Monday, November 12, 2012

Philadelphia Inquirer Calls for Moratorium on Death Penalty

Inquirer Editorial: Execution stay points to need for a moratorium

As near as Pennsylvania came Thursday to carrying out the state's first execution in more than a decade, there is still time for Gov. Corbett to enact the moratorium sought by a bipartisan legislative task force studying whether the death penalty makes any sense.

There's no doubt that the eleventh-hour reprieve for convicted York County killer Hubert L. Michael Jr. - affirmed in a rare move by the U.S. Supreme Court - lifts a rock on critical flaws in the capital punishment system.

But the brief, two-week stay issued to allow a federal judge to explain his denial of Michael's petition to escape death row provides too little time to determine whether justice would be served by his execution.
There's also a broader constitutional issue that must be resolved before any date is kept with the state's executioner: A pending class-action lawsuit legitimately calls into question whether the use of a lethal injection amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

Going ahead with Michael's execution also would violate the spirit of Supreme Court rulings that limit the death penalty for defendants with psychological problems. The court now bans executing the mentally retarded, as well as juveniles, who, due to their youth, have a limited grasp of the impact of their crimes.
A step further toward the United States' joining most other Western democracies in scrapping the death penalty would be to exclude the severely mentally ill, which is pertinent in Michael's case. Suffering for years from what attorneys describe as serious mental problems, Michael, 56, has gone back and forth on appealing his sentence.

So, the state Attorney General's Office should not be allowed to assert that Michael lost his right to fight execution because he once appeared to accept it. Since there's no rush to execute someone for a crime dating to 1993, the courts must have time to explore legal avenues that point out the wrongfulness of this punishment.

Beyond scrutinizing one killer's pleas, the events surrounding preparations for an execution illustrate the needless costs capital punishment entails. The endless legal proceedings are a given. There's also the enormous emotional toll on relatives and friends of victims during the lengthy appeals process.
Last week, those closest to Michael's young victim - Trista Eng, 16 - wept before state pardons officials. Ending capital punishment would spare all victims' families that anguish, offering them the hope of closure and some measure of peace. Corbett has the power to begin that healing by declaring a moratorium.

Friday, November 9, 2012

US Supreme Court Upholds Stay for Hubert Michael

Hubert Michael was scheduled for execution at 7PM. Earlier in the day, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay. While that was good news, it did not mean that the killing would not take place. The state of Pennsylvania appealed the stay all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

Abolitionists held a candlelight vigil in the freezing cold outside SCI Rockview. Pennsylvania's Death House is located on a dark, remote road near State College. People came from across the state to stand in solidarity in opposition to state-sponsored killing. In addition to PADP, the ACLU, Amnesty International and the NAACP tried to warm their hands with the heat of the candles. Members of the media came and went.

We planned to stay as long as necessary, knowing that the death warrant would expire at midnight, and that at any time before then, the execution could still take place. We received word that the defense team had filed its response and that there was still no news from the Supreme Court.

Even as more people arrived to join our vigil, we started speaking more softly. The helicopter, which had flown overhead a few times earlier, made faster and lower buzz trips over us. Some time after 8 PM, we got a phone call with the great news that the Supreme Court had decided not to overturn the stay.  Reverend Walt Everett and his wife, Nancy, had just arrived at our rally point one mile away (there is no parking on the road where the prison is and student members of the ACLU at Penn State were providing shuttle service to and from the vigil).

Before heading up to join us, members of the press stopped and interviewed Walt. By the time I was able to reach him and give him the good news, he was already mid-conversation, sharing his experiences as the father or a murder victim who opposes the death penalty. When he arrived, I told him that it was time for us all to go home because, for now at least, the state of Pennsylvania would not be taking Hubert's life.

Each opposing party now has the opportunity to submit briefs. I don't pretend to understand what happens beyond that on the litigation end. I'm sure there will be statements issued that will be more comprehensive and understandable than my quick summary here.

Thank you all for your great work moving us to abolition. Special thanks to those who braved the cold and wind at the vigil and our gratitude goes especially to the PSU students who managed the logistics with patience and good humor.

Regardless of the outcome of Mr. Michael's case, we need to enact a moratorium immediately on executions in PA. There are so many compelling reasons to do so, not least of which is that the Joint State Government Committee is conducting a study on capital punishment here in the Commonwealth. Let's stop the killing.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Statement on the Execution of Hubert Michael

Tonight, Pennsylvania will kill one of its citizens, Hubert Lester Michael, who murdered Trista Eng. Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Trista who are suffering unknowable pain. Yesterday, some of them spoke publicly at the hearing in front of the PA Board of Pardons and Parole.  Their personal stories of their love and longing for Trista and shared memories of all the years that they have endured without her.

The impending execution of Mr. Michael cannot bring their loved one back, & is unlikely to bring them closure. Vicki Schieber, whose daughter was raped and murdered in Philadelphia says that she “can tell you with all seriousness that there is no such thing as closure when a violent crime rips away the life of someone dear to you.”

From 5 – 8 PM we will be standing outside of the death house, SCI Rockview, in solidarity with the Eng family, with the Michael family and with all who are connected to this very sad moment. We gather to bear witness to the barbarity that is state-sponsored killing. We urge Governor Corbett not to kill in our names. 

This execution comes as more states and more people are rejecting the death penalty as outrageously expensive and error-prone.  Pennsylvania's system of capital punishment is worse than most.

In the words of Sr. Barbara Craig, Hubert Michael’s spiritual advisor “May the day come, and in the not too distant future, when the death penalty is abolished in this state and in the country.”

Kathleen Lucas, Executive Director
Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
twitter @padp_org

Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (PADP) is a grassroots organization dedicated to ending capital punishment in Pennsylvania.  We believe that there are safe and fair alternatives to executions.  PADP organizes Pennsylvania citizens through direct outreach and community education.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Vigil Nov 8, 2012 in Protest of Execution of Hubert Michael

Unless there is a last-minute stay, Hubert Michael will be executed by the state of Pennsylvania. His execution will be the first of a non-volunteer (someone who has chosen to abandon the appeals to which he is entitled) in 50 years, and the first execution in 13 years. We invite you to join us for a vigil tomorrow evening.

We will be gathering outside of SCI Rockview at 5PM for a candle light vigil in protest of Hubert Michael's execution. Please come and stand in solidarity with us. We are organizing car pools from the York/Harrisburg and Philadelphia areas. Please contact Kathleen at if you are able to offer a ride or if you need one. We would like to have a group from Pittsburgh join us as well. Please contact Kathleen if you are willing to help organize a car pool.

More detailed information about the vigil:

  • The state of Pennsylvania is back in the killing business. The first execution in 50 years of a non-volunteer is scheduled for November 8, 2012 to begin at 5 PM. Please stand with us outside the death house on the evening of Michael Hubert's execution. The vigil will take place regardless of weather. Here is a list of items you may want to bring along:

    • Layers of clothing and, if rain is predicted, umbrellas.
    • Candles as symbols of shining a light of hope for ending the death penalty in PA and throughout the world.
    • Folding chairs
    • Some snacks to share
    • Musical instruments
    • Flashlight
    • Signs (we will also have some made in advance)
    • Camera/Video camera

    There is no parking on the road outside the prison so we will be relying on shuttle service by the generous Penn State students using their personal vehicles. Please park in the Nittany Mall in State College outside of Sears and look for a group of vehicles which will be clearly marked with signs calling for abolition of the death penalty and white fabric strips hanging out their windows. 

    Speakers will include Reverend Walter Everett, whose son was murdered, Ashlee Shelton, former head of Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, and a spokesperson for Hubert's spiritual advisor, Sister Barbara.

    Please spread the word far and wide about this vigil and encourage everyone to join us. Pennsylvania must be shown that we do not want the state to kill in our names. Invited speakers will include leaders of Amnesty International, Pennsylvania Prison Society, murder victims' family members, faith leaders, and representatives from other organizations. If your organization is interested in this speaking opportunity, please contact me at .

    Yours in Solidarity and Hope,