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.

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