Friday, December 16, 2011

Justice and Victory

This week the nation saw unprecedented victories not just for the death penalty abolition movement but also for human rights and justice in the United States.

In Ohio, Supreme Court Justice Paul E. Pfeifer stood up against the death penalty calling it a "death lottery," stating to the House Criminal Justice Committee that the death penalty
"makes no sense when you can have life with out the possibility of parole. I don’t see what society gains."
This public statement adds much needed support to Ohio's House Bill 160 that would abolish the death penalty in the state if passed.

In North Carolina, governor Beverly Perdue vetoed Senate Bill 9 that would repeal the state's Racial Justice Act, which was put in place for prisoners sentenced to death. If a judge determines that race was a significant factor in a death penalty trial, the sentence must be reduced to life without parole. Governor Perdue said in a statement,
"it is simply unacceptable for racial prejudice to play a role in the imposition of the death penalty in North Carolina."
While the governor is a supporter of the death penalty, her veto of the bill represents a profound move towards greater social justice and equality in the country.

Here in PA, great strides towards abolition are being made as Senate Resolution 6 passed this past Wednesday, December 14. The resolution, which can be read in full here, establishes a bipartisan task force and advisory committee that will conduct a study of the death penalty in Pennsylvania in collaboration with the Justice Center for Research at Penn State, the Pennsylvania Interbranch Commission on Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Fairness, and the Pennsylvania Joint State Government Commission.

We have gone without the death penalty in Pennsylvania before. From 1972 to 1978, Pennsylvania was without capital punishment after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional based on the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Furman v. Georgia. Capital punishment was reinstated in 1978 and since that time Pennsylvanian has sentenced more than 350 people to death yet has executed only three.

This year, numerous studies have come out examining the issues surrounding Pennsylvania's capital punishment and criminal justice system, including one by the Pennsylvania Advisory Committee on Wrongful Convictions which can be found here or read PADP's analysis of it here, and examined the issues surrounding eye-witness identification, among other things. Another study released by the Philadelphia Inquirer found issues with Pennsylvania's defense lawyers and unfair trials.

Even more exciting for death penalty abolitionists everywhere is the Death Penalty Information Center's Year End Report, which was released this Thursday, December 15th. The report cited that death sentences have dropped significantly in recent years and noted a 75% drop since 1996. Richard Dieter, DPIC's Executive Director and author of the report said,
"Executions, death sentences, public support, the number of states with the death penalty all dropped from previous years. Whether it’s concerns about unfairness, executing the innocent, the high costs of the death penalty, or the general feeling that the government just can’t get it right, Americans moved further away from capital punishment in 2011.”
Each of these new developments represent a growing trend across the country in support of the abolition of capital punishment and a move towards greater justice, equality, and human rights for the nation. They symbolize the forward progression that the United States can accomplish if ordinary citizens are not silent and do not allow themselves to be complicit in the crimes of the government. Great figures like Martina Davis Correia, who passed away December 2, motivate and inspire us to act and to voice our dissent in the state sanctioned murder that is capital punishment. We must work in Martina's memory, and in honor of other great abolitionists like her, to end capital punishment in this country and not let these new opportunities and new cries of support for abolition go unnoticed.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

PA Senate passes SR 6!

Andrew Hoover, Legislative Director of the ACLU reported today that PA bill SR 6 passed with no debate. SR 6 is a resolution to establish a committee to conduct a study into capital punishment in Pennsylvania and report their recommendations derived from the data.

Hoover noted that because it is a resolution it does not need to pass the House.

Read the resolution here.

Ohio Supreme Court Justice stands with Abolition Movement

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul E. Pfeifer called the state's death penalty a "death lottery" this morning, stating to the House Criminal Justice Committee that the death penalty "makes no sense when you can have life with out the possibility of parole. I don’t see what society gains."

Ohio's legislative panel is currently considering House Bill 160 that would abolish the death penalty in the state. Pfeifer has been working to abolish the death penalty for the past few years in Ohio, despite being one of three state senators that initially brought the state's death penalty law back in 1981.

Follow along here: @OhStopExecution

NC Governor vetoes SB to repeal Racial Justice Act

A quick word of praise for North Carolina governor Beverly Perdue who vetoed a bill (SB 9) that would repeal the 2009 Racial Justice Act. The Racial Justice Act was put in place for prisoners sentenced to death. If a judge determines race was a significant factor used in a death penalty trial the sentence must be reduced to life without parole.

The governor said in a statement, "it is simply unacceptable for racial prejudice to play a role in the imposition of the death penalty in North Carolina."

North Carolina and Kentucky are the only states with laws like the Racial Justice Act.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Help fund this project!

Please, help support this project!
The film is titled, "Bloodsworth: An Innocent Man," about Kirk Bloodsworth, the first death row inmate to be exonerated by DNA evidence.
You can donate through Kickstart to help to get this much needed film created and help to put a human face on this important issue! Let's End This Thing!


Friday, December 2, 2011

In Memoriam: Martina Davis Correia

Today we mourn the passing of Martina Davis Correia, sister of Troy Anthony Davis and tireless fighter of the death penalty. Martina died this Thursday at the age of 44 after a long fight with breast cancer and a 22 year battle to free her brother Troy from death row until his execution by lethal injection this past September.

Martina was unflagging in her efforts to clear her brother Troy's name and resolute in her commitment to end the unjust capital punishment system in the U.S. Curt Goering, chief operating officer of Amnesty International USA, said of Martina,
“Our hearts are breaking over the loss of this extraordinary woman. She fought to save her brother’s life with courage, strength and determination, every step of the way. She was a powerful example of how one person can make a difference as she led the fight for justice for Troy Davis, even as she endured her own decade-long battle with cancer.

"She was a tenacious fighter, a graceful inspiration to activists everywhere, and a true hero of the movement for human rights. At this sorrowful time, we at Amnesty International offer our profound sympathy to her family.”

Martina gave us much to work for. After the passing of her brother on September 21, 2011, Martina pledged to continue the fight against capital punishment and refused to see his death as a failure. She said,

"I want people to know that we didn't fail. As long as we keep hammering away at this thing, as long as we refuse to give up, we haven't failed. We'll be doing what Troy would have wanted us to do."
Laura Moye, Death Penalty Abolition Campaign coordinator for Amnesty International USA was with Martina during her last moments in the hospital. In a statement she made to Atlanta Progressive News, Moye said of Martina,
“She was a true champion and hero for human rights in the U.S. and beyond. She changed all of us and she changed this world. We know her spirit is very strong and is going to continue to be a force for changing this world for the better."

We absolutely cannot let the passing of Troy and now, the passing of Martina, to be in vain. We will mourn them both and we will remember the hardships of their family over these past few months and years. We will remember and we will be thankful for their commitment to ending this unjust system of state-sanctioned murder. We will do these things and we will also pick up the torch that both Troy and Martina carried and we will work just as tirelessly as they did to end capital punishment. We must make Martina proud and honor her name by continuing the work that she felt so passionately about.

Photo: World Coalition Against the Death Penalty/Wikimedia

Article also published at The Progressive Playbook.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Capital Punishment and the 8th Amendment

“Capital punishment is the most premeditated of murders.” This quote by Albert Camus is only the tip of the iceberg regarding how the death penalty is unconstitutional. One of the clauses that is broken by this irreversible punishment is the 8th Amendment that states, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted”. Unfortunately in our American society, it seems as if this amendment is not being followed, specifically with regard to the death penalty. In the United States, 34 states are practicing inhumane punishment in the form of the death penalty, a system that is becoming considerably more unusual throughout the world. You can read which states have retained this punishment here.

The death penalty is inhumane because there is no way to know whether or not the alleged criminal is feeling pain while being executed. Since the first two chemical solutions injected into the person’s body are used to induce a coma and then to paralyze them, we can get no sense of the possible physical distress that the person being executed is feeling. The intention is for the person not to feel pain, but because we cannot ask them about their experience afterward, we can only speculate.

Additionally, the lethal injection process is certainly not foolproof. With any kind of medication, certain people require higher doses in order for the desired effect to take place. Lethal injection is no different. The coma may not be successfully induced, or the paralysis fully in effect before the final chemical is injected to stop the heart, making the execution all the more painful and inhumane. To read more about lethal injection, you can visit this article on deathpenalty.org.

Finally, capital punishment violates the 8th Amendment by being unusual. Nearly half of all countries have completely abolished the death penalty, and an additional 17% have at least abolished it in practice. The United States stands as the only Westernized country that retains the death penalty and it is in the top five countries with the highest execution rates as shown by this chart. In 2010, the US only had fewer executions than China, Iran, North Korea, and Yemen. To be grouped with such countries, many of which the US criticizes for their disregard for human rights, shows the disgrace in our backward beliefs and policies.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Praise for Oregon

This Tuesday, November 22, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber made a courageous move for justice and put a temporary reprieve on the execution of Gary Haugen for the remainder of his term as governor. Governor Kitzhaber’s decision was announced just weeks before Haugen was set to be executed after waiving his right to another round of appeals and volunteering for execution. Haugen would have been the third person executed in Oregon in the past 49 years since the death penalty was reinstated.

Governor Kitzhaber announced his decision stating that while he oversaw both executions during his term, one in 1996 and one in 1997, he made those decisions despite his deep personal convictions against the death penalty. He said,

“At the time I was torn between questions I have about the morality of capital punishment and my oath to uphold the Oregon constitution. Those were the most agonizing and difficult decisions I made as governor and I have revisited and questioned them over and over again for the past 14 years. I do not believe those executions made us safer. Certainly I don’t believe they made us more noble as a society. And I simply cannot participate once again in something that I believe to be a moral wrong.”

Kitzhaber cited a number of arguments used against death penalty, including the fact that it is not a deterrent to future crime, problems with inadequate defense, and the high costs of the death penalty. As Oregon has only executed two individuals since its reinstatement, both of whom volunteered, Kitzhaber called the death penalty in Oregon effectively an incredibly expensive life term, saying it is a perversion of justice that he would not participate in any longer.

“Oregonians have a fundamental belief in fairness and justice and justice that is swift and certain. But the death penalty as it is practiced in Oregon today is neither fair nor just and is neither swift nor certain and it is not applied equally to all. In my mind it is a perversion of justice.”

Finally, Kitzhaber called on the people of Oregon to re-evaluate the current system of capital punishment, one that he said, “fails to meet the basic standards of justice,” adding that it is not his decision alone to end the death penalty and that it is time for the state to have a debate on the issue.

“Today we can no longer avoid the question,” said Kitzhaber in his announcement regarding the efficacy and legitimacy of the capital punishment system, and this statement is true for all 34 states in the U.S. who still have the death penalty. It is time that we all, as a nation, engage in a serious debate on whether we want to be in the company of countries like China, Iran, North Korea, and Yemen, who are the four countries with the highest number of executions worldwide with the U.S. as the fifth highest.

It is time we ask ourselves whether we want to be known as a leader in human rights, or as a country that still employs a system that is highly expensive, that is racially and socio-economically skewed, and that is draconian and backwards. It is atrocious that a country that aims to lead the rest of the world in so many ways could allow itself to lag so far behind when it comes to capital punishment. We must follow the path that countries around the world have already paved and abolish the death penalty across the U.S. Governor Kitzhaber has already made a step in the right direction. It is time that the rest of the nation join in and end this barbaric system.

View Governor Kitzhaber’s announcement here:
Governor Kitzhaber issues reprieve – calls for action on capital punishment

Article also published at The Progressive Playbook.



Monday, November 21, 2011

Two Months

It's been two months since Troy Davis was executed by the state of Georgia and yet I still find it hard to believe that we allowed it to happen. Yes, we allowed it to happen. Sure, we signed petitions, made phone calls, sent emails and some of us did even more. We wrote letters to the editors of our local newspapers. We tweeted, talked to our friends, wore our "I AM TROY DAVIS" shirts. We watched Amy Goodman reporting live from the protest site near the death house. We held our collective breath and then dared to hope again when word came that something was happening at the Supreme Court. When we heard that the execution had not been stayed and that the execution, no, the murder, of Troy Davis was actually going to happen, we were horrified -- not surprised really, but horrified still.

This past weekend I gathered with friends and colleagues who dedicate their lives to abolitioning the death penalty. It was great to see them and yet I felt distant, almost numb. Is Troy really dead? Being with my fellow abolitionists felt surreal. Last time we were all together, Troy was still alive and we were hopeful.

We did a post mortem of the campaign to save Troy. Post mortem - I never realized what a chilling phrase that is. We listened as those who were there that night told their stories. I am so proud of their work and humbled to be among them. We learned from each other, made plans and pledged to continue the fight.

But when I returned to my room each night, I cried. I am still so overwhelmed by sadness and disbelief. How did we let this happen? How is it, that as a country, we still cling to the hope that executing a human being will make things better? How long will we believe in the false promise of closure? What is the source of our lust for revenge? What is it going to take to end the killing? How on earth can the agents of our government be such cold-blooded killers?

I have so many questions tonight and so much sorrow in my heart. I know we tried to stop the execution of Troy Anthony Davis. It wasn't enough. We have to do better. We have to demand that our legislators change the laws that give a state the right to commit murder in our names. We have to talk to our county commissioners and tell them that spending one penny in an attempt to commit murder is wrong and that we will not tolerate it any longer. We have to go to court when the sentence of death is sought. We have to be there to watch, to take notes and to look into the eyes of those who would kill in our names. We have to show the prosecutors and judges and jurors that they do not do their work in a vacuum. We have to educate ourselves on how this insanity can still happen in the United States of America and, most of all, we have to stop the killing. We have to stop it now. We cannot let this continue. We are all Troy Davis.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Reggie Clemons Case

The Reggie Clemons case reads like a manual for anti-death penalty advocates: no physical evidence links him to the crime, alleged police coercion, prosecutorial misconduct, questionable eye-witness testimonies, inadequate legal representation, a stacked jury, and questions of race, according to Amnesty International.

Reggie Clemons was convicted and sentenced to death in St. Louis, Missouri as an accomplice in the murder of two white women in 1991. The women, Julie and Robin Kerry, were killed as they fell from the Chain of Rocks Bridge into the Mississippi River.

Along with Clemons, three other youths were arrested and three of them, all African-American, were given the death sentence. One of them, Marlin Gray, was executed in 2005. The fourth man, Daniel Winfrey, was offered a lesser offense in exchange for testifying against Clemons.

As stated before, no physical evidence linked Clemons to the crime. His conviction relied mainly on two eye-witnesses, the first of which was Winfrey. The second eye-witness was Thomas Cummins, cousin of the two victims, who initially was picked up by authorities and confessed to the crime. He later identified Clemons and the other suspects as the perpetrators and charges against him were dropped.

In addition to the questionable testimonies, there seems to have been clear misconduct throughout the criminal justice process. To begin with, Clemons claims that he confessed to raping one of the victims under the pressure of police brutality. Two other suspects also alleged the same mistreatment and witnesses attest to seeing Clemons’ face swollen following the police interrogation. Clemons retracted the confession and maintains his innocence of all charges.

As is the case with many capital cases, inadequate legal representation for Clemons was clear and Clemons’ lawyer was later suspended from practicing law after various complaints were filed. In addition, there was clear prosecutorial misconduct, according to four federal judges who have all agreed that the prosecutor’s tactics were overly aggressive and abusive. The prosecutor compared Clemons, who had no criminal record, to a serial killer. Again, the prosecutor received various complaints from both state and federal courts.

The question of race is one that plays in very clearly in the Clemons case. There have been clear trends shown concerning biases regarding the race of the victim. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, over 75% of cases that result in execution were when the murder victim was white, even though only about 1/2 of murder victims nationally are white. In the Clemons case, both of the victims were white, the two main eye-witnesses were white, and the three convicted defendants were black. In addition, a 2002 U.S. District Court judge ruled that the death sentence of Clemons should not stand since six prospective jurors were excluded improperly in jury selection, resulting in a stacked jury that was unrepresentative of the population of St. Louis. This ruling, however, did not stand and was overturned by a higher court on technical grounds.

Clemons has a new hearing date set for March 5th, 2012 and there will be a huge push among abolitionists throughout the country to get him off death row. Regardless of your moral feelings on capital punishment, is seems clear that a country which considers itself to be a bastion for human rights around the world, would want to end a system which is clearly racially skewed and rife with mistakes that have put innocent men to death before and, if not stopped, will do it again. Missouri has executed 68 people since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Let’s not add one more name to that list.

Article also published at The Progressive Playbook.

Photo credit: Amnesty International

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Moving toward a Moratorium

A report released on The-News-Leader.com by Andrew Welsh-Huggins of the Associated Press today announced that Ohio’s 30-year-old death penalty law will be examined by a committee, which was convened by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor. According to O’Connor, the purpose of the committee is not to decide if Ohio should have capital punishment, but rather to build a fair and impartial analysis of the law. During the time of the committee, which was given just over a year to complete the study, there will be an unofficial moratorium on the death penalty in the state, as three executions have already been postponed and another inmate has requested a postponement of his Nov. 15 execution date as well.

While this is not an end to the death penalty in Ohio by any means, it is a signal that dialogue has begun surrounding the issue, a dialogue that will hopefully spark debate among the additional 33 states in the U.S. that still have capital punishment on the books. After all, the systemic issues with Ohio’s capital punishment system are certainly not unique to the state. In fact, the issues with capital punishment go far deeper than simply a moral issue of whether it is permissible for the State to take the life of one of it’s citizens. The death penalty system is one that is clearly unbalanced in terms of race, class, and geography.

According to The Death Penalty Information Center, 96% of the states where the death penalty has been reviewed have shown a clear pattern of race-of-victim or race-of-defendant discrimination. Additionally, over 75% of the murder victims in cases that resulted in execution were white, despite the fact that only 50% of murder victims are white. In terms of socio-economic imbalance, nearly all the defendants in capital cases cannot afford their own attorneys and are given court-appointed attorneys, which, according to recent studies in states like Pennsylvania, such as this one, these court-appointed attorneys are often over-worked and under-paid, and many times lack the experience necessary to take on a capital case (read more here). Within states that allow the death penalty, the quality of representation or the likelihood that a court will pursue the death penalty often varies from county to county, making the system one that is not only rife with classism and racism, but also one that is arbitrary, based more on the color of the victim’s skin and on the county the crime was committed in then on the severity or proof of the crime.

And not only is this system a gross violation of human rights in this country, it is also costs more than life without parole. The Death Penalty Information Center notes that in Kansas, capital cases are 70% more expensive than cases of life without parole. In Florida, it costs the state $51 million a year over what it would cost to give all first degree murder cases life without parole. This trend is similar across all 34 states with the death penalty still in place. In such difficult economic times, it is hard to imagine why a system which has been proven to be a failure in terms of deterrence of future crimes and which is clearly racially skewed, geographically skewed, and socio-economically skewed, is allowed to continue in this country. With fewer and fewer people in support of the death penalty every year, it is time that we have some serious debate about our criminal justice system and our medieval capital punishment system. Ohio has begun the discussion. Now it is time for the remaining 33 states to do the same.

Article also published at The Progressive Playbook.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Hank Skinner Breaking News

This afternoon the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued a stay of execution for Hank Skinner. But it's a mixed bag. The court issued the stay to allow time to consider whether to grant DNA testing, not to actually grant DNA testing. Why not just test the DNA? What have they got to lose?

The court order states in part, "Because the DNA statute has changed, and because some of those changes were because of this case, we find that it would be prudent for this Court to take time to fully review the changes in the statute as they pertain to this case."

Consider away! Bottom line is that if there is even the slightest chance that Hank Skinner is not guilty of the crime for which he is to be executed, we need to test the DNA!

Thanks to all of you who have been making phone calls and signing petitions in the interest of justice. Stay tuned for more information as we get it.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Case for Hank Skinner


On March 18, 1995, Henry Watkins "Hank" Skinner was convicted of murdering his girlfriend, Twila Busby, and her two adult sons, Randy Busby and Elwin Caler. The three individuals were brutally murdered on December 31, 1993 in Pampa, Texas, as Twila was bludgeoned to death and the two sons were stabbed.

It has been fifteen years since Skinner's conviction, and in March, 2010, just thirty five minutes before Hank was scheduled to be executed, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay of execution in order to consider Skinner's request for DNA testing, something that was not done during his trial in 1994. Ultimately, while the Supreme Court ruled in Skinner's favor, it did not grant Skinner the actual DNA testing, instead, under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, the Supreme Court ruled that Skinner could sue the county D.A.

It is not as if there wasn't any DNA evidence to test. In fact, there were many DNA samples taken from the crime scene, including a rape kit, blood samples, samples of biological material from underneath Twila Busby's fingernails, suggesting that she fought back at her assailant, and a windbreaker with more blood samples, human hairs, and perspiration stains. There is also evidence that another man, Twila's uncle, had been stalking her the night of the murder and had a violent past with Twila.

Despite the plethora of DNA evidence and the pleas of seven of the 12 jurors on the case to test the DNA, the state of Texas has refused to test the samples in the Skinner case. Skinner is set to be executed on November 9th, and judging by the actions of Georgia in killing Troy Davis this past September despite so much doubt, we cannot assume that justice will be paid by our failing court system. We need to act now and prevent Texas from executing what may very well be an innocent man. Texas has done it before in 2004 when they executed Cameron Todd Willingham, despite expert arson evidence that could have exonerated him.

We need to act now. Please contact Gray County (TX) District Attorney Lynn Switzer and Governor Rick Perry and urge Texas to test Hank Skinner's DNA and not to execute another man. You can also sign this petition and show your support.

Photo credit: Amnesty International

Article also published at The Progressive Playbook

Announcing Polly Underwood Scholarship

LEGISLATIVE INITIATIVE AGAINST
THE DEATH PENALTY, SEPTEMBER, 2011
1 Keystone Plaza, Suite 200 Harrisburg, PA. 17101-2044 ph. 866 800 7278
Dear Student:
The Legislative Initiative against the Death Penalty has established an essay contest for high school students who are in the eleventh grade. The essays should discuss some facet of the death penalty and be submitted between October 1, 2011 and April 30, 2012. The award is $1000 to be deposited directly into the student’s account at the college of his or her choice.
LIADP thinks that it is extremely important to encourage students to learn about capital punishment. It is our belief that those who study the death penalty will soon oppose it. As part of our effort to educate students about this issue we have given scholarship tickets in the past to the play, “Dead Man Walking” and to our annual Fred Speaker Memorial Lecture and dinner. We believe that students who write about the death penalty will become aware of its sad history and the work of those throughout history who have seen its folly.
We encourage all eleventh grade students to take part in the scholarship competition. LIADP has enclosed a student set of directions and applications. These materials are also available by email from joan@turningflower.org.,by United States Postal Service --- LIADP, PO Box 15, Loysville, PA. 17047, and on the Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty web site, www.padp.org.
The scholarship is in memory of Pauline Underwood of Harrisburg and Shippensburg, who worked tirelessly for the abolition of the death penalty into her ninety-second year and who passed away in January 2011. Polly’s letters were published in Central Pennsylvania newspapers as recently as 2010.
Joan W. Anderson
President LIADP


APPLICATION FOR UNDERWOOD
MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP
SUBMIT BETWEEN OCTOBER 1, 2011 AND APRIL 30, 2012. SEND A COPY
OF THIS FORM WITH THREE COPIES OF YOUR ESSAY.
DO NOT PUT YOUR NAME ON YOUR ESSAY.
STUDENT LAST NAME ___________________________________________________
FIRST NAME______________________________BIRTH DATE___________________
STREET ADDRESS____________________________________________________________
CITY______________________________________________STATE______ZIP_________
PHONE________________________CELL PHONE____________________________
EMAIL__________________________________________________________________
NAME OF HIGH SCHOOL_________________________________________________
STREET ADDRESS_______________________________________________________
CITY, STATE, AND ZIP____________________________________________________
TELEPHONE NUMBER__________________________________________
FACULTY ADVISOR ________________________________________________
STUDENT SIGNATURE ______________________________________________

Send to LIADP, P.O. Box 15, Loysville, PA 17047


ESSAY DIRECTIONS:
1. ESSAYS ARE TO BE WRITTEN BY STUDENTS IN THE ELEVENTH GRADE. ESSAYS SHOULD BE RECEIVED BY LIADP BEFORE APRIL 30, 2012. ORDINARILY YOUR ESSAY SHOULD BE NO MORE THAN 750 WORDS IN LENGTH.*
2. YOUR ESSAY MAY BE BASED ON THE HISTORY OF THE DEATH PENALTY AS WELL AS YOUR SPIRITUAL BELIEFS OR ETHICAL VALUES. STATISTICAL EVIDENCE AND SOCIOLOGICAL IMPLICATIONS WILL BE WELCOMED. QUOTATIONS AND PARAPHRASING SHOULD BE PROPERLY DOCUMENTED WITH EITHER FOOTNOTES OR ENDNOTES.
3. SOME QUOTATIONS ARE SUPPLIED WITH THIS APPLICATION. YOU MAY CHOOSE ONE OF THESE OR USE A QUOTATION THAT IS NOT ON OUR LIST. YOU MAY REFER TO THE IDEAS OF SOMEONE ELSE THAT YOU RESPECT.
4. YOUR ENTRY SHOULD INCLUDE A BIBLIOGRAPHY.
5. THE ESSAY SHOULD BE THOUGHTFUL AND SHOW SENSITIVITY TO THE COMPLEXITY OF THE ISSUE OF CAPITAL PUNISHMENT.
6. THE ESSAY MAY ALSO BE USED TO FULFILL A SCHOOL OR HOME SCHOOLING ASSIGNMENT. IFYOUR ESSAY WILL BE USED FOR AN ASSIGNMENT THE ACCEPTABLE LENGTH OF THE ESSAY MAY NEED TO BE ADJUSTED. (*CONTACT LIADP AT THE ADDRESS BELOW IF YOU NEED TO DISCUSS THE LENGTH OF YOUR ESSAY.)
7. BY ENTERING YOUR ESSAY IN THE CONTEST YOU ARE GIVING THE LIADP PERMISSION TO PUBLISH IT.
8. PLEASE SUBMIT A COPY OF YOUR APPLICATION WITH YOUR ESSAY AND SEND TO: LIADP, PO BOX 15, LOYSVILLE, PA. 17047 OR TO joan@turningflower.org.
Please submit a copy of your application with three copies of your essay. Do not put your name on the body of the essay. Send application and essay copies to: LIADP, P.O.Box 15, Loysville, PA 17014. Phone number 1-866-800-7278

Monday, October 31, 2011

Join Sen Leach at Annual Dinner 11/15/11


Sponsor of Death Penalty Repeal Bill to Speak at Annual Dinner

Senator Daylin Leach, sponsor of Senate Bill 423 to repeal Pennsylvania’s death penalty, will be our presenter at this year’s Fred Speaker Memorial Dinner on November, 15, 2011. This annual dinner is co-sponsored by the Legislative Initiative Against the Death Penalty and Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. Please join us as we thank Senator Leach for his leadership and to hear his thoughts on why it’s time to end capital punishment in Pennsylvania.

Super Buffet

40 Noble Blvd.

Carlisle, PA

November 15, 2011 at 6 PM

Tickets are very affordable at only $12. per person which includes both the meal and the gratuity.

Please be sure to include your email, mailing address, phone number and the number attending when you register. Checks made out to LIADP may be mailed to: LIADP, PO Box 15, Loysville, PA. 17047

You may also purchase your tickets online through Network For Good at http://bit.ly/rFMvw5 Please be sure to write “Fred Speaker Memorial Dinner” in the Designation field and include the number of individuals attending, e.g. “Fred Speaker Memorial Dinner – 6”

Please join us and bring your friends, both those that are already abolitionists and those that are unsure. We hope to see you there!


About Senator Leach

Elected in 2008, Senator Daylin Leach serves Pennsylvania’s 17th District which includes parts of Montgomery and Delaware Counties. He was born in Philadelphia in 1961. He attended Temple University, where he graduated with a degree in political science, and earned a law degree from the University of Houston Law Center in 1983. After law school, Daylin moved back to southeast Pennsylvania where he practiced law for 17 years focusing on general litigation. Daylin also taught constitutional law, legal ethics and First Amendment law as an adjunct professor at Cedar Crest and Muhlenberg colleges.

For more information about Senator Leach, visit http://www.senatorleach.com/about/biography.htm

Scholarship Opportunity

There is a scholarship opportunity sponsored by the Legislative Initiative Against the Death Penalty (LIADP) for high schools students in the eleventh grade. The scholarship is an essay contest and the essays should focus on some facet of the death penalty. Essays can be submitted between now and April 30, 2012. The award is a $1,000 prize that will be deposited directly into the student's account at the college of his or her choice.

More information and an application can be found at LIADP, P.O. Box 15, Loysville, PA 17047 or from joan@turningflower.org.

The scholarship is in memory of Pauline Underwood of Harrisburg and Shippensburg, PA, who worked towards the abolition of the death penalty until she died in January 2011 at the age of 92.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Failed System

As Pennsylvania's courts gain more and more national attention, it is time we ask ourselves if we want to continue to be known for having one of the most ineffective and unjust criminal justice systems in the country.

Recently, a study released by the Pennsylvania Advisory Committee on Wrongful Convictions found the state's criminal justice system is in need of serious reforms due to, among other things, inadequate funding for defense, the inefficacy of eye-witness testimonies, and inadequate or inaccurate scientific evidence.

Additionally, a Philadelphia Inquirer study that examined the past three decades of death penalty appeals in PA found that 125 out of 391 capital cases, nearly one-third, have been reversed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 due, for the most part, to mistakes by defense lawyers that deprived the defendant of a fair trial. These mistakes are oftentimes due to the fact that defense lawyers in PA are paid very little and are given little time and little resources to make their case. According to the Inquirer study, court-appointed lawyers in Philadelphia are paid $2,000 for trial preparation and a mere $400 per day in court while a "veteran defense attorney said required a minimum outlay of $35,000 to $40,000.

Following on the heels of these two studies, the New York Times released an editorial stating that the death penalty simply must go in the state. The editorial notes that while Pennsylvania is one of the states that most imposes the death penalty, it is the lowest among those who carry out the death sentence with 208 men and women on death row and no one executed since 1999. Since 1976, when the death penalty was reinstated in the United States, Pennsylvania has executed only three individuals. The editorial notes that this low number of executions cannot take away from the extreme failings of the justice system in the state, saying,
"These abysmal facts vividly show that the death penalty cannot meet constitutional standards. Among the state’s egregious failures is not providing adequate defense counsel in capital cases."
The editorial goes on to note that of the bar's 13,000 lawyers, less than 30 are willing to take on these capital cases, and it is no surprise given the appalling work load and the inadequate pay allotted to them.

What is most striking about the editorial outside of these appalling facts about the failings in Pennsylvania's justice system, is that most of the death penalty cases in the state are more than a decade old. This means that fewer and fewer juries are seeking the death penalty in recent years, thus showing that support for capital punishment, at least in Pennsylvania, seems to be shrinking.

Given the clear failures of the justice system in Pennsylvania and the fact that fewer and fewer of the state's citizens are actually in support of capital punishment, it seems necessary that this unjust system should be put to an end. Senate Bill 423, if passed, would prohibit the use of the death penalty in Pennsylvania. It is imperative that we petition our senators and urge them to co-sponsor this bill. As the New York Times editorial said
"There is no argument in favor of maintaining a barbaric, arbitrary and expensive system of capital punishment."
It's time to end this thing.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Reforming our Justice System


This week, the Pennsylvania Advisory Committee on Wrongful Convictions released a report calling for serious reforms to Pennsylvania's criminal justice system. The report examined issues involved in wrongful convictions, including eye-witness identification, false confessions, a lack of or inaccurate DNA or scientific evidence, incorrect or perjurious testimonies from informants, inadequate legal representation, and aggressive tactics in the legal system.

The study cites that since 1989, 273 post-conviction exonerations in 34 states and the District of Columbia have occurred. These exonerations represent failings in the legal system, both for the innocent person wrongfully convicted and jailed, and for the victim of the crime, as well, whose perpetrator has not been caught. The study notes that these exonerations,
"Cast a disturbing doubt on the reliability of eyewitness identifications, confessions,
and overly aggressive practices within the adversarial legal system. Victims can often be mistaken in their identifications of perpetrators, especially when influenced, often unintentionally, by subtly suggestive procedures for lineups, photo arrays, and showups."
According to the study, along with other studies that have been conducted, eye-witness accounts are notoriously unreliable. In fact, this September, the American Judiciary Society, in collaboration with the Police Foundation, the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, and the Innocence Project, found that sequential line-ups
which is where the officer doesn't know which person is the actual suspect and witnesses are offered one suspect photograph at a time, rather than all at once are more accurate. Also according to the Innocence Project, false eye-witness identification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions in the nation, accounting for over 75% of the 273 people exonerated.

The report released this week also cited interrogation tactics as a source of wrongful convictions, saying,
"Interrogation techniques applied to suspects are calculated to obtain a confession and recurrently “work” against innocent suspects, especially those who are inexperienced, suggestible, unintelligent, mentally defective or anxious to end the interrogation."
What the study notes is that oftentimes, aggressive techniques by interrogators and officers sometimes elicit false confessions or admissions of guilt, due to the personalities or mental capacities of the suspect being interviewed. What is just as disturbing in the study is that it found that the suspect's lack of funds for a lawyer can lead to wrongful convictions as well, noting,
"Many defendants cannot afford a private attorney and therefore receive less thorough representation by overworked public defenders and appointed counsel. In many places, this lack of adequate representation is due to underfunding of public defender offices and substantial underpayment of appointed counsel representing indigent defendants."
This idea that representation can make the difference in a trial is nothing new. With regards to capital cases, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, the quality of representation is oftentimes a deciding factor in whether or not a defendant will receive the death penalty instead of life without parole.

What is perhaps the most disturbing, among all of these issues with the criminal justice system in Pennsylvania as well as nationally, is that the death penalty is still on the table for 34 states.
Not only is our entire system corrupt and flawed, it also has the authority to decide when a criminal is guilty enough to live or die. Our system, which is based on faulty eye-witness testimonies, which coerces, as the study says, those who are "inexperienced, suggestible, unintelligent" or "mentally defective", into giving false confessions, which gives over-worked and under-employed public defenders cases where defendants cannot afford a private attorney, is given the ability to kill men and women, despite the overwhelming and pervasive flaws that have put the innocent bars and, in some cases, executed them.

This study highlights what many have known all along and that is first, we need a radical overhaul of the criminal justice system in this country and second, we need to end this barbaric, this racially skewed, this socio-economically skewed system that is the death penalty. These issues are not exclusive to Pennsylvania, they are endemic of the entire system. Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, Pennsylvania has only executed three people, however, the population of death row in PA is 219 people. Not only is the death penalty a moral issue, it is also an issue of cost. A prisoner on death row costs up to three times as much as a prisoner who is given life without parole. Even if we ignore the staggering human rights issues that plague the death penalty, in these very tough economic times, we cannot ignore the fact that exuberant amounts of money are being spent on maintaining this barbaric practice.

It is time we end the death penalty. Tell your PA senator to co-sponsor SB423 and end the death penalty in Pennsylvania for good.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Moving Forward

Although it has been happening painfully and slowly, the U.S. is beginning to show promise as capital punishment is becoming less and less favorable throughout the country. A New York Times editorial from Oct. 14, The Death Penalty's De Facto Abolition, highlighted this positive move forward as the United States struggles to catch up with the rest of the world with regards to the death penalty.
"From their annual high points since the penalty was reinstated 35 years ago, the number executed has dropped by half, and the number sentenced to death has dropped by almost two-thirds. Sixteen states don’t allow the penalty, and eight of the states that do have not carried out an execution in 12 years or more."
We still have far to go, however. As many people are aware, September marked a very dark day for the U.S., when Georgia decided to execute Troy Anthony Davis, a man who spent many years on death row and was finally killed on September 21, 2011, despite too much doubt about his case. On that same day, Lawrence Brewer, a man convicted of the most henious of hate crimes whose guilt was not under question, was also executed in Texas, marking the 475 execution in the state since 1976 when the death penalty was re-instated.

In Pennsylvania, we have a lot of work to do as well. Pennsylvania currently has 219 people on death row, and, while PA has only executed 3 individuals since 1976, the death penalty remains a wildly expensive, and racially/socio-economically unbalanced program.

We can take so much, however, from such travesties as the Troy Davis case, just as Troy himself did when he stated to Amnesty International,
"The struggle for justice doesn't end with me. This struggle is for all the Troy Davises who came before me and all the ones who will come after me. I'm in good spirits and I'm prayerful and at peace. But I will not stop fighting until I've taken my last breath."
Troy and his family never stopped fighting and Troy's sister, Martina Correia, vowed even after his death to continue the fight against capital punishment in ALL cases. We all, across the planet, fought hard to save Troy's life and we will continue that fight even in the face of adversity. We will continue to fight for those whose guilt is questioned, like Troy, and even for those, like Lawrence Brewer, whose guilt is clear and whose motives are abhorrent. We will fight for those who have clearly been wronged by the justice system and we will fight for the racist murderer. We will fight for them because we know that no one has the right to take the life of another. Continue this good fight. End the death penalty in Pennsylvania and end the death penalty in the United States.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Former death row inmate released from Tennessee prison

Tennessee prison released Gaile Owens, a woman who spent the past 26 years on death row and came within just two months of being executed, on Friday, from the Tennessee prison for women. She was put on death row for hiring a stranger to kill her husband in 1985. Last year, her death sentence was dropped to life in prison, which, at the time, was a 30 year sentence and she was released early on good behavior.

Owens, who was a battered wife, did not use her husband's abusiveness as part of her defense because, her supporters say, she did not want her sons to find out about the physical and sexual abuse. However, Governor Phil Bredesen, who made the decision to spare her life, said he made the decision because, he said, prosecutors had tried to cut a deal with Owens saying that if she pleaded guilty they would not seek the death penalty. However, her co-defendant would not accept the plea bargain and Owens was put on trial.

This is yet another case that shows the inefficiency and unjust death penalty system. For 26 years, this woman was kept on death row, at a cost that is shown to be as much as 3x more expensive than a sentence of life without parole, due to the single-person cells and increased security measures. Taxpayers pay hundreds of millions of dollars per state to keep up this costly, not to mention, immoral, program. What's more, the state of Tennessee came dangerously close to executing a victim of sexual and physical abuse by her husband, and needlessly taking another life.

Luckily, Gov. Bredesen had the courage to not allow this to happen. What we need to see in this country is more of the same. Right now, in 34 states in the U.S., as of Jan. 2011, 3251 people are on death row (http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/). With a financial crisis going on in this country, would it not be beneficial for everyone to end this program that dumps millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars into a system that the majority of Americans don't even support? And what's more, the U.S. prides itself on being a leader in human rights, yet we have thousands of people on death row, a system that Europe, and many other countries, have already done away with.

It is time to end this terrible system that has proven itself to be ineffective and unjust. Please contact your representatives and tell them to end the death penalty!

(Photo credit: AP)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The United States of America: A Beacon for Civil Rights

Amnesty International released this map in March, 2011: http://blog.amnestyusa.org/deathpenalty/u-s-in-top-5-for-executions-worldwide/. The map shows which countries have abolished the death penalty world-wide. According to Amnesty, more than 2/3rds of the countries of the world have either abolished the death penalty or have not executed anyone within the past decade. In the U.S., 1/3 of the states have also elected to abolish the death penalty. This past year, 2010, however, the U.S. has ranked top five for the MOST executions carried out across the planet, only surpassed by China, Iran, North Korea, and Yemen, as illustrated by this graph from Amnesty International:



It is troubling to see that the U.S., which holds itself in high esteem for its human rights strides over the past century or so, has managed to retain a policy of such a draconian and barbaric nature. All across the world, the U.S. condemns the leaders of other countries for not allowing a basic level of human rights that we in the U.S. consider to be fundamental. These include such great ideals as in our first amendment: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, the right to assembly, and the right to petition the government. These basic rights we allow our citizens and demand from other countries, and yet, something that seems so obviously unjust and uncivilized, such as capital punishment, has still managed to continue in this country, meanwhile other nations surpass us by abolishing this abhorrent system.

It is atrocious that a country that aims to lead the rest of the world in so many ways could allow itself to lag so far behind when it comes to capital punishment. Not only is capital punishment detestable on a moral level, it is also ineffective, as there is no evidence that it deters future crime, racially imbalanced, with a statistically higher number of minorities on death row (most especially when the victim is white), socio-economically imbalanced, with more lower-class individuals on death row, and it is far more expensive than sentencing someone to life without parole.

What is obvious is that the death penalty cannot continue in this country if we wish to maintain our standing in the world as a leader in human rights. We must follow the path that countries around the world have already paved and abolish the death penalty across the U.S. In order to end on a positive note, the following list is from Amnesty International's web page of countries that have abolished the Death Penalty since 1961:

Abolitionist for all crimes:
• Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, Iceland, Panama, San Marino, Uruguay, Venezuela
Abolitionist for ordinary crimes:
• Austria, Denmark, Finland, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland
No Executions in the Past 10 Years and A Policy Not to Carry Out executions
• Andorra, Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Cape Verde, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, Nicaragua, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Lawrence Brewer

After so much attention paid to the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia on September 21st, 2011, I thought it necessary to remember someone else who was executed on the same day in Texas. Lawrence Brewer's execution passed with little or no fanfare, as the eyes of the world were focused on Georgia. Brewer was convicted for the 1998 murder of James Byrd Jr., a black man from Texas. Byrd was brutally beaten and dragged from the back of a pickup truck by Brewer, along with John William King, also on death row, and Shawn Berry, given life without parole.

The guilt of these men is not under question in what is one of the worst hate crimes in recent history, and the men were openly involved in white supremacist groups. However, it is important to remember that for even the most heinous of crimes to which there is overwhelming proof of guilt, the death penalty remains unjust, wildly expensive, and a reaction of vengeance, not of justice. As human beings, our natural inclination is that of revenge. We desire to see those that hurt us or hurt those closest to us to have pain inflicted back upon them. We imagine in our own minds that taking the life of a criminal who has taken innocent life will somehow balance the scales. These emotions, while common and natural, are not things we should desire in our legal system. The law is meant to supersede our fickle, volatile human responses to things that upset us. It is meant to use rationality and reason, not an animal desire to inflict pain on others.

So while I am revolted by the actions of Lawrence Brewer, I do not celebrate his death. I do not see that the scale of justice has been balanced by his death, rather, it has been tipped even further. As a nation that proclaims itself to be a pillar of human rights and a guiding light to other nations on the way justice should be carried out, it is time that we abolish the death penalty in this country, as every European nation has already done, and as countries around the world have done.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Fight Continues


I watched dumbfounded last night as the state of Georgia and the U.S. Supreme Court decided to murder Troy Davis at 11:08 p.m. It is disgusting, it is disappointing, and yes, it is even discouraging to see that all of the work that so many people did to try to save Troy ended with his death. Yet, it is important that we all remember the words that Troy himself said,
he struggle for justice doesn't end with me. This struggle is for all the Troy Davises who came before me and all the ones who will come after me. I'm in good spirits and I'm prayerful and at peace. But I will not stop fighting until I've taken my last breath."

We need to take a lesson from Troy today and understand that while we may not have been able to spare Troy last night, while the government may have ignored our cries to spare him and to end these unjust, state-sanctioned murders, while it may seem bleak and hopeless now, we must not stop our fight to end the death penalty in the United States. We must, as Troy said, not stop fighting until we take our last breath. We must not let Troy's death be in vain. Today, as we mourn Troy's death we must also be revitalized, and know that the fight is not over, and, if nothing else can come of this, there is at least fuel to our fire to end capital punishment in this country. Troy will not die for nothing. When the day comes that the government finally listens to our cries and sees that the death penalty is arbitrary, racially skewed, and socio-economically skewed, and when they decide to put a moratorium on the death penalty, then we will thank Troy for the terrible sacrifice that he made so bravely in the name of justice.

Don't give up the fight. Stand tall against the death penalty and do not be discouraged. Today, our thoughts are with Troy's family in mourning. Tomorrow, our thoughts will be focused on ending this injustice in our country.