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 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

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

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 ( 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: 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.