Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights Office Fire

On August 24th there was a fire in the building owned by the American Friends Service Committee in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights has its office. The fire broke out in the basement around 3:00 in the morning and was probably caused by an electrical problem. Fortunately, the building had an alarm system that was tied directly to the fire station so Cambridge firefighters were able to respond quickly. Through their skillful work, they managed to contain most of the fire to the basement.

Thankfully, no one was injured. Everyone who works in or is associated with 2161 Massachusetts Avenue is grateful to the firefighters for their efforts.

We have lost a fair amount of MVFHR inventory and materials that were in the basement: newsletters, reports, training materials, banners, t-shirts, buttons, and archived files. Our office on the first floor, while apparently intact, has, like the rest of the building, suffered intense smoke damage. As I write, the building is stable but toxic; clean-up and other recovery work should be well underway soon. At this point, we don't know to what extent our files, materials, furniture, and equipment have been damaged, but our important information is backed up and we will be able to recover it should our equipment not be salvageable.

Obviously this is a bit of a challenge for MVFHR, AFSC, and the other social justice organizations with whom we share a common home. MVFHR is fortunate to have a wonderful staff that manages time and again to rise to challenges, and I know that Priscilla Caputo, Kate Lowenstein, Susannah Sheffer, Catherine Brady, and I will be working together to make the adjustments necessary to go forward and carry out MVFHR's work. While the clean-up and recovery are being carried out, we are working from our homes, retrieving and responding to mail, email, and phone messages, and continuing to perform our ongoing program work.

We appreciate the outpouring of support from the MVFHR family – our board of directors, our members and supporters, and our human rights colleagues – and we gratefully welcome financial contributions that will help us reprint some of the materials that the fire destroyed.

In solidarity,
Renny Cushing, for the MVFHR staff

To donate money to Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights, please go to murdervictimsfamilies.org.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Tonight on Atlanta Radio: Update on Troy Davis' Death Row Appeal

Mondays, 6pm - 7pm EST ----- WRFG-Atlanta 89.3 FM
Join us tonight for an update on the case of Georgia death row inmate Troy Davis, whom many now believe to be innocent of the crime for which he is on death row, i.e. the killing of Savannah police officer Mark McPhail.  Davis has been spared from execution three times, as his attorneys continued to struggle within the legal system over the years to present new evidence, primarily the changed or recanted testimony of 7 out of the 9 witnesses who testified at Davis' original trial and the possibility that the real killer was among the original nine witnesses.  Last year, the Supreme Court finally ordered a rare hearing of the new evidence and in June of this year, U.S. District Court Judge William T. Moore Jr. heard two days of testimony from witnesses.  Last Tuesday, August 24th, however, Judge Moore ruled against Troy Davis once again.  We will speak tonight with E. RED, rap artist and boyhood friend of Troy Davis, as well as with Sara Totonchi, Executive Director of the Southern Center for Human Rights, and Kathryn Hamoudah, Chairperson of Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

Sara Totonchi joined the Southern Center for Human Rights in 2001 as the Public Policy Director and was promoted to Executive Director this past January, 2010. She represents SCHR at the Georgia General Assembly on a full range of criminal justice and public safety issues. She collaborates with attorneys to galvanize public support of SCHR's litigation through strategic media outreach.  Totonchi has led coalition efforts and legislative advocacy for criminal justice reform with concerned citizens including family members of people in prison, attorneys, faith-based communities, survivors of crime and mental health advocates.

Kathryn Hamoudah is the Chairperson of Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, our statewide anti-death penalty coalition. She serves as Amnesty International's Southern Regional Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator and is employed as the Public Policy Associate at the Southern Center for Human Rights. In addition, she is an organizer for a local Palestine Solidarity organization. Previously, she worked at the Atlanta Alliance on Developmental Disabilities.

E. Red is a rap artist who grew up in Savannah, Georgia, alongside Troy Davis.  He remembers learning about Davis' arrest and has been an advocate for his innocence ever since.  E. RED now lives in Atlanta with his family.  A multi-talented artist fueled by a deep passion for his music, he wears many hats in the industry, doing everything from production and songwriting to arranging and engineering. With more than 10 years in the game, his lyrics are hardcore and direct and his songs have serious subject matter. Frustrated by many different labels trying to stifle his creative abilities and turn him into someone else, E. RED decided to start his own label, Port City Muzic, in order to put out the music that he loves. He endeavors to play a role in the development of other artists as well.  E. RED has had the opportunity to work with some veterans in the game, such as K.T. and Fred G., formerly of ATL’s own Hard Boys and Kujo Goodie. He has also worked with producers DJ Brad of the Legion of Doom, Flame “Fame” Miller, and Tom Slick of Collipark Music.

Tune in and join the conversation!  You can also listen on the web by going to our home page (http://www.wrfg.org/) and clicking on the "Listen Live" icon on the righthand side of the page.  For more information about Just Peace, check out http://www.wrfg.org/features/shows/shows-desc.asp?showid=36.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Judge Rejects Death Row Prisoner Troy Davis’s Innocence Claim


A federal judge in Georgia has rejected death row prisoner Troy Anthony Davis’s claims of innocence. Last year the Supreme Court took the unusual step of ordering a district court in Georgia to hold a special evidentiary hearing to consider evidence that surfaced after Davis’s conviction and might establish his innocence. Davis was convicted for the 1989 killing of an off-duty white police officer, Mark MacPhail. Since then, seven of the nine non-police witnesses have recanted their testimony, and there is no physical evidence tying him to the crime scene. [includes rush transcript]

Martina Correia, Troy Davis’s sister and leading campaigner against the death penalty.

AMY GOODMAN: A federal judge in Georgia has rejected death row prisoner Troy Anthony Davis’s claims of innocence. Last year the Supreme Court took the unusual step of ordering a district court in Georgia to hold a special evidentiary hearing to consider evidence that surfaced after Davis’s conviction and might establish his innocence. The hearing took place in late June, but on Tuesday, US District Judge William Moore issued a 174-page order concluding Davis is guilty.

Davis was convicted for the 1989 killing of an off-duty white police officer Mark MacPhail. Since then, seven of the nine non-police witnesses have recanted their testimony, and there’s no physical evidence tying him to the crime scene. But Tuesday’s order from Judge Moore reads, quote, "While Mr. Davis’s new evidence casts some additional, minimal doubt on his conviction, it is largely smoke and mirrors...The vast majority of evidence at trial remains intact, and the new evidence is largely not credible...After careful consideration, the court finds that Mr. Davis has failed to make a showing of actual innocence," the decision read.

Troy Davis has garnered widespread national and international support, with figures like Pope Benedict, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former US President Jimmy Carter all calling for clemency in his case. Many are now concerned the latest ruling puts Davis back on track for execution.

Larry Cox, the executive director of Amnesty International, said, quote, "The testimony that came to light demonstrates that doubt still exists, but the legal bar for proving innocence was set so high it was virtually insurmountable. It would be utterly unconscionable to proceed with this execution, plain and simple," he said.

For more on the ruling, what it means, what the options are that remain for Troy Davis, I’m joined now via Democracy Now! video stream by his older sister and leading campaigner against the death penalty, Martina Correia. She joins us from her home in Savannah, Georgia.

Martina, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you talk about the significance of the judge’s decision?

MARTINA CORREIA: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

Well, this is a tremendous setback, of course. It was very disappointing. We don’t agree with the judge’s ruling, because we know that Troy is innocent. But, you know, in the courtroom, sometimes it felt like the judge had already predisposed his opinion about Troy’s case, so it was very disheartening to know that when witnesses have come forward that have no criminal record and wanted to talk about, you know, people—you know, Sylvester "Red" Coles confessing to them about the murder, the judge wanted to rule that it’s hearsay and didn’t want to accept it. And then, when the old witnesses came forward and talked about how they were pressured into their testimonies against Troy, then their credibility came into play, but they had the same credibility when they used them to testify against Troy, so it’s really amazing how they were credible then and then not credible now.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the things the judge has said, or asked, is why Coles, the person that many charge was the shooter, who say he actually admitted to this, why he wasn’t called.

MARTINA CORREIA: Well, the lawyers actually had a subpoena for Sylvester "Red" Coles, but they have no policing powers, so they can’t go on private property and serve a subpoena without policing powers. And the judge did not give them policing powers, nor did he assign any police to serve the subpoenas that were already issued and ready to be served on Sylvester Coles. So, that was something that was, you know, technical that couldn’t be helped, but, you know, the lawyers did everything they could to have him served. But, like I said, they had no policing powers, and the judge would not assist with policing powers to have the warrant served—to have the subpoena served. So what we had to do was we had to trust that he would come to court. But, you know, of course, he’s not going to come to court and try to defend himself, because it would be his word against the witnesses’ word.

AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of the judge saying those who came forward and recanted—that said they recanted their testimony, only one marginally mattered.

MARTINA CORREIA: Well, you know, it’s amazing, because they couldn’t really dispute the—certain testimonies. And, you know, when the witnesses came up and they were testifying, the prosecutor, the state attorney, was more interested in their convictions and their prior arrests than he were in what they had to say about Troy Davis. And these people came forward on their own, you know, knowing that they faced liabilities themselves and knowing that they face other prosecutions and persecutions themselves within the court system. But they came forward. And there were some people that were afraid to come forward, because they felt threatened by the system. So, you know, it’s amazing.

I haven’t read all of the 174-page report. I’m still in the process of reading it, because I was called so much yesterday—I didn’t have time to really sit down—by the media, that I haven’t read all of the report or all of the opinion. So, you know, the lawyers are going through it page by page so that we can follow the appellate process. And that’s what we’re going to continue to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Why do you believe "Red" Coles is the person who killed Officer MacPhail, Martina?

MARTINA CORREIA: Well, "Red" Coles was the only person that was arguing with Larry Young over the can of beer, and he admitted that in court, that he was arguing with Larry Young. Larry Young said that the person he was arguing with was the person who hit him with the weapon. And Sylvester "Red" Coles threw away his weapon, and it was never found. And even in the courtroom, they asked the police, "Why didn’t you make Sylvester Coles look for his weapon?" And they said, well, they looked in some bushes, and then they never looked any further. They never searched his home. They never got a warrant. They never made him produce his weapon. And they had already fixed the case on Troy. So, if Sylvester "Red" Coles was the only one in the parking lot that night with a weapon, a .38-caliber weapon, the same caliber weapon that the police officer was shot with, and no one saw Troy with a gun, no one saw Troy pistol-whip Larry Young—Troy had no reason to pistol-whip Larry Young, because in Larry Young’s testimony he said he never saw Troy in the parking lot, Troy never spoke to him—that only leaves Sylvester "Red" Coles.

AMY GOODMAN: What happens next, Martina?

MARTINA CORREIA: Well, what happens next is we follow the appellate process. We’re waiting on the lawyers. They got to go through the opinion, page by page, section by section, and they have to break it down, and they have to find out all the avenues of appeal. And then they’ll decide whether we’ll go before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals or the US Supreme Court or whether we have other avenues to travel. And that’s the avenues that we will follow, and we will follow the appellate process to the end.

AMY GOODMAN: What was Troy’s response to the judge’s decision? I mean, this is a very significant decision, because, I mean, a case hasn’t been decided like this, sent back to a judge, a death penalty case, in what? Half a century?

MARTINA CORREIA: Well, he was very disappointed that the case was actually sent back to Chatham County. We were all elated when the US Supreme Court gave us this opportunity, but to come back to the same county where you’re convicted of and have a judge rule on your case that has been in the county, has ties to that county for so many years, you know, Troy was praying and hoping for a fair, you know, opportunity. And, of course, he feels like he didn’t get that. But he’s more concerned about our family than he is about himself and how this is impacting us, because he knows that both families are being impacted and that—you know, some people feel like, you know, why do you keep fighting? Why don’t you just let this go? But we feel that Troy is innocent, and we’re going to keep fighting until we can prove that. And we’re not going to stop fighting for his life.

AMY GOODMAN: Martina, you, in yourself, are a remarkable story. You were honored together with the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as you battle cancer, considered one of the stars—your face on buses of Savannah—in battling against cancer. What gives you the strength?

MARTINA CORREIA: Well, to know that we have the truth on our side and to know that you have to take a stand for what’s right. And, you know, sometimes battling for your life, no matter what the situation, it comes out to be the same. You have to stand and fight, because you have to have the strength and the tenacity to know that when you’re doing the right thing, good outcomes come out. And so, in my battle to save myself from cancer and my battle to save my brother’s life, it’s like a parallel journey of fighting. And I will never give up. And I always keep in my heart that, you know, I may have cancer, but it doesn’t have me. And Troy may be on death row, but he is innocent, and we’re going to prove that.

AMY GOODMAN: Martina Correia, I want to thank you for being with us, Troy Davis’s older sister, anti-death penalty activist, speaking to us from her home in Savannah, Georgia.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


On August 24, federal judge William Moore denied Troy Davis' petition for a new trial.

Moore was ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court to hold a hearing on Troy's claim of innocence in the murder that sent him to death row. In June, Troy and his lawyers presented convincing evidence of that innocence at the two-day hearing in Savannah, Ga. Yet Judge Moore was unmoved by the testimony ruled and against Troy's petition.

Troy was convicted largely on the basis of eyewitness testimony--no DNA connected him to the crime. During the hearing in June, most of the same witnesses from the original trial came forward to say that they were mistaken in originally identifying Troy. Other witnesses said that another man, Sylvester Coles, committed the crime.

But Moore rejected the testimony, claiming that the testimony of the seven witnesses who recanted was "too general to provide anything more than smoke and mirrors," and the witnesses who say they heard Coles admit to the murder weren't "credible."

Troy's sister Martina Correia, who has been spearheading the fight for her brother, points out that there is a double standard about what is "credible." The recanted testimony and the testimony against Coles is considered not credible now, but when many of these same witnesses testified against Troy years ago, their stories were considered credible. Why then? Why not now?

Many people who attended the hearing had the complete opposite reaction to Judge Moore. Lawrence Hayes, a former death row prisoner and board member of the CEDP, reports:

Representing the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, on June Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010, I traveled to Savannah, Ga., to attend the Troy Davis Innocence Hearing. My original expectation was on the day of the hearing I would hear several witnesses take the witness stand, recant their testimony and, that process over, await the decision of the hearing judge. But the truth is, what I witnessed on the day of the hearing was simply extraordinary. The combined testimony of the defense witnesses removed any shadow of doubt that Troy Anthony Davis is innocent of the crime for which he stands convicted and, at the very least, is entitled to a new trial.

"When I was first approached by the police, I told them I could barely recognize the shooter," Atwan Williams, said on the stand. "I was scared and nervous." Atwan also signed a statement alleging Troy's guilt. The problem is Atwan can't read. He couldn't even read the typed statement he signed 20 years ago when the defense counsel handed it to him at the hearing.

"When the police arrived, I told them I could barely recognize the shooter," said Williams. "I was scared, nervous, I was just trying to take off." Asked if he had read back the deposition he gave to police, Williams replied: "No sir, I can't read."

Then there was the testimony of Jeffrey Sapp, who stated that when he was questioned, he had several angry Savannah police officers surrounding him. As for his original testimony against Troy, he stated, "I was saying the same thing they told me to say."

Kevin McQueen told the court he had been given a lighter sentence in return for simply making up the details of a confession he claimed Davis had given him. "I was mad at him," he said.

All the recantation witnesses' testimonies were direct, clear, unshakable and, most important, believable. For me, it was the character and presentation of these witnesses that made the credibility of the next line of witnesses plausible. These witnesses provided eyewitness and circumstantial evidence that points to another man (Sylvester "Red" Coles) as the likely killer of the police officer--the crime for which Troy Davis has been sitting on Georgia's death row for the past 20 years.

The fact that these recantations aren't seen as persuasive is mind-boggling. The people who recanted their testimony could face perjury charges and possible jail time for coming forward. But they came forward nonetheless because they wanted to tell the truth. Why was this not given any weight?

It seems that Southern-style justice is alive and well in Georgia. A Black man might be sitting in the White House, but that doesn't mean a black man will be treated fairly in our court system--and this ruling is proof of it.


But this fight is not over. Troy's lawyers are busy working on his legal strategy; social justice activists need to come together and raise our voices about this outrage. Troy is in serious danger of receiving a new execution date.

The New York chapter has leafletings about Troy scheduled for this weekend:

125th Street & Frederick Douglass Blvd., Harlem

Downtown Brooklyn, time/place TBD

Other chapters should think of similar activities in the coming days.

We will keep folks posted as more develops. Please send in short announcements and reports of any activities you are organizing around Troy.

Here is the CEDP fact sheet on Troy Davis.


Gripping Testimony of a Wife at Husband's Execution

To all of us who knew and loved Bro. Abdullah Tanzel Hameen, may Peace be upon that beautiful Bro.!  Among many other accomplishments, Hameen built an organization, BLAC (Because Love Allows Compassion) and did outreach from behind the walls on behalf of prisoner's rights, working tirelessly to try and make them and their family's lives better. One of the most surreal moments of my life is when i received a card from him in the mail shortly after he was murdered by the state of Delaware, thanking me for all that i tried to do to help save him and comforting me in my own grief from beyond.  That's who he was/is!

His wife, Gray-Haired Witness Sis. Shakeerah, has shared with me the gripping testimony she gave regarding some of the most traumatic experiences of her life and has given me permission to share them here.  Please take the time to read it and let it reverberate deep within.  As you will see, he was greatly loved by all who knew him and touched many you wouldn't suspect could be touched.

Sis. Marpessa.
Testimony from Shakeerah R. Hameen
February 10, 2005

I am writing this testimony because I feel that the public is entitled to know how an execution affects not only the offender’s family, but the guards, lawyers, and all those involved.

On May 21, 2001 my husband, Abdullah Tanzel Hameen, was murdered by the State of Delaware. My mother-in-law and I were among the many witnesses that stood by and watched this murder occur.

The day was beautiful; there was a warm breeze, a clear sky and the brightest sunshine you ever wanted to see. As I opened my eyes to this magnificent day I realized the irony in the beauty that surrounded me because on this day my best friend, my lover, my companion, my precious husband was going to be murdered and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about.

All of our appeals were exhausted and we had been turned down by the Pardon Board, although, they said that they agreed my husband was exceptionally rehabilitated, BUT the jury found him guilty and the jury recommended DEATH BY LETHE INJECTION, so there was no other choice but to set a date for his execution.

Preparing for the first scheduled visit of my husband’s last day was like being in a fog.

I took my shower, made salat, drank my coffee and walked out the door. As I started the car I began to think this is not really happening, this is not for real. How can they possibly murder my husband and think that it is right. How can any one believe that this is not premeditated murder?

I drove to the prison, parked the car and headed for the newly built Death House. The guards who knew me kept their heads hung low as they escorted me, barely speaking to me, not knowing what to say. I had an exceptional relationship with the guards as did my husband and I think they thought this day would never come; after all the Pardon Board said he was exceptionally rehabilitated. When we got to the Death House I was patted down, searched and then led inside.

My husband was in a cage with a bed; on the bed was his prayer rug and Koran. At a desk was a guard writing down every movement my husband made and every word that we spoke. As I looked at my husband I thought this is really it, this is really the last day I will ever see my husband again. My head was pounding and my heart was racing; I felt as if I was going to pass out. What do you say to someone you love before they are put to death? I looked into his beautiful eyes and when I started to talk I choked and just started to cry. I cried and cried and cried. My husband sat quietly and tried to console me as best he could through the cage that separated us. Our first visit of the day, which was an hour, was spent awkwardly. When I got up to leave he asked that I not let them see me cry again and to stand strong.

Two hours later I was back at the Death House but this time with my mother-in-law. With the second visit there were fewer tears and even some nervous laughter, but the pain of what was happening was excruciating for all of us.  There are simply no words to describe it.

Two hours later I was back again to the Death House, alone this time and my husband and I talked, I mean really talked. We talked about the love we shared and the happiness we had despite the sentence that hung over his head for ten years. We talked about how blessed we were to have discovered each other.  Yet, the pain, the stress, the torture of knowing my beloved was going to die in a few hours, permeated my senses. 

Two hours later my mother-in-law and I returned to the prison.  We were led into a bathroom and searched, not just patted down, but the guards searched inside our bras, around the rim of our underwear and made us lift our dresses. The female guard who did the search apologized the entire time she was doing it and we could tell how horribly uncomfortable she felt.

This time we were told to wait in the waiting area of the main lobby because my husband was visiting with his attorneys. As we waited we saw people come and go with food and drinks all dressed up as if going to a party. We sat there and waited and waited for almost an hour and a half. People who knew me looked down as they passed me except for the Bureau Chief of Prisons and one of the Wardens; they came over to me and hugged me and said they were sorry, as they walked away I saw tears in their eyes.

 Eventually a guard came and escorted us to another room where my husband’s attorneys were waiting for us. Both had been crying; they told us that instead of talking to my husband they ended up sobbing.

 It was about 7pm and all I could think about was my husband; what was he doing, was he okay, was he scared, did he feel all alone. We sat in that room and waited and waited and waited. Around 9pm the Warden came in and said since my husband had been such a good boy that he was going to let us see him one more time.

 We were escorted back to the Death House for our last visit and were permitted a two second embrace and peck on the cheek and allowed to say a five minute good bye.

 Back in the room I thought let’s just do this, why wait, just kill him for God’s sake and get it over. At 11pm the Deputy Warden and two other people led me and my mother-in-law out a back corridor to a car. We got in the back seat and were driven to the Death House.

 We noticed a bus full of people; it was the media and the Wardens from all over the state. In another car were the victim’s sister and two guards. We waited and we waited until 11:30pm and we were led into the Death House. As I walked into the room I saw my husband strapped to a gurney like he was on a crucifix and I thought of the irony of the way they strap a condemned man down. In the room with my husband were the Warden and another Deputy Warden and the Chaplain who was a Christian holding onto his Bible in the corner. I mention the Chaplain’s religion because we are Muslims and were promised that there would be an Iman in the room with my husband. We were led to an area at the front of the glass area that separated the room where my husband was and we just looked and all I could think was that this was insane.

 After we were all in our perspective places the Warden read the death warrant and asked my husband if he had any last words. He strained to look in my eyes and he said to the victim’s sister “I pray this brings you peace” and then he looked at his mother and I and said he loved us and that he would wait for us.

 The Warden nodded his head and the deadly drugs were released into his body. He strained and gasped; as he did so his body lifted somewhat and he was dead. His mother and I were praying as they killed my husband because that was all we could do, we were powerless, we just stood there and watch the state murder him.

 After he was announced dead they led us out, took us to another building and gave me his belongings. The attorneys were waiting for me and so was the media. The media asked how it felt to see my husband die. I am not sure of my response but our attorneys told me Hameen would have been proud of me.

 My mother-in-law walked over to hug me and I remember pulling away and saying that I was ok. I did not want to be touched or to have anyone tell me how sorry they were. I could not handle having to deal with any emotion. My friend drove me home and as I went in the house and prepared for bed I started to sob uncontrollably, it was over, Hameen was dead.

 In the morning I woke up so sick that I could hardly function. My body ached and my head was pounding. As I lay in the bed I looked over at the window and there sat a bird. The bird was looking at me and as I looked back it fluttered and flew away. I believed then and I will always believe it was my husband’s spirit checking in on me and saying good bye.

 You can dress this killing up all you want; you can try to disguise it in bizarre rituals and traditions – in the name of security or whatever – but you can’t take away that searing pain.  You can’t take away what it does to a lawyer who will forever know he failed to save his client’s life.  You can’t take away what it does to a mom or a child or a wife of the executed person.  The damage is permanent.

 Because of the rituals, people think that lethal injection is a humane way to commit murder; it is all very neat and over very quickly. Society puts to death the condemned and life goes on. This is far from true for the guards, the lawyers, the victim’s family and the offender’s family they will remember that night always. No matter how neat and clean an execution is it is still murder. It is a painful reminder that society is vengeful and that some still want their pound of flesh. It is a horrible example of how little we have learned from the mistakes of our past. Murder is murder no matter who pulls the trigger.

 Today I am on disability, unable to deal full time with a society that is so hateful, I have aged tremendously and death preoccupies my mind constantly. I am so afraid of losing another loved one that it is hard sometimes to function. I have problems sleeping and problems trusting people.

 My step-son, Hameen’s son, is facing 1st Degree Murder Charges and is scheduled for trial March 8th of this year, 2005. My mother-in-law has been sick off and on since the execution.

 Prior to my husband’s execution I was a bright, vibrant and active woman. I believed that anything was possible and that I conquer the world. Today I struggle just to complete the everyday task of conquering my own world.

 The people should know the extent of the needle’s reach.  There is much more to an execution than those final minutes.  I know.

(Info on Bro. Hameen is at http://www.ccadp.org/abdullahhameen.htm)

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Texas Forensic Science Seminar

From Grits for Breakfast:
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals' Criminal Justice Integrity Unit is jointly sponsoring a conference/CLE event October 7-8 titled the "Texas Forensic Science Seminar" in the auditorium at the capitol in Austin. See their promotional flyer here (pdf). It looks like a substantive discussion, particularly the second day, so I signed up to attend the free event.

An interesting note, fwiw: Former Forensic Science Commission Chairman Sam Bassett is listed among the faculty, while current FSC Chair John Bradley apparently wasn't invited to present.

Topics covered include arson, digital media, trace evidence, firearms and toolmarks, DNA evidence and statistics, latent print evidence, toxicology, eyewitness identification and false confessions. There will also be discussions of the National Academy of Sciences report on forensic science, application of the scientific method to forensic fields, and the admissibility of forensic science testimony in Texas courts.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

SADP seeks nominations for the Youth Abolitionist of the Year Award

Students Against the Death Penalty is accepting nominations for the 2010 Youth Abolitionist of the Year Award. The Award is presented each year to a young person (or persons under the age of 25) with a deep commitment to fighting the death penalty and a proven ability to transform this commitment into effective action. The recipients should have demonstrated leadership ability, creativity, and integrity.

Nominations for the Youth Abolitionist of the Year Award may be submitted at any time by sending an email to hooman(at)texasabolition(dot)org describing in 500 worlds or less why this person merits the Youth Abolitionist of the Year Award? Deadline to submit nominations are October 10, 2010. Finalists might be asked to submit further supporting documents (letters of recommendation, articles by or about the candidate, etc.) Anyone may nominate a candidate, including members of the general public.

The winner will be announced at the 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty in Austin, Texas, October 30, 2010.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Three Judge All-Republican Review Panel Appointed to Hear Appeal of Public Warning Given To Sharon Keller

Mary Alice Robbins of Texas Lawyer is reporting that Sharon Keller will have her appeal heard by a three judge panel. We looked up the party affiliation of the three judges and no surprise, all three judges are Republicans. Also no surprise, but Keller's lawyer says “They’re all fine judges.”

From Texas Lawyer:

Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson has appointed three court of appeals justices to hear Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller’s appeal of the public warning issued to her by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. Fort Worth’s 2nd Court of Appeals Chief Justice Terrie Livingston will preside over the special court of review, which also will include 1st Court of Appeals Justice Elsa Alcala of Houston and 9th Court of Appeals Justice Charles Kreger of Beaumont, according to Jefferson’s Aug. 18 letter to those three justices. Jefferson notes in the letter that, pursuant to Texas Government Code §33.034, he selected the justices’ names by lot and assigned them to hear Inquiry Concerning Judge No. 96. Charles “Chip” Babcock, Keller’s attorney, a Jackson Walker partner in Dallas and Houston, says of the appointees, “They’re all fine judges.” Babcock says the timing of the special court’s hearing in the Keller case depends on whether the panel will conduct the review de novo or in an appellate proceeding. “I assume at some point somebody will tell us which,” he says.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Statement of Ron Carlson to the Ertman and Pena families

To the Ertman and Pena families:

I can’t say that I know how you feel concerning the loss of your loved ones Jennifer Ertman and Elizabeth Pena. The images of those two beautiful girls will forever be in my mind as well as the horrifying act of their demise. What I can say is that I can relate to it due to the fact that I have had two people murdered in my family. On June 13th, 1983 my sister Deborah Ruth Carlson Davis Thornton was murdered by Karla Faye Tucker and Daniel Ryan Garret. On October 17th, 1984 my father William Gerald List was murdered by Elbert Smiley Homan.

I can say that I understand your wants and desires for justice concerning Peter Cantu. I have difficulty in believing that the execution of Peter Cantu will provide any sort of closure concerning the case.

I can truthfully say that, since I have personally witnessed an execution. I had hoped and prayed that I would receive closure and that would be the end of it.

What I did learn that night was that another set of victims were created and that the cycle of violence continued.

It is my hope that the Ertman and Pena families can find peace in their lives. It is also my hope that the Ertman and Pena families can find it in their hearts to forgive those who destroyed their families. If they can do that, I believe they will find that their lives will be better because of it.

I state this because when I forgave those who destroyed my family, I found that I was more at peace concerning the loss of my loved ones. We can never forget them, but we can honor them.

Two of the men sent to death row for this gang rape and murder were juveniles and were taken off death row in 2005 when the US Supreme Court outlawed sentencing juvenile to death. They were given life. The earth did not crumble. Texas did not disintegrate. The world continued to rotate on its axis--in other words, life went on and the two juveniles are in prison but not facing death.

We do not need the death penalty.

We do not need the state of Texas to kill people who kill to show that killing is wrong.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Execution Watch: Peter Cantu, Aug. 17

Peter Cantu

By Elizabeth Stein
Producer, Execution Watch

Texas plans to kill Peter Cantu Tuesday by lethal injection -- the 16th execution this year in the nation's busiest death chamber. Execution Watch will provide live reports from outside the building, along with a discussion of the issues and an interview with the author of Capital Punishment on Trial, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Oshinsky. 




Aug. 17, 2010, Tues., 6-7 pm Central Time
Listen on KPFT's HD2 channel, 90.1 FM Houston, or …
Go to www.executionwatch. org at 6 p.m. CT, click on “Listen.”

   PETER CANTU, 35, was one of several teens convicted of raping and killing two Houston girls in 1993. Cantu and four companions received death sentences. Two have been executed; two had their sentences commuted to life after the U.S. Supreme Court barred the death penalty for those under 18 at the time of their crimes. The slayings led to a Texas law allowing victims' families to view the execution of murderers. International controversy erupted around the 2008 execution of co-defendant José Medellín when it was revealed he was not notified of his right to meet with Mexican consular officials after his arrest. (More at www.executionwatch.org > Backpage on Peter Anthony Cantu.)

  Host: RAY HILL is an ex-convict who has lost many friends to the death chamber. His civil rights activism has included shepherding several cases to the U.S. Supreme Court. Ray also hosts the Prison Show, now in its 31st year, www.theprisonshow. org .

  Legal Analyst: JIM SKELTON, a retired attorney, contributes to the profession by teaching a weekly continuing education class in appellate law. He has worked as a prosecutor and as a defense attorney in capital cases.

  Featured Interview: DAVID M. OSHINSKY, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, holds the Jack S. Blanton Chair in History at the University of Texas at Austin and is the Jacob K. Javits visiting Professor at New York University. He recently published Capital Punishment on Trial: Furman v. Georgia and the Death Penalty in Modern America. Oshinsky's other books include Polio: An American History, which won a Pulitzer in 2006, and Worse than Slavery: Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice, winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Book Prize. (More on his latest book at www.kansaspress.ku.edu).

  Reporter, Death House, Huntsville: DENNIS LONGMIRE, professor in the College of Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, and longtime activist against the death penalty (www.cjcenter.org).

  Reporter, Vigil, Houston: DAVE ATWOOD, board member and founder of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, and author of Detour to Death Row. (www.tcadp.org).

  On Oct. 14, Texas plans to execute GAYLAND BRADFORD. Execution Watch will broadcast. Details at www.executionwatch.org.

  PRODUCER: Elizabeth Ann Stein, eliza.tx.usa @gmail.com.
  TECHNICAL DIRECTOR: Otis Maclay, omaclay @gmail.com.
  THEME MUSIC: “Death by Texas,” Victoria Panetti, www.myspace. com/shemonster

Friday, August 13, 2010

Speaking Out Against the Death Penalty While Honoring and Remembering Peter Cantu's Murder Victims Jennifer Ertman and Elizabeth Peña

Peter Cantu is scheduled for execution in Texas Tuesday  August 17. He will be the 16th person executed in Texas this year and the 224th person under Texas Governor Rick Perry. You can click here to write Governor Rick Perry to protest this execution or leave him a message at 512 463 1782.

On Monday, a few members of Texas Students Against the Death Penalty will join Texas Moratorium Network to speak out against the death penalty at a press conference in Houston regarding the execution of Peter Cantu for his part in the murders of two teenage girls, Jennifer Ertman (14) and Elizabeth Peña (16), who attended Waltrip High School in Houston and were walking home alone one night in 1993. The girls were gang raped, beaten and strangled in an attack that shocked Houston and attracted national attention for its brutality. 

We want to honor and remember the two young girls who were murdered, Elizabeth Peña and Jennifer Ertman, so we plan to bring some flowers donated by our members to put on the memorial to the girls that stands on the grounds of Waltrip High School in Houston (see picture).

We will be joined at the press conference, which is Monday at 10am outside Waltrip High School in Houston, by Ron Carlson whose sister, Deborah Ruth Carlson Davis Thornton, and Jerry Lynn Dean were murdered with a pick ax by Karla Faye Tucker and Daniel Ryan Garrett on June 13, 1983. The Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement is co-sponsoring the press conference with us. Thanks to Gloria Rubac for organizing it.

The message we will deliver in Houston on Monday and Huntsville on Tuesday is not only that many Texans believe that the death penalty is unjust in all cases no matter how heinous the crime, even one as horrific as this one; but that even in cases in which the guilt of the offenders in not in question, Texas does not have the moral authority to continue executing people as long as the system puts innocent people at risk of execution, as it did in the Todd Willingham case. A state that has executed an innocent person is a state that has lost the moral authority to execute any person, including Peter Cantu.

It is far better to commute every death sentence to life in prison, than it is to operate a system that has executed even one innocent person. That is why the State of Texas is so afraid to admit that Todd Willingham was innocent. Nevertheless, it was an important step on the continuing road to his exoneration when the Texas Forensic Science Commission announced their tentative findings at their meeting in Houston on July 23 that the science used to convict Willingham was “seriously flawed”.

Peter Cantu, who is set for execution next Tuesday, was born in Austin and moved with his family to Houston when he was four and a half. He is 12 years younger than TMN’s president Scott Cobb, but Cantu attended the same Garden Oaks Elementary School and F.M. Black Middle School in Houston as Scott. However Cantu was held back three times to repeat grades and eventually got sent to an alternative school from which he dropped out, while Scott went on to graduate from the University of Texas at Austin.

TMN’s Scott Cobb is also a graduate of Waltrip High School, the same school the girls were attending in 1993. So Scott and the others from TMN will be returning to Scott’s old neighborhood to engage the community in a discussion on the death penalty and the need for a moratorium on executions. The point will be to say there is another way besides the death penalty that punishes offenders and protects society. Also if society wants to reduce gang violence there are other ways to do that besides using the death penalty, which has no deterrent effect. For instance, you can invest more in schools and raise the graduation rate.

The crime for which Peter Cantu is being executed on August 17 was committed in 1993 when he and two of his accomplices were barely 18, when two other of his accomplices were still 17, and when one was only 14.

A Justice Department report in 1999 showed substantial drops from the peak years to 1999 in the juvenile arrest rates for crimes tracked by the FBI: Murder by juveniles was down 68 percent from 1993 to 1999, to the lowest level since 1966.

This shows that sound public policies, such as after school programs, community investment and early intervention programs that are smart on crime can reduce crime by young people and can prevent people from committing serious crimes like murder and also can prevent innocent people from becoming victims of crimes.

Peter Cantu and his accomplices committed their crime in 1993 during the peak of the juvenile murder rate. Since then, policies have been implemented that have decreased crimes by juveniles. And executions by offenders younger than 18 have been banned.

If public policy can influence crime rates, then can we really execute people who committed their crimes at 18 or younger in a time before we had implemented the type of smart on crime policies that could have prevented those young people from growing up to commit serious crimes at 14, 17 and 18. A child who drops out of school is a sign of a failure of public policy. A child who becomes a criminal has been failed by society.

We should not subject a teen offender to the death penalty if we were complicit as a society in their growing up in the environment that made them into criminals when it was within our power to create the public policies that could have prevented their criminality.

Why are there so many people on death row who dropped out of school, some as early as 7th to 9th grade? We failed in our responsibility, especially in the early 90s, to create a society of equal opportunity, so we should not execute any people who committed crimes as teens because they failed because of our failures.

There were 446 murders in Houston in 1993 in a population of 1,724,327.

There were 281 murders within Houston's city limit in 2009, as of late in the day of Dec 31, 2009. The final numbers for 2009 may have been a few higher, but we don't have them right now.

There were substantially more people living in Houston in 2009 compared to 1993. As of the 2009 U.S. Census estimate, the city had a population of 2.3 million.

The Gang Reduction Program of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention was not even initiated until 2003, ten years after the gang murders of 1993 for which Cantu is being executed.

Here is a quote from a 2003 report from the U.S. Dept of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention: "Experience has shown us that gangs are, in part, a response to community dysfunction. Thus, a primary focus of OJJDP’s anti-gang initiatives is to support community efforts to provide their citizens, especially their young people, with a safe and prosocial environment in which to live and grow. Gangs often lure youth with the promise of safety, belonging, economic opportunity, and a sense of identity. OJJDP is dedicated to helping communities replace this false promise with real opportunities for our Nation’s youth."

The Houston neighborhoods in which Cantu and his accomplices grew up could certainly be described as a dysfunctional community in the late 80s and early 1990s, so how can we execute someone who became a teen criminal in that environment, when there is the alternative of life in prison without parole. 

There were six people convicted for participating in the murders of Jennifer Ertman and Elizabeth Peña. In 2006, Derrick O'Brien became the first of the gang members executed in this case. Jose Medellin was executed in 2008. Peter Cantu, O’Brien and Medellin were all 18 at the time of the murders. Two other accomplices, Efrain Perez and Raul Villarreal, who were both 17 at the time of the killings, had their death sentences commuted to life in prison in 2005 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that executing people who committed crimes under the age of 18 is banned by the U.S. Constitution’s 8th Amendment’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

Jose Medellin's brother, Vernancio, who was 14 at the time, is serving a 40-year prison term for his role in the crime.

No ruling yet on Keller appeal

Austin American-Statesman's Chuck Lindell is reporting that The Texas Supreme Court, which announces its decisions every Friday, did not rule this morning on Judge Sharon Keller’s request to have her ethics rebuke thrown out.
The Supreme Court also did not rule on Keller’s request for an emergency stay extending Monday’s deadline to file a more traditional appeal challenging the July 16 “public warning” from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. (That appeal is really a request asking Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson to appoint a three-judge panel that would determine if Keller’s rebuke was justified.)

In the matter pending before the Supreme Court, Keller claims she was improperly reprimanded by the 13-member commission, which said Keller failed to properly perform her duties in 2007 when she closed the Court of Criminal Appeals clerk’s office at 5 p.m. despite knowing that defense lawyers wanted to file an appeal in a pending execution.

Keller is asking the Supreme Court to throw out the rebuke and dismiss all charges against her because, she argues, the Texas Constitution forbids the commission from issuing such a warning.

The Supreme Court is currently on hiatus but begins its new term next week. The nine justices can still rule on Keller’s petitions later today or Monday by issuing special orders.

Keller’s petition is here.
The commission’s response is here.
And, just filed yesterday, is Keller’s replyf to the commission’s response.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Saturday August 21 at 3 PM: First Organizing Meeting for the 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty

The first organizing meeting to prepare for the 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty is on Saturday August 21 at the Carver Library in Austin from 3:00-4:30 pm. Please come to the organizing meeting and help us make this year’s march as great a success as last year’s! (Pictured: Death Row Exonerees Ron Keine, Shujaa Graham and Curtis McCarty at last year's march)
Everyone who wants to help organize this year’s march is welcome to attend. Last year, we had the largest turnout since 2000 and the march was covered in all the state newspapers, including a photo on the cover of the Dallas Morning News. You can see some links to media coverage of last year on the march media page. The website also has videos of some of last year’s speakers.
The march itself is scheduled for October 30 in Austin. More details to come.
The annual march is organized by several Texas anti-death penalty organizations, including the Austin chapter of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, Texas Moratorium Network, the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, Texas Students Against the Death Penalty, Texas Death Penalty Education and Resource Center, Death Penalty Free Austin, and Kids Against the Death Penalty.
Please go ahead and start asking other groups to sponsor.
11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty
First Organizing Meeting!
Saturday, August 21st at 7PM
Carver Library (click for map)
1161 Angelina Street
Austin, Texas

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

URGENT ACTION APPEAL: Legal concern/Juvenile at risk of life without parole

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Note: Please write on behalf of these persons even though you may not have
received the original UA when issued on April 28, 2010. Thanks!

10 August 2010

Further information on UA 97/10 (28 April 2010) – Legal concern/Juvenile at risk of life without parole
USA                         Jordan Brown (m)

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has agreed to review Jordan Brown’s appeal against a court decision to try him as an adult for the killing of Kenzie Houk, his father’s fiancée. If tried in an adult court, the 12-year-old boy could be sentenced to life imprisonment with no parole. This sentence, when imposed on anyone who was under 18 years old at the time of the crime, violates international law.

On 27 July, the Pennsylvania Superior Court issued an order granting a review of the appeal. Jordan Brown's lawyers and the state Attorney General must file their arguments for this review by 13 September 2010.

Jordan Brown’s lawyers had filed the appeal following a judge’s decision to deny the transfer of the trial to juvenile court. Jordan Brown, who was 11 at the time of the crime, has been automatically charged for trial in adult court, as required by Pennsylvania law for cases involving murder. He has been charged with two counts of homicide, because the victim was eight and a half months pregnant and her unborn child also died. If convicted of first-degree murder in an adult court, Jordan Brown would be sentenced to life imprisonment with no possibility of parole.

The Superior Court’s decision to review the appeal provides a real opportunity for Jordan Brown’s case to be transferred to juvenile court. However, Amnesty International is deeply concerned that the State Attorney General, who is in charge of the prosecution, may continue to seek an adult trial for Jordan Brown.

A life without parole sentence when imposed on a defendant who was under 18 at the time of the crime violates international law and standards which are almost universally accepted around the world. These standards recognize that, however serious the crime, children, who are still developing physically, mentally and emotionally, do not have the same level of culpability as adults and require special treatment in the criminal justice system appropriate to their youth and immaturity. The standards emphasize that when children come into conflict with the law, the primary objectives should be the child's best interests and the potential for his or her successful reintegration into society. Life imprisonment without parole clearly is inconsistent with this international obligation.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which the USA ratified in 1992, specifically acknowledges the need for special treatment of children in the criminal justice system and emphasizes the importance of their rehabilitation. Article 14(4) of the ICCPR states: “In the case of juvenile persons, the procedure shall be such as will take account of their age and the desirability of promoting their rehabilitation”. In 2006, the UN Human Rights Committee, the expert body established by the ICCPR to oversee implementation of the treaty, reminded the USA that sentencing children to life imprisonment without parole is incompatible with the ICCPR. It called on the USA to ensure that no children were subjected to this sentence.

The 193 countries which have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) have further agreed to be bound by the principle, enshrined in Article 37(a), that no person under the age of 18 at the time of the offence should be sentenced to “life imprisonment without the possibility of release”. The USA is the only country apart from Somalia not to have ratified the CRC. However, the USA has signed the Convention and as a signatory, the USA is bound under international law to do nothing which would defeat the object and purpose of the treaty. Article 37(b) of the Convention also calls upon states to use imprisonment against a child “only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.”

In a General Comment on children’s rights in juvenile justice issued in 2007, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the expert body established under the CRC, emphasized that no children should be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The Committee reminded those countries which sentence children to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole that this punishment must “fully comply with and strive for the realization of the aims of juvenile justice”, including that the child should receive “education, treatment, and care aiming at his/her release, reintegration and ability to assume a constructive role in society”.

The USA is believed to stand alone in sentencing children to life without parole. Although several countries technically permit the practice, Amnesty International knows of no cases outside the USA where such a sentence has been imposed in recent years. Jordan Brown is the youngest person that Amnesty International knows of who is currently at risk of being sentenced to life without parole. However, there are at least 2,500 people in the USA serving life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for crimes committed when they were under 18. Jordan Brown's case is therefore starkly illustrative of a wider problem, and the organization is taking this action as part of its efforts to persuade authorities in the USA to bring their country into line with international standards on the treatment of child offenders (see USA: The rest of their lives: Life without Parole for Child Offenders in the United States: a joint Human Rights Watch/Amnesty International Report http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AMR51/162/2005/en). In such cases, Amnesty International does not specify in detail what sentence is appropriate, only that it should conform to international standards.

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible: - Explaining that you are not seeking to excuse the killing of Kenzie Houk;
- pointing out that international law prohibits life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for anyone who was under 18 years old at the time of the crime, and that this principle of international law is recognized and respected around the world;
- expressing concern that the state is seeking to have Jordan Brown tried in adult court which would expose him upon conviction for first-degree murder to a mandatory life imprisonment without the possibility of parole;
- noting that the Superior Court’s decision to review the appeal provides the state with the opportunity to reconsider its position;
- calling on the prosecution to meet its international obligation to ensure that Jordan Brown not be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole, and appealing for it therefore to drop its pursuit of a trial in adult court.


Pennsylvania Attorney General
Tom Corbett
Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General
16th Floor, Strawberry Square
Harrisburg, PA 17120, USA
Fax: 717 787 8242
Email: http://www.attorneygeneral.gov/contactus/
Salutation: Dear Attorney General

Jordan Brown’s lawyer
David H. Acker, Esquire
25 North Mill Street
500 First Merit Plaza
New Castle, PA 16101, USA
Email: David_Acker_Attorneyatlaw@hotmail.com

Check with the AIUSA Urgent Action office if sending appeals after 13 September 2010.

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This Urgent Action may be reposted if kept intact, including contact information and stop action date (if applicable). Thank you for your help with this appeal.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

North Carolina Racial Justic Act

The Racial Justice Act
The NC Racial Justice Act was signed into law on August 11, 2009. The Act allows defendants facing the death penalty to present evidence of racial bias, including statistics, in court. Anyone on death row who files a claim must do so by August 10. If a death row inmate proves discrimination at the time of his charging or sentencing, he will be resentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The Act was passed after the wrongful convictions and subsequent recent exonerations of three black defendants. One of the exonerees was sentenced by an all-white jury and the other two had only one black juror on each of their juries. In all three cases, at least one of the victims was white.

Five Death Row Inmates File Motions

On August 3, 2010, five of the first death row defendants filed their motions in superior
court in the counties where they were tried.
Central to these motions are results of a new comprehensive study of North Carolina
capital sentencing that shows for the 159 people currently on North Carolina's death
row, 31 of those defendants had all-white juries and 38 of them had only one person of
color on their jury. In other words, more than 40% of the defendants on North Carolina's
death row were sentenced to death by a jury that included either one or zero persons of
The study, which was conducted by researchers at Michigan State University, finds that statewide, prosecutors struck qualified black jurors at more than twice the rate at which they struck white jurors.
In addition, the MSU study finds that in cases with at least one white victim, a defendant is 2.6 times more likely to be sentenced to death than if the case does not involve a white victim. This finding is consistent with a study by Radelet and Pierce released in late July showing that the odds of receiving the death penalty increase by 2.96 times for defendants convicted of killing white victims.
The inmates who filed motions today argue that death penalty practices in their districts and individual cases corroborate the MSU study and show that race was a significant factor placing them on death row.

Kenneth Rouse, Randolph County, 1992
Black defendant, white victim
All-white jury
Prosecution struck 100% of qualified black jurors, 34% of qualified white jurors
One juror claimed after the trial that “blacks do not care about living as much as whites
do.” The juror routinely referred to blacks as “n-----s,” and stated that “bigotry” was
influential in his decision to vote for death. No federal court considered Rouse’s claim of
race discrimination because his lawyers filed his appeal one day late. Rouse is one of
five death row prisoners sentenced to death by an all-white jury in Randolph
County. The prosecutor in Rouse’s case has a history of striking black potential jurors.
Even the US Supreme Court has taken notice of the problem and sent yet another
Randolph County capital case back for an inquiry into whether the prosecutor struck
jurors in a racially discriminatory manner.

Guy LeGrande, Stanly County, 1996
Black defendant, white victim.
All-white jury
Prosecution struck 100% of the qualified black jurors, 26% of qualified white jurors LeGrande’s white  co-defendant, who was the mastermind of the murder, was allowed to plead to second degree murder. In testimony at his trial, LeGrande was referred to as a “n----- from Wadesboro.” LeGrande, who is severely mentally ill, was allowed to represent himself at trial. The district attorney in his case regularly wore a noose lapel pin, a racially charged symbol of lynching, in the courtroom. He gave noose pins to his assistant district attorneys as “morale boosters” when they obtained a death sentence. One of the three recent exonerees, yet another black defendant who was sentenced by an all-white jury, was prosecuted by the same district attorney. His exoneration came after the revelation that the prosecutor hid favorable evidence from the defendant.

Shawn Bonnett, Martin County, 1996

Black defendant, white victim
Two black jurors
Prosecution struck 78% of the qualified black jurors, 6% of qualified white jurors Bonnett and three other men were charged with the robbery and murder of a white store owner. It was not contested that Bonnett was not the shooter or the mastermind in the case, and none of his three co-defendants were sentenced to death. The prosecution in Bonnett’s trial used their peremptory strikes to exclude 78% of the qualified black
potential jurors, while accepting 94% of the white jurors. At the time of the trial, the population of Martin County was 45% black.

Jeremy Murrell, Forsyth County, 2006

Black defendant, white victim
One black juror

Prosecution struck 80% of the qualified black jurors, 26% of qualified white jurors Prosecutors in Murrell’s trial used their peremptory strikes to exclude a large proportion of qualified black prospective jurors from jury service. Meanwhile, prosecutors removed very few prospective white jurors from the panel. When asked to explain why they had cut nearly all the blacks from the jury, prosecutors claimed to have done so because
those prospective jurors were close in age to the defendant, had failed to reveal their criminal records, or had a family history of mental illness. However, the prosecution gave its approval to white prospective jurors who were the exact same age as the defendant, had failed to reveal the exact same criminal charges as the struck black jurors, and also reported family histories of mental illness.

Jathiyah Al-Bayyinah, Davie County (Iredell County jury), 1999, again in 2003
(granted a new trial, re-sentenced to death)
Black defendant, white victim
Two all-white juries
1999 case - prosecution struck 100% of the qualified black jurors, 24% of qualified white
2003 case - prosecution struck 67% of the qualified black jurors, 21% of qualified white

On appeal, Al-Bayyinah, who is Muslim, presented evidence that his trial attorneys were ineffective in failing to present mitigating evidence of racial violence and tension in Statesville at the time he was growing up. In rejecting his claim, the court specifically cited as reasons why the claim was being denied that he became a Muslim, and the “the peaceful murder victim was an elderly white man.” One of the investigating officers in
his case manufactured a fraudulent statement incriminating to the defendant and altered computer files to conceal the deception, and another later pled guilty to embezzlement from the sheriff’s department. Of the seven defendants currently on death row from that prosecutorial district, four were sentenced by all-white juries.

Michigan State University Study
In response to the passage of the Act, researchers at Michigan State University are conducting a detailed, comprehensive study on race and the death penalty in North Carolina. The study examines 5,800 cases that were eligible for the death penalty for the years 1990 through 2009. The data are analyzed at the statewide, judicial division, prosecutorial district and county levels.
The study examines jury selection, as well as three different approaches to charging and sentencing: looking at the numbers of people charged and sentenced based on race of defendant and victim to see if there are disparities, looking at those same numbers while also looking at the impact of statutory aggravating and mitigating circumstances, and looking at the numbers while trying to measure the impact of about 200 different factors or variables. These three approaches all show that race plays an improper role in the death penalty in North Carolina. The study results are entirely consistent with numerous studies across the country, including the July 2010 Radelet and Pierce study, which shows significant discrimination in the administration of capital punishment.

The MSU study finds that statewide, prosecutors struck qualified black jurors at more than twice the rate at which they struck white jurors. In a death penalty case the judge must excuse a juror for “cause” when that juror is not qualified to serve. Judges excuse all jurors who are not able or willing to vote for the death penalty. The MSU study looked at “peremptory” strikes, which prosecutors use to exclude potential jurors who have already been qualified to serve. Prosecutors do not need a reason to exercise a peremptory strike, though they are not supposed to strike a juror based on race, gender or religious affiliation.

The MSU study findings are consistent with other studies done on jury strikes. The Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative released a report this summer that found that in eight Southern states (not including NC), eligible black jurors are being dismissed from jury service at much higher rates than whites. The Dallas Morning News conducted a two-year investigation of non-capital felony cases tried in Dallas County in 2002. They, too, found that qualified black jurors were being struck at significantly higher rates.

Other studies revealed the same trends.
In addition, the MSU study finds that in cases with at least one white victim, a defendant is 2.6 times more likely to be sentenced to death than if the case does not involve a white victim.
The MSU study findings are consistent with multiple prior studies in North Carolina that found in cases with white victims, the defendant was significantly more likely to receive a death sentence. Radelet and Pierce released a study on July 22, 2010, that concluded a defendant’s odds of getting the death penalty increase by 2.96 times if the victim is white. Similar findings are observed in a 2001 UNC-CH study by Unah and Boger, a 1990 report by the US General Accounting Office, and many others.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Retrial Ends in Life for Former Death Row Inmate; Co-Defendant Greg Wright Executed in 2008 Saying "Before you is an innocent man"

According to the Dallas Morning News, a retrial has resulted in life in prison for John Adams, a person formerly on Texas death row. The co-defendant in the case, Gregory Wright, was executed in 2008. Wright professed his innocence until his death, he said in his last words that it was John Adams who actually killed the victim. Now, Adams has been removed from death row and given life. But did Texas execute someone who did not kill anyone, namely Greg Wright? You can read more about the case at www.freegregwright.com.

Here are Greg Wright's last words:
Yes I do. There has been a lot of confusion on who done this. I know you all want closure. Donna had her Christianity in tact when she died. She never went to a drug house. John Adams lied. He went to the police and told them a story. He made deals and sold stuff to keep from going to prison. I left the house, and I left him there. My only act or involvement was not telling on him. John Adams is the one that killed Donna Vick. I took a polygraph and passed. John Adams never volunteered to take one. I have done everything in my power. Donna Vick helped me; she took me off the street. I was a truck driver; my CDL was still active. Donna gave me everything I could ask for. I helped her around the yard. I helped her around the house. She asked if there were anyone else to help. I am a Christian myself, so I told her about John Adam. We picked him up at a dope house. I did not know he was a career criminal. When we got to the house he was jonesin for drugs. He has to go to Dallas. I was in the bathroom when he attacked. I am deaf in one ear and I thought the T.V. was up too loud. I ran in to the bedroom. By the time I came in, when I tried to help her, with first aid, it was too late. The veins were cut on her throat. He stabbed her in her heart, and that's what killed her. I told John Adams, "turn yourself in or hit the high road." I owed him a favor because he pulled someone off my back. I was in a fight downtown. Two or three days later he turned on me. I have done everything to prove my innocence. Before you is an innocent man. I love my famly. I'll be waiting on ya'll. I'm finished talking.
From the DMN:
The state of Texas will not execute John Wade Adams for the 1997 murder of Donna Vick. He will serve a life sentence instead.

In a rare Sunday court session, District Judge Gracie Lewis discharged the jury that had been deliberating Adams' penalty. She ruled that the Dallas County jury was not able to make the life-or-death decision after 27 hours of deliberation over three days.

"Our prayers were answered," said Bobbie Adams Satterlee, one of a dozen family and friends who came from Louisiana and Alabama for the retrial of the penalty phase.

Adams' guilt was not at issue. He had been tried for stabbing Vick to death and found guilty of capital murder 12 years ago. The only question was whether his death penalty should stand or be reduced to life in prison.

Defense attorneys argued his punishment should be life in prison because the original trial jury did not hear evidence about Adams' abusive childhood, evidence that family members presented in a retrial that spanned the last two weeks.

Gregory Wright was also convicted of the Vick murder and was executed in 2008.

To watch Greg Wright's wife Connie speaking at the 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty in 2009 click here. She starts speaking around the 2 minute 30 second mark.