karl Chamberlain in this week's edition of the SFR. Chamberlain is the only person in Texas who currently has a scheduled execution date. All the other scheduled executions in Texas have been stayed pending a decision in the Baze case.

Across the country, death-row inmates have filed for, and uniformly received, stays of execution as the US Supreme Court considers the constitutionality of the three-chemical lethal injection method employed in 37 states. Yet, no lawyer has so far filed for a stay for Chamberlain.

The Dallas County District Attorney’s Office tells SFR via e-mail that it will withdraw the execution date if the Supreme Court doesn’t rule before Feb. 21. However, the prosecutor’s promise contravenes Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has indicated publicly that the state will not halt executions while the Supreme Court deliberates.

Meanwhile, criminal defense attorneys David Schulman and John Jasuta are fighting to reopen Chamberlain’s case. Schulman tells SFR they expect the Supreme Court to return a ruling on lethal injection as early as March, but more likely June. A stay would give Chamberlain at least another six months more to appeal.

To vacate the execution date, the Dallas prosecutor needs to make a single phone call, one that Schulman says would take only slightly longer than it would to administer the lethal injection.
Maass also conducted a video interview with Mu'ina Arthur, the mother of Karl Chamberlain.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Texas Moratorium Network & ACLU-TX Central TX Chapter

Texas Moratorium Network & ACLU-TX Central TX Chapter
invite all interested members of the community to a

Monday, February 4th, 6pm

Gene's Po Boys
1209 E. 11th St. (at the Rosewood "Y")
(parking behind building)

There are four candidates* -all in the Democrat primary- running to replace Ronnie Earle, generally a well-received prosecutor, even a hero to some, especially for the Public Integrity Unit's indictment of Tom Delay.

But there are some areas in which Earle and his office were lacking, including continuing to seek the death penalty instead of exclusively using life without parole as an alternative and believing police officers are categorically above the law by commonly withholding evidence from grand juries that would likely lead to their prosecution such as with APD's Julie Schroeder (shooting death, Daniel Rocha) and Michael Olsen, who, despite videotaped evidence of wrongdoing in 2003 (excessive force, Jeffrey Thornton), was cleared and put back on the force just to again be cleared again after the shooting death of Kevin Brown last summer. (Both Schroeder and Olsen were fired nonetheless).

Come find out what the candidates believe the DA's priorities should be in matters regarding criminal justice and public safety. This 90-minute forum will attempt to get the candidates on record on a range of important issues, including the death penalty, police misconduct, political corruption, juvenile justice, drug laws and other issues. During one segment of the forum, attendees will be given the opportunity to pose their own questions to the candidates. People may also send suggestions for questions to the contacts below.


Five Minutes for Rodney Reed!

Free Rodney Reed Banner

Its been a while since we sent out a "five minutes for Rodney" action alert, but we hope to make alerts much more frequent.

We have a march for Rodney coming up in Austin on February 2nd. Rodney needs us to promote this march far and wide- we need a big crowd to send a powerful message to the Court of Criminal Appeals that we want a new trial now! Keep in mind, more publicity not only means a bigger march -- it means that more people get exposed to Rodney and the facts of his case.

What can you do? Please use the action alert pasted below to promote the march. How? - take it and paste it on your myspace page and then post it as a comment on your friends' myspace page. Please do this for as many of your friends that you can- especially your friends that live in Austin. The code for the banner is included below so that the banner can be part of the event announcement (for your friends that allow html code in their comments!).

Thanks! Please take a minute to let us know how its going so we can track how much publicity we are generating.

Free Rodney Reed!

Stefanie Collins

We Demand a New Trial for Rodney Reed!
March and Rally in Downtown Austin
Saturday February 2,
Starting at 12PM at South Congress and Monroe, Northeast Corner March to
City Hall Plaza
Rally at City Hall at 1PM (Lavaca and Cesar Chavez)

Featuring speeches from the family and supporters of Rodney Reed.

Texas death row prisoner Rodney Reed’s case is in a critical phase, with the possibility of a new trial greater than ever. His case sits before the Court of Criminal Appeals (over which Texas' killer judge Sharon Keller presides) and oral arguments on the case are scheduled for March 19.

We need your help now to draw Austin's attention to this case and send a clear message to the Court: New trial for Rodney Reed!

In recent weeks, there has been a lot of media around the case. Rodney's defense has long posited that another suspect in the initial investigation is responsible. That suspect, Georgetown police officer Jimmy Fennell was recently indicted for rape and other charges.

Here is a good article on recent developments:

Rodney's case is currently in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, and one goal of the CEDP has been to win a new trial. Your participation in the march is needed to bring us one step closer to winning justice for Rodney Reed!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Eddie Saenz the progressive choice?

Rep. Aaron Pena who single handedly killed the Innocence Commission bill in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee last year is being challenged by Eddie Saenz. Saenz was defeated by Pena in the 2004 Democratic Primary, with Pena winning 64% to Saenz's 35% of the vote. However Saenz seems to be the progressive candidate this time. I sent him an email requesting for some information about his stance on the death penalty. Here is the response.
I support a two-year moratorium on all Texas executions to give law enforcement authorities enough time to determine that our current capital punishment procedures are constitutionally sound. Every prosecution of violent crime must be considered according to what is just, what is best for our community and the victim's family, and what is best for the taxpayer. The hallmark of our criminal justice system should strive for being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime.

I will not only support an innocence commission bill to overturn serious miscarriages of justice, but I will help lead the fight to make sure it isn't sabotaged next time. As you know, last session my opponent waited a full two months to allow a similar bill to be heard in his committee, reportedly on orders from the Republican leadership he supports. On May 19, 2007, he suddenly called for a vote when few Democrats were present. It failed 4-2. The San Antonio Express-News noted: "It should not have languished as it did, and that is Pena's responsibility." ("Again, innocence panel, justice not state priority," San Antonio Express-News, May 23, 2007).

The Texas Jail Project Blanket Drive, January 2008

Cold cells, no blankets. Despite state law, that's the reality for many inmates in Texas county jails, like the seven below. Illness and depression are the results. Help us buy a fellow human being a blanket and send a message: keeping people cold is cruel.

Details of the blanket drive follow the quotes.

1. Angelina County
"My son is pretty tough but he said the cells are kept ridiculously cold, and they are not given adequate cover for sleeping."

2. Burleson County Jail
"My girlfriend is at the cnty. jail. The problem is that the temp. is at about 55 degrees....and she and the rest are freezing cold."

3. Cameron County Jail
"Since I wasn't suffering like the others, they would try to take the sweatshirt away every chance they had so that I could suffer too. Instead, I shared it with the other girls who were freezing. We took turns."

4. Dallas County Jail
"My sister was was cold all night long on the cement floor of the jail. She got so cold that she was still feeling chilled two days later. Due to Reynaud's syndrome, her fingers were snow white all the way to the knuckles when she was released and it took hours and warm water to return to normal color."

5.Harris County Jail
"The women showed me how to wrap myself in toilet paper, but we were still ice cold and catatonic."

6. Hays County Jail
"My friend was locked up in the Hays County jail where it was exceedingly cold with no hot water and no blanket. Is there somebody to report this to?"

7. Williamson County Jail
"He has been incarcerated in Williamson County Jail for about 10 weeks. He said that the jail is kept cold, at the most in the 60s, and the jailers sell warm clothes to the inmates who have money."

The Texas Jail Project Blanket Drive, January 2008
Please go to our website and read how we're going to deliver the blankets. Then click on PayPal and donate $12 for each blanket. One blanket will help but buy more if possible. (Or send a check to TJP, 1712 E. Riverside Dr. Box 190, Austin, TX 78741.)

Sunday, January 20, 2008


By James C. Harrington
Director, Texas Civil Rights Project

As a civil rights advocate and lawyer, I always find the annual celebration of the Dr. Martin Luther King holiday both a good event and a disconcerting one. It is good that the nation has given official recognition to a person of color who lived and gave his life for the cause of justice and equality, seeking to undue centuries of racial oppression.

It’s also a discouraging day because ironically our society actually uses this holiday of festivities to smother Dr. King’s moral challenge to us. We have the uncanny ability to bury the contradictions and inequities that prophetic leaders like Dr. King’s raise up. It’s easier for us to play recordings of his great speeches years ago and to parade through town than to take to heart the actual message he would bring were he still alive. We don’t want to accept that challenge because it makes us as uncomfortable as it did when Dr. King was alive – and it would entail difficult and hard work on our part.

Based on how he lived and the views he expressed, there is no doubt Dr. King would be leading marches against the war in Iraq, as he did during the Vietnam war. He would be in the streets, demonstrating against the unconscionable inequities in our educational system that still discriminates against minority children and effectively segregates them. Dr. King would be leading demonstrations in the struggle to extend health care to poor Americans. And is there any doubt he would be in our face about the increasingly polarized economic system that makes the rich even wealthier at the expense of poor, minority, and middle class Americans? Nor would Dr. King tolerate the demonization of undocumented immigrants whose unfortunate fate is to be victims of an economic dislocation caused by NAFTA and this country’s trade policies.

We forget how unpopular Dr. King was near the end of his life, especially as he turned his focus toward issues of war and poverty in this country, and not just segregation. We would rather put up a statue of him or name a school in his honor that publicly debate the profound questions of social justice and morality he raised.

The same has happened with respect to César Chávez, whose birthday is a state holiday in California. The University of Texas recently dedicated a statue of him, and, judging from the majority of speeches, the audience would have thought he was an education pioneer. Few speakers noted that, first and foremost, César Chávez fought to raise wages and change working conditions by organizing a union. He steadfastly rejected efforts to make him something other than a union leader. Yet, that is precisely what we have done; that’s easier than facing the reality of a subclass of workers who receive a pathetic pittance for laboring hard in America’s fields of plenty.

We cannot let memorial holidays, dedicated schools, or specially-named streets flatten the contradictions that prophetic voices like Dr. King lift up in our society between the ideals we profess and how we actually live them out. We need their vision to shape our future.

To paraphrase labor singer Joe Hill, I am sure Dr. King’s message to us for the day set aside to commemorate him would be, “don’t celebrate, organize.” That would honor his memory better than anything else we could do.

-- end --

The Texas Civil Rights Project, a nonprofit foundation, promotes civil rights and economic and racial justice throughout Texas.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Travis County DA candidates and the death penalty

Last night several different Austin Democratic clubs participated in a combined candidate forum. All four DA candidates were present for questions. Three of the candidates were asked a question related to the death penalty, with exception of Rosemary Lehmberg. So far no one has publicly supported a moratorium on seeking the death penalty in Travis County. Rick Reed seems to be the only candidate to question the death penalty and possibility of executing an innocent person. Videos are posted below.

Rick Reed

Mindy Montford

Garry Cobb

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Student Abolition's Dec 07 Podcast - Interview with Gov. George Ryan

Stop Executions Podcast is a production of Students Against the Death Penalty, with special thanks to our affiliate, Depaul Students Against the Death Penalty and Elliot Slosar.

Part 1

Part 2

Monday, January 14, 2008

Mother of Murder Victim Urging Travis County DA Candidates to Support a Moratorium

Jeanette became intimately familiar with the many flaws of the Texas criminal justice system after two innocent men, Chris Ochoa and Richard Danziger, were wrongfully convicted of her daughter's murder and spent 12 years in prison. They were exonerated and released in 2001. The City of Austin settled separate lawsuits with Danziger and Ochoa for $9 million and $5.3 million respectively in 2003. Danziger also settled with Travis County for $950,000. The actual killer, Achim Marino, was convicted in October 2002.

"The death penalty system in Texas is broken. The next DA in Travis County should reflect how the Travis County community's views on the death penalty have evolved in recent years and pledge that for now the death penalty is off the table within Travis County", said Scott Cobb of Texas Moratorium Network. "If we want to slow down the number of executions in Texas and reduce the risk of executing an innocent person, we need to elect a district attorney who will pledge to impose a moratorium on seeking new death sentences and a moratorium on setting execution dates for cases with existing death sentences. Certainly a DA candidate in Travis County who makes such a pledge will find a rich reward of votes in the Democratic primary", said Cobb.

For more information visit and contribute online through ACTBLUE.

This Week: State vs. Reed Film Screening and Fundraiser Party!

As we began 2008, all executions in the U.S are on hold. New Jersey recently abolished the death penalty. Here in Texas, were able to win the commutation of Texas death row prisoner Kenneth Foster, Jr. In recent weeks, there has been a lot of media around the case of Texas death row prisoner Rodney Reed Rodney's defense has long posited that another suspect in the initial investigation is responsible. That suspect, Georgetown police officer Jimmy Fennell was recently indicted for rape and other charges. Here is a good article on recent developments:

Rodney's case is currently in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, and one goal of the CEDP has been to win a new trial. Rodney's lawyers will present oral arguments to the court on February 6th. Sandra Reed, CEDP member and mother of Rodney, has asked folks to attend.

New trials will get underway this year for Yogurt Shop defendants Michael Scott and Robert Springsteen. The CEDP has been involved in this case for years, along with longstanding CEDP member Jeannine Scott. We maintain that these men are innocent and will be doing support work throughout the trials. Below are some important events in the next two weeks. So come out!



Directed by Ryan Polomski and Frank Bustoz.

This 60 minute film documents the questionable murder conviction of Bastrop resident Rodney Reed. Rodney was convicted of killing Stacey Stites on a single piece of DNA evidence, which was explained by the romantic relationship the two had. However, defense lawyers failed to establish this connection at trial. In addition, strong evidence exists that points to the initial prime suspect, Stacey's fiancée, then Giddings police officer Jimmy Fennell. Hidden DNA evidence and eyewitness testimony all point away from Rodney Reed. For years Rodney's family has fought to expose the facts in this case Join the CEDP in a viewing of this important film. There will be an update on recent developments in the case and of the ongoing struggle to win justice for Rodney Reed.

110 E North Loop Blvd
$5 Donation Requested


Saturday, January 19th at 9PM
Pearl Street Co-op, 2000 Pearl St.

With the death penalty on the defensive, the CEDP has plans to push all the way to abolition! Although we are far from done, this last year has shown that our hard work does pay off--we saved Kenneth Foster, the death penalty was abolished in New Jersey, and all executions have been temporarily halted! Come celebrate these victories and help us work towards new ones with a party at the Pearl Street Co-op. Keg provided. $5-10 donation requested.


Annual MLK Day March & Festival
Monday, January 21st at 9:00 AM

This annual march honors the legacy of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., while celebrating diversity and multi-culturalism in Austin. The Campaign to End the Death Penalty has long looked the the civil rights movement for inspiration in our struggle for abolition. Join the CEDP as we march together under an anti-death penalty banner, and raise awareness about Rodney Reed, about prison conditions and about the death penalty in general.

The 2008 MLK Community March starts at 9 a.m. with a short program at the MLK Statue on the University of Texas campus. Thereafter, we will march to the Captiol for a program at 10 a.m., and then to historic Huston-Tillotson University, where there will also be a Cultural Festival after the March and last until 3 p.m. Look for the CEDP banner to march with us!
More details:


New Trial for Rodney Reed!
March and Rally in Downtown Austin
Saturday February 2, Starting at 12PM
Locations TBA

Rodney’s case is in a critical phase with the possibility of a new trial greater than ever. Join us in spreading the word about the case and demanding justice for Rodney Reed!

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Death Penalty - Does it Really Deter?

One of the most referred-to arguments by proponents of the death penalty is that of deterrence, the idea that when people are executed by the death penalty, other are discouraged from committing crimes that warrant death as a punishment. This is made on the behalf of social utility – we should do that which benefits society most. Death penalty retentionists who base their arguments on social utility suggest that society benefits in that the death penalty 1), punishes those they believe are “irreformable”, and 2), that it is a deterrent to crime, (Mappes and Zembaty 108) at that a greater one than any other form of punishment save torture, which is banned as “cruel and unusual punishment” under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Whether the death penalty is itself cruel and unusual punishment is another question, but the idea that the death penalty is a successful deterrent is, though perhaps the most often-cited reason for the usefulness of capital punishment, simply a fallacy. The fact is, there is to this day no study that we can reliably count on for evidence of deterrence. There are simply too many variables involved to make an accurate statistical connection between the death penalty and crime rates, not to mention that statistical correlation does not entail causation.

The most recent product of these failings is a study that was featured in the Wall Street Journal, written by two professors of Pepperdine University’s Center for Communication and Business, Roy Adler and Michael Summers. Adler and Summers state that their research shows that for every person executed, 74 fewer murders take place the following year. This was based on FBI data regarding the number of executions and the number of murders per year, from 1979 to 2004. The number that they determined is based on changing rates of execution, which steadily increased from the 1980s to 1990s, “lowering the number of murders,” and then decreased after 2001, “increasing the number of murders.” (Adler and Summers)

Adler and Summers’s study is alarming for the following reason: while they admit that there are likely other variables to be considered in this analysis (some I might propose are the availability of law enforcement personnel, public access to weapons, the presence of violence in media such as television and music, and access to education and health services), they suggest that, I quote, “such [variables] might exist, but until [they] can be identified, Occam's razor suggests the simplest solution is probably the actual solution.” (Adler and Summers) This is a highly disturbing thing for two professors who commonly use statistical analyses to say; indeed, not considering all the variables has been the downfall of many a statistical analysis; it is especially so in this case, in which the result we are examining, namely the number of murders in the U.S. every year, is affected by a plethora of things not even considered here.

Sadly, this faulty study received far more attention than it should have, including being lauded by former lawyer and current writer and popular talk show host Michael Smerconish, long a proponent of the death penalty and author of a recent pro-death penalty book. In an article he wrote in the November 11th issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer, he called the Adler and Summers study “stunning” and “bringing no agenda to the table” before he went on to express his disgust at the continuing appeals process of inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal (an issue he has discussed on his MSNBC show) and the Supreme Court’s de facto death-penalty moratorium.

Deterrence is also sometimes supported on the basis of non-statistical arguments. One of these is introduced by Ernest van den Haag, who makes the claim that while we don’t know for certain that the death penalty deters people from committing murder, we should “bet that it does,” on the following basis. If the death penalty does indeed deter and we use it, we save lives; if we don’t, we are leaving innocents to die. If it does not deter and we use it, we have “killed criminals;” if we don’t, we “come out ahead.” Van den Haag suggests it is therefore safer to have the death penalty. (Pojman 139-140) This “Best Bet” argument is troubling for at least two reasons: it assumes that some lives are more valuable than others, and that the use of the death penalty in itself is not a major moral issue. Jeffrey Reiman counters Van den Haag by explaining that anyone who commits a crime already faces a substantial risk of death from household weaponry and law enforcement personnel, and that it does not follow that the death penalty will deter more than any other form of punishment; this has not been studied. (144-145)

A similarly reasoned case is that of the commonsense argument of Louis Pojman, who accepts that there are too many variables to rely on statistics for judging deterrence, but recommends that we can by “common sense” deduce that: 1. What people fear most will have a greater deterrent effect on them, 2. People fear death more than any other punishment currently accepted by society, 3. therefore, the death penalty will deter more than any other accepted punishment. (141). Reiman again counters by suggesting that this makes two faulty assumptions – that there is an infinitely rising fear attached to punishment (rather than it leveling out), and that people make cost-benefit analyses before committing crimes. (146-147)

What, then, are death penalty advocates left with as a motive for keeping the death penalty as a punishment? Only vengeance. Though it is perhaps easy to empathize with the desire of families and friends of murder victims to “repay” those whom they believe have hurt them, it is far more difficult, practically and morally, to put this into effect. First, there is the issue of arresting the true culprit. The racial and class biases that continue to be inherent to the criminal justice system make this far more complicated than simply a matter of good forensics. Next, the idea of retributive justice itself need be reviewed – how do we come by the idea that the death penalty is proportional punishment for murder? Need punishment be proportional? Isn’t the use of death as punishment chosen arbitrarily? These questions remain unsolved, so it does not bode well for us to allow the use of a death penalty system in the meantime.

In review, we see that deterrence cannot be rightly be named a reason for having a death penalty, because there are no statistics to support it, and non-scientific arguments for it have failed. Deterrence continues to be referred to, however, because without it, there is only vengeance as a motive for execution.

Adler, Roy D, and Michael Summers. “Capital Punishment Works.” Wall Street Journal [New York] 2 Nov. 2007: A13. Dow Jones. 11 Dec. 2007 .

Mappes, Thomas A, and Jane S Zembaty. Social Ethics: Morality and Social Policy. 7th ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 2007. 107-109. Rpt. in -.

Pojman, Louis P. “Deterrence and the Death Penalty.” Social Ethics: Morality and Social Policy. 1998. By Thomas A Mappes and Jane S Zembaty. 7th ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 2007. 138-143.

Reiman, Jeffrey. “Common Sense, the Deterrent Effect of the Death Penalty, and the Best Bet Argument.” Social Ethics: Morality and Social Policy. 1998. By Thomas A Mappes and Jane S Zembaty. 7th ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 2007. 143-149.

Smerconish, Michael. “Head Strong: But It Deters Future Killings, Study Says.” Philadelphia Inquirer 11 Nov. 2007. 2007. Media Works. 11 Dec. 2007 .

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Jimmy Fennell to resign after being briefly reinstated

Austin American-Statesman is reporting that Jimmy Fennell who was fired by the George Town Police Department, and then reinstated because of the technical error is planning to resign from the police force.
Bob Phillips, Fennell's criminal defense attorney, said Fennell plans to send a letter of resignation to the department today.
Earlier this week Austin American-Statesman published an interesting article about Fennell's past wrongdoings, complaints, and how it might affect the case of death-row inmate Rodney Reed. According to the article,

Fennell has been accused of being violent multiple times during his career in law enforcement, though he has also been praised by his supervisors for his hard work and reliability.

When Fennell joined the Giddings Police Department in 1995, he became part of a department that had often been accused of roughing up suspects. In a 1998 lawsuit that claimed the department condoned the use of excessive force by its officers, five people said police officers, including Fennell, had beaten them up or injured them.

In that lawsuit, Fennell was accused of bruising and bullying a man while arresting him on what the man claimed were false charges of speeding through town on his motorcycle. In a separate 1997 lawsuit, he was accused of harassing a 19-year-old Giddings man, Mario Murillo, and beating him in front of his family.

Also Fennell has background of mistreating a woman he dated for 13 month.

Pamela Duncan, who said she and Fennell started dating soon after Stites' death, said Fennell stalked her for months after the relationship ended. She made those allegations in a 2006 affidavit submitted by Reed's lawyers supporting his appeal.

After the couple broke up, Fennell stalked and harassed Duncan for months, she said in the affidavit. Fennell often shined a spotlight into her house and swore at her, she said. He pulled over and ticketed men he suspected of dating her and sat in his car infront of the convenience store, shining his headlights into the building, night after night, she said.

Once, he came into the store and wouldn't let her leave her office, she said in the affidavit.Duncan and her co-workers had to call the police to get someone to escort him out, she said.

Duncan filed a report with the police about the incident, she said in the affidavit. But when a friend of hers asked the police for a copy, officers said none existed, the affidavit said. There is no mention of the incident in Fennell's Giddings personnel file.

Phillips, Fennell's lawyer, declined to discuss Fennell's relationship with Duncan.


Directed by Ryan Polomski and Frank Bustoz.

This 60 minute film documents the questionable murder conviction of Bastrop
resident Rodney Reed. Rodney was convicted of killing Stacey Stites on a
single piece of DNA evidence, which was explained by the romantic
relationship the two had. However, defense lawyers failed to establish this
connection at trial. In addition, strong evidence exists that points to
the initial prime suspect, Stacey's fiancée, then Giddings police officer
Jimmy Fennell. Hidden DNA evidence and eyewitness testimony all point away
from Rodney Reed. For years Rodney's family has fought to expose the facts
in this case Join the CEDP in a viewing of this important film. There will
be an update on recent developments in the case and of the ongoing struggle
to win justice for Rodney Reed.

110 E North Loop Blvd
$5 Donation Requested

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

John G Spirko's death sentence commuted to LWOP

Today Tennessee Gov. Ted Strickland commuted death sentence of John G. Spirko to LWOP, short of the clemency request filed by his attorneys. TCASK will probably have some more updates soon. In a statement, the governor said,

John Spirko was convicted, by a jury, of a heinous murder. At times, when he wasn't denying having committed the murder, he appears to have admitted doing so. Ohio and federal trial, appellate and supreme courts reviewed his conviction and upheld it. Alibi claims and claims regarding evidentiary weaknesses, including more recently developed theories and interpretations of evidence, were considered by those courts and rejected. In addition, Governor Taft and I granted Mr. Spirko, collectively, seven reprieves to allow for the analysis of DNA related to the case. Once completed, these DNA tests neither exonerated Mr. Spirko nor implicated him or anyone else.

The Ohio Parole Board twice unanimously recommended against clemency for Mr. Spirko. Most recently, in 2005, six members of the Board recommended against clemency and three recommended that Mr. Spirko be allowed time to exhaust newly developed legal theories in the courts. Mr. Spirko was ultimately allowed that opportunity and his claims were rejected. Mr. Spirko's claims that his own lies led to his conviction for an offense that he did not commit are unpersuasive in the face of the judicial scrutiny this case has received. Nonetheless, I have concluded that the lack of physical evidence linking him to the murder, as well as the slim residual doubt about his responsibility for the murder that arises from careful scrutiny of the case record and revelations about the case over the past 20 years, makes the imposition of the death penalty inappropriate in this case.

In making this determination, my staff and I conducted a thorough review of the judicial decisions associated with this matter, the Adult Parole Authority's reports and recommendations, letters received in the Office of the Governor and by the parole board, the arguments and exhibits presented at the Parole Board hearing, the arguments presented by Mr. Spirko's counsel in favor of clemency, recordings of various interviews, relevant photographs, newspaper analyses of this matter and Mr. Spirko's institutional mental health records.

Based on this review, I have decided to commute Mr. Spirko's sentence to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Also here is the response from Spirko's attorney's,

John Spirko is an innocent man who has spent 25 very long and hard years in prison -- 23 on death row -- for a crime he did not commit. There can be no joy in the commutation of an innocent man's sentence to life without parole. The positive thing about Governor Strickland's commutation is that the State will now not execute an innocent man and that we can, and will, continue to fight for Mr. Spirko's complete exoneration and release.

We had told Governor Strickland that Mr. Spirko was prepared to waive all his constitutional rights to allow the Van Wert County Prosecutor to again try him and seek the death penalty in a fair and honest trial -- not the trial he got in 1984, filled as it was with false evidence and a false theory of the case. All Mr. Spirko has ever asked for was to be judged fairly and honestly. We all now know that there is absolutely not one shred of evidence -- physical, forensic or otherwise -- linking Mr. Spirko to this crime. The recent DNA and fingerprint results for which we waited more than two years confirm that Mr. Spirko was not present at the crime scenes. Objectively corroborated evidence confirms that Mr. Spirko was meeting in Toledo with his parole officer at the very time this crime was being committed in Elgin, 100 miles away.

We will continue to urge Governor Strickland and Attorney General Dann to review Mr. Spirko's claims of actual innocence so that justice will be served by Mr. Spirko's release from prison and by finally prosecuting those actually responsible for Mrs. Mottinger's murder.

Tom Hill
Alvin Dunn

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Huckabee highlights pro-life hypocrisy

Mike Huckabee surprised everyone by winning the Republican primary in Iowa. Los Angeles Times has published an op-ed by one of our board members titled, "Huckabee highlights pro-life hypocrisy."
Huckabee highlights pro-life hypocrisy
The Times should have highlighted the inconsistencies in the presidential candidate's positions.
By Elliot Slosar
January 4, 2008
In its editorial on "Life" values in the 2008 presidential campaign, the Los Angeles Times notes that Republican hopeful Mike Huckabee's position on abortion "has the value of consistency: If you believe abortion is murder, you have no choice but to fight it at all levels." Huckabee is an extremely likable guy. His personality, demeanor and ability to speak clearly and understandably about his views all resonate with many Republican voters. Huckabee has become the George W. Bush of the early part of the election cycle — a candidate most Americans can relate to. Unfortunately, he has followed in his predecessor's footsteps in one area that he should have avoided.

During a recent interview with Tim Russert, Huckabee claimed, "Our founding fathers said that we're all created equal. I think every person has intrinsic worth and value.... It's a human belief. It goes to the heart of who we are as a civilization." This sentiment — opposition to abortion because of an unwavering belief in the value of human life — is frequently repeated in many pro-life circles.

When analyzing Huckabee's platform more closely, however, a major contradiction arises. Huckabee claims to value the "sanctity of every and each human life." Yet, he also declares that capital punishment is needed within American society. In the Republican YouTube debate debate, Huckabee stated that "there is a place for the death penalty. Some crimes are so heinous, so horrible, that the only response that we as a civilized nation have for a most uncivil action is not only to try to deter that person from ever committing that crime again, but also as a warning to others that some crimes truly are beyond any other capacity for us to fix."

In the same debate, Huckabee pointed out that he had to make the ultimate decision more than "any other governor in Arkansas history." That feat is strikingly similar to one performed by the current Republican president during his own governorship. As governor of Texas, Bush presided over more than 150 executions in six years — more than any other U.S. governor since the reinstitution of the death penalty.

During the interview with Russert, Huckabee declared "that your intrinsic worth is not changed by your ancestry, your last name, by your IQ ... if I value your life and respect it with dignity and worth because it is human, then that's what draws me to the inescapable conclusion that I should be for the sanctity of every and each human life."

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that executions of mentally retarded criminals are "cruel and unusual punishment" and violate the 8th Amendment. However, the high court did not limit state or federal governments' ability to execute the mentally ill. Currently, the legal system issues an IQ evaluation to determine the mental retardation of a death-eligible individual. These tests are extremely subjective; an individual can be assessed a score of 76 today and 70 tomorrow. That can make the difference between living in prison without the possibility of parole or being put to death.

Although mental retardation is a factor in many instances, a larger proportion of death-eligible crimes are committed by individuals who have endured horrific backgrounds. Most sexual predators have been molested themselves. Many serial murderers have predictable, if not uniform social histories. Does this not mean that they, in fact, are partially innocent of the heinous crimes they committed?

Innocence in the womb may be indisputable. But innocence on death row is entirely subjective. If Huckabee and others wish to be consistent in their pro-life stance, then one of these positions must be altered.

Elliot Slosar is a national board member of Students Against the Death Penalty and was the co-founder of the Abolition in Illinois Movement and the founder of DePaul Students Against the Death Penalty.

Another Texas man freed after 26 years in prison

Associates Press is reporting that Charles Chatman has been freed after spending 26 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

Charles Chatman, 47, was released on his recognizance as several of his eight siblings cheered. He was freed on the basis of new DNA testing that lawyers say proves his innocence and adds to Dallas County's nationally unmatched number of wrongfully convicted inmates.

"I'm bitter. I'm angry," Chatman told The Associated Press during his last night in jail Wednesday. "But I'm not angry or bitter to the point where I want to hurt anyone or get revenge."

He became the 15th inmate from Dallas County since 2001 to be freed by DNA testing.

Dallas has freed more inmates after DNA testing than any other county nationwide, said Natalie Roetzel of the Innocence Project of Texas. Texas leads the country in prisoners freed by DNA testing, with at least 30 wrongfully convicted inmates since 2001.