The Death Penalty Blog : Displaying 21-40 of 326


"I am free. I am free."

Posted by Marisol Dominguez on October 4th, 2013

 Herman Wallace endured 42 years of solitary confinement in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, decades of injustice, a battle with liver cancer so that he could finally say, "I am free." On Tuesday, October 1st Wallace was released and three days later he died in his sleep, due to his terminal disease. This case has received much spotlight because of the racism surrounding the conviction and the cruel treatment of being placed in SHU for decades. Herman Wallace is not a lone example of the injustices of the criminal system as he accounts for one of the Angola 3. The 'Angola 3,' Herman Wallace, Robert King and Albert Woodfox,  were charged with the murder of a prison guard, Brent Miller, in 1972. At the time of the murder, the 'Angola 3' were completing a sentence for armed robbery and played key roles in the Black Panther movement within the prison. Since their accusation of killing the guard, The Angola 3, were removed from general prison population and continue to claim their innocence.  


Their trial was far from fair and decades of appeals have not produced enough change. As of today, October 4, Wallace has passed away with a looming re-indictment, King is free after having his conviction overturned in 2001, and Woodfox continues to live in solitary confinement. Justice will prevail when the court overturns all convictions and the 'Angola 3' receive an apology. But then, we should ask ourselves, is this really justice?

Herman, Your spirit will continue to inspire people to fight for a more humane and just world.

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Texas Executes 500th Inmate...now what?

Posted by Chelsea on June 26th, 2013

Tonight, Texas executed its 500th person since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

It is the first state to reach this unseemly milestone, with current Governor Rick Perry playing a major part, having presided over 260 executions (also a record).  It’s a shocking number, and though it  is certainly is a grim milestone, what does Texas executing its 500th person actually say about the current state of the death penalty in the United States?

Executions per year since 1995



The truth is: not much.


The death penalty has been in decline since the late-1990s, when executions reached a fever pitch. 


In the past six years, six states have replaced their death penalty with a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, which brings the number of death penalty-free states to 18. Of those 32 states that still have a death penalty on the books, only six have executed anyone this year.


Decline of death sentences per year since 1995 Since life in prison without the possibility of parole became an alternative, juries have  also been less inclined to sentence people to death. Even in Texas, the rate at which people are being sentenced to death is falling dramatically.

The current state of the death penalty is not reflected by this astronomical number.  It is reflected in the downward trends in executions and new death sentences. It is reflected in the growing number of states that have replaced the death penalty. It is reflected in the shrinking number of states that are actually executing people.

 Texas’ 500th execution is sobering, but the movement to replace the death penalty is only speeding up.  The death penalty is prohibitively expensive, it’s taking away resources from programs that actually improve public safety, and we’re sentencing innocent people to die.

The death penalty is on the path toward demise, and Death Penalty Focus is committed to seeing this through to the end. Tonight was a grim reminder that our work is not yet done, but each year, we come closer to achieving our goal of ending the death penalty in the United States.

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20th Anniversary of Sister Helen's bestselling book, Dead Man Walking!

Posted by on June 17th, 2013

This month marks the 20th anniversary of Sister Helen Prejean’s bestselling book, Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States. In celebration of this anniversary, the book will be re-released tomorrow, June 18th!

This book, recounting Sister Helen’s experience and bond with death row inmate, Patrick Sonnier, helped bring more attention to the death penalty. Sister Helen created a much needed discussion about the death penalty, and though much progress has been made since the book was first released twenty years ago, she continues to work tirelessly to put an end to Capital Punishment once and for all.

This book has opened the eyes of the thousands of readers, and will continue to bring awareness to the death penalty issue in the years to come. Who knows? Perhaps for the 40th anniversary of Dead Man Walking, we will be celebrating the end of the death penalty in the U.S.!

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One for Ten

Posted by on February 21st, 2013

We're really excited to be supporting a new documentary series - One For Ten - that will tell the stories of ten innocent people who were exonerated and released from America's death row.

Ray Krone is just one of those innocent people. One for Ten chose Ray's story to be the first of their short films. You can check it out here (Danny Glover even introduces it!)

Over five weeks in April and May, One for Ten will travel across the country, producing two films a week for immediate online distribution. All the films will be free to watch and free to share.


They are supported by a broad coalition of charity partners of which we're excited to be a part and the project is totally interactive, which means you can have a hand in asking the questions and giving your feedback on the films as they're released.

In order to make this project happen, One for Ten needs support and funding. Watch what their project is all about, and if you want to see more, consider contributing to their campaign.

You can support this project by LIKING them on Facebook, FOLLOWING them on Twitter and SHARING their campaign with your networks.

Posted in Blog, Innocence | 2 comments



Death Penalty and California

Posted by on January 22nd, 2013

We know that California's death penalty is broken. This new infographic by the California Innocence Project breaks down why - cost, wrongful convictions, and racial injustice. While California didn't vote to end the death penalty this time, the conversation must continue and more people must learn about these staggering statistics.

Death Penalty Infographic - An Infographic from CA Innocence Project

Embedded from CA Innocence Project

Despite Proposition 34's narrow loss, support for the death penalty is declining

Posted by Jessica Lewis on November 19th, 2012

“The death penalty in California survived by a narrow vote on November 6, but around the country the signs are clear that capital punishment is slowly on the way out,” writes Richard Dieter, Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center, in his article “The Slow Demise of the Death Penalty.”


“Although California's recent vote means the death penalty will remain, the 47% of voters who favored replacing it indicates many Californians have had a change of heart regarding capital punishment. By contrast, the initiative that reinstated the death penalty in 1978 garnered the support of 71% of voters.”


Read the full Huffington Post article here.

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URGENT: Get Out The Vote for Prop 34

Posted by on October 22nd, 2012

It's crunch time! We are now counting the days until November 6, when Californians will have a chance to vote YES on Proposition 34 to replace the state’s death penalty with life without the possibility of parole.

Death Penalty Focus has been a critical part of this effort, and now we're reaching out to ask our community for support.

The campaign is seeking volunteers to fill each of the following important roles:

Phone Banking: Help reach 100,000 voters by calling through a targeted list. Yes on 34 staff will train and prepare you to have these critical one-on-one conversations. You can join one of many phone bank locations or you can call from the comfort of your home.

Door-to-Door Canvassing: Join Democrats and other Prop 34 allies as they go door-to-door in their neighborhoods, passing out literature and discussing the important issues and candidates on this years ballot in order to ensure that our supporters go to the polls and vote!

Street Outreach: Meet up with fellow volunteers in your area at one of the many community festivals and events happening the Friday before the election. As a group, you will pass out flyers and answer questions about the initiative to passersby. The Monday and Tuesday before the election, Yes on 34 volunteers will be passing out flyers at busy transit locations.

Office Help: Help Yes on 34 prepare materials for Get Out The Vote by cutting flyers, packaging materials, and making volunteer recruitment phone calls.

Please sign up to volunteer via the Yes on 34 site here.

Thank you for your help - on November 6, we will make history!

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Families of murder victims speak out

Posted by Chelsea Bond on September 20th, 2012

California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (CCV), a project of Death Penalty Focus and Murder Victim Families for Reconciliation, has been an outlet for families of murder victims to speak about their opposition to the death penalty.

It is often said that the death penalty is needed to give closure to the families who have lost their loved ones. But what if you find that the death penalty does not give you closure, relief, or justice? 

In a series of videos, our CCV members explain why they have chosen to support alternatives to the death penalty. Please take a moment and watch!


Posted in Blog, CCV/Victims | 1 comments



Wrongful conviction and the path to justice

Posted by Jessica Lewis on July 6th, 2012

Death Penalty Focus Justice Advocates and Witness to Innocence joined forces with the SAFE California campaign to showcase three men’s inspiring stories of wrongful conviction and the fight to prove their innocence.

Francisco “Franky” Carrillo Jr. was exonerated in March 2011 after serving two decades for a drive-by shooting he did not commit. Franky was just 16 years old when six witnesses identified him as the shooter. All six eventually recanted their testimony, admitting that they were influenced to make their identifications by the police and by each other. Franky now works as a Justice Advocate with DPF to tell his story and educate the public about the real danger of incarcerating and even executing the innocent.

After almost nine years in prison (two of which spent on death row), DNA evidence acquitted Kirk Bloodsworth of the 1984 rape and murder of nine-year-old Dawn Hamilton. Kirk, a former Marine, was connected to the crime by testimony from five witnesses and forensic evidence that supposedly linked the print of his shoes with marks on the victim’s body. It wasn’t until 1992, thanks to the help of Centurion Ministries of Princeton, New Jersey, that Kirk obtained approval for the DNA testing that proved his innocence. The first U.S. death row prisoner to be exonerated by DNA, Kirk now travels the country speaking for Witness to Innocence.

Nathson “Nate” Fields spent almost 20 years in prison, including more than 11 years on death row, for a double homicide he did not commit. Nate and a co-defendant were accused of killing members of a rival gang in 1984, and in 1998, it was uncovered that the judge in Nate’s case had taken a $10,000 bribe. Nate was granted a new trial, but his co-defendant exchanged testimony against him for a lesser sentence. However, in 2009, Nate was acquitted of all charges and was awarded a certificate of innocence. Nate serves on the board of Witness to Innocence.

Franky, Kirk, and Nate spoke out about their experiences and why they support SAFE California at Sacred Heart Catholic Church and Bethel AME Church in Los Angeles and at St. Rita’s Catholic Church in San Diego.

(Image: Nate Fields and Kirk Bloodsworth enjoying the Los Angeles sun in between speaking engagements.)

Posted in Innocence | no comments



We need to help the victims of crime

Posted by Mary Kay Raftery, guest blogger on June 6th, 2012

My oldest son, Paul Raftery, was murdered on December 8, 2006 in Helena, Montana by two young men looking for drug money. Paul had no money in his wallet.

Prior to Paul’s murder, I had been involved with California People of Faith Working Against the Death Penalty. Sometimes, people would tell me that I would feel differently about my views on the death penalty if my child was murdered. After I received the call that Paul had been killed, I stopped to think about my opinion. It hadn’t changed.

I don't understand the concept of closure. After all, putting someone to death, in my case those two murderers, will never bring my sorely missed son back. The two murderers received sentences of life with the possibility of parole after 55 years, essentially a life sentence. I felt justice had been served.

I’d had the chance to talk to Paul about my activities with the California People of Faith. That’s when he quietly told me he, too, opposed the death penalty. I was surprised, but very gratified that he shared my beliefs having served 12 years as a law enforcement officer.

In November, Californians will have the opportunity to vote for SAFE California, a ballot initiative that will replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole. This measure will save Californians over $1 billion in the next five years and create a one-time fund of $100 million to help local police investigate and solve the 46% of unsolved murders across the state.

My hope is that no mother is forced to endure the loss of a child to violent crime. That is why I believe so strongly in using our resources to prevent crime and keep our streets safe. The death penalty costs Californians $184 million a year more than the alternative but equally harsh punishment, life in prison without the possibility of parole. That money would be better spent hiring more police officers to help protect our communities.

I also believe that we need to be providing for the victims of these horrible acts. SAFE California means that victims will not be dragged through decades of appeals. Inmates will be locked up behind bars forever, where they will work and pay money toward restitution and victim compensation. They will lose the special privileges that death row provides them, including their own cell. And the tremendous savings will help free up money to support victim services like counseling and medical treatment.

It has now been five years since the young men who murdered our son were sentenced and we received justice. To honor Paul, I am expressing my support for the SAFE California Campaign. I hope that others will see that it is time we start using limited resources to address the real issues behind violent crime, and to help the victims that are left behind. 

Posted in Blog, CCV/Victims | 3 comments



Honor Dr. King by volunteering to end death sentencing in California

Posted by on January 10th, 2012

This Monday, I will honor Dr. King’s passionate commitment to justice by volunteering to gather the signatures that will help us end the death penalty in California.

This upcoming weekend, January 14-16, will be a “Weekend of Action” where you can join us in this effort. Volunteers will be joined by the Reverend Jesse Jackson, the California NAACP, and civil rights leaders throughout the state as we come together in support of the SAFE California Campaign. The SAFE California Campaign has less than two months to gather the remainder of signatures required to qualify for the November 2012 ballot, and volunteers are needed to help reach our goal.

Will you join us in honoring Dr. King and help end death sentences in California?

The SAFE California campaign is sponsored by a broad coalition of justice organizations, including Death Penalty Focus, who are all joined in the commitment to replace the death penalty to protect the innocent, save our very limited state resources, and improve safety in our communities. SAFE is working hard to get the hundreds of thousands of signatures needed to qualify the “Savings, Accountability, and Full Enforcement for California Act” ballot initiative in time for the November 2012 election.

I am proud to say that Death Penalty Focus is one of the organizations leading this effort. For over 20 years, we have worked to get to this point, and with your help, we can make history in California this November.

We also take the time this coming weekend to honor all victims of senseless violence. Coretta Scott King declared, “As one whose husband and mother-in-law have died the victims of murder assassination, I stand firmly and unequivocally opposed to the death penalty for those convicted of capital offenses.” As Coretta Scott King knew, in order to create a future with less crime, we must end this risky and costly punishment.

Now is the time to step forward and join together in this campaign to end the death penalty in California. As a member of Death Penalty Focus, I hope you will join the thousands of volunteers statewide who are ready to commemorate Dr. King’s leadership by joining this historic movement over MLK weekend.

    In Solidarity,
    Ana Zamora
    Program Director

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Our secret weapon

Posted by Mike Farrell on December 29th, 2011

2011 has been a year of tremendous achievements, heartbreaking losses and, at last, real hope for change in California.

In March, Illinois followed New York, New Jersey and New Mexico and abolished the death penalty. Two months later, we at Death Penalty Focus were thrilled to honor Illinois Governor Pat Quinn at our Annual Awards Dinner. Governor Quinn, who had long supported the death penalty, spent two months deliberating on his decision.  At our event he spoke eloquently about his change of heart. "If the system can't be guaranteed 100% error-free, then we shouldn't have the system," Quinn said. "It cannot stand."

April brought the incredible Jeanne Woodford to Death Penalty Focus as our new Executive Director. For those of you who have not yet had the pleasure of meeting Jeanne, please hear me when I say that she is our secret weapon for ending the death penalty in California - and beyond. As the warden of San Quentin State Prison, Jeanne experienced the pain of overseeing four executions.  After leaving San Quentin, she was appointed to head the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.  Today, the more people Jeanne has the opportunity to meet and talk with, the more support we gain for ending the death penalty. It’s almost that simple. Put Jeanne in front of a group of death penalty supporters and before long their support begins to evaporate. We are thrilled to have her on board.

I am also thrilled that, last week, Governor John Kitzhaber of Oregon halted executions in his state. In a simple but uncompromising statement, he echoed the growing distaste for capital punishment being heard in many of our courts, our legislatures, churches, and homes.  "I am convinced,” he wrote, “we can find a better solution that keeps society safe, supports the victims of crime and their families and reflects Oregon values.  I refuse to be a part of this compromised and inequitable system any longer; and I will not allow further executions while I am Governor."  Bravo Governor Kitzhaber!


September brought the heartbreaking execution of Troy Davis. Yet, even on that most awful day, Mr. Davis himself understood that his death would galvanize support for ending this barbaric practice.  On his last day he said, "There are so many more Troy Davis’. This fight to end the death penalty is not won or lost through me but through our strength to move forward and save every innocent person in captivity around the globe. We need to dismantle this unjust system city by city, state by state and country by country…Never stop fighting for justice and we will win!"

I wholeheartedly agree with Troy Davis. We will win. In fact, next November California voters have the chance to replace the death penalty with life without parole.

Here at Death Penalty Focus, we know what it takes to convince people to end the death penalty.  DPF excels at empowering exonorees, crime victims’ families, and law enforcement professionals to be effective spokespersons for alternatives to the death penalty. We know from focus groups that these voices are the most effective in changing hearts and minds.


Please make a generous donation today, so that Death Penalty Focus can honor the memory of Troy Davis by making California the next state to end the death penalty.

Thank you.

Mike Farrell President, Death Penalty Focus

PS- Because of contributions from dedicated supporters like you, we continue to move closer to ending the death penalty. We can’t do this work without you. Please donate today!

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SAFE California Initiative Spells Swift Justice

Posted by Margo Schulter on November 3rd, 2011
November 3, 2011

A story that has stuck with me over the decades comes from a school civics text. A criminal came into the town of Milwaukee and killed a man. He was arrested in the morning, tried in the afternoon, and that evening was already serving his life sentence in the State Penitentiary.  Sadder but wiser, he expressed admiration for Milwaukee as a place which stood up for justice.

This brand of swift and decisive "frontier justice" in homicide cases is a topic of stories not only in Wisconsin, which
abolished the death penalty in 1853, but also in Michigan, famed as the first English-speaking jurisdiction to abolish it for murder in 1846 (the death penalty for treason technically remained on the books until 1963). Society's message was clear: take a human life through premeditated murder, and you'll spend the rest of your natural life in prison.

While we may be unable in 21st-century California literally to achieve same-day justice in homicide cases, the SAFE California Initiative will provide the same kind of swift, certain, and nonlethal justice that the old stories from places such as Michigan and Wisconsin celebrate. And by comparison to the decades-long ordeal often inflicted by our broken death penalty system on families of murder victims and condemned prisoners alike as well as society at large, the progress of a life without parole case from arrest to trial to permanent imprisonment of the murderer may seem almost as fast as in those stories of a century or more ago.

One feature of the initiative may recall another phrase of old: "life at hard labor." Under the SAFE California Act, prisoners sentenced to life without parole will be required to perform labor and make restitution to the Victims' Services fund. Not only will they live and die in prison, but they will be held accountable both to the families of their victims, and to society at large as the victim of every assault on the sanctity of human life.

It would be naive, of course, to think that society can devise any punishment that will deter all murders. All too often, for example, we hear of mass shootings where the offender commits suicide with the final shot, or has a history of suicide attempts; so the death penalty hardly seems to dissuade them. However, if there is an effective deterrent to make some potential killers think twice, it might be life and death in prison plus labor and restitution to society. This is especially true if word gets out on the street that the law is really being enforced.

The SAFE California Act makes a commitment to help get that word out by directing $100 million over the period 2012-2016 to a SAFE California Fund to improve the rates at which homicide and rape cases are solved and the perpetrators arrested and punished. Getting killers off the streets not only directly prevents more homicides or other violent crimes by these same perpetrators, but indeed sends a message of deterrence to others.

Currently, with 46% of homicides and 56% of rapes going unsolved, that message is not so clear. What we need to do is to establish very clearly, in practice as well as theory, that killing one's victim in the course of a robbery or sexual assault -- in order to prevent them from making an identification or testifying, for example -- is a recipe for swift detection and a sentence of life, labor, and death in prison.

The SAFE California Fund is a first giant step at making swift and certain punishment a reality. As the Attorney General's summary of the initiative very cautiously estimates, abolishing our broken death penalty system will produce savings "in the high tens of millions of dollars annually," with the Fund thus representing only a relatively small portion of these savings. A recent study by federal Ninth Circuit Judge Arthur Alarcon and Loyola Law School Professor Paula Mitchell suggests savings of $184 million a year, greater than the total amount of the Fund over the full four-year period! The Legislature, of course, will be free to apply more of these savings to local law enforcement and also to crime prevention strategies such as mental health interventions, while retaining needed flexibility at a time of budgetary crisis.

While swift and certain justice is always an ideal to be striven for, the old stories remind us that society can respond to the tragedy of murder in a clear, decisive, and nonlethal way. The SAFE California Act is an invitation to clear the decks of a failed death penalty policy, roll up our sleeves, and give our police the support that they need as we move together toward a safer and saner future.

If you would like to volunteer for the SAFE California campaign, please visit www.safecalifornia.org

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Leading the US effort for Worldwide Abolition

Posted by Elizabeth Zitrin on
October, 10, 2011



Worldwide abolition of the the death penalty.

It will be wonderful when it happens, and while you know about Death Penalty Focus' 20-plus years in the forefront of the movement in the US, you are probably less familiar with our international work against the death penalty. Right now, we ask you to join an international petition for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty.

We reported to you recently that we are working hard now for the SAFE California initiative to replace California's death penalty with life without the possibility of parole in 2012. When we suceed in California, it will be big news all over the world, particularly in our large international abolition movement.

In 1988, when DPF was founded, only 35 nations worldwide had abolished the death penalty completely, and another 18 had abolished it for ordinary crimes. Today, 139 countries, most of the nations on earth, have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice. The US, sadly, is in the very bad company of China, Iran, North Korea and Yemen as one of the top five executing nations, but we are working every day to be a strong part of the international trend away from capital punishment.

Death Penalty Focus is in the leadership of this international abolition movement, as a member of the Steering Committee of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty. Every year, on October 10th, World Day Against the Death Penalty, the World Coalition's 125 member organizations in 35 countries, participate in an international program of education and activism against the death penalty.

This year, the 9th World Day Against the Death Penalty is focusing on The Inhumanity of the Death Penalty. We have launched a Petition drive in support of the United Nations resolution calling for a worldwide end to the use of the death penalty. This resolution will be voted on in the General Assembly of the UN in December of 2012.

We hope you will join DPF in the leadership of US participation in this international movement toward abolition by signing the 2011 International Petition Against the Death Penalty. This movement is growing and gaining momentum, both in the US and all over the world, and we are very excited to be a part of it.


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A Very Premeditated Murder

Posted by Margo Schulter on September 28th, 2011

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In the immediate wake of the tragic execution of Troy Davis, killed by the State of Georgia despite serious doubts concerning his guilt and widespread appeals for clemency even from usual death penalty supporters, one of the most moving voices was that of Allen Ault, former Director of the Georgia Department of Corrections, who had himself supervised and helped carry out executions in Georgia.

As part of the movement to save Troy Davis's life, Ault had joined with former San Quentin Warden Jeanne Woodford and other retired corrections officials asking the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to reconsider its decision denying clemency to Davis, a decision reached according to one account by an agonizingly close 3-2 vote.

Interviewed by Ed Schultz and Rachel Maddow of MSNBC only minutes after the execution of Troy Davis, Ault spoke directly about the experience of carrying out a death sentence:

"It's one thing to theorize about it or talk about it abstractly, but when you're in the death chamber ordering an execution, and even if you… actually believe somebody isguilty, it's still a very premeditated murder. It's scripted and rehearsed. It's about as premeditated as any killing you can do."

Talking with Maddow about the special burdens placed on "people of conscience" carrying out an execution where there are doubts about guilt, as in Davis's case, Ault emphasized the more general issue of killing itself:

"It['s] exacting a toll whether you believe they're innocent or they're guilty. You're actually killing somebody.”


Ault mentioned getting letters from citizens eager to volunteer for the post of executioner.

"There are people without conscience, psychopathic type people, some of them politicians, and sadists who would volunteer. I would hate to see us fall; to be that depraved that they would let people like that do the execution.”

"I can't see the justification. If we're just reaping vengeance for somebody, I don't see the justification in
that either. I talked to a lot of families of victims who didn't feel fulfilled after the execution took place. I can't speak for all the families of victims, but I know I've talked to many."

That same day, one of those family members, Ross Byrd in Texas, experienced, as did Ault, the sadness and defeat of an execution after he had struggled for clemency. Byrd is the son of James Byrd, an African-American who became the victim of an especially horrible act of racist hate: being tied to a motor vehicle and literally dragged to his death. As Byrd explained, in words much like those of Ault, why he sought clemency for Lawrence Brewer: "We can't fight murder with murder."


As mentioned above, one of the signers of the appeal by retired corrections officials to save Troy Davis's life is Jeanne Woodford, now Executive Director of Death Penalty Focus. Like Ault, she learned at first hand "how empty and futile the act of execution is."

"As the warden of San Quentin, I presided over four executions. After each one, someone on the staff would ask: `Is the world safer because of what we did tonight?'

"We knew the answer: No."

With the killing of a prisoner where innocence is at issue such as Troy Davis -- or Tommy Thompson in California (July 14, 1998) -- the toll on corrections officials and officers may be especially high. But the psychological and spiritual price of brutalization is too high in any execution, not to mention the price, human and fiscal, exacted upon society at large, which means us all. As Woodford sums things up:

"To say that I have regrets about my involvement in the death penalty is to let myself off the hook too easily. To take a life in order to prove how much we value another life does not strengthen our society. It is a public policy that devalues our very being and detracts crucial resources from programs that could truly make our community safe."

To honor Troy Davis, and also Officer Mark MacPhail for whose murder he may have been executed although innocent, Death Penalty Focus and the SAFE California campaign will continue our movement to abolish the death penalty in California at the ballot box in 2012 and provide better support to law enforcement and victims' services. That would be a fitting legacy for these two victims of homicidal
violence.

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Final Hours

Posted by Christine Meuris on September 22nd, 2011

 

Originally posted on Fair and Unbalanced

In the earthquake cottage I shared with my husband, on the night of July 13th 1998, the phone rang. It was about 10:00pm. The summer fog would have rolled through the Alemany gap several hours before. It would have been a cold damp night and though bed was the reasonable place to be on a night like that, I was up waiting. My husband and his colleagues were awake too, trying not just to wait, trying to stave off the helplessness they were feeling. They were at the office working to bring as much media attention to the night as they could, legal options having been exhausted.

Thomas Thompson had been within hours of his execution a year before when a decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had spared him. This stay was now permanently vacated and once again he was scheduled to die within hours.

My husband had been with him at the prison. Thompson's mother had been there too in the private visiting room, where state procedure allows for a shackled last few hours. Trays of cold cuts and cheeses lay on a table bringing to mind working lunches, staff meetings and birthday parties. Was anyone hungry?

At six o'clock, the visitors including the lawyers were required to leave. A member of Thompson's legal team would come later to be a witness, while the rest worked on.

That is how my husband came to be at the office while the collect call from San Quentin came to our house. Upon accepting the charges I heard for the first time the voice of the man who had occupied so much of my married life, the man who my husband was fiercely trying to protect from the ultimate punishment.

In the summer of 1981, I was a skinny kid in a red and white bathing suit playing in the waves and collecting shells washed up on the sand in Laguna Beach, California. That same summer in that very vacation town an awful situation or plot, depending on how you look at it, was brewing for Ginger Fleishli and Thomas Thompson. By early September of that year, Ginger's body was found wrapped in a sleeping bag in a field.

The man convicted of this crime was now asking me whether my husband was home. No he was not, he was at the office. Did he have the number I asked? He did, and that was all there was to say. What does one say to someone who is keeping a stiff upper lip and who for the second time in a year is staring into the face of death by injection? I stumbled and bumbled, almost saying "good luck" before I said the only thing there was to say, "Goodbye."

I hung up the phone feeling as though the wing of death had brushed overhead, through the fog that blanketed my husband's office, our home and the prison.

Last night, my husband listened to the radio quietly to hear the fate of Troy Davis while I put the kids to bed. This morning I woke to find him going through his morning chores, heavy hearted. The U.S. Supreme Court had cleared the way for Troy Davis' execution and he had been put to death.

A reporter had called my husband in Troy Davis' final hours to ask whether my husband saw any connection between the Thompson and the Davis case. There was so much doubt raised upon appeal about the defendant's guilt. Each man faced a breathtaking stutter-stop journey of temporary defense victories on the way to the death chamber. My husband pointed out these things.

But it is the second thing, common to all cases, this bumpy road of hope and despair while fate hangs in the hands of others that is the final, impossible obscenity of the death penalty and the creepy thing that made our hearts heavy this morning as we got the kids ready for school.

These cases are subjected to level upon level of review in an attempt to ensure that the death penalty is administered properly; states search for ways to kill people that do not set their hair on fire or suffocate them while the are too tightly strapped to writhe; as we do all this, the one thing we cannot do anything about, is the forcing of an otherwise healthy person to stare for years at their untimely death, as they swing between hope and despair.

It is impossible to imagine what this is like, as impossible as finding the right words to say, when a man in this position, in his last hours, calls on the phone.

 

Posted in Innocence | no comments



The time has come. We’re ending the death penalty.

Posted by Ana Zamora on
Program Director

Mark your calendars, friends: November 6, 2012 will be a day to celebrate. It's the day we're going to end the death penalty in California.

On August 29, 2011, Taxpayers for Justice, a group of law enforcement professionals, crime victim advocates, and individuals exonerated from wrongful conviction, launched the SAFE California Campaign, to put before the voters an initiative that will replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole. It has taken years, even decades of work by many of you to get to this point. I know some people thought it might never happen. But it is really happening. And yes, we really can win-with your help.

SIGN UP NOW to join this tremendous and historical effort to end the death penalty. We are actively seeking volunteers to help gather the signatures needed to qualify for the ballot.

Now, a little information about the initiative.

The SAFE California Act will:

  • Replace California's death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole; 
  • Require inmates to work and pay restitution to the victims' compensation fund; and
  • Allocate $100 million over three years to solve more murders and rapes in California and protect our families.

The SAFE California Act is an important law because:

  • Murders and rapists need to be caught and brought to justice. But 46% of murders and 56% of rapes go unsolved every year. We need to use our limited resources to investigate and solve these crimes and keep our families safe, not on our broken death penalty. 
  • We remain at risk of executing an innocent. Nationally, 139 people have been freed from death row after they were found to be innocent. With the death penalty, we will always risk executing innocent people. 
  • Since California voted to reinstate the death penalty in 1978, our state has spent $4 billion dollars to execute only 13 people. If the SAFE California Act is passed by voters on November 6, 2012, we will save $1 billion in only five years.


The SAFE California Act will prevail at the ballot because:

  • Californians are changing their minds about the death penalty every day. A July 2011 poll found that 54% of likely voters support replacing the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole. 
  • We have the tremendous support from Death Penalty Focus members LIKE YOU. In order to qualify for the ballot, we need to gather signatures and WE NEED YOUR HELP TO DO SO. Please sign up today, or let me know personally that you would like to join me and the rest of the DPF staff in gathering signatures. You can email me at ana@deathpenalty.org.

For additional information and to receive updates from the campaign, please visit the Taxpayers for Justice website at http://taxpayersforjustice.org.



Posted in Blog | 2 comments



DPF Welcomes Ana Zamora!

Posted by Stefanie on August 31st, 2011

Ana has long admired the work of Death Penalty Focus and is honored and excited to join this organization as Program Director. Ana graduated from Mills College in 2005 with a Bachelor's Degree in Political, Legal, Economic Analysis and a Minor in Sociology. Two weeks after graduation, Ana was selected for a job that would really change her life. The California Appellate Project (CAP) hired Ana, as their new Training and Mitigation Coordinator. At CAP Ana had the opportunity to work alongside expert capital defense lawyers and learn about California's dysfunctional death penalty system. After working at CAP for four years, Ana was hired to work with Natasha Minsker at the ACLU of Northern California on their Death Penalty Policy Project. Ana will continue to work with the ACLU's death penalty project part-time. Ana lives in sunny Oakland with her wife, Stacey, and her cat named Turtle.

Posted in Blog | 5 comments



West Memphis 3 Freed

Posted by Stefanie on August 24th, 2011

We are thrilled to report that after 18 years, Damien Echols has been released from death row and Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley have been freed from prison. The three men, known as the West Memphis Three, have always maintained their innocence. Read the New York Times breaking story.

We'd like to thank the nearly ten thousand supporters who took action last year on behalf of Damien Echols and the other two men.

Your action made a difference.
You helped save three lives--one from execution and two from a lifetime behind bars.

Thank you for standing up for justice and speaking out for the innocent. These victories remind us that we are winning. With your continued activism and financial support, we are confident that the wins will continue.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. often repeated the saying, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

Thanks to your actions and your support, we know that we will keep bending that arc and we will end the death penalty in our lifetime.

Posted in Blog, Innocence | no comments



Dear Governor Brown, We Are Turning the Tide!

Posted by Margo Schulter, Guest Blogger on August 11th, 2011

On August 11, 1977, a fateful day in your life as the Governor of
California and mine as a young activist, I was a guest at the
apartment of my friend Miriam Rothschild in San Francisco, the
very epitome of a devoted volunteer to her community. We knew
each other through our involvement in the Northern California
Coalition Against the Death Penalty, and together watched on
television the drama that was unfolding at the State Capitol.

The members of the Assembly were casting their votes as to
whether or not to override your principled and courageous veto of
Senate Bill 155, a bill which, among other things, restored
capital punishment in California. The moment of truth came when
an Assembly member from the Los Angeles area announced that he
could not disregard the evident wishes of his constituents, and
cast the vote providing a 2/3 majority to enact the bill over
your veto.

Today, happily, there is another bill making its way through the
legislature to uphold the ethical and human values which you so
courageously defended 34 years ago, and to do so with direct
participation by the voters themselves: Senate Bill 490,

This bill, if enacted and signed by you, will let the people of
California decide at the ballot box in 2012 whether or not to
impose permanent imprisonment or life without parole (LWOP)
as the uniform and consistent penalty for all capital offenses in
California. Under California law, LWOP prisoners are required to
perform labor and thus make restitution to the victims of crimes,
including family members of murder victims, so SB 490 actually
means "LWOP plus restitution," or LWOP+R for short.

How can we hope to abolish the death penalty in California at the
ballot box, after a list of defeats with which we are both
intimately familiar? For example, Proposition 17 in 1972 amended
our State Constitution to overturn a landmark decision of the
California Supreme Court holding capital punishment to be a
"cruel or unusual punishment."

In 1978, urged to go beyond the Legislature's "weak-kneed death
penalty law" passed over your veto the previous year, voters
passed Proposition 7, vastly expanding the range of "special
circumstances" murders subject to death or LWOP.

And in 1986, your appointee Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird and
two of her colleagues were denied confirmation by the voters
after a highly politicized and often acrimonious campaign largely
focused on the Court's reluctance to affirm death sentences.

Given this history, the very idea of "winning at the ballot box"
seems to call for a serious sanity check. During the 25 years
since the calamitous judicial reconfirmation election of 1986,
three trends have been percolating beneath the surface of public
opinion which now give us the momentum to turn the tide.

First, as early as 1989, Professor Craig Haney at University of
California Santa Cruz found through a scientific survey of
eligible California voters that although 79% expressed "support"
for the death penalty, 67% actually preferred the alternative of
LWOP plus labor and restitution (LWOP+R), with only 26% still
preferring the death penalty when this choice was offered. A
follow-up survey in 2009 by Professor Haney and associates showed
very similar results, with 66% "support" for the death penalty
when no alternative was offered, but again only 26% when the
alternative choice was LWOP+R.

The same trend was revealed in a poll just this April by David
Binder Research, in which 63% of Californians surveyed favored a
proposal to convert the sentences of all current Death Row
prisoners -- around 715 -- to LWOP+R. Majorities of Democrats,
Republicans, and Independents supported this measure as a way of
saving a billion dollars every five or six years at this time of
budgetary crisis in our State.

The second trend which has been percolating beneath the surface
for more than two decades is a recognition of the full cost of
the death penalty, fiscal and human, and the devastating
opportunity costs our futile machinery of legal death inflicts on
other law enforcement measures which can effectively reduce crime
and punish its perpetrators more swiftly and consistently.

As early as March 1988, only a year and half after Chief Justice
Rose Bird was forced by voters to leave the Court, Stephen
Magagnini of the Sacramento Bee documented how California could
save $90 million each year by replacing the death penalty with
LWOP.

At that time, Magagnini estimated that at an extra cost of $90
million a year, and assuming the historical rate of about six
executions each year, taxpayers would be paying about $15 million
per execution. Two decades later, to borrow Mahatma Gandhi's memorable
phrase, we can say this estimate was rather a "Himalayan
miscalculation" -- in the low direction!

Since 1977, California has had 13 executions at a cost placed by
federal Ninth Circuit Judge Arthur Alarcon and Loyola Law School
Professor Paula Mitchell at $4 billion. That amounts to about
$300 million dollars per execution, or 20 times what seemed to
Magagnini and others a reasonable estimate in 1988. A report by
question of costs, "And today, with California's urgent budget crisis in law
enforcement and victims' services as well as other vital areas,
we simply can't afford this kind of extravagance!"

Getting more cops and homicide investigators on the beat, solving
more "cold case" homicides and improving on the clearance rates
for murder now at only around 50% in many of our counties,
keeping services for victims adequately funded, and "connecting
the dots" to prevent some of these homicides and other violent
crimes -- these are agendas the public can understand. And SB 490
gives them the opportunity to rethink priorities in a situation
the voters didn't have before them in 1972, 1978, or 1986.

Finally, there's a third trend that's been quietly percolating
over these eventful decades: a recognition that LWOP actually
means what it says in California! Over 3700 California prisoners
have received this sentence, with only a handful released because
of the one "escape clause" we should want to keep: later it had
been discovered that they were actually innocent of the offenses
for which they had been convicted. LWOP, like the death penalty,
spells permanent incarceration and death in prison -- but allows
room for correcting the rare but not unknown miscarriage of
justice.

Today, 34 years after the fateful passage of SB 155 which you
courageously sought to avert, we are turning the tide: SB 490
points the way to victory through the ballot box. On this day, as
victory is within our sight, we might remember the words of the
late Justice Stanley Mosk, a great California jurist and tireless
public servant under you and your father:

     "The day will come when all mankind will deem killing to be
      immoral, whether committed by one individual or many
      individuals organized into a state."

To these words we may add that many Californians ready to support
the death penalty in the abstract may nevertheless prefer, as
polls have shown for some 20 years, a more swift, reliable, and
cost-effective system of justice based on LWOP+R. Please join us
in reaching out to these citizens, who can become our partners in
victory through SB 490 and the democratic choice it offers.

TO TAKE ACTION IN SUPPORT OF SB 490: CLICK HERE.

Posted in Blog, Cost | no comments



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