Sign the Petition: Save $1 Billion in 5 Years: End the Death Penalty
Posted by Stefanie on June 15th, 2009
To: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger
We petition that you convert all current death sentences to sentences of life without possibility of parole, protecting Californians while saving $1 billion in five years.
Sign the petition
or on Facebook
Mike Farrell vs. Sean Hannity
Posted by Lance Lindsey on May 29th, 2009
DPF President Mike Farrell discusses his new book: Of Mule and Man
Posted by Stefanie on May 28th, 2009
Please join Mike Farrell at one of the following events where he will be discussing his book, Of Mule and Man, and the death penalty.
Sun., June 7, 5pm
1049 Swarthmore Ave.
Pacific Palisades, CA
*cosponsored by Death Penalty Focus
and Human Rights Watch
Wed., June 10, 7pm
695 E. Colorado Ave.
*cosponsored by Death Penalty Focus
and Human Rights Watch
Mon., June 15, 7:30pm
Capitola Book Cafe
1475 41st Ave.
*cosponsored by Death Penalty Focus
Tues., June 16, 7pm
261 Columbus Ave.
San Francisco, CA
*cosponsored by Death Penalty Focus
Wed., June 17, 7pm
51 Tamal Vista Blvd.
Corte Madera, CA
*cosponsored by Death Penalty Focus
Thurs., June 18, 7:30pm
130 E. Napa St.
*cosponsored by Death Penalty Focus
Fri., June 19, 7pm
290 E. Main St.
*cosponsored by ACLU of Oregon
Sat., June 20, 4-6pm
Cannon Beach Books
130 N. Hemlock St.
Cannon Beach, OR
*cosponsored by ACLU of Oregon
Sun., June 21, 2pm
Elliott Bay Book Co.
101 S. Main St.
*cosponsored by Social Justice Fund
Mon., June 22, 7pm
Powell's at Cedar Hill Crossing
3415 SW Cedar Hills.
*cosponsored by Social Justice Fund
and ACLU of Oregon
Tues., June 23, 7pm
Lyon Books & Learning Center
121 W. 5th St.
*cosponsored by Peace & Justice Center and Death Penalty Focus
Wed., June 24, 7pm
4000 Middlefield Rd (at Montrose).
Palo Alto, CA
*In conversation with Brian Copeland, author of Not a Genuine Black Man.
Presented by the Commonwealth Club, Kepler's Books,
and Death Penalty Focus
Fri., June 26, 7pm
Barnes & Noble
7849 N. Blackstone
*cosponsored by Death Penalty Focus
Sat., June 27, 2pm
Barnes & Noble
4001 California Ave.
*cosponsored by Death Penalty Focus
Sun., June 28, 3pm
3321 State St.
Santa Barbara, CA
*cosponsored by Death Penalty Focus
Wed., July 1, 6pm
La Mesa Community Center
4875 Memorial Dr.
La Mesa, CA
*cosponsored by the La Mesa-Foothills Democratic Club
Save $1 Billion: Suspend the Death Penalty
Posted by Stefanie on May 26th, 2009
An Open Letter to the California State Legislature and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
As you are working on resolving the current budget crisis, consider that California could save $1 billion in five years, simply by suspending the death penalty and using permanent imprisonment instead. Here’s how:
- $125 million per year in costs for the current death penalty system. According to the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, the annual cost of California’s death penalty to the state is $137 million. If instead the worst offenders were condemned to permanent imprisonment, the cost would be only $11 million. See www.ccfaj.org/rr-dp-official.html
$400 million for construction of new housing facility for death row inmates. According to the State Auditor, this is how much it will cost to build a new facility at San Quentin. Building at any other site will be even more expensive. See http://www.bsa.ca.gov/reports/summary/2007-120.2
- Any attempt to “speed up” the death penalty will cost even more. The California Commission concluded that in order to reduce the time needed to review death penalty cases, the state would need to spend an additional $100 million each year. See www.ccfaj.org/rr-dp-official.html
These figures do not include the potential income from selling San Quentin, something that can only be achieved if the death penalty is suspended. How can we do this?
- Tell the Governor to convert all current death sentences to sentences of life without possibility of parole, ensuring the inmates are never released.
- Temporarily suspend new death sentences for five years, until the state has recovered from the current fiscal crisis.
A full analysis of the costs of the death penalty is available at www.aclunc.org/deathpenalty.
A Difference of Opinion
Posted by Pauline Rogan on May 12th, 2009
Governor M. Jodi Rell (R-Connecticut) stated that she believes "justice" is served by the death penalty when she reinforced her support for the death penalty this week.
Is it 'just' that a victim's family member may have to wait up to twenty years to find out what will happen to their loved one's killer while having to relive the murder through countless appeals? Is it 'just' that often the main factors determining if a person receives the death penalty are not the details of their crime, but politics, the quality of legal representation, the race of the victim, or even the county where the crime took place? Is it 'just' that the death penalty system is so riddled with flaws that innocent people have been executed, such as Larry Griffin whose innocence was discovered ten years after his death on June 1st, 1995? It would seem, in this matter, that our definitions of 'justice' are very different.
A bill to abolish the death penalty in Connecticut will be debated in the House of Representatives shortly, perhaps as soon as this week. Governor Rell has not said if she would veto the bill if it came to her, but she has made her support for the death penalty very clear. It is time for those of us against the death penalty to raise our voices and speak out against the death penalty.
Colorado Death Penalty Bill Fails in the Senate
Posted by Pauline Rogan on May 6th, 2009
On Monday, May 4, a bill to abolish the death penalty in Colorado failed in the State Senate. Before Monday, the bill appeared to be making steady progress: the Colorado House passed it by just one vote on April 21, the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee passed it on April 29, and the Senate Appropriations Committee backed it in a 6-4 vote on May 1.
Unfortunately, after a two hour debate at Monday's hearing, the bill was amended, pledging to give new money to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation for investigating unsolved crimes, but now with no mention of the death penalty.
Colorado is 1 of 10 states that have considered death penalty reform this year but is the only state that had tried to incorporate a measure in their bill to use the savings from abolishing the death penalty to fund a cold case unit. It is estimated that Colorado spends $1 million a year to prosecute death penalty cases. The bill proposed using this money to investigate the estimated 1,400 unsolved murders in Colorado, as well as to increase cold case unit staffs from 1 to 8.
The main proponents of the bill were the group Families of Missing Homicide Victims and Missing Persons whose members have testified in front of the House and the Senate.
Colorado has only executed one person, Gary Lee Davis, in the past 42 years and currently has two men on death row.
Guilty Until Proven Innocent?
Posted by Yoko on April 29th, 2009
Just this month, a beautiful 8-year old girl from Tracy was brutally killed. It was an absolutely heart-wrenching and traumatic incident not only for her parents and family but also had a visceral effect on most of the public at large.
Due to the circumstances of the crime and the available evidence, the suspect may face the death penalty. Consequently, many people are already convinced that accused suspect deserves it before trial has even begun. Unfortunately our legal system today is working as a de facto “Guilty Until Proven Innocent” system of jurisprudence.
It is so difficult for us to see this kind of horrible crime without being personally empathetic. It will be extremely difficult for jurors to objectively examine this type of case and deliver a verdict. We hope they will make the right call.
How many irrevocable mistakes have been made because the media has created preconception of guilt? How many others will occur because of incompetent lawyers, sloppy handling of evidence, overzealous witnesses, corruption or concealed evidence? In fact, over 130 death row inmates have been exonerated since 1973 because of these types of issues. Some of them spent decades on death row.
As human beings, feelings and subjective opinions can not be eliminated and errors are unavoidable. When we abolish the death penalty, at least we can avoid making the ultimate mistake –the execution of an innocent person.
In honor of National Crime Victims' Rights Week
Posted by Judy Kerr on April 28th, 2009
By Judy Kerr
Spokesperson and Victim Liaison
California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
In 2003, my brother, Robert (Bob) James Kerr, was murdered in
Everett, Wash. His killer has still not been found. This experience has
only reinforced my belief that the death penalty serves no purpose for
me. I honor Bob by speaking out against the death penalty.
As National Crime Victims’ Rights Week approaches (April 26-May 2),
I am painfully reminded of how misguided our priorities and beliefs
about victims’ rights have been. I applaud recent efforts across the
country to recognize the diverse range of beliefs among murder victim
survivors, especially regarding the death penalty.
Many murder victim survivors, like me, are tired of being offered as
a reason to use the death penalty even though we do not believe it
serves us. We are raising our voices and making a difference in many
states. I only hope that California follows our fellow states’
footsteps by listening to victims and honestly looking at what we are
sacrificing to keep the death penalty alive.
On April 21, Colorado joined several other states reconsidering the
death penalty when the House approved a bill that would eliminate the
death penalty and use the money to focus on cold cases. Last month, New
Mexico replaced their death penalty with permanent imprisonment, the
Maryland House of Delegates approved limiting the use of the death
penalty, and New Hampshire’s bill to abolish the death penalty passed
the House of Representatives.
The results vary among these states and the several others
considering similar legislation, but three conclusions remain
consistent: 1) the death penalty is ineffective, 2) the death penalty
costs each state millions of dollars more than permanent imprisonment,
and 3) it is time to seriously consider legislation replacing the death
penalty with permanent imprisonment.
Given California’s current economic climate, we must look carefully
at the financial impact of every public policy. I am disheartened by
how we choose to spend our limited public safety resources and where
our priorities lie.
The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, a
bi-partisan panel created by the California Senate, unanimously
concluded that California’s death penalty is broken, just as similar
panels across the country have concluded.
The commissioners reported that the current system costs California
taxpayers $125 million more per year than if we used permanent
imprisonment; a safer alternative that punishes killers, protects our
neighborhoods, and provides victims and the community with peace of
mind knowing that killers are off of our streets. Forever.
After Bob’s murder, weeks passed before investigators identified his
body. During that time, I did not know whether or not he was alive. I
struggled from my home in California to get the local officials to do
more to find him. Almost six years later, I am still waiting for a
suspect to be named and for justice to finally take its course.
By replacing the death penalty with permanent imprisonment, we could
use our public safety resources on efforts that would actually benefit
victims and keep our communities safe, such as solving cold cases.
Unfortunately, my brother’s story is not unique; the number of unsolved
homicides in this country is appalling. In California alone, nearly
25,000 murders from the past 20 years remain unsolved.
It is shocking that we sit idly as law enforcement agencies
continually make financial cuts – most jurisdictions do not have nearly
enough homicide and cold case investigators due to lack of funds. The
staggering number of unsolved homicides grows daily, yet we squander
money on the death penalty.
The very real public safety crisis is that we are literally letting
thousands of killers get away with murder in order to seek death
sentences for an arbitrarily chosen few. Executing a few killers has
never been proven to be a better deterrent than permanent imprisonment
– getting killers off of our streets is.
Many states throughout our country are taking a giant leap in the
right direction by looking towards replacing the death penalty with
permanent imprisonment as a solution to their common public safety and
economic emergencies. We, the California voters, should follow their
Judy Kerr is the spokeswoman and victim liaison for California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (CCV).
This article originally appeared in The California Progress Report.
Thomas Cahill speaks about the case of Dominique Green
Posted by Janet Bilden on April 23rd, 2009
Two nights ago I went to hear Thomas Cahill speak at Book Passage in Corte Madera, CA about his most recent book, A Saint on Death Row, the Story of Dominique Green.
Thomas Cahill initially became aware of the case of Dominique Green from his friend, Judge Sheila Murphy, who was working on an appeal for Green. After some prodding from Murphy, he somewhat reluctantly went to meet Green while on a trip to Texas.
He was so profoundly touched by meeting Green, encountering a beautiful, enlightened, remarkable human being caught up in an extraordinary set of circumstances, that he joined the fight to save Green’s life.
Green insisted that he was not guilty, but the fight was lost, and Green was ultimately executed in Huntsville, Texas by lethal injection on October 26, 2004.
Green deeply admired Archbishop Desmund Tutu and his book, No Future without Forgiveness.Cahill told the story of how he was able to arrange for the Archbishop to visit Green and the Archbishop publicly plead for mercy for Green. Tutu has said the following about Cahill's book, “Though this book ends in death, it does not end in despair. Read it and discover how even the obscenity of capital punishment can be transformed into an occasion of light and peace.”
Cahill also spoke about the inherent racism of our judicial system, which he characterized as deeply flawed, and the desperate need for prison reform. Virtually all death row inmates are poor he explained.
The novel includes sections: “A Summary of the Case of Dominique Green”, “Would You Like to Know More?”, and “Would You Like to Do More?” highlighting a few books, articles and websites. You can also visit www.thomascahill.com for more information about the book and Cahill's speaking schedule.
Court Rules Against Troy Davis
Posted by Sheila Michell on April 23rd, 2009
After four months of deliberation the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has decided by a vote of 2-1 that Troy Davis does not have the right to present evidence to a jury which would support his claim of innocence. They decided he had insufficient evidence to establish his claim. They have, however, granted him 30 days to resubmit his claim to the U.S. Supreme Court.
There are several reasons why Troy Davis's case is miscarriage of justice. The first is that no physical evidence links Davis to the crime for which he was convicted. The second is that 9 of the 11 witnesses who testified against Davis twenty years ago have withdrawn their statements, many claiming that they were coerced by the police to provide evidence in the first place, and several alleging that a third party has confessed to the crime.
In the United Kingdom, a man has recently been released after being incarcerated for 27 years for a crime which it has now been proved he did not commit. If the death penalty were allowed in the UK, it could well have meant that confirmation of his innocence would have come too late. The same thing could happen in the case of Troy Davis, and, under his present circumstances, could come too late. Georgia could execute an innocent man. If there were no death penalty, such a terrible miscarriage of justice could not happen.
Please click here to take action to save a man who has been living on death row in Georgia in horrendous conditions for twenty years for a crime he may well not have committed.
The Colosseo Shines for New Mexico
Posted by Elizabeth Zitrin, IOCP Coordinator on April 15th, 2009
|The Ancient Colosseum of Rome shines for the Abolition of the Death Penalty in New Mexico|
Whoever was in charge of the weather today in Rome did a great job. It could not have been more perfect – a perfect day for a conservative Western American state to feel the embrace of the civilized world. Now that's what I'm talking about! The America I believe in does not torture or execute people, and we are working together to restore America to a position of pride and admiration in the world. Today, in Rome, Americans were admired. We can get used to it.
This morning, Santa Fe Archbishop Michael Sheehan escorted the New Mexico delegation to a position of honor at the Papal Audience, introduced Governor Richardson to the Pope and spoke of abolition of the death penalty. The voice of the church has a very broad reach, and when it speaks of abolition it has enormous power.
Then back to Sant’Egidio for a very well attended press conference. Our World Coalition partner Mario Marazziti, spokesperson of the Community of Sant'Egidio, is impressario of an extraordinary series of events, planning everything from the grandest gestures to the smallest details, from the press conference to a birthday candle in the tiramisu for a member of the Archbishop's party. And of course, the drama of the Colosseo. Perhaps even the perfect weather?
Governor Richardson is a media star here. He is naturally charismatic, and Italians, like many Europeans, are fascinated by American politics – particularly American Presidential politics – and the governor is a large and familiar figure. He said that his role was only the two seconds it took to sign the bill into law. Not quite true, of course. He is an intelligent and thoughtful man, and he thought and read and considered a great deal before changing his mind about the death penalty, convinced, he said, by the American record of wrongful convictions in capital cases – up to 131 exonerations as of today – by the availability in New Mexico of the awful penalty of permanent imprisonment, and by his growing awareness that the United States is being left behind by the world – left behind with human rights abusers like China and Saudi Arabia.
But of course, as he acknowledged, the real heroes of New Mexico’s journey to Abolition are State Representative Gail Chasey, who has been fighting this battle for over a decade in the legislature, and Viki Elkey, Executive Director of the New Mexico Coalition to Repeal the Death Penalty. These two extraordinary women, and the thousands of people in New Mexico and beyond who worked with them, have accomplished something spectacular, and one piece of their reward tonight was the illumination of the ancient Coliseum of Rome in their honor, and in honor of their state’s achievement.
New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson in Rome
Posted by Elizabeth Zitrin, IOCP Coordinator on April 14th, 2009
|Governor Bill Richardson and Elizabeth Zitrin|
Rome in Spring is a city in celebration of life. It is Easter season, of course, and Passover, the Jewish holiday of liberation from tyranny and slavery. All of the pale greens and the purples of new blossoms climb the ancient walls, and life is in renewal.
This week, there is another message of life in The Eternal City. The Community of Sant'Egidio has invited New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson for a ceremony marking his state's repeal of the death penalty. The ancient Colosseo of Rome will be illuminated with the "thumbs up" symbol for life, from the time of the ruling emperors and the gladiators who fought to the death in this arena thousands of years ago. The emperor could save a life by signaling with his thumb.
When lives are saved by a retreat from government execution, Sant'Egidio and the City of Rome light the Coliseum in celebration.
Sant'Egidio is a partner of Death Penalty Focus in the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty. I am here representing both DPF and the World Coalition, as Chair of its USA Working Group, to celebrate, and to mark another step in the journey of the United States toward international standards of human rights, and complete abolition of the death penalty.
On Tuesday evening, April 14, Monsignor Marco, a priest of the Community of Sant'Egidio, celebrated mass in the beautiful Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, the neighbor and frequent home of Sant'Egidio. The basilica dates to the 4th Century, with spectacular 13th Century mosaics in the apse. The service was highlighted with beautiful singing by a small Sant'Egidio choir. I was in the back of the church but was lucky enough to have a beautiful tenor next to me. The whole church seems to vibrate with the harmonies. Father Marco talked about the distinguished delegation from New Mexico, which included Governor Bill Richardson and Santa Fe Bishop Michael Sheehan, as well as Viki Elkey from the New Mexico Coalition to Repeal the Death Penalty, and Representative Gail Chasey. He celebrated the saving of life, another abolition of a government system of death.
Viki Elkey is animated, energetic in spite a very long journey, with the open, charming warmth that has helped make her such a successful advocate for abolition. Gail Chasey is drinking in the beautiful surroundings. She deserves so much of the credit for this victory.
After Mass, we walked the few steps to the next, small, cobble-stoned Piazza, to the small church of Sant'Egidio, through the lovely garden with an incongruous banana tree -- from the time the Community conducted peace negotiations between the government and guerrillas in Mozambique -- into the old Refectory, for a celebration dinner to honor the repeal of the the death penalty in New Mexico.
Gov. Richardson seems delighted to be here, and on this occasion. He is relaxed, attentive to everyone, eager to chat, genuinely pleased to be in this company -- people who are so congratulatory of his signing of the repeal. He smiles easily. Everyone is happy at dinner, and animated, Americans seated between Italian members of the Sant'Egidio Community. I spend a good part of dinner talking with Prof. Leonardo Palombi, a doctor, who directs Sant'Egidio's Dream Project which runs HIV/AIDS clinics in Africa.
The New Mexicans headed back to their hotel near the Vatican and I walked with our host, Sant'Egidio Spokesperson Mario Marazziti, through his neighborhood of Trastevere. He has more energy than most teenagers, and has spent the day, as he often does, escorting, narrating, directing and always persuading. He is a great friend and a valuable partner in the World Coalition, and, close to midnight, he could wind down until the morning. I am staying in room nearby, and in a lovely cap to a very busy day, Mario said I'm becoming a real Trasteverina.
A Month of Killing, More on the Way?
Posted by Norm Stamper on April 14th, 2009
By Norm Stamper - Retired Seattle police chief, member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Death Penalty Focus
Today, if I stare off into the middle distance and let it happen, images of homicide victims queue up, most of them cops I knew, and children. It's been a bad month for both.
"Bam, bam, bam," begins New York Times reporter Timothy Egan's April 8 must-read blog, "The Guns of Spring." Each interjection represents a dead cop: the three Pittsburgh officers recently lured to a residence and gunned down by a man with an AK-47 and several handguns. The second of Egan's paragraph starts with four bams (the Oakland cops slain on March 21), the third with five bams (for each child murdered by their own father here in Washington State), the fourth with 13 bams (the Binghampton, N.Y., immigrants and their teachers).
Fifty-seven people gunned down in mass murders in less than a month.
I'll always have a visceral reaction to the killing of a police officer,
especially in ambush; how many times during my career did I stop a car or
knock on a door not knowing whether there was a bullet waiting for me? Too
many of my own colleagues met precisely that fate. And I have a special,
dreaded place in my memory for all the dead kids I saw in my former line of
work, many of those young lives taken by a parent.
All this carnage over the past month raises once again the question of what to
do with cold-blooded killers. In the logic of 36 states, the answer: kill
I have no trouble understanding the urge to kill a killer. He has it coming,
doesn't he? Take a man, for example, who kidnaps, rapes, tortures, and kills a
child -- how can we possibly justify punishment other than the death? His
execution provides closure to loved ones, it sends a message to other would-be
killers, right? The rationale for capital punishment is essentially reducible
to these two reasons. An eye for an eye, and death as deterrent.
But pressure to end the death penalty is mounting, and reasons for it are
More and more loved ones of homicide victims are speaking out against
executions. As Azim Khamisa told a reporter following the shooting death of
his son, Tariq, "I know the pain of losing a child. It's like having a nuclear
bomb detonate inside your body, breaking you into small pieces that can never
be found. This violence scars the soul forever." But he also had this to say:
"...forgiveness is a surer way to peace than an eye for an eye. The more we
role-model the death penalty, the more violence and revenge there will be." A
similar argument was made by Matthew Shepard's parents in Wyoming, Matthew's
father adding that he wanted the men who tortured and killed their son to
think each and every day, for the rest of their lives, about what they had
This philosophical/spiritual argument is at the heart of many abolitionists's
opposition to the death penalty. But there are numerous other reasons why the
movement to end executions is scoring successes and building momentum.
Obviously, if the state kills a killer that killer will kill no more, but will
his or her death dissuade others? No. Murder rates in the 13 states that have
rejected the death penalty (soon to be 14, thanks to Governor Richardson and
the New Mexico state legislature) are consistently lower than in states that
continue to embrace capital punishment. While it's hardly a representative
sample, it's worth noting that three of the four states where last month's
mass homicides took place are death penalty states.
Other reasons for opposition to the death penalty? It's extravagantly
expensive. The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice
estimates annual costs of the death penalty system at $137 million in that
state alone ($232.7 million if recommended reforms intended to assure fairness
are enacted) vs. $11.5 million for a system whose maximum penalty is lifetime
incarceration. By any measure, it costs far more to maintain the death penalty
than to replace it with a sentence of true life imprisonment.
I shared a panel with Sam Millsap in San Jose last year. Sam's an eloquent
former Texas district attorney who tours the country advocating for the
abolition of the death penalty. Unlike Azim Khamisa, this former prosecutor
doesn't oppose executions on moral grounds. His opposition is rooted in his
conclusion that all human systems are vulnerable to mistakes. He made one such
mistake himself, sixteen years ago. It led to the execution of Ruben Cantu, a
man later proven to be innocent.
Capital case prosecutions based on a sole witness; jail house snitches;
willful or unintentional mistakes by police investigators; compromise or
destruction of key physical evidence; disregard of exculpatory evidence by
prosecutors; shoddy and/or underfunded defense work; race and class
discrimination (not a single rich person sits on death row) -- any of these
can affect the quality of a death penalty case. And lead to the execution of
the wrong person.
How in God's name can we continue to put people to death, knowing as we do
that innocent people are on death row? Or have already been gassed, injected
or fried to death?
Lest there be any doubt, I am an abolitionist, a member of Death Penalty Focus
which, along with many other fine organizations is working to end executions.
The death penalty is -- as most other civilized countries in the world have
been trying to tell us for years -- barbaric.
And cowardly. Shooting an armed, hostage-holding assailant can be a
life-saving act of heroism, as those extraordinary Navy seals proved off the
coast of Somalia. But there's something fundamentally wrong with taking the
life of someone in the state's custody.
Or in killing people to demonstrate that killing is wrong.
This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post.
The price of innocence
Posted by Pauline Rogan on April 8th, 2009
On May 30th,1980 John Jerome White was sentenced to life in prison for rape, robbery and assault based primarily on faulty eye witness testimony. In December 2007, White was found innocent due to DNA testing and released from prison 22.5 years after he was incarcerated. The real rapist was also revealed through the DNA testing and was arrested and charged.
On Friday, April 3rd, 2009, 14 months after his exoneration, the Georgia State Senate passed a resolution granting White $709,000 in compensation. White is the 7th man to be exonerated in Georgia due to DNA testing. However, there are currently no exoneree compensation laws in the state, so future exonerees will have suffer the same drawn out process to receive compensation that White did.
Georgia is 1 of 25 states in the US without exoneree compensation laws and there are currently 2 states, Mississippi and Nebraska where efforts are underway to pass these laws.
Exonerees have spent years wrongfully imprisoned and more often than not are released with no where to go. Due to the long years spent behind bars they are often without money or family or friends to help. Additionally, the charges against them are not immediately taken off their record and they have a limited work history, so they are often unable to find work.
Essentially, they are often broke, homeless, unemployed and alone all because they have been failed by a justice system that was supposed to protect them. Don't we owe them all compensation? And even in those states where financial compensation is available, is that really good enough? Or should we be doing more?
Wrongful imprisonment unfortunately is not uncommon. In the US since 1989 there have been 235 exonerations due to DNA evidence alone, 17 of which were of prisoners who were on death row, and only about half of these people have received compensation.
The leading causes for wrongful convictions are eyewitness misidentification, such as in White's case, improper forensic science, snitch testimony, and false confessions. The problem of wrongful conviction is yet another reason to abolish the death penalty.
Since 1973 a total of 130 people have been exonerated and released from death row. But what about the people who are not so lucky? On June 21st 1995 in Missouri, Larry Griffin was executed. Ten years later a year long investigation discovered that Larry Griffin was in fact innocent.
Death is an irreversible punishment, and therefore there can be no room for mistakes. Yet, this is not possible. Human beings are fallible. All it takes is one mistake, just one, and an innocent person dies. Life is something that we can not put a price on.
Colorado to abolish the death penalty?
Posted by Pauline Rogan on April 6th, 2009
On Monday, February 23rd, HB 1274, which would abolish the death penalty in Colorado, passed the House Judiciary Committee by a vote of 7-4. The bill was heard by the House Appropriations Committee today and vote is expected by that committee on April 15th. The bill is expected to go before the full House in the near future. Supporters of the bill plan to gather for a rally at the capitol next Monday at 1pm.
It is estimated that Colorado spends $2 million a year on capital punishment, despite the fact that only 1 person, Gary Lee Davis, has been executed in almost four decades.
The bill proposes to use the money saved from the abolition of the death penalty, to fund a "cold case team" that would investigate unsolved murders in Colorado. According to state officials, there are at least 1,400 unsolved murder cases dating back to 1970.
There is an extremely interesting article written by Errica Grossman in the Boulder Weekly (March 19-25, 2009), which takes an in depth look at the bill, from both sides of the death penalty argument.
Starvin' for Justice; Fast and vigil to abolish the death penalty.
Posted by Pauline Rogan on April 3rd, 2009
Starvin' for Justice is an annual event, first started in 1994, hosted in Washington by the Abolitionist Action committee, an ad-hoc group which campaigns for the abolition of the death penalty through educating the public about the facts of and alternatives to capital punishment.
Starvin' for Justice takes place on June 29th until July 2 and coincides with the anniversary of the 1972 Furman v. Georgia decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court found the death penalty to be applied in an inconsistent and unjust manner and all states were forced to rewrite their death penalty laws.
Starvin' for Justice offers the opportunity to learn valuable skills, to meet other abolitionists as well as activism experience and fun. People are invited to take part for all or part of the event and fasting is optional. Past attendee Dave Avolio speaks very highly of the event; "I became really energized from the experience and have become more active as the result of attending."
For more information and to sign up, click here.
Redemption - the story of Jose Briseno
Posted by Pauline Rogan on April 3rd, 2009
On Tuesday 7th April, at 8pm, Texas death row inmate Jose Briseno is
scheduled to be executed by method of lethal injection. Jose Briseno
was incarcerated for the 1991 murder of Dimmit County Sheriff Ben
Murray and has been on death row since June 1992. Since then, Jose has
had an extensive impact both on people inside and outside of prison,
due to his personnel transformation while on death row.
Jose Briseno had a troubled childhood. Lacking a nurturing and
loving home environment, he frequently ran away from home, and was in
and out of Juvenile institutions until he was 18. Then over the next
ten years, he was in and out of Prison for numerous crimes including
burglary and aggravated assault, until he was arrested in 1992 for the murder of Ben
Murray. During the 17 years he has spent on death row Jose has
"turned his life around" and has helped many people including fellow
inmates, staff in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, and many
people across the world that he has become pen-pals with, many
of whom he has helped by offering emotional support through times of crisis.
One woman, Rachel Baker speaks of how Jose offered valued support to
her during her daughters fatal illness; "Mr Briseno proved to be a
solid friend during my darkest days; his subsequent encouragement has
changed my life."
Another woman, Cathy Walters, describes how Jose helped her after
she was involved in a life-altering automobile accident; "Jose's gentle
and compassionate, but non-victim-like stance, on living with what cannot
be changed has been extraordinarily helpful to me; it was so important
for me to visit him in January to thank him personally for the help he
has given me."
All of Jose's friendships with individuals in the outside world began when they - complete strangers- contacted Jose about becoming a pen-friend and to offer support and companionship to him while he was in prison. All of these people, who
now refer to Jose as a friend or like Marianne Zundel "like a member of
the family", all feel that although they began writing to Jose to help
him, it is they who have benefitted most from the relationship.
The people who have been touched by Jose's transformation are now
appealing to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to recommend that he be granted clemency by Governor Rick Perry. They have all written letters, many of which are quoted by his lawyers in a Clemency Application and in a Clemency video that many of them appear in.
His supporters argue that Jose's life has value and is of huge benefit to many people and that his execution would rob his friends of this. They argue that if Jose was
granted clemency and permitted to live out his days in prison, that he could
be a great asset to the prison system. He could mentor other prisoners
and also offer support and advice to prisoners who have a chance to change their ways. They also state that he currently has a calming influence to other prisoners who respect him. Aside from this, he would be able to continue to be a father to his daughter Priscilla, who says that through his letters she "feels like he is there
Jose's life has had a huge impact on many people, and could impact
many more in the future, if his future is not taken away. Jose Briseno
has already done so much to redeem his past and to help those around
him. Does he not deserve a chance to be able to continue to do so from within prison?
The more I read about Jose, the more my conviction that capital
punishment is wrong, grew stronger. The story of Jose Briseno is a
prime example that the death penalty does not offer any room for change
or redemption. Taking a life is taking a life, no matter what guise it
may be in. Taking Jose's life would be such an unnecessary waste.
Click here to help Jose!
'A step forward'- Maryland passes a Bill to limit the use of the death
Posted by Pauline Rogan on April 1st, 2009
Another state jumping on the bandwagon of death penalty reform is
Maryland, although they have chosen a slightly different approach. On
Thursday, March 26th, by a vote of 87 to 52, the Maryland House passed a
capital punishment reform bill which limits the use of the death
penalty to first degree murder cases which can be proven by DNA or
biological evidence, video evidence linking the defendant to the crime
or a videotaped voluntary confession.
The bill next goes to Governor Martin O'Malley, a campaigner for the
abolition of the death penalty who has indicated that he will sign
the bill. O'Malley released the following statement "I look forward to
signing the bill into law in the coming weeks". Earlier this year, O'Malley
pushed for a full abolition of the death penalty, but after some conflict in the legislature
decided to support a compromise bill and urged other supporters of full abolition to do the same, citing the bill as "one of the strictest death penalty laws in the nation."
One of the opponents of this compromise bill, Patrick L. McDonough, believes that prosecutors will not be able to pursue capital cases in Maryland anymore because the bill is too strict, "you have cleverly and successfully killed the death penalty in Maryland." Pro- death penalty representatives tried to alter the bill so that it wouldn't limit the death penalty quite so much, but these amendments were defeated.
Maryland is among 10 states that are currently looking to change
their capital punishment laws. The New Hampshire House approved a bill to
abolish the death penalty earlier this week.
Even though the bill in Maryland does not fully abolish the death penalty, it
is as Governor O'Malley put it, "a step forward." It may be a small step,
but it is in the right direction.
Kaine puts a stop to death penalty expansion
Posted by Pauline Rogan on March 31st, 2009
On Friday, March 27th Governor Timothy M. Kaine vetoed several bills
that proposed expanding the death penalty to cases where auxiliary
police officers or fire Marshalls are murdered and to those who assist
in murders. This is the third year in a row, that Kaine has vetoed a
bill to expand the death penalty to cover accomplices.
As Kaine himself said in a statement, Virginia carries out the
highest number of executions in America second only to Texas. An
expansion of their capital punishment system would be a step
in the wrong direction and would rebuff the national trend towards
abolition of the death penalty in America.
Unfortunately, the Virginia General Assembly is meeting on
April 8th to discuss the bills, and the bills concerning extending the death penalty to cases involving fire marshals and auxiliary police were passed by a 2/3 majority meaning they would be able to override Governor Kaine's veto.
New Hampshire votes to abolish the death penalty.
Posted by Pauline Rogan on March 26th, 2009
On Wednesday March 25th, the New Hampshire House voted 193-174 in
favor of House Bill 556, which would abolish the death penalty. This is not the
first time a bill to abolish the death penalty has been proposed in New
Hampshire. A similar bill failed in the House by 12 votes last year,
and in 2000 a repeal bill was passed by both the House and the Senate
but was vetoed by Jeanne Shaheen, who was Governor at the time.
The fight for abolition was led by Hampton Representative Robert
"Renny" Cushing. During the hearing, Cushing told the House members the
story of his father's murder, who was shot in 1988 at his front
door and about the aftermath of this murder. Cushing, who is the co-
founder of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights told the House members
that he believed their was a general misconception that family members
of murder victims supported the death penalty. He stated that his opinion of
the death penalty did not change after his fathers murder. "Not only
would my father be taken from me, but so would my values".
The bill, HB556 will now move to the Senate and if passed it will
go to Governor John Lynch, who has unfortunately stated
that "If a bill to repeal capital punishment reaches my desk, I will
veto that bill." Cushing, however, remains optimistic due to the recent
developments in New Mexico, where a bill abolishing the death penalty
was signed by Governor Bill Richardson, a former death penalty
Currenlty New Hampshire is just one of at least 10 states that are
reviewing their capital punishment laws. These states include
Montana, Illinois, Kansas and Colorado. The Colorado bill proposes
to use the savings from abolishing the death penalty to pursue cold
cases. The money that would be saved could be considerable, as it is
estimated that a death penalty trial costs $1.1 million more than a
traditional murder trial.
These bills hopefully indicate that in America there is a growing
awareness that the current justice system needs to be changed and a
growing opposition to the death penalty.
Aside from the financial incentives for eliminating the death penalty,it is a flawed
system as guilt in many cases can never be 100% certain and many
innocent people end up on death row. From 1973 to the present day, 130
men and woman have been exonerated from death row.
Additionally, the death penalty, while legal, sends a message that killing is
acceptable in some situations. Cushing brilliantly stated that it never is, "If we let those who kill make us into killers, then evil triumphs and we all lose."
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