Saturday, March 20, 2010

Opponents of death penalty take protest to the Capitol

The Austin American-Statesman has published the following story by Isadora Vail about the Justice Rally during the 2010 Anti-Death Penalty Spring Break.

Sandrine Ageorges-Skinner's husband is scheduled to be put to death Wednesday. On Thursday, she came to Austin to join about 100 other people on the Capitol steps to protest the death penalty in Texas.

"We are in Austin, and you can do something to help him," Ageorges-Skinner said. "Human justice should not kill people."

The Justice Rally, which included marchers brandishing anti-death penalty posters and carrying a full-size coffin, was organized to try to abolish the death penalty, or at least ask for a moratorium. Since 1973, when Texas reinstituted the death penalty, the state has executed 451 inmates.

Ageorges-Skinner's husband, Hank Skinner, was sentenced to death in 1993 for murdering his girlfriend and two sons on New Year's Eve. His family has claimed that DNA found at the crime scene has not been tested. Skinner gained some notoriety in 2008 for being one of a string of death row inmates who had smuggled cell phones into their cells.

Sally Norvell spoke on behalf of David Lee Powell, who was convicted in of killing Austin police officer Ralph Ablanedo in 1978. After 30 years on death row, his execution is slated for June 15.

Norvell said that even when prisoners are guilty, the drawn-out death penalty process amounts to cruelty.

"To have him locked in a cell, in solitary confinement, for more than 30 years and then to bring him out into the light and publicly kill him is just torture," she said.

Powell's longtime attorney, Richard Burr of Houston, has said that in three decades behind bars, Powell has been a model prisoner, teaching other inmates to read and counseling other death row prisoners.

Another speaker, Regina Kelly, said she became interested in abolishing the death penalty after her own experience with the Texas criminal justice system. Kelly, whose story was depicted in the film "American Violet," was falsely accused of drug possession in a West Texas town in 2000.

"My duty is now to start holding each and every person — police officers, lawyers, law makers — accountable for the situations that they put us in," she said. "Until we do something to change the laws, we will forever be making the same mistakes."

Members of Save An Innocent Life, the Texas Moratorium Network, the Abolition Movement, Students Against the Death Penalty and several others participated in the speeches and march.

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